Friday 14 October 2011

Been there, heard most of it before

and that's not to say that I don't respect and admire David Wiley. I enrolled in one of his early open online courses (Introduction to Open Education 2007!)and the information he presented and the examples he provided and the challenging discussions he facilitated developed my strong interest and belief in open content. I began my first blog about open content right around then (which has since moved over to GoogleSites - I collect new OER sites, open content courses, and new movements or initiatives within the open content area at "Open=Free?"
I'm pleased to hear that his Flat World Knowledge initiative is succeeding. I had some serious doubts that a model like this could survive as a "business" model. While I believe in open content I assumed it would never survive without the serious funding provided by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and other benevolent bodies. Funny that everyone talks about MIT's work in setting up OpenCourseWare and making so many courses available but they never acknowledge that a great deal of their monies come from the TWFHF (and I give them a lot of credit for making the project successful - many others have withered even with funding)
It's interesting to read a Q&A session that TWFHF's Catherine Casserly in 2007 to find out how much skepticism there was about the OER idea and the quality of "free" course materials.
I like what I have seen develop in the OER field - the ability to study by yourself, the interactivity of online course modules in Connexions, the variety of online learning tools available through the UK's Open University's OpenLearn site.
I can't say I can see any way that some of the new developments (directions?) can ever be self-sustaining. David is talking about developing open assessment tools; New Zealand's Otago Polytechnic provides recognizable credits for open courses; BCCampus folks are trying to develop an OER University with recognized credentials. to me this is going too far and will eventually require a return to the semi-business model that traditional universities represent. This doesn't seem to be in the spirit of the original sharing without dictating standards or outcomes. Open Content  should be about sharing so that people can remix, reshape and reshare - not so they can access another country's credentials or accept their standards of what is important to be learned.
More another time

Thursday 6 October 2011

McGonigal suggests gamers can save the world!

Jane McGonigal
Pierre Levy
Howard Rheingold
This week's topic of connected learning has made me think back to all the blogs, research, videos related to the potential power of connected minds (backchannel thoughts of hive mentality, Borg ships filled with connected minds). When I was studying at UBC, we explored many ideas around cyberculture, including Pierre Levy's work in the area of collective intelligence, Howard Rheingold's expertise in facilitating active engaged virtual communities or networks, our government's now defunct Connected Canadians strategies aimed at building a knowledge economy, and, more recently the many mobile mobs that seem to be driving social change. My current favoured approach in this area is Jane McGonigal's suggestion that harnessing the energy, ingenuity and dedication of World of Warcraft gamers could help us solve the major problems of the world (see her TED presentation . It's just oddball enough to have some validity.
Allison Littlejohn's position paper presents us with a "grand challenge", that we "have to learn to solve real-world problems faster and more effectively" Her premise is that if we pose problems " a large number of people, rather than just a few individuals, the knowledge of ‘the many’ will afford greater diversity and ideas to help solve a given problem." And certainly we have many good examples of really unique, diverse, helpful ideas derived from throwing a problem out into the cybercommunity - I know this as crowdsourcing.  Howard's newer book focuses on mob actions (see Smartmobs) coordinated by mobile devices - a crowdsourcing phenomenon gone physical.
Yet the position paper is looking at learning in a networked environment (in the hopes that if we understand learning in this situation we'll know how to use this approach to solve problems??). George Siemens and Stephen Downes have published and taught extensively on this topic. Allison focuses quickly on workplace learning; how do we develop expertise in the workplace. And her conclusion (I still need to read some of the research she cites as my first response is serious doubts) is that "expertise" is "best situated within continuous workplace learning, where people work on real-world, common problems, rather than being contained within formal training." I can think of instances where this would be true but I can also think of instances where, without some serious grounding in basic knowledge underlying "real-world" problems, assigning people to work on those problems is inefficient. And to me it is still more efficient to build foundational knowledge with guidance and focus on specific subject areas; the value of diving into the network is to build on the foundation, modify it, expand it. I know people who have built a foundation from piecing together fragments but my tendency is to think that this is slower than if you work under the formal guidance of an "expert" who can teach.
And finally (for the moment cuz I'm sure I'll learn more after I go and check my network nodes) her contention that learning is "either" individual or social?  Funny, the reading I have done suggests that learning is a continuum (or do I mean a continuous process?) and that I begin my learning internally (individual) but I test out, modify and solidify my learning through engaging socially. Isn't that why we've always asked students to explain their ideas, stand up for their beliefs and justify their positions?


Tuesday 4 October 2011

Random fragments, on to the Collective

So much for feeling virtuous cuz I got a head start on the change newsletter and website postings. I was reading Martin Weller's open copy text before I received any scrapings from other bloggers in the course or the weekly newsletter. But I got sidetracked as to which webchannel I wanted to communicate on.
I'm currently irritated like hell with GoogleDocs. I've been a user (and an enthusiastic one) for years but they seem to have changed the way the Docs save and I'm finding it makes them useless for me when I'm building Notes pages. I'm a fast typist and when I'm trying to capture ideas from a number of web sources I tend to pop in and out quickly and add chunks of text and my comments as I go. However, the constant saving interrupts me when I'm typing and doesn't save the word I've been keyboarding, instead it is lost so when I look back there are holes in my narrative. Until I figure out a different web-based tool I've gone back to my trusted Tiddlywiki which works in my browser and I can access anywhere from my Dropbox.
I also found I didn't have time to do a thoughtful blog post last week so I relied on microblogging - my Twitter voice #Northerntweeter. (a little backchannel thought: I looked at some of my blogs and I found that there is a clear demarcation from when I started tweeting - seems it sucks me away from doing really thoughtful postings about issues - instead I send bursts of 140 chars or less - what does that say about my ability to think deeply about anything anymore???)
But I'm curious about this weeks topic and why I should change my thinking about crowdsourcing to calling it collective learning. I have some deep-seated discomfort with terms like "collective knowledge or learning"; similar to my response to "friends" and "like" in Facebook.
So I'll see how it looks if I use this blog and a couple of other channels and resist tweeting for this week. Curious to see whether I feel like I've really "thought" about the subject by the end of the week. Hmmmmm.

Monday 26 September 2011

Starting Week 3 ahead of George, Stephen and Dave

Looks like the week is starting without a post on the site (unless I'm looking in the wrong spot?). Got my regular email about postings about #change11 creations in our developing network but didn't get an introduction to this week's facilitator so I went looking for him/her myself.
Found The Ed Techie and Martin's going to deal with all kinds of stuff that I've been thinking about for a while. I've often thought about what "free" or "open" really means. From Stephen's 'rip, mix, feed' view of the open content on the net to the more structured and limiting view embedded in Creative commons licenses, what does it all really mean for those of us who teach in higher learning.
I love the potential power of customizability of open content but how many of us will go through the time it takes to sift the debris to find the gems? Most of us still believe it is more efficient to create out own. We miss out on some really interesting perspectives and potential influences.
Anyway, I'm off to start browsing the open version of our faciliator's book:  The Digital Scholar. Three cheers for openness!

Friday 23 September 2011

What is it good for? Mobile devices for learning

I've been looking forward to this week cuz we have been exploring the use of mobile devices at our college. We have a small (but growing) group of instructors who have iPads and are exploring how they can be used in the classroom or during faculty meetings. We also have an exciting project in our library where the staff are exploring the use of Asus Transformers (tablets) for posting and sharing information with students. But I have still felt somewhat lost as to the best way mobile devices could be used to enhance learning.
 In their paper for ASEAN Journal of Open & Distance Learning, (Mobile Learning Initiative through SMS) Abas,  Lim and Woo shared some of the advantages of mobile devices and the response of students to their use in Open University Malaysia.

The advantages of mobile devices that they cited are similar to those in many parts of North America. In fact they seem very close to what we heard from an online webinar hosted by Educause that discussed the experience at most American universities. A near 100% penetration rate is not what we see in the North though, although it may be close. Just walking through the halls this term I see students constantly texting or peering intently into their phones. But I wonder what an instructor would do who wanted to try mobile learning if some or a few of their students didn't have cell phones or some form of mobile connectivity? Do those students have to remember to check a computer every day? Or do you just select a specific day for SMSing? and hope they can share with another student to view the texts? If a teaching approach benefits or reaches most of your students, is that good enough?

The successful project at the University of Pretoria found that SMS use increased the retention rate because learners felt someone cared. I wonder if anyone asked students if they just felt annoyed by the SMSs?  Sometimes our research is biased so strongly towards looking for what we expect. I'll have to do some more reading.

What else stood out for me? OMG!  OUM has an average enrollment of 30-40,000 learners per term. More than the population of the Yukon!!

But what really impressed me is the thoughtful, organized approach that was documented in the article.
Approach by OUM
  • pick a course to try SMS (Learning Skills for Open & Distance Learning)
  • plan what kinds of SMSs and how often sent
  • forum msgs intended to stimulate discussion in online forums in LMS
  • content msgs highlighted important parts of text
  • tips msgs included how to study, how to understand specific concepts
  • motivation msgs were about how to succeed, encourage them to perservere
  • course mgmt msgs dealt with admin issues
If I can get a partnership going with one of our teachers to try this approach in the future, I doubt I'll be quite as organized by I like the idea of organizing by intent and content.
Now...time to dive into the comment, tweeting, bookmarking part of my nascent network. (Backchannel:  where do people find the time for this. Just reading one of the posted articles has taken me until Friday cuz I've been so busy with work and life.)

    Sunday 18 September 2011

    My virtual ears are already ringing...

    I reviewed all the good advice provided by our newsletter, and posted by other MOOCrs and I got partway. But then my monitoring devices started to twang; my Diigo group posted some interesting stuff, the RSS feed pages in the blog started displaying some thought-provoking statements, my Google search and Youtube search started yielding some videos I put aside to watch when I had time. I'm already finding that I'm getting scattered.

    Hopefully today I can do what George suggested:  FOCUS!

    One path to explore:  conversations around George's posting Who are MOOCs for? Confused personal thoughts
    (backchannel thoughts - so, now should I comment on George's blog post? Should I comment on the comments on George's blog post? Should I follow the links in some of the comments and comment on their blog posts/comments? I'm not used to commenting on other people's posts - do I link back to my blogpost about their blog posts? Seems very iterative (or dog-chasing-tail) rather than enlightening.)
    George poses the question in his blog title, changes it in his first sentence and then talks around it (seems to me). "Who are MOOCs for"(title) seemed self-evident to me. I always thought MOOCs were for Stephen and George so they could test their theories around connectivism and connected learning. I joined previous MOOCs because I saw them as a group exploration of some interesting ideas of how teaching could be envigorated and learning could be collaborative and potentially exciting and lifelong.
    "who participates in open online courses.." (question) to me changes the focus of what I thought George was asking. He goes on to talk about people from other countries or people who don't have the same technological and other supports as many of us do. So his hope is that MOOCs can benefit those with fewer "privileges" or "supports".
    I also think we need to think about participants in non-geographic or non-economic ways. Perhaps we should look at what level of knowledge people enter with and what they leave with. If you are teaching a course that has specific outcomes that require that a certain body of knowledge and conceptual understanding have to be gained by participants before they can move on to other related topics or jobs or whatever then the MOOC model seems too slow, too unwieldy, too potentially divisive or confusing for participants.
    Even for motivated, mostly highly educated participants, the first week of a MOOC is spent in orientation. And it would be interesting to have had a chance to do exit interviews with people who drop out so we could discover whether the tasks of knowledge management within this model become too onerous for some.
    I read some of the related blog posts about George's question. AK, who seems like a highly educated and thoughtful fellow, Where does a MOOC begin life?  responded with some good questions about how you can develop a course this extensive without having some thoughts about who your learners will be. It made me think about how I approach new course development. Do I think about what I'd like to teach? Yes. Do I try to envision who my students will be and how they will benefit from taking my course? Yes. Do I think about holes in what my educational institution offers that I could fill - benefiting the institution, students and me?  Yes. Do I think of a course as an environment in which I can test new approaches to teaching, new learning activities, new ways to engage my students? Yes.
    So, I think that George had other reasons for developing MOOCs. And I guess where I've ended up is that I'm still not sure that the MOOC isn't just another way of offering learning opportunities to new audiences. It's not the only way; it won't meet the needs of all potential learners who could benefit from the topics that will be explored in the coming weeks. But it's flexibility, adaptability and openness are still relatively unique characteristics in higher education and are worth some focused exploration.

    Tuesday 13 September 2011

    Thanks George for sharing your process

    It's my day to work at home so I'm going to dive into all the reading, viewing and sharing that George and Stephen have posted.

    I'm developing a map of my plan for network formation based on George's tips for how to learn in a MOOC - I'll post it when it's fleshed out a bit more. Creately  is a pretty-good online drawing tool but I'm not sure how far I can push my free account so I'm experimenting with embedding graphics to make the map more interesting.

    Step 1:  What is my success? 
    Mmmmmm.... last couple of MOOCs I tried, I got overwhelmed. Got behind on reading, lost track of who to follow and where to find them, started in one direction, got absorbed, followed another thread to another node, changed direction several times cuz something else sparked my interest, got hopelessly lost and didn't accomplish anything. As to George's exhortation to Create and Share or to Fix What's Missing (steps 6 and 7), the closest I came was to post on my blogs. Never made a video, never uploaded an audio recording or a creative graphic or photograph.

    I will consider myself successful if:
    • I develop a broader, more diverse, interesting personal learning network
    • I participate in my PLN more consistently
    • I learn to share my learning in more visual ways
    • I find a way to make my learning meaningful to my teaching
    Now to dive into the flow...