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
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.
“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. When 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:
Students give Ignite presentations in class on topics of their own choice. Their presentations are shared in a CT231 Student Showcase using Scoop.it; 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.
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.
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
History has much to teach us about change. Time and again, social changes which begin with seemingly improbable goals bring about new realities, becoming the fabric of our lives. We each will have personal examples of this. From my childhood in New York City to my nearly 20 years living in the west of Ireland, examples abound. The remarkable becomes the accepted. Looking back from our current vantage point, many major social changes seem as if they were inevitable.
Today we are living through a time of enormous change in education. The pace of developments in open online education, in particular, has been dizzying: OER, Open Courseware, iTunesU, the Khan Academy, connnectivist MOOCs, institutional MOOCs, open badges. In the past seven months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Udacity, Coursera, MITx, EDx and TEDEd. What might higher education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Will our universities look the same, serve the same purposes? In all likelihood, they will not. And when we assess our education institutions at that future point, will we say: “Of course. Given the changes occurring in technology and society, the change was inevitable.”
I was asked to give one of the keynotes at the recent Galway Symposium on Higher Education (described in a previous post). The theme of the symposium, “The Written Word”, gave much scope for participants to consider not just writing but learning, teaching, literacies, assessment, openness and creativity. I welcomed the opportunity to focus on change, particularly recent developments in open education, and to consider re-imagining the future of higher education.
As with social change, our voice — our vote — in education is essential to creating the future. My heart sinks when I hear wonderful educators say, “I don’t know anything about/I don’t have time for… [fill in the blank: Twitter, blogging, even social bookmarking, etc.]”. I know that this means that their voices will likely not be part of educational futures which are being shaped now.
It’s not about age or the hopefully-dead Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants argument. (And anyway, why would it be about age, when our students are of all ages? As educators we surely are seeking to engage and include all of our students.) And it’s not about using this tool or that, or being for or against using a VLE. I think that the future is being shaped by educators who are open to change, open to continuing to learn, and open to learning from failure. These are the educators who inspire both their peers and their students.
In January 2012 Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland. In his speech at that occasion he spoke of the role of the university in moving boldly into the future:
“The university is, and remains I suggest, a space from which new futures have always emerged and must do so again. The ethos of independent scholarship is what delivers a previous scholarship’s achievements into the present and challenges that scholarship for renewal and replacement… To navigate successfully through today’s troubled, uncertain, and probably uncharted, waters, now, more than ever before, we need vision, foresight and bold strategies. Now, more than ever, an original and confident education system is needed…”
We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. In moves toward open education, many long-held practices are being re-evaluated: open publishing questions (blind) peer review; the use of social media questions the “walled gardens” of classrooms and VLEs; pedagogical research questions the effectiveness of lecture as a teaching method, new educational initiatives outside higher education will continue to question the cost/benefit ratio of university degrees. What are your opinions? Which new practices are worth developing? Which current practices still hold value? Which practices do we wish to hold onto, and which should be left behind? Only those willing to engage with these new technologies and new practices will be in a position to evaluate them, and to make decisions which shape the future of education.
At the ICT in Education Conference last Saturday, educators in Ireland and beyond joined together — in person in Thurles and virtually across the globe — to focus on learners, learning spaces and the future of education. The urgency of these issues cannot be understated. At #ICTEdu, we accepted the challenges we face, but focussed instead on what we can do. We were inspired by keynote speakers/sharers Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran). Pam and Ira created whole-hearted, human-centred learning spaces with us (yes, it’s possible even in a fixed-seat, windowless lecture hall!) both modelling what is possible and inspiring us to do the same — beginning today.
I’ll write my overall reflections on the conference in a subsequent blog post, but the full tweetstream of the conference is available now. In addition, a special #edchatie Twitter chat focused on the conference theme of “Learning Spaces” takes place Monday, May 21st at 8:30 pm GMT. [Transcript of the chat – added 22nd May]
My session at the conference, “Social Media, Learning, Space and Time”, explored how social media helps us to break down the walls of the classroom. Connection and learning can extend beyond class time, beyond term time, and beyond the bounds of our classrooms and lecture halls. Students and educators communicating and sharing work using social media move beyond the artificial boundaries of formal and informal learning, and the rigid roles of “teacher” and “student”. I shared three examples of social media being used in these ways: my own experience using Twitter with students in higher education; the 100 Word Challenge, a creative writing blogging project for primary and secondary students, presented via video by Julia Skinner (@TheHeadsOffice); and the Madhouse of Ideas project, presented via video by Linda Castañeda (@lindacq, @MadhouseofIdeas). Both videos are included in the presentation above.
The social media activity at the conference certainly demonstrated this theme. Bernie Goldbach (@topgold) noted that although the activity at the conference was intense, “twice as many people were following the day’s events at a distance, using Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, and the live video stream”. This was true in my own session. My sincere thanks to all participants who shared their thoughts and reflections in our room (where we created our own personalised, chaotic learning environment by moving tables and chairs!) and who amplified the session on Twitter so that others could participate. These tweets provide a vivid picture of our workshop — thank you all!
“Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people.” – Paulo Freire
You won’t be surprised to know that “learning” was the most tweeted word at the Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference (PELeCON) recently. But you might be surprised to know that “love” was in the Top Ten (#9) of over 14,000 #pelc12 tweets. So, yes, PELeCON was about education, the future, learners, learning technologies, pedagogies and literacies. But the outstanding feature of the conference, for me, was the sense of warmth, connection and community amongst the participants, and their “profound love for the world and for people,” to quote Freire.
Glynis Cousin, among others, has spoken about the often unreflected emotional substructure to teaching and learning. Educators who embrace the ideals of authentic, student-centred learning, and who seek to move their practice towards this goal, are engaging in a revolutionary act: giving learners more control over their own learning. Almost everything about our formal education system — from standardized curricula to grading systems to the architecture of our classrooms and lecture halls — reinforces the power of the educator over the student. Those of us who choose to swim against this tide, even in small ways, must first look within ourselves to uncover our own investment in these systems and traditions. Engaging in real dialogue with students, opening our classrooms and our practice to the world — none of this can be done without respect for and trust in our students. This was the ethos at PELeCON, and why it was such a powerful experience for many of us who attended.
In the 2+ weeks since returning from Plymouth, I’ve been reflecting on many of the ideas and themes that arose. More than that, though, I’ve been connecting furiously with many who attended the conference. I’m working with Julia Skinner and Linda Castañeda who will engage with Irish educators at the ICT in Education conference on May 19th. Helen Keegan and I have plans to connect our students at Salford and Galway with students in several other countries next autumn, using social media. And there have been countless other connections via Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and email — a rich web of connections as Sharon Flynn describes beautifully in her PELeCON blog post.
I’ve already recorded my summary of the Student Showcase on Day 1 of the conference, in which primary and secondary students shared their work. It was one of my highlights of the conference to hear students describe how they are using YouTube, Google groups, WordPress, Livescribe pens and more to collaborate and create video tutorials, blogs and online school newspapers. I was immensely impressed by the confidence of these students, their pride in their work, and the trust their teachers showed in them to tell their own stories.
Thanks to all of the participants at PELeCON, for your openness and your friendship.
And enormous thanks to Steve Wheeler, and the hard-working PELeCON team, for throwing a 3-day party (Steve’s words!) with time to learn and to enjoy, and opportunities to nurture the seeds of future ideas, collaborations, and most importantly, relationships. My head and heart are full. Thank you all.
For more information on the conference check out the PELeCON blog, which includes links to Oliver Quinlan‘s excellent liveblogs. The following blog posts also capture the spirit of the conference especially well:
On a sunny, blustery afternoon here in Kinvara, I’ve just returned from an uplifting meeting with teachers at our local primary school. Nearly every year for the past 8 years, I’ve participated in information evenings for parents, speaking about internet safety issues related to social networks popular at the time (e.g. Bebo, Club Penguin, YouTube and most recently Facebook) – for example Our Children Online workshops. This year, when asked to give a similar talk, I hesitated. I explained that I simply couldn’t focus on “internet safety” without also discussing social media in the context of learning – for students, teachers and parents.
So today I met with teachers, as a parent and as a fellow educator. We discussed how learning has changed enormously, particularly in the past decade, through technologies such as broadband and wireless internet access, YouTube, Wikipedia, social networking, and open access to education resources. The trend towards learning that is more open, mobile and social provides many opportunities for more authentic learning, at every level of education. Social media, in essence, breaks down the walls of the classroom – the world becomes the classroom, children can become one another’s teachers, and teachers can facilitate deep learning experiences.
Of course there are challenges. Resources are scarce: for faster internet access, for more computers and devices, and for training. None of us were taught to learn nor to teach in these ways. We rely on our PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) for information, ideas, inspiration, encouragement and support. And we can use tools like Twitter to build those essential networks of support.
I posted a question on Twitter earlier today, inviting messages to our session in Kinvara, using the #kinedu hashtag. Our thanks to all who took the time to say hello and to send encouragement. As I explained to those of our group who are new to Twitter, just this small sample of tweets conveys the warmth, humour and encouragement available on Twitter – plenty of encouragement to begin building a PLN! :)
During our session today we explored Twitter and blogs, checking out some wonderful work by students and teachers in Ireland and beyond, including the #edchatie Twitter chat and community; @MrsBellsClass Junior Infants class on Twitter; @DeputyMitchell‘s QuadBlogging initiative; and Heathfield school students talking about blogging (a great response to this video!). A list of resources which we explored today is below. This is just a starter – please feel free to suggest other resources in the comments so that we can add to this list.
I was simply inspired by the enthusiastic response of the teachers today. “How do hashtags work?”, “How can I get Twitter on my phone?”, and “What can I do with my students on Monday morning?” were some of the questions. Our session ended with lively discussion, plenty of laughter, and promises to check out Twitter, blogging, Google Reader and more. I look forward now to meeting with parents, and to continuing to participate in these essential discussions between teachers, parents and students. We communicate, we connect and we learn.
Finally, several of us will be attending the ICT in Education Conference in LIT Tipperary (Thurles) on May 19th. The theme is “Learning Spaces” and with keynotes by Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran) and workshops by many Irish educators it promises to be a great event. Hope to see many of you there!
Resources explored today (Twitter, blogs and more) particularly relevant for schools:
Open online education is changing rapidly. The first few weeks of 2012 has seen the launch of Udacity, Stanford’s Coursera and the first course offering by MIT’s MITx. In trying to put these developments into context, I’ve drafted a table illustrating key aspects of this evolution in online education, focusing particularly on open online courseware (as opposed to more discrete OERs). This is not meant as an exhaustive catalogue, but simply as a concise summary of recent developments, enabling comparisons. [Table updated 5th March 2012.]
“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.” – Joichi Ito
As an educator involved in online learning I’ve noticed a change this year. I’ve had more conversations about online learning with colleagues who teach in classroom-based programmes – particularly about open online learning – than ever before. The growing interest in Khan Academy, MOOCs and Stanford University’s online courses has made many in higher education realise that clear divides don’t exist any longer. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, teachers and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication, they are transforming learning.
Learning is changing, but what of education? A couple of blog posts this week questioning the value of going to university at all are probably just the first of many.
A number of colleagues and I have been discussing these issues, as practitioners: the opportunities and challenges of open online education, the role of the university, and our role as educators. Following is an edited draft of my initial contribution to these discussions. Your comments and feedback are welcome.
The growth of open online learning over the past decade has been steady. Open content, often discussed in terms of OERs (Open Educational Resources), is defined as “materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone”. The key to OERs is that they are openly licensed and thus available for use by all. The argument for using OERs is clear: if every university teaches introduction to programming, for example, then why should we all develop materials to teach this? Why not use openly available, openly licensed, excellent material, and spend more of our time on activities such as engaging with students, developing improved assessment strategies, etc.
In terms of open online learning, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and other video-based resources can be characterized as 1st generation, while the recent initiative by Stanford University, among others, can be considered 2nd generation, in that it includes not only learning materials, but instructional design, a learning structure and assessment – providing an experience closer to that provided within formal education. Stephen Downes recently suggested that the next generation will be widespread use of OERs along with automated, analytics-based, competency-based testing mechanisms, or open assessment. Indeed, this is precisely what OER university (OERu), among others, is setting out to do. Other open initiatives such as MOOCs and Open Badges have further potential to disrupt traditional higher education. Over 2000 people are currently participating in the #change11 MOOC “Change: Education, Learning and Technology”. Mozilla’s Open Badges project, particularly the DML competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, is currently gaining a huge amount of attention as well.
Our challenges as educators in the further and higher education sectors? Here are just a few:
Open resources – Most students are aware of open educational resources, and these are shared widely, e.g. Khan Academy, YouTube, MIT OCW, and the recent Stanford University online courses. As educators, what are we doing to create or link to relevant online resources for students? Creating screencasts, video lectures, audio or video podcasts (and making these openly available) or linking to OERs (and OER repositories) can supplement lectures and provide students with valuable material for study and revision. Just as we refer students to the best textbooks, journals and databases, we should link to excellent, relevant, online open educational resources. Our challenge here is to create and share material in new ways, learn to use different tools, and stay abreast of online learning developments.
Open, participatory and social media – Students use social media and social networks in many ways, not least to support their studies, e.g. DropBox, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter. Once again, as academic staff, we must look to our own practice. Are we making use of tools such as social bookmarking, social networking, web-based applications, and online curation tools to model good academic practice and to share resources with students, and with one another? Not all student work must be submitted directly and privately to the lecturer – opportunities for openness, sharing and collaboration should be considered. We are challenged to consider using open, social tools (at least sometimes) – instead of closed, 1:1 tools – in order to open up the learning process and make it more authentic.
Emerging technologies – In the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile devices and e-books are the most current of the emerging technologies identified. How are we addressing these trends? The Horizon Report lists examples of education institutions innovating in these areas for teaching, learning and research. Even if we are not at the front of the innovation curve, we must address these emerging technologies in our programmes in a coordinated way, and communicate to our students and others how we are doing that. For example, how are we making use of mobile apps, or making our own learning content available on mobile devices? How are we facilitating students in using open access or e-textbooks?
Openness – In most undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, students are encouraged to examine their digital footprint and digital identity, and to consider the value of building a deliberate, positive, digital identity. This is a core element of digital literacies. Our students are visible to us online, and we are visible to them. As academic staff, are we open and positively visible online, as professionals? Are we modelling academic values in virtual spaces? The best way to share and publicise open educational resources is through the use of social media and social networks, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs. In order to communicate and share our work and our values, our challenge is to consider our approach to openness – as individuals, as departments, and as universities.
Again, I welcome feedback and would be happy to hear from anyone who is currently engaged in similar discussions at their own institution. If you are at NUI Galway and would like to join in this discussion, please get in touch. I can be reached at catherine.cronin[at]nuigalway[dot]ie.