The University

dangers and rewards of taking it social

Outside The Castle, Walthamstow

I attended the PLENK2010 Elluminate session with Harold Jarche on PKM in the corporate setting. Normally, I stand well clear of anything corporate-setting, figuring a fight will break out sooner or later. But the discussion was good. I’ve beem taking a little more interest in The Enterprise lately because I’m hoping to present my sabbatical work in PLENK2010 not to my academic colleagues but to business and laypeople at BSU’s extension service. Keeping that in mind, I pricked up my ears to what Jarche had to say about the value of PLE/N to business.

Which leads me to a side comment Jarche made in the session. In encouraging learners to use blogging for sense-making and reflection, Jarche mentioned getting outside of the email exchange and into the social arena. He advised, Don’t simply trade emails about a problem back and forth. Make the exchange social so that others can join in.

That tweaked me. For the past week, I’ve been having an email exchange with the newly-appointed Director on the role and character of the Center for Professional Development. My take is that the CPD is doing some of the tasks and training that the administration and ITS should be doing, and that the CPD is confining itself to maintaining the status quo for the administration rather than looking towards faculty innovation. The director argues that handling training and surveys is part of the CPD’s collaboration with the administration. I argue that the CPD is a faculty service and should deliver what faculty need in order to develop professionally, not do inservice training. Rather than collaborate, the CPD should lead, push the administration in the direction the faculty want to go.

At any rate, the email exchange is going nowhere. Bogged down. But I really should have realized that the better way to approach the issue is through a social exchange. Rather than emailing the director my comments, I could have posted them to this weblog, then emailed the link with my comments to her and perhaps others. If I had done that, I would have set the arena as social from the start. And this is, after all, what I try to teach.

So why not go social? In this case, it simply didn’t occur to me. Habit of email. It has to be made clear from the start where the discussion is going to go on. And it’s the same habit of email that has constrained the discussion we’re having to a semi-private exchange rather than a social exchange. I know I would get more – learn more, argue better – by reflecting on the role of the CPD in a social space – and I’d bet the director and my colleagues would get more out of it, too. The exchange becomes more valuable when it is shared socially.

Now, going social rather than using semi-private email can also be seen as a power play, or labeled as inappropriate, and could get me ostracized. It’s risky. Institutions – well, the one I work in –  like to keep what they think of as conflict in-house, like to show a unified face to the world – in spite of the good that a social exchange on, say, the role of a center for professional development might bring to the institution and to others. Moving discussions to the social realm can result in being cut out of the loop. Worse, it can lead to everyone playing close to the vest, saying nothing in fear of having to defend the position – going social means cards on the table, no bluffing, and that’s scary.

Is it worth the risk? Some days I think it is. Other days, I’m not so certain. In any case, the ethos of going social is changing, so we might as well get used to it locally. I’m posting this today with some hope that others on the PLENK2010 course might find it useful – and to strengthen my resolve. Next time the opportunity knocks, I’m taking my discussion social.

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Digital Literacy The University

#MOOC: A Chronicle Conversation

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A Chronicle Conversation as MOOC

This showed up in my Chronicle list: ‘Open Teaching’: When the World Is Welcome in the Online Classroom. It’s a brief overview article of open classes (with a focus on being taught rather than learning), covering Downes, Siemens, and Wendy Drexler at U Florida. A good article as an overview, touching on the use of PLEs –

Instead of restricting posts to a closed discussion forum in a system like Blackboard, the class left students free to debate anywhere. Some used Moodle, an open-source course-management system. Others preferred blogs, Twitter, or Ning. In the virtual world Second Life, students built two Spanish-language sites. Some even got together face-to-face to discuss the material.

– and ending with the typical “educators are cautious.” There’s one misunderstanding that stands out for me, here, with the idea that BBoard or any LMS would be opened up to created a MOOC:

At the end of the day, the popularity of open classes will depend on whether learning-management software companies like Blackboard make it easy to publish open versions of online courses, says David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young and an open-teaching pioneer.

This seems to go against the grain: It’s not a matter of letting students into the garden. It’s a matter of creating allotments.

But more interesting than the article are the comments, from Drexler and others. I’ll start with Drexler, who adds to the article’s content with some reassuring pre-conditions:

There are certain foundational skills necessary for learning in an open online environment. Early research indicates the need for learners to practice digital responsibility (including management of personal privacy and respectful behavior), digital literacy (ability to find and vet resources as well as differentiate between valid and questionable resources), organization of online content, collaborating and socializing with subject matter experts and fellow students, and the ability to use online applications to synthesis content and create learning artifacts.

What I’m getting at is this: The comments make the article a learning object (and what I’m doing i remixing demonstrates that) and so address this concern from chedept

How is what is being done here different than, say, what any number of people or groups are doing with sites and blogs. Is Ariana Huffington teaching a course on society and politics? Is Dan Savage teaching a course on human sexuality? Is TMZ teaching a course on whatever it is they waste their time on?

Calling it a course does not make it so.

Huffington isn’t teaching a course – and an open course is not a collection of articles. But incorporating a Huff post article in a course framework, even a loosely defined one, or using a post as stuff to learn from, makes the post part of a course.

The comments seem to be struggling in getting at the mindset behind the open course: Is it like other self-guided courses? How do teachers give feedback to so many? (How do teachers give feedback to self-learners? would be my question.) How do you handle mis-behavior? Again, Drexler answers these matters by demonstrating how: she posts her own comment, remixes them, and in so doing clarifies matters. (It gets a little patronizing, but that’s an effort to make sure the exchange doesn’t erupt in flames.)

I really believe there is a distinction between open teaching and open learning. As a teacher, I could conduct my course in a completely closed environment, but offer my course materials in an open forum that anyone can freely access. Is that open or merely transparent? You begin to see a continnum emerging here. On the other hand, as a highly motivated learner, I could piece together a rich learning experience with open courseware in the absence of a teacher or facilitator. Though at some point, I may have to connect with other learners or subject matter experts who can supplement the materials.

The examples in this article represent facilitated open online courses. Facilitation is a key component. Yet, there’s more going on here than the added guidance or scaffolding of an instructor. The connections to others and exposure to many points of view further enrich the learning experience.

Siemens gets in here, bringing in a practice that was overlooked in the article: that of learning communities forming within the course:

Not all 2300 learners stay in the same virtual space talking to each other. They form smaller networks, move into different spaces, or engage with others on topics of personal interest. The instructor does not have to direct all 2300 students. The the key power shift generated by the web is the loss of ability for a company, a person, or an educator to direct people.

What I really like is how the questions in the comments allow Siemens (and others) to compose focused responses. We can see coherence being created here by posting public responses to public questions, by remixing and sharing.

We can still lecture on how to find good information or how to write a persuasive essay. But…instead of the instructor being the sole source of guidance and information, she becomes a node among other nodes (important, even critical, but no longer the only or dominant one) in a learning network.

Also, the list of commentators makes a good starting point for forming learnninng community. And as a further note, the commentators demonstrate that not all learners have to be fully engaged in the course to provide material that can be made meaningful. Side comments can be opened into a larger room by another learner – which also challenges to the idea of course design as a matter of teacher control.

But there is still a sense, throughout, that a MOOC is not really a course so much as a hobby: fun, creative, experimental, tribal, but still side-stepping the Serious Work and Rigor of Properly Designed Courses.

I agree that the best way to evaluate these events (courses?) is to participate in them. I have been a high-flyer in three of them so far. I have enjoyed the interaction, and tend to think of these events as social interactions that produce socially constructed learning, using internet affordances for communication purposes. Since acronyms are all the rage, how about SMILEs, as in Social Media Induced Learning Events. The SMILE acronym helps to highlight for me the fun and creativity I had in the debates in the various forums.

Acronyms make a good heuristics. Here’s one to counterpoint SMILE when it comes to open learning: SMARTS: Study, Mix (or Meet if you prefer), Assess, Remix, Test by Sharing.

But I’ll leave it with this from Siemans. As I mentioned a couple of times in this post (remix, being tested by sharing), I have made the Chronicle article and the comments a learning object by using them for learning. They were not posted to overtly teach me anything.

Why do many educators conclude that coming to a particular place requires set structure? Just because we know what we want students to learn doesn’t mean that we have to inject the into an organized (“aligned”) process of learning outcomes, content/curriculum, evaluation. Nothing about a clear target suggests that a clear structured path is required. We quickly get to the Private Universe problem: pass the test, but miss the conceptual understanding required.

Note to Chronicle: why no “follow up comments via email” option?


See also

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