Mid-life career changes, qualifications and the gaps between them

All change

Very proud to have achieved my Masters in Online and Distance Education and eternally thankful to the Open University for accepting me despite the lack of prior qualifications normally required for entry onto an MA. Oddly though, instead of the eagerly anticipated elation finally getting it seems to have brought on a sharp snap at our traditional education systems and the over-emphasis in society on the role of qualifications.

Four years ago, as the age of 50 approached, a long term and successful career in education got dumped to begin a completely new profession in marine marketing and media, at the same time as starting the MA. It was a hard decision and for many who knew the ‘educator me’ it seemed an odd and somewhat inexplicable one, though in fact it’s the third significant career change.

Despite the bumpiness of the ride (family care needs and other life events are reflected in the grade variations for each of the MA modules!) it remains one of the best ever decisions. Like all leaps into the unknown it was scary at first, and even still now sometimes. Not just the fear of losing all I was walking away from, including professional identity and networks, but worse was the fear of being inadequate to the tasks and challenges ahead. But change was calling so once again I followed the walk of life…

Valuing traits and capabilities over the ‘right’ qualification or experience

When going through the application process for the new job, the bosses overlooked lack of previous experience or qualifications. Instead they placed their value on ability to learn and transfer existing skills, team participation and ability to work autonomously, passion for the business, flexibility, determination…I respect them immensely for the confidence they placed in those skills and traits, and in return they have a dedicated team member who loves her job and the all the many opportunities, new experiences and skills it’s provided. Especially during these difficult COVID times with people losing their jobs, it’s important for both job hunters and employers to remember that it isn’t always the right qualification or perfect background experience that makes for a good employee.

Interestingly, The Open University also took this stance when scrutinising my application. With no previous certificates or degrees to demonstrate my ability to study at this (or any) recognised and certificated level they required an example of my work. Thankfully it obviously passed muster.

Don’t mind the gap

Although it was all quite daunting I kind of knew I’d love the job before I started. What wasn’t anticipated was that doing the MA alongside it would give me ideas for a whole new model for post-compulsory education that I’m now excited to explore further. This story in itself demonstrates the gaps in our system: although celebrating the achievement of my Masters qualification, it also celebrates the overriding importance of those almost undefinable and unmeasurable skills sets that can make a highly specialised qualification pale into insignificance. The skills and traits that are acquired through life and haven’t been captured through recognised qualifications, including by those who have rejected formal education for whatever reasons. These are the ‘gaps’ I want to look at and for society, employers, to see them as core value that sits between the qualifications or even in place of. The gaps that our system doesn’t allow for. They are the whole of life that lies between and beyond certificates and I intend to explore how these capabilities can be captured in a way that is accepted, recognised, securely validated and valued, on at least an equal footing to institutionalised qualifications.

More gap than qual

I am one of those people with more gap than qual, though in my case by choice not accident and I’ve been fortunate in always having had gainful employment despite this. Almost certainly though that’s what fuels my passion for the gaps! I’d left school at 16 with just two O’levels and would have left at 15 if it was legally allowed. Stubbornly informing distressed parents, teachers, career advisors and even peers that I’d do exactly as I pleased in life without their qualifications, then setting out to prove it. First travelling the world as chef on luxury sailing boats, then on undersea archaeological dive explorations, helping with logistics and organising of an offshore international sailing regatta that was the first of its kind and having loads of fun and learning on the way. Then I accidentally fell into teaching, long story later eventually going on to become director of teacher training and setting up and running my own virtual learning environment. In 2014 I found myself representing the Third Sector on the steering committee setting the National Teaching Standards in England in post compulsory education. It was after that I started thinking about maybe going to uni and doing a Masters but I guess that would have been too easy, so I changed career again at the same time just to prove my point from all those years ago one final time?

An important part of the new job is video making – filming and editing, of which my previous experience was, ummm, limited….I sweated and slaved over the first one and proudly posted to You Tube. Very quickly a subscriber commented that whoever had made the video should be sacked! I was mortified. We make and sell very high end products, like in the more money bracket than most of us can imagine, so I immediately sent this comment to the bosses. Silence. I waited but no answer, so I went to see them to suggest a course of evening classes in film making. This raised an unexpected and veherment response “Don’t do that. You’ll only end up making someone else’s ides of what it should be. You’ll learn”. I was floored and the next many videos were pretty stressful but over time they improved, still are. The results came in last week and were in their own way more pleasing that the Masters results: a customer said he’s bought one of our products primarily thanks to the videos, which are what got him ‘hooked’ in the first place…The bosses were right.

If I’d done the Masters first, I’d have been worse at my job

The story above isn’t intended as a blow on my own trumpet. More like an attempt to exemplify that when you encounter or seek out people who believe in the importance of underlying traits, traditional qualifications become irrelevant and empires do not crumble because someone without them has been employed. We put too much pressure and emphasis on squeezing everyone through this education factory that is becoming outdated more quickly with every single day. In a world where jobs and whole sectors can vanish overnight and new previously unknown ones flourish, a complete re-assessment on what qualifies a person to do a job is well overdue.

I loved doing the Masters and it helped to join up ideas and spark new ones, but I’m quite sure it wouldn’t have made me significantly better at my previous job if I’d done it first. In fact, I’m fairly sure it would have made me worse in a number of important ways. I’m even more sure that no degree could have prepared me for my current job and again could potentially make it harder by plying me with preconceived notions of what a marketer should do. What is all this qualification importance actually about then? I challenge anyone to give me valid and substantial reasons why they are still run in the way they are and why they are still upheld as the benchmarks for employment and success. And what about all the genius people with incredible skills that for whatever reasons have been unable to achieve the expected certificates? Our system results in difficulty for them finding work and prevents society from benefiting from their contributions. Personally, I’m much more interested in the gaps and that’s where I’m going next – into other people’s gaps to find out what’s there and how to capture it, or more to the point, how they can capture and validate it themselves!

Rantflections on Politics, Pedagogy, Education & Covid-19.

Force-mapping for design narratives in CV-19 times…

As part of the design narrative for Block 3 of the Open University module on ‘Openness and Innovation’ we were asked to create a force map and then reflect. The university might wish they’d never requested such a task from me….

I duly created the force map drawing from discussions with my cohort of five (based internationally in different settings and roles), the personas they created for the project, discussions with teachers in wider contexts…Within the force map the teacher, in the end, appears a fragile and lonely figure firmly situated at the centre it all, surrounded by responsibilities and appearing easily crushed or broken. See zoomable force-map image here.

The push has been to maintain ‘business as usual’. And to an extent that has been achieved. Teachers and organisations have hastened to transfer their existing practices to digital, keep the classes running at all cost. Some have succeeded, some have not, some have been left behind in the response to the emergency. I look at my map. Is it any wonder student motivation is maybe suffering along with teacher confidence? Just look at what the teacher is dealing with. The opportunities for experimenting with best practices must be fleeting at best. I know I myself would be likely to revert to didactic methods as the easiest route while I struggled to re-organise myself, my resources and my strategies, all the while trying to absorb the constant barrage of information coming my way… I followed this thought process and took the opportunity to Google ‘Education and CV – 19’. Every single item that came up was an information notice issued either, for the attention of educators, or by educators for the attention of students. Endless lists of whats, whys and wherefores ensuring that everyone had covered all the health and safety and required information guidance. Overwhelming. And there seemed to be little if any acknowledgement of what all this means in real, on-the-ground terms. The nitty-gritty reality of it. The publicly visible response to the crisis currently taking place in education is all about covering the appropriate arses. I was audibly relieved even in my isolation to come across Maha Bali’s 28-05-20 Blog Post “Pedagogy of Care: Covid 19 Edition” https://blog.mahabali.me/educational-technology-2/pedagogy-of-care-covid-19-edition/. Someone attending to care and well worth a read…Though interestingly it’s all about caring for the students. I get it, if you feel your students are cared for everything is a bit less stressful, but still…what about that fragile figure at the centre of it all?

Not just the publicly visible response. I started thinking about this course. I’m fortunate as I’ve been put into one of two cohorts tasked to research the current situation. But the other five or so are researching the pre-set topics, such as exploring local history and reflective practice. This is how the course has been prescribed since at least 2011 (to my knowledge). Only two cohorts may petition to choose a topic of their own, lucky me got one. All groups are following the pre-ordained design narrative script. I haven’t looked yet to see if they are finding ways to make this relevant to their own work environments and the current situation, I know I would be trying my utmost. But I start to feel angry as I begin to find that many of the links provided for our project are broken, out of date and lead to nowhere. For me personally one of the most frustrating aspects of this is that two of them are to university platforms where I’d been encouraged to do a lot of work on a previous module, now apparently inaccessible. But, worse than that – people, real teachers dealing with the current crisis, are trying also to complete this project. The broken links are just one indication of the inadequacies of the university and I start to feel really angry. Why haven’t they been able to respond to this emergency, like the teachers and education leaders they prepare have had to? Why are they sticking to a copy and paste of instructions that would be out of date at the best of times with their broken links? Why have they not been able to seize the opportunity to support their students to access the vast networks they must have available to them in order to find and generate relevant, high quality research dedicated to the global need? Why not?  Why? To me, it seems to epitomise everything that is wrong with education, especially HE as that is where it is all supposed to lead. Ponderous, laden down by tradition and investment in the establishment, painfully, and in this instance ludicrously unable to respond appropriately to social need.

I’m about to finish my ‘rantflection’ when a dangerous thought flits across my mind…I wonder what the links are between countries ranked as successful educationally and countries who have managed to control the CV-19 pandemic in a reasonable manner? I can’t help but do a quick search. Immediately Google tells me that according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  (https://www.undispatch.com/here-is-how-countries-rank-in-education/) South Korea is leading the field in terms of ‘highly educated young adults’. I think we already know the South-Korea Coronavirus story…South Korea have been focusing their education for years now on supporting their students to operate effectively within their context and culture. That has included fully embracing technology at all levels of education, arguably at cost to other more creative arts, but they’ve determined what their citizens need in order to survive and are actively and apparently efficiently pursuing this. Close to South Korea in the education stats sits Finland. They’ve taken a totally different approach and recently became the first country to abolish all subjects at school – also in an effort to prepare its students for the unknowable future: https://curiousmindmagazine.com/goodbye-subjects-finland-taking-revolution-education-step/?fbclid=IwAR3w5I9Ybk5aoiY2yyQS7sPA8VaRqVofBOs4MY-xfYjfr2NKa_kCW20zzSQ . I haven’t looked up the Finnish coronavirus stats but somehow I don’t think I need to.

https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/adult-education-level.htm#indicator-chart Accessed 29-05-20

The sluggish response of our educational power structures…Not just the willingness to subject their (paying) educators to shamefully outdated resources, practices and pedagogies but to insist they adhere to a design narrative created ten years ago and in no way relevant to the current situation. A narrative in no way designed to help them to cope with the current situation, because the establishments themselves have no precedent for knowing how to cope and dare not step outside the known for fear of breaking with the traditions that are long since no longer relevant.

I see my fellow students struggling and lashing out in frustration. Tempers frayed and too many balls in the air. The course that should be helping to manage this situation hampering instead. What I guess I want to say is: dare to be a design narrative rebel. Write your own based on what you’re having to deal with now, and how you’d like the landscape that you and your responsibilities have to inhabit in the future. This education ‘machine’ that is causing you so much grief, find a way to use its own tools to create a narrative that works for you and those for whom you feel responsible. A narrative that helps you to exist within a pedagogy of care that encompasses all parties, including yourself. Be kind to yourselves.

Whispers of Despair from the Forgotten Frontline?

Image by Oriel Butcher

Unless you’ve been a teacher, or lived with one, it’s hard to imagine how much they actually care about their students. Apart from the occasional anomaly I think that applies across the full range of what could loosely be covered by the word ‘teacher’: from pre-school to doctorate level and everything in between. Questions of how best to help their students keeps a teacher awake at night. Preparing materials and marking work consumes your evenings and weekends, dealing with statutory and administrative requirements…sometimes parents, guardians, social services, probation services, deprivation…It all adds stress to a teacher’s working day, but they care deeply and a small part of them is invested in every single student…Every student, whoever they become, is part of our future. Teachers know that and they dedicate their energy to those futures in the best ways each knows how. Over years they hone their skills and available resources within their setting. And then almost overnight it all went on line…

The shift to online happened almost silently to the public eye and ear, as organisations rallied internally to rise to the challenge as quickly as possible. Emails and online-meetings flew back and forth between management, colleagues, admin, students…a few weeks of mayhem, then business as usual. Except of course it’s nothing like usual and the silence is almost ominous.

First, lists of resources began to appear, hastily compiled and shared on social media. Dave Cormier’s collection from across his network is the most comprehensive I’ve found so far: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rz4qjMRLA9dVx2ExxTwBg1FtXMVh5ruQMQTs4eG3_oc/edit

Then the almost silent, fleeting whimpers of pain started to appear as excellent teachers and educators suffered multitudes of difficulties while trying to continue serving their students. The result: stress, self-doubt and even self-hate. This morning I read a Tweet from an educator I deeply respect along the lines of “Please God help me to pass today without screaming at my child”. My heart broke for her as my respect grew. Respect for her honesty. Another educator Tweeting in a cry of despair said “I waited ten years to have my daughter and now I just want her to shut up so I can get on and sort my students out.”.

Everything has changed for teachers and their students, and now they are in limbo again waiting for the next directive that will impact their entire lives. And as with every single one of the policy changes they’ve had to deal with over the years, they’ll do their best to do what they’re told, or make it up when they’re not told, with just occasional whimpers escaping.

Stepping back from the stress

I’m in the slightly strange position of not being directly involved in any of it but feeling totally invested. Having spent the 10 years up to 2016 more or less full time as a teacher educator and then a further two mentoring teacher educators, I cannot help but think about all of them right now. My ‘thing’ from the beginning was integrating digital technologies, leveraging the Web 2.0 applications and trying to ensure that teachers and organisations were adequately equipped for the inevitable future. I worked with many cross and multi-sector organisations on different Professional Development programmes, almost all based around effective use of technology. It was a very, very slow and surprisingly difficult process with many wide-ranging barriers. As we are all now painfully aware, embedding of digital skills and technology in education has not progressed quite as much as it might have. Innovation needs a driving force to create change. We have that now, big time. At first it was really hard for me to watch from such a distanced perspective. My instinct was to get in there and help where I could, but realistically I can’t just now, so I observe with a growing pride in the profession as they just get on with it. They don’t even get any clapping. But there’s also a growing worry as the whimpers begin to emerge…

And I remember, there’s value in being outside and able to look at the bigger picture, not just my own corner which is where I’d inevitably be (along with everyone else) if I was actually teaching….With four international colleagues on my Open University MA in Online and Distance Education, we are tasked to create a website. The focus of the task is the design process, but the content of our site is ‘Providing teacher support in response to CV-19’. Our group meets and discusses how we’ll address the challenge and we find that actually, despite being based in England, Wales, Ireland, Brazil and Malawi, we are all at base, finding the same problems. I root around a bit and discover, unsurprisingly, that there’s little research out there as yet so it seems the obvious thing to do is to collect our own. I’ve been collecting my own data for many years, a habit I think I started as a means of tracking and evidencing outcomes when piloting new ideas and initiatives so I was a little surprised that others don’t seem to have done the same. There is another cohort working on the same topic as us. I was surprised to read that as there was no research available specifically relevant to the current situation, they plan to draw on previous research. That led me to wonder why large, well-networked organisations haven’t implemented some wide-scale, snapshot research themselves? With a sigh I return to typing out my survey and surmise that it sums up the lumbering, slow moving education system that has, until now, viewed technology as an optional add-in. A system whereby changes have to be justified through longitudinal studies or cabinet changes – both outpaced by the exponential advances in technology and how we use it and access learning.

I’ve been surprised by the responses so far. Maybe not surprising is that 80% of teachers say they’ve suffered a lot or some stress as a result of going online. It’s interesting that 80% also identify student lack of motivation as a cause of most student difficulty. I’ve also been surprised by comments that answering the questions helped to prompt personal reflection about practice and the teachers and students under someone’s responsibility – bonus! Comments expressing interest and surprise that I’m inviting participatory research. How else to find out I wonder? If I was teaching I’d be questioning my students, my colleagues and my professional networks constantly, trying to gauge the route to take in this unprecedented situation…Then I remember – if I was teaching I would be consumed by keeping my little little bit of world going and exhausted by my efforts. Trying to think outside of even more boxes is just too much to ask so maybe that’s where already being on the outside can help.

I’m excited about being part of this project. For me it’s not about the university outcome of the design process. It’s about actually understanding what’s going on for educators and their students in different contexts around the globe and seeking ways to support them now and into the future.

Be kind to yourselves

That’s become a sort of motto within our little cohort. It’s impossible to be kind to everyone else in your life if you’re not kind to yourself and just because you’re dealing with a world of change doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, or a bad parent, or a bad manager. Find the moments, however brief, to step back from the stress and let your mind wander. Dwell on the successes, the moments of elation and the all the solutions to problems you’ve found so far.

When I wrote the survey it was with the thinking that responses would help to inform future, more focused questions. Immediately I want to drill down much deeper into the question of motivation. Ideally I’d like access to students as well to get their perspectives. Please share (and complete) if you find yourself reading this. the survey

Keeping it Open – what kind of spider is at the centre of our web?

Continuing the theme of Open Education, this week on the MA we’ve been tasked to blog about a technology important to the cause. The remit:

  • Write a short blog post suggesting one additional technology that is important for open education, either from the role of a learner or a provider. The technology can be one that has been significant, or one that you feel is going to become increasingly relevant.What you include as a technology can be quite broad: for instance, it can be a general category (such as social networks), a specific service or a particular standard.
  • In your post briefly explain what the technology is, and then why you think it is important for open education. The emphasis should be on open education in particular, and not just education in general.

As examples we were given some background on Blogs, Links and Embeds, Social networks and VLEs. My course colleagues have gone for additional technologies such as mobile, search engines and open textbooks. I have gone in with the bigger picture, the web itself.

It seems to me that when considering the web as an open technology there are two key questions that need to be addressed:

  1. Prioritising access globally
  2. Ensuring that the web is ‘safe and empowering for everyone’ (Web Foundation, 09-01-20)

I have no solutions to offer but I think it’s worth opening the debate with myself and any others who want to join in.

Prioritising Global Access

The Open Education goals aspire to providing access for all. Yes, this movement has opened access but the discourse on this is very much from a socially, geographically and economically privileged stance. According to November 2019 figures from the The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), still only 53.6% of the world’s population has access to the internet.

(https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx accessed 25-04-20)

The distribution of this access can be seen in the graph below. What isn’t shown on this graph is that growth slowed in terms of new access in 2019. Targets may not be met until 2050. Lovett, CEO of the Web Foundation, warns that “If you are not connected when the majority of your fellow citizens in the world are, you become marginalised in a way that could be more dire and more challenging than perhaps anything we’ve seen before.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage. Accessed 25-04-20)

If we are to have a genuine conversation about openness, of which access is a guiding principle in all areas, this divide needs to be addressed. Geographic, social and economic restraints remain as significant barriers. In his recent post for the Web Foundation “As internet access proves critical, we are missing targets to connect everyone” (https://webfoundation.org/2020/04/covid-missed-targets/), Carlos Iglesias draws a link between the internet and access to current information. He points out that those most vulnerable to CV-19 are also those most at risk through lack of safe place to isolate, lack of robust health-care systems and an inability to work or study from home. For me this highlighted a key question: what is education? In these times, for billions of people it could come down to the simple act of being able to access life-saving information. Is this open education at its core? A place from which we should aspire to work outwards? From there come the next-step questions…

Iglesias draws on evidence to conclude that we will miss our connectivity targets by decades if progress continues at the current rate. We’ve already missed the UN Sustainable Development Goals for “universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries (LDCs) by 2020. As educators there is little we can do about the infrastructure itself (except perhaps keep shouting about it in the places that count). We can however be aware to ‘mind the gaps’ when creating our resources. A very obvious and simple example, why does the Open University Masters in Online and Distance Education not offer an app supporting full offline access to those with intermittent or hard to access network? This is not exactly hard to achieve and it seems almost insolent on their part to have us studying openness but not ensure full access for all their students. We should perhaps also be constantly asking ourselves if we are all producing resources that can also be mobile or print friendly? Read by screen-readers? Do videos come with transcripts? Do we have an alternative to hand if a student can’t access the format we’ve produced? And how in the world do we manage all that before we’ve even started thinking about the actual content, day in and day out…Probably by invoking the assistance of Ai somewhere in the process.

In an impressive rapid-response to the current CV-19 pandemic ITU formed a new Global Network Resiliency Platform #REG4COVID. This was announced on March 23rd and in place very soon after. The aim of the platform is to ensure that the world, as a single ‘human family’, is given the tools required to provide global robustness to the maximum extent possible during and beyond the crisis. This includes information and infra-structure, but crucially, initially the platform will act as a portal for mass scale open learning through information and resource sharing – on how to enable access. Best practices and initiatives to support telecommunications network resiliency will be shared, and crucially, according to the agency chief “… because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere…”

ITU present themselves as having “long promoted universal, reliable and affordable connectivity.” Their goal: to continue on this trajectory until everyone is connected. By linking Information Communication Technology (ICT) planning and the UN Sustainability Goals ITU are working to ensure alignment between the development goals prompting me to think about open resources and open education through a different lens. Initiatives, such as the Smart village plan provide case studies of what access might mean in different locations.

I think maybe we need to redefine what terms such as ‘open’ and even ‘education’ might mean in different places. I mean, I’m quite sure that the majority of us on the MAODE, when we think about open education we are framing it from within our own context. Perhaps we need to be asking ourselves if then it is truly open, or do we actually mean ‘open to a specific demographic’ and their specific definition of education. If that’s the case, it’s not open at all as it’s directed at a tiny proportion of the globe. What can we learn from studying initiatives such as the Smart Village project and what does this mean for us when we are discussing technologies to support open education?

Ensuring that the web is ‘safe and empowering for everyone’

To me it seems there is little point talking about openness if we don’t address the issue that the very means by which these resources are accessed is ultimately at the will of corporate or government decisions. This was brought home to me at the start of the pandemic when Facebook and You Tube took the decision to reduce video quality in order to ease the load on the network. It occured to me then that if these ‘heavy load’ platforms primarily being used for recreational purposes appeared to be jeopardising emergency response, access to information or preventing people from working at home, they could be shut down completely. What then of all our networking and so many of our shared resources?

Inevitably, the web and mobile networks are owned by corporations. That means that ultimately they have the power to allow or prohibit access, to use their platforms as they so choose, so where does that leave the whole question of openness? Tim Berners- Lee, originator of the web, is on the case and working to keep the web as open as possible, but he calls on us, the users and contributors to the web to share in that responsibility. In his podcast to mark the 30th anniversary of the web he reflects on what we need to do to ensure the web serves all of humanity. First, he broadly outlines what he sees as the main dysfunctions of the web today:

  1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
  3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

He goes on to cite, that in just a few circumstances, such as Human Rights and the laws of the sea and aviation, the world has been able to agree on some key global guidelines. He places the governances for use of the web in the same category and states that it should be working for the global good. In order to draw attention to this fact and to begin working towards a more ideal web, a ‘Contract for the Web’ was drawn up in 2019. The content of the contract was agreed by a group of 80, made up of governments, corporations and members of civil society. Access and openness is a key theme of the contract. It is separated into the three areas of government, companies and citizens and anyone can sign to support the underpinning principles. Personally, I was happy first to find this and acquaint myself with the foundations of its concepts, and then to sign. I feel that if we are to become viable educators on the open platform, it’s our responsibility to not only clearly understand the incumbent obligations but also be able to pass these on in a clear and coherent manner. The contract for the web achieves this succinctly and if nothing else has created a focus.

In his anniversary podcast Berners-Lee outlines the key issues for each sector to address. Openness weaves its thread between them. The message is, I feel, so important and relevant I am copying the key points here.

Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online. We need open web champions within government — civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web.

Companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety. Platforms and products must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind. This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit.

And most important of all, citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart. If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.

The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.

The Contract for the Web must not be a list of quick fixes but a process that signals a shift in how we understand our relationship with our online community. It must be clear enough to act as a guiding star for the way forward but flexible enough to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology. It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”

So what about that spider?

I spent my very early years in Ghana, West Africa, the years that are filled with stories. It just happens that in West Africa those stories often involved a spider called Anansi. Anansi is a key part of the storytelling culture there and he is a cunning trickster – he basically studies his victims’ habits and then uses this knowledge to outwit animals much larger or stronger than himself to achieve his goals. Although very clever, he was often selfish or even cruel. Yet despite his highly dubious character Anansi was immensely popular and I remember his name came up regularly in casual play and conversation with my young school friends. I remember reading somewhere that this is because psychologically we find stories where the ‘small’ person is able to defeat the powerful appealing. This makes sense to me (I also read Brear Rabbit stories about this time, the Western equivalent perhaps) but leaves me wondering what kind of spiders (apart from the Google ones) are populating our web? Have we all turned into aspiring mini Anansis? If I join up the thinking with my previous post on speed and power then that seems highly feasible. It also seems quite possible that those who hold the power of the web are the Anancis of our day, for after all they are tiny in proportion to the size of the population that they hold within their power.

The stories of Ananci have stayed with me all these years and I do think we need to be mindful of how we might be being manipulated in order for these Anancis to get their way. 2019 – the year of the big Data scandals. The year it was brought home to us that internet freedom may not be free. This is nothing new, it just came to our attention. According to Shahbaz & Funk (Freedom House) “a startling variety of governments are deploying advanced tools to identify and monitor users on an immense scale. As a result of these trends, global internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2019”

So we thought we’d got that stuff out of the way huh? All dealt with. Have you ACTUALLY checked and reset your Facebook privacy settings since February 1st 2020 when they did their last big update? If not I suggest you head over there and do so immediately. You might be outraged and astonished by the data being held, and it’s not just restricted to what you do on Facebook or even just to what you do online! The onus is on you to uncheck the permissions, not to supply them. The platform designers know human nature well and know that the majority will not do so. Just in case you haven’t, here’s how:

-Facebook settings

-Scroll down to “Your Facebook Information”.

-Click on “Off-Facebook Activity”..

-You can see the list in “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity”.

To shut it down:

-In the same setting, click on ‘More Options’

-Go into “Manage Future Activity” and turn it off.

-You may want to clear the history as well.

(taken from https://uknip.co.uk/2020/04/16/facebook-have-been-up-to-their-old-tricks-again/)

I was so shocked when I saw what data of mine it had hoarded that I pressed delete before I thought to take a screenshot so I could show you. I tell you, you have to keep a very very close eye on that Anansi in the middle of our web. openness definitely comes with risks. As educators it is our absolute responsibility to ensure that we do as much as possible to mitigate those risks by bringing the web itself into all discussion on openness.

References

Freedom House (2019) Freedom On The Net 2019 The Crisis Of Social Media, Freedom on the Net [Online]. Available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2019/crisis-social-media?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Global Internet usage (2020) En.Wikipedia.Org, [Online]. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage (Accessed 26 April 2020).

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/sustainable-world/Pages/default.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Iglesias, C. (2020) As internet access proves critical, we are missing targets to connect everyone., World Wide Web Foundation, [Online]. Available at https://webfoundation.org/2020/04/covid-missed-targets/ (Accessed 26 April 2020).

International Telecommunication Union (2020) New Platform Will Assist Governments And The Private Sector In Ensuring That Networks Are Kept Resilient And Telecommunication Services Are Available To All, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/Pages/STMNT01-2020-global-platform-telecommunication-COVID-19.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

REG4COVID – Policy and Regulatory experiences and best practices that can improve COVID-19 responses (2020) Reg4covid.Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://reg4covid.itu.int/ (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Sample, I. (2019) Universal internet access unlikely until at least 2050, experts say, Guardian, [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/10/universal-internet-access-unlikely-until-2050-experts-say-lack-skills-investment-slow-growth?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Smart Village (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/ICT-Applications/Pages/smart-village.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Statistics (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Web Foundation (2019) 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?, [Online]. Available at https://webfoundation.org/2019/03/web-birthday-30/?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Connectivism, Dromology and the Compression of Time

Dromospheric pollution on the information superhighway

“From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”

Land, 2006

Dromology. I like the shapes the mouth has to form to produce the word. There’s something about how it’s all centred towards the front of the mouth that I like, and the particular way the combined movements of the jaw, lips and tongue control the escapes of air as the rhythm of the syllables are uttered. Especially if you say it slowly…But that’s about the only likeable thing about it, and, it isn’t about slowness. In fact, in a dromotological landscape stopping to consider how a single word feels as it is spoken, and other such contemplations, could become obsolete. Unless perhaps you’ve read it in a meme or seen it on a GIF. I’ll explain more about dromology in a minute.

On my MA this week we’ve been looking at ‘connectivism’. It’s presented as a contender for a learning theory relevant to harnessing opportunities afforded by 21st century technology. The original proponent was George Siemens (2004). An early guru of the still rapidly emerging online learning scene. Siemens talks about the ‘half life of knowledge’. That is to say, how quickly knowledge becomes obsolete. Siemens quotes Gonzalez (2004) as putting it at a 10 year half life. He goes on to quote the American Society of Training and Documentation in saying that “Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months”.

That was in 2004. It’s hard to imagine what that stat would be now, although, as I write this out my attention is caught by the use of the word ‘knowledge’. I can’t help but wonder if it should read instead ‘access to knowledge’. Or perhaps better still ‘access to information’?

Siemens saw that a new form of learning was already emerging and sought to establish a framework under which this could be defined and developed. This became connectivity. I like that connectivity is based on principles drawn from chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories. There’s also a fair sprinkling of constructivism in there. The learner as central in the process of decision making, choosing what to learn and valuing diversity all sound great. However, the shifting reality of information acceleration and access to wider communities places the emphasis on the principle that “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (p.5). In other words, the quest is on to acquire more information as fast as possible. A guiding principle for this is that focus is on how to access and filter information in order to remain current and up-to-date. This is described as ‘currency’ within connectivism. But how can those judgements be made if what you know already is given no value?

Decisions are based on rapidly shifting foundations. This currency is achieved, in Siemens’ theory, by networking. Connecting to a series of learning communities seen as ‘nodes’ or information sources, which can also be ‘non-human’. Siemens opens his conclusion with the somewhat concerning statement that “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today”.

What damage is it likely to cause I wonder if we are enticed to dissociate our present understanding and interpretations of the world around us in favour of an unknown coming our way? Be prepared by all means, but by looking away from the present and past surely we are relinquishing control of our futures? Arguments around connectionism abound both among my course colleagues in our forums, and in online debate. There’s a particularly good one to be read at the end of the Downs 2007 post What Connectivism Is. All of these debates seem to centre on the theoretical questions of whether or not connectivism can be considered a ‘learning theory’. I think this is a red herring and quite irrelevant in the scheme of things. It could perhaps better be described as a prediction of what learning would (has) become left to its own devices while the academic world ponder the theoretical frameworks.

As traditional academic establishments grapple with how to best exploit the constantly emerging phenomena that is technology, informal learning has exploded as we are bombarded with information. The incessant dings, buzzes, pings, chimes and etc that we now live with are testimony to our connectedness. Not only do these connections all too frequently distract us from the here and now, in order for us to deal with the continual input of information highly complex ideas have been reduced down to simplistic memes or GIFs. Siemens’ ‘nodes’ have self-formed throughout the connected world but the world has no foundation of knowing how to deal with it. Knowledge has become information and multitudes of connections based on human desire for different forms of capital and self-gratification have been formed. Collectively humanity doesn’t have the tools needed to filter the vast quantities of information. Nor does it have the resilience to manage the number of connections. Or grasp the meanings and implications of messages originating across cultures from such a diversity of experience and background. When such vast amounts of our time is consumed making and managing connections in order to process ever increasing quantities of information, where are we to find the time to delve beyond the superficiality of instantaneity? To think beyond the oversimplified meme? Where does the space for sense-making come in? My mind can’t help but wander back to the question of dromology…

Dromos is from the Greek meaning ‘race’ or ‘running’. The term “Dromology relates to an idea argued by theorists such as Virilio (1999; 2000) and Purser (2000). They say that one of the biggest challenges and ‘hazards’ of our era is the inexorable acceleration and compression of time as a direct result of our digitally connected lives, Land (2006, p. 1) describes it as “a defining characteristic of our society”

Slightly concerning?

The theory of Dromology centres around the idea of compression of time and the associated impacts (as a result of technology)…

Virilio talks about a shifting of time perception from ‘chronological’ time, marked out by a horizontal trajectory of ‘before during and after’ to which humanity has previously related, to a new ‘chronoscopic’ phase of instantaneity where time is ‘vertically stacked’ and carries a sense of immediacy. Land (2006) argues that this immediacy leads to “the erosion of deliberation.” He quotes Virilio:

For Virilio new digital technologies are the primary means of instantiating a globalised or, in his preferred phrase, a globalitarian reality. Drawing on Halévy’s (1948) Essai sur l’accelération de l’histoire, he argues that in this transformed reality citizens give up their understanding of the broader political context in which they have their being and in which their lives are conducted”

Land states that “From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”

I wonder how he had this foresight in 2000 but it has sobering implications from where we’re sitting right now in history.

Interestingly, rather than seeing the online setting as the democratising platform its supporters promote, Virilio goes on to argue that digital environments discredit the value of action in the name of interaction, and that interaction is more of a ‘reactivity’. In total contrast to Siemens’ view he cites this as “eroding difference and diversity, and removing human prioritising and agency.”

Land follows this with Eriksen’s

Six dysfunctional effects within an informational society:

  • speed is an addictive drug
  • speed leads to simplification
  • speed creates assembly line (Taylorist) effects
  • speed leads to a loss of precision
  • speed demands space (filling in all the available gaps in the lives of others)
  • speed is contagious – when experienced in one domain the desire for speed tends to spread to new domains.
  • gains and losses tend to equal each other out so that increased speed does not necessarily even lead to greater efficiency.

In accordance with these effects, or principles, duration and continuity lose out whilst spontaneity and innovation (per se) win. Everything becomes, in principle, just as important as anything else and, as in Virilio’s observation, distance becomes bracketed. “

(Eriksen, 2001)

Purser further links this to the idea of our collective perceptions and sensibilities having been shaped by the evolution of communication media throughout history. Mostly this has been slow moving, bound by the realities of geographic space and the media of the time following a ‘before, during and after’ chronologic time pattern. McLuhan’s (1977) “The medium is the message” springs to mind – whereby the medium itself constructs a message that is disseminated into society. Similarly to Siemens, McLuhan believes that the medium is more important than the message itself. But, if we don’t understand the medium how can we possibly understand the message, much less begin to frame it? The current mass flow of information, the instantaneity of our current medium…what is the message being sent and how do we address this within society and learning?

There are concerns over a number of “post-modern forms of malaise” brought on by the shift from chronological to chronoscopic time, where instantaneous consumption and production are the rulers. “The shift from chronological to chronoscopic time involves a radical change in temporal orientation, and the very means by which we make sense of our lives. Chronoscopic time signals an intense compression. The extensive time of history, chronology, and narrative sequence implodes into a concern and fixation with the real-time instant. What used to comprise a narrative history—sense-making based on a knowledge of the past, present and future–contracts into the buzz of a flickering present.” (Land)

Speed has always equalled power and Virilio (1999) points out that today nearly all technologies are operating at the speed of light, no more ‘before during and after’ as it all becomes present. If we are to take Virilio’s (1999, p.15) premise that “Speed is power itself” does that make us all into superheroes? No, because although Erikson (2001) argues that fast time will always drive out slow time and like Virilio points out that our history has been based on acceleration, in my view we haven’t evolved fast enough to cope with the current speed of change, or not cope well at least. The problem is that thanks to having speed of light communication at our fingertips we might feel like superheroes but we aren’t. And there lies the disconnect.

Purser in “The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” (2000) looks at how technology is shifting us from chronological time towards chronoscopic time and the impacts it can have.

“The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” Purser, 2000

There is much here for us to be mindful of both as educators and as part of society as we see the effects of dromology being enacted. How do we then harness the enormous potential offered by modern technologies without allowing the Information Super-Highway to run us into a state of crisis? I do prefer the somewhat slower rhizome based learning eco-system described by Cormier, yet still the learner is fully adrift. Engestrom’s Intentional Enquiry goes some way towards addressing that, but to me the contradiction seems to be that you should find these hubs in which you can learn and contribute to learning but are essentially given no framework to support the decision making process. It’s altogether too easy for many to become lost.

As a student I don’t want to be told how I should learn. For example, I resent being ‘told’ to blog. As far as I can tell that is just one way of promoting the connectivist structure. One that has been latched onto by the academic community, but may not be my preferred way. I’m always lagging behind. Once I get stuck into something I want to get right in there, look at it from different perspectives, sit and contemplate it… and understand it. Is that so wrong? But what with the blogging, the forum discussions, the building connections and the next topic appearing on the syllabus horizon there is little opportunity for this to happen. We are asked to engage briefly then move on with little time to follow up or actually to really explore a subject in all its actual connectedness. So busy we are in the fast paced pursuit of fresh knowledge. It feels like study is in some ways simply promoting the ‘magazine mentality’ of fleeting, surface-scraping information that we then re-label as knowledge.

What exactly then are our responsibilities as educators? Nearly two decades have passed since technology as we now know it started to emerge as an unavoidable feature of our lives yet we are still trying to figure this out. Surely it’s time we got a grip on ourselves and start looking at what is actually here now instead of trying to re-imagine and mould it into a future that will only continue to morph and change to its own rhythms regardless? Would it not instead be more useful to engage in a series of activities designed to support the learner through a thorough exploration of the options available, the types of connections and situations that might be encountered and how to negotiate these and seek out the most useful experiences? An opportunity, for example, to co-create with course colleagues and tutors a framework of parameters drawn from personal experiences on how to deal with shifting realities, which could then be passed on to our own future learners? How to filter information, make the right decisions and choices and how to capture these processes? How to actually respond to evolving experiences not simply engaging in ploughing on through an out of date pre-determined syllabus regardless of what is occurring in the world around you? Why are we still bickering over learning theories and who is right or wrong when it’s been long acknowledged that every person will learn differently and will learn different things in a variety of ways depending on the subject or skill? Why are we not just supporting each learner to understand how to best achieve that for themselves? If formal education is to survive, should it’s aim become to support students to be better self-directed learners? Effective self/directed learning doesn’t mean just letting go of our students and seeing what happens. It means understanding who can be ‘let go’, when and how. What scaffolding they might need to help them on their way. It might also mean helping our students to find a balance. A point where they can pull back from the power rush kick provided by operating at the speed of light and back into chronological time. Back into a time frame away from instantaneity, where they can learn to appreciate the sensations created by a word being uttered and other similar delights.

References

Downes, S. (2007) WHAT CONNECTIVISM IS, Half An Hour, [Online]. Available at https://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Kop, R. and Hill, A. (2008) Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, vol. 9, no. 3, [Online]. Available at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523 (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Land, R. (2006) Networked Learning And The Politics Of Speed: A Dromological Perspective, Glasgow, University of Strathclyde [Online]. Available at http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2006/abstracts/pdfs/P16%20Land.pdf (Accessed 16 March 2017).

Nerdwriter1 (2015) The Medium Is The Message, [Online]. Available at https://youtu.be/gCr2binb4Fs (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Purser, R. (2000) The Coming Crisis In Real-Time Environments:  A Dromological Analysis, San Francisco, [Online]. Available at http://online.sfsu.edu/rpurser/revised/pages/DROMOLOGY.htm (Accessed 15 March 2017).

Siemens, G. (2005) Http://Www.Elearnspace.Org/Articles/Connectivism.Htm, ITDL.org.

Virilio, P. (1989) WAR AND CINEMA The Logistics Of Perception, London & New York, Verso [Online]. Available at https://www.academia.edu/9698260/WAR_AND_CINEMA_The_Logistics_of_Perception_PAUL_VIRILIO_Translated_by_Patrick_Camiller (Accessed 15 March 2017).

Digital Roots and Networks – my PLE (Personal Learning Environment) & PLN (Personal Learning Network)

PLEs & PLNs

I was asked to document my PLE on my first module. There it is pictured above. It had some gaps then, even more now. But having just been asked to talk about my PLN, all I can really say is that my network consists of every event that takes place between myself and my learning environment – life! That’s even almost still 100% true if narrowing it down to a Personal Digital Learning Environment, as I’ve interpreted it.

By mapping the development of that environment through a timeline, the narrative of how networks have developed over time is fairly clear: https://www.sutori.com/story/how-did-my-personal-learning-environment-come-about–STuA6ydEScvsmThqaLdzKfuZ

Updated 13-04-20.

I thought a bit more about what differentiates the PLE from a PLN. It’s fairly obvious that the people are missing but I think I’d tried to cover that with the yellow ‘communication’ threads running through everything.

The timeline, linked above. Although it’s about the PLE & the tools within that I’d argue that the network itself is instrumental throughout. Without the network, the PLN, propelling me forward in various ways there would be no PLE. I also think there are many different PLNs connected to different parts of our lives. Whole important parts of my life have nothing to do with this digital PLN (thankfully!) and so, while they make up part of the bigger picture would appear in a separate PLN. I’ve updated the original mindmap to include some new thoughts. Bit of an ugly looking piece of work now but that’s not the point.

More back-peddling as I dig deeper into MOOC-world.

The next stage of the task:

Choose a text to read from a presented selection

Enrol on a cMOOC (two choices given) and an xMOOC (Future Learn or Corsera) to compare.

Wasn’t looking forward to it based on my previous xMOOC experiences. But…

First I tackled the reading. After my little rant on my previous post about so little attention to pedagogy of MOOCs I was pleased but slightly ashamed to find an option on the reading list called “ Stacey (2013), The pedagogy of MOOCs.”.

This provided a great read that had me frantically scribbling many notes about things to come back to. It also contained another useful summary of the history of OERs and MOOCS (which sent me on a massive side track looking for timelines – another blog post another day!) and the evolutions through which they’ve been. I’m already beginning to think I’ve maybe been overly harsh on xMOOCS and try to remember when my last experience was and what I was trying to learn. Can’t quite remember, only that it was unsuccessful, boring, not what I needed etc. But here, Stacey was making MOOCs sound quite appealing!

I was pleased to find Cormier providing the background to the early pedagogical approaches to MOOCS and the ‘Five Steps to Success’. I’d enjoyed his writing in my post “Open education, freedom zero, mythological metaphors and our currently evolving status” and learnt that he’d actually invented the term, so it figured to find him here discussing the pedagogy to MOOC success.

Without specifying whether cMOOC or xMOOC he defines it in five steps:

  1. Orient: find out where everything is and make sure you can access it
  2. Declare: a place for your thoughts and reflections. A tag group, blog, forum etc
  3. Network: Find others’ postings, comment and discuss.
  4. Cluster: start to form smaller groups with people you most identify with
  5. Focus: mind can start to wander after a time so create a project and draw on your cluster to maintain focus.

He goes on to say that “A MOOC doesn’t presume what you need to know – it’s a catalyst for emerging knowledge, an unpredictable knowledge base that develops from a knowledge network…”

Hmm, I’m thinking by now, this is getting closer to what I’m after but it’s pretty flabby as far as a ‘pedagogy’ goes…

And then Stacey starts to talk about the 2011 innovation DS106, whereby “a highly innovative pedagogical approach to assignments. Rather than confidential, secret assignments created by faculty, ds106 course assignments are collectively created by course participants over all offerings of the course and are posted online in an Assignment Bank anyone can access.”

By now I’m wondering how come I’ve never stumbled across this, it’s just what I’m looking for! And so it goes on as I progress through the text. Stacey highlights a couple of new MOOC setups that has caught his eye and among the many other diversions I’ve already taken, I go and take a look. Interesting but still somehow not quite there.

Stacey concludes also that there’s still much work to be done on MOOC pedagogy and provides some good links for further research. He closes with some useful pedagogical recommendations and I’ll take him at his ‘open’ word and share them here:

  • Be as open as possible. Go beyond open enrollments and use open pedagogies that leverage the entire web not just the specific content in the MOOC platform. As part of your open pedagogy strategy use OER and openly license your resources using Creative Commons licenses in a way that allows reuse, revision, remix, and redistribution. Make your MOOC platform open source software. Publish the learning analytics data you collect as open data using a CC0 license.
  • Use tried and proven modern online learning pedagogies not campus classroom-based didactic learning pedagogies which we know are ill-suited to online learning.
  • Use peer-to-peer pedagogies over self-study. We know this improves learning outcomes. The cost of enabling a network of peers is the same as that of networking content – essentially zero.
  • Use social learning including blogs, chat, discussion forums, wikis, and group assignments.
  • Leverage massive participation – have all students contribute something that adds to or improves the course overall.

The article is well worth a read in full. (Accessed online 11-04-20. https://edtechfrontier.com/2013/05/11/the-pedagogy-of-moocs/)

It was with a sigh that I decided I’d side-tracked enough and it was time to enrol on some MOOCs. Then, to my excitement, I found I had a comment on my previous post. Better still, it seemed to be recommending an xMOOC!

The xMOOC

We had a quick exchange through the comments (me, astonished as the theory of networking unfolds before my eyes!). She sends me the link (which I duly follow) and some very useful responses to my questions. I’m sharing here so others can benefit. Thanks #Vicky Devaney. It was a perfect recommendation in a number of ways. Not least that it achieves in an infinitely slicker and more organised manner, exactly what I once tried to achieve to help tutors and trainees within my organisation to access and use the Moodle! It was a real pleasure to see how it’s been structured and put together. You are right, tasks clear and simple and a good effort at multimedia materials. I different experience to my previous xMOOC forays. There was a lot to please in there – I was astonished at how active the discussion group is. I did wonder if that has escalated recently to the current situation? I also wonder if the difference is due to Future Learn v Coursera or if it’s how they’ve progressed. Sigh. It seems that after all I’ve somehow talked myself into going back into Future Learn anyway. But not today.

The cMOOC

We were given a choice of two cMOOCs to explore. I’d already had a brief foray into DS106 as a result of the Stacey reading, so I go for Rhizomatic 15. Ha ha, guess who I find again? My by-now-old-friend Cormier! He appears to have set this course up as a part of his own research. It was interesting, if a very brief look, and in the end I felt disappointed and let down by him as nowhere could I find a link to that research.

A Comparison

 cMOOC #Rhizo15 http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/04/10/a-practical-guide-to-rhizo15/xMOOC Coursera. Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology
https://www.coursera.org/learn/getinmooc
PedagogyConnectivism Community as curriculum Rhizomatic learningCognitivism and behaviourism Flipped classroom
TechnologyAny – mobile, tablet or desktop. Ethernet, wireless, 4G, apps.   In terms of platforms used: AnyPrimarily Desktop/ wi-fi appropriate materials. I haven’t checked if there’s an app, not seen mention. Some of the resources might be available via mobile online. Probably tablet as well.   In terms of platforms used: Coursera portal Mixed media, interactions and assessment types.
Approach and philosophy (possibly a bit blurred with pedagogy)Knotworking and rhizomatic – seeping through a community forging links and networks that create an eco-system capable of self-supporting and problem solving. User ownership in terms of activity and learning outcomes. Leveraging: situated activity theory; peripheral participation and self-directed learning theoriesManaged by Ai. The learning design is usefully, not just clearly stated but open for anyone to register, access and use! Already registered. It’s based around: “the six learning types from Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework – a model of the conditions necessary for learning to take place. The six learning types are: Read/Write/Listen (or Acquisition), Inquiry, Practice, Production, Discussion and Collaboration” Here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/ It’s definitely a creator ownership situation in terms of structuring and curating the learning artifacts in order to achieve the pre-determined outcomes. But, you can choose how you engage with the learning materials – see below.  
StrengthsAppears to be a genuine attempt to provide as open a model as possible.   Provides a usefully focused platform for highly motivated, self-directed learning to evolve.A certificate is available at the end if you pay, and adhere more closely to the course. You can also choose to be a bit hapzard, like me, and no pay, no focus, no certificate. Learning materials looked clear, well presented and appealing to a range of different learner types. I didn’t complete the course but after a few ‘lessons’ am quite sure attaining the learning objectives is within the reach of anyone who had the skills to find and sign up to the course (with a supportive IT dept. at work) Personally I am besotted with the transcript text below the video that highlights the bit that is being said.** see more below! Good use of multimedia though if every section is the same routine it could get tedious. Discussion group remarkably active.
Possible challengesQuestionably not as open as it appears: Some students need more structure in order to be successfulSome students might need pointers to technical supportSome students might need a means of demonstrating the learning they’ve undertaken, however informal.Based around the ‘owner’s’ platform of choice: Twitter. Maybe not the most accessible to everyone and also not best for long term curation of discussions and resources for easy reference back? (not a Twitter fan!) Astonished by the instruction “Be persistent, if you don’t hear the first time, post again. Try posting at a different time of day. Don’t give up” My imagination: I make a post. No one responds. Second post: “Hi World. Did you actually not see my last post or did you deliberately choose to ignore it?”. Still no response. Crisis. Probably never return to course. Could be very intimidating, or humiliating. To be fair to him he does go on to say “Respond to others. Make connections”. But still, sorry Cormier, no way!  Lack of a ‘real person’. In the “Student perceptions of Open Pedagogy” document, it seemed to be the tutor that made all the difference. The de-personalisation could be a de-motivating factor (though arguably, for some it may be motivating).   Didn’t see much evidence of OERs. Stacey highlights accusations that the ‘new MOOCs are “Ignoring OERs…enclosing students in a DRMd in a proprietary way”   Could reach that point where focus begins to wane though if following while working on a real project that would help.   Still, not much scope for really individualised learning or freedom from what has been prescribed.  
Other commentsIn reality is it much more than a focused discussion forum set up by the ‘owner’ in order to peruse his own interests? Not necessarily a problem but possibly not the best use of the term ‘course’. Pity as I love the idea of Rhizomatic learning and knotworking. Disappointed the links are dead, no resources to be found on the blog page or research (maybe there but well hidden?) The Facebook group seems to be still active, if maybe a little off-topic at the moment. Haven’t checked Twitter. Might get around to seeing if I can raise a response about the research findings. I guess it’s somewhere on the blog.Was very pleasantly surprised. It felt user friendly. Would recommend this course – in fact, going to do so soon.   Still not sure how compliant I’d be unless I’d been mandated to follow it by my organisation. Think I’d get frustrated and want to skip to certain bits. Fighting against the structure, but that’s me.

Conclusions

Really interesting to look at both of these MOOC examples. I learnt a huge amount, especially not to jump to conclusions! But ultimately, I think I’m looking for something in between. A cMOOC model that is truly user led, multi tool and multi-directional learning approach that includes something like the xMOOC as an option for those who want it as well as other more formalised offerings. The main difference with a ‘pure’ cMOOC (I think) is that this activity would be taking place from within a dedicated portal (such as an LXP) so that all would be able to track and capture their learning events.

**The text that highlights as they speak. First, has someone had to type out all the text or is it Ai? If Ai which one? How to access? Also, is the text highlighting an open application or something you have to pay for. Again, any pointers?

References

Cormier, D. (2015) A practical guide to Rhizo15, Dave’S Educational Blog  Building A Better Rhizome, [Online]. Available at http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/04/10/a-practical-guide-to-rhizo15/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Dimakopoulos, D. (2020) Learning Designer, Ucl.Ac.Uk, [Online]. Available at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/ (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology | Coursera (2020) Coursera, [Online]. Available at https://www.coursera.org/learn/getinmooc (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Chaffee, R., Darrow, J., Guilmett, J., Harper, S. and Hilton, B. (2019) Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: An Exploratory Study, Open Praxis, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 275 [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2616 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Jansen, D., Brown, M., Read, T., Barcels, E., Sedano, B., Lapworth, A., Aydin, C., Traxler, J., Fueyo, A., Hevia, I., Valesco, S., Creelman, A., Witthaus, G., Friedl, C., Staubitz, T., Karachristos, C., Lazarinis, F., Stavropoulos, E. and Verykios, V. (2018) The 2018 Openuped Trend Report On Moocs, Netherlands, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2260 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Stacey, P. (2013) The Pedagogy Of MOOCs, Musings On The Edtech Frontier, [Online]. Available at https://edtechfrontier.com/2013/05/11/the-pedagogy-of-moocs/ (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Veletsianos, G. and Shepherdson, P. (2016) A Systematic Analysis and Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013–2015, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, vol. 17, no. 2, .

What are MOOCs and are they so boring because they’ve been hijacked by Higher Education?

The question:

Is a MOOC something you would consider implementing at your organisation?

Me, kneejerk response: No way, no one would use it.

Slightly more considered response: Unless they had to. For say a H&S certificate

On further reflection: Some might need training and help on how to access and use it

Ok, hey, since this is about openness I’ll try and keep an open mind and at least read a bit about it before I shut it down. I’m glad I did because I learnt a thing or two, not least, what a MOOC actually is (or can be).

I’ll start with a bit of back-tracking. It’s not exactly fair to say MOOCs have been hijacked by HE.  HE in fact invented them. It’s just that they’ve been through a few phases…

Two categories of MOOC – XMOOC and CMOOC

It was interesting to discover through reading Velestianos & Shepherdson (2015) that there are in fact two different categories of MOOCS. I’ve clearly only ever experienced the xMOOC variety, and have, on every single occasion, left a trail in my wake contributing to the embarrassing statistic that 90% of courses remain uncompleted (p. 201). I just find them totally boring. Yet my repeat efforts have come from an optimism that one day I’ll find something different. Something that leverages the potential provided by our technologies and allowed for mass scale constructivism and participation. I tried within our organisation’s VLE, to create such an ideal. Open courses inviting teachers, trainees and students to share questions, ideas, resources, lists of places to access open source resources…All oblivious to the fact that I was trying to create a cMOOC! Uptake was pathetic. I’ll leave reflections on the reasons for that to another post.

So what exactly are xMOOCs and cMOOCs?

A MOOC, both types, is basically what it says on the tin:

M – massive (theoretically yes as it’s available to everyone on the planet)

O – open (but no to the above because not everyone has the skills, technology or other access requirements to truly meet the ‘open’ criteria)

O – online (yes, can’t be denied although some MOOCs I think can also be available offline)

C – course (can’t be denied on the face of it but some would still argue this point based on traditional academic criteria)

Some forms of openness then could be said to be more open than others.

Although both types of MOOC disrupt conventional thinking about teaching and learning, it could at least partly be back to that question of who holds the power – the user or the creator? Either way, MOOCs have caused shifts in practices by traditional HE organisations that could be viewed either as embracing modern pedagogies, or as a strategic move to supress the shift of balance towards new models of educational delivery.

cMOOCS, according to Velestianos (2016), came first and are based on my ideal of connectivism and participatory constructivism, user generated content with openness as a core value. The type of MOOCs perhaps that Gourlay was so affronted by in my previous post. I can almost sympathise with Gourlay’s frustration towards this model as although I’ve had closer glimpses of the ideal, I am still left immensely frustrated by how frequently opportunities for good modelling are missed or poorly executed. It somehow seems ridiculously hard to attain so apparently simple an ideal.

xMOOCs, on the other hand, are based on cognitivist/ behaviourist learning theories, instructor generated content and assessment outcomes are key and clearly defined. It is the xMOOC model primarily adopted by HE. In simplistic (and cynical) terms, it seems to me that first they put their degree courses online, then they made these mandatory parts of paid courses. A win win for the unis – Ai does the rest of their work. It’s also one means of ensuring that having gone to the effort of creating the courses, the students will bloody well have to complete them, regardless of how dull. At least, that’s how I found them. Page after page of read, watch or listen to this and then answer the questions.

That’s my opinion though, and research seems to point at the cMOOCs being largely guilty for the shocking unfinished stats – 90% fail to complete (Ebben & Murphy 2014 , cited in Valestianos, p.201) . Reasons cited have been many I was however, fascinated to read that within the fairly extensive list of reasons suggested for non-completion, all fault lay with the user and there was no glimmer of a suggestion that the content or learning design itself might be at fault! Reasons given included: the fact that it is free, user skills or knowledge not sufficient, user misunderstanding of instruction, user lack of time, lack of incentive, lack of use of forums and so on (Velestianos, p201).

Implementing MOOCS – what works and what not

The 2018 OpenupEd Trend Report on MOOCs (https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/archive/The_2018_OpenupEd_trend_report_on_MOOCs.pdf) provides a great selection of MOOC based short articles looking at practical implementations, each with a different focus. It provides both an excellent toolkit and reference document for anyone wanting to find out more about MOOCS. It’s almost a handbook of considerations for administration or management of MOOCs.

It does also provide useful insights – As well as my first introduction to the term ‘MobiMooc’ John Taxlers piece (p.22) “Community MOOCs – Back to Basics, Back to the Future provided interesting perspective on the debate and tensions surrounding ‘free’ and ‘open’ resources and the evolution of the MOOC. He argues that the MOOC has “moved dramatically away from its innovative and imaginative connectivist origins and that there is an unhelpful tension between ‘free’ and ‘open’ resources.”

He continues

“The idea of the MOOC was born out of experiences with large open distance learning courses in higher education that suggested a new pedagogy, where the numbers and connections would create a new learning paradigm, called connectivism (Siemens 2005). The subsequent story of the MOOC is however not straightforward (Moe 2015). The idea of the MOOC has, in the eyes of many people, become however co-opted by formal institutional perspectives and purposes, and now has been transformed into a highly interactive media-rich experience broadcast by universities on a small number of specialised and dedicated platforms such EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn. The early idealism of the wisdom of the crowd has been replaced by a globally competitive and corporate ethos (Hill & Kumar 2012) but the MOOC in its different incarnations has much to offer learning. This dichotomy has subsequently been expressed as the division between cMOOC and xMOOC respectively, xMOOc being the eXtended MOOC based on traditional university courses, cMOOC being the Connectivist MOOC based on original pedagogy (Ping 2013)”

I can only agree with Traxlers sentiments regarding a return to ‘Community MOOCs and its roots in connectivism’

Exploring Open Pedagogy

I was scandalised that Velestianos and Shepherdson’s narrative placed the blame for the failure of MOOCs, at least in terms of completion, entirely on the user so I decided to look for research on the pedagogies behind MOOCS. Something beyond the broad constructivist/ cognitivist categorisation. My attention was caught and somewhat side-tracked by a document entitled “Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: an exploratory Study” (Hilton et al, 2019). Ahh! Finally, here was a document that looked at an aspect of pedagogy but also the user experience, for a change!

The most striking thing about this paper is that it seemed to consider itself fairly innovative for ‘examining the pedagogies connected with use of Open Educational Resources (OERs). This at first surprised me, and then began to irritate me as it was repeated. Not something for the community to be proud of considering the amount of peddling they’ve had from all types of educational organisations but I’ve somehow always felt that HE gives only a perfunctory nod to what really generates learning, just something to theorise about. There doesn’t seem to be any real excuse for the lack of research into the pedagogy behind OERs, especially as we are told (p.276) that the term ‘Open Pedagogy’ was first used in 1973, pre-technology, to describe “less formal discussions and students co-creating the content”.

The paper provides a useful discussion on the wide-ranging definitions that could be applied to the term and cites many of the internet’s familiar instantiations such as forums, video and photo hosting sites, chat spaces, blogs, wiki’s and so on, all as part of a massive open pedagogy. They are all threaded throughout our lives in a form of co-created content. It’s unsurprising then that the findings of this relatively small-scale research, that implemented well, and not entirely instructed by Ai, overall the students reported that they would prefer to attend a course based on open pedagogy over traditional. It made a good read, approaching the question from a different perspective. I also found it useful to find the rare findings on why students DIDN’T like it.

These included things like ‘lack of structure, too much choice, doing the teacher’s job for them…’. All useful if considering implementing an open pedagogy course.

Conclusion

So, to answer the original question: would I recommend implementing a MOOC at my organisation?

I guess I’ve modified my answer somewhat: Yes and no!

No to a stand-alone MOOC. Still no hope of anyone accessing it unless mandated.

Yes as part of a flexible Learning Experience Platform (LXP) where it could become part of a selection of choices of ways to learn a specific topic. It would need to be part of an open pedagogy in order to have any chance for survival…

Other useful links:

The OER Knowledge Cloud: https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/

The Extended Argument for Openness in Education: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/4/pages/the-extended-argument-for-openness-in-education?module_item_id=52578

References

Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Chaffee, R., Darrow, J., Guilmett, J., Harper, S. and Hilton, B. (2019) Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: An Exploratory Study, Open Praxis, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 275 [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2616 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Jansen, D., Brown, M., Read, T., Barcels, E., Sedano, B., Lapworth, A., Aydin, C., Traxler, J., Fueyo, A., Hevia, I., Valesco, S., Creelman, A., Witthaus, G., Friedl, C., Staubitz, T., Karachristos, C., Lazarinis, F., Stavropoulos, E. and Verykios, V. (2018) The 2018 Openuped Trend Report On Moocs, Netherlands, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2260 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Veletsianos, G. and Shepherdson, P. (2016) A Systematic Analysis and Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013–2015, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, vol. 17, no. 2, [Online] Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2448/3629

Open education, freedom zero, mythological metaphors and our currently evolving status

Image by Colleen O’Dell from Pixabay

I think that perhaps, one very distant future day, these times will be the stage from which new and yet-to-become-myths are generated. Power battles on a mass scale between larger than life characters, corporations, institutions, foundations and geographic areas…The fabric of society globally, micro and macro-communities, nature. All are engaged headlong in a metaphorical battle, on a scale perhaps only equitable to those wrought between the gods and characters of ancient myths who wielded entire world-changing powers…Somewhere, not too far from the epicentre of the yet-to-become-mythological battlefront, sits education.

Within the UK, education has been hosting its own ‘battles’ for many years. Mostly fairly well hidden from those not directly involved, though in some sectors the rapid policy changes have had profound impacts across different stakeholder groups, including society as a whole. It could be argued though that over time, the question of openness has made it harder to hide the debates and harder still to ignore them. It has crept into the fabric not only of our education system but into society as a whole, providing on demand educational experiences on a mass scale.

The current coronavirus situation has pulled education yet closer to my metaphorical epicentre, out from behind its academic cloisters and into stark public view. Whilst all organisations, teachers, students and parents have pulled together a remarkable feat with little preparation, it has, for me at least called other aspects into view. Despite the massive investments made by educational organisations into digital software of varying types, they are for a large part woefully unprepared for actual digital delivery. This also despite it having been a mandatory part in FE initial teacher training (and probably other areas of education as well) since 2007. It is an area that has been under scrutiny for improvement since it first appeared in our all our classrooms. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because the real attention has been taken up by the power balances between creation stakeholders and user, as discussed by Cormier below. Economic, professional and social capital is at stake and the unavoidable fact is that open education already permeates almost every aspect of our lives and every power holder would like to find a way to capitalise on that opportunity. At this time in particular the role of digital education in general has significant, immediate practical and economic implications across the sector and the entire global community.

Without doubt, the role of open source resources, teaching and access within both formal and informal education is currently emerging ever more rapidly and probably securing its future stakes. I’m guessing, its fastest rate ever. It was interesting to learn about some of its history through the module reading and help to situate it within the current context. The reading and the actors within provided the drama that set the stage for my yet-to-become-mythological-battlefonts.

It was reading first Dave Cormier’s 2013 Educational Blog – Building a better rhizome (http://davecormier.com/edblog/2013/04/12/what-do-you-mean-open/) and then Gourlay’s “Open education as a heterotopia of desire” that got me seeing our current ‘stage’ as a yet-to-become-mythological-battlefront. By the time I got to Morozov’s 2013 ‘Tim O’Reilly’s Crazy Talk’ (https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-meme-hustler) and read that O’ Reilly, key character in the Open battlefront, actually leverages his Harvard degree in classics by using analogies from the Greek myths I wasn’t really surprised but it did make me actually laugh out loud.

In Cormier’s article ‘The Brief Retelling of Open Source’ he summarises its history through a vivid cast of characters and events that drew me in. Somehow previously ignorant of such significant characters as Stallman, original founder of the Free Software Foundation, and O’Reilly, metaphorically super-sized and slippery tongued god of Silicon Valley, Cormier managed to take me straight from ignorance to imagining the evolution of their ideologies (or not) as mythological battles in his relatively short post! Within this enactment O’Reilly could be seen as Stallman’s chief opponent, a huge influencer within the industry. A smooth talker and described as one of the valley’s ‘priests’. Morosov somewhat wearily describes him and his influence “Entire fields of thought—from computing to management theory to public administration—have already surrendered to his buzzwordophilia, but O’Reilly keeps pressing on.”

It seems that the irresolvable divide hinges on the question of who comes in place of prime importance: the user or the creator? Or, put slightly differently, who holds the power. Stallman’s Free Software Foundation was there first. His philosophy, based on his experiences in the early days of programming, is that operating systems and software for computers should be free (as in freedom of speech and information) and that if “‘users’ freedoms weren’t paramount the software (and the people who designed it) would control them” At this point Cormiers gives a textual nod in the direction of platforms such as Facebook and Google. Take note folks.

However, according to Cormier, back in the early days when Microsoft triumphed over Netscape, the business community needed a way to capitalise and a new narrative was developed. The term open source was coined and quickly championed by O’Reilly. Cormier sees this as pivotal in the direction that would become open source. He cites Morotov’s quote from O’Reilly in 2001

I want to return to the idea of freedom zero as my choice as a creator to give, or not to give, the fruits of my work to you, as a “user” of that work, and for you, as a user, to accept or reject the terms I place on that gift. If that is power, so be it.”

And so the divide was set: power to the user or to the content creator?

Open source was the clear ‘winner’ of this particular battle so far and although the Free Software Foundation still exists, it’s open source that we all (mostly) are familiar with and of course the user can also become the creator. Cormier likens the change to a values switch being triggered with a move from the socio-cultural ideology of freedom, to a… “something else”. A something where the ideology has been removed.

Cormier goes on to explore the different educational labels, terms and phrases used with “Open”. Particularly interesting for me was the discussion on the three principle influences of openness on education:

“- open educational resources: their ability to replace or partially replace existing resources

–  open access: allows for shared research

– open teaching: has its roots in the practice of opening up previously capitalised university courses for free.”

The discussion is based on points taken from David Wiley and Cable Green in Educause .

It was also interesting to read about Open University’s early principles through its conception and early founding years between 1963 – 1975. What struck me most about these is that they are now all effectively guiding principles throughout all curriculums, whether considered open or not. Perhaps the democratisation of education has made greater inroads than is immediately obvious.

  1. “Open = accessible, ‘supported open learning’, interactive, dialogue. Accessibility was key.
  2. Open = equal opportunity, unrestricted by barriers or impediments to education and educational resources.
  3. Open = transparency, sharing educational aims and objectives with students, disclosing marking schemes and offering exam and tutorial advice.”
  4. Open = open entry, most important, no requirement for entrance qualifications. All that was needed were ambition and the will/motivation to learn.

Cormier is himself one of the players on this stage. He coined the term MOOC, which have been instrumental in the HE/ openness relationship.  To me, although MOOCs undoubtedly provide valuable resources and learning, they feel a bit like a desperate attempt by HE to maintain ownership over openness. Lower than expected uptake and completion figures seem to reflect at least that there is something missing for the users.

Cormier concludes with the question

“How do we want to open our society? That, in the end, is the open learning/education that I want to talk about. You?”

Yes Cormier, I too would like to discuss that question. As I finished his piece perhaps the idea of battlegrounds had already been planted, the internal struggles between geeks that mostly remain out of public view until one emerges victorious over another and becomes part of our new-world patois or latest techno upgrade. But in comparison to what I was about to read next these are merely polite side-skirmishes that would surely feature very low on the scale of mythological battles, demi and minor gods.

Enter stage right: one of the mega-gods, the ancient argument for tradition. The side of the university, Gourlay’s side of it at least, lashes out viciously at open education in his 2015 “Open education as a heterotopia of desire”. Gourley’s attack on openness in general makes O’Reilly’s silver-tongued ousting of Stallman look positively docile. Using a fairly thin argument himself, that doesn’t for example acknowledge that the founding principles of openness are now fully integrated into mainstream education and even equality guidances, he wades straight in with a blazing attack on Open Educational Resources (OERs). He hones in on their claim to ‘democratise HE’ and without reference says it has been critiqued as over-simplistic and weakly theorised. Throughout the piece he comes back to the word ‘fantasy’ and catchy phrases such as ‘enacted utopias’. He leverages triggers such as stereotyping protagonists of openness as linking HE institutions to conspiracy theories surrounding power and knowledge. He describes the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement as “Ed-punk” and maintains that “this is exactly what corporations and institutions do not want edu- punks and proponents of OERs to do”.

I found his tone to be aggressive and lacking substance. I found myself arguing with him throughout, notes scribbled in every margin! It seems to me an attempt to shout down his opponents by making them feel ill-informed and subscribing to academically unsound behaviours. In fact, to me it came across as a self-serving sounding whine. A feeble attempt to defend the un-defendable, the long out-dated systems on which our entire educational structure rests and subsequently that of our society. Arguments aimed at maintaining the key to social and economic capital as provided by university study rather than how that study addresses the needs of the workforce. He used the examples such as because students learning online can learn in their bedrooms, on public transport or wherever they choose, this gives them agency. His argument seems oblivious to considering that this agency only relates to one small aspect of learning and could at times lead to intense frustration on the part of the student.

Furthermore, I took absolute offence to his suggestion that adequate learning is somehow not possible without the addition of HE in the form that we know it. I also found it remarkable that Gourlay’s argument somehow grandly omits to acknowledge that universities have had centuries on which to found their governances. This in contrast to the way openness has evolved in response to new technologies and the constantly emerging infrastructures and skills to support them, how the world actually works, the skills required to be an active member of our social and economic communities. Alongside these exponentially rapid changes has been technology and the evolution of open resources as well as who creates and who curates them. Gourlay allows no give for the fact that in its current state, everything open source is effectively experimental and evolving. Perhaps if the universities had been able to evolve and respond at a similar rate people such as Gourlay wouldn’t need to feel so defensive at this point.

I was just completing the reading for this section of module when the coronavirus hit the world. As we went into lockdown my metaphorical battlefield is in meltdown. New ideas, practices, platforms, technologies, ways of living and working and, without doubt also news ways of educating will emerge, charged by an absolute need for changes in the ways we practice everything. Initially at least I’m guessing that what emerges strongest will be through a self-evolving process little informed by market or traditional pressures. New power struggles will emerge. I wonder what will finally dictate the answers – will emerging technologies themselves, or the growth of mobile over internet inform the future ways that education is structured and accessed? Or will technologies still attempt to provide means whereby the power is still held by tradition?

Where ownership will ultimately lie at the end of all this and whether it will uphold an ideology is currently impossible to predict. For now, all my imaginary yet-to-become-mythical-gods are busy preparing to reposition themselves for what will certainly one day become part of a history lesson, and another later day morph into the realms of legend and mythology…

Revisiting Second Life for Education – Ten Years On…

Cyber Explorations and Adventures of the Learning kind!

It’s a pretty lonely place, at least on the Open University ‘Deep Think’ Island and the University of Southern Queensland’s ‘Terra Incognita’, and…well, pretty much everywhere else I went!

Screenshot 2020-02-06 at 19.50.10

Seely Brown and Adler’s 2008 paper “Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0.” provided quite a blast from the past – it was published at just about the time I was co-opted into teacher training and starting to realise that technology wasn’t going away. The article touches on many of the things that were firing me up at the time. Ideas on ‘Situated Learning’, Openness, collaboration, learner generated content and democratisation of learning. To be an effective teacher and to help nurture future teachers technology was obviously something that needed to be mastered, and quickly. Fuelled by a highly motivational mix of fear and excitement I plunged right in at the very deep end. The excitement stemmed from a growing awareness of all the emerging web2.0 tools and their world changing potential. The fear came from my own total lack of skills and the more and more frequent appearance of articles about Virtual Worlds and Environments such as Second Life potentially becoming the learning places of the future. I didn’t even own a Smart phone at the time!

Second Life in 2008

So, having purchased a cute little white Macbook and self taught the basic skills I ventured into Second Life. It wasn’t a happy experience. I stumbled about randomly, mostly with arms above my head as that’s how they somehow ended up and I had no idea how to get them down. When I lost all my clothes and couldn’t replace them I abandoned my avatar, naked and arms held high in some unknown location having never actually found one of these much written about learning spaces.

Second Life in 2020

So, having just read Seely Brown and Adler’s now dated article I decided to venture back and have a look for myself before delving into any research that’s been produced since. Pleased to say it was a somewhat happier experience in terms of navigating and managing to move the avatar around, though not much more successful in my mission to discover learning places than 10 years ago.

Welcome Hall

I didn’t hang around long in the ‘Welcome Hall’. Just long enough to change my avatar and figure out some basic manoeuvres – the Welcome Hall leads you through a series of tutorials and was full of ‘new arrivals’ all fairly disorientated but I was keen to see what sort of education spaces I could discover. Seely Brown and Adler talk about the University of Southern Queensland’s ‘Terra Incognita’, so I set off there first…Disappointment and some initial concerns about my skills when I found myself unable to get there. I was later able to find out why (see below in the research section) but in the meantime…

University of Southern Queensland’s “Terra Incognita” appears to have been demolished!

I decided to extend my cyber adventure and see what, if anything, I could find. The obvious place to start being the Open University. A number of locations came up in my search, but most were course specific. At the top of the pile sat ‘Deep Think’ inviting any staff or students to join. Now this looked promising…

Things appeared even more encouraging when shortly after arrival a welcome message popped up inviting me to to join the group by emailling a real person, which I did immediately before setting off for a look around.

Someone has clearly spent a lot of time building Deep Think with carefully landscaped spaces populated with interesting looking objects inviting interaction almost everywhere you look. ‘Anonymous Reflection’ boxes were dotted around suggesting you post your thoughts. I was unable to make anything happen, reflect or to get any info. There was no one else to be seen despite the multiple styles of ‘lecture halls’ and ‘study areas’ available, not to mention the enticingly named ‘Path to Enlightenment’. I decided my inability to access any learning must be because I wasn’t yet a member, but the total lack of any other avatar people seemed odd…

…And then I found the ‘Postmaster undeliverable’ response to my optimistic email. It seems that whatever might once have taken place in ‘Deep Think’ was no longer in action. I felt quite disappointed by now and although there appeared to be a number of course specific OU ‘islands’ after another disappointing visit to an English language class I left to try some online research regarding developments without stopping to see if any of the other courses are still live.

More Recent Research on Learning in Second Life

Considering the fanfare given to this platform and others of its ilk back in the first decade of this century, there seems to be remarkably little follow through. Follow up research on educational initiatives in SL is quite hard to come by. For Deep Think I was only able to find an 2010 outline of the project (http://oro.open.ac.uk/21641/1/ICALT2010submission-poster.pdf (accessed 06-02-20)) An early evaluation taken from an introductory tour for tutors says feedback is positive. They liked the “visual design of deep|think and the important aspects of usability in terms of being user friendly and well signposted to aid navigation. A wide range of activities could be envisaged by the tutors in deep|think, from standard lectures to more social events.”

I have been unable to locate anything that might explain why it has been left to fossilise but perhaps the next sentences are somewhat telling: “their
first consideration seemed to be the migration of standard lecture format activity into the 3D world…”
It’s my opinion that the continued difficulties that many teachers seem to have adapting their delivery methodologies and resources to match the medium have had a significant impact on effective use of technology and helping students to build their skills. They also raised doubts about the students’ skills levels in using Second Life and the additional load this would cause. This is still an oft cited problem but I think stems from a fear that their own skills are inadequate to support a student who needs help.

Similarly, with the University of Southern Queensland project, I have been unable to locate any further research. However, there is still a partial thread online that says the site was shut down in 2014 http://sled.577505.n2.nabble.com/Terra-incognita-will-go-offline-tomorrow-9th-Jan-td7582536.html. It appears it was being maintained by a single ‘owner’ who could no longer sustain the responsibilities.

Clearly at that time there were great aspirations that SL should fill some gap in education and perhaps for some it is still something to aspire to. There is plenty of more general research available as well as guidance on how to set up and manage learning in virtual worlds (see bibliography). The SL Education Wiki lists a number of different universities and learning centres who all appear to be thriving, though I didn’t try to visit any others. I had also thought it might be a place where language learning would flourish but was unable to find much going on in that department either and was surprised not to find a British Council space there. I did venture into one supposed language group that looked innocuous enough but having only just registered was kicked out for being too young!

Looking at the more recent research, and the lists of learning spaces available on the Wiki, it seems to perhaps be identifying as a good space for accessible learning. There is still quite a bit written promoting situated learning in Virtual Worlds and SL themselves are certainly still promoting their platform and claiming a ‘Premium User Base’ of over 60,000. But from my brief foray it’s hard to imagine anything very much useful happening there or anywhere being particularly busy. It’s possible the spaces I visited were never intended to be enduring, but I don’t think so. It’s also possible that if a tutor specifies a meet up in SL an area might become busy at certain times for focussed activity. But it certainly isn’t the melting pot of activity that I’d imagined it might be by now, there’s no sign of people hanging out and learning, in fact, no sign of any people anywhere except in the Welcome Hall.

https://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2019/05/sl-premium-subscriptions-linden-lab-tyche.html (accessed 07-02-20)

Reflections on my cyber explorations

Second Life is a pretty amazing set-up. First up, it’s definitely pretty with it’s fantastic architecture, trees wafting in unfelt breezes laden with cherry blossom and peacocks strutting their stuff in the gardens that overlook idyllic looking seascapes, birds tweeting from the bushes and flying overhead…I stopped and hung out with a peacock for awhile, trying to figure out if anything I did had a reaction from it, I don’t think so – it could walk right through me! I’ve never played a video game so have nothing really to compare but it looks like a fairly complex and cleverly built software and easy enough to follow the tutorials and figure out how to get around. I guess for some, another positive could be the anonymity, the possibility to be whoever you want, although I’m not sure that would work in an HE group setting.

Although not specifically related to education, I did find Bloustein and Wood’s “Visualising disability and activism in Second Life” interesting. It has, according to their findings, become a place where identity can be explored and social activism can be nurtured

“In sum, identifying as having a disability in both SL (as an avatar) and in off-screen lives is for many of our respondents both a significant personal and political statement. In SL it can also be interpreted as a public statement of activism. It is a statement about identity and about the real or authentic self. For many of our respondents this also increased their claim to personal integrity. Criteria for belonging and acceptance, even of oneself, rely on the judgement of others for one’s sense of self is always ‘socially mediated’ (Gilpin et al., 2010: 260).”

So why doesn’t it appear to working as the educational utopia it was thought to become? Perhaps actually it is, just not at the same times and places as me. It was a bit of a whirlwind visit so more time researching and looking around to see if anything was missed would be helpful, but somehow I don’t think so. I’m also not sure I really want to. Although I’m a fan of Seely Brown and his ideas around Participation and Situated Cognition, I think stretching into Virtual Worlds is perhaps still a step too far. Those Deep think tutors were possibly right.

I also felt irritated by the suggestion that the whole world should need or want to access Higher Education (p.18). This seems to be in contradiction to much that the web2.0 resources can bring to educating the world. A further example of being so entrenched in current models it’s impossible to look beyond.

Personally, I also feel a resentment and slowly rising panic at the ever increasing amount of time we are expected to spend online. I work on a computer all day. My friends and family and family’s carers (two different lots, one of which also comes with their own App I have to monitor) expect me to keep in touch by text, email or messenger and respond within a reasonable time frame when they contact me. I’ve signed up for a distance MA so that brings a heavy load more of screen time just in reading, forums and writing assignments. Now we are required, on top of the forums, to blog and read each other’s blogs as well. If anyone dared to ask me at this point to go and hang out in study groups on Second Life as well I might be tempted to commit a virtual tantrum! Seely Brown (p.30) tells us that the world is speeding up and we need to speed up with it.

“In the twentieth century, the dominant approach to education focused on helping students to build stocks of knowledge and cognitive skills that could be deployed later in appropriate situations. This approach to education worked well in a relatively stable, slowly changing world in which careers typically lasted a lifetime. But the twenty-first century is quite different. The world is evolving at an increasing pace. When jobs change, as they are likely to do, we can no longer expect to send someone back to school to be retrained. By the time that happens, the domain of inquiry is likely to have morphed yet again.”

He’s right, we need to adapt but it seems that technology is speeding things up beyond a level that we are able to cope with and it’s possible that spending time learning in a virtual world such as Second Life is just one overload too many for the majority. Perhaps we’re thankfully not yet ready to slip fully into an unreal world when we’re still trying to make sense of the rapid changes in our real one, and so without outright rejecting it, uptake on Second Life hasn’t been what was anticipated. Perhaps it’s our addictions to other forms of Social Media that simply don’t allow time for another distraction?

Purser in “The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” (2000) looks at how technology is shifting us from chronological time towards chronoscopic time and the impacts it can have. I feel that is a whole new post but will leave you with this thought.

“The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” Purser, 2000

References

Bloustien, G. and Wood, D. (2015) Visualising disability and activism inSecond Life, Current Sociology, vol. 64, no. 1, pp. 101-121.

Gregory, S., Lee, M., Dalgano, B. and Tynan, B. (2016) LEARNING IN VIRTUAL WORLDS RESEARCH AND APPLICATIONS, Edmonton, AU Press, Athabasca University [Online]. Available at http://www.aupress.ca/books/120254/ebook/99Z_Gregory_et_al_2016-Learning_in_Virtual_Worlds.pdf (Accessed 6 February 2020).

James, W. (2019) The Economics of SL, New World Notes, [Online]. Available at https://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2019/05/sl-premium-subscriptions-linden-lab-tyche.html (Accessed 7 February 2020).

Kafai, Y. and Dede, C. (2014) “Learning in Virtual Worlds”, 2nd ed. in Cambridge Handbook Of The Learning Sciences, Second Edition, [Online]. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305426213_Learning_in_Virtual_Worlds/citation/download (Accessed 6 February 2020).

Land, R. (2006) Networked Learning And The Politics Of Speed: A Dromological Perspective., Glasgow, University of Strathclyde [Online]. Available at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.694.5202&rep=rep1&type=pdf (Accessed 7 February 2020).

Purser, R. (2000) The Coming Crisis In Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis, San Francisco, San Francisco State University [Online]. Available at http://online.sfsu.edu/rpurser/revised/pages/DROMOLOGY.htm (Accessed 6 February 2020).

Second Life Education – Second Life Wiki (2020) Wiki.Secondlife.Com, [Online]. Available at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Second_Life_Education (Accessed 6 February 2020).

Seely Brown, J. and Adler, R. (2008) Minds On Fire: Open Education, The Long Tail, And Learning 2.0, Educause Review [Online]. Available at https://er.educause.edu/articles/2008/1/minds-on-fire-open-education-the-long-tail-and-learning-20 (Accessed 7 February 2020).