Capturing the learner experience in ModPo and open learning environments

This is an invitation to all Modern & Contemporary American Poets MOOC (ModPo) participants, SCoPE community members, CPsquare members, ELESIG members, FSLT13 participants, POTCert participants, colleagues and friends, and the wider open network to join us in two open webinars to reflect on your learning experiences and discuss emergent learning in MOOCs and open learning environments.

Where and when?

SCoPE Blackboard Collaborate Room:

  1. Webinar 1 – Emergent Learning – Tuesday, 19 November 18:00 GMT
  2. Webinar 2 –  Drawing Footprints of Emergence – Tuesday, 29 November 18:00 GMT

See for further details of the Webinars.

In these webinars we will be sharing some thoughts about our experiences in MOOCs and other courses,  in my case ModPo, and inviting participants to do likewise. In particular, in the second webinar, we will encourage participants to reflect on their learning to draw a visualization of their learning experience – a Footprint.

This is a visualization of my reflection on my ModPo experience at the end of Week 10, the end of the MOOC.ModPo Week 10 Image 2

In these drawings (we call them Footprints) we consider the relationship between 25 different critical factors  that can influence the learning experience with particular reference to the balance between prescriptive and emergent learning. There is not room here to explain this in detail. We will do this in the webinars and further information can be found on our open wiki and in our published papers – which you can find here and here.

Drawing footprints is a way of surfacing deep reflection, tacit knowledge and understanding about learning in complex learning environments.

I have documented my ModPo experience over the weeks in this document in a series of footprints – see ModPo footprints and explanation 151113

This is how I have described my learner experience at the end of the course (the end of Week 10) which is depicted by the Footprint image above …….

My Learning experience in ModPo – End of Week 10

ModPo has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. I have lurched from being thrilled by it, to feeling excessively irritated, from marveling at the open minds of the poets to whom we have been introduced, to feeling that I do not have the competence to understand them, from being disappointed in aspects of the MOOC pedagogy to being really impressed with the way in which the MOOC has been run. This is reflected in the footprints I have drawn at various stages of the course.

Reflecting on my experience of the last week of the course, I find that my perception of the balance between emergent and prescriptive learning in this MOOC has once again shifted more into the ‘sweet’ emergent learning zone (The pale white zone on the footprint is the emergent learning zone. The darker central zone is the prescriptive learning zone. The outer darker zone is the challenging zone, moving towards the edge of chaos).

The footprint I have drawn shows that there are a number of factors that remain in the prescriptive zone. There isn’t a lot of ‘Risk’ in the ModPo environment, or opportunities for the course to be self-correcting or adaptive. There is limited variance in the learning pathways and not really any possibility that I could see of negotiating outcomes. My perception is that these constraints on emergent learning are a result of the design of the Coursera platform.

I also imposed constraints on myself by choosing not to engage in the forums and towards the end of the course I stopped watching the webcasts. For myself I had to balance engagement with the heavy load of poetry we were required to read and engage with, with the demands of engaging in the overloaded forums. I chose the former and instead to engage with the MOOC from my blog. I have blogged each week of the course.

The result has been a mostly sweetly emergent learning experience, i.e. ModPo has been a positive learning experience. I do not feel part of the ModPo community (it has been a ‘purple in the nose’ experience*), but I have found the introduction to poets and their experiments highly stimulating and relevant to my work in education.

*(A story from Etienne Wenger). I have tasted the wine and know there is a lot to know about the wine, but I don’t feel part of the wine-tasting community, I don’t understand their language (purple in the nose) and I don’t think I want to become a member of this community. I will remain at the boundaries of the community.

This is my experience. It is valid for me, but of course there is no way in which it could be said to be representative of the 36 000 ModPo participants. For that we would need many ModPo participants to draw a footprint and share it. Hence the invitation.

And the invitation is equally open to all interested in online learning experiences. We already have many examples of footprints from participants on a range of courses and would welcome more. The more we have, the more we can begin to unpick what it means to learn in open learning environments.

We hope you will join us in the webinars. Everyone is welcome.

Returning to Emergent Learning

Footprints of Emergence

Following our (Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and me) last publication in IRRODL – Footprints of Emergence – we have continued to think about the factors which influence the potential for emergent learning in any given learning environment or curriculum.

In May we published a paper ‘Open Research and Open Learning’ in Journal Campus Virtuales. Many thanks to the Editors for inviting us to do this. In this paper we explore our own work in open research and open learning and this has caused us to reflect further on the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning, structure and agency. I have also uploaded a copy of the paper to this blog  –  see Publications 

This week Roy has run a workshop at the Digital Pedagogies Unconference at University College, London.  At an unconference you are never quite sure whether or not you will get a hearing, but Roy did get a slot and had an interesting discussion with those who attended.

At the end of this month, we will run a workshop for the ELESIG Community – ELESIG Summer symposium . Here is a link to the details of our session –

We are looking forward to this, particularly since Fred Garnett will be there, also doing a presentation about his WikiQuals Project. Fred has also developed an Emergent Learning Model  so it will be interesting to finally meet him and swop notes  🙂

Finally we are delighted that our proposal for a workshop (one of only 11) has been accepted by ALT-C for their conference in September – Building New Cultures of Learning  The last ALT-C Conference I went to was in  2005. As fortune would have it, Stephen Downes was a keynote speaker then and will be again this year in 2013. I am looking forward to hearing hime speak again. I can still remember the keynote he gave in 2005.

We have posted details of the workshop we will run at ALT-C 2013 in our open wiki – Footprints of Emergence (I should say Roy’s open wiki – he is the one who does most of the work on it :-)).

See ALT-C Presentation for an outline of our session.

We are still working on the wiki and expect it to have changed and developed before September when the ALT-C conference runs.

So, there’s lots to work on in the coming months.

OER13 Conference, Tues 26 March

Tomorrow my colleague from Oxford Brookes University, George Roberts, will be presenting a workshop at the OER13 conference – in Nottingham, UK. He will be joined on Skype, by Marion Waite.


This paper/workshop is one of the outcomes of the FSLT12 MOOC , which we worked on last year and will run again this year from 8th May to the 14th June. We have also worked on three further papers as an outcome of FSLT12.

  • Waite, M., Mackness, J., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (under review 2013). Liminal participants & skilled orienteers: A case study of learner participation in a MOOC for new lecturers. JOLT
  • Mackness, J., Waite, M., Roberts, G. & Lovegrove, E. (to be submitted 2013). Learning in a Small, Task-Oriented, Connectivist MOOC: Implications for Higher Education.  eLearning Papers
  • Lovegrove et al. (in progress) Moving online, becoming ‘massive’: turning the face-to-face ‘First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’ into a MOOC. BeJLT

The OER13 workshop will follow a similar format to the presentation that George made to the ELESIG community  earlier this month, but will explore MOOC meanings more deeply from, threshold concept, community of practice and third space theory perspectives.

Having looked through the OER13 website, I can’t see that any presentations are being live streamed, but hopefully recordings will be uploaded, and there is a Twitter channel – #oer13

Tales from a reticent Elluminate presenter

They say that the best way to learn is to teach – or if not teach then facilitate – or if not facilitate then engage, interact, participate and act. By act I mean ‘get in there and get your hands dirty’.

I have now twice found myself in the position of leading an Elluminate online conferencing session. For neither session was I the intended leader – but in both cases the leader’s technology failed, so leaving me no choice but to ‘pick up the reins’. I had to get in there and ‘get my hands dirty’. I never have liked having dirty hands 🙂 However, since this has now happened twice I thought I would reflect on what I have learned about the physical management of an online synchronous session. Some people seem to do it so easily – but I do not find it easy. So here is my list of things that work best for me and what I have learned.

1. Plan the session well in advance and have a trial run through in Elluminate. This means that you can check that your microphone is working and that you know your way around the Elluminate tools. If you allow enough time you can even go out and buy a new headset 🙂

2. Some people might only ever run one of these sessions. I have attended a lot of sessions but only been responsible for running two.  Running a session is a completely different experience. If you are not confident with the technology then make sure you have someone there who is. We had Helen Whitehead today. It was such a relief to know that she was in control of the technology. She also is very experienced so she knew when to step in.

3. The main difference between ‘teaching/facilitating’ in an Elluminate session and in other environments is – for me – that the facilitator has to contend with the chat room, answering questions and managing the session/ presenting – all at the same time. I cannot do this. Despite being female I am not good at this type of  ‘multitasking’ :-). I cannot even follow the chat and presentation at the same time when attending an Elluminate session, never mind when running the session. Some people seem to do this wonderfully well and maybe it is achievable with lots of experience, but I have not got there yet. The answer is to work with a team. Someone to handle the technology, someone to do the presentation, one or two people to follow the chat and ‘gather in’ the questions to feed back to the presenter.

4. On the whole, in my experience, very few people are willing to take the microphone and speak in an Elluminate session and I don’t blame them.  The technology can seem daunting – you can hear yourself speaking in your own room, but you don’t know how you are sounding to others. This is where Elluminate teaching overlaps with any good teaching. It’s important to make participants feel comfortable, confident that they can contribute and that all contributions are welcome. I don’t find this bit difficult. What I do find difficult is paying enough attention to what participants are saying. I am nervously thinking about the next slide, the next question, the next activity. Again, this is where a good team could help.

5. I have attended many Elluminate sessions. The ones that I have enjoyed the most have been those that were most interactive. For me Elluminate sessions are not so much about the content to be presented, but about the discussion that can be generated between participants and presenter around key themes/issues related to the content on which the session is focused. If we wanted simply to present we could do a podcast or video presentation or powerpoint presentation – but the point of all getting together in real time is so that we can interact. Elluminate has a number of tools that facilitate interaction – like the chat, polling, writing on the whiteboard, moving into small groups/rooms for discussion (moving into rooms, in my experience, requires someone who is confident with the technology, but can work very well).  That’s not to say that I don’t respect those who don’t wish to interact, but prefer to observe.

6. All the other points I can think of are simply what you would expect of good teaching – e.g. not overloading powerpoint slides, giving people time to think of questions and respond, listening more than talking (I’m not sure if we got this balance right today), sticking to time etc.

I have never yet listened to the recording of the first Elluminate session I led.

I didn’t dare – but I have forced myself to listen to the recording of today’s session. Three things went wrong:

1.     I was completely thrown by having to lead this session – extremely nervous – I can hear that in my voice, but perhaps if you don’t know me you can’t – but this had knock on consequences.

2.     I ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’  a lot. I don’t do this when I feel confident – although I am naturally a reflective person and prefer to take my time instead of jumping in with a response, which is why it is better if I don’t lead these types of sessions

3.     I simply could not listen. I was too concerned/nervous about managing the session. This meant that I did not give sufficient or adequate response to people who made very interesting comments – and I’m sorry about that – but at least the session was recorded

There’s probably more – but that’s all I can cope with for now. And I’m glad I listened to the recording because it wasn’t as bad as I expected 🙂 and of course I learned a lot – more than expected – so I suppose you could call it emergent learning 🙂

Emergent Learning Webinar – recording

I need more time to think about the outcomes of the webinar. We had a good turn out – about 30 people – and also lots of discussion in the chat. People were also very good about interacting and participating in the activities we had planned for the session.

For now I’ll just thank everyone and post up some links to information.

The power point we used is here Emergent Learning presentation (PPT) You will see that there is not a lot in it. We tried to plan the session to allow for emergent learning 🙂

The chat room transcript is here Emergent Learning Webinar Chat Transcript

This is The recording of the Elluminate session

We are hoping that there will be further discussion in ELESIG – some comments have already been posted

There is still lots to think about and discuss 🙂

Emergent Learning Webinar

Please note that this webinar will now start half an hour earlier at 12.30 pm GMT

On Tuesday 15th February (1.00 pm – 2.30 pm GMT) I will be joining Roy Williams and Regina Karousou to run a lunchtime webinar for the ELESIG community about our paper ‘Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0’ which is due to be published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning online journal within the next month or so.

The paper will be included in a special issue on connectivism.

Yesterday Roy, Regina and I had a Skype call to plan the webinar. In our paper we have explored ‘the nature of emergence and emergent learning, and the conditions that enable emergent, self-organised learning to occur and to flourish’. It was therefore interesting to consider what a webinar that would encourage emergent learning might look like. We are hoping that the webinar will be very interactive and also that participants will feel that they have the opportunity to follow their own lines of enquiry. It is actually quite hard to plan for both structure and openness 🙂 This is one of the problems that we discussed in our paper.

Our planning meeting yesterday brought home even more strongly that a commitment to encouraging emergent learning will necessarily impact on curriculum design. There is still plenty to think about in relation to emergent learning and we are hoping that between us at the webinar we can consider alternative perspectives and dig a bit deeper into the meaning of emergent learning.

If this interests you, do join us on Feb 15th.

Ethics and the Learner Voice

With increasing research into the learner experience comes increasing need to consider the ethics of this type of research. The only two questions we received about the two papers we presented at the Networked Learning Conference in Aarlborg, were both about ethics.

The first question was ‘What are the ethical considerations that need to be taken into account when ‘experimenting’ on learners?’ This was in relation to the CCK08 course in which George Siemens and Stephen Downes attempted to destabilise the notion of a course. Our Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC paper concluded that there needs to be more research into the ethics of running massive open online courses – so this question was not a surprise and unfortunately the 20 minute slot that we had for presenting the paper and answering questions did not allow time for discussion.

The second question related to our Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC paper. The question was whether it is ethical to aggregate blog posts from course participants. As far as I can remember (in CCK08) participants were were asked to tag their blog posts with #CCK08, so that they could be easily located.  Most participants would also have been familiar with Stephen Downes’ OLDaily – so I’m not sure where this leaves the ethics question.

To learn more and hear what others say, I will attend the ELESIG Webinar On Wednesday of this week (May 19th)

Webinar: Doing It Right! Methods, Ethics and Hearing the Learner Voice.

Joint HE Ethics and Web 2.0 SIG & ELESIG, with John Traxler

Wednesday 19 May 2010

11:00am – 12.30pm

Speakers (not necessarily in this order):

Dr Roy Williams, University of Portsmouth, “Paradoxes of Audio Narratives”

Liz Masterman, Oxford University Computing Services, “Ethical issues associated with an extended e-mail interview technique: what we called our “Pen-Pal” Method”

Amanda Jefferies, University of Hertfordshire, “‘Using student constructed video diaries – reflections from the STROLL project”

Karen Fitzgibbon, University of Glamorgan, “Helping to shape and enhance the student experience”

Ali Messer, Roehampton University, “Appreciative enquiry as a method in part for ethical reasons”

Adele Cushing, Barnet College, “Do’s and Don’ts’ from a mobile learning project – experiences and personal accounts”

For more information see:

All ELESIG events are free. The only requirement is that you become a member (this is also free!)