The MOOC Bandwagon

As others have noted – most recently Bon Stewart in her Inside Higher Ed article  – everyone seems to be jumping on the MOOC bandwagon at an alarming rate.

This week the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK ) has jumped on it with a webinar entitled

What is a MOOC – JISC Webinar 11-07-12

Four speakers were invited. Here is the programme and here is the recording
12.00 Definitions of MOOCs (Martin Weller)
12.10 Tutor perspective (Jonathan Worth)
12.20 Learner perspective (Lou McGill)
12.30 MOOCs and online learning (David White)
12.40 Q&A

Martin Weller presented a useful overview of the history of MOOCs and some thoughtful ideas about the benefits of MOOCs and the associated concerns in relation to Higher Education.

Jonathan Worth told us about his ‘open’ photography course in which he uses Twitter with his students to reach a wider network of experts. I was not sure that this is a MOOC in my terms, although it was clearly an ‘open’ course. It got me thinking about whether using different technologies necessarily means that the course is distributed across different platforms, which according to Stephen Downes is a necessary condition for a MOOC (at least a connectivist MOOC).

Lou McGill is a staunch advocate of the DS106 MOOC, in which she has been a learner and she shared her experience of authentic learning in this MOOC. She is also working with Strathclyde University to research learner experiences in the Change11 MOOC.  I was a participant in Change 11 and was also interviewed by Lou McGill for the research – an interesting experience in which I realized that my understanding of ‘What is a MOOC?’ stems from CCK08, but many, many people who are discussing MOOCs today were not in that MOOC and appear to be coming from a different place.

Dave White pondered on why the Stanford MOOC attracted such large numbers and thought it must be to do with their credibility and brand name. He raised the question of the role of the teacher/facilitator in MOOCs and suggested that this is important if MOOCs are to be inclusive. This is a topic we have been discussing in our review the FSLT MOOC.

These are my reflections as a result of attending this webinar.

There are still plenty of people who have technical difficulties accessing a site like Blackboard Collaborate. We cannot make assumptions that people have the technical equipment or skills to engage in MOOCs.

Whilst MOOCs might be the new buzzword in Higher Education, there are still plenty of people who have never heard of them, only just heard of them, have no idea what they are, or who completely misunderstand what they are.

The original connectivist principles of MOOCs are getting lost in the plethora of offerings which now bear the name MOOC, e.g.

  • CCK08 (the original MOOC) was an experiment in getting people to think about learning differently;
  • the idea was that learners could be in control of their learning and meet in learning spaces of their own choice  according to the principle of distributed environments (see slide 33 in this presentation by Stephen Downes) and see his LMS vs PLE video
  • learners would experience learning in the massiveness of the network – so they would not be able to rely on the tutor/convener/facilitator – instead they would need to make connections and seek peer support. In the light of this our understanding of the relationship between teacher and learner would need to change
  • the purpose of learning in a MOOC would be to create knowledge and artefacts through exposure to a diverse network, rather than have it centrally provided. This would, through the aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward of resources shared and created, enrich the learning experience
  • MOOCs were never intended – despite the name – to be ‘courses’ ( see this blog post  and this response from Stephen Downes ); they were intended to be a challenge to the traditional notion of a course – in the form of learning events. If they don’t do this then they are ‘open courses’ (with some of the attributes of MOOCs), but not MOOCs in the terms of how they were originally conceived.

This is my understanding of what is meant by MOOC – now renamed (in the light of different interpretations) a connectivist MOOC. Many of the most recent courses which have been called MOOCs are not MOOCs in these terms, but fall somewhere along the continuum from connectivist MOOCs with these principles, to the Stanford AI type of centrally located MOOC (see Stephen Downes’ LMS vs PLE video for an explanation)

It is evident that there is room for all these different types of MOOCs or ‘open courses’.   But I hope we will not lose the principles of the CCK08 type of connectivist MOOC, as it is the connectivist MOOCs that are really pushing against the boundaries and challenging traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning, which is of course why many people feel uncomfortable with them and why we are now seeing efforts to somehow tie them down and bring them into line.

The Case for SmOOCs

On reflection #fslt12 was a SmOOC – a small open online course. I suspect that just as the number of Massive Open Online Courses of the Stanford type will proliferate – at least in the short term – so too will SmOOCs.

SmOOCs have a lot going for them, principally in terms of the relationship between size, diversity and openness.

We had 151 people register for FSLT12 and 168 register for the Moodle site.  Canada, USA, South America, Africa, Europe, India, the Far East and Australia were all represented and at the time of writing 60 people have accessed the Moodle site within the last 3 weeks. We haven’t yet examined the data in any detail, so these are just rough estimates and we don’t know how many people accessed the Moodle site as a Guest. We had 28 people add their blog to the course WordPress site, but again we don’t yet know how many people blogged about the course, without aggregating their blog.  12 people completed the assessment activities.

So in my terms, compared to some of the MOOCs I have been involved with, this was a small MOOC.

As a result of this experience, my perception is that in SmOOCs, ‘openness’ is safer. It was interesting to observe this in FSLT12, which was open enough to ensure diversity, but small enough to ensure that ‘cliques’ didn’t form and that there was a very good mix between novice and experienced participants, different ages, disciplines and cultures. This in itself is interesting, as in the early days of MOOCs it was thought that large numbers were required for diversity. I have thought about and discussed this before – see

Mooc principles and course design

Change 11- massiveness and diversity

For me the question remains as to how massive does a MOOC have to be to hit the ‘sweet spot’ of diversity and openness. In 2012 Roy Williams, Sui Fai John Mak and I published a paper about the Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC, where some of these tensions were discussed.

In FSLT12 I was surprised at how much diversity there can be in a much smaller MOOC – and equally surprised at how this did not lead to sub groups or cliques but to an apparent genuine desire to interact with this diversity.  In past MOOCs I have been involved with it has been the different cultures and resources that have offered the diversity, but in this MOOC, although it was enriched by different cultures, it was the mix of experts and novices that worked so well. This was particularly evident in the microteaching activity where both novices and experts engaged, supported and learned from each other. My feeling is that this was made more possible because of the smaller numbers and also because the smaller numbers made the learning spaces (Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate) feel more intimate, supportive and safe.

So I can see that SmOOCs can offer diversity with relatively ‘safe’ opportunities for connectivity, interaction, autonomy and openness, but do they avoid ‘group think’? This is something that I need to think more about.

#fslt12 MOOC – first reflections

Tomorrow we have our first Review Meeting – we being the team – about the FSLT12 MOOC experience. There is every intention to run the MOOC again next year. I think the intention is to offer it for credit. I may not be involved next year – but whether or not this is the case it is worth thinking about lessons learned from this first offering of #fslt12.

(Click on the image to enlarge it)

I thought it would be useful to make a note of these lessons that I have learned before tomorrow’s meeting, i.e. before being influenced by the others.

Overall, my perception is that the MOOC was a success, although I haven’t seen any of the evaluations yet. Feedback in blogs and in Blackboard Collaborate has been positive – but of course this is only the feedback from those who participated, not from the many who didn’t. It is almost impossible to reach the people who registered but then didn’t visibly interact. We don’t know whether they were ‘lurking’ or simply not there. And if not there, why did they sign up and then not engage?

For me it has been a wonderful opportunity to be ‘on the other side of the fence’ – so to speak, i.e. working with Oxford Brookes to convene the MOOC, rather than be a participant. I have been a participant in five other MOOCs before this one. What have I learned from working in this one as a convener?

–       First – it is a lot of hard work – so hats off to Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier who started all this off. I hadn’t realized that despite the ‘hands off’ approach that they appear to adopt, quite how much hard work goes on behind the scenes. I would imagine that this was particularly so for CCK08 and that is maybe why they changed the format slightly for subsequent MOOCs.

–       Having a good handle on the technology is absolutely essential. In a recent Slideshare presentation Stephen wrote that his law of MOOCs is that if connectivity is not distributed then it is not a MOOC . But this requires a degree of technical expertise that cannot be taken for granted. Fortunately for us we had three wonderful technologists – Joe Rosa, who sorted out the Moodle site for us, Sylvia Currie who not only ‘lent us’ her Blackboard Collaborate site, but also managed it all for us and Liz Lovegrove, who uploaded presentations, videos and resources to our Moodle site. And of course George created the WordPress site. So we did encourage distribution of connectivity across different technologies – and in that sense, according to Stephen, we were a MOOC.

–       but we were not a ‘massive’ MOOC and for me this gave it all more of an ‘open course’ feel. Ultimately, after the initial surge of interest, we had the assessed participants and a few non-assessed participants fully interacting in the forums and Blackboard Collaborate. How many others were ‘watching’, I don’t know, but maybe there are some analytics there somewhere that George and Joe have seen. But what I learned from this is that it doesn’t have to be ‘massive’ to ensure diversity. We had a wonderfully diverse mix of learners from experienced to novice, across very diverse disciplines. My perception was that this was an excellent opportunity for novices to learn from experts and for experts to have their eyes opened by the novices. This for me was the most rewarding aspect of the MOOC.

–       I was reminded once again that online, those who are committed to learning put in more than 100% of effort and therefore breadth and depth issues need to be balanced very carefully. In Week 5 Greg Benfield provided some excellent resources on evaluation, but these were not discussed because both assessed and non-assessed participants who were still with us were completely focused on the microteaching activity. On reflection this is no more than you would expect.

–       And I was reminded once again about how hard it is to get assessment right, so that feedback is constructive and leads to further learning. The type of assessment that we were offering was through personalized feedback. This involves developing a relationship with the ‘to be assessed’ participant. For ‘massive’ MOOCs, this simply does not scale up – so there is a lot to learn about how much learners can learn from the Stanford type of MOOC  and ‘mechanised’ feedback, as opposed to the one-to-one type of feedback we offered. Which offers the best learning experience? This would be worthy of a research paper I think.

–       And finally I experienced the troubling thoughts of whether I should be a ‘traditional teacher’ in this MOOC, or whether MOOCs require a different type of interaction. I alluded to this in my last post. What I like about MOOCs as a participant is that I don’t have anyone ‘watching over me’. I can do my own thing. But as a MOOC convener I’m not sure how far my ‘watching over’ responsibility should extend. I have been a teacher (in the traditional sense) my whole working life and I now feel a dilemma between being responsible for the learners I work with and the autonomy that MOOCs promote. I haven’t sorted this out in my own head yet – but I do know that I have played a ‘teacher’ role in this MOOC – which suggests to me that it hasn’t quite fitted with what I perceive a MOOC to be.

–       Finally I learned a lot about working in Blackboard Collaborate – mainly due to Sylvia Currie’s openness in sharing her expertise, but also because I have never before had the opportunity to be a Moderator for so many sessions in a row. This was very valuable and I will probably write another blog post about what I learned in relation to this.

I’m looking forward to our review meeting tomorrow to hear what others think.

The philosophy of MOOCs

There are currently lots of blog posts around, asking yet again ‘What is a MOOC?’ and about the different types of MOOCs  –  see for example

Osvaldo Rodriguez blog

George Siemens’ Elearnspace blog

Stephen Downes’ Half and Hour site

John Mak’s Blog

MOOCs are even being discussed on a German blog which I could only access through a translation. Unfortunately since I do not speak German,  I was not able to participate in the discussion in the comments.

All these discussions are very relevant to my current situation in which I am working with George Roberts and Marion Waite of Oxford Brookes University to plan a new MOOC for May/June – First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

The first question in my recent post about planning MOOCs – was ‘What is a MOOC’? and there was another question for planning a MOOC (Slide 7) about deciding on ‘What kind of MOOC”? They sound such simple questions, but the discussions on the web have shown that they are not easy to answer.

I am clear in my own mind what a MOOC is for me – but I also know that others interpret it differently. I tend to agree with Matthias Melcher that the original idea of MOOC is becoming watered down and now MOOCs seem to be all things to all people. Even those who have never participated in a MOOC feel qualified to comment (just as those who have never qualified as teachers feel qualified to comment on how to teach). Stephen Downes has ‘shrugged’ his shoulders and said this is inevitable.

For me a MOOC is what CCK08 offered and succeeding MOOCs designed on similar principles offer.  Yes it was a massive, open, online course – but it was also more than that. It offered a new and explicit perspective on learning in the 21st century.  The other day I found myself saying a MOOC is one thing but the Stanford AI course  is just a massive open online course. Wow – how bizarre does that sound, but maybe people who recognize the CCK08 philosophy understand what I mean.

For me a MOOC is not simply a massive, open, online, course – it is based on the explicit principles of connectivism – the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity – which we have shown through research  are not easy principles to aspire to or achieve. It is also based on the activities of aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward the resources  and learning that are part of the MOOC experience.  A MOOC design, in the terms that I am describing it, also takes a specific stance on the relationship between teacher and learner – a stance in which the word ‘teacher’ might be considered redundant.

In a way it’s a shame that the term ‘MOOC’ was coined.  On the one hand it is good that it is a term that has attracted a lot of attention (both negative and positive), which at least means that educators are beginning to think about the extent to which traditional approaches to teaching and learning might need to change.   On the other hand, all the MOOC variations that are being spawned may have resulted in a blurring of the original intention and meaning. That’s not to say that other open online courses, even other massive open online courses don’t have value. If the success (in terms of numbers attending and completing the course) of the Stanford AI course is anything to go by then they obviously do. But the original MOOC had a clear well defined philosophy, which was a break from traditional ways of working and was designed to address the issues that anyone working in education has to deal with in relation to the global changes in connectivity, information sharing and knowledge creation that we are seeing in current times. I hope the principles on which CCK08 was founded will not get lost in this variation.

What new term could we come up with which would keep the original MOOC philosophy intact and distinct from the many variations of MOOCs that are now being created, if indeed it is important to do this?

IRRODL Special Issue: Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for Learning

A special issue of IRRODL – The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning -has just been published.

Vol 12, No 7 (2011): Special Issue – Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for Learning

This is a refereed open e-journal which you can access here: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/index

It is great to see recognised names amongst the contributing authors and particularly of Sui Fai John Mak – who I have worked with on research in the past – http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1041

Congratulations John, Rita and Helene. I’m looking forward to reading your paper and all the others; emergent learning is a topic that really interests me.

IRRODL special issue on connectivism

Our paper…….

Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0

Roy Williams, Regina Karousou, Jenny Mackness

…. has finally been published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. We ran a webinar about this paper in February (with permission of IRRODL) in the ELESIG community (see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/emergent-learning-webinar-recording/) and have been waiting for the paper to be published ever since.

It is great to see familiar names of other authors in the issue of the journal and I’m looking forward to reading their papers and gaining further insights into connectivism.

I’m also hoping that we will receive feedback on our paper which was very enjoyable to work on – thanks to Roy and Regina 🙂

Open courses in January 2011

The net seems awash with open courses at the moment. Three have captured my attention are:

Learning and Knowledge Analytics (LAK11)

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011 (CCK11)

Digital Storytelling (ds106)

Digital storytelling is already in its second week, but as Jim Groom (convenor) has pointed out it has been anticipated and discussed for many more weeks. It is fun just to look at the assignments that have already been submitted – a wonderful example of the talent and creativity that can be tapped into on the net and also a wonderful example of the four key activities of connectivist teaching and learning in action, i.e. aggregation,  remixing, repurposing and feed forward. There has been quite a lot of work on Digital Storytelling here in the UK and a few years ago I attended a Digital Storytelling course at the University of Gloucestershire here in the UK, where the focus at the time was on using digital storytelling to enhance students’ learning and reflection – a different focus to Jim Groom’s course where the learning objectives are:

  • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression
  • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking
  • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres

Information about the work in the UK can be found at the following sites:

I will be interested to find out more about ‘why’ people have signed up for Jim Groom’s course and whether people will ‘stay’ the course.  I expect it will be a lot of hard work.

Learning and Knowledge Analytics has also been going a week and got off to a good start with a lot of participants signed up and plenty of discussion. The first week’s invited speaker – John Fritz – gave a really thought provoking talk. Over 90 people attended this.  John started his talk with a slide providing us with a vision of the future of academic analytics, which listed the possible stages of the use of analytics as:

  1. Extraction and reporting
  2. Analysis and monitoring
  3. ‘What if’ scenarios
  4. Predictive modelling and simulation
  5. Automatic triggers and alerts

He asked us what our institutions are already doing and most were at the 1-3 levels. This reminded me of a JISC programme that I worked on last year – Institutional Innovation – where one of the projects was collecting data to ensure e that they could monitor student progress, catch potential drop-outs early, intervene and thus ensure student progress and retention. This was the Mining Course Management Systems project at Thames Valley University. The question that was raised for me by John Fritz’s talk and by the projects that I have worked with in the JISC Institutional Innovation programme was who controls the data – so  – do the students get to analyse the data or see the results of the data analysis? What voice do they have over how the data is interpreted and what interventions will be made – given that they will be the recipients? Interesting!

Finally to Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011 (CCK11). Despite the fact that I have already attended CCK08 and been aware of CCK09, I think that this is the one that I will be following the most closely, although perhaps still from a distance.  As a learner, it suits me better to be on the edge. Stephen Downes and George Siemens have urged us to ‘share with others’.  I have thought about this. Do I do this or not?  Well – I have to say – not very publicly – although I do have a few people with whom I feel very connected and with whom I have some deep ‘back-channel’ conversations/discussions (which have now resulted in 4 research papers/projects). These have all resulted from CCK08.  I do blog from time to time which I regard as my ‘wider sharing’, but it is the closer connections that I really value. So I am looking forward to CCK11 once again – but I will be keeping an eye on Digital Storytelling and Learning Analytics – for interest and from the perspective of being interested in how people learn in open courses.

What’s wrong with MOOCs? Some thoughts

This was a question asked by George Siemens on his blog and discussed by George, Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, Dave Cormier and Jim Groom in an open Elluminate session (around 45 attendees in all) on 20th Dec.

To think of a MOOC as being wrong is to think of it as a course. For me a MOOC is the antithesis of a course. The principles on which it is based – autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness cannot be reconciled with a course. Why? Because a course implies assessment. As soon assessment enters the equation, then autonomy – the key principle of connectivism – is lost.

That’s not to say that within traditionally assessed courses we cannot – as course designers – consider more deeply the implications of designing our courses to increase the possibility of autonomy, openness, diversity and connectedness. But within the traditional system of accreditation and validation there are considerable constraints on what we can achieve. Anyone who is paying for a course – open or not – is going to have expectations of what they get for their money and that usually means, in my experience,  of the level of tutoring/facilitation they receive.

So the question of  ‘What is wrong with MOOCs?’  has to be considered in terms of whether the course is accredited or not. The answer to the question for each is different. For the accredited course there has already been much research on what makes for a good online course and what makes for good online facilitation. Of course – the ‘massive’ part of MOOC means that the facilitators’ role has to be reconsidered. Alec Couros realised this when he asked for volunteer mentors.

But for an unaccredited course – and I much prefer Jim Groom’s idea that we should be thinking in terms of online learning ‘events’ rather than courses  – then , in my view, the responsibility lies with the learner and the whole ethos and ethics of the ‘event’ changes. As an aside – a question that has occurred to me is how is an ‘event’ different from a conference? There have been many successful online conferences, but I do not see an event based on MOOC principles as being the same thing as a conference. If the ‘event’ is ‘not for credit’, I cannot see much wrong with the way in which they have been designed to date. Whilst there are things we might not like and also contradictions in the way in which the basic principles of open courses can be interpreted (see Mackness, et al – The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC), the responsibility for learning is ultimately down to the learner.

What I am currently finding interesting is how difficult it is to apply, in practice, the principles of connectivism  – which I see to be the principles of open courses (autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness) in the traditional settings in which most of us educators probably find ourselves.  I strongly believe in these principles, but find when I try to apply them to course design that they are subject to many constraints, not only externally but also internally, i.e. constraints from my own thinking. If I am honest, it is more difficult to truly change my own practice than I would have thought, whatever my changing beliefs. One of the constraints I encounter – which I think has been raised by Lisa Lane in her blog  – is in the teaching of skills. In the MOOCs I have attended (CCK08, Critical Literacies, PLENK) , the course content, i.e. what we are expected to learn has been loose and within the remit of own ideas and thinking. We have been encouraged to navigate our own way through these ideas and follow our own interests and paths of learning. If we learn skills along the way that is a bonus – but they have not been explicitly taught and they have not been a focus of the course content.

But what if the learning of a skill is the focus of the course – in my case  – the courses I tutor on are for participants who want to learn the skills of e-moderation/facilitation.  Then – whichever way I look at it – however much choice is designed into the course – ultimately the success of the course relies on whether the participants can demonstrate the skills of e-moderation/e-facilitation. And for this they need to be pointed to some activities in which they can demonstrate this. As I write this, I wonder if this is true, but my experience to date is – that it is.

So – to come back to the question of what is wrong with MOOCs – my summary answer would be – not a lot so long as they stick to the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness outlined by Stephen Downes.  It is sticking to and interpreting these principles for different contexts that is the difficult bit.

In defense of lurking

A couple of days ago George Siemens made a post to his Elearnspace blog in which he strongly criticised lurkers as follows:

Creation, collaboration, and sharing are the true value points of a PLN. It’s not what it does for me, but rather what I am now able to do with and for others.

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding. http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/12/01/my-personal-learning-network-is-the-most-awesomest-thing-ever/

What George has written seems to me to be a complete contradiction of what I perceive open learning networks or courses to be all about. Stephen Downes has outlined the principles of learning in networks as being openness, connectivity, diversity and autonomy. For me, autonomy lies at the heart of how this works, and has been central to the success of the open courses I have so far attended (PLENK, CCKO8 and CritLit). In other words, a key principle is that we have the choice of how connected, open, interactive or participative we want to be. We can therefore choose to lurk. Actually, I dislike that derogatory term ‘lurking’ and prefer to recognise that in any course, online or f2f, we will have active participants, but also those whose learning preference is to ‘read’ or ‘observe’.

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state.

My question here would be what is wrong with that? PLN (personal learning network) is by its very name just that – personal. It is not for George Siemens or anyone else to tell me what being connected means in relation to my personal learning.

Lurking=taking.

Not so, or no more so than in collaborative creation and contribution. And just to remember here that Stephen Downes famously said at the ALT conference in 2005 that ‘Collaboration is the joining together of things that do not naturally want to be joined’. So there are two points here. First is that George’s rant against ‘lurking’ is an example of the ‘Tyranny of Participation’, written about by Ferreday and Hodgson and cited by me in a number of posts. Second is that there is no evidence that ‘lurking=taking’. By its very nature we do not know what ‘lurkers’ are doing. They are not present and therefore we have no evidence with which to judge them in this way. The responses to George’s post list many reasons why people might be perceived as ‘lurkers’. From my own experience of working as a tutor on international online courses, I know that participants may not be present for a whole host of reasons including access difficulties, technology difficulties, illness, significant family or work disruptions/distractions and so on. The best they can do in these circumstances is to read or observe. I also know that whilst these people may not be connected and contributing to my course, they are often heavily engaged elsewhere. It is not for me to make judgments about where their priorities lie. They have the autonomy to decide that for themselves.

The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative.

To throw out a comment like this about a well established theory of learning, without any further explanation is not helpful. My interpretation from reading Wenger’s work is that legitimate peripheral participation is about the development of competency and identity within a learning community and the learning trajectories that people follow to achieve this within a social learning situation. It acknowledges that when people join a community (or, I would suggest, even a network), they join at the edge and gradually develop their identity within it. In addition Etienne Wenger’s more recent work has a lot to say about learning on the boundaries of communities. At a recent conference he suggested that this is where there can be the most powerful learning experiences, where people at the edge straddle the boundaries between different communities and can feed information/learning back and forth across these boundaries. This relates also to Granovetter’s work on the strength of weak ties and suggests that far from being negative, legitimate peripheral participation can have positive consequences.

Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding. (my bold)

Finally, although I have been guilty of this myself in the past, I do not think ‘should’ is a helpful word in relation to learning. Learning in any environment, network, community, course, classroom, is ideally about negotiation and learner empowerment. This also means allowing people to choose whether and when to interact with other learners, whether to read and observe (lurk) rather than be actively interactive and to decide for themselves what connectivity means to them personally.

Openness and intellectual property

This is just going to be a quick post – just to mark something that happened today and which seems highly significant to me to the whole notion of open learning in open networks – if those networks are related to learning in Higher Education.

Today I attended a meeting in which a PhD student asked a question about the meaning of intellectual property. She was concerned that the data that she was gathering and her decisions about what data to collect for her PhD were based on conversations with her work colleagues – so what could she claim as her own ideas and what should she attribute to others – could she claim anything from a dialogue/discussion as her own?

Evidently it is very important in a PhD viva to be able to substantiate work as original and as your own work.

The student was advised at this point to be extremely careful about attributing work carefully, extremely cautious about openly sharing work in progress or ideas, and to be selfish. This should help to ensure that the PhD is accepted as an original piece of work and in addition this approach would help to ensure that anyone then intending working in Higher Education could build up their reputation in high ranking journals, maintain tenure at the university at which s/he works and not risk having their work and ideas ‘stolen’ by others.

This approach to learning is the antithesis of what I am interested in and how I want to learn – but then I am past retirement age, do not need to secure a career and have nothing to lose in believing that we should openly share.  I must say I found I was able to listen sympathetically to the discussion today, whilst at the same time being ‘sad’ that this non-sharing approach is still being promoted in some areas of Higher Education. It occurred to me that this approach is based on ‘fear’. Fear of not being recognised, fear of having your ideas stolen, fear of not ‘making it’, fear of not ‘fitting in’ etc.

Despite all this, I think it is worth thinking about exactly what we mean by ‘open’ in relation to intellectual property and more broadly – a question that has been concerning me for a while. I can see that for a student/new lecturer who is trying to establish a reputation, they have to make their mark somehow – and how do you do this at the beginning of your career and before you become established, if you give all your work away, and/or allow anyone to use it in any way they wish, especially if, as I was told today, high ranking journals, on which tenure is based, require you to substantiate that your ideas are original.

So where does openness fit into this scenario? Is there a continuum from less open to more open along which we need to appropriately position ourselves according to our specific personal context at any given time?