learning | reflecting | sharing

Category: Conferences

#dlRN15: Hope, Hands, and Stories

And so, the Digital Learning Research Network conference. I have been mulling over all-that-was-dlRN since leaving Palo Alto a week ago. I extended my stay in California for a few days to visit family before making the long journey back to Galway. It was a wonderful and memorable week. In looking at the photos I took over the course of the week — at Stanford University and in Palo Alto, Petaluma, and San Francisco — it seems the first and last photos tell the story of the week. So I’ll start there.

Stanford University Memorial Church22305856980_314803d474_o‘Hope’: Stanford University Memorial Church & 575 Castro, SF


I. Hope

dlRN15 was short and intense (2 days + an optional pre-conference workshop). It was not a conference about tech or ‘how to’ solutions. It was a conference united around clear values, namely a social justice vision of higher education and a belief in research as a tool for advocacy or, as Kristen Eshleman wrote, “a lever for positive change”. Many of us at dlRN had spent the days preceding the conference following tweets and updates from the ICDE Conference, held in South Africa during that same week, where many of the same themes were being discussed.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 13.25.43

After the #icdeunisa conference, Paul Prinsloo wrote beautifully about the need to reclaim the potential of education as liberation through pedagogies of hope:

Designing hope means stop speaking in the passive voice as if there were no perpetrators, no guilt, no abuse in the name of science and technology. In designing hope we need to resist these discourses and return the gaze on venture capital, on the privatisation of education, the neoliberal dogma. We need to reclaim the discourses, the commons, ourselves. We should critically look at the words we use in our strategies and planning documents and our obsession to measure, to be top, to be the best, to rise in the rankings. Somehow we must discover the beauty and simplicity of hope, and designing hope. Hope that a better life of all may, may just be possible.

The central question propelling much of the dlRN conference also — whether discussing non-traditional students, adjunct faculty, open education, MOOCs, FedWiki, learning spaces, educational philosophy, curriculum or pedagogy — was this: how can we work together to make (higher) education more equitable for all?

II. Hands

It was a privilege to engage with so many smart and kind people for 2+ days to consider this question and to try to break it down. It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, of course. Conversations diverged. I was frustrated, at times, at language and concerns that seemed to focus specifically on US higher education, many of which are different to issues and concerns in Ireland, Europe, and other parts of the world. But we speak from who we are and what we know. The conference chairs, Bonnie Stewart, Kate Bowles, Kristen Eshleman, Dave Cormier and George Siemens, individually and collectively created a space for dialogue that was open in the best sense — open-minded and open-spirited. We engaged with one another. I questioned assumptions — my own and others’. Sometimes we disagreed. At times we apologised. We talked, we listened. Overall, it was a space of compassion.

it seems almost

as though this is what a human life is,

to be passed from hand to hand,

to be borne up, improbably, over an ocean.

Moya Cannon (2011) ‘Hands

It was a privilege to share the space with so many wonderful people, not just in-person but virtually. The conference benefited immensely from virtual participation by so many. In addition to conversation channels on Twitter and Slack, the Virtually Connecting team enabled and facilitated multiple conversations. I was part of just one of these, but the full set is available on the Virtually Connecting YouTube channel. I also attended one of several conference sessions co-presented remotely by Maha Bali — this one along with the on-site Rebecca Hogue, Matt Crosslin, Whitney Kilgore and Rolin Moe. This worked beautifully for on-site participants (although I think Maha had some trouble hearing the audio on her end). We are learning. I left the conference with a deeper appreciation of the benefits and challenges of virtual participation. As someone living on the west coast of Ireland, I often rely on virtual participation in my teaching, learning, and research. After dlRN, I’m re-energised to push the boundaries even further. Thanks @VConnecting.

The most powerful part of the conference for me was the final wrap-up. I can’t recall a conference wrap-up which began with the questions asked by George Siemens: “What did we get wrong? What foundational assumptions about the conference were incorrect? and Did we surface research that will help us build towards our vision?” What a helpful starting point for post-conference activities. George Veletsianos spoke particularly powerfully in the wrap-up session, noting the need to create better futures for all students, as well as all who work in higher education. We will do this by cultivating compassion, avoiding reductionist approaches, and avoiding the creation of alternate power structures. A worthy challenge.

As I listened to the final wrap up, I sat back in my chair trying to make sense of all the emotions I felt, in awe of the capacity and willingness of the people in the room to be vulnerable, to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and their sheer resolve to make sense of the changing higher education landscape and ensure all voices are heard. I was, and will continue to be, deeply moved by it.

Patrice Torcivia

III. Stories

To borrow a phrase from the wonderful Kate Bowles, we brought our storied selves to dlRN. We worked hard to question and to understand one another’s stories, in order to build not just a smart but a compassionate network of researchers and practitioners to address our challenges.

My story? I travelled from Ireland to California with my wonderful daughter Sarah, a recent graduate with her own perspective on higher education. She joined me for the first day of the conference (before embarking on her own explorations) and for gatherings after the conference each day. I wasn’t the only one attending the conference en famille — we loved meeting Kate Bowles’s daughter and Bonnie Stewart’s and Dave Cormier’s children. In addition to enjoying the conference, my daughter and I met friends and family. We saw my 13-year-old niece play a home soccer game. We went on our own magical tour of San Francisco. We made memories. For one week we interwove our experiences and our dreams about work, education, family, friends, history, social justice, and the future.

My take-away from the conference is coloured by all of these experiences of the past week as well as by my position, my history, my values. And it’s simply this. There is, and will be, a plurality of voices, even when we passionately agree on the overall goal of working towards higher education which is more equal for all. We can learn much from other movements for social change — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights. At times we will feel strongly about taking different approaches to reach our goal. Some of us will want to work for incremental change, some for policy change, some for legal change, some for setting research agendas. There will be times that none of these feels like it is enough and some of us will wield placards. But as much as possible, let us value our diverse positions as we speak alongside and on behalf of students (and potential students), colleagues (particularly those with fewer rights), and all who have been left behind, knocked down, or damaged by increasingly iniquitous systems of higher education.

We will re-write this story, we will take it and reshape. There is no one counter-narrative. We want one because the Master Narrative is so strong. But it’s going to take all the stories, all the points of data. In each retelling, each instance of both telling and listening, the story changes, the story evolves, and I believe we get closer to the place we want ourselves to be.

Lee Skallerup Bessette

Thanks to all those with whom I shared dlRN and all who have written their stories of dlRN. Each of you has touched me and taught me in some way. I’m sure this is not a complete list of the many dlRN blog posts, but I’ll add others as I find them. Thank you all.


I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.

– Harvey Milk


Postscript: I presented my own ongoing research at the conference in a presentation entitled: Unpicking binaries: Exploring how educators conceptualize and make decisions about openness. I’ll share more information about this in my next blog post.

Whither higher education? Considering big questions at #dlRN15

CC BY-NC-SA Mark Chadwick

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Chadwick (Flickr)

As the terrain beneath and surrounding higher education shifts, what possible futures do you see? Are any of them beautiful?

How is, and will, higher education respond to the growth of participatory culture and openness across networked publics? How will issues regarding access to education, equity, agency, and ethics be addressed? Later this week, participants at the Digital Learning Research Network Conference Making Sense of Higher Education: Networks and Change (#dlRN15) will consider these and similar questions.

Bonnie Stewart, in her pre-conference post inequality & networks: the sociocultural implications for higher ed, asks some of the central questions which motivate many of us:

…is the digital helping widen participation and equality? Is it hindering? If the answer to both is “yes,” WHAT NOW?

While digital higher education initiatives are often framed for the media in emancipatory terms, what effects does the changing landscape of higher education actually have on learners whose identities are marked by race/gender/class and other factors within their societies? We’ll be sharing and unpacking some of the places we get stuck when we think about this in the context of our work as educators and researchers.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the conference, to continue conversations which form part of my ongoing work as an educator and researcher, but which also connect deeply with my values. I’m looking forward to the plenary panel discussions and keynotes and to meeting fellow educators and researchers who will share their work across the 5 conference themes: Ethics of Collaboration, Sociocultural Implications, Individualized Learning, Systemic Impacts, and Innovation and Work. As part of the Systemic Impacts strand, I’ll share interim findings from my study of educators’ use of online tools and spaces for research, learning and teaching: Unpicking binaries: Exploring how educators conceptualize and make decisions about openness. Here’s the abstract:

In the changing environment of contemporary higher education, open education claims are many, but studies that provide empirical evidence to support such claims are few. Evidence and theoretical frameworks are required in order for us to further our understanding of openness and associated constructs. This presentation will report early results from a study exploring how educators conceptualize openness and open educational practices, including why, how, and to what extent educators choose to use/not use open practices. The study is taking place at one higher education institution that currently has no policies regarding open education. The data for this first phase of the study, exploring the motivations and practices of educators, consists of 15 semi-structured interviews. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used for sampling, interviewing, and discourse analysis. The study aims to move beyond considering Open and Closed as binaries, or even as a continuum, but explores the contingent interplay between them. Analysis draws on recent work by Edwards (2015): “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.” This study gathers and analyzes data from educators about meaning-making and choices regarding open educational practices with respect to environmental factors, systemic pressures, personal values, conceptions of privacy, and agency. It is hoped that this study will contribute to ongoing conversations and other research theorizing openness and open practices.

I welcome your thoughts on these ideas — before, during or after the conference. I’ll blog again after the session to describe the work in some more detail, as well as to share ideas which emerge in conversation with others. If you’ll be at the conference, I look forward to meeting you! And if you won’t be attending, but are interested in the conference themes, you can tune in via Twitter at #dlRN15 or on the conference Slack channels. If you’d like to join in the conversations virtually, check out the preliminary schedule of Virtually Connecting sessions from the wonderful @vconnecting team.

Image source: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Chadwick (Flickr)


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)

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: 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

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. (

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 ( 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].

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?


Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education #altc

For three days last week I participated in #altc (the Association for Learning Technology Conference) at the University of Warwick — attending in person for the first time after participating virtually for several years. It was a joy to meet so many online friends and colleagues for the first time and to take part in such an inspiring programme of events.

I was very grateful to be asked to give one of the keynotes at the conference. It was an honour to keynote along with Audrey Watters, an educator whose work, integrity, and friendship I value greatly. And a privilege also to speak along with Jeff Haywood. The innovative work being done at (and shared openly by) the University of Edinburgh in the area of online and open learning is important for all of us in higher education.

My keynote was titled Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education, drawing on a metaphor from Seamus Heaney. Links to the keynote and related items are included here.

Summary of the keynote [Medium]
Summary of photos, images, tweets [Storify]
Presentation slides [Slideshare] (also shown below)
Video recording [ALT YouTube channel]
Times Higher Education article


Many thanks also to Bryan Mathers @bryanmmathers, Simon Thomson @digisim, and Sheila MacNeill @sheilmcn for creating several beautiful images during the keynote. These are included below, with links to Bryan’s, Simon’s, and Sheila’s sites. Please check out these sites for other wonderful work, both from #altc and other events.

Finally, thanks to all of the organisers, the co-chairs, the presenters and participants for such a warm welcome and for making ALTC 2014 such an enjoyable and stimulating learning experience. It will stay with me for a long time to come.


Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 16.06.32

“Catherine Cronin keynote” by Digisim is licensed under CC BY 3.0


“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers (Flickr) is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0



“The Learning Black Market” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0



“Catherine Cronin #altc 2014 keynote” by Sheila MacNeill is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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.

POSTSCRIPT (9th September 2014)

I wrote a follow-up blogpost after the conference, containing all of the following links:

Summary of the keynote [Medium]
Summary of photos, images, tweets [Storify]
Presentation slides [Slideshare]
Video recording [via ALT YouTube channel]
Times Higher Education article

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


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


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