Taking a broader view at #ALTC

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini
CC BY-SA iliasbartolini (London, September 12th, 2015)

Many of us talk of “blurring boundaries” in education — between online and offline, our classrooms and the world, formal and informal learning, the roles of learner and teacher, research and practice, etc. Yet at last week’s ALT Conference in Manchester, UK, another boundary was challenged. Thanks particularly to two excellent keynotes by Jonathan Worth and Laura Czerniewicz, we were invited to move beyond our immediate areas of focus as educators and researchers, and ask of ourselves: how can we renew the discussion and practice of education, particularly open/online/connected education, to address broader issues of injustice and inequality?

There will have been many experiences of ALTC. A few hundred people attended in-person and even more participated online — via the live stream, Twitter and/or Virtually Connecting. Maha Bali has written of her experiences at ALTC, Alan Levine of his story of connection, and Frances Bell of her experience of connection & disconnection. Some may view ALTC as a tech-focused conference, but this was not my experience. I attended for two of the three days and, as with any conference, could attend only a fraction of all the sessions. Yet the overall tenor of conference — judging from the two keynotes, the sessions I attended, and conversations with many others — was, to quote Donna Lanclos, one of people and pedagogy. And more than that, many speakers and participants discussed the challenging issues of power, ownership, agency and inequality with respect to further/higher education. In the face of current global humanitarian crises, these are urgent issues for us to address, both as educators and as citizens.

Jonathan Worth set the tone with his Day 2 keynote, acknowledging the vulnerability of learners and speaking openly of his own learning and vulnerability. Early in his career, Jonathan actively defended the copyright of his work. As digital photojournalism and the associated business models evolved, he began to see the difference between images (data, experiences) and photographs (physical artefacts). As he wove together ideas and stories, Jonathan drew a powerful connection between Photographers and Teachers. Both used to be considered one-to-many arbiters of meaning — but no longer. Yet both hold positions of relative power within Photographer-Subject and Teacher-Student relationships. As educators, we must acknowledge this and ask ourselves: “how can I empower people to tell their own stories?”. The most powerful part of this keynote was Jonathan’s honesty and humility about not only what he’s learned, but what he has yet to learn. His experience with Phonar helped him to realise that “learners together are more powerful than learners apart”, so he shared his questions with us, much food for thought:


Laura Czerniewicz‘s keynote on Day 3 was one which I will return to again and have already shared with others. In Considering Inequality as Higher Education goes Online, Laura noted how inequality pervades the entire landscape and she challenged us to create more inequality-informed practice, research, policy and advocacy. Drawing on Robin Mansell’s definition of two social imaginaries and Therborn’s Killing Fields of Inequality, Laura built a compelling picture of structural and global inequality. We require shared solutions to the challenges of inequality — particularly in further/higher education where, Laura noted: “the brutality of competition has opened a new era of global apartheid”. There are no simple solutions. We must do no less than reclaim the networked society. Education must be de-conolonised, in both face-to-face and online spaces. We should strive for more equal partnerships between the global North and global South. Open licensing and open practices provide some of the tools for this, but our main work is developing a deeper understanding of inequality and committing ourselves to challenging it, in all our work.

I highly recommend reading Jenny Mackness’s post The Micro and the Macro of the EdTech World in which she reflects on both keynotes. There’s also an extended comment from Jonathan Worth here — well worth reading.

Though not physically present at the conference, the important work of Audrey Watters, Kate Bowles and Paul Prinsloo was discussed during they keynotes and throughout the conference, as well as a recent blog post by George Siemens — all highlighting issues of trust, care, and equity/inequality. Other conference sessions which touched on these themes included:

These were just a few of the highlights of the conference for me. I missed other sessions I would have loved to attend by Helen Beetham, Steve Wheeler, Terese Bird, Andrew Middleton, Paul Gormley, Sheila McNeil, Sue Beckingham, Chrissi Nerrantzi, and others. In-person, online, and hybrid conversations (looking at you, Maha Bali and @VConnecting!) enriched the conference in so many ways. Warm thanks to all.

Image source: CC BY-SA Ilias BartoliniOne world, Refugees welcome (Flickr)

Taking a broader view at #ALTC

Ready & open for #altc 2015

CC BY 2.0 cogdog
CC BY 2.0 cogdog

Last year at this time I was busy preparing for my first visit to the ALT Conference #altc. This year, as I pack my bags, it feels like I’m returning to visit a wonderfully engaging, animated and inspiring group of friends and colleagues, and I can’t wait. Once again I’ll meet many Twitter friends — some for the first time and others who have become colleagues and friends. One of these is Vivien Rolfe, with whom I’ll be collaborating for a session on Thursday, September 10th. Our session “Go Open” addresses the conference theme of open educational practices (OEP).

Here’s an excerpt from our updated session description, and our video introduction (Viv’s idea :) ):

Considering the diverse array of educational approaches now claiming to be open, it has been suggested that the term ‘open’ has lost its way – or at the very least, means radically different things to different people. Perhaps, as Audrey Watters (2014) has suggested, this loss of focus has created confusion in the minds of those wishing to embrace open approaches. Multiple studies in Ireland, the UK and the US have shown a relatively low level of awareness of open educational resources (OER) among academic staff in higher education, a growing desire to use open materials, and a desire for clarity over copyright, ownership of academic work, and technical guidance (Alan & Seamen, 2014National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Ireland, 2015; Reed 2012, Rolfe 2012). So, what can educators in higher education do to gain a foothold in understanding OER and to further develop their open educational practices, for themselves and for their students? In institutions without adequate policy and supporting strategies, how can people get ready to ‘go open’ — both within and beyond their classrooms?

Our session emerges from the perspectives of two open educators, both committed practitioners and researchers of ‘open’ – not only in their individual teaching and learning practice, but also in championing openness as a necessary and democratic practice for education, at all levels. Emerging themes and conflicts regarding openness, OER and OEP are identified. These themes have informed the design of an open wiki which can be used by educators at all points on the openness continuum, from those just learning about openness and OER, to those wishing to enhance their open practice and effect wider change. The wiki shared at the conference is simply a starting point. All contributions are welcome.

Please do have a look at the wiki: wikieducator.org/GoOPEN. This is very much version 1.0. We would love your thoughts and ideas — via Twitter, our blogs, or by contributing to the wiki itself. All you need to become a contributor is a WikiEducator account — simple to create if you don’t have one already. If you’ve created or edited pages in Wikipedia, MediaWiki, FedWiki, etc., then you already know all you need to know in order to edit pages. If you haven’t done any of those — then this is a great wiki place to start :)

Viv and I have had many fascinating conversations already as we’ve prepared for this session. We look forward to engaging with many at #altc and beyond this week, both onsite and online. Please join us!

@catherinecronin  and  @vivienrolfe

Image: CC BY 2.0 cogdog

Ready & open for #altc 2015

Alone and together, moving and learning — #blimage

CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)
CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)

Thanks to a challenge from Steve Wheeler this afternoon I’m responding to the #blimage challenge. I love the idea — blogging in response to an image — concocted by Steve and Amy Burvall. I’ve seen a few #blimage posts fly by me this week, thought “I must do that!”, and now there’s no getting out of it ;)

Steve didn’t specify an image so I’m using the first image that comes to mind. Thanks to Robin Ashford this wonderful CC-licensed photo by Matt Wiebe has been in my mind all week. Robin used this as the closing image in her excellent presentation: Guiding learners towards digital fluency.

Such a powerful photo (thank you, Matt!). Firstly, there’s the idea of a frame or snapshot in time. What is happening just before or after this moment? What is happening just outside of the frame? Is this little girl running from her parents to her grandmother? running to keep up with a big brother or sister? perhaps running for the sheer joy of hearing the sound of her own footsteps in the echo-y train station? From this one image we don’t know. We can only imagine.

As an educator this feels familiar. When learners are silent or absent we often don’t know why. Silence or lurking can be so many things: thoughtful engagement, confusion, a crisis of confidence, a lack of time, a strategic reallocation of time elsewhere, or… who knows? What’s outside of the frame? It’s easy to make assumptions, especially when we operate (often subconsciously) with particular definitions of “engagement” or “success”, themselves propped up by the requirements of our various programmes and institutions. In another #blimage blog post today, Space to make ideas your own, the always-thoughtful Jeff Merrell writes about how he’s learning to allow more space and time for his students for emergent learning — i.e. learning to trust learners. Jeff’s post also led me back to my friend Helen Crump‘s #blimage post about learning as “an identity job”, once again highlighting the need for trusting learners, and building relationships with learners.

Another aspect of this photo is that I see myself here — apparently alone, but not alone. This past six weeks or so has been unusual in many ways for me. I lost two good friends at the start of June, a terribly sad time. I was less active online but connected with friends in many other spaces and places — funerals, kitchens, back gardens, and a few longs walks along Heaney’s Flaggy Shore.

I’ve also been engaged in data collection for my own research study, interviewing academic staff about where and how they learn and teach. I’m enjoying spending time with educators across a range of disciplines and interests as they share their thoughts, ideas, and values. This has been an enormous privilege. As has spending time with other scholars in recent weeks such as Caroline Kuhn, Kathrine Jensen, Leigh Graves Wolf, Mary Loftus and Pam O’Brien. My thanks to each of them — and I shall pass on the #blimage challenge :)

So while one frame of this summer might show me somewhat quiet on Twitter, and definitely quiet here on the blog, other frames would show something different — close connections, deep reflection, and rich learning. Alone and together, moving and learning.


Alone and together, moving and learning — #blimage

Navigating across boundaries: openness in higher education #OER15

The OER15 Open Education Conference held in Cardiff last week may be over, but the reflections, connections, and tweets (#oer15) are still simmering. For a flavour of the conference, excellent summary blog posts by Marieke Guy (Window boxes, battles, and bandwagons) and Grainne Conole (The OER15 conference) are well worth reading, as is Viv Rolfe’s post (with screencast): Open education: sustainability versus vulnerability and Sheila MacNeill’s account of her excellent keynote: Airing my open washing. The title of my session at OER15 was Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in higher education. Following are the slides and a short summary. I’d welcome your comments, either here in the blog, on Twitter (@catherinecronin), or in the Padlet I created to gather feedback during the session.

Slideshare: Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in HE


I’ve been a long-time advocate and practitioner of open education and now am engaged in PhD research in the area of open educational practices in higher education. Although the context of my current research is HE, I’m exploring learning beyond the bounds of the institution, focusing particularly on the boundary between formal and informal learning, and how educators and students navigate this boundary.


As networked individuals we continually engage in informal learning – any time, anywhere – based on our interests, our curiosity, and our passions. Through our informal learning practices we develop our own, necessarily personal, learning networks, communities, and identities. These networked and open practices often sit uneasily within formal education. As education professionals, many of us have found ways to integrate (to a greater or lesser extent) our open networked practices with our institutional roles. Bonnie Stewart has explored the complexities of this process in her recent PhD research:

… few scholars inhabit a solely digital, networked, or open educational sphere; many engage in networked scholarship while simultaneously working towards institutional academic goals and careers. This means navigating multiple sets of expectations and legitimacy standards at the same time, as well as negotiating institutional relationships with peers, superiors, and students for whom the participatory set of terms may be invisible or devalued. (Stewart, 2015)

But what about our students? How do students in higher education navigate these boundaries and complexities? Connected Learning is one approach that focuses on fusing informal and formal learning practices.

Connected Learning is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement through experiences laced with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks. (http://connectedlearning.tv)

Although its roots are in the K-12 sector, #connectedlearning principles and pedagogies increasingly are being adopted in higher education. A recent example is Connected Courses or #ccourses, a course offered openly online in autumn 2014, as well as “an emerging community of practice tied to an open network”. Another example is the Academic Learning Transformation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, or #vcualtlab, with the tagline “connected learning for a networked world”. This concept is explored by Laura Gogia, graduate fellow at VCU ALT Lab in The case for connected learning. And, of course, an exemplar of open, networked and connected learning in higher education is DS106 at the University of Mary Washington, and the larger project around Reclaim/Domain of One’s Own. It was a delight to meet Brian Lamb at OER15, who spoke about some of this work: The spaces of open educational experience. All of these open, networked, connected learning initiatives are focused on learner autonomy, with students as co-creators of both learning spaces and knowledge. However, these examples are by no means representative of higher education practice in general. As part of the recent Visitors and Residents research project across multiple higher education institutions in the US and UK, David White, et al, found that many tutors, lecturers, and other members of academic staff are openly sceptical about the academic use and validity of non-traditional online resources such as Google and Wikipedia, and as a result students often mask their informal learning practices.

This furtive thinking and behaviour around open-web resources such as Wikipedia masks the level of use of non-traditional resources and also masks the methods learners use to increase their understanding of subjects… The point at which learning takes place is often not being discussed because either explicitly or implicitly learners are being told by their educational intuitions or perceive that the educational institutions view that their information-seeking practices are not legitimate. (White, et al, 2014)

When educators advise students against using ubiquitous open tools such as Google, Wikipedia, and social media, or do not engage with students to find out what tools they already are using, and how – for finding information, for sharing information, for connecting with others – a valuable opportunity is lost. Without acknowledgement of the actual learning practices of students (the “state-of-the-actual” as described by Selwyn and Facer (2013)), we cannot support students in connecting their informal/personal learning practices, networks and identities with their formal/institutional learning practices, networks and identities. Building these connections is an important step towards learner independence and autonomy, as described by Richard Hall:

Developing the connections between formal and informal learning networks and spaces moves us towards an acceptance of a personalization and ownership of the learning process that coalesces within a range of spaces, networks and applications. In this way, there is hope that learners can develop agile agency in deploying new learning or literacies, within new contexts, and as a result enhance their outcomes. (Hall, 2009)


At OER15, I posed a question: to what extent do openness and open educational practices help students to navigate the boundary between formal and informal learning? Within the open education community, and at a gathering such as OER15, there is a shared understanding not just of the signifier ‘open’, but of its educational value. This is also my stance as an open education practitioner. However, as a researcher, and indeed as critical practitioners with a goal of “mainstreaming open education” (the theme of OER15), we must be prepared to theorise openness and to engage with critiques of open education. I summarised a few definitions, interpretations, and critiques of openness in my presentation, before concluding with my plans for future research. As a starting point, four distinct definitions of ‘open’ (as in ‘open education’ and ‘open educational resources’) were identified:

  1. open access/admission – available to all
  2. free – available at no cost
  3. openly licensed – available in the public domain or with a Creative Commons license (OER)
  4. open educational practice (OEP), characterised by sharing OER and ideas, working across open networks, and supporting students in doing the same

These definitions can be seen also as successive levels of openness, with each level building on the previous ones. Only level #3 and beyond are considered to be truly ‘open’ within the open education community – as it is these practices which enable legal reuse and repurposing of resources by others (see the 5 Rs Framework). To claim to be open while continuing proprietary practices (i.e. definition #2) has been identified as openwashing by both Michelle Thorne and Audrey Watters, i.e.having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices. As a straightforward example, most institutional or xMOOCs use definition #2, while connectivist or cMOOCs use definition #3 . When considering claims or critiques about openness in education, it is essential to identify which definition or level of ‘open’ is being used to make the case. There are further complexities, however. In general usage, the word ‘open’ has multiple definitions (oxforddictonaries.com). One definition is as a descriptive adjective, i.e. ‘open’ defined as ‘available’, ‘accessible’, or ‘receptive’. In this case, open is not a binary construct; one can discuss a continuum of openness, i.e. the degree to which, or the conditions under which, something is open. However, another definition of ‘open’ is as a state. In this case open is a binary construct, defined in relation to its opposite: e.g. not closed, not blocked, or not restricted. So which definition is correct when discussing open education, open educational resources (OER), or open educational practices (OEP)? In practice, both definitions are used. Again, it is essential to identify the definition being used in order to understand and assess any claim or critique of openness. David Wiley, for example, rejects the open/closed dichotomy, espousing the continuous construct:

‘Open’ is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our common-sense, every day experience teaches us that ‘open’ is continuous. (Wiley, 2009)

Yet, even among those who may agree that openness is a continuous construct rather than a binary state, there remain further differences. Richard Edwards has identified the interplay of openness and closed-ness in all educational practices, whether digital or face-to-face. A useful question to consider: do all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness?

Openness is not the opposite of closed-ness, nor is there simply a continuum between the two… An important question becomes not simply whether education is more or less open, but what forms of openness are worthwhile and for whom; openness alone is not an educational virtue. (Edwards, 2015)

There are additional recent critiques of openness which I will explore in the course of my research, including Knox (2013) and Oliver (2015). All analyses will include an examination of the specific interpretation of openness being used, as well as the theoretical underpinning of the respective arguments.


In my ongoing PhD research, I explore open educational practices in higher education. The two main research questions are:

  1. For all members of academic staff (full-time and part-time, permanent and adjunct) at one higher education institution: Why and how do academic staff use online tools and spaces (bounded and open) for research, learning and teaching?
  2. For selected members of academic staff who use open educational practices in their teaching, and their students: Why and how do students and staff interact in open online spaces in higher education, and how do individual students and staff enact and manage their digital identities in these spaces?

I await ethical approval for the study and am currently engaged in writing a literature review encompassing learning theories, open education, connected learning, networked learning, and Third Spaces — as well as searching for similar studies of academic staff and students. I will continue to write here in the blog to document thoughts and ideas, and to request feedback. Many thanks for reading this; your comments are very welcome. Postscript: Notably, each of the four keynotes at OER15 was excellent: Cable Green, Josie Fraser, Sheila MacNeill, and Martin Weller. All of these videos are available on in one playlist. Sincere thanks to the OER15 co-chairs, Haydn Blackey and Martin Weller for a wonderful conference and community gathering.


Edwards, Richard (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media, and Technology (online). Gogia, Laura (2014). The case for connected learning. VCU ALT Lab. Hall, Richard (2009). Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: The impact of the Read/Write web. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(1), 29-40. Knox, Jeremy (2013). The forum, the sardine can and the fake: Contesting, adapting and practicing the Massive Open Online Course. Selected papers of Internet Research. Oliver, Martin (2015). From openness to permeability: Reframing open education in terms of positive liberty in the enactment of academic practices. Learning, Media and Technology (online). Selwyn, Neil & Keri Facer (2013). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave MacMillan. Stewart, Bonnie (2015). Open to influence: What counts as academic influence in scholarly networked Twitter participation. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(3), 1-23. White, David, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Donna Lanclos, Erin M. Hood & Carrie Vass (2014). Evaluating digital services: a Visitors and Residents approach. JISC infoKit. Wiley, David (2009, November 16). Defining “Open”. iterating toward openness. [blog].

Navigating across boundaries: openness in higher education #OER15

Marvellous Mapping: Visitors & Residents workshop in Galway

Creative Commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) Flickr photo shared by Catherine Kolodziej (Calyon)

As networked individuals each of us makes choices – on a daily and sometimes minute-by-minute basis – about how we share, interact, learn, and teach within and across different online spaces. We do this in the multiple (and often overlapping) contexts within which we work and live… as students, educators, researchers, professionals, parents, citizens, etc. In each of these roles, but perhaps particularly as educators, it is important to reflect on our identities and practices in online spaces – and how we learn and teach in those spaces.  Visitors & Residents (V+R) is a tool which helps us to do this.

Last week – to celebrate Open Education Week 2015 – we were fortunate to have Dave White and Donna Lanclos here at NUI Galway to facilitate a Visitors & Residents workshop, “Marvellous Mapping”, sponsored by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland. Dave White is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the Arts London and Donna Lanclos is Associate Professor for Anthropological Research at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Dave is the originator of the Visitors and Residents concept, and both he and Donna are on the research team that developed the related JISC infoKit.

Creative Commons licensed (BY-SA) Flickr photo shared by catherinecronin

Thirty-five educators – lecturers, tutors, librarians, educational technologists, researchers – participated in the workshop on a gloriously sunny day here in Galway to reflect on and discuss our online identities and practices using Visitors & Residents mapping. Following is a short summary of the workshop.

Visitors & Residents – the concept

Visitors and Residents is a way of describing the range of ways we engage with the Web. In particular, V+R encourages us to think about the social traces (rather than data traces) that we leave online. In Visitor mode, you might access an online resource in a purely instrumental way, i.e. simply to get some information. In Resident mode, you view the web as a series of spaces or places; you engage with people – not just with information. As a Resident you typically have a profile, and at the extreme end of residency you are visible to others on the open web, i.e. you will show up in search results (e.g. your Twitter profile, your blog, etc.).

We are never wholly Visitors or Residents, however. Our behaviour depends on our choices and our context, i.e. what we are doing and with whom. V+R is a continuum. Somewhere in the middle of these two poles, Visitor and Resident, is where a lot of online activity happens – behavior which is “resident in character but within bounded communities”, i.e. resident behaviour which is not visible on the open web. This would include interactions within Facebook groups, within members-only wikis or discussion forums, or in module discussion boards within VLEs, for example.

V+R mapping

Dave and Donna described Visitors & Residents mapping as a useful exercise for “making the virtual visible”, and thus for reflection. The metaphor helps us to talk about the digital as a space or a place: “the web is a place where we do stuff… mapping helps make it more visible.” The two axes used in V+R mapping are a horizontal Visitor-Resident axis and a vertical Personal-Institutional (or Personal-Professional) axis. You can then add the various tools and spaces that you use to this map, locating them according to how you use them.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 13.50.15
Simple Visitors & Residents map by Dave White

This is described in more detail by Dave White in the video below:

For education professionals the line is often blurry between the professional and the personal. Convergence is an interesting concept to consider: how comfortable are we with this, or do we deliberately want to separate these? There are many ways to separate the personal from the professional, or even to separate different strands within our personal and professional lives. Some people separate these by having different personas, e.g. on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, etc. Some enact boundaries by using different devices for different activities, e.g. gaming on their PC, work on their laptop, no email on their phone, etc. We make our own boundaries, consciously or unconsciously – separating or merging the different spheres of our lives. During our discussions at the workshop, there were differing opinions about this. Some found that making their personas and practices separate (personal vs. professional) made things easier, others found that this made things more difficult. One thing was clear, however, and that was that the act of mapping, of making visible, was a significant aid to both reflecting on these ideas and discussing them with others.

During the workshop, each participant created their own map and had the opportunity to share and discuss their map with others. As a follow-on activity, Donna and Dave asked participants to think about where they might want to change their existing practices, i.e. what might they like to do more or less of? Participants annotated their maps with arrows to show the direction of these proposed changes.

When discussion moved to our practices as educators – in various roles (lecturers, tutors, learning technologists, librarians, etc.) – the VLE was the focus of some interesting debate. Some participants see the VLE moving on from being a repository to becoming/being another learning space. One participant, a tutor in a fully-online course, noted that the discussion forum within the VLE for that programme is considered to be the “heart of the course”. But what do students think? In their work with students, Donna and Dave found that many students liked the idea of the VLE as a consistent home or a hub for each module, with other connections (e.g. social media) being voluntary. As recounted by Dave, one of these students noted that they liked the fact that “there’s always somewhere to come back to”. In general, for undergraduate students, many of whom are just forming their voice, it is useful to have a home, a place to start and to return. But must this home be within a VLE, or could it be a more open, networked hub? As one participant noted, for those who operate predominantly in Resident mode it can be tough to have a VLE-based course home page. This can be “just another place to visit”, “a dead end” rather than a place on the web that can be integrated with other learning activities and networks. Compromises can surely be struck. As educators, we need to think about the best ways to facilitate a home or hub for our courses – depending on the particular course, the context, the needs and preferences of our students, and our own abilities, experience, values, and preferences.

V+R reflections

There were many other dicussions on the day, but this summary provides an overview. Overall, the workshop provided educators with an opportunity to reflect on our own online  practices; to share perspectives on learning spaces, digital identities, and openness; and to consider how such insights could inform our teaching practices. The Visitors & Residents mapping exercise proved to be a useful starting point for reflecting on overall approaches to learning and teaching, for informing ways to work with students online, and for considering the relationship between the formal institution and online culture.

On a personal note, it was a joy to meet and work with Donna and Dave in Galway after connecting online for some time. Along with my co-conspirators in CELT, Sharon Flynn and Iain MacLaren, we all enjoyed the “eventedness” (thanks Dave!) of bringing the workshop to fruition. Thanks to all of the workshop participants from Galway, Donegal, Sligo, Limerick, Athlone, and Dublin (and remote participants from within and beyond Ireland) for your openness, enthusiasm, and thoughtful feedback. CELT will follow up with the specific requests for training and information which emerged during the workshop.

A video recording of the workshop is available here; and a Storify of tweets (thanks to Sharon Flynn) captures the spirit of the day very well. A reflective blog post by Mairead Seery sums up the workshop beautifully:

The take-home message for me was that even when we inhabit the digital spaces of the online world, we are seeking something very simple and fundamentally human: a sense of belonging, connection and community, moments of fellowship with others.  For educators who are working to create meaningful learning experiences for students in real, online and blended learning environments, that is something worth remembering.


White, Dave & Le Cornu, Alison (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16 (9).

Marvellous Mapping: Visitors & Residents workshop in Galway

#EdTechBook launch!

15884117317_7fa8b69065_oI’ve had the pleasure of witnessing an impressive collaborative authoring project during the past several months. A group of 15 dynamic and talented EdTech professionals — coordinated by the dynamic and talented David Hopkins — has just published The Really Useful #EdTechBook. As described by David, the book is about “the experiences, reflections, hopes, passions, expectations, and professionalism of those working with, in, and for the use of technology in education” — mostly in higher and further education, but also in primary schools and various workplaces. The authors draw on their own experiences, supported both by research of their own as well as existing research in education, education technology, pedagogy, creativity, and innovation.

I was delighted to be asked to write the foreword for the book, which you can find below.

The book is for sale now — the official launch date is January 28th. Please check the #EdTechBook hashtag, or the link to the book above, for more information. Excellent blog posts also have been written by many of the contributors, including Sharon Flynn, Sheila MacNeill, Sue Beckhingham, and others. I believe it will be a rich resource for many.


“Dialogue cannot exist in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people.” – Paulo Freire

Fires rage all around us in education today. As educators we face many familiar challenges, some of which have taken on new forms in recent years. What is the purpose of education, of further and higher education? Who should fund it? Who benefits? Where does learning happen? What role could and should technology play? Whose technology? At individual and institutional levels we face new challenges also. Among these: How best can we support learning in a landscape in which the boundaries between formal and informal learning are blurring? How do we support networked learning in the age of surveillance? How do we, and our students, effectively manage our data, our privacy, our digital identities?

Your work will no doubt be affected by many of these challenges – whatever your discipline, your education philosophy, your politics, or your role. And it is these challenges which inform much of the work of learning technologists.

The role of the learning technologist, particularly in further and higher education, is relatively new and has evolved considerably in its short history (Conole, 2004; Hopkins, 2013; Oliver, 2002). This volume is authored by a diverse group of learning technologists who share their experiences of and reflections on their work. More importantly, however, they reveal much about their individual approaches to learning and teaching, to technology, to change, and to the future. The authors define themselves variously as learning technologists, educational developers, digital pedagogues, lecturers, and consultants. What unites them, however, is a collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach to curriculum development, and to professional and personal development. This is, at its simplest, a collection of articles by learning technologists. But the collection is also a live network of trusted and generous education professionals, each of whom describes their own learning as well as how they collaborate and support learning at their institutions. The Freirean spirit is evident here in the critical questioning and dialogic approach; in the joy and love of learning and of people.

There is plenty of polemic today about how technology could and should be used in education, and no shortage of criticism about how it is being used. This volume is neither. The collection is a resource for anyone interested in the use of technology in education and learning, authored by those responsible for the messy reality of “managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology” (ALT, 2010). The authors draw on their own experiences, supported both by research of their own as well as existing research in education, education technology, pedagogy, creativity, and innovation.

I am not a learning technologist. But like many of the contributors to this collection I consider myself an open educator, committed not just to open educational resources (as this book will be), but to open teaching, open thinking, and open learning. I invite you to dive into this volume, as I have done, with that spirit. Read about approaches that you agree with, as well as approaches with which you may disagree; read about work that is familiar to you, as well as work that is new to you. I join each of the authors in hoping that these contributions will form part of a wider and ongoing discussion about technology, learning, and the future of education.


ALT. (2010). What is learning technology?

Conole, G. (2004). The role of learning technology practitioners and researchers in understanding networked learning. Proceedings of the Networked Learning Conference 2004, Lancaster University, UK.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Hopkins, D. (2013). What is a Learning Technologist? 1st edition.

Oliver, M. (2002). What do learning technologists do? Innovations in Education and Training International, 39(4), 245-252.

Image source: David Hopkins, Flickr. The Really Useful #EdTechBook

#EdTechBook launch!

Visitors and Residents mapping workshop in Galway

We are delighted to be hosting a visit by Donna Lanclos and David White to the National University of Ireland, Galway on March 13th next. Donna and Dave will co-facilitate a workshop entitled Marvellous Mapping: Reflecting on online identities and practices using Visitors and Residents mapping. In the workshop, we’ll explore the Visitors and Residents (V&R) concept and use the V&R mapping exercise to reflect on our online identities and practices, and the identities and practices of our students.

The workshop is free to attend and will take place from 11am to 3pm on Friday, March 13th. The event is sponsored by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland as part of the 2014-15 National Seminar Series — and is also cross-listed as an event in Open Education Week 2015. Please consider joining us in Galway! If you cannot attend, the main section of the workshop will be live streamed and we’ll also be active on Twitter using the Visitors and Residents hashtag #vandr (latterly shared by some lovely guitars :) ). To sign up for the workshop or to request details of the live stream nearer the time, please check out the Eventbrite link.

Why Visitors and Residents? For our students, to be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and the predominantly closed world of the institution. Many students experience a dissonance between their experiences of formal and informal learning. It is not just students who experience this dissonance, of course. As networked individuals, educators also make choices about the extent to which we learn, teach, share, and interact within and across different online spaces. How do we establish our identities and our presence, and build learning communities, in different online spaces?
The Visitors and Residents approach has been described by Dave White as “a pragmatic way of understanding online learning practices which often go undiscussed in education”. The V&R mapping exercise has proved to be an excellent starting point for reflecting on overall approaches to teaching, for informing ways to work with students online, and for considering the relationship between the formal institution and online culture.
The Marvellous Mapping workshop will be divided into 3 parts:
  1. Summary of recent research in the area of the “digital student” and networked scholarship
  2. Guided exercise using the Visitors & Residents mapping tool
  3. Discussion & reflection on the mapping exercise

Overall, the workshop will provide educators with an opportunity to reflect on their own online  practices, to share perspectives on learning spaces and openness, and to consider how such insights could inform our teaching practices — particularly with respect to bridging the divide between formal and informal learning. Please join us!

 Image source: David White, TALL blog. What exactly are your students up to online?


Visitors and Residents mapping workshop in Galway

Reflections on Federated Wiki Happening 2014

CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog (Flickr)
CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog (Flickr)

The year 2014 ended, for me, with a 2-week-long dive into Federated Wiki Happening (#FedWikiHappening & #FedWiki). With a full house here at home for the Christmas/New Year holidays (a rare and treasured occurrence these days), throwing my hat into the #FedWikiHappening ring for the last two weeks of December seemed a bit optimistic (reckless?) on my part, but despite having limited time it was Oh so worth it. Enormous thanks to Mike Caulfield for inviting me and others to take part, and for his and Ward Cunningham’s work in making it not just possible but a lively and messy, even passionate, exploration of federated wiki collaboration.

Smallest Federated Wiki is the work of Ward Cunningham. At its simplest, the notion of federated wiki moves beyond the “consensus engine” of wikis like Wikipedia, where individual contributions on a particular topic cohere towards one accepted, canonical version. In a federated wiki, you write as you wish, adding your own pages to the wiki, and forking and editing pages created by others.

The radical idea of the wiki was to put an edit button on every page. The radical idea of the federated wiki is to put a “fork” button on every page. Cunningham’s vision is that you will have your own wiki, perhaps several wikis. When you see a page on someone else’s federated wiki that you want to edit, you can click “fork,” and the page is copied into your own wiki where you can edit it. The owner of the original wiki can then decide whether to merge your changes into the original page. [source]

A significant feature of a federated wiki is that different versions of ideas (pages) can exist simultaneously, with connections and conversations occurring between them, either in the wiki itself or in the wider social media ecosystem, e.g. Twitter, blogs, etc.

My introduction to the federated wiki concept came only recently, through a series of wonderful blog posts by Mike Caulfield (especially this one). The posts seemed to me a kind of deep thinking out loud about identity, networks, cooperation, collaboration and knowledge creation. The posts sparked thinking and conversations amongst quite a few people and some of us ended up participating in Federated Wiki Happening. Mike’s “health warning” at the start of FedWiki Happening was that Federated Wiki is hard to learn, easy to use. I’m not sure I got to the “easy to use” part, but I sure learned a hell of a lot.

So many possibilities have arisen in my mind as a result. My existing social media ecosystem – Twitter, blog, Flickr, etc. — seems now less than what it could be. I don’t think federated wiki will replace these identity-driven networks, but it could provide a unique space for idea generation and idea mining. My thinking is running along the lines of how might I/we use federated wiki in learning and teaching? Doing this seems both challenging and important to me, and I hope to continue some of those discussions with others over the next few months.

Most of my reflections on federated wiki at this moment, immediately after #FedWikiHappening, are circling around the ideas of identity, authorship, communication and voice.


When FedWiki Happening began, each participant was visually represented in the wiki by a simple but unique square, a gradient of two colours. Early on, based on the preferences of many of the participants, personal avatars were added so that individual contributors could be readily identified – contrary to the wiki convention of discoverable but not obvious. This seemingly simple change reflected deeper thinking about identity and collaboration. How important is it to know who has written a particular passage? Is this an absolute judgment or is it contextual? Are we carrying our existing biases (from identity-based social networks) into the wiki or might it be possible, even preferable, to leave behind the typical notions of authorship/ownership – while still leaving traces as to the original authors of particular words and ideas within the wiki? John Udell explored this in an excellent blog post Individual voices in the Federated Wiki chorus (and subsequent comments).

Notwithstanding the addition of our avatars, my belief is that we always write who we are. When writing in a personal, yet potentially multi-authored, wiki we may in fact be more rather than less free to write authentically. As Mike Caulfield writes in A Kinder, Gentler Attention Economy:

Writing in my fedwiki journal gives me the space I need to think without worrying about how interesting I’m being, whether I [am] contributing something new to the conversation. It gets my head out of the stream for a bit. It feels nice, like a personal library of slightly musty books on a beautiful rainy afternoon.

Maybe if a million people were using Federated wiki that feeling would disappear. Maybe I’d get addicted to forked pages, extensions, the like. Maybe having a thousand people on my feed would recreate the self-consciousness that exhausts my introvert self.

Maybe. But if there’s even a chance we could make the future less of the conversational pigpile that forms Twitter or the personal exhibitionism of Facebook and Instagram, we should pursue it. Federated wiki provides the routing and discovery architectures of current social media. But it also has a place for quietness. It allows one to attempt to break out of time, to see rather than react.

Federated wiki can be a unique space situated between sole ownership and no ownership, informed by the values of a gift economy. I write and share my ideas. They are open to change and to challenge, and may become part of someone else’s creation, far beyond what I may have imagined. I can re-appropriate those new ideas and build on them – or not. This is one of most essential values of openness, and indeed of open scholarship. The potential for new modes of authorship, collaboration and knowledge co-creation are here in federated wiki.

Different ways of communicating/creating

I was not alone in experiencing numerous struggles in FedWiki Happening, first in getting to grips with FedWiki mechanics – situating myself in a neighbourhood, writing and saving my ideas, forking (what does it really mean? when do I do it?) — but then in jumping into the wiki and interacting with 20 or so other “newbies”. Mike and Ward provided an outstanding level of tech support, care, and wild encouragement to all in FedWiki Happening (kudos and many thanks to them both). We brought our respective experiences and expectations to this new space, a Third Place, and we wrote and wrote (nearly 2000 wiki pages in just over two weeks). Many pages were written in non-personal way (e.g. Chorus of Voices), while others were written in a decidedly first-person way (e.g. Why I don’t like the Chorus of Voices analogy). And there were many, many variations in between.

One of the advantages of having “no one way” to write in the federated wiki (is this particular to the Happening, I wonder?) is that all voices, and all forms of voice, were equally accepted – or so it felt to me. It was like a breath of fresh air to read and to write in such a free way within a network of peers. Theory, technology, edtech talk, power, gender, philosophy, literature, poetry, and even recipes became part of the federated wiki fabric. Free connections between these, conversations about the connections, agreement and disagreement flowed – but all within a framework of respect and trust amongst the participants.

And there I pause to reflect. The 4 key ingredients of this experience were the federated wiki itself; the support provided by Mike, Ward and others; the participants, open thinkers every one; and the environment of trust, respect and care. All together: a powerful experience which has opened my mind to new possibilities for collaborating, learning, connecting, and being a scholar — not in an institutional-scholar sense, but in the sense of connecting with other thinkers, in both tightly knit and loosely coupled networks, using federated wikis. Much seems possible now. But how to build on what has been done? And how to ensure those 4 magic ingredients?


If you’d like to find out more about federated wiki and perhaps become involved, now or in the future, please check out Mike’s summary blog post, and do check out some of these terrific FedWiki posts written by participants.

I look forward to continuing the FedWiki thinking and exploring over the next few months, particularly in relation to my research on open education and digital identity. I am grateful to Mike for enabling me to work with him, as well as with some of the most valued people in my networks – Kate Bowles, Frances Bell, Maha Bali, Alan Levine, Whitney Kilgore and others – as well as to meet, connect and collaborate with still more vibrant and generous thinkers, including Alyson Indrunas, John Udell, Jason Green, and, of course, Ward Cunningham. Thank you all.

Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog What’s happening? FedWiki!

Reflections on Federated Wiki Happening 2014

the answer is not silence


The title of this post is from Audrey Watters’s powerful talk: Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent. If you haven’t read it, please do. For those of us who’ve experienced what Audrey talks about, it is truth, and immensely moving. For those who haven’t experienced what Audrey talks about, it will be eye-opening.

I grew up in New York City in the 1960s/70s. My degrees are in engineering and, like Audrey, Women’s Studies. Over a 30-year career in multinational corporations, my own business, community organisations, and higher education, I’ve worked as an engineer, a software engineer, an educator, and a researcher. Recently it feels like many of these strands of my life have been converging. Increasingly, I think and talk about connections between education, technology, equality, social justice, race, gender, pedagogy — a full circle. The personal is political. The educational is political.

In one week I’ll be taking leave from my post as lecturer and academic coordinator here at NUI Galway to move to full-time PhD research. In studying open education and digital identity practices, I’ll be speaking with educators and students about their interactions in open online spaces. Where do students and educators interact online? What happens there? What identities are enacted? How is power enacted? What do students and educators think about issues such as privacy, anonymity, data ownership, surveillance, and online harassment? How do they deal with these?

Many important and urgent questions lie at the nexus of education, technology, power, and cultural values. I aim to explore just a few of these by learning from and engaging with others, and by sharing my thinking and my work, openly.

The answer is not silence.

Image: typewriter on Flickr CC BY-SA catherinecronin

the answer is not silence

Getting started with Networked Scholars #scholar14

I’ve seen several tweets during the past few weeks about the Networked Scholars course — an open course organised by George Veletsianos. As described on the course’s Canvas site:

This 4-week course introduces participants to the tools and practices associated with academics’ participation in online social networks in order to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and otherwise develop their scholarship. Together we will explore ideas associated with digital scholarship, open scholarship, and social scholarship.

I have a keen interest in this topic, as well as being an admirer of George’s work — and of the team of people who will be contributing to the course: Bonnie Stewart, Laura Czerniewicz, and Royce Kimmons. Although the course has a hub on Canvas, I anticipate interacting with other participants mostly through our syndicated blog posts and Twitter (using the hashtag #scholar14), but we’ll see. I am looking forward to the conversations.

The course begins on October 20th. Why not consider joining? Check out the links above and/or the conversations on Twitter.

Getting started with Networked Scholars #scholar14