Questions about online ‘openness’

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Source of image

  • What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions?
  • Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work?
  • Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector?
  • What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?

These are interesting and pertinent questions from Viv Rolfe in the wake of her attendance at the Association for Learning Technology Conference this year. They prompted me to look back in this blog to see what I have written about openness in education and going open. I am surprised at just how many posts relate to this topic; this has been one of my main areas of interest since 2008 and before.

I can remember clearly the point at which I realised I was ‘in the open’. It was during CCK08 – the MOOC which coined the term MOOC and was convened by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. I started this blog for that MOOC and about a month later made a post in which I questioned the need to be online to be connected. At the time, because I was new to blogging, I thought I was fairly anonymous and invisible and it gave me a tremendous jolt when I saw that Stephen Downes had included this post in his blog aggregation. Since then I have often considered (for example in this blog post) how open I am or want to be, because the feeling of over exposure and discomfort has never completely gone away.

So as Viv asks – Why do I do it? For me Viv’s first question is easy to answer.

  • What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions?

I work independently of an institution, and have done for 10 years, so any support that I do have comes from my network. The big question for me is ‘who do I want to be in my network?’ I am not interested in collecting numbers for the sake of it. When I get a friend request on Facebook, or a connection request on LinkedIn, or a follower on Twitter, I don’t automatically connect. If I don’t know the person or ‘of ‘ the person, I look them up (Google them etc.). If I think we have topics of interest in common, then I will connect. I am not looking for social connections, but for professional connections. Sometimes these overlap, but I don’t assume that they will or even want them to. I have found the increasing blurring between public and private, personal and professional, troubling and constantly find myself wavering about what the difference is. I use ‘open’ social media as an information source. If and when I share information online, it is in the hope that it will be useful to others – but I am never sure of whether it will be and whether it is a conceit to be sharing in this way. I am thinking this as I write this post.

Then Viv asks:

  • Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work?

Again for me this is fairly straight-forward to answer. In my career I can’t remember ever sticking to the statutory hours. I have always done more hours and sometimes many, many more hours than in my contract. There have been various reasons for this, but I think the main reasons have been to do with wanting to learn more and to do a better job – not for any recognition, although it is great when this happens, but simply because that’s what I find fulfilling. Currently most of my work is voluntary, unpaid research, which I hope in some small way supports educational practice. I am committed to publishing in ‘open’ journals, although this isn’t necessarily what all my research collaborators want or need for their career advancement, so it doesn’t always work that way. Collaboration usually does involve some degree of compromise 🙂 and I value openness between friends and collaborators, far more than openness in the online network.

Viv’s next question was:

  • Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector?

I have been doing this for the past 10 years. I try to physically attend one conference a year but I have to weigh up costs against gains. Sometimes it is interesting to meet people face-to-face, but I am looking much more for something that stimulates my thinking and sets me off in new directions. There is something about being physically present that can be much more powerful than attending virtually. For many people a conference is about networking and meeting people. For me, when I am paying for myself, that is a luxury. I need more than that. I need to be able to come away and feel that my thinking has changed in some way – and I need to know that I have invested my time and money wisely and that the costs will pay dividends in terms of my future work. What are the implications for the education sector? I think that in the years to come there will be many, many older people, like me, who are already drawing their pensions, who will want to attend conferences and contribute to presentations. Hopefully conference organisers will see these contributions as welcome, but also realise that current costs are often prohibitive. And it is usually the case that people who are paying for themselves can have higher expectations and be more demanding of processes 🙂 This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whose perspective you are taking!

Viv’s last question is the key one.

  • What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?

I would describe my practice as one of ‘guarded openness’. I haven’t thrown myself out there and revealed all, as I see some people doing. I find it disturbing when people seem to ‘wash their dirty linen’ in the open. Some things are not meant to be discussed in the open, but should be reserved for private communication between the parties concerned. I also find that group think, constant self-affirmation and self-validation, either individually or as a group, that fails to stand back and look critically at this online behaviour, makes me feel equally uncomfortable. In the past year I have seen so much of these behaviours online. When I joined CCK08, I was really excited by the altruistic sharing of knowledge and learning behind the idea of ‘openness’, but recently it has seemed to me to be more about narcissism than altruism – about getting noticed and building up ‘numbers’ of followers, tweets etc.

So why am I still here? To be honest, I am no longer sure, but I am hanging on to Stephen Downes’ and George Siemens’ original and hopefully ongoing aspirations for open education. And I am not expecting any response to this post because what I have learned in the last year is that the internet favours consensus and punishes dissent. I should have paid more attention when Dave Snowden told us this in the Change 11 MOOC – another MOOC organised by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.

Connected Learning in an Open World

The Royal Observatory

At the beginning of this week I was in Greenwich, London for the first time in my life. On Monday I travelled up the Thames from Embankment to Greenwich Pier by Clipper (another first) and stood on the decks of the Cutty Sark.The Cutty Sark

On Tuesday I spent the day at the University of Greenwich’s APT2014 Conference, the reason for the trip.

University of Greenwich Queen Anne Court (1)

On Wednesday I stood on the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory.

The Meridian Line

A key question asked in the main exhibition room of Flamsteed House  at the Observatory is ‘Where am I? This related to how you can work out your exact location on the open seas, by knowing how to fix your latitude and longitude positions. But ‘Where am I?’ seems such an important and relevant question for an educator and although I didn’t visit Flamsteed House until the day after the Greenwich conference, I found myself constantly wondering where I am in relation to the discussions that were held during the conference.

One of the main reasons for attending the conference was to hear Stephen Downes speak. Where am I in my understanding of what he had to say and the implications of what he had to say? Here is the link to a recording of his full talk, Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World  and this is the Abstract for the presentation:

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This was the first in a series of 3 talks that Stephen is giving in London this week. He started his second talk, Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World – given to the NetworkEDGE conference at the London School of Economics on Wed 10th July – with the words: If you feel unfulfilled at the end of this talk, it’s because it doesn’t really have a beginning and doesn’t really have an end, i.e. it’s the middle talk in a series of three. I have only listened to the recording of this second talk.

I did feel somewhat unfulfilled after the first talk. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference – I thoroughly enjoyed it, attended some interesting sessions and talked to some great people, but at the end of the day I felt that a lot of questions had been raised but not many answers had been found. These questions were around what we mean by ‘open’, what we mean by ‘connected learning’ and what do universities understand about open, connected learning – not only what do they understand, but what are they doing about it, what are they becoming as a result of open learning in a networked world – and are they becoming what we would hope they become? As Stephen said, ‘Institutions are what we make them’.

This thinking about unanswered questions made me wonder whether the idea of flipped classrooms, which was mentioned in the opening talk by the Vice Chancellor, should be applied to conferences. Should we engage with the ideas to be presented by the keynote speaker before the conference, and present a discussion paper/workshop as a result of that – so that the key questions can be discussed.

The points I took from Stephen’s talk were that

‘Open’ means open in all senses, particularly in the sense of open sharing of thought processes, and should be the default position in Universities. Free and open access is not enough.

But Universities are resistant to openness in the sense of open sharing, and content providers do not want people to have free and open access. The promise of open resources has not materialized.

Open access makes a massive economic difference to users, but cost IS the problem for universities because universities see online learning in terms of money making.

The issue is not finding innovative ways of teaching, but innovative ways of learning.

The bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses, but this was never the intention of the original cMOOCs.

Change in Universities is slow – too slow.

None of these points came as a surprise. None of them is unfamiliar, but challenging Universities to become more ‘open’ can be a risky business for employees and those that do can land themselves in trouble, as Stephen pointed out in his presentation. (See slide 29 for an example).

In general people seem to be more aware of the risks than the benefits. A new lecturer at the conference said that ‘openness’ is a risk for someone like her who is new in the job and trying to establish a reputation. Sheila McNeill, who was a panel member at the end of the day, urged this lecturer to be brave and just go for it. I wonder whether being strategic about openness is more important than being brave. Sharing openly doesn’t mean that you have to ‘bare your soul’ – there are other ways of sharing. A more impersonal and less risky approach is reporting. If open sharing doesn’t come easily then share what you have discovered to be useful, rather than your own work or personal thoughts. As Stephen said in his second talk to the London School of Economics, every learner is different and reacts to each learning scenario differently.

The Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, also on the panel, seemed to recognize the difficulties when she said that open sharing in the form of lecturers recording their lectures and openly sharing them, is a risk to the University’s reputation – but she also acknowledged that a major issue for an institution is the need for cultural change. As she put it – universities will have to wait for some staff to shift or die before this culture change can be achieved.

Stephen asked for a show of hands for who was tweeting the conference proceedings and a show of hands for who had recorded their conference presentation.  Some were tweeting, but only one person had recorded their presentation. The person sitting next to me during the final panel session was inspired and enthusiastic about what she had heard during the day, but said that she had never taught online and had never taken an online course. It was all new for her.

For me, the concerns raised about openness should not be brushed aside. Questions of whether an academic’s or an institution’s reputation can be damaged by openness need to be discussed. The benefits or otherwise of openness need to be articulated. For me, it is not about whether you tweet at a conference or record your presentation and upload your Slideshare; all these can help to model a spirit of openness, but it’s more about trying to understand why openness is necessary and how we can all be supported in understanding and doing this. Ultimately, isn’t it about personal values and educational philosophies?

So I came away from Greenwich feeling that many questions had been raised, but that they were left hanging. I would have been interested in more discussion about whether there is agreement about the changes that Stephen suggested Universities need to make and if so how they will make these changes. But I have now listened to Stephen’s second talk to the London School of Economics, which helped me to understand the context of the first talk. Inge de Waard has blogged about it here: Fabulous ideas: economics, innovation, #education  and I hope to return with another blog post.

A big thank you to Simon Walker, Gillian Keyms and colleagues for organizing a thought-provoking event, and to all at Greenwich, particularly the students, who were so helpful, friendly and welcoming.

Ontology, epistemology and pedagogy of networked learning

This was the subject of one of the threads in the 4th Networked Learning Hot Seat  last week.

Teresa’s request in a comment on my last post –   that I write something about this has prompted this attempt – but I am writing this as notes to myself and therefore am only including here the aspects of discussion that were of interest to me and from my own interpretation. To get a full picture of the discussion you will need to go to the Hot seat link.

I had difficulties relating to some of the ways in which networked learning was being discussed.  In the first Hot seat it was defined by Peter Goodyear as:

learning and teaching carried out largely via the Internet/Web which emphasises dialogical learning, collaborative and cooperative learning, group work, interaction with on-line materials, and knowledge production.

And then in this Hot seat it was defined by David McConnell as:

the use of Internet-based information and communication technologies to promote collaborative and co-operative connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources, so that participants can extend and develop their understanding and capabilities in ways that are important to them, and over which they have significant control.

And as I mentioned in my last post about this, David McConnell wrote:

Networked Learning is based on:

  • Dialogue
  • Collaboration and cooperation in the learning process
  • Group work
  • Interaction with online materials
  • Knowledge production

It was the emphasis on collaboration and cooperation that made me feel a bit as if I was on a different planet, but because I arrived late in the Hot seat I had missed David McConnell’s explanation….

I think the definition is narrow in the sense that it reflects an interest in NL within formal educational settings which are defined by students taking courses, being assessed and gaining credit, where they are learning in groups and communities of a well defined nature where members know each other (intimately, intellectually, socially etc) and are working towards collective goals.

Once you move beyond these confines into “networks”, the meaning of networked learning changes I think. I am aware that in the discussions here there are differences in the way members are conceptualising networked learning, and I think some have in mind “networks” (of learners) rather than networked learning in the way we have conceptualised it.

….which exactly describes where I am coming from and why I initially felt at sea with what was being discussed. Having accepted that the definition that was being used as the foundation for discussion in the Hot Seat was narrower than one I would use in relation to my own work, I was able to turn my turn my attention to the aspects of ontology, epistemology and pedagogy that were being discussed, which were not confined to that discussion thread and which were not kept in discrete discussion areas either.

These are the ideas which I found most interesting:

Relational dialogue for me is an integral part of a social constructionist view of learning where what we know and who we are gets constructed in the interactional and relational dialogue, or some prefer to say, learning conversations that we engage in, in general as well as online.

We can look at this in the very conversations we are having in this hot seat – in terms of what we are coming to know through these exchanges/conversations and how we are each being ‘constructed’ in terms of our online and also offline identities. Something worth considering and reflecting on as we proceed I think.  (Vivien Hodgson)

It’s the process of dialogue that helps them (students) reflect on their learning, be open to asking and responding to questions about their learning. It’s that reflective process that can help learners go beyond just sharing views and beliefs, to digging into them and trying to work with them. (David McConnell)

Networked learners will be “critically reflective and seek to take an ethical and responsible perspective to what they learn and how they act in the world (Vivien Hodgson)

Important to us is the nature of meaning and understanding of knowledge and of the world that is constructed and how it contributes to the wellbeing of society and the world in which we live. (Vivien Hodgson)

There were also interesting discussions related to assessment and whether or not participation in online discussion/networks should be assessed. For example:

David provided further information in an excerpt from Chapter 4 of his book

McConnell, D. (2006) E-Learning Groups and Communities. P. 209) Maidenhead, SRHE/OU Press      Onlineassessment_DMcC-1

And Vivien provided a link to her interesting paper on the tyranny of participation.

Ferreday, D. & Hodgson, V. (2010) Heterotopia in Networked Learning: Beyond the Shadow Side of Participation in Learning Communities. Lancaster University Management School Working Paper.  http://www.lums.lancs.ac.uk/publications/view/115/

It was acknowledged that a course based on principles of participation and collaboration will fail if participants do not interact, ‘listen’ and ‘take care of the community, but the potential for marginalizing students who do not, for one reason or another, embrace this culture, was also recognized. This led to a brief discussion on power relations in networks.

The constraints of assessment on learner autonomy were also recognized, hence the emphasis on self-assessment, peer-assessment and negotiated assessment.

But the Hot Seat ended with a recognition that:

Each context is different, and each context has conditions framed by the teachers and the learners. So, as you say, we do have to be aware of who the learners are and what they are there for.

I think we can design courses and learning events that are built on socio-constructionist principles and which reflect many of the networked learning attributes that we outline in our introduction. But their implementation then requires negotiation with learners, and the final learning and teaching processes may then take on their own particular ‘shape’ depending on those negotiation processes. (David McConnell)

So plenty  here to think about in terms of pedagogy, ontology and epistemology (in that order?)

Networked learning, CoPs and connectivism

The first Networked Learning Conference Hotseat with Peter Goodyear has attracted a lot of interesting discussion. Most of the discussion has centred on what is meant by networked learning and there seem to be as many definitions as there are people in the forum. Most agree that networked learning is about connecting people and ideas, but beyond that people’s ideas seem to be positioned somewhere along the following continuums

Virtual  >>>>>> Non-virtual

At a distance >>>>>> Predominantly F2F

Collective >>>>>>Individual

Open environment (e.g. a MOOC) >>>>>> Closed environment (e.g. a HE course)

Cooperative >>>>>> Collaborative

Questions have been raised around:

  • why people join particular networked events/venues,
  • understanding the norms/language of a network,
  • whether collaboration and cooperation is necessary for learning in a network,
  • what keeps people committed to the network,
  • the role of weak ties in a network ,
  • creating and maintaining social relationships in a network

……. all of which to me seem to imply that there is some confusion about the difference between a community of practice and a network.

The question was also raised about where/what is the overlap between connectivism and networked learning – and there is also confusion there.

So an interesting discussion – with lots of references being posted (great for those doing a PhD or other research) – but not a lot of clarity about what networked learning is. I think it would help to say what it is not – and that might help to distinguish it from communities of practice (although Wenger et al have already published about this) and connectivism. I think Stephen Downes and George Siemens are clearer about what connectivism is and is not.

From the discussion thus far – Networked Learning seems to incorporate anything from constructionist to constructivist approaches to learning – but the discussion isn’t over yet – so there is still time for it all to become a bit clearer 🙂

First Networked Learning Conference Hotseat is now open

Peter Goodyear has opened the first Networked Learning Conference Hotseat  – in which discussion will centre on

Architectures for productive networked learning

Here is the link – http://networkedlearningconference.ning.com/forum/topics/architectures-for-productive-networked-learning

He opens up by writing:  As this is the first ‘hotseat’, we plan to open up three lines of discussion:

1) What is meant by ‘networked learning’

2) Who we are; who you are; what your relationship is to the topic

3) Architectures for productive networked learning – what this means to us; how it might be of interest to you

Elluminate v. Networked Learning Conference

Heli has made yet another interesting post in her blog reflecting on the CCK08 experience following our Elluminate session yesterday in which George Siemens kindly invited us to share our research paper – The ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC.

The link to the recording of this session is here – http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/07/05/elluminate-vs-networked-learning-conference/

After my Networked Learning Conference hiatus (as a friend has called it) I really had no expectations that anyone would attend the Elluminate session, especially since it was only advertised a day or so before (although George and Stephen do have huge networks and just a word from them can make all the difference) – I emailed Roy and John saying that I thought we would be speaking to ourselves!

It’s ironic that I spent over £1000 of my own money getting myself to the Networked Learning Conference where we had  just 20 minutes to present our paper, were allowed time for only one question, where the session was attended by less than half the people in yesterday’s Elluminate session and where there was no follow up discussion ….. and yet yesterday for the Elluminate session, I could sit in the comfort of my own home, with a cup of coffee, seated in a comfortable chair, incurring  no additional expense and discuss our research with 40 people! I know which I prefer and I want to thank everyone who attended. There were lots of names that I recognised in the participant list.

I do rather wish I had been a participant in the Elluminate session though. I have never been able to follow the chat and the whiteboard (contrary to popular belief not all women are good at multi-tasking!), so having to focus on speaking and answering George’s questions, meant that I didn’t follow the chat, so I sincerely hope that it didn’t appear that I was ignoring people. Fortunately, Roy and John agreed beforehand that they would keep an eye on the chat. It was unfortunate that Roy’s audio was not working as he would have offered an alternative perspective, as did John through the questions he asked. Just because we worked together for all those months doesn’t mean that we agreed on everything 🙂

Despite the limitations imposed on what I could follow by having to take the microphone, I know there was a lot of chat in the chat room. No-one wanted to take the microphone, apart from John and George, but that didn’t mean that people were ‘silent’. How different from the Networked Learning Conference, where we sat in silence and listened to presentations – although I suppose the equivalent there was that a few people were on Twitter. I don’t know a lot about Twitter, but I doubt it’s the same experience as being involved in a fast moving energetic chat room.

In Elluminate I was aware that whilst I was presenting/speaking, many people, perhaps even the majority were holding conversations of their own, possibly on unrelated subjects. I should imagine that I was only listened to by some of the people for some of the time, but this somehow felt much more satisfactory than my experience at the Networked Learning Conference. In the Elluminate session, people were engaged, active, energetic – there was a palpable ‘buzz’ in the room – or perhaps it was just the buzz of my nervous system jangling 🙂

This experience of presenting in Elluminate has caused me to reflect again on the role of the ‘teacher’ and the extent to which a teacher should intervene or take control in a classroom situation. This appears to be an unresolved dilemma in open courses, particularly massive, open, online courses. As someone said in our research, in these courses, where teachers/instructors necessarily have to take a ‘hands off’ approach because it is simply impossible to interact with each participant in a large open network, there is a tendency for the ‘kids to take control of the classroom’. I think the ‘kids were in control of the classroom’  in the Elluminate session – not complete control because ultimately any one of the moderators could have pulled the plug, but certainly in control of the conversation. This seems to be the accepted norm in online conferencing, so why does it seem more difficult to accept in different educational settings?

Some questions that arise for me in considering the teacher’s changing role are:

  • Does the teacher need to control or direct the conversation/learning? – always, sometimes, never?
  • Is the teacher necessarily the expert in a given learning situation? Who is the expert? How is expertise defined?It’s interesting that the discussion that attracted most interest in the Critical Literacies course was the one on “the evolving definition of ‘expert’ ”.
  • Does the teacher need to intervene in the learning process? When? Why? How much?
  • Is the teacher accountable  for the learner s learning? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • Does the teacher need to build a relationship with a learner? What might be the ethical consequences of this relationship?

Judging from some of the discussion in the Elluminate session, these questions remain unresolved for teachers moving into massive, open, online learning environments.