Caught between a MOOC and a hard place

The title of this post is a tweet that has just been posted by Lisa Lane. It so perfectly describes what is happening on the Pedagogy First programme that I have pinched it for this post.

The Pedagogy First programme has only just started and I already find it to be full of contradictions.

Lisa has described it as a MOOC – actually a SMOOC (i.e. a small MOOC),  but I’m beginning to realize that this is misleading. The actual course site doesn’t refer to MOOCs. It is in fact an open online course, so more structured, more teacher led, more prescribed, less messy etc. than my understanding of MOOCs.

The programme has been designed to be open, but I’m also beginning to realize that a ‘constrained’ and ‘structured’ openness is what is required. There are good reasons for this, mainly related to helping ‘novices’ to settle in.  It seems that ‘open’ in relation to this course has a specific meaning, i.e. open and free to the world to join in, but not ‘open’ enough to cope with the diversity of opinions presented by a diverse mix of novices and experienced online learners. Experienced online learners are nowadays very likely to have ‘MOOC’ experience and be influenced by this, whereas novices will have neither online experience nor MOOC experience.

The programme requires a weekly blog post, tagged with ‘potcert’ which feeds into the course site. In a recent blog comment Lisa describes her blog as ‘I try hard to keep in mind it’s my blog, like my house. People can stop by, but they don’t live there like I do’.

This is how I think of my blog – my domain to write what I want, but it seems that there are restrictions on what we can write if our post is to feed into the Pedagogy First course site, for example, we are urged to keep our posts short, to not use ‘jargon’, to not discuss things that might be ‘jumping ahead’ in the syllabus, to focus only on the tasks required by the syllabus, to not post anything controversial. If we want to do this, then we should not tag our posts with ‘potcert’ even if we think the topic is related to online pedagogy.

I have worked on enough online courses and MOOCs to understand the dilemma and to recognize that novices can easily be scared off.  In my last post I wrote that veteran MOOCers may need to hold back a bit – but that has to be their own decision. My decision following this discussion and now that I understand how the Pedagogy First course works, is not to tag my posts with ‘potcert’.

I don’t think it works to tell bloggers what they can do on their own blogs, particularly if they have been blogging for many years. Also should we expect some to limit their thinking and writing while others catch up? How would you feel if your child was experiencing this at school?

Maybe a better approach is to focus on the novices, i.e. get the mentors working with them from the word go (my understanding is that the mentors haven’t started yet), make posts which explicitly state what the nature of open courses is, tell them to expect to be confused and find it overwhelming, tell them to pick and choose and so on.

Only two days in and this course has already raised so many issues. I think Lisa is right – the course is currently between a MOOC and a hard place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if many online courses begin to experience this as MOOCs become more commonplace.

Why we blog

MiraCosta Online Teaching Programme

A month or two ago I was approached by Pilar Hernandez of the POT Cert team, asking me if I would be willing to make a contribution to the course in Week 21, which after some hesitation I agreed to do.

This invitation has spurred me on to get involved with the POTCert class which starts next Monday 1st September and finishes at the end of April 2013.  Last night I attended a pre-course meeting in Collaborate in which the course convenors and a few course participants discussed why we blog.

Recording of the Collaborate meetup

The reason for this discussion was that a requirement for the certificate is

  • Weekly blogging on assigned topics, including viewing workshop videos and reading online articles about online teaching as a discipline — posts should include reflections, links, embedded elements.
  • Commenting on other participants’ posts as part of the online teaching community.

Participants are also asked to tag blog posts with ‘potcert’

It could be that some of the 22+ participants already signed up for the course have never blogged before, so how will they feel. This prompted me to look back at my first few posts on this blog (‘Jenny Connected’) to try and remember what I felt like and how I approached this new experience. I am surprised at how short some of those posts are and I can sense from the tone of them that I was writing for me, i.e. I was initially unaware that there is an audience out there. At that time I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be interested in anything I wrote. ‘Openness’ didn’t have any meaning for me, since it was outside my online experience. In fact it was a shock when I received a challenging comment on an early post –  quite a wake up call. After that, I persisted with blogging but became more careful about what I posted. I think that early experience, as well as my own personality and educational philosophy, determined the way I blog and my reasons for blogging, which are principally to keep a record of my reflections on my own learning, and more  latterly to try and share the interesting connections I make through making use of hyperlinks in my posts.

This is a video that I made for the FSLT12 open online course that I worked on in June of this year, which explains a little about why I blog – but there are many different reasons for blogging and different ways of blogging and it was interesting at the ‘meetup’ last night to hear other people’s reasons for blogging and how they go about it.

Here is a summary of some the ideas:

  • to serve as a substitute for a poor memory, by aggregating interesting ideas and links into one location thus creating a personal searchable digital library, e.g. Lisa Lane’s blog
  • to comment on and discuss other people’s ideas
  • to play with tools and ideas
  • for thinking out loud and working with others on half-baked ideas – see Alan Levine’s blog (this is how he described his blog – I am not being critical :-))
  • to share academic writing – I have used my blog in this way
  • for role-playing
  • for personal and/or professional purposes, e.g. a cookery blog, a research blog
  • for developing a personal brand
  • for messaging and publication
  • for networking
  • as a place to openly make and share mistakes and collaboratively learn through this

Blog posts can be as short or as long as we like. They can include images, videos, sound or not, as we prefer. They can minimize the use of text or be an ‘orgy’ of writing, or somewhere in between, as suits our personal learning styles. They can include details about our personal lives or focus only on professional topics, as we wish.

There is no one right way to blog.

For me, I look for sincerity, honesty, fairness and critical thinking around a topic that interests me in other people’s blog posts and that is also how I try to blog myself. I don’t let myself be intimidated by other people’s blogs – but I do explore them and try and learn from how others have done it. Everyone finds their voice and expresses it in a way that is unique to them – thank goodness. It’s the diversity in the blogosphere that makes it such a rich and rewarding learning environment.

Finding my voice in Academic BEtreat

The Academic BEtreat is on a roll.

Academic BEtreat learning environment

The technology issues have been largely sorted – yesterday my sound scarcely dropped at all, and if it did it was only for a minute or two – so I now feel like I have more of a chance of learning. (I say ‘my’ sound, but the problems have been at the California end, not at mine here in North West England).

I enjoyed yesterday very much, and I realize, not for the first time that I much prefer learning online than face-to-face, i.e. if there is something deep and substantial to discuss and learn. Face-to-face can be great for networking and socializing, and both these enrich the relationships and the learning, but for me online allows for more ‘filtering’ of ideas, more reflective space and more control over the learning process. I can more easily distance myself and switch off what I don’t want to listen to, I can be more selective about who to interact with, and I have more time (although still nowhere near enough) to process the ideas and new learning. I already feel that my time spent working on this year’s BEtreat online has been far more productive than when I was in California last year.

It has taken me a while to work out how best to organize myself for working online on this BEtreat. Before the start, I set myself up with a large second computer monitor, so that I would have more space to keep open different sites and documents. But despite this I have still reverted to taking hand-written notes. There was just too much switching between Skype, Adobe Connect, video on/off, microphone on/off, open word documents, open PowerPoint presentations, open BEtreat wiki site, open blog posts, and email – to be able to write into a Word document at the same time. But my hand written notes are a terrible scrawl. I am out of the habit of handwriting fast – so will I ever be able to decipher my notes?

What I have found extremely interesting so far is that, despite the distance between me and my Californian and online BEtreat colleagues, I feel that I have much more ‘voice’ this year, than I did last year when I attended the BEtreat face-to-face. We have discussed identity in the BEtreat (I hope to come back to issues of identity in another post), and I realise that I have had much more opportunity to project my identity into the learning community this year. I think I have used my physical voice more in the synchronous sessions than I did last year, but I have also been able to type into the chat, which means I can ‘talk’ without interrupting the speaker. I don’t have to ‘wait my turn’. I also have my own personal wiki page where I can express myself to my heart’s content – and ‘talk’/write about what interests me (a bit like my blog). I’m not sure that anyone is ‘listening’/reading these thoughts, but to me that doesn’t matter. It is another opportunity to project my ‘voice’ and not be interrupted 🙂 And what is more, on reflection, I realise that these depictions of my ‘voice’ are less fleeting than in a face-to-face setting. This can be both positive and negative, but for me the positive usually outweighs the negative.

At least twice in the BEtreat I have felt my identity to be on shaky ground – it has been challenged. I am still reflecting on this, but need time to process my thinking about identity, from what we have heard and learned on this BEtreat.

Finally, there is one other BEtreater who is blogging – my online colleague Jutta Pauschenwein. Jutta has written a great series of blog posts about the BEtreat. This is her latest post – http://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/did-i-reach-my-objectives-in-the-betreat/

Much of what Jutta writes reflects my own thinking, but what I realize is that my extensive participation in MOOCs over the past five years has helped me to cope with the uncertainty and information overload in this BEtreat.

The Case for SmOOCs

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

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

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

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

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

Mooc principles and course design

Change 11- massiveness and diversity

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

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

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

Online Residency

Yesterday (April 19th) I dipped into an HEA workshop (face-to-face in Oxford with open virtual access – I was in the latter group) and enjoyed it so much that I stayed the entire day.

The Process

There were a few things that made this event enjoyable.

1. I knew, at least by name, quite a few of the people attending – both face-to-face and online. It felt like a comfortable space.

2. At first I thought that online participants would simply be an ‘add on’. The chat was not being streamed to the room, so unless people were on their computers and logged into Elluminate – we, the virtual participants would not be visible.

3. But having made this point, the wonderful Simon Ball put everything right! Simon amazingly had never used Elluminate before, and thought he was attending as a f2f delegate, but was co-opted at the last minute to look after the online group. He did a fantastic job of acting as a mediator between us and the room and made sure that the mics were working OK, the video panned the room and that our questions were put to the room.

4. In the morning when the f2f participants broke out into working groups, Lawrie Phipps –  made sure we were included by coming and speaking to us, which was great. This didn’t happen in the afternoon, when I suspect the effort of including the online group in the workshop activities just proved too much – and we couldn’t begrudge Simon his time with the F2F group or the others for paying us little attention.

5. So the mix of experimentation, working it out as we were going along, seeing if we could project ourselves into the f2f space, was fun and interesting. It reminded me of Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s Betreat –  that I attended last year in California – but they are ahead of the game in integrating online with f2f. They try to project the online people into the f2f group through the use of video and multiple screens.

The Content
The content was also very interesting. The overall theme was based on Dave White’s ideas about visitors and residents in online spaces. The questions for the day were around how we can encourage those learning and teaching, in HE in particular, to become residents in the online environment and whether we should. Dave was at pains to point out that the idea of visitors and residents is only a metaphor, but despite this it is clear that there is a tendency to classify people as either visitors or residents, just as people were classified as digital natives or digital immigrants from Prensky’s work. Perhaps the metaphor has served its purpose and we need to move on. For me it’s not so much whether you are a visitor or resident, – we will all be more or less of both at different times, in different contexts and for different purposes; it’s more that on and offline we are now offered a multitude of learning spaces which we can inhabit and maybe we need (if we are teachers) to help our learners to recognize the choices and to make appropriate decisions about which to inhabit. Mary Ann Reilly has written a very interesting blog post about learning spaces – how they fold over each other, their different dimensions and so on.

Quotes from the day
There were some memorable statements.

Martin Weller‘Openness is a state of mind’.

I couldn’t agree more. Residency in the online environment is likely to require openness – but openness can be really ‘scary’ to ‘novices’. As an academic, it’s easier to be ‘open’ when you have a recognized reputation to fall back on. Martin admitted that openness is a problem for early career researchers and I concur.

Lindsay Jordan  – ‘Teaching should be done with your mouth shut’.

Wonderful. I don’t need to say more!

Simon Ball – questioned whether residency is necessarily better than being a visitor. He wrote on Twitter  #heanpl Discussions still tending towards the assumption that Residency is the ideal state Visitors should aspire towards. Disagree! – really getting to the heart of the topic.

What was key but largely by-passed?
The person with the most thought provoking message was Dave Cormier –  who talked about preparing students for an uncertain and unpredictable world. His mention of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework seemed to fall on deaf ears. His thoughts about complexity in relation to learning also seemed to fall on deaf ears. I thought it a shame that they didn’t give Dave more time to talk about where he is coming from and whether or not the visitor/residency metaphor is helpful to his teaching.

But all in all a surprisingly enjoyable and thought-provoking event – and special thanks to Simon Ball. Without him we, the online group, would only have been observers, rather than participants.

Identity Online

This week has seen the last Networked Learning Conference Hotseat for this year – Managing your Online Learner Identity

Having followed the Hotseat discussions, the topic seems to have raised more questions than it has answered. It started with a discussion about what we mean by online learner identity, online identity, learner identity, or simply identity and is this different online to offline, and can we ever not be learning?  It seems that most of the Hotseats have started off by trying to pin down meanings for the terms being used by the Hotseat presenters.

Then came questions relating to whether we have one identity or multiple identities and whether working online fragments or disembodies our identities.

There was of course the discussion about how the internet might alter our identities by making them so publicly visible; we leave indelible traces on the internet. Do we have less control over how others perceive us online, or are we able to manipulate what others think of us?

Do we construct our online identities in association with others? What is the role of avatars in this?

Does the fact that we inhabit different online environments for different purposes mean that we have different identities?

Interestingly and coincidentally, questions about identity have also been raised this week by Alan Levine in a keynote video he gave for the Flat Classroom Project   His questions were:

  • Is there a clear demarcation between who you are online and elsewhere?
  • What parts of you are people missing out on if they do not interact with the online you?
  • Why (or why not) should you manage your own personal cyber infrastructure? What does this mean to you?
  • Who are we in this space where the online world is not something distinctly separate?

And then similarly – almost coincidentally I came across Lou McGill’s blog post about identity and through her Bon Stewarts blog post

There were a lot of references to literature posted in the Hotseat, which I have copied here below – but I was surprised that Etienne Wenger’s work on Learning, Meaning and Identity was not mentioned. A comment like ‘Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity’, would seem to relate to this discussion.

I have signed up for the Academic Betreat  this year as an online participant and am hoping there will be more discussion about ‘identity’ during the week.

References and relevant links from the Hotseat

Koole, M. (2010). The web of identity: Selfhood and belonging in online learning networks. The 7th International Conference on Networked Learning (May 3-4). Aalbourg, Denmark.

Koole, M., & Parchoma, G. (2012). A Model of Digital Identity Formation in Online Learning Networks. In S. Warburton & S. Hatzipanagos (Eds.), Digital identity and social media. London, UK: Information Science Reference, an imprint of IGI Global.

http://roys-discourse-typologies.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=identity,+capability+

http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/csap/eliss/3-3-williams

Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1), 43-63.

Harré, R. (2010). Social sources of mental content and order. In L. Van Langenhove (Ed.), People and societies: Rom Harré and designing the social sciences (pp. 121-149). New York, NY: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).

http://www.csisponline.net/2012/03/12/from-digital-methods-to-digital-ontologies-bruno-latour-and-richard-rogers-at-csisp/

Latour, B. (2007, April 6). Beware, your imagination leaves digital traces. Times Higher Literary Supplement. Retrieved February 27, 2012 Retrieved from http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/245

Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as another. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Rajagopal, K., Verjans, S., Van Bruggen, J., & Sloep, P. B. (2011). Stimulating reflection through engagement in social relationships. In W. Reinhardt, T. D. Ullmann, P. Scott, V. Pammer, O. Conlan, & A. J. Berlanga (Eds.), Proceedings of the 1st European Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Learning Networks (ARNets11). In conjunction with the 6th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2011): Towards Ubiquitous Learning 2011 (pp. 80-89). September, 21, 2011, Palermo, Italy: CEUR Workshop Proceedings. Available at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-790/

http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/college-ready-writing/bad-female-academic-being-myself-redux

Madge, C, Meek, J, Wellens, J & Hooley, T 2009, “Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 141–155.

Selwyn, N 2009, “Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 157–174.

Perrotta 2009 The construction of a common identity through online discourse   http://opus.bath.ac.uk/20813/#.T2jkdgoAMKg.delicious

Van Doorn 2009 The ties that bind: the networked performance of gender, sexuality and friendship on MySpacehttp://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/long/12/4/583

Online Learner Identity – final NLC Hotseat

Managing your online learner identity

Kamakshi Rajagopal, Adriana Berlanga, and Peter Sloep March 19th – 23rd

This promises to be an interesting final Hotseat before the Networked Learning Conference due to take place in Maastricht next month.

Kamakshi Rajagopal has started the discussion off with these questions:

  • Is our online learner identity really important for learning?
  • Can we learn something about ourselves from the digital traces we are leaving on the Web? Can it tell something about how we are learning?
  • Do we put only true information on the Web? Do we have double, triple, etc. identities? Is that ok or not?
  • How does our online learner identity relate to our offline learner identity?
  • What are the options we have to manage our online learner identity?
  • Is the management of a learner identity an issue of technology, an issue of awareness, an issue of learner skills, or all of them?
  • How can we deal with privacy, maximising the benefit to the learner and minimising the risk of information misuse?

I’m looking forward to following the discussion.