Access to open teaching and learning

This week I have been reminded that I cannot assume that everyone working in education will have online access as and when they want it.

I live in a beautiful part of the UK – Southern Cumbria – a county filled with mountains and lakes and lushly green because of all the rain we get. I have never had any significant problems with getting an internet connection. Sometimes it has been slow and sometimes I have dropped out when making synchronous connections such as in a Google Hangout, but this has been minimal and has not interfered with my ability to work. This week even these minor difficulties have been removed as I now have a high speed fibre broadband connection for the first time and I can already see the difference.

British Telecom claimed a year ago that half of Cumbria was covered by faster, fibre broadband – but we have only just got it in our area in the South Lakes and many still don’t have it.

I only have to travel 20 minutes from my home, on the motorway going North, to get into a valley (this must be one of the most beautiful stretches of motorway in the country) where I lose signal. I know from my hill walking experience that it can be easier to get a signal on the top of a mountain than in the valleys.

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Source of image

But few people in Cumbria will be living on mountain tops. The majority are living in the valleys, and many are living in remote rural areas.

Northern-Fells-Cumbria

Source of image

Eventually everyone will have high speed broadband, but in the meantime this has implications for anyone working online, for rural businesses and particularly for schools and for students in further and higher education and their teachers.

This came home forcefully to me this week when testing Google Hangout and appear.in with a couple of colleagues. This worked fine for me, but was virtually impossible for one of my colleagues whose online connection depends on tethering her phone to her computer. My other colleague pointed out that she could only join the Hangout from her work base, as at home in rural Cumbria, she doesn’t have a mobile signal and even her telephone line isn’t working. She is investigating satellite broadband, but it is expensive and for students probably wouldn’t be an option.

This is the reality for many students and educators in the area I live in, which adds another perspective to the meaning of open online learning and how it can be promoted.

The good news is that the county council claims that 93% of homes and businesses will have access to superfast broadband by the end of the year so hopefully this will increase the potential for open online learning.

Open teaching and learning

openlearningSource of image 

My work in July has been more face-to-face than I have been used to in recent years. This has been a pleasure and illuminating in many respects, and has caused me to reflect once again on the meaning of ‘openness’ in teaching and learning.

I have been supporting tutors in the development of modules for an online Masters programme to be delivered in Blackboard. In my last post, I wrote about some of my frustrations with Blackboard  and this hasn’t changed, but I realize that a lot of my frustrations result from having worked outside an LMS for the past 10+ years, i.e. out in the open. I am now used to working in the open; as such Blackboard feels very ‘closed’.

The tutors I am working with are, mostly, not used to working ‘in the open’, for example in Twitter or on personal blogs, such as this one. They are used to working within Blackboard, uploading resources and using some of the Blackboard tools, such as discussion forums and the Blackboard blogs.

The problem with an LMS is that it’s easy for the tutor to be invisible and for modules to become repositories for resources. We have been discussing how to increase tutor ‘presence’ in Blackboard by creating and posting videos, engaging in discussion forums, blogging, and engaging synchronously with students. Research has shown (for many years) that tutor ‘presence’ promotes student engagement online. Increasing this presence can be made easier by using tools outside Blackboard, in spaces such as Google Hangout, appear.in, Skype, Twitter and on a personal blog. (Thanks to my colleague Mariana Funes for pointing me to appear.in. I think this will be a very helpful tool).

But being ‘in the open’ raises security alarm bells for some tutors. What if their students post the less than perfect (in their eyes) videos they have made on Facebook? What if synchronous sessions with students, which are not intended to be viewed by anyone other than the student group involved, suddenly find their way onto the open web? What are the risks? Even creating ‘unlisted’ videos in YouTube is no guarantee that they won’t find their way on to the open web. A student might (with no intended malice) post the link in a public place.

I can sympathise and empathise with these tutors’ concerns. I have been on the end of online ‘unpleasantness’ when in the open, so I know how it feels and I know the threats that this can pose to my reputation as a consultant, tutor, researcher and scholar. I know what an ‘ugly’ place the open web can be. I know the risks of openness.

But I also know the values. I wouldn’t be where I am today, working with wonderful research collaborators, having access to a diverse range of people and online resources and constantly having access to stimulating learning opportunities, if I hadn’t been prepared to ‘put myself out there’, at least to some extent.

If I Google myself I find a whole host of sites where I am referenced. I do have an online presence. Occasionally I find things that make me cringe and that I wish weren’t there in the open. For example, like many of the tutors I am working with, I don’t like seeing myself on video; I do not think this is a personal strength – but whilst I might cringe, I am not ashamed. I don’t think I have done, and I hope I never will do, anything of which I am personally ashamed on the level of professional or personal integrity.

For me this is the bottom line. Of course we will all make mistakes when working online, just as we do face-to-face, but strangely being open online can serve to make us more responsible and accountable than we might be in other offline spaces. For example, years ago I used to regularly travel to another part of the country to run teacher in-service training sessions. I remember at the time finding this a relief. All my other work was teaching face-to-face in classrooms, where if I made a mistake one day, I had to face the same students the next day or week. For the in-service training in another part of the country, I knew I would never see those participants again, so I felt under less pressure, although of course I made the same efforts to avoid making mistakes as when working face-to-face.

You would think that working online would offer a similar level of distance and obscurity, but if you come out of a closed space such as Blackboard, the opposite is the case. In working online in the open, we leave a record of our activity for all the world to see, should anyone be interested. The benefit of this is that we become acutely aware of our responsibilities and accountability to our students. In this sense, openness could be seen as positive professional development, despite the risks.

I have written lots of posts about openness in the past, exploring the advantages and disadvantages (see for example search results for ‘open learning’ , ‘how open are you?’ and ‘openness’). Overall, I would always recommend that a tutor gives it a go, even if only in a small way to begin with.

What I haven’t quite sorted out in my own head is how we can ensure that students adopt the same levels of responsibility and accountability as their tutors, so that no-one needs to worry about what might be revealed in the open; that we have a shared understanding of what responsibility and accountability mean when working in the open.

Note

Someone who has been exploring these issues for years with her tutor team is Lisa Lane. Lisa voluntarily (i.e. beyond the remit of her job) runs an open Programme for Online Teaching and supports tutors in the development of their online teaching skills through the programme and sharing of an extensive bank of open resources.

Last year Lisa also invited bloggers from her own institution and outside to contribute a post which reflected their interest in and understanding of online learning. Many different perspectives were shared and these have now been collated into a booklet which Lisa will share with her faculty. This seems like another great way to promote open teaching and learning.

See – POTPedagogyFirstbook

April 2015 – de-cluttering and disconnecting

I’m not sure where April went. I didn’t blog once during the entire month. Looking back I can see it was a month of de-cluttering and disconnecting.

De-cluttering has taken the shape of a massive purge on our house, which we have lived in for 30 years. The de-cluttering is almost finished – only the outhouses to do. I have been quite ruthless and hope I won’t regret it. 500 books have gone to charity and ten years worth of teaching notes have gone to the tip. It has felt quite cathartic. I would like to feel that I could walk out of here one day to the next with the minimum of hassle and with no need to look back. I would like to think that I am not defined by my possessions.

I have also felt the need to de-clutter mentally and this has entailed a degree of disconnecting, which I suppose is one reason for the lack of blogging.

I have thought a lot about the Divided Brain course  that I went on in March, where Iain McGilchrist’s seminars focused on the different world views of the left and right hemispheres, and what we are missing when the left hemisphere dominates at the expense of the right hemisphere. On the course we discussed the role of technology and machines in this, so I have thought quite a bit about how much I want to be online, how much I want to connect, with whom and what, and how much I want to disconnect, from whom and what.

I have also increasingly thought about the balance of public and private in my life. My preference is to be private, which creates a bit of tension with some aspects of openness. I find myself questioning the extent to which this blog post is public/private. I realize that despite being supportive of openness, I am selectively open.

With respect to disconnection, I have been discussing this very topic with my friend and research colleague Frances Bell, for a paper we are preparing for the Networked Learning Conference 2016. This is a ‘fun’ venture, as we are working with Catherine Cronin, Laura Gogia and Jeffrey Keefer, to get together a symposium of papers related to Networked, Connected and Open Learning. I am also working with my Austrian friend and colleague Jutta Pauschenwein to prepare a paper for the conference. Both projects are currently at the ‘messy’, ‘where are we headed?’ stage. The call for papers for the Networked Learning Conference is here.

April has also found me working on a project in Blackboard, with people I haven’t worked with for a long time, so lots of trips down memory lane and face-to-face meetings, which is a refreshing change for me. It is at least ten years since I worked on Blackboard – so in all respects a bit of a blast from the past. This must be a reconnection after a disconnection and it is interesting to work in a closed space after so many years of working in the open. It raises for me all the issues related to balancing open and closed, private and public, connected and disconnected.

Finally, April has seen my bike come out of the workshop. We had some glorious weather in the middle of the month, which resulted in quite a number of rides. A favourite is a 15 mile ride round trip which takes us to a nearby estuary town, with a wonderful ice-cream shop, and back – and enough hills on route to get the heart rate up. Our longest trip this month has been 37 miles, again along the estuary with a great little café stop for lunch. After so many dark winter months, it is liberating to be out on the road again – reconnecting with the beautiful countryside in which I live.

Cycling Spring 2015 (4)

            Cycling Spring 2015 (2)Cycling Spring 2015 (3)

Reflections on the FH Joanneum (Graz) E Learning Conference, 2014

There is a tension between trying to explain emergent learning as related to our work on footprints of emergence, and maintaining an open emergent environment around the topic; something contrary in trying to reify emergent learning?

We are aware that the research we have been working on for the last 5 years or so is difficult to communicate clearly and we had to think very carefully about this for our recent keynote for the E Learning Conference at FH Joanneum in Graz, Austria, and German speaking audience.

We are also aware from workshops that we have run in the past, that we need a more straightforward drawing tool for producing footprint visualizations, i.e. a tool that minimizes a focus on the technology and allows for deeper reflection on the characteristics (factors) of open learning being considered.

To this end we asked a talented friend of my son’s, Mike Harding, who has the technical expertise, to help us produce some software which would enable easier drawing of the footprints. By help us, I mean do it! We don’t have the expertise. I should add that Mike has done this on a voluntary basis.

I do not have time or space in this blog post to explain the footprints. For readers new to this, please see this blog post ‘Characteristics of Open Learning Environments‘ and our open wiki.

Mike’s work is in progress. We discovered at the conference, as we expected, that the prototype he has developed does not yet work on tablets – but it does work in various browsers on laptops and PCs. The huge advantage of the tool is that it contains all the information about the factors (characteristics of open learning environments) within the website. In the past we have used paper templates for drawing the footprints and separate sheets of paper listing the factors with their descriptions. See for example the handouts that Jutta produced for the conference workshop. Handout (1) Handout-Footprint-zeichnen (1)

If you are interested in the development of this software go to http://www.footprintsofemergence.com/, register to create an account and just play. Click on the factor nodes for information about each factor and drag the factor to where you want it to be on the prescribed to chaos spectrum. If you haven’t a clue what this is all about – this video might help (although it refers to using a Word template, rather than this new software development).

There is still a lot of work to be done on the software. According to Mike, the first thing to be done is to sort out the mathematics behind all this. A correction to this would eradicate the pointed and overlapping lines on the footprint drawings, so that they appear more like the originals that we produced in Word.  There are also other developments that we have in mind, which I won’t go into here.

Below is my footprint, drawn using Mike’s software, which reflects my experience of the Graz conference. I have drawn this from the perspective of my experience of the day. Interpretation of this footprint has to bear in mind that I was one of the keynote speakers and speaking in English to an audience whose first language was German. Most of the papers presented at the conference were of course in German, although one was presented in English. Many thanks to Erika Pernold and Maja Pivek (Programme for Graz e-Learning Conference) for presenting their talk about the COPE14 MOOC  in English, so that we could understand – and Jutta Pauschenwein and I collaboratively ran a workshop at the end of the day in both German and English. In between these sessions, I stayed out of the German speaking sessions (unfortunately I do not speak German) and chatted with anyone who could speak English. These experiences obviously influenced the drawing of this footprint.


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 17.02.21

 

As mentioned above, this footprint reflects the fact that I was one of the keynote speakers. Those factors out in the challenging emergent zone are related to this. But there are also many factors in the sweet emergent zone. This related to the design of the conference. Lots of people knew each other – this was the 13th year this conference has run. There was a wonderful diversity of people from Higher Education, schools, training companies and charities and the conference was led by Jutta Pauschenwein who is committed to open learning and lots of interaction. The conference felt relaxed with plenty of time for people to talk to each other and it has been interesting today to read Patter’s post on unconferences. I think the Graz conference achieved a lot of what Pat Thomson writes about.

It has also been interesting to compare my footprint with the footprint that Jutta produced prior to the conference, i.e. a footprint of her design aspirations.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 18.09.27

There are a number of similarities between our two footprints. Much of what Jutta aspired to in her design, I experienced. Where there are differences, I think they are due to my unique role in the conference and the fact that I was in a previously unknown country where I did not know the language or the culture. This was not a problem for me. I found the conference an extremely enjoyable experience – but nevertheless my footprint reflects my unique experience. There is no right or wrong in this, but it is interesting to make the comparison between the two footprints. Perhaps more useful than this, is for Jutta as the conference designer to make the comparison between her footprint and a series of footprints drawn in the workshop at the end of the day – as she has done in a recent blog post . These comparisons could potentially influence the design of future conferences.

These are only some of my reflections on the very rich experience of the Graz conference. Many thanks to Jutta and her team for making this a memorable event.

Evaluating open learning scenarios – keynote presentation

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

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

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

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Notes to accompany each slide:

Keynote presentation notes:

 1. A brief introduction to who we are

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

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

2. How did we meet and start working together?

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

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

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

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

3. Why are we interested in emergent learning?

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

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

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

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

4. What is an open learning environment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. Where have the factors come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16. Activity instructions in German

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

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

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

18. Here is an example of a drawn footprint.

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

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

The footprints can either be drawn by hand or electronically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23. Stand up and sit down now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future directions for the Footprints of Emergence framework

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

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

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

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image for blog post 4

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Emergent learning in open environments

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.18.10

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

 

Connected Learning in an Open World

The Royal Observatory

At the beginning of this week I was in Greenwich, London for the first time in my life. On Monday I travelled up the Thames from Embankment to Greenwich Pier by Clipper (another first) and stood on the decks of the Cutty Sark.The Cutty Sark

On Tuesday I spent the day at the University of Greenwich’s APT2014 Conference, the reason for the trip.

University of Greenwich Queen Anne Court (1)

On Wednesday I stood on the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory.

The Meridian Line

A key question asked in the main exhibition room of Flamsteed House  at the Observatory is ‘Where am I? This related to how you can work out your exact location on the open seas, by knowing how to fix your latitude and longitude positions. But ‘Where am I?’ seems such an important and relevant question for an educator and although I didn’t visit Flamsteed House until the day after the Greenwich conference, I found myself constantly wondering where I am in relation to the discussions that were held during the conference.

One of the main reasons for attending the conference was to hear Stephen Downes speak. Where am I in my understanding of what he had to say and the implications of what he had to say? Here is the link to a recording of his full talk, Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World  and this is the Abstract for the presentation:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.00.41

This was the first in a series of 3 talks that Stephen is giving in London this week. He started his second talk, Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World – given to the NetworkEDGE conference at the London School of Economics on Wed 10th July – with the words: If you feel unfulfilled at the end of this talk, it’s because it doesn’t really have a beginning and doesn’t really have an end, i.e. it’s the middle talk in a series of three. I have only listened to the recording of this second talk.

I did feel somewhat unfulfilled after the first talk. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference – I thoroughly enjoyed it, attended some interesting sessions and talked to some great people, but at the end of the day I felt that a lot of questions had been raised but not many answers had been found. These questions were around what we mean by ‘open’, what we mean by ‘connected learning’ and what do universities understand about open, connected learning – not only what do they understand, but what are they doing about it, what are they becoming as a result of open learning in a networked world – and are they becoming what we would hope they become? As Stephen said, ‘Institutions are what we make them’.

This thinking about unanswered questions made me wonder whether the idea of flipped classrooms, which was mentioned in the opening talk by the Vice Chancellor, should be applied to conferences. Should we engage with the ideas to be presented by the keynote speaker before the conference, and present a discussion paper/workshop as a result of that – so that the key questions can be discussed.

The points I took from Stephen’s talk were that

‘Open’ means open in all senses, particularly in the sense of open sharing of thought processes, and should be the default position in Universities. Free and open access is not enough.

But Universities are resistant to openness in the sense of open sharing, and content providers do not want people to have free and open access. The promise of open resources has not materialized.

Open access makes a massive economic difference to users, but cost IS the problem for universities because universities see online learning in terms of money making.

The issue is not finding innovative ways of teaching, but innovative ways of learning.

The bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses, but this was never the intention of the original cMOOCs.

Change in Universities is slow – too slow.

None of these points came as a surprise. None of them is unfamiliar, but challenging Universities to become more ‘open’ can be a risky business for employees and those that do can land themselves in trouble, as Stephen pointed out in his presentation. (See slide 29 for an example).

In general people seem to be more aware of the risks than the benefits. A new lecturer at the conference said that ‘openness’ is a risk for someone like her who is new in the job and trying to establish a reputation. Sheila McNeill, who was a panel member at the end of the day, urged this lecturer to be brave and just go for it. I wonder whether being strategic about openness is more important than being brave. Sharing openly doesn’t mean that you have to ‘bare your soul’ – there are other ways of sharing. A more impersonal and less risky approach is reporting. If open sharing doesn’t come easily then share what you have discovered to be useful, rather than your own work or personal thoughts. As Stephen said in his second talk to the London School of Economics, every learner is different and reacts to each learning scenario differently.

The Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, also on the panel, seemed to recognize the difficulties when she said that open sharing in the form of lecturers recording their lectures and openly sharing them, is a risk to the University’s reputation – but she also acknowledged that a major issue for an institution is the need for cultural change. As she put it – universities will have to wait for some staff to shift or die before this culture change can be achieved.

Stephen asked for a show of hands for who was tweeting the conference proceedings and a show of hands for who had recorded their conference presentation.  Some were tweeting, but only one person had recorded their presentation. The person sitting next to me during the final panel session was inspired and enthusiastic about what she had heard during the day, but said that she had never taught online and had never taken an online course. It was all new for her.

For me, the concerns raised about openness should not be brushed aside. Questions of whether an academic’s or an institution’s reputation can be damaged by openness need to be discussed. The benefits or otherwise of openness need to be articulated. For me, it is not about whether you tweet at a conference or record your presentation and upload your Slideshare; all these can help to model a spirit of openness, but it’s more about trying to understand why openness is necessary and how we can all be supported in understanding and doing this. Ultimately, isn’t it about personal values and educational philosophies?

So I came away from Greenwich feeling that many questions had been raised, but that they were left hanging. I would have been interested in more discussion about whether there is agreement about the changes that Stephen suggested Universities need to make and if so how they will make these changes. But I have now listened to Stephen’s second talk to the London School of Economics, which helped me to understand the context of the first talk. Inge de Waard has blogged about it here: Fabulous ideas: economics, innovation, #education  and I hope to return with another blog post.

A big thank you to Simon Walker, Gillian Keyms and colleagues for organizing a thought-provoking event, and to all at Greenwich, particularly the students, who were so helpful, friendly and welcoming.