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

Emergent learning in open environments

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This is the third in a series of posts we are making in preparation for the e-learning conference in Graz, Austria, at which we are speaking on September 17th. The title of the presentation is Surfacing, Sharing and Valuing Tacit Knowledge

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments

In my last post I wrote that I would come back to further discussion of what we mean by emergent learning. In our first paper [1], when we started to think about the significance of emergent learning in open learning environments, we wrote:

In this paper we argue that it might be useful for educational institutions to actively explore alternative frameworks such as connectivism (Siemens, 2005), complexity theory (Cilliers, 2005, 2010), communities of practice (Wenger, 1998, 2006), and the underlying threads of emergent learning to inform their planning and strategy. We will attempt to bring together elements of all these areas of research and practice to develop a framework for emergent learning that can be applied across education, work, and social networking, with their increasingly blurred boundaries.

Emergence has been discussed and defined by a number of authors, such as Cilliers (2005), Goldstein (2009) and, at the international systems level, Knorr-Cetina (2005).  For the purposes of this paper, we interpret emergent learning as

learning which arises out of the interaction between a number of people and resources, in which the learners organise and determine both the process and to some extent the learning destinations, both of which are unpredictable.  The interaction is in many senses self-organised, but it nevertheless requires some constraint and structure.  It may include virtual or physical networks, or both.

We still use this explanation of emergent learning and have summarized it in this image……

Emergence is

… but have discussed and expanded on our thinking on our open wiki [2]

Learning in the open (open networks, open courses), particularly where these courses are massive (MOOCs) requires learners first and foremost to be autonomous. Learners must make their own decisions about what to learn, how to learn, where to learn and who to learn with. In open online learning environments there are multiple paths that a learner can choose to follow, multiple resources (the whole of the internet) that a learner can choose to work from and a huge diversity of people from across the globe to interact with. Once learners move into a truly ‘open’ learning environment, the teacher (if there is a teacher) is likely to lose sight of them and therefore cannot plan for the learning experiences that the learner might encounter.

Learners are increasingly moving into open learning environments (such as MOOCs) from choice, but even when enrolled on a ‘closed’ course where the teacher has planned prescribed paths, learners can and do move into their own spaces out of sight of the teacher, e.g. into a Facebook group. This freedom of choice over where to learn is a recognized affordance of the internet and social media.

When learners are not on prescribed paths we cannot know where their learning journey will take them or what they will learn. Learning in these environments is unpredictable and can be surprising and emergent. The more a learner is out in the open and able to cope with uncertainty, the more likely it is that emergent learning will occur.

If you have read this far you might be thinking ‘so what’ [3]?

The answer for me is that if ‘open’ is going to become the ‘name of the game’ in education, and there is plenty of evidence that we are increasingly moving learning into open learning environments (and learners themselves are taking control of their learning and doing this), then we need to recognize that these environments are complex and learners will need new skills to cope.

We are interested in what these skills might be, but we are more interested in the effect that these complex environments will have on learners and their identities. Learners will not only need to be able to navigate these environments and manage their own learning, but they will also need to develop the ability to reflect deeply on their learning and surface their tacit knowledge and understanding. The Footprints of Emergence [4], described in my last post, is a tool for doing this.

The notion of ‘open’ learning environments is, I think, here to stay. This does not mean that there will be no more closed courses or closed learning environments, but we can expect that learners will no longer feel constrained by these and will go wherever they choose. In addition the world is now wide open, as it never has been before and successful learners will be those who understand this, recognize the significance of this for their lives and future development, and learn how to operate in open environments.

Surfacing, recognizing and valuing emergent learning has always been important in teaching and learning, but will become more so as learners move increasingly into open learning environments.

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. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  3. Mackness, J. (2013). Footprints of Emergence – so what? Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/footprints-of-emergence-so-what-2/
  4. 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

 

Characteristics of open learning environments

Next month Roy Williams and I will give the keynote presentation at a conference in Graz, Austria, which will focus on learning in open learning environments; how we recognize, value and ‘capture’ it. This is the second in a series of posts that we will make in preparation for this keynote.

The first post was Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios

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We have been thinking about what might be the key characteristics of learning in open learning environments since 2008. One of the first visualizations that I became aware of at that time, was the map created by Matthias Melcher during CCK08. CCK08 was the first MOOC on Connectivism and Connective knowledge, convened by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2008. For me, this was my introduction to ‘learning in the open’. This is Matthias’ map.

CCK08 network Matthias

 

Matthias wrote in his blog

My way of approaching the confusing landscape of countless tools, sites, and resources, was to try and get a visual overview of the salient ones.

Matthias’ map revealed the diversity, distributed and even ‘chaotic’ nature of learning in the open. Interestingly, Roy and I occupied very different spaces in this open course/MOOC and therefore on the map. Roy, for the most part, participated in the course forums. I participated from my blog, as did Matthias. So at the time I had a weak connection with Roy (I was simply aware of him), but a stronger connection with Matthias, who I was connected to through our blogs. My connection with Roy did not become stronger until after the course was over, when we began to research learners’ experiences in this MOOC. [1] [2]

On reflection, it is interesting that open learning environments can lead to learning in more closed, private, collaborative (as opposed to cooperative), spaces. Since CCK08 this has often been my experience and has led to some of my most significant and fruitful learning experiences. I think this has also influenced how we (Roy and I) have written about the characteristics of open learning environments. We acknowledge the role of seemingly ‘non-open’ factors such as solitude and contemplation and the role of prescribed learning, and are interested in the balance between more prescribed, closed environments and open learning environments. We do not claim that learning in the open is superior to learning in more closed environments or vice versa. We are interested in how and why they are different and in the affordances of both open and more prescribed learning environments. We also recognize that learners will move between open and closed learning environments.

Working across distributed platforms, as depicted by Matthias’ map, is a characteristic of open learning environments that has also been highlighted by Stephen Downes.  In addition Stephen has always said that the key principles of an open networked learning environment (a cMOOC) are autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction/connectivity. These four principles have been influential in our thinking about the characteristics of open learning environments. They, along with our past experience and prior knowledge of various learning theories, were our starting point.

Ultimately after many months (even years) of deliberation, discussion, drawing on prior experience, testing and refinement, we now have a list of 25 characteristics of learning in open learning environments (which we call ‘factors’). We have organized these into 4 clusters. These are 1. Open/Structure 2. Interactive Environment 3. Agency 4. Presence/Writing. [3] [4] For each cluster we have a key question:

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

The Table below lists the factors arranged into clusters. In our publications and on our open wiki, each of these factors comes with a description and question (see references at the end of this post).

Clusters and FactorsOur thinking about open learning environments and the factors that influence learning within these environments is ongoing, so we do not see this list of factors as definitive. We offer them as a palette, rather like an artist’s palette of colours, to be selected from according to the most useful and appropriate in any given context. We also recognize that the palette might be added to or the factors changed. Our experience is, though, that a consideration of the complete list of 25 factors provides the richest picture of learning in an open environment. We visualize this picture as a Footprint of Emergence [4], as depicted below.

cck08 footprint

This ‘Footprint’ is a visualization of experience of learning in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC (CCK08).

On the Footprint image, factors can be seen as points (black dots) located on the footprint line within the circle. Each factor relates to the list of factors above, but is represented on the image by an abbreviation. So ‘Lim’ relates to Liminal space and ‘Amb’ to ambiguity and so on.

To interpret and understand the footprint visualization, we need to know that in the dark centre of the circle learning is experienced as prescribed. In the white zone learning is experienced as ‘sweetly’ emergent. Moving outwards from the white zone to the darker blue zone, learning is experienced as more challenging and ‘sharply’ emergent. On the dark outer edge of the circle learning is experienced as chaotic.

CCK08 was designed to be open and challenging, and therefore it is no surprise that most of the characteristics/factors that we have identified were experienced as being between sweetly emergent and chaotic, for the point in time at which this footprint was drawn in the course. Footprints visualize an instant in time. We have provided details of how to draw footprints of emergence on our open wiki [5] and in this video below.

The footprint visualization makes explicit the relationship between open emergent learning and closed, prescribed learning. If, as we believe, open learning environments lead to increasing incidents of emergent learning (I will come back to this in my next blog post), then we, as learners, teachers and designers, need to know more about what this learning might entail, how we will recognize it and how we will value it.

References:

  1. Mackness, J., Mak, Sui, Fai, J. & Williams, R. (2010). The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 266-274). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mackness.html
  2. Mak, Sui, Fai, J., Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 275-284). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/

Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios

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In September Roy Williams and I will be giving the keynote for this conference in Graz, Austria, at the invitation of Jutta Pauschenwein and her colleagues. The title of the conference for those who do not speak German is Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios.

The title of our keynote is:

Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge

This is the first blog post in a series that we hope to write between now and September 17th. The aim is that these posts will act as advance organizers. We know from experience that some of the ideas that we will discuss in our presentation need more time and reflection to take in than will be possible at the conference itself. We also know that we won’t have time at the conference to cover everything we have thought about in relation to this presentation and all the work we have done on the Footprints.

This is a small annual conference (usually about 100 people). Last year the conference topic was very popular – Learning with Videos and Games; 150 delegates attended.

Jutta has told us that this is the 13th year this conference has been offered. It attracts a loyal group of delegates – university teachers, school teachers and trainers of companies, from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, some of whom attend year after year. Jutta has told us that unlike many of the German speaking conferences, which focus on scientific articles and presentations, this conference takes a more pragmatic approach and attracts an audience who ‘want to know how to do something’. Jutta has therefore invited us to speak about how we use our work on Footprints of Emergence to evaluate learning in open learning environments. She herself has been using our Footprints of Emergence drawing tool extensively since 2012.

Jutta and her colleagues recently used the Footprints for an assignment in their MOOC – Competences for Global Collaboration (cope14) and have often used them in their work in the past. Jutta blogs about them and has, with her colleagues, written articles and presented papers at conferences that make reference to the Footprints.

The conference presenters will also submit papers for review. Here is the programme for the conference – Programme for Graz e-Learning Conference

….. and here is the Abstract of our paper:

Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning

Roy Williams

Jenny Mackness

Abstract:

This paper is situated within the paradigm of open, emergent learning, which exploits the full range of social and interactive media, and enables independent initiative and creativity. Open, emergent environments change the way we experience learning, and this has implications for the way we design and manage learning spaces, and describe and analyse them. This paper explores the ways we have engaged with these issues, as participants, designers, researchers, and as facilitators, and how we have reflected on, visualized, shared, and valued the rich dynamics of collaborative discovery. In particular, we explore how emergent learning can be enabled by using uncertain probes rather than predictable outcomes, by emphasizing tacit rather than explicit reflection, and by seeking ways to give the learners back a real voice in a collaborative conversation about the value of learning and teaching.

Key words: probes, Footprints, emergent learning, tacit knowledge, MOOCs

This paper will ultimately be published along with all the other papers, in an open e-book. For last year’s e-book see the FH/Joanneum Website

I don’t know how often the keynote for this conference has been given in English. Unfortunately neither Roy nor I speak German, but we welcome comments on this blog in either German or English. Most of the papers for the conference will be presented in German, but Jutta and I will run a workshop at the end of the day in both German and English.

It goes without saying that we are very much looking forward to meeting Jutta and all her colleagues and are grateful for this opportunity to present our work in Austria.

Rhizomatic Learning – A Pedagogy of Risk

Leap-of-Faith
(Source of image: http://jobangel.blog.hu/2013/07/29/kinek_a_kockazata_a_jutalekos_munka)

On Twitter Nick Kearney asked “Are we reaching an understanding of what ‘rhizomatic’ praxis might involve?”

I’m not sure. I think we probably still need a clearer view of what happens or can happen, in terms of learning, in the open space for learning that will be created by taking a rhizomatic approach.

An open learning environment of the type we have experienced in #rhizo14 (Dave Cormier’s open online course on rhizomatic learning),  is associated with ambiguity and uncertainty and puts learners in a liminal space – an in-between-space – between mastery and troublesome knowledge. This is a space of potential risk.

In #rhizo14 the creation of open space has been an integral part of the course design. There has been space to engage and interact in locations of our own choice (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Blogs, Diigo, Google Hangout), space to follow our own lines of enquiry and space to experience the ideas being tested, such as unpicking the meaning of open sharing, remixing and repurposing information, embracing uncertainty, questioning the authority of knowledge and books, learning in a community, and creating our own curriculum.

Some #rhizo14 participants have given a lot of thought to what it means to learn in open spaces. In the video she created for the Week 3 topic – Embracing Uncertainty, Helen Blunden showed us the physical spaces that she works in, more open than in the past, and shared with us what uncertainty means in her workspace. Keith Hamon has written two blog posts (here and here) about the relationship between structure and space in rhizomatic learning, suggesting that space does not mean lack of structure or boundaries, and that space offers possibilities and structure offers potential. On Matthias Melcher’s blog, Vanessa Vaile posted a link to an article which suggested to her that edges and visual complexity aid navigation in open spaces.  Matthias himself, whilst not writing specifically about space, has discussed rules and patterns in rhizomatic learning,  which seem to me to be related to space. And Mariana Funes in a long post that covers a lot of ground, has some interesting things to say about what ‘safe’ space might look like in an online environment.

Mention of safety in relation to online space raises for me the link between space and risk.  With space comes risk and with risk comes ethical responsibility. I would suggest that the more open the space, the greater the risk for both learner and ‘teacher’, and the greater the ethical responsibilities of all participants, but particularly the ‘teacher’.

Ronald Barnett in his book ‘A Will to Learn: Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty’,  includes a chapter near the end of the book on ‘Space and Risk’.  He acknowledges the ‘virtue of space’ as being freedom, but with this freedom comes a number of risks. He recognises that a common response to these risks in an educational setting is to close down the space, rationalising this as being in the students’ best interests – but as he points out ‘No risk, no space’ – and space is needed if the students/learners are going to become ‘authentically themselves’.

So what are the risks? Barnett sees a number of them.

In relation to curriculum the spaces needed are ‘intellectual space’ and ‘practical space’. We have had both these in #rhizo14. They are associated, respectively, with

  • ‘epistemological risk’ – by following their own lines of enquiry, creating their own curriculum, students may end up with a ‘warped perspective’ or ‘skewed understanding’
  • and ‘practical risk’ – the students may not have the practical skills  to cope with the open curriculum environment – skills such as self-organisation – or the student might be over-dependent on the skills they have and not learn new skills

In relation to pedagogy, we need a ‘space-for-being’ and the risk here is ‘ontological’. A risk to the learner’s ‘being’, i.e. a risk to their identity. This risk is ever present. It is more than a practical consideration. As Barnett says (p.146):

… the tutor has all the time to make judgements about how and when to intervene, to bring individuals on, to divert them into new paths of becoming, to give yet other individuals a new sense of themselves and yet others an understanding that their use of their space is not taking them forward as it should. There is an ethics of educational space, which has surely not been excavated.

… No matter how careful a teacher is, a word, a gesture, may be injurious to a student’s being.

Ontological risk is the greatest risk when opening up learning spaces for both the teacher and the learner. As Barnett also says (p.150) – ‘Space is necessary, but it has to be a controlled space’.

But what do we mean by control and how much control is too much?  In CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC) the space became, at times, very risky for some learners. Following the MOOC a number of us discussed this at length and some of us came to the conclusion that:

Most important of all, negative constraints must be put in place and communicated to the participants.  Secondly, the instructors or facilitators must dampen negative emergence and amplify positive emergence. (Source of quote: IRRODL)

The difficulty is that open spaces attract a diversity of learners. What is a negatively risky space to one will be a positively challenging space to another.  But whichever way you look at it, risk is a factor of open learning spaces.

So to return to Nick Kearney’s question: Are we reaching an understanding of what “rhizomatic’ praxis might involve?

Well, I think I have some understanding of the uncertainty of the learning process, the need to constantly question and challenge assumptions, and the need for space in which to do this. But I think much more understanding is needed of the complexity of the learning process and the risks that learners and ‘teachers’ are subject to when adopting a rhizomatic approach to learning and course/open space design.

 

Capturing the learner experience in ModPo and open learning environments

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

Where and when?

SCoPE Blackboard Collaborate Room: http://urls.bccampus.ca/scopeevents

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

See http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/view.php?id=9408 for further details of the Webinars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Learning experience in ModPo – End of Week 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Dickinson and Emergent Learning

Black-white_photograph_of_Emily_Dickinson_(Restored)Source of image – Wikipedia

I would never have suspected that two separate activities this week could come together so closely. At the beginning of the week I was at the ALT-C conference with Roy Williams, running a workshop on Emergent Learning. I have already blogged about this a few times. Attending the conference has meant that emergent learning, which we have been researching for a few years now, has, this week, been right at the front of my mind.

This week also saw the beginning of the ModPo MOOC (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry). I wrote a post about its start. I also dipped into the three Emily Dickinson poems we were asked to read and discuss and during the week have been watching and rewatching the videos in which the poems have been discussed.

I am amazed at how much these poems seem to relate to emergent learning. Al Filreis in one of the videos mentions that he uses the poem ‘The Brain within its Groove’ when he talks to businessmen. I think all three poems could be used to encourage educators to think about open learning as they encourage a shift from a didactic approach, to thinking in terms of infinite open possibilities.

I dwell in Possibility – by Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

The words ‘I dwell in Possibility’ and the idea that the sky is the limit, an everlasting roof, in relation to learning, were ringing through my head throughout the ALT-C conference.

‘To tell the Truth but tell it slant’ also relates very closely to be work we have been doing in trying to describe the factors that influence learning and may need to be considered for emergent learning to occur. We have found this very difficult. One person’s interpretation is different to another’s. Each learner’s experience is unique. I have above, briefly selected two ideas from ‘I dwell in Possibility’ to write about – but is this selection an example of slanted truth?  As Al Filreis has said, ‘Any power structure is encoded in the language we use’.

In the ModPo video it was suggested that we have an ethical responsibility for the way we use language, which also relates to the difficulties we have been having in our emergent learning research. Al Filreis describes words as ‘elastic’, but this is so counter-intuitive for many teachers and learners who want everything cut and dried and neatly packaged. With Emily Dickinson’s poems we have to work at making our own meanings more meaningful.

Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant – by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

And finally ‘The Brain’ within its Groove. Emily Dickinson’s poem perfectly describes the move from the prescriptive zone (learning in the safety of a groove) to sweet emergence and beyond (being out on the multi-pathed plateau of an open learning environment). I have explained this further in a past blog post.  What is wonderful about this poem is the idea that once you have opened the floodgates (of learning), there is little chance of turning back. This must be what every educator, at heart, wants to achieve.

To quote Al Filreis:

This (MOOC) is open learning in the open about the meaning of openness and being open – opening the floodgates

The Brain, within its Groove by Emily Dickinson
The Brain, within its Groove
Runs evenly–and true–
But let a Splinter swerve–
‘Twere easier for You–
To put a Current back–
When Floods have slit the Hills–
And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves–
And trodden out the Mills–

In the same  previous post  I tried to explain why I am so interested in emergent learning – why, as an educator and learner, I have spent hours, weeks and months researching this. Al Filreis has captured it in the following sentences, far better than I have been able to:

With 30,000 participants you have to give up the dream of control, give up the dream of teaching people stuff that they will package and walk away with and be able to point to like a vending machine – with 30,000 people we are so far beyond a pedagogy of I know you don’t, I have you want, I give you take, I speak you listen.

In other words we must trust that learning will be emergent.