Navigating the marvellous at #altc


CC BY-NC-SA pascalvenier (Flickr)

On September 1st, I’ll be joining a few hundred other educators, researchers, and policy-makers at the ALT 2014 Conference organised by the Association for Learning Technology (UK). The theme of the conference this year is an ambitious one: Riding Giants: How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave.

I’ll be one of the speakers at this year’s conference, but mostly I’m excited about meeting and sharing ideas with the diverse range of people who will be participating, both in person and virtually — and, of course, getting to hear and catch up with Audrey Watters. :)  I’ll be speaking from my perspective as an open educator, sharing a few questions, as well as examples of practice and research which illuminate possible paths for us as educators. I hope, too, to include voices other than my own in the keynote. Here’s an overview:

Navigating the Marvellous: Openness and Education

Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem, I’ll explore “navigating the marvellous”, the challenge of embracing open practices, of being open, in higher education, from the perspective of educators and students, citizens and policy makers. To be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and networked connections, and the predominantly closed world of the institution. As higher education moves slowly, warily, and unevenly towards openness, students deal daily with the dissonance between these two worlds; navigating their own paths between them, and developing different skills, practices, and identities in the various learning spaces which they visit and inhabit. Educators also make daily choices about the extent to which they teach, share their work, and interact, with students and others, in bounded and open spaces. How might we construct and navigate Third Spaces of learning, not formal or informal but combined spaces where connections are made between students and educators (across all sectors), scholars, thinkers, and citizens — and where a range of identities and literacy practices are welcomed? And if, as Joi Ito has said, openness is a survival trait for the future, how do we facilitate this process of “opening education”? The task is one not just of changing practices but of culture change; we can learn much from other movements for justice, equality and social change.

I look forward to many stimulating conversations at the conference, and in the meantime, as I continue working on my presentation and plans for the session. Do you use and foster open practices in your own learning? in your work? with students? Is an ethos of openness central or peripheral to your work? If you experience a tension between openness and your work in (higher) education, how do you resolve this? I welcome your thoughts.

Photo:CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 pascalvenier


Open Education Week(s) 2014


CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog (Flickr)

Open Education Week 2014… and an opportunity to use one of @cogdog‘s wonderful #open images (thanks, Alan). This post is a summary of what I’ve been up to in the lead up to Open Education Week 2014 — preparing an #openedweek webinar, working with other open educators, supporting students in open sharing, participating in an inspiring Irish education conference, and finally, recounting a moving coincidence.


  • On Saturday, March 1st, we joined over 300 educators from across Ireland at the annual CESI Conference here in Galway. The conference (and CESI TeachMeet on the preceding night) provide a welcome opportunity for primary, secondary, third-level and community educators to meet, to form and strengthen friendships, and to learn from one another. The Irish educator community has a strong online presence via #edchatie, but gatherings such as the CESI and ICTEdu conferences are invaluable. It’s impossible to summarise this inspiring conference in a few words — please check the #cesicon hashtag on Twitter for updates and summaries.
  • I presented and facilitated a workshop at the CESI Conference on Becoming and Being Open Educators, inviting educators to consider their (and their students’) identities and practices with respect to open education. My thanks to all of the educators who participated and who challenged my thinking.

  • Finally, a coincidence. One of the outstanding innovations in Ireland in the past year has been the launch and growth of the Youth Media Team (@YMTfm), a team of secondary students, supported by educators, who attend education-related events, engage with participants, and create and share multimedia reports on the spot — photos, interviews and blog posts. Two weeks ago at the CESI Conference, Dave and Finn recorded a conversation between Laurence Cuffe and myself during which we shared our discovery of a moving coincidence – spanning the years 1968 to 2014.

Photo: Unlocked, CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog


Open education and digital identities

I’m currently in the early stages of Ph.D. research on digital identity practices in open education. I’ll be exploring how educators and students in higher education construct and negotiate their identities — social, pedagogical, civic, professional — in open online spaces in which they interact. Some of the questions I am considering are: How are digital identities enacted in open vs. bounded online spaces? What is the relationship between digital and embodied identities, particularly with respect to learning and teaching? And how are power relationships between educators and students negotiated in different online spaces?

Last week I was invited to give a seminar on this research (early stages!) as part of the IT research seminar series at NUI Galway. Below are the slides, a brief summary of my research, and a reflection on my own identity as a “digital identity” researcher.


The recently published Horizon Report 2014 (Higher Education edition) is just the most recent of many to pose the question: How will formal learning institutions remain relevant when quality learning materials are freely available? (i.e. now). Of course, it isn’t just learning materials, but learning networks and learning experiences that are freely available in our increasingly networked society. The MOOC phenomenon is just one example: across the spectrum of MOOCs, from open, connectivist models to more content-focused, behaviourist/cognitivist models, the desire for flexible, autonomous learning is  clear. Noisy pronouncements to the contrary, open education is about much more than MOOCs, of course. Open education includes initiatives and practices such as the use and creation of open educational resources (OERs); open course blogs, websites and wikis; open sharing of student work — via a range of digital, mobile and social media;  and open communication across learning networks using social media and social networking tools.

identities & learning spaces

In most higher education institutions, after meeting stated entry criteria, student access is achieved by fee and by name. In my university, for example, students must register using the name shown on their birth certificate, unless this has been legally changed. Thus, in most classrooms and within most Learning Management Systems, students and educators are identified by their real names. To participate in open online education, however, learners need simply the will to participate and an identity. Learners not only choose their own learning paths, but they create their own digital identities. Thus individuals can choose to be identified by their name or a pseudonym, by a photo or an avatar, with a consistent digital identity across multiple networks or different digital identities for different situations and contexts. 

So how does the concept of digital identity layer on to our understanding of offline or embodied identity? Identity can be defined as a constantly re-worked personal narrative; we continually create and develop our identities through our actions and our interactions with others. But identity is not a single construct; we have multiple identities related to our different roles and contexts (e.g. daughter, mother, partner, friend, student, lecturer). This is the case for both digital and embodied identities, as Miller makes clear in the excellent Future Identities report of 2013, which explores the relationship between online and  offline identities:

As studies become more contextualised it seems that the real lesson of online identity is not that it transforms identity but that it makes us more aware that offline identity was already more multiple, culturally contingent and contextual than we had appreciated.

Miller also notes that contrary to many media claims, most studies (with the exception of a few, e.g. Turkle) oppose the notion of digital dualism, i.e. the belief that online identities are separate from and less authentic than our offline identities. Our online and embodied identities are, in fact, deeply intertwined. 

Learning involves identity transformation. In Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice work, for example, education is defined as an identity project: there is a relationship between “learning to do” and “learning to be”.  During the course of their learning, students in higher education develop new identities: personal, social, academic, professional. Both students and educators develop and enact their identities when interacting in learning spaces, be they physical or digital, bounded or open. As part of my study, I’ll be exploring three types of learning spaces: physical classrooms, bounded online spaces (e.g. members-only LMSs), and open online spaces or networked publics (e.g. blogs, wikis, discussion forums, social networking sites). These three modalities are often used in combination with one another, but my study aims to identify the specific affordances of each, particularly with respect to identity, access and equity.

The first two of these spaces, classrooms and LMSs, are private learning spaces in which learners and educators within a particular course can meet, physically or virtually, to interact and learn together. In the third category, open online spaces, educators and students in a given course can interact with one another as well as with other students, educators, writers, creators, experts, etc. in other courses, disciplines, institutions, organisations or locations. 

politics, power & privilege

Politics, power and privilege cannot be ignored in educational research. For example, in examining learning spaces, the architecture of most physical classrooms speaks loudly about power and privilege. Who is present, and who is not? Who sits and who stands? Who moves? Who speaks? Where is attention focused? Answers to these questions reveal whose voice counts, whose knowledge counts. Those educators committed to democratic practices — to creating environments for mutual knowledge construction and sharing —  often must work against the constraints of the architecture of physical classrooms.

In bounded online spaces, such as members-only LMSs, system architectures may communicate similar messages. LMS participants are typically identified by their (real) names and their roles — student, lecturer, tutor, observer, etc. Lecturers and tutors have design, creation and editing privileges within LMSs; students usually have fewer and lesser privileges (e.g. writer vs. editor). These are signals about power and ownership of the learning process.

In open online spaces, students and educators are not limited by real-name identities, nor by rigid role definitions. Students, particularly, may experiment with new identities – not just social identities, with which they may have some confidence, but learner identities and public/civic identities. The teacher-student relationship is changed, moving beyond a teacher-student dichotomy. Students and educators can have more equal roles in creating content, sharing resources, participating in and starting conversations. Educators can be learning peers in open online spaces, not just the lecturer at the head of the classroom or with privileges within the LMS. Although the technologies themselves do not create democratic environments, educators who choose to engage with students in open online spaces, who use open tools, and who engage in and model democratic practices, can foster learner autonomy and agency.

Open online spaces can be considered what Gutiérrez defines as a Third Space of learning; where students develop sociocritical literacies not in a formal learning space, or informal learning space, but a combined space:

People live their lives and learn across multiple settings, and this holds true not only across the span of our lives but also across and within the institutions and communities they inhabit – even classrooms, for example. I take an approach that urges me to consider the significant overlap across these boundaries as people, tools, and practices travel through different and even contradictory contexts and activities.

Many students already have confident social identities online, but developing identities as learners, writers, scholars, citizens — these are important tasks as part of higher education. As Etienne Wenger has noted:

If institutions of learning are going to help learners with the real challenges they face… [they] will have to shift their focus from imparting curriculum to supporting the negotiation of productive identities through landscapes of practices.

Moving beyond private, bounded learning spaces into open learning spaces, even occasionally, provides learners and educators with opportunities to discuss and develop important digital and network literacies, as well as  a deeper awareness of issues such as privacy and data ownership. Open practices allow students the potential to link formal education with their informal interests, knowledge and expertise, and to build Personal Learning Networks which reflect all of these – to the extent that they wish to do this. In these open Third Spaces of learning, learners cannot just develop new identities, but strengthen existing identities, and integrate identities across multiple settings and contexts.

postscript: my own identities

During the past few months, I’ve added this ‘digital identities’ research project to a full schedule of teaching, programme management, and my own networked learning and blogging activities. It’s been challenging, but mostly satisfying. Those cycles that people warned me about when embarking on the Ph.D.  ( lurching from “wow, this is wonderful!” to “oh, I’m lost!”, and back again) — I reckon I’ve ridden through a few of them already :)

At the start, it was the practical aspects of combining these activities that demanded my energies. How will I organise my schedule/workspace/systems to accommodate my new research commitments? And how will I manage others’ expectations of me — colleagues, students, family, friends? Lots of thinking, discussion, negotiation of boundaries.

But, of course, it’s not *that* simple. It’s not just my schedule that must be negotiated, but my own identities. Every day the balance is slightly different: dividing my hours and energies between teaching, student and facilitator support, programme management, learning and research. For the past few years, this blog has provided an invaluable space for sharing ideas and questions related to learning and teaching, for thinking-through by writing, and for connecting. Up to this point, I’ve been happy to share my learning and to share my teaching experiences. So where does “researcher me” fit?

For example, I’ve been working with Jane Davis and Joyce Seitzinger over the past 6 months, each of us writing papers and collaborating on a joint symposium for the upcoming Networked Learning conference. Throughout all of that research and writing and rewriting, I didn’t write here in my blog. I put my time and effort into writing the paper (in the “academic” voice) and engaging in discussions with Joyce and Jane. That time was productive, and it wasn’t my intention to separate these two activities — research and blogging — but that’s what has happened. Hmmm…

As so often happens, via my PLN I read a recent blog post by Bonnie Stewart in which she described this dilemma: identity challenges for hybrid scholars:

I’ve been researching hybrid scholars – people like me who are both cultivating some semblance of a traditional institutional academic identity and building connections and credibility for their ideas in online networks … I’ve been trying to be both networked scholar and proper academic, whatever that is. I’ve been trying to wear two entirely separate hats and engage in two entirely separate identity economies … If there’s anything to the premise that the potential of massiveness + openness = new literacies of participation, it’s those of us out here straddling the edges of old and new that will end up making and modelling those literacies, whatever they turn out to be worth.

Michael Gallagher, another valued member of my learning network, posted a comment to Bonnie’s post which captured this conundrum — and my perspective — so well:

My identities have oscillated all over the place depending on where the projects reside (scholar one day, project manager the next, teacher the following, that sort of thing). I find a certain joy in that disequilibrium, as if I dance between these ambiguous spaces and identities long enough, something new will emerge. And it will just emerge, as you said, by walking the road. And if I contribute at all, it will be through my blog and that emergent identity.

As I noted in my response to Bonnie’s post, I’m often comfortable in boundary and hybrid spaces — I’m a New Yorker living in Ireland, a feminist working in technology, an engineer doing research in education, and I’ve taught/teach in both higher education and community spaces. So being a hybrid scholar feels right — most of the time. Most of the time, the intersections energise me and spark connections which move my thinking and practice. But sometimes things feel out of balance, and I suppose that’s what I’ve recognised regarding my writing at the moment.

So, where am I now? I’m enthusiastically continuing my research and also reflecting on my identity as a hybrid scholar. This reflexivity seems important, given the nature of my research. I am comfortable as an open and networked learner and educator, and still in a liminal space as an open researcher. This blog post is another step in developing that identity, and opening myself to new creative possibilities. As Michael Gallagher expressed in his beautifully written blog post ideas and identities in liminality, creativity springs from ambiguous states; liminality is a “generative state of being”.

If you identify as a hybrid scholar, an open educator, a researcher in the area of open education, networked learning and/or digital identities, how do you navigate these hybrid spaces? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and to learn more about your work. :)

Assessment in open spaces

Photo: Tay Railway Bridge (Dundee) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Tim Haynes

“We have to build our half of the bridge, no matter who or where we happen to be.” – Colm McCann

Summary: Learning and pedagogical relationships are transformed when we engage with students in open online spaces or networked publics. These can become ‘third spaces’ of learning, beyond the binary of informal and formal learning. Once a closed classroom (physical or online) becomes open to the world, assessment options multiply, with many more opportunities for student choice, voice and creativity, and of course, feedback. [Slides] [Audio interview]


This post summarises my talk at the eAssessment Scotland 2013 conference, “Assessment in Open Spaces”. I had planned to finish and publish this post last Friday, to mark the final day of the conference. However, hearing the sad news of Seamus Heaney’s death halted my progress and I wrote about Seamus instead. Today I return to eAssessment.

The eAssessment Scotland conference is a completely free, 2-week event which is open, distributed and accessible. The one-day conference at the University of Dundee on August 23rd was sandwiched between two weeks of online activity. Like the day conference, the online programme included keynotes and workshops, as well as numerous conversations on Radio EDUtalk. The conference, organised by David Walker, Kenji Lamb and others, is a unique opportunity for educators across many sectors — primary, secondary, third-level, community, commercial and government — to engage in discussions about learning and assessment.

I was one of three keynote speakers at the day conference, along with the wonderful Helen Keegan, a great friend and inspiration, and Fiona Leteney, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. I was invited to speak about Assessment in Open Spaces, but my presentation looked broadly at learning, teaching and assessment in open online spaces — and the imperative of doing this.

I began my talk with a quote from Joi Ito, focusing on the importance of networks: “I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.” As Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman explain in their recent book Networked, in which they explore the growing phenomenon of networked individualism, we exist in information and communication ecologies that are strikingly different from the ones that existed just a generation ago. In terms of education — as with relationships, work, and much else — networked individuals have the potential to connect, and to learn, anything, anywhere, any time.
In this context, I examined three spaces in which networked educators meet networked students, and explored the affordances of these different spaces. The three spaces I examine are: physical classrooms; bounded online spaces (e.g. VLEs, closed online communities); and open online spaces (the web, open source tools and social media such as Twitter, blogs, wikis, etc.). This is illustrated in the diagram below (also on Flickr) which builds on Alec Couros‘s original diagram of The Networked Teacher. 9625533767_2948033057_oWhen we meet in physical classrooms and bounded online spaces, we learn and relate to one another but we cannot simultaneously learn with and from our networks, nor can we share what we are learning in the classroom (physical or virtual) with our networks. However, when we encounter one another in open online spaces, or Networked Publics as defined by danah boyd, we can interact and learn with our networks — communicating with one another, sharing our ideas and our work. And of course, we can share our Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) themselves. Open online spaces can become what Kris Gutiérrez, et al, call “Third Spaces” of learning; not formal learning space, not informal learning space, but a combined space. I find this concept of a “third space” very helpful in thinking about the possibilities of open online spaces for students and educators.
In open online spaces we are not limited by rigid identities and role definitions, as we tend to be in physical classrooms and bounded online spaces. Educators and students can engage with one another as learners and as social peers. When educators create opportunities for interacting with students in open spaces, we can teach and model digital and network literacies in authentic ways. Many students already have confident social digital identities, but developing an (online) identity as a learner, a writer, a scholar, a citizen — this requires practice, reflection and support.

The affordances of open online spaces for learning are many. Learners can establish new connections, within and beyond the classroom, based on their interests & passions. Learners can connect, share and work with others across the boundaries of institution, education sector, geography, time zone, culture and power level. And learners can build Personal Learning Networks which will serve them long after individual modules, courses and even programmes are finished. By engaging together in open online spaces we  encourage and support students as they engage in participatory culture (see Henry Jenkins).

In my presentation I shared several examples of learning and assessment in open spaces at different levels of education — primary, secondary and third-level.

In the 2nd year Professional Skills module which I teach, in a BSc Computing and IT programme, students develop their research, writing and social media skills. We use open tools and open practices in many ways:

  • We use Twitter (@CT231 and #ct231) to engage in conversations with people beyond our module, e.g. authors we are reading, other students, other educators, etc.
  • Students give Ignite presentations in class on topics of their own choice. Their presentations are shared in a CT231 Student Showcase using; some presentation videos are also shared using Bambuser. Both enable communication to and feedback from people outside of our class.
  • We participated in the #icollab project in 2013, joining students from 4 other institutions (Salford, Berlin, Barcelona, Auckland NZ) to share student-created media, peer-to-peer. Students from Salford and Auckland used Galway (CT231) students’ presentations to develop their own ideas and presentations; the process will continue in 2014 with Galway students building on the work of other #icollab students.
  • Students openly shared their final Digital Media Projects, using Twitter and other social media to spread the word and invite feedback.

In terms of assessment in these open online spaces, students collectively created the rubrics for assessing their presentations and digital media projects. But that was not the whole story. Through engaging in open practices throughout the term, we became a learning community that was not confined to one classroom or one online space. The classroom walls thinned progressively as the term progressed, so that we truly became nodes in a broader network — sharing work openly, engaging in discussion, inviting and giving feedback. The main assessments for the module — the presentation and digital media project — were opportunities for students to chose their own topics, media, tools and ways of working (individual or team), to express their own authentic voices, and to share, engage and learn beyond the bounds of our classroom.

I discussed many of these ideas further in Radio EDUtalk conversations connected with the conference: with Karl Leydecker and John Johnston immediately after the keynote, and in a more wide-ranging discussion with Kenji Lamb, John Johnston and David Noble one week later. There are many fascinating conversations from conference participants on the Radio EDUtalk website, all collected under the #easc13 hashtag — well worth checking out.

My sincere thanks to the all of the wonderful educators I met at eAssessment Scotland, especially Lynn Boyle for the warm Dundee welcome; David Walker and Kenji Lamb for outstanding conference organisation; Helen Keegan for inspiration on a grand scale, Doug Belshaw for (even) more goodness re: open badges, Mark Glynn for support and more new ideas, Sue Beckingham and David Hopkins for sharing their learning and good practice so generously, and Cristina Costa for encouragement on the PhD journey. And it was a JOY to meet several more Twitter friends for the first time! So happy to have met Sheila McNeil, Martin Hawksey, Derek Jones and Barry Ryan.
Finally, for dealing with surprise audio problems in the hall on the morning of my presentation, thanks to David, Kenji and the tech team. The unexpected glitch was great practice for us all in “dealing with uncertainty”. Stephen Heppell would be proud. :)

Photo: Dundee Railway Bridge, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Tim Haynes

On being an (open) educator

My thanks to the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) for inviting me to give a keynote at the EdTech13 conference at University College Cork recently. My aim was to capture a moment in time — of ourselves as educators, the education structures within which we operate, current narratives about Higher Education, and this historical moment — and to explore the concept of openness, specifically open education. The presentation is part of an ongoing exploration of open education with which I, and many of us, are engaged. I look forward to continuing the discussion.


My thanks to the ILTA EdTech13 organisers and to all of the excellent speakers and workshop presenters at the conference. I very much enjoyed reconnecting with Sian Bayne (@sbayne), who spoke about the University of Edinburgh MOOC experience; as well as many educators and friends from across Ireland. I enjoyed meeting for the first time Eoin O’Dell (@cearta) who gave an excellent presentation on copyright (in Ireland and globally), and Kyle Peck and Catherine Augustine from Penn State University, who were happy to engage in ongoing discussions about creativity, collaboration, open education, and the agency of educators in creating the future of education.
You can find links to their presentations on Thoughts and Links from EdTech13 – a great collection of #EdTech13 resources compiled by Bernie Goldbach (@topgold). Thanks for your ever-useful curation, Bernie!

International student collaboration with #icollab


Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 Martin Fisch

Over the coming weeks, 2nd year Computer Science & IT students at NUI Galway will have the opportunity to collaborate with students in Spain (Barcelona), Germany (Berlin), New Zealand (Auckland) and the UK (Salford) on the iCollaborate or #icollab project. The project, now in its third year, is described by Helen Keegan as “a community of practice where… students work together on creative social tech projects that cross disciplines, levels, time and space.” I’m delighted to be joining Helen, Mar Camacho, Ilona Buchem, Thom Cochran and Averill Gordon — and our students — in participating in #icollab. Our CT231 class at NUI Galway will be bringing Ireland into #icollab for the first time.

Coordinating a project with students in 5 countries, crossing 12 time zones, and working in different terms has its challenges. But the project coordinators decided at the start to view these differences as an asset. Students in each location share their work and students in other locations can engage and connect — sometimes immediately, sometimes later that day, sometimes much later. As Helen Keegan describes:

“We’re now looking at the ‘tag-team model’ of education: the projects never end, as there is always a cohort to carry on, and lead into the next group, and when they overlap that’s great – that’s where the genuine collaboration happens. …Traditionally, we deliver modules/courses, neatly chunked into 12 weeks, with units of assessment, leading to grades etc. and that’s the way things are (generally) done. I’m not saying scrap all of that, but I do think that modules are best served as springboards to other things. Increasingly, students are connecting across levels and cohorts through Twitter and now we have ex-students getting together with current students, undergrads coming to postgrad classes (and vice versa) as they’ve connected online and have a genuine interest in getting involved in other groups/further curricula outside of their taught modules.”

As the Galway group’s first foray into sharing across those boundaries, CT231 students are posting their Ignite presentations online (via the CT231 Student Showcase), inviting feedback and conversation. In a Google+ hangout last week with NZ colleagues, Thom and Averill asked me if CT231 students would also be willing to post videos of their presentations, as another means of students connecting and sharing. The following day we did a trial run of this in class using the Bambuser app. Bambuser enables live video streaming from mobile phones or webcams. Using the app is simple: one click opens the app, one click records and streams (in public or private), and one click stops recording and uploads to the user’s Bambuser page. Once posted on that page, others can view the video and add comments.

bambuser captureOne of our student presenters agreed to be filmed this week so that we could trial the app and learn how best to use it for recording presentations (thanks, Jack!). The experiment was a success and we learned some valuable tips for future recordings. After sharing the video via #icollab, feedback from New Zealand was available to us the following morning (thanks, Thom!). We look forward to extending the collaboration with students in the coming weeks.

Right now I’m looking forward to the next weekly Wednesday night Google+ hangout with Helen, Mar, Ilona, Thom and Averill and discussions with my students the following afternoon, as we collectively create the terms and the vision for #icollab 2013.

Image source: CC BY-SA 2.0 marfis75

MOOCs: Community as Curriculum

learning in a MOOC

Like many educators I know, the start of 2013 has been about MOOCs. I’ve been participating in #etmooc — the Educational Technology & Media MOOC started by Alec Couros, Alison Seaman and a great team, and #edcmooc — E-learning & Digital Cultures, organised by another great team at the University of Edinburgh (and hosted by Coursera). Both have gotten off to lively starts, with thousands participating and activity spread across Google+ Communities, Twitter, Facebook, course blogs and thousands of participant blogs, among other places.

Before diving headlong into Digital Storytelling (Week 4 of #etmooc) and metaphors of the Future in Digital Culture (Week 2 of #edcmooc), I’m pausing to reflect on the learning process, or rather my personal learning process in these courses. I’d participated in other connectivist or cMOOCs previously but only intermittently; a few sessions each of Change11 and #CFHE12 last year. To be honest, I didn’t make a full commitment to either, but in each case I engaged with new ideas, new blogs and new people — all of which was valuable.

My intention this time was to bring something different to my MOOC participation: focus. Even without participating in every webinar, watching every video or reading every article or blog post, I intend to complete each course from start to finish. Like many other participants, my goals at the start were mixed. I want to learn more, through engaging with others, about the areas being explored in each MOOC (connected learning, the open education movement and digital literacies/citizenship in #etmooc, digital and learning cultures in #edcmooc); to contribute to conversations and sessions in areas where I have experience, both as a learner and a teacher (e.g. digital literacies, digital identity); to learn more, through both observation and participation, about organising and facilitating large, open groups of learners; and to challenge my thinking and reflect on my own learning processes. I may already consider myself an open learner and digital scholar, but the more I change my practices — the more I “unlearn” — the more I uncover assumptions and practices which can be (need to be) challenged even further.

Three weeks into #etmooc and one week into #edcmooc… and the water is fine. I started with #etmooc and the energy created there has been phenomenal. In some ways, this has detracted from my #edcmooc experience in that I have less time — but in other ways there is great synergy. This is partly because many people are participating in both MOOCs, but that’s not the only reason. Although I wouldn’t always choose to participate in two MOOCs at once (!) I’m finding that it is possible to be in two MOOC ecosystems at once and to participate and collaborate in and across both.

In Dave Cormier’s excellent #etmooc session on Rhizomatic Learning last week — the source for both the title of this blog post  and the quote by Alec Couros in the image above — he reviewed his 5 steps to succeed in a MOOC: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus. As I’m experiencing, first in #etmooc and now in #edcmooc, connected learning can be powerful when it progresses to networking, clustering and focus.

For me this has happened around digital identity — a focus of much of my own learning, teaching and research. Through both Twitter and the Google+ communities for each MOOC, I’ve found others thinking and engaging with the course ideas who are reflecting particularly around issues of identity and digital identity. I’ve engaged in some great discussions after reading thought-provoking blog posts by Angela Towndrow on understanding digital identity and connection, Carolyn Durley on developing a voice as a connected learner, Jen Ross (also a member of the #edcmooc team) on online teacher presence, and (via Jen) Amy Collier on the online teacher’s body. Blogs, and the ensuing conversations, have become my prime place for conversation and learning in both MOOCs.

This mightn’t be the same for everyone — but that is the power of open and connected learning. We define our own paths, we make our own connections, we chart our own learning journeys. At the risk of conflating these two MOOCs (there are, of course, differences), in both #etmooc and #edcmooc there is a strong sense of connection and community, despite the huge scale. Regular sessions — webinars, Twitter chats, Google+ hangouts — are like social glue, as Alec Couros describes, objects for sociality and study. The networking and clustering continue in smaller interest-driven groups. Of course not all participants will have the same experience and as the number and variety of MOOCs (both ‘x’ and ‘c’ varieties) expands there’s still much to learn about MOOCs and scale, accessibility and sustainability. However, in the face of the very public failure of another Coursera MOOC this week, #etmooc and #edcmooc are examples of how connectivist MOOCs can work well to facilitate powerful learning.

Quoting Dave Cormier: “If we make community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale. It’s all about belonging.”

Image source: CC BY 2.0 Catherine Cronin

My #etmooc introduction

intro image

As with most MOOCs, the first week of #etmooc was a whirlwind of navigating new spaces, connecting with new people (as well as some old friends) and getting an overall sense of the course and the community. There’s a positive vibe in #etmooc that I’m enjoying. The Google+ community is proving to be a great place for conversations and sharing ideas, resources and feedback.

I welcomed the first week’s challenge of creating an introduction using a new tool. I’d been wanting to try Mozilla Popcorn Maker since learning about it a couple of months ago. Popcorn Maker enables you to enhance, remix and share web content such as links, maps, images, video, audio and live feeds — a unique tool. Well, a few technical setbacks later, and with some expert help from Laura Hilliger, I completed my intro today (not a moment too soon, as it’s the start of Week 2!).

=> my #etmooc intro  (using Mozilla Popcorn Maker)

A few fascinating #etmooc posts and conversations over the past couple of days… but that will have to wait for my next post.

#etmooc begins!


And so it begins! Over the next several weeks I’ll be participating in #etmooc, a MOOC defined as somewhere between a course and a community aiming to tend to the latter. #etmooc’s rather broad title is Educational Technology and Media. What’s attracted me is that it’s a connectivist MOOC or cMOOC in which over 1500 people will be working together, collaboratively and cooperatively, on the shared problems of education and society.

The list of co-conspirators for the MOOC is long and varied, but the heart of the group of organizers is Alec Couros, whose passion for open, connected learning is huge.

The topics we’ll explore in #etmooc are Connected Learning, Digital Storytelling, Digital Literacy, The Open Movement and Digital Citizenship. These topics are familiar to many of us — I explore many of them in my own teaching. But I’m hoping that #etmooc will be an opportunity to dig deeper, into the topics and into myself — my assumptions, my “well worn paths” of thinking — to challenge myself and to learn, in community.

Intrigued? Interested? If so, check out the #etmooc website, Google+ community, #etmooc tweets and the blog hub of #etmooc participants. You can join #etmooc for the entire journey or even just occasionally. All are welcome and it’s not too late. :)

Next blog post, my #etmooc intro… coming soon!

We connect, we learn, we move into the future together.

Image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 marfis75 

Change, (Higher) Education, and Us

History has much to teach us about change. Time and again, social changes which begin with seemingly improbable goals bring about new realities, becoming the fabric of our lives. We each will have personal examples of this. From my childhood in New York City to my nearly 20 years living in the west of Ireland, examples abound. The remarkable becomes the accepted.  Looking back from our current vantage point, many major social changes seem as if they were inevitable.

Today we are living through a time of enormous change in education. The pace of developments in open online education, in particular, has been dizzying: OER, Open Courseware, iTunesU, the Khan Academy, connnectivist MOOCs, institutional MOOCs, open badges. In the past seven months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Udacity, Coursera, MITx, EDx and TEDEd. What might higher education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Will our universities look the same, serve the same purposes? In all likelihood, they will not. And when we assess our education institutions at that future point, will we say: “Of course. Given the changes occurring in technology and society, the change was inevitable.”

I was asked to give one of the keynotes at the recent Galway Symposium on Higher Education (described in a previous post). The theme of the symposium, “The Written Word”, gave much scope for participants to consider not just writing but learning, teaching, literacies, assessment, openness and creativity. I welcomed the opportunity to focus on change, particularly  recent developments in open education, and to consider re-imagining the future of higher education.

As with social change, our voice — our vote — in education is essential to creating the future. My heart sinks when I hear wonderful educators say, “I don’t know anything about/I don’t have time for… [fill in the blank: Twitter, blogging, even social bookmarking, etc.]“. I know that this means that their voices will likely not be part of educational futures which are being shaped now.

It’s not about age or the hopefully-dead Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants argument. (And anyway, why would it be about age, when our students are of all ages? As educators we surely are seeking to engage and include all of our students.) And it’s not about using this tool or that, or being for or against using a VLE. I think that the future is being shaped by educators who are open to change, open to continuing to learn, and open to learning from failure. These are the educators who inspire both their peers and their students.

In January 2012 Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland. In his speech at that occasion he spoke of the role of the university in moving boldly into the future:

“The university is, and remains I suggest, a space from which new futures have always emerged and must do so again. The ethos of independent scholarship is what delivers a previous scholarship’s achievements into the present and challenges that scholarship for renewal and replacement… To navigate successfully through today’s troubled, uncertain, and probably uncharted, waters, now, more than ever before, we need vision, foresight and bold strategies. Now, more than ever, an original and confident education system is needed…”

We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. In moves toward open education, many long-held practices are being re-evaluated: open publishing questions (blind) peer review; the use of social media questions the “walled gardens” of classrooms and VLEs; pedagogical research questions the effectiveness of lecture as a teaching method, new educational initiatives outside higher education will continue to question the cost/benefit ratio of university degrees. What are your opinions? Which new practices are worth developing? Which current practices still hold value? Which practices do we wish to hold onto, and which should be left behind? Only those willing to engage with these new technologies and new practices will be in a position to evaluate them, and to make decisions which shape the future of education.

CC and publicly available images:

Rosa Parks, donated by Corbis-Bettmann, Shavar Ross (Flickr); President Barack Obama on Rosa Parks bus, The White House (Flickr); Presidential Inauguration, Michael D. Higgins, Irish Defence Forces (Flickr); Separate factions on Irish Street, Downpatrick, Burns Library, Boston College (Flickr); Mary Robinson and Nadhifa Ibrahim Mohamed in Somalia, Trocaire (Flickr); Dunnes Stores strikers, Trocaire (Flickr) – used with permission; NUI Galway, Nelson Mandela visit, 20 June 2003


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