New structures (MOOCs) demand new ethics?

Following the recent publication of our paper Frances Bell and I are grateful to the number of people who have taken the time to send us some feedback, on Twitter, in the Rhizo14 Facebook group and on Frances’ blog. 

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

Easy access for all to a recent paper is one of the benefits of publishing in the open and we have Open Praxis to thank not only for providing an open platform, but also for their quick turn around time (see previous blog post ), so that the paper was published before our thinking has moved on.

The most spontaneous and fun feedback session we have had so far was on Twitter, when Laura Gogia decided to tweet whilst she was reading the paper. I am still smiling at the memory and at the time I laughed out loud, as well as finding the discussion interesting and helpful.

But the point I would like to pick up here is in response to a comment made by Keith Hamon on Frances’ blog. Keith focussed on a reference we made in the article to Marshall’s work on ethics in MOOCs.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35(2), 250–262.

I should say here that our paper was about learner experiences in the Rhzio14 MOOC. An emergent outcome of our research was that ethics is an area worthy of more attention in MOOCs, particularly MOOCs which take a very experimental approach to pedagogy. But ethics was only one emergent issue. In our next two papers we will pick up on others. A paper about the rhizome metaphor has been submitted and we are working on a paper about community formation in MOOCs.

But to return to Keith’s comment – ‘New structures demand new ethics’. On reading this, I immediately wondered whether this is true, so I had a bit of a hunt round to see what else has been written about this. I explained to Keith, on Frances’ blog that I cannot claim to be an expert about ethics – in the sense that I have limited experience of reading/writing about it. I have been reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary and on p.429, he points out that expertise is actually what makes an expert and comes from the Latin word ‘expertus’, meaning ‘one who is experienced’.

On my search I found that, as you might expect, one of the professions (apart from philosophy) that has thought a lot about ethics is medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised by an alignment of some sort between medical ethics and educational ethics, since both professions are concerned with the care of people.

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, KC Calman wrote about evolutionary ethics and questioned whether values can change. Here is the Abstract for the article:

The hypothesis that values change and evolve is examined by this paper. The discussion is based on a series of examples where, over a period of a few decades, new ethical issues have arisen and values have changed. From this analysis it is suggested that there are a series of core values around which most people would agree. These are unlikely to change over long time periods. There are then a series of secondary or derived values around which there is much more controversy and within which differences of view occur. Such changes need to be documented if we are to understand the process involved in the evolution of differences in ethical views

Calman, K.C. (2004). Teaching and Learning Ethics. Evolutionary ethics: can values change. J Med Ethics: 30:366–370. doi: 10.1136/jme.2002.003582. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733900/pdf/v030p00366.pdf

A similar perspective, i.e. that whilst values might change leading to new ethical issues, some core principles remain unchanged, has been reported more recently on The New Ethics of Journalism blog.

In this article the core principles are thought to be truth, independence and minimizing harm, which are similar to Calman’s list in his article on p. 369: where he wrote that core values which have not altered in medicine are:

  • doing no harm (non-maleficence);
  • a wish to do good (beneficence);
  • the desire to be fair (justice),
  • and a respect for the individual (autonomy).

The ‘‘Golden Rule’’, ‘‘Do unto others as they would do to you’’, ‘‘Love thy neighbour’’ or even the ‘‘My mother principle’’ (if it was your mother what would you do?) express in a different ways some of these sentiments.

ethics sign

Source of image

I did not come across these articles before we wrote our paper, but the core values listed in both journalism and medicine articles are very similar to the list sent us by one of our interview respondents, who we quoted on p.9 of our paper:

  • Do no harm
  • The expectation is that interactions will be mutually respectful
  • Provide and allow space for reflection
  • Ad hominem attacks should not be permitted as a method of discussion
  • There should be a duty of care or necessarily emotional labour on the part of those calling together/convening/organizing/providing these amorphous spaces
  • All cMOOC participants have a duty of care and nurture and responsibility toward others or for themselves, mitigating the need or desire to externalize (blame) their learning and experience on others.

So do new structures demand new ethics? Certainly we need to be vigilant in keeping our understanding of educational change and educational values up to date and with that, as in the journalism article, consider whether there are new ethical issues. But my brief hunt around the literature, and my own gut feeling, suggests that there are core principles such as ‘Do no harm’ which will never change and can always be an expectation.

As Iain McGilchrist writes on p.443 of his book The Master and his Emissary:

We can’t remake our values at will. …. Societies may dispute what is to be considered good, but they cannot do away with the concept. What is more the concept is remarkably stable over time. Exactly what is to be considered good may shift around the edges, but the core remains unchanged.

Update 23-02-15: Pat Thomson has just written a post about ethics in research in which there is a line which exactly says what I have been struggling to say

Ethics seems to me to be to be about a sensibility, a way of being in the world as a researcher.

For me this would apply not just to researchers. These are the words I was trying to find when talking about core principles.

How does the ModPo MOOC enable or create a community?

In this final week of the third iteration of the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC – Al Filreis (the MOOC convener) has asked ModPo participants how the ModPo community works:

I am now here in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, and will be presenting about ModPo at a conference here. The conference is called “Building Massive Open Online Communities,” and the organizers of the conference believe that ModPo is an instance of a so-called “MOOC” that does indeed make a learning community possible—indeed perhaps even necessary to the success of the course.

I want your help in presenting to the people here about the ModPo community. How does it work? What would you like to say to the people here at this conference about the way we’ve conducted ourselves as an online community of learners? What are some advantages, in your experience, of the collaborative and interactive approach?

This is an interesting question. The evidence suggests that ModPo has formed a community of practice very successfully.

Etienne Wenger in his book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity has written about the formation and work of communities of practice in detail, and on his website writes: In a nutshell ……

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

This is true of ModPo – there is plenty of ‘passion for poetry’ in the forums and webinars, in the Facebook group and even on Twitter.

Here is a recent video of current ModPo students talking about their experience.

This video provides a flavour of the diversity of the community and the shared passion for poetry and for ModPo.

In Wenger’s terms ModPo is a community of practice as opposed to simply a community. ModPo participants (community members) gather together around the domain of poetry and share their practices. In the forums, there are shared interpretations of the poems introduced in the course, shared writing, shared poems, shared readings, shared close readings and shared cultural experiences. Sharing, social interaction and social learning are at the heart of the success of ModPo. Everyone’s contribution is welcome, from novice to expert, and there is a real sense that it is possible, for those who want to, to move from the periphery of the community along a trajectory of increasing competence to the centre of the community. It is also perfectly acceptable to remain as a legitimate peripheral participant. I myself feel very comfortable in this latter location.

Etienne Wenger, also in his book, explains that there are three dimensions of practice in a community:

  • Mutual engagement (engaged diversity, doing things together, relationships, social complexity, community maintenance)
  • A joint enterprise (negotiated enterprise, mutual accountability, interpretations, rhythms, local response)
  • Shared repertoire (stories, artifacts, styles, tools, actions, discourses, concepts, historical events)

Shared history is an important aspect of a community of practice and in ModPo this is evidenced by people returning each year to do the course and through the course materials remaining open during the year. The history of the Kelly Writer’s House, from where the course is run has also been shared with ModPo participants.

This sense of place in ModPo is one of its unique features. ModPo participants are invited to enter this space, either physically or virtually each week and join the ModPo team and teaching assistants for discussion. The place and space feel immediate and real and I think are instrumental in forging a sense of community and belonging.

Returning to Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory, he describes four components of learning in a community of practice, which are all evident in ModPo

  • Learning as doing (practice) – in ModPo doing is related to writing (assignments and peer reviews), close reading the poems, discussion and social interaction in the forums
  • Learning as experience (meaning) – in ModPo learning is a shared experience which is negotiated between community members
  • Learning as belonging (community) – in ModPo, for those who want it, it is possible to become a member of a world-wide community of poets and those who are passionate about poetry
  • Learning as becoming (identity) – in ModPo, the very nature of the domain (poetry) and the personalized close readings inevitably have implications for personal identity development.

Finally, a community is not static, but dynamic. It has been interesting to see how ModPo has evolved and continues to grow as a community. Each year new members are welcomed and this year there seems to have been increased recognition that 30,000+ people cannot effectively communicate with each, but need to congregate in smaller groups. Study groups are encouraged and this year one of the community teaching assistants (Laura Cushing) took it upon herself to create a list of the study groups that were springing up around the world, so that participants could easily locate those in their geographical areas and arrange to meet face-to-face to socialize, share close readings and their passion for poetry.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.09San Francisco Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.39Prague Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.24Washington DC Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

So there is plenty of evidence that the ModPo MOOC has created a community of practice around the course. I haven’t specifically answered all Al Filreis’ questions, but hopefully this post provides a sense of some of the ways in which ModPo has done this. I could write more, but I think that’s enough for now.

Evaluating open learning scenarios – keynote presentation

Here are the slides and notes for the keynote presentation that Roy Williams and I gave at the E Learning Conference, FH Joanneum, in Graz, Austria, on Wednesday 17 September 2014. This keynote included two interactive activities – see slides below, but  Slideshare does not enable powerpoint animations, so the post below also includes links to the original powerpoint.

Many thanks to the conference delegates for being active, friendly and supportive participants, especially given that we were not speaking in their native language, German.

The conference instigator, Jutta Pauschenwein, has written about the conference on her blog –http://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/elt14-rund-um-offene-lernszenarien-und-ihre-reflexion/ and there are further posts on this blog about our preparations for this conference.

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Notes to accompany each slide:

Keynote presentation notes:

 1. A brief introduction to who we are

Jenny: I am an independent education consultant and researcher and have been working with HE institutions in this capacity since 2005. I have been publishing research since 2008. My whole career has been in education, starting with teaching in schools, and before going independent, working in HE as a teacher trainer. This involved developing and running a distance learning teacher training programme, which in turn led to an ongoing interest in how learners learn in open learning environments.

Roy: I am interested in exploring ways for people to explore, create, reflect on, and share their learning – individually and collaboratively.  I work and publish across several fields: semiotics, critical discourse analysis, epistemology, ecological psychology, politics, narrative, e-learning, e-assessment, knowledge management, synaesthesia, complexity theory, international development, art design & media, and most of all, on open learning.

2. How did we meet and start working together?

This is a cMap, created by a colleague we have worked with in the past, Matthias Melcher, to explain the open learning environment of the CCK08 MOOC. This was the first MOOC on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2008.

We did not know each other at this point and you can see that we did not even meet in the MOOC. Roy for the most part occupied the forums and Jenny worked on the MOOC from her blog.

You can see from the rest of the map that there were many locations to work in on this MOOC and participants could choose where to work from, which paths to follow and who to connect with. This truly was an open learning environment, with participants working autonomously across distributed platforms. The environment encouraged autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction.

We finally ‘met’ (virtually) at the end of this MOOC, when we began to collaborate on two research papers in which we investigated learners’ experiences in this MOOC. These papers were ultimately published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, an open journal. We have listed the full references at the end of this presentation.

3. Why are we interested in emergent learning?

Following our research into our first MOOC experience, we realized that it was very difficult to ‘pin down’ and explain how and what learners learned in the MOOC and began to understand that this was because much of the learning was unpredictable, unexpected and emergent. In open learning environments we (as teachers) cannot know what learners are doing – what they are learning.

An example of this in nature is the way in which flocks of starlings form murmuration patterns just before roosting at the end of the day. In this behaviour, the patterns the starlings make and the directions they follow are always unpredictable. In addition, there is no leader. They are self-organising, constantly changing and adapting their direction as information is passed between the birds through continual interaction. This is a social behaviour.

Another example of emergent learning that we wrote of in one of our first papers, which is nearer to our work as teachers, was the example of April, a mature, part-time student of Early Years Education, who worked as a manager of a pre-school. She visited a pre-school centre of excellence and was impressed by how quiet and well-behaved the children were and how there were glass bottles and vases of flowers on the tables. She took this unexpected learning back to her own pre-school where she instigated changes. This learning journey was unexpected and beyond the prescriptive learning programme of her course. This was transformative learning for April.

We have recently submitted a book chapter in which we discuss the relationship between transformative and emergent learning. We believe that open learning environments offer potential for transformative learning.

4. What is an open learning environment?

This image shows some of the characteristics of an open space reaching into the distance, where we can’t see what is over the horizon. But the image only shows one path. In open learning environments there are many paths and the learner is free to choose which path to follow. It might be that the learner chooses to follow a more prescribed path as shown in this image, but equally the learner may choose to go off the prescribed path and out of the sight of the ‘teacher’.

So open learning environments can be experienced as quite safe – by following the prescribed path – or much less safe, e.g. a learner may get lost or fall off the edge of a cliff. On the other hand the learner may really enjoy freely wandering about in the environment. If learners leave the prescribed path they don’t know who they will meet or what will happen. The learning outcomes are unpredictable.

A key thing about open learning environments is that they offer learners the choice of which paths to follow.

These were our early thoughts about open learning environments which we then began to develop.

5. We started to think about all the factors which might influence learning in an open learning environment and quickly realized that these characteristics could be grouped into four clusters.

Two of these clusters relate to the learning environment and the other two to the individual learner. So we started to think about what the structure of an open learning environment might look like and how that environment might promote interaction.

And then we thought about how the learner can take control of their learning (agency) and what kinds of activities the learner might be involved in, to establish a presence in an open learning environment. So the questions we are interested in, in relation to the four clusters are

  • What is the balance between Openness and Structure? (Open/Structure)
  • How is the learning design implemented? (Interactive environment)
  • Do learners develop their own capacity for action, or just compliance with given roles? (Agency)
  • What traces do you make and leave behind you? (Presence/writing)

6. Ultimately we ended up with 25 characteristics or factors organized into the 4 clusters, which we think enable a learner to reflect on their learning experience in any given learning environment.

Why 25? Well – there could have been more, but we consider these to be the most important factors to consider. But this is not a definitive list. There could be alternative factors and some factors might not be useful to some learners, teachers or designers.

This was not the first list we came up. It took us a considerable amount of time to refine this list, but testing it out on various audiences and groups of learners.

The presence/writing was the most difficult set of characteristics to determine, but we knew that we had to consider the trace that learners leave behind them as they move through an open learning environment, or even a more prescribed course.

7. In thinking about how to describe the factors in each cluster, we have recently added an image to each description, thinking that perhaps this might make the factors easier to relate to, for some users of the footprints of emergence framework. These are the images we have selected for the Openness/Structure cluster.

8. These are the images we have selected for the Interactive Environment Cluster.

9. These are the images we have selected for the Agency cluster.

10. These are the images we selected for the Presence/Writing cluster. This was the last cluster of factors that we worked on, when we realised that learners need to be aware of the traces that they leave when they interact in open learning environments.

11. So now we had 25 factors organized in 4 clusters to use for reflecting on any given learning experience, but particularly learning in open learning environments. Whilst we could score these, or write about them in a list, we realized that some sort of visualization would have far more impact on learners and would also help to explain the environment as we understand it.

The animated gif created by our colleague Matthias Melcher, gives a sense of how precarious and unsafe an open learning environment might be and how easy it might be to fall off the edge as many MOOC participants do, i.e. they ‘fall out’ of the course. But the gif gives an impression that you can also fall through the middle which doesn’t happen in our framework. (Slideshare does not enable animations. Please access the link to see the animated gif).

In our framework – you can see a cross section of it on the slide – the central zone (the dark blue centre on the footprint template) is the safe prescribed zone. It is safe and comfortable but also quite restrictive and a learner has to make quite an effort to climb out of the valley and up onto the open plateau, which we have depicted in white in the template (where learning is likely to be sweetly emergent). Here the learner has many more choices about which paths to follow, but the as the learner moves further away from the centre and towards the darker blue edge, the learning becomes more challenging. We have described this as the sharply emergent zone. The learner may or may not enjoy this challenge. If the learner gets too close to the edge, the learning will be experienced as chaotic and the learner is in danger of falling off the edge (the dark blue zone).

We think it is possible to describe any learning environment as being on a spectrum between prescribed and chaotic and have thought about our 25 factors in those terms.

12. Here is a slide of how we have described the first two factors in the Open/structure cluster.

We have named the factor and given it an abbreviation for ease of reference, provided a graphic image which might help more visual learners, raised a question to prompt reflection and described the spectrum from prescribed to chaotic learning,

This sheet is used when drawing footprints of emergence and users are encouraged to add comments which explain how they have interpreted each factor in relation to their own learning experience.

13. Where have the factors come from?

Well they have not been ‘plucked out of thin air’. In thinking about how learning emerges in open learning environments we immediately drew on complexity theory and ideas of adaption and self-correction.

The influence of Etienne Wenger’s work and his emphasis on communities of practice, social learning, interaction, negotiated learning and identity development can be seen in the list of 25 factors.

Our experience of MOOCs and knowledge of connectivism, from the work of Stephen Downes and George Siemens, has been influential in the choice of factors for all the clusters, factors such as risk, disruption, multipath, co-evolution, self-organization, autonomy, diversity etc.

We think it would be fair to say that most teachers have been influenced by social constructivism; in their creation of experiential learning environments, recognition of ambiguity and liminal space and their emphasis on trust and support.

Finally Gibson’s work on affordances can be recognized in many of the factors. Social media offer many affordances and possibilities for emergent learning. Twitter, for example, allows for many casual, serendipitous encounters, informal writing and networking.

14. Let’s consider one factor in more depth and how it might have impacted on your own learning, by working on a short activity, which will involve discussion in groups of 4

15. This is an outline of the activity in English. We’ll read through it here first, but the next slide has the same information in German. You will have 10 minutes to discuss the questions in groups of four

  • How have you experienced risk?
  • How does risk affect the way you learn?

And then for 5 minutes we will take feedback in English from some of the groups. So one person in each group should be prepared to feedback one statement about how risk affects learning or the design for learning.

16. Activity instructions in German

17. Our experience is that emergent learning will occur when there is frequent interaction between many people and resources, where no-one is able to follow everything, as happens in most MOOCs. In these circumstances people need to be self-organising and independent and the environment needs to be adaptive. Learning will be unpredictable and emergent.

So how do we know what our learners are doing in these environments.

We have created the drawing footprints tool to help to visualize these emergent learning experiences.

18. Here is an example of a drawn footprint.

In the Table is a list of the factors we have already discussed and their associated abbreviations. You can see these abbreviations beside the points on the footprint line. Each point has been placed on the spectrum between prescribed and chaotic learning. So, for example we can see that the factor Experiential in the Interactive Environment cluster was thought to be very challenging and near the edge of chaos.

The image of the palette is there because we view the list of factors as a palette that you can choose from, just as an artist chooses colours to paint with. Not all the factors need to be used.

The footprints can either be drawn by hand or electronically.

19. Let’s have a quick look at some examples of drawn footprints.

A footprint of a standards driven course (e.g. teaching, nursing) is likely to look like this, i.e. very much in the prescribed zone – but this footprint would help designers to reflect on the possibility of making some changes.

20. This footprint shows that it’s possible to superimpose one footprint on another. In this case the footprint show the learners interpretation of the course design intentions (the yellow line) and the actual learning experience (the red line)

Through this different footprints can be compared – in this case a perspective of the design and one of the actual experience. i.e. the experience was far more chaotic than intended.

21. Footprints can also be used to show how the experience of learning changes over time. Here on the top left the learner has drawn her perspective of the design intentions for the course. The footprint top right was drawn at the end of Week 1, bottom left at the end of Week 2 and bottom right at the end of Week 4. Whilst at the end of Week 1 the learner is experiencing what she expected, the experience in Week 2 and Week 4 is far less comfortable.

22. Now we would like you to think about a course you have recently taught or taken. (The animation in this slide and the next one does not show in Slideshare. To see how it works see the powerpoint presentation – Surfacing, Sharing and Valuing Tacit Knowledge 17-09-2014.

Overall would you describe that course as being in the prescribed learning zone, the sweetly emergent learning zone, the challenging emergent learning zone, or was it chaotic, or did you fall out of the course, off the edge.

You can see that when we click this red button it moves along the line.

When we do this again. We would like you to stand up when the red dot reaches the zone which describes your experience and sit down when it leaves the zone.

23. Stand up and sit down now.

24. We see the footprints as a tool for reflective practice. We have deliberately made it a flexible tool. Factors can be used or discarded. They could also be changed. For example if we were working with children, we would need to adapt them. Maybe the children themselves could suggest how to adapt them.

Currently the research into learning experience in MOOCs and open learning environments is focusing on gathering Big Data. We don’t believe that this can capture the learner experience in open learning environments, because much of that learning will be invisible and unpredictable, but nevertheless valuable and possibly transformative for the learner.

For understanding learning in MOOCs and open learning environments we will need tools that can encourage learners to deeply reflect on their experience. Our experience is that drawing footprints can do this, but they are nor a quick fix. They require time, thought and discussion.

25. We believe that the value of drawing footprints lies in providing a tool for eliciting tacit knowledge and understanding with minimal or ‘light touch’ facilitation/disturbance. Standard evaluation tools such as questionnaires, tend to be for the benefit of organisations and teachers, rather than for the learners and do not encourage depth of reflection. Drawing footprints encourages learners to dig deeper.

26. Here are some final thoughts, which we have only summarised here but which we discuss in more depth in the paper we have submitted for this conference.

Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2014). Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning. 13. ELearning Tag FH JOANNEUM am 17. September 2014

Future directions for the Footprints of Emergence framework

This is the last in a series of five posts written in preparation for an e-learning conference keynote that Roy Williams and I will be giving on September 17 in Graz, Austria.

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments
  3. Emergent Learning in Open Environments
  4. Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

Our research [1] [2] focuses on how learners experience complex, unpredictable, uncertain environments, such as MOOCs, where their learning is likely to be emergent.

Over the last two or three years the amount of research into learning in MOOCs has grown. See for example MOOC Research Initiative Reports from the Gates Foundation funded projects  and the proceedings from the European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit 2014 .

Some researchers, like George Veletsianos [3], have questioned whether there is enough emphasis in recent research on the ‘learner voice’. This is a question that also concerns us. We believe that it is essential to encourage and listen to the ‘learner voice’ (whoever that learner might be), if we are to understand the epistemic and ontological shifts and transformational learning that can happen in open learning environments.

The Footprints of Emergence framework is a tool [2] [ See also previous posts in this series], which can be used by learners to surface the deep, tacit knowledge and understanding that is associated with these transformational shifts in open learning environments such as MOOCs. We are interested in learning more about the impact of open learning environments on these shifts by encouraging learners to be researchers of their own experience.

The Footprints of Emergence framework [2] [4] can be regarded as a probe for evaluating learning in open environments. It engages learners in deep reflection, supports them in taking control of their own reflection and evaluation, can be used to encourage discussion and collaboration between learners, teachers and designers, and can be used to visualise the dynamic changes that occur in learning over time.

A difficulty that we have encountered with the framework and drawing tool is that they require explanation and practise in use, i.e. they require time and effort to engage with, sometimes more time than people have and more effort than people want to make. Our aim is to try and simplify the process, without losing the depth of reflection that the current process leads to. To this end we are, through a colleague, hoping to develop some software, which will make the drawing process more straightforward. This would leave the user freer to concentrate on the meaning and use of the factors (see the second post in this series for more information about the factors) and the interpretation of the final footprint visualisation. The development of some software would also potentially make it easier to work with larger groups of learners.

Such a development would enable us to focus on the meaning of evaluation of learning in open learning environments. This has been challenging us for some time. If learning in these environments is emergent, surprising and unpredictable, how can we ‘capture’ it and value it. The common response in current MOOC research has been to try and scale up traditional assessment methods through the use of big data, automated assessment or peer review. Our current thinking is that new paradigms such as open learning may require new ways of thinking about assessment. The Footprints of Emergence framework enables a move away from traditional approaches and puts the emphasis on reflection and self-assessment. This aligns with the view expressed recently by Stephen Downes [5] that we need to move beyond assessment [6] as we know it and put it in the hands of learners.

To summarise the directions in which we are moving: We are interested in –

  1. Exploring further the characteristics of open learning environments that result in transformative learning
  2. Increasing our understanding of how learners learn in open learning environments
  3. Finding new approaches which go beyond assessment and put learning and assessment in the control of the learner
  4. Exploring the notion of probes for assessment and learning design
  5. Developing the footprints of emergence drawing tool so that it can be used more easily with larger groups of learners.

References

  1. Williams, R., Karousou, R. &  Mackness, J. (2011) Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883
  2. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  3. Veletsianos, G. (2014) ELI 2014, learner experiences, MOOC research, and the MOOC phenomenon – Retrieved from: http://www.veletsianos.com/2014/02/10/mooc-research-mooc-phenomenon/
  4. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  5. Downes, S. (2014) Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World Jul 11, 2014. 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote). Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/344
  6. Mackness, J. (2014). Blog post – Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World. Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/beyond-assessment-recognizing-achievement-in-a-networked-world/

Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

This is the fourth in a series of posts written in preparation for an e-learning conference keynote that Roy Williams and I will be giving on September 17 in Graz, Austria.

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments
  3. Emergent Learning in Open Environments

In the second post in this series I wrote about the 25 factors that we consider to be characteristics of open learning environments.[1] [2] The evidence from our research suggests that the presence or absence of these factors influences the potential for emergent learning in any given environment.

We have been asked a few times where this list of factors has come from.[3]

The factors are not arbitrary. They are a result of much reflection and discussion and of our combined extensive experience of teaching and learning, and personal knowledge of open learning environments and theoretical influences. Here is the current full list of clusters, factors and their descriptions. Clusters and Factors Mapping Sheet

Experienced educators recognise the importance of prior learning in developing knowledge and understanding. In retrospect, it is easy to see that a career in education means that this prior learning has often been associated with specific learning theories and theorists, even if this wasn’t consciously recognised at the time.

On a personal level, it is interesting to consider which past learning events may have been associated with which learning theories. In the Table below I have attempted to make these links between significant prior learning events in my career and the associated theorists and theories that have probably influenced my thinking about emergent learning.

Image for blog post 4

This Table is necessarily a summary overview, but reflects some of the influences on my thinking and therefore the discussions I have had with my colleagues in relation to our work on emergent learning and deciding on a list of factors. It is not that we sat down, drew up a list of theories and from these decided on the factors. At the start of this work we drew on our very recent experience of participating in CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC, 2008) and on our experience of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectivity within it. These are the four key principles of learning in a network, which Stephen Downes introduced us to in CCK08.[4] As we shared and discussed our experience, we recognised that we were describing it in more detailed terms than the four principles for networked learning. We realised that the language we were using to describe this experience reflected our past experience and knowledge of theorists and theory.

Discussion also included how to cluster these factors. Pragmatically, and after some testing of different ideas and numbers of clusters, we knew that in order to draw the Footprints of emergence (see the second post in this series for an explanation and example of a ‘footprint’) it would make sense to organise them into four clusters. This works well. We have two clusters that relate to the learning environment – Open/Structure and Interactive Environment; the other two clusters relate to the learner – Agency and Presence/Writing.

The clusters and factors have been tested and refined many times, with different groups of learners in different learning environments. The most difficult aspect of this work has been to develop concise descriptions and associated questions, which we hope will support people who use the Footprints of Emergence framework to reflect on their learning in different learning environments.

So whilst we can each explain how we arrived at a list of factors from our own perspectives [ See 5, for Roy’s perspective], we are doing this retrospectively. At the time, the process was hard work, but complex, messy and unpredictable. It has been what Stephen Downes referred to as design-led research in his talk – Digital Research Methodologies Redux. [6]

References:

  1. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  1. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  1. Mackness, J. (2013). Footprints of emergence – so what? Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/footprints-of-emergence-so-what-2/
  1. Downes, S. (2009). Connectivism Dynamics in Communities. Retrieved from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/02/connectivist-dynamics-in-communities.html
  1. Williams, R. (2014). From here to CAN. Retrieved from: http://k-m-etaphors.wikispaces.com/From+here+to+CAN
  1. Downes, S. (2014). Digital Research Methodologies Redux. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/341

Further thoughts and discussion about rhizomatic learning

The video/audio recording of the presentation that Frances Bell and I gave at the ALTMOOCSIG conference last month has now been posted. Many thanks to Mira Vogel  for organizing this event.

We were asked very early on (by a Rhizo14 participant) whether our presentation would be recorded – so here is the link. to all the presentations including ours.

https://lecturecast.ucl.ac.uk:8443/ess/portal/section/6f625859-7a2a-4100-a698-7fa18bdf7994

During the presentation we mention that we wrote about our research into rhizomatic learning to date, and preparation for the presentation, in a series of blog posts prior to the conference. Here is the post with information and links about this.  And here is a link to the complete Prezi that we prepared for the presentation.  The video/audio covers the most relevant slides, but we stopped short of showing them all. (I haven’t yet discovered how to embed a Prezi in WordPress!)

It has been interesting to listen to this recording. I opened it with some trepidation, as I wasn’t sure how well our presentation went, but on hearing the recording I was pleasantly surprised that it is more coherent than it felt to be at the time, and that in a very short session I think we managed to cover the main points we wanted to make and allow time for questions. We received four questions. All were interesting, but perhaps the one that was most relevant to research about MOOCs at the moment was raised by Marion Waite who asked whether our research was/is ethical. This is a question that we have been discussing with Mariana Funes and Viv Rolfe in relation to researching learning in MOOCs in general, not just the Rhizo14 MOOC.

For feedback on the day by various conference participants, see this blog post – responses to the moocs which way now conference . Many thanks again to Mira Vogel for pulling this together.

Fred Garnett has also spent some time putting together a Slideshare which summarises the presentations made during the day. Here it is.

British MOOCs; a Curated Conversation from London Knowledge Lab, University of London

Thanks to ALTMOOCSIG for a stimulating event which has given us plenty to think about.

Rhizo 14: Which way now?

Yesterday Frances Bell and I gave a presentation at the ALTMOOCSIG – The Rhizome as Metaphor for Learning.

A Rhizo14 participant, Maha Bali, has asked: How did it go?

I haven’t really had a chance to discuss this with Frances yet (we had to rush off at the end of the day to catch our respective trains), but I have mixed feelings. I will start with the positives and then discuss the not so positives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. More importantly it was very useful for our research. Although we haven’t finished collecting data yet, preparing for a presentation gave us a push to really think through where we are up to. Our decision to write four blog posts about our research before we gave the presentation was, on reflection, both a good and a not so good idea – but more good, than bad. For me the blogging really helped to articulate our current research questions and clarify what we could and could not cover in the presentation. The negative side of this was, for me, that I then had so much in my head that it was difficult to present the ideas associated about rhizomatic learning concisely and with meaning. I think we ‘waffled’ a bit!

My long time research collaborator, Roy Williams, was also at the conference. This was great, because having worked together for so long now, I knew he would tell us straight up how he found our presentation – and he did!  He said that although he found our presentation thought-provoking and interesting (perhaps he was being kind and that was the sweetener before the pill :-)), he said it wasn’t sharp enough – and he was right. I sensed this even as we were speaking. But interestingly I think Roy and I also have this problem when presenting our work on emergent learning. We just have too much that we want to say and ideas around rhizomatic and emergent learning are not easy to communicate in a traditional form or to an audience who we cannot assume has ever thought of them before. Making a short concise presentation can end up short-changing the ideas being presented, but if it is not concise then people are either not going to listen, or get confused. This is one of the dilemmas. Frances and I hoped that by blogging about our planning for the presentation, we would overcome both these difficulties, but of course we cannot assume that anyone has read the blog posts.

Another dilemma is that rhizomatic learning by its very association with rhizomatic thinking and the work of Deleuze and Guattari as expounded in their book A Thousand Plateaus (1980) – resists approaches to hierarchical and arborescent ways of thinking and writing. This was very challenging and despite our best efforts I don’t think we succeeded in communicating what this might mean for education.

However, we did think carefully about this and designed our Prezi accordingly but in the presentation itself, I think we failed to communicate the difficulties that we think we are up against. But see the Prezi for the presentation and for an explanation see our four blog posts – Rhizo14: Emerging Ambiguities and Issues.

It is interesting that I don’t think we are alone in feeling that the research process is messy and perhaps needs a rethink to enable us to consider new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. In her keynote for the conference, Diana Laurillard said of her own MOOC – ICT in Primary Education

‘If you have to take a critical stance you have to be on the inside’.

Stephen Downes has also raised the problems of thinking about research in new ways in his recent presentation  –  Digital Research Methodologies Redux 

And George Roberts has made an interesting post today reporting on a keynote by Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes) at a conference he attended today, which focused on countering methodological stagnation.

…..Prof Emeritus Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes), … gives a radical barnstorming keynote challenge: “Educational administration, ethnography and education research: countering methodological stagnation. Provocative tales from an ethnographer.

George’s post maybe of interest to the Rhizo14 group that are engaged in auto ethnography research.

It would be easy at this point to say, as a few of our survey respondents have said, that rhizomatic learning and thinking, by it’s very nature is something that cannot be researched. But then how will we ever know that it is worthwhile to think of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning? It could be, as some of my most valued connections have said, that there is nothing in the idea of rhizomatic learning that makes any sense or is worth spending time on; or it could be that the metaphor has some uses, but is incomplete, as some of our survey repsonses have said; or it could be that Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about rhizomatic thinking really will help us to make a paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Frances, Mariana and I haven’t got far enough in our data analysis to make any comments about this as yet.

Finally thank you to those who showed an interest in the work we are doing and raised questions or commented on our work during the ALTMOOCSIG conference day. For me these were – my trusted collaborator Roy Williams, my online friend Fred Garnett who I have met a few times face-to-face – who thinks that the metaphor is not helpful because it is about plants rather than humans, my colleague Marion Waite from Oxford Brookes University –  who raised the all important question of ethics in this type of research, and a new connection I made – Dr Helga Hlaðgerður Lúthersdóttir – who was the only person who came to talk to me about Deleuze and Guattari and I am convinced knew more about their work than I did 🙂

BUT, my collaborator Roy Williams, said of our presentation – ‘There was at least one elephant in the room’.  I would say there were three – community, curriculum and convener – but although all these three seem to be significant for us in our research, we haven’t yet finished our data collection and we haven’t yet completed our data analysis. So they will have to remain as elephants in the room, until we have something sensible to say that can be backed up by evidence.

So Rhizo14 – which way now? For me we need to decide whether this is worth pursuing or not, and if so why?