Category Archives: MOOCs

Treating myself to the dual layers of #DALMOOC with EdX

Big data's brotherly gazeJust as I was thinking of getting back to the founts of MOOCy goodness last week, Twitterous serendipity occurred yet again and voila, I am now enrolled on the Data Analytics and Learning course from Texas University Arlington via EdX’s Honour Code route no less. The course proper does not commence until Monday (so still time to follow me in;) but we’ve already been treated to some induction materials over the weekend…(Available separately on G+ and YouTube).

My discerning MOOCer palate has been tempted this time for two reasons:

  • I find institutional/governmental  collection of vast amounts of personal data and their use of data analytics to “improve my experience” extremely creepy – in a Big Brother 1984 way. If you know me from PLN seminar, you know my tendency for such doomsday scenarios;). But I am also a (recovering)scientists and so it is almost impossible for me to refuse a chance to play with some numbers and new analytical tools.
  • The MOOC design itself is intriguing – very explicitly trying to combine the more usual, linear xMOOC paradigm with the more open, social-learning-focused cMOOC. I have sampled a range of courses aiming for a version of the latter, so again I could not resist having a taste here. Especially that these guys are trying out some new tools to facilitate social interaction within both models. Oh – and since the “social learning” aficionado (and, apparently, also a learning data analytics guru), George Siemens (@gsiemens) , is the lead here, we are guaranteed an interesting ride!

In the words of the man himself (there will no doubt be more words on the topic on his elearnspace blog here):

“I think that in the MOOC landscape we too prematurely settled on the instructional model that we have and we really want to take an opportunity with this course to ask a range of questions and experiment with different ways of making learning happen in different contexts. So we are experimenting with social learning, with different support structures and software…” (DALMOOC Induction video 1)

Shouldn’t forget George’s collaborators on the project:

  • Carolyn Rose of Carnegie Melon Institute (innovator in such funky topic as Automated Analysis of Collaborative Learning Processes and Dynamic Support for Collaborative Learning and the person behind Bazaar and Quick Helper support system implementation within the course’s structured EdX platform. Having had designed and supported collaborative work online before – this is certainly of interest to me:)
  • Dragan Gasevic (@dgasevic) of Athabasca University (into applying semantic web principles to elearning systems and a father to the newly minted “credentialing pipeline” Prosolo tool to be used in the social layer of the course)
  • Ryan Baker (@BakerEDMLab) of Columbia University (looking at data mining intersection with human-computer interaction, and seemingly particularly interested in student’s motivation, or rather lack thereof, e.g. “WTF behaviour”, in the interaction with elearning systems).

The induction materials so far have been heavily focused on showing us around the dual layer course model and the introduction to the learning tools expanding the usual EdX set of forums and videos.

DALMOOC Visual SyllabusCentral to this introduction is “visual syllabus” designed as an intuitive overview of the complex course design and an introduction to the less-traditional social learning layer of the course by Matt Crosslin (@grandeped) of LINK Research Lab. Great idea but perhaps needs a tweak or two:

  • Less emphasis on esthetics of the design and more on information – e.g. including header text alongside more informative images so that we actually do get an overview without having to roll over pics?
  • As Matt explains in the induction hangout, the aim is to particularly focus on introducing the non-traditional, unstructured, “social learning” layer of the course, getting away from assumptions of learner’s zero prior knowledge at the point of entry. Yet the learner’s progress through the overview is highly structured through the prominent numbering of the sections, therefore falling back onto the traditional paradigm and assumptions of linear progress through materials. Adding text headers, even alongside the numbers, would instantly change this first impression and allow for choice of point of entry, especially for those learners who have already dabbled in non-traditional courses before;)

A brief comment on the first impressions of the tools we are going to be using to support our learning:

  • In the structured/linear layer (the blue pill) we have a couple of tools, Quick Helper and Bazaar, which seem to target the usual problem with massive courses – the sheer volume of people and messages and lack of more intimate collaborative learning experience which in f2f sessions may be achieved by simply turning to your neighbour in the classroom. Both are using automation, text analysis and algorithmic approaches to facilitate interactions. My immediate reaction (and some of my colleagues I discussed this with) is that while the tools may indeed help those students with less sophisticated online collaboration skills to find support within the EdX system, they do nothing for their online networking skill development. A couple more specific issues with each. Quick Helper’s “help matching intervention” system of targeting your forum questions to specific students/helpers may result in undue workload for students algorithm deems “an expert” and resentment if help is not provided (perhaps allow people to opt out/into the helper role?). Bazaar allows for spontaneous creation of collaborative/discussion groups, discussion aided by “virtual agent”. As @gsiemens pointed out in the induction hangout – it is a bit like Chatroulette, but with less nudity…Well, the analogy pretty much says it all.
  • So – not that excited about the aids to the structured layer of the course but then, I usually tend to live outside the course VLEs anyway, in the red pill territory. The course’s expectation of setting up and using our own learning and networking spaces is more up my alley:) and I am a bit excited about using the prototype of “credentialing pipeline”, Prosolo, which is supposed to help us create, share and assess each others’ artifacts and form interest networks.

More on the course design etc. from the horses’ mouths:

Now – despite all this “constructive criticism” – I do look forward to taking part. No doubt I will be pleasantly surprised…off to try my hand at the educational Chatroulette:)

Image source: Diodoro under CC license

The PLN promise can turn your organisation into the house of horrors

PLN house of horrors
PLN house of horrors

Week 3 and 4 in Exploring PLN Seminar (and maybe even week 5…)

This post is aimed to be a quick wrap-around my #xplrpln artifact (you can find it on Prezi) we were invited create in response to a set scenario and share it with others this week.

Yes, it is covering two weeks of the seminar (and I am posting it in week 5!). This is not because I have become disengaged or too busy. It is because the few readings on PLNs and organisations provided by Jeff and Kimberley in week 3, along with the seminar participant contributions needed some solitary rumination before I could spit the chewed cud back into the communal fermentation vat (help! – I seem to be losing control over my metaphors…).

Among all the rumination around the topic I was also struggling with the idea of the CEO pitch. This is not the first time that my allergy to corporate/managerial context has surfaced. One of the reasons I quit the Open University’s #H817 Openness and Innovation in eLearning course earlier this year was the large chunk of the assessment based on presenting business cases. I understand why – it’s important to make such courses relevant to practitioners via authentic/applied assessment. Perhaps it is something about the executive language? Perhaps it is the difficulty of putting myslef in the CEOs or large organisations’ shoes (I keep thinking that the bottom line for them is really just financial gain – even in educational institutions these days)? Perhaps it is the disenchantment with such organisations and their cultures? Or simply the lack of sense of play and fun in learning from such artifact?

On the other hand, perhaps I started to expect an inspiration to push beyond institutional/established mindsets in my ‘learning experiences’. To be encouraged to explore different ways of representing and applying my understanding. This is one of the thing that cMOOCs taught me (although in fact it was probably seeded long time ago when I heard about learning in the open and digital artifact-based assessment approaches taken by the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Online Education).

I did try to take on a challenge of getting it done, finding a “professional” voice. But simply couldn’t force myself to go there. Thankfully – this learning experience, unlike the caged OU course, was not prescriptive. I enjoyed crystallizing my ideas around the potential institutional horrors of ‘implementing’ PLN approaches at universities – large, complex and culturally diverse organisations. I did try to entertain the audience as well. Including the imaginary HE leaders and, the very tangible, fellow #xplrpln-ers alike. While making us laugh I was hoping to make us all more thoughtful before we rush into implementation of the new PLN and related ideas at a massive scale. At institutional and Profersonal(TM) levels.

My ruminatory state sharpened my attention to examples of organisational PLN horrors in my recent PLN data stream – I tried to include those alongside the insights from the course readings. These anecdotes turned it from a theoretical to a very much real-life tale…and also illustrated the ongoing/dynamic nature of the beast. Changes in technology, terms and conditions will keep coming, and we have to, personally and institutionally, keep reconsidering the cost/benefit equation for PLNs or specific technical solutions which may enhance/detract from it.

Why the horror angle? I thought a lot of the PLN-related hype is coming from businesses who have much to gain from organisations and individuals engaging with the services they offer – either as paid for SNA /social intranets/social enterprise solutions for organisations or by getting hold of our very much monetisable data, including our personal or professional network interactions via their ‘free’ social media services (we have all heard the now well worn warning “when you are not a customer you are a product”). Organisations implementing social learning solutions may also have less than altruistic ideas at heart. I thought an antidote to the seductive murmur of the Sirens was in order:) Oh – and it *was* Halloween…

Just in case I don’t find time for more reflection around #xplrpln here, I would like to say now that I am extremely grateful to Kimberley and Jeff for putting this seminar together and to the co-participant for diving in (or even just watching). It has been a great adventure!

Firming up my PLN definition and the shifting institutional sands

Another Place by hehaden
Another Place, a photo by hehaden on Flickr.

With week 3 twitter #xplrpln chat looming I think it is time for me to pull a personal definition of PLN together. Here goes it:

PLN is a dynamic and open network of relationships of varied strength and reciprocity which I actively chose to inspire me, learn from, and share my knowledge with around topics and projects I am profersonallyTM interested in. It stretches across institutional, national and online-offline divides, but its reach and richness is particularly well supported by online social media tools.

Now for the organisational context.

I have lived most of my professional life in Higher Education, most recently supporting students and staff in online distance Masters programme. So this would be a natural point for me to start thinking about PLN “implementation” (I know I share this interest with some other participants so maybe I could contribute to the collaborative ‘artifact’:).

Immediately I wonder which group of people should be involved. Are we talking about the tutors, or academic authors, or the admin? They would most certainly all benefit from learning about online learning and teaching and expanding their digital literacies – and the PLN-way may be the best and most sustainable way to do it. But do they all have the same needs? What about students? Should we not impart the PLN wisdom on them? Is it appropriate in the context of the course subject matter? Would it have impact on how we design or redesign the courses? Does the openness and connectivism of the PLN approach clash with the team’s teaching philosophy?

Then there is the question of scale – would it even work if we restrict ourselves to the programme team? Or should I think at the scale of all of the online distance programme staff, or all teaching staff? Or just – all staff?

I have also been interested in how PLN concept can be applied within scientific research environments in academia. This encompasses the research academics as well as PhD students. Related – but not quite the same as PLNs in teaching. Different structural problems, risks and benefits. But since research has greater power within HE institutions, maybe seeding the PLN ideas there would trickle through to the teaching side?

Phew – already the institution seems like quite a complex beast, where it would be very difficult to apply one PLN “solution” even if we managed to agree on a single definition!

And then I am tempted to venture outside the institutional boundaries (the temptation I seem to share with Helen Crump who spoke of work as a service in her blog for the week) – which in any case are becoming increasingly porous. From the student’s perspective, there is certainly much talk of “unbundling” of higher education – moving from an LP (a degree) to a remixable and personalisable mp3 (a course or a seminar) paradigm as has happened in the music industry (although I think much of this is really just ed-tech hype). From the staff perspective, the trend is abundantly clear towards casualisation of the workforce – at least on the teaching side. I have been one of those permanently short-term contract employees myself. In this context what does organisation even mean I ask with Hellen, and what is its interplay with our PLNs? Does the organisational citizenship (PDF) concept, mentioned by Kimberley Scott in the live session this week, even apply? What are the benefits and drawbacks of plugging in the ‘external’ impermanent contractor PLNs into the institutional hierarchies for both parties?

Now off to put my hand up for the HE group on Google+…it’s always more fun doing things together!

Institutionalising Personal Learning Networks #xplrpln

Week 1 – Exploring Personal Learning Networks

Well – it’s been a while. But I may be back here for the Exploring Personal Learning Networks online seminar coordinated by the folk at the Masters Programme in Learning and Organisational Change at the Northwestern University.

I am a couple of days too late to formally register but as it looks like it has a fairly open format I will try to keep pace from the sidelines. So let me tell you why I am here – and, as the organisers suggest, specify some learning goals.

How did I find my way to this experience? Well – through my PLN of course (I blame twitter again – and @crumphelen in particular;)

I have been experimenting with the magic of personal and professional presence in the digital realm of social media over the past year or so. The cMOOCs were more than helpful in getting me started (as you may see from the other posts in this blog) – #etmooc, #edcmooc, #moocmooc were particularly satisfying experiences here:) I have to say that the open and apparently connectivist format of this seminar also bodes well.

It is not just a personal whim (although this plays a part too) – it all speaks to my professional interest in elearning within the context of postgraduate distance education. I am interested in how the networked paradigm we are working within in the internet era is influencing the way learners and teachers interact. How can we use it to capture students’ interest and provide them with support networks, and equip them with relevant digital literacies? How can I and others involved in HE use it for our professional development?

There are many benefits here but there are also things which make me feel uneasy. One is the question of whether entanglement of students’ private online identities (and indeed their PLNs) with those they may chose to present to the institution and the classmates is too high a price to pay for a participation in the institutionalized course.

Until I have read the rationale behind this seminar I have not really thought about the institution wanting to capitalise on my own PLN – or use my own online digital identity or presence to its own ends. I have to say it sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. Perhaps just as a student might feel if we put similar demands on them? Being of no faint heart I decided to explore the topic and my feelings around it further. I may even come away with some strategies to protect my own privacy and online space while working with the institutions to capitalising on my PLNs for our mutual benefit?

Obviously – I would also like to get to know some more people through this experience (and deepen some old encounters) – after all, a PLN does not grow itself:) Off to look around your intro posts and start on Week 2 readings!

Framing my #edcmooc artefact

"Beyond access and cost: a primary benefit of open education insofar as it is not merely open but opening, is the opportunity for networked transcontextualism. A planetary double-take."Gardner Campbell, Open Ed'12
“Beyond access and cost: a primary benefit of open education insofar as it is not merely open but opening, is the opportunity for networked transcontextualism. A planetary double-take.”
Gardner Campbell, Open Ed’12

Very unlike myself (a prolific starter and a rather feeble finisher) I managed to submit my digital artefact for “final assessment” in the #edcmooc. I have to say that I was rather excited…

The format of the assessment and the experience of an assessed and assessing learner was interesting in itself and it warrants a separate thinking episode…here it will suffice that I reiterate the edcmooc team’s descriptor:

a digital artefact which expresses, for you, something important about one or more of the themes we have covered during the course

What is a digital artefact you ask?

something that is designed to be experienced digitally, on the web. It will have the following characteristics:

  • it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
  • it will be easy to access and view online.
  • it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

The best bit was the encouragement to:

Try to have fun with this and use it as a chance to think broadly and creatively: anything goes in terms of the form of this essay.

Why a digital artefact you ask?

Text is the dominant mode of expressing academic knowledge, but digital environments are multimodal by nature – they contain a mixture of text, images, sound, hyperlinks and so on. To express ourselves well on the web, we need to be able to communicate in ways that are “born digital” – that work with, not against, the possibilities of the medium.

What is your response to that, you ask? >>>Left asking: What is OPEN learning?

(Unfortunately, ThingLink images are not embeddable in a blogs so you will have to follow the link to experience its full glory;)

Of course, we cannot go without words entirely so here are some thoughts on why and what (for how see this post – will be ready in a day or so):

Medium. I was inspired to chose ThingLink through the work of the MSc in Digital Education students who joined us for week 2 of #edcmooc and provided their digital responses to its themes and conversations to give us some ideas for our own creations (thanks in particular to Chantelle Meckenstock @cmeckenstock – and Steph Carron WP – for their ThingLinks;) .

Non-linear. I wanted my artefact to reflect the multichannel experience of #edcmooc not only in a sense of the multitude of participant’s voices and their formats, but also the number of ideas being generated and competing for attention in my own mind in response to the course material and experience. This extended to the links I have been making across the courses, e.g. #etmooc digital storytelling theme feeding into the artefact creation in #edcmooc.

Open. I liked the way the course seemed to consist of a stream of open-ended questions to get us thinking. Questions which do not have answers – or have complex and context-dependent answers. The binomial past-future, distopia-utopia, human-machine tensions set up through the readings opened many themes for future exploration (you should see my draft cache for this blog!). The overarching message – be open to questioning everything.

I wanted to reflect this – hence you will only find question marks in my ThingLink:)

For a while I toyed with allowing others to add their own so that the work can evolve. I decided against it because there was a risk somebody may make its essence disappear before it was assessed (ooo – here pops another question on the nature of made-re-made web and ownership over your creations;). I was somewhat mollified by the option for others to leave their mark via the comments box (PLEASE DO!).

I chose to focus on open ed as this is a concern shared by many moocers and educators in general, and a thing I am experimenting with at the moment  – but also inspired by the fact that the course itself was an example of an open connectivist MOOC design ‘delivered’ within what is commonly seen as a closed Coursera system (one of the reasons I took this course in the first place).

And – I thought making the piece about open ed would be an excellent introduction to the activities I will be getting into over next month or so: #etmooc is running an OpenEd theme over the next fortnight (overlapping  with OpenEd week activities) and OU’s OpenEd MOOC (#h817open) starts March 16th for 7 weeks.

Animated gif. Yes, I am a bit obsessed. But not indulgent! There is a good reason. Jim Groom, Tom Woodward, Michael Branson Smith, Brian Lamb,and  Zack Dowell convinced me that an animated gif is a perfect storytelling artefact for the digital era (here is their #etmooc presentation + a fab gif collections for the whirlwind tour of revival of gif storytelling). It is sampled, remixed, decontextualised, slightly illicit, inherently playful and beautifully succinct (perfect for the ADD web audiences).

After listening to Gardner Campbell‘s OpenEd’12 keynote for week 3 in #edcmooc, I became convinced that it is also a perfect medium to convey or create the “double-take” learning moments – including his own “planetary double take” (#ds106 folk tried to warn me – once you see a gif you end up seeing them everywhere;). And since I think that #edcmooc was a bit of a planetary double take – I made this to include in my artefact.

Unfortunately, I did not have much time to gather found #edcmooc gifs but managed to snap up very accomplished work by two fellow edcmoocers:

  • Maiji Huang – I used the open-ing gif which Maiji shared via the course forums as a background image for my thinglink.
  • Guilia Forsythe –made me laugh so hard with her terrorist hummus gif on her blog putting a dystopian twist on the utopian Microsoft ad.

Please let me know if there is more of them out there!

Interconnected but not networked. I have been a part of a couple connectivist moocs now. Yet I still find the experience is largely a solitary one where the demands of delving into the materials, digesting them and creating a response leave very little time to truly engage with others and their work. Perhaps it is the next step in the evolution of my digital competencies;)

Yet the edcmoocers’ work and conversations have been in my peripheral vision and prompted thoughts, emotions and giggles throughout. I included some of my finds in the artefact to reflect these loose connections and show my appreciation for everybody’s presence.

I have also been trying to get my learning done via web-based tools to truly immerse myself in the digital. So far the experience is also quite disjointed and I am just beginning to set up somewhat coherent workflows – I tried to connect some of my own digital spaces through the artefact. But for now these still stand as unconnected dots in the wider landscape of openness…

In the spirit of some more linking of things:

  • You can find links to the MSc Digital Education students’ week 2 response artefacts here.
  • And one of the places edcmoocers are sharing theirs is WallWisher. There is also a Facebook group but you must be a member to see that.
  • And just for completeness – here is a list of most of the readings and some videos (needs a bit of TLC at the moment so stay tuned).

It was such a fun ride! Thanks edcmooc team and my fabulous co-learners!

Reasserting the human in #edcmooc – we are receptacles for beauty

After immersing myself in the re-asserting the human segment of edcmooc, I went to sleep with gloomy thoughts, in my usual pessimistic way questioning if ‘the humanist project’ was worthy pursuit, and envisioning distopian future where technology only enhances our ugly underbellies.

I emerged next morning to this winter sunrise. It was breathtaking. Never mind the colours – just listen to the soundtrack! Did I just wake up in one of the Attenborough’s nature documentaries? My heart was flying with these birds. Was it tears in my eyes? (I really did feel like I was welling up with emotion, scout’s honour!)

I just had to share this beauty – so I grabbed my phone and here it is. I can now share it with my future self. I am sharing it with you! When my other half emerged from his slumber, I shared it with him.

So this is what it feels like to be human!

To be able to see and experience the beauty of things – including the beauty of nature, of ourselves, of human-made. To be driven to share this beauty, these emotions and these memories with others – isn’t this where art comes from (OK – it does come from ugly places too but I am trying to get a bit more positive here)?

The digital gives us a new set of tools to do this – to capture, to recreate and to share our positive emotional experiences. This is one message I will take away from this week’s viewing – ‘The World Maker’:

Building digital simulations of natural beauty The experience of beauty through digital simulation

How does it relate to learning? Well, I am a scientist. All too often our kind gets locked into the ‘objective facts and figures’ illusion in our teaching and learning (I think this is most common in university settings, which I am all too familiar with). We tend to deny the emotional side to our humanity as an interference in the process of science and try to impress this on our students. But isn’t it the beauty and amazement which drives us most effectively through the dark and treacherous corridors of research, towards the light of discovery? (if you do not believe me just have a read about “Scientists and their emotions” in this Guardian article) Why don’t we (I) share this more often in the classroom? Why don’t we get the students to share their own experiences of beauty in the subject they study?

I promise that from now on I will seek to re-assert the human as driven by beauty in my teaching and design. And I will not feel guilty about it! And lest I forget, I will keep replaying this melodysheep’s Science Symphony video for inspiration.

This, incidentally, puts an evolutionary perspective on what it is to be human in the context of ever evolving nature, with an effect of taking our egos down a notch;):

“we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming tree of life” (Richard Dawkins, at about 1:20 min)

So here is my answer to the course team’s call in the Friday Hangout for more on relationship between nature, humans, and transhumans:)

IN-BOX – how interwebs will tear us apart in #edcmooc


I decided to be lazy today and use my EDC MOOC brain to process the homework. At least some of it. OK – just one tiny little movie. Inbox.

It seems to have made the most impression on the collective – trending today on discussion forums at least. It is perhaps not surprising, as it focuses on an ever popular theme – a love story – as mediated by a ‘magical’ communication device – a red paper bag. Superficially, it has an uplifting tone – at least compared to the other course offerings in this week’s mini-film fest (Thursday, Bendito Machine III, New Media).

The course materials intimated that its message about the technology can be read as utopian or distopian. This ambivalence is what attracted my attention – I tend to think that it is all rather complicated and we should not commit to a single position in our view of technology’s impact/interplay with society or with learning. It all depends on our own, always changing, personal context.

Here are some awesome insights from my #etmooc pals…(mostly via discussion forum – there are vast amounts there so just a few threads collected).

Angela Towndrow’s blogpost sees the communication technology embodied by the red bag, as an enabler of initiation of social interaction when faced with barriers in f2f communication. She sees the nature of the interaction itself as not changed by the technology though – it is analogous to rituals of the past when pen-and-paper notes were passed between the potential lovers in the courtship period. And the serendipity/fate in human interactions is not entirely technology-dependent (the couple meets in the end despite the tech malfunction).

Others on discussion forums see the technology as instrumental in making interactions easier once we choose to move our relationships offline:

At the end the two parties met and seemed to have not problem interacting because they had experienced each other via the medium that allowed them to communicate. (Mark Ashford)

I heard a very convincing story about facilitative aspect of web2.0 interaction on collaborative relationships in K12 context when George Couros spoke about the connected principals movement last night for ETMOOC. The talk is archived here. So although I see Angela’s point, I also think that medium such as twitter or facebook, through putting restrictions on the length of message and their inherent dynamics, allow for development of a light touch and prevalent presence and signal our openness to interactions with others. This enhances the chances of serendipitous encounters, and allows for relationships to develop and be maintained at a distance to an extent not possible via emails or letter writing of the olden days (as a particularly poor epistolarian myself I do appreciate the brevity of these new forms of communication).

But ultimately the technology may not be enough to sustain human relationships/take them to another level:

that the bags allowed them to start to get to know each other but there is still a need for direct human contact. (Celia Popovic)

What really intrigued me is that quite a few people noted that the communication medium did impact how the couple ‘talked’ to each other f2f – and how this mirrored the impact that mobile technology seems to have on human interaction at present:

What I found interesting is they were still communicating with some sort of technology (post-it notes) when they were right in front of each other instead of speaking. It reminds me of what I see around me…two people sitting in a restaurant and texting instead of connecting with each other. An interesting type of progress… (Michael D Lawrence)

Angela, optimistically, sees the nature of human interactions unchanged in the film and in the learning context, even though the format may be different:

technology itself will be neutral in the social interactions required for social constructivist or connectivist pedagogy. The film suggests that the tool is immaterial.

But she can also see the dystopia – as the film presents the communication technology in prominently displayed consumerist/capitalist context (it is an incidental purchase at a shop). She goes on to say:

[…] when the technology “fails” and the lines of communication are cut, we are presented with another powerful image of the man returning to the closed apparel store. I interpret this as meaning that technology will only be available when there is money to be made from it. No shop, no technology and dystopically, no relationship.

This resonates with how fast the technology is changing, and the fact that ultimately the boom in new social communication tools relies on the enterprise making a profit to ‘stay open’. Ultimately, technology will be a driver for the most economically beneficial model in education (something here aligns with “if you are not a customer you are a product” motto). I would take it further and say that perhaps the tech impermanence and susceptibility to breakdowns should make us even more cautious about the committing ourselves to ‘tech solutions’ instead of pedagogical ones.

But will we be able to resist the seduction of the ‘magic’ of new communication technologies, or are we slaves to our own susceptibility to seek novelty, just like the female protagonist in the film:

She closes Facebook,bored of the same interaction. She wanted something different and the trick of the bag was what called their attention (Valia Andrea Carrasco Parra)

Especially if they are pushed at us incessantly, sneakily disguised as seemingly inconsequential accompaniment to our daily consumption.

Thank you EDCMOOC brain – I could not have done it without you!

Rhizomatic growth – learners as weeds or explorers and survivors?

Bamboo by MotleyOcklahoman on Flickr
Bamboo by MotleyOcklahoman on Flickr

Bamboo makes me uneasy.

When David Cromier was explaining his rhizomatic learning concept in last night’s #etmooc seminar (my notes here, recording archived here), it was not sitting quite right with me.

I loved the idea of exploratory learning within communities – with your ‘rhizomes’ or ideas spreading in unconstrained way through the community and intermingling with those of others. I loved the idea forcing students to determine their own directions and outcomes in learning in preparation for the uncertainty of our futures. I loved the emphasis on diversity of purposes of learning. I loved the acknowledgment of unpredictability of learning and the need to harness this more explicitly in the more formal learning settings. I respected the acknowledgment of the limitations of the approach – or its particular advantage for learning to deal with complex problems.Having had a history of designing highly ‘controlled’ online courses myself (largely due to context but I cannot blame it all on that;) – this sounds like an excellent reason to start learning to let go.

But the mention of rhizomes triggered a silent alarm in my botanical soul. So I woke up this morning with these, much louder, thoughts.

Bamboo and other rhizomatic plants are great at spread, survival and colonisation of new territories. But as ecologists and gardeners know, if unchecked they become weeds and can dominate and suppress a plant community or a garden instead of enriching it. They are also clones – the rhizomes produce exact copies of the ‘mother’ plant.

So instead of free exploration and exchange of ideas leading to rich and unpredictable learning – the story of rhizomatic learning can equally be a story of domination and monoculture, with rarer and more delicate ‘flowers’ getting pushed out, suppressed – not able to grow.

The ‘weedy rhizome’ may be a problem especially in relatively small and enclosed classrooms in the formal learning settings (even of 100s of students) – there will always be those who may have their own agendas which end up marginalised in a ‘community curriculum’, and who cannot find connections or reasons for engagement with others. The same goes for professional settings – how many of us cannot find others interested in teaching or talking of teaching in our immediate professional circles? It is hard to envision your community as your curriculum then (yes you can still learn something but it is hardly inspiring, engaging and motivating enough to take you somewhere interesting fast). Would it be different in an artificially constructed learning space such as a classroom?

Sure, students should be able to define their own learning goals, but they should also be able to define their own community (i.e. curriculum) – i.e. they should be able to make connections OUTSIDE the restricted pool of interest represented by their classmates/teacher. So the question would be – how do we make sure that the courses are open enough to enable this? What happens then to our ability to measure the engagement as a substitute for assessment of learning, as David suggests – if we allow students to define their own communities can we restrict this measurement to communities that are visible to us as teachers/assessors or other course participants?

Of course, I can see that the concept has a much easier breathing space out there on the interwebs with its moocing inhabitants – where the long tail and serendipitous discovery makes i more likely that even those with niche interests find their community curriculum to engage with. Can we breed a successful hybrid between the two creatures – the formal classroom garden and the internet wilds?

As usual more questions than answers! Looking forward to exploring this some more with etmoocers out there:)

Rhizomatic learning – notes from Dave Cromier #etmooc presentation 28 Jan 2013

I took some notes while Dave was speaking last night – I thought I would share in case you cannot make it to today’s repeat session:) Just jotting things down so not a perfectly flowing narrative but some interesting messages there.

Here it goes:

Dave’s summary post trying to define rhizomatic learning in 300 words.

Dave has spent 7 years with rhizomatic learning – still does not quite knows how it works yet. Thinking arose from his experience of learning/working online.

What is the purpose of learning? A diversity of understanding – all these things are true.

What is learning?

Learning is not always planned – there is always an uncertainty of what the future will look like.

Learning = preparation for uncertainty. What kind of uncertainty are we preparing our students for. Often said – we are preparing students for a future that does not exist. All of the learning needs to be designed to prepare stds for coping with uncertainty/sifting through masses of information (not knowledge poor at the moment!).

5 things I think I think:

1. The best learning prepares ppl for dealing with uncertainty

Education process which forces you to make decisions all the time

Creativity – making sure that stds have to make decisions about their own outcomes (do not take the decisionmaking away from them)

2. The community can be the curriculum – learning when there is no answer

1991 community of practice invented – have been talking about it since. The process of talking about practice = learning not necessarily going in predetermined direction.

Cromier inspired to start talking about ‘open’ by Courosa

Inspired to bring the community into the classroom (his own context 20 university students per class). You cannot control the community and tell them what they will learn – they will scatter and keep doing their own thing. Very different to how things are normally done in a classroom.

3. Rhizomatic learning. is a model for learning for uncertainty.

Rhizomes spread away from the main plant, and can be separated and grow their own plants.

French philosophers [need names here] – using rhizome ‘analogy’:

  • they can map in any direction for many starting points
  • they grow and spread via experimentation within a context
  • they grow and spread regardless of breakage

‘lateral spread’. not necessarily in a predefined direction.

Lack of depth?

Way more complex. Does not work with having to teach ppl specific things, that they cannot forget.

4. Rhizomatic learning works best in complex situations.


Snowden explaining the Cynefin framework

  • Simple – best practice – not useful to approach it via rhizomatic learning
  • Complicated – should I get an apple or a pc? You cannot teach somebody to answer questions like this – you need 1000s hours of study/experience as per a degree
  • Chaotic – no information available decision needs to be made e.g. I am drowning – need to do something/evaluate it and regroup.
  • Complex – no right answer e.g. ethics inside medicine – it all depends on belief, who you are, money etc. This is the best situation to address via rhizomatic learning.


5. We need to make students responsible for their own learning (and the learning of others).

Open syllabus – things that you are going to learn are things that are defined by you.

Social contract – they decide what they are going to learn (David does not start to teach until they agree on this). Need a goal to get there to make it a course and not just community (open to emergence but need some sense what you want to learn).

Not suitable for all contexts – e.g. not academic writing as too many little things you have to make ppl believe.

MOOCs – perfect for rhizomatic learning.

5 steps to succeed in a mooc (see David’s video)

  • orient
  • declare – ppl need to know about you
  • network – find others similar
  • cluster
  • focus – pick a place where you want to get (defined personally)

“you can’t collaborate alone” – mooc/gathering places needed to bring ppl together

MOOC as a (networked) textbook?


people don’t scale incl MIT profs – only their content

Ownership- “you lose your love when you say word mine” – NY

Openness is not about it being free – it is about SHARING!

If teacher takes all the power in the relationship, defining what needs to be learned at each step, what happens when the student leaves and has to deal with this lack of direction.

We need to measure LEARNING => the fact that you need it doesn’t make it possible. Stop measuring learning!

Measure effort, engagement and connection. Allow learners to be responsible for – and measure their own-  learning journey. Let the robots count what they can.

If we make the community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale.

Being an effective member of the community = means you can speak the language….etc.

How does other faculty perceive it – crazy? Ppl have this idea of having to finish – person in charge telling you have succeeded. They have difficulty in accepting that success can be defined/achieved as per your own definition of it.

Tools for multimedia online introductions – #etmooc video

This week we were asked to introduce ourselves online to the co-participants in #etmooc. The format was left up to us – from a simple text on the blog to a multimedia ‘presentation’.

I decided to go for a multimedia offering. I thought that:

  • images and brief text fragments will convey the message most efficiently and expressively
  • it will be fun (and useful) to try out new tools to create such presentations
  • digital storytelling is trending – important to get some skills in there!
  • with many digital storytelling tools out there which require very low tech skills, and allow for easy sharing of the product, such multimedia presentations are an excellent choice for the orientation/ice-breaking activities online (and offline) courses!
  • I believe in enabling learners’/teachers’ online DIY by using low-threshold technology – this was a chance to test some out!

In prep for the post I have combed through a number of other etmooc introductions (hello everybody!) – and picked up a great list of tools which can be used for introductory activities – I compiled a public list on Diigo with some very brief annotations. Thanks everybody for sharing (special thanks to Erin Luong, Lyn Hilt, Joanna Sanders, Monika, Glenn Hervieux, Shira Leibowitz whose posts directly contributed to my list). I am sure there is much more out there and the list will grow in the future.

It was hard to pick but I went with Animoto because:

  • I have never used it before
  • It is an online tool so I did not need to download and install anything and worry about PC/Mac compatibility
  • I liked that it looked ‘professional’ and polished, yet fun whether used by complete beginners or more experienced users
  • It allowed for combination of video, text, audio and images + had some quite decent musical tracks to choose from (you can upload your own if you wish – NB copyright!)
  • The free version allows only for 30 sec videos and v. limited text – this forces a wonderful brevity and distillation of message so important in the online world, suffering from a chronic attention deficit (I tend to ramble so a fantastic way to improve my own skills here;)
  • It allowed publication to YouTube – important for me as a Word Press user as WP does not allow embedding of Animoto videos but works for YouTube (for security reasons).

How I did it.

I decided to include video I took with my phone alongside some CC licensed images from Flickr. This turned out to be quite a distraction (mainly due to the fact that Animoto video editing itself is very limited and only allows for clipping the ends and muting of soundtrack)  – but a productive one!

As using Animoto itself is very intuitive and including images very simple, I will talk about the editing of video itself, before I included it in my production.

I needed to clip, flip and crop my .3gb video.

My computer is running Windows XP which unfortunately does not have an inbuilt video editor. I did not want to download and install anything on it – it’s been running slowly so I want to avoid cluttering it up any further. And certainly did not want to pay for anything or such a small project. I also wanted to avoid using YouTube’s own editing suite (I do not like putting all my eggs in one basket).

I looked for a simple free online video editing tool and found this very useful compilation of some recent offerings from makeuseof blogs. I was most impressed with the ones which allow for collaborative editing and creation of social networks – definitely something to keep in mind for later use (assuming they survive – the turnaround is very rapid in these start ups) !

Unfortunately, I did not manage to find anything which would do all three things for me.

First, I used Pixorial to rotate and cut the video to size I wanted (the tool has some other ). Then, I took the output (Pixorial converts your video to .mp4 so if you do not want to lose quality it may not be an optimal option) and used Video Tool Box to crop it to focus on the part of the video I wanted (Video Tool Box preserves the video format – and gives you an option of converting it if you wish).

Both of the tools have size limits on the files you can upload in their free versions (Pixorial is more generous), and require a decent speed internet connection for download/upload so not really suitable for larger video processing but ideal for these snippets from your phone’s camera.

Overall, I think I will go back to both Animoto as well as Pixorial and Video Tool Box. I would also like to try my hand at WeVideo and FileLab Video Editor and try out their more complex editing options and effects. They are both much more sophisticated than YouTube editing options!