#openedMOOC Week 4: Open Teaching

The topic for this week is ‘Creating, Finding and Using OERs and a lot of resources have been provided to follow up on this.  More interesting for me, was the initial discussion in the Week 4 videos about open pedagogy and how networks can enable learning. This left me with one or two questions to reflect on.

Those who advocate open education make a strong case for the advantages of learning in a distributed network rather than from one source, such as a teacher or a book. George Siemens tells us that his network is his brain and that learning is less about what we know and more about how we are connected. I found myself wondering whether it is as simple as this. Whilst of course it is possible that knowledge can be found in the connections in your network, it’s also quite possible that this knowledge doesn’t amount to much. As George says later on in the video:

“…. you get a lot of garbage in there, and you get a lot of stuff that’s not relevant. So then you need that feedback system that helps to push things to the surface.”

George explained that when he and Stephen Downes first began to discuss the meaning of ‘open’ in relation to education, they wondered whether it was possible to do for teaching what MIT had done for content. The story of how MIT opened its courseware to the world can be found on their website, but I remember MIT explaining at the time (in 2001) that what they weren’t offering for free to the world was their teaching, and it was their teaching that would make a difference.

In 2008, George and Stephen wanted to make not just content, but also pedagogical practices open and hence the first MOOC was born in the form of the open course ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’, better known as CCK08. They wanted to demonstrate that their practice was different because it did not rely on the conventional method of the teacher being the exclusive or primary node in the online network. At the time, this was how many people understood education – small groups of students attending to one teacher/expert, i.e. the teacher was the hub of the learning experience, which was based on a hierarchical relationship between the students and their teacher. (Image A in the Figure below)

Image from – https://visualisingadvocacy.org/blog/if-everything-network-nothing-network

Instead, George and Stephen envisaged the learning environment as a network in which there is no primary node and everyone teaches each other. (Image C in the Figure above). The argument George makes is that given that everyone has a different knowledge profile then we can teach one another almost everything. Quoting from the video, George says:

“If I have an idea to express myself, if I have an infrastructure to share what I know, and if there are corrective mechanisms within that infrastructure that provide feedback to the users of that infrastructure, that’s all you need for global knowledge generation. It’s the ability to solve complex problems that are novel in our era and we simply cannot solve them with a hub and spoke model of the expert.”

George uses the example of finding a solution to the problem of the SARS virus to illustrate how networks can solve problems.

These ideas are often discussed in relation to open learning, but despite hearing this for the first time in 2008, and despite recognising the value of networks for open learning and collaborative problem solving, another question I have is: Does declaring what we know or sharing your ideas, equate to teaching?

For some time now I have been interested in Gert Biesta’s concerns about the shift from teaching to learning. Biesta (2013) describes the focus on learners and learning as ‘learnification’, writing:

“The quickest way to express what is at stake here is to say that the point of education is never that children or students learn, but that they learn something, that they learn this for particular purposes, and that they learn this from someone. The problem with the language of learning and with the wider ‘learnification’ of educational discourse is that it makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to ask the crucial educational questions about content, purpose and relationships”. p.36

Biesta describes teaching as a gift, in which the teacher can bring something radically new to the situation. He says that being ‘taught by’ is radically different to ‘learning from’ and writes:

“… for teachers to be able to teach they need to be able to make judgements about what is educationally desirable, and the fact that what is at stake in such judgements is the question of desirability, highlights that such judgements are not merely technical judgements—not merely judgements about the ‘how’ of teaching—but ultimately always normative judgements, that is judgements about the ‘why’ of teaching”. p.45

For Biesta,

” …. teaching matters and [..] teachers should teach and should be allowed to teach.” p.36

Biesta’s work raises the question of whether large scale open teaching is possible and whether it is true that we can teach each other almost anything. If teaching is a gift, do we all have that gift in equal measure?

My final question relates to George’s comment, which he made more than once, that the network structure should incorporate corrective mechanisms. How does this happen?

In research that Roy Williams, Regina Karousou and I published in 2011, we argued that

“…. considerable effort is required to ensure an effective balance between openness and constraint’ and that in open learning environments ‘a system of negative constraints [is needed] which determine what is not allowed to happen, rather than specifying what does have to happen”.

George suggested that corrective actions might include the possibility of upvoting or downvoting posts and contributions to the network. The problem with this is that it could lead to homogeneous groups with only the people who agree with each other upvoted.

The issue with negative constraints or corrective mechanisms is that they leave us with the question ‘Who is responsible?’ and if we start thinking like this, then we are beginning to get back to hierarchies.

For me it’s not clear what we mean by open teaching. If it means do your teaching in the open, as in a MOOC, then that’s fine – but if it means that teaching is reduced to Biesta’s learnification, then I think there remain many unanswered questions as to how teaching works in open networks.

References

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6 (2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/download/19860/15386

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

Social Artistry… A new idea?

Social artistry in the context of educational change was the subject of Nancy White’s presentation for changemooc this week.

I haven’t come across the term before – but everything I have heard this week and read suggests that the ideas are not necessarily new – just expressed differently to fit our changing context in relation to learning in a digital age.

So what is it? It’s interesting that when we can’t explain or define something, we end up with falling back on the argument that defining something can often destroy what you were trying to capture. This argument was put forward earlier in this Mooc in relation to defining Moocs – and was put forward again in the Friday online session this week. Half of me understands the dangers of pinning something down with a definition, especially too early in people’s understanding, but the other half says we need some common understanding or terms to be able to discuss it at all.

This is what I picked up from another rushed week.

A social artist is a person who creates a social space for learning – and is not the same as a social reporter.  A social artist invites you to engage – listens, empathises, values, validates, amplifies and most of all asks the questions that will create the social space needed for learning.  A social artist connects people and encourages participation, which in turn leads to reciprocity, reification of ideas and a developing shared history.

Jean Houston writes (in 2004) an interesting article about social artistry and Fleming Funch as long ago as 1995 summarises the key skills of a social artist having attended a talk by Jean Houston.

In 2008 David Wilcox talked to Bev Trayner and Josien Kapma about social reporting as opposed to social artistry and blogged about Etienne Wenger’s reference to social artists

In September of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and horizontal systems of accountability in organizations was also discussed – i.e. with the hierarchy and with peers. This is significant for a social artist’s ability to influence change.

And then – this week Nancy talked with Giulia Forsythe, Zach Davis and Tim Owens in DTLT Today  as well as in changeMooc about these ideas.

The question came up – is this any different to what the best teaching or the best facilitating has always been? I am struggling to find a significant difference. There might be some differences in terms of the technologies we now use for connecting people and the scale (size) of the networks in which ‘social artists’ work, but my feeling is that the skills mentioned above – listening, connecting, questioning, empathising and so on are what the best teachers have always done (see for example, the work of Lisa Lane ) and the skills that Fleming Funch lists on his post are the skills of a good learner. So maybe a quality of a ‘social artist’ is also to be an effective learner.

I think Nancy’s right – focussing on the words ‘social artist’ does not help. It’s the process we need to be talking about and how this might be changing in our changing educational environments.

14-11-11 Postscript

I have just come across this blogpost by Jupidu – Are we Social Artists? – which is great not only for the thoughtful reflection on the question, but also reminding me that Etienne Wenger has written an essay on social artistry – which I know I have somewhere in my computer files. It obviously did not resonate at the time, but maybe it will now.

Is a Virtual Choir a Learning Network or even a Choir?

This is an interesting question which has been discussed in the first Networked Learning Conference 2011 Hotseat.  –

http://networkedlearningconference.ning.com/forum/topics/examples-of-learning-networks-for-further-analysis

and

http://networkedlearningconference.ning.com/forum/topics/architectures-for-productive-networked-learning

Peter Goodyear wanted us to stretch the boundaries of what might be considered to be a learning network by looking at The Virtual Choir and at some of the reflections the VC participants posted on Facebook, about their experience.

http://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir

https://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=96697614927&topic=30473

He asked us to think about (a) who is learning what, in the Virtual Choir (b) what features of the VC setup are essential to its success.

This question makes two assumptions. First that there is a learning network to consider and second that there is a choir in the traditionally accepted sense.

As far as I understand it from this video – the ‘choir’ members sing in isolation, connected only to the one resource (the music) and to the one person (the conductor/organiser – Eric Whitacre). These voices are ‘collected’ together and then manipulated/aggregated to form a virtual choir.  The learners are not involved in this process of aggregation. The outcome gives the appearance of a choir performance, but the process doesn’t have some of the critical elements of the experience of singing in a F2F choir, which seem to me to be about listening to each other in real time and making on the spot adjustments in the light of that listening. As Roy Williams  wrote in the forum

the virtual choir seems to almost undermine the sense in which music (in ensembles, whether vocal or instrumental) is, in many genres, about creating harmonies and chords, rather than individual notes.

And – as one participant wrote in Facebook –the really hard part of the process was:

missing the sensual experience of blending your voice with others and having the music in the air all around you and making fine adjustments according the real time feedback from the conductor.

Reading the Facebook comments I was struck by the fact that most participants already had experience of singing in a choir and for some reason were no longer able to participate in choirs that required them to physically attend. The Virtual Choir enabled them to continue singing without this requirement. Many were also quite emotional about their experience of singing for the Virtual Choir, for example, they were singing in memory of someone they loved. But no-one in the first three pages of the Facebook comments I read, questioned that they were singing in a choir.

I could not believe how “close” I felt to the piece, down to the intimacy of singing alone I guess, as well as having my own personal conductor on screen! Once I got over the “am I in time?” “what about the other voices?” – needing a witness in some way, it was such a great experience.

So it seems that a Virtual Choir redefines the process of what it means to be a choir member.

In terms of learning, there was clearly lots of learning on an individual level and lots of evidence of this from the Facebook comments – but was this networked learning? There was minimal evidence in the Facebook comments that people had collaborated in this venture, or met each other; even on Facebook, participants posted their comments and observations without responding to each other. It seems to me that the choir was an aggregated set of individual learning experiences and as was discussed in the Hotseat any networked learning that occurred was unintentional.

However views in the Hotseat discussions about whether the Virtual Choir is an example of networked learning were divided. There were those who felt that the fact that participants were working towards a ‘shared goal’, even though they were doing this by singing alone, enabled them to have an imagined community and imagined outcome and who is to say that this is not ‘real’ for the Virtual Choir participants. As one Facebook commenter put it

….‘it means that my voice can be heard around the world in harmony with other voices. We are connected through the emotions expressed by Eric’s composure. The energy created cannot be measured and will never die.’

In the Hotseat Roy Williams  wrote

  ‘Co-constructing meaning is, I think, an essential element of ‘networked learning’.  In this case, as in the case of a film production the question is:

1. Do the participants have ‘in mind’ a common understanding of what they are trying to construct?  If not, its a simple aggregation of bits and pieces of a resource, not networking. They have to know what it is they are trying to construct in order for there to be any chance of ‘co-creation’.

2. Do the participants have any part in the actual ‘construction’? – either in making decisions about what goes in, and how, &/or in terms of actually taking part in the construction/ editing/ etc.

He then acknowledged that there are no straightforward answers to these questions – but instead we need to think about where on the continuum of more or less networked learning does the Virtual Choir lie.

For me the Virtual Choir was successful because it tapped in to a need for a lot of people to sing and be part of a choir performance without having to be part of a physical group or even to hear other people singing alongside them as they made their contributions. It turned the idea of choir as we know it on its head. And there was lots of individual learning, but was there networked learning? Difficult to answer this as from the Hotseat discussions it is clear that we can’t agree on what networked learning is.

The internet and the ‘older’ generation

This morning (9.00 am ish) I just happened to pick up 5 minutes of a programme on BBC Radio 4, which made my ears prick up.

Evidently 8.7 million people in the UK (many of whom are in the over 65 age bracket) have never used a computer. This was being discussed by two people (whose names I did not catch), who held opposing views about this.

One felt that it is a social injustice that nearly 20% of the population do not have access to the internet. She told us that 1.6 million people over the age of 65 do not see anyone in a one month period and believes that the internet could prevent the isolation felt by so many older people. Her view is that the internet helps people to feel more connected and more in control of their lives.  She felt very strongly that social divides should not be increased by technology (i.e. lack of access to technology).

The opposing point of view was put by a man who suggested that the internet increases the problems faced by older people. He likened it to a ‘foot-in-the-door’ saleman, where your privacy is invaded and you are subject to identity theft. For him there is not enough time to simply ‘stand and stare’ and that this is a need increasingly felt by older people, who should not be hassled to be connected and should be left alone to enjoy a quieter less connected period in their lives.

There are good points in both arguments. Ultimately I think it depends on whether using the internet is a choice or not – but the problem is that making these choices is never straightforward. My mother has never owned or used  a computer. She is one of the 8.7 million. Do I think the internet would make her life easier? No – not now. She is in her mid eighties and now after a hectic life definitely likes to spend a lot of time ‘standing and staring’ – metaphorically speaking – and I can see how easy it would be for her now to become the prey of the ‘foot-in-the-door’ salesman. But between the ages of 65 and 80, I think the internet could have saved her a lot of time, in terms of finding information, shopping etc. As for being connected – I don’t think she has ever needed the internet for that.

It will be interesting to see whether the 8.7 million figure drops as the next generation (my generation) moves into our 70s, 80s and beyond, or whether we will become those who like to ‘stand and stare’ – if we do not already!

 

Leisure
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(William Henry Davies)

 

Hype and Rose Gardens

I wasn’t sure what title to give this post but I realise that occasionally I feel irritated by the hype and attitude that ‘everything in the garden is rosy’ – just be ‘connected’ and the world’s problems will be solved – we will all be autonomous, connected and open learners in diverse environments and everything will change for the better.

It’s not that I am against these aspirations. I am not. It would be great if all learners were autonomous – but the fact is that many learners do not even want to be autonomous even if they have the capability to be autonomous and that is another discussion to be had. Is it OK to ask for didactic teaching (tell me what to do!)? Perhaps sometimes that is just what learners need.  I suspect that this is heresy in the current climate of networked learning 🙂

It would also be great if all learners were widely and diversely connected – but the fact is that many a knowing or unknowing willing learner cannot access the web/net as we the privileged are accustomed to do, whether or not they wish to learn. I only have to holiday in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales here in the UK to experience slow internet connections and difficulties of access and I have worked with students in Africa who have to travel miles to an internet café to get access to their course. It is easy to forget from our ivory towers of easy access in most areas of the Western world that there are still many who do not have this opportunity and privilege.

Aspirations and dreams are great, but I would like to see more recognition of those who currently have no chance of accessing these dreams and aspirations and for us not to forget them and not to become subject to the group think that ‘everything in the garden is rosy for all’. Let’s keep our feet on the ground.

#PLENK2010 Immediate thoughts

It is interesting that this course has attracted so many people (over 1000?), but the Critical Literacies course attracted far fewer – and I’m wondering why, since a critical literacy must surely be to be able to manage a personal learning environment/network. Is it because the management of a personal learning environment/network is more practically focussed, but consideration of critical literacies is more conceptual/academic?

I have had a quick look at all the readings for this week. I was intrigued by Scott Leslie’s Mother of All PLE Diagram Compilation and thought I had better try and construct my own diagram – which I started to do and even considered using Prezi, until I realised that all this is terribly time consuming and I didn’t see that I would gain a lot. In my head I know which tools I use, why, when and with whom – I use most of them every day. I also know who I am networked with, which communities I follow and which tools I use to meet up with different groups/individuals. Having said that, looking at the diagrams was a spur to activating my Twitter account which has lain dormant since I created it ages ago. Now seems like a good time to test out whether it should be part of my PLE/PLN.

But more interesting for me is Dave Cormier’s blog post – Five points about PLEs and PLNs – Dave Cormier (Blog post) because he is talking about the related issues and why we should think about this at all. Like him I have always been concerned about the confusion between e-portfolios and PLEs (he didn’t express it like this – but this is the issue that his post raised for me). A lot of universities in the UK have introduced e-portfolio systems which are tied into the University’s platform. (Is this because of assessment requirements or am I just being cynical?). When the students graduate and leave the University they have to buy their own portfolio. It all seems very inflexible to me and ties the students to a system which ultimately may not suit their needs, when they move out into the world of work.

But an alternative perspective on e-portfolios is that at least everything is in one place in what is presumably a secure environment.  The disadvantages of open source distributed environments are not too difficult to identify; for example, you may lose your environment, as when Ning suddenly decided that users would have to pay for their previously free site.

There is also a concern lurking in the back of my mind about the effect of distributed environments on the quality of learning – i.e. the old breadth versus depth concerns. I personally find it very difficult to balance these. I have been very fortunate that my experience with distributed networks such as those promoted by the open courses I have attended, CCK08 and Critical Literacies (I only attended part of this one) has enabled me to experience more depth than breadth, in that I have ‘met’ research partners in these courses and have been able to collaborate in research projects which, as an independent consultant, not affiliated to any institution, would have been difficult to organise without these networks.

For me the  personal/conceptual interactions between small groups are more stimulating/interesting/fulfilling than a wide network of connections, but paradoxically I need a distributed network in order to find the resonating connections to lead to the conceptual and personal connections that I value. Resonating connections is very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment since Matthias Melcher and I have just completed writing a paper on this very topic after months of discussion. See The Riddle of Online Resonance – and yes – now that I have realised that there obviously is a link between the issues surrounding PLE/Ns and e-resonance – this is a shameless plug of our paper 🙂

Are you a visitor or a resident in the online environment?

I am posting this invitation on behalf of Roy Williams, Dave White, Sui Fai John Mak and Gus Goncalves.

Please join us

You are invited to join us in the Elluminate conference on Wednesday 4th November at 20:00 GMT to discuss the title question with Dave White from Oxford University.

The Link for the conference is: Elluminate Conference

You can also find it in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK09) course.

We will be holding a conversation about Dave White’s vandr (visitors and residents) model. We are all trying to understand the new networked learning media, as users, but also as academics, teachers, trainers, and researchers. So we need frameworks to describe what’s going on, and that’s what this conference is all about: none of us has the final answers, and I guess most of us find networked learning is so interesting precisely because there are no final answers.

We have asked Dave to take us through an overview of some of the key points of his model. Then we will get some feedback on how you see yourself, in terms of his model. After that we will ask Dave to take us into more of the detail. Interruptions are welcome.

Networking

We have set up a twitter site (vandrcck09) where you can add additional comments, outside the chat channel in Elluminate. We are trying to make space for more substantial responses to the conversation in Elluminate, and it looks like the only way to do so is to write a longer comment in a forum post, or blog, and then post a tweet in ‘vandrcc09’, which includes a link to your blog or the forum. We’ll see if it works.

Models and Resources

Please feel free to use the vandr twitter site, from now on, to post ideas and links to aspects of the vandr model, or any other models and research, that you find useful to describe what goes on in networked learning.