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.

( 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.”

( 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” (, 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

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.


Freedom House (2019) Freedom On The Net 2019 The Crisis Of Social Media, Freedom on the Net [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Global Internet usage (2020) En.Wikipedia.Org, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at (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 (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 (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 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Sample, I. (2019) Universal internet access unlikely until at least 2050, experts say, Guardian, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Smart Village (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Statistics (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Web Foundation (2019) 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?, [Online]. Available at (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.


Downes, S. (2007) WHAT CONNECTIVISM IS, Half An Hour, [Online]. Available at (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 (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Land, R. (2006) Networked Learning And The Politics Of Speed: A Dromological Perspective, Glasgow, University of Strathclyde [Online]. Available at (Accessed 16 March 2017).

Nerdwriter1 (2015) The Medium Is The Message, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Purser, R. (2000) The Coming Crisis In Real-Time Environments:  A Dromological Analysis, San Francisco, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 15 March 2017).

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

Virilio, P. (1989) WAR AND CINEMA The Logistics Of Perception, London & New York, Verso [Online]. Available at (Accessed 15 March 2017).

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 ( 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.


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:

The Extended Argument for Openness in Education:


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 (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 (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:

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 ( 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’ ( 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…