Connected Courses (#ccourses)

Neon Open

I’m all signed up for Connected Courses, a MOOC seeking to connect educators interested in “developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.”

Having already ran a small open online course as part of my M.Ed., I am excited to explore this model of learning further; drawing on the experience of educators who have played a direct role in its development pedagogically and technically.

(Image cc. Matt Katzenberger)

Open – Connected – Distributed: Learning [#TLAB14]

TLA Conference Logo

On Saturday 22nd March I’ll be joining a host of other educators at the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference hosted by the Berkhamsted School. This is the second instalment of the conference, following last year’s highly successful inaugural event. A wide range of keynotes and workshops were delivered by a diverse group of educators. I am pleased to say that I was one of them and I’m even more pleased to be able to say that I was invited back this year to run another workshop.

Like my previous workshop, I will again be focussing on independent learning. Over the past two terms, I have been reflecting on, and evaluating the various approaches that I employ to help foster independence in my students. While in my previous session I encouraged attendees to ‘take the leashes off’ of their students, this time I’ll be asking them to consider ways to make learning in their classrooms:

Open – Connected – Distributed

In a continued effort to subvert the educator/learner dichotomy, I have ‘pushed the envelope’ in developing in(ter)dependence in the students that I encounter each year. In doing so, a set of principles emerged; whereby learning inside and beyond my classroom became: ‘open’, ‘connected’ and ‘distributed’. This workshop will illustrate the pedagogies and practices that have informed such an approach, including the use of social networking, collaborative writing and self-reflection. Moreover, it will seek to generate thought and discussion as to how you might tread a similar path with your own students.

Why Open?

Openness has become a core tenet in my educational philosophy. As a teacher and as a learner I believe that learning should be transparent. Nothing should be hidden. A part of this has been putting students at the centre of their education, inviting them to participate in setting the direction of their learning; giving them a voice.

Why Connected?

Having participated in and also having run my own Open Online Course, I believe that forming connections is a key part of how we learn. Underpinned by the pedagogical concept of connectivism there is clear evidence to suggest that independent learning is most effective when it is interdependent.

Why Distributed?

I believe that learning should be distributed and shared. Learning does not occur in a vacuum, nor does it have to be constrained by the curriculum, timetable or by physical space. Utilising a range of tools, learners can not only improve the way they learn as individuals but they can distribute their knowledge and skills for the benefit of others.

I walked away from #TLAB13 far richer as both an educator and learner. I fully expect #TLAB14 to be just as valuable if not more so. I am also looking forward to re-connecting with many friends and to making some new ones. If you are attending the conference and the concepts that I have commented on above are of interest to you, I hope that you will join me in exploring them further.

*Slides for my session are available here in HTML5. Double click on any slide to view them full screen.

First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education [#fslt13]

I have just enrolled in the MOOC: First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (#fslt13). This post serves as my introduction and outlines the reasons why I have signed up.

I am currently completing a dissertation for a Masters in Education, seeking to answer the following:

To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?

To explore this I have recently completed the data collection process, which involved running a MOOC titled: Critical Skills 101. The course sought to  develop in(ter)dependent learning skills in 14-18 year-olds. I am currently analysing and evaluating the collected data and will be submitting my dissertation in August.

Taking the M.Ed has not only continued to fuel my interests in Independent Learning and Online Learning but has also made me question what it is I want to do next with my career. I had often felt that it would follow a path that would take me into senior management within Secondary Education. However, I am not at all convinced that I wish to pursue such a career.

As such participating in #fslt13 is going to serve several purposes:

I wish to explore another MOOC. As well as running the aforementioned MOOC: #crit101, I participated in #moocmooc  (A MOOC about MOOCs) during August 2012. While that MOOC explored open online courses themselves, I wish to participate in a course that is teaching a less-meta topic.

Moreover, having just completed  the delivery of #crit101, I hope #fslt13 will provide some useful reference points in terms of pedagogy, participation and assessment, as I continue to analyse and evaluate my course. In addition to this, I want to see how open badges are put into use in #fslt13 having implemented them in #crit101.

Finally, I am beginning to feel that studying towards a PHD and/or teaching within HE may be a career path that I wish to pursue. I hope that participating in this course will give me some further insight into that as well.

Posts relating to my participation in #fslt13 will appear here. Being in the middle of my dissertation poses a significant challenge to my time but I hope to be able to keep up with the course reading and get involved in some useful discussions around learning and teaching.

#crit101 and Open Badges [UCL]

Today, I delivered a presentation about #crit101 and Open Badges at University College London. Critical Skills 101 [#crit101] is an open online course that I have been running as a case study, seeking to answer my dissertation research question:

To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?

The course is intended to help participants develop a set of critical skills that will help them to become more effective in(ter)dependent learners.  Part way through the process of developing the course I decided that I needed a way to acknowledge their achievements. I opted to use Open Badges, having kept up with Mozilla’s work in this area.

The experience of using Open Badges in #crit101 has met with mixed results and this was a great opportunity to reflect on this. As such, it has raised more questions than answers about motivation, accreditation, value, longevity… and also a deeper consideration of the processes involved in creating, earning and awarding badges.

The slides for my presentation are available here: #crit101 and Open Badges

  • Hover over the thumbnails to view speaker notes and links (cmd/ctrl click to open in a new tab). Click on any of the thumbnails to view the slides in full size.

[Update: 02.04.13] Depending on the device/screen size you are using to look at the presentation, the speaker notes may not be that easy to navigate. As such, I have added them below…

#crit101 and Open Badges – Speaker Notes

01 – Title Slide

02 – What is #crit101?

  • Critical Skills 101 is an open online course. It seeks to introduce/develop a set of skills that will encourage independent/interdependent learning.
  • The course focuses on interdisciplinary skills that will be useful for study at FE and HE.
  • My original intention was to target KS5 students specifically. However, after some discussion with colleagues, I opted to broaden the field to include KS4 students as well.

03 – #MAinEDU

  • The course represents the culmination of work/research I have been iterating on with regards to independent learning and e-learning.
  • I am of the opinion that more needs to be done to disrupt the ‘teach to the test’ / ‘spoon-feeding’ culture present within schools.
  • I have sought to use ed-tech to achieve this, using a diverse range of tools with my students:
    • Google Docs
    • Blogging
    • Twitter
  • All with an emphasis on collaboration and reflection.
  • #crit101 uses all the above tools to encourage active rather than passive engagement.

04 – cMOOC

  • The course is underpinned by the connectivist principles of the early massive open online courses (cMOOCs)
  • Connection, collaboration and discussion are at its core, placing an emphasis on creation.

05 – Inspiration

  • The course wears its influences on its sleeves:
    • The use of a WP Blog as the course hub has come directly from DS106, along with a number of structural and pedagogical features. Thanks must go to Alan Levine for sharing the nuts and bolts of how DS106 works.
    • Another point of inspiration, particularly with regard to connecting badges with the process came from P2PU
    • And finally, I participated in MOOC MOOC – a MOOC about MOOCs. It also had a significant effect on the way that I pieced together the course, as well as inspiring a number of the assignments.

06 – In(ter)dependence

  • Participants recognise that being an effective independent learner has more to do with interdependence that autonomy.
  • As course leader I have sought to reposition myself; removing myself from the process as much as possible.

07 – Toward “Peeragogy”

  • Howard Rheingold coined the term ‘peeragogy’. The learning is developed collaboratively by the learners.
  • Put students in control; make them take ownership:
    • What do I need to learn?
    • Why do I need to learn that?
    • How should I go about learning that?

08 – 3 Tenets

  • Slide 15 from this presentation by Catherine Cronin, describes the approach I have been developing within and beyond my classroom over the last three years.
  • As I constructed and iterated on the course I have sought to ensure that openness, networks, and voice/choice are at it’s heart.

09 – #crit101 Blog

  • The blog is a hub, hosting the course content as well as syndicating the work produced by participants.
  • Syndication is made possible by using the FeedWordpress plugin.

10 – Critical Skills

  • The skills were drawn from research that I completed in a previous M.Ed. module on Independent learning.
  • Both hard and soft skills have been selected and are given equal footing.

11 – Tools

12 – Changing Roles

  • Empowering learners to take ownership of their own learning; to develop the skills and characteristics of a life-long learner.
  • Placing emphasis on creative thinking, sharing, collaboration, creation and reflection.

13 – Open Badges

  • A badge in its own right is visual representation of an achievement. Open Badges are a digital version of this.
  • They are a useful way of accrediting and acknowledging learning beyond the curriculum and seemed like a good fit for the course that I was offering.
  • I implemented them based on the Mozilla Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI)
  • I worked through a lot of this process, both pedagogically and technically with Doug Belshaw who is ‘Badges and Skills Lead’ at Mozilla Open Badges team.

14 – #crit101 Badges

  • There is a badge to be earned for each skill within the course.
  • Earning the badges is built on an incremental approach. The criteria is available on the blog and is baked into the badges.
  • The badges were designed by Josh Gray – an A2 Media Studies student and one of the first participant in the #crit101 course.

15 – WPBadger

  • To issue/award the badges I am using a WordPress plugin developed by Dave Lester.

16 – Feedback 1

  • After the first version of #crit101 I sought feedback. The review of the badges garnered mixed reviews
  • Part of the problem came with the issuing and claiming the badges… WPBadger is experimental and there are some bugs.

17 – Feedback 2

  • A number of the participants said that the badges were not an incentive for them in the first place; they took the course as they wanted to develop new skills and/or improve their ability to learn independently.
  • Others said they found the idea intriguing but struggled to see the actual value of them.
  • The feedback left me with a number of questions…

18 – Open Badges – Questions?

  • Do badges work as a motivator? (Intrinsic motivation Vs. extrinsic motivation)
  • Accreditation seems to be very important. What form should it take? From where should it come?
  • Without accreditation do badges have value?
  • Should learners need to be involved in the badge design process?
  • Who decides on the criteria?
  • Who should award the badges? How would peer-assessment work?
  • How can we ensure that they are useful beyond the course/later in life?

19 – The Five Ws

  • Deciding to use badges needs to be well thought through.
    • Are they right for your course, learners, institution…?
  • Consider the Five Ws:
    • Who, what, where, when, why, (and how)?
  • Investigate use cases:

20 – Chicken or Egg?

  • The most important thing to remember is that there is no one right way with Open Badges…
  • At this stage, like the ‘chicken and the egg’, it is not so much the answer as the question that is important.

MOOC MOOC – Day Four

Before I could join in with Day Four’s activities, I decided that I needed to better understand the concept of ‘Connectivism’.

Connectivism

Stephen Downes states that: “At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” Which in my mind, could easily be describing my experience in using Twitter to develop a personal learning network (PLN). Through Twitter I have connected with a network of individuals, shared and aggregated resources and ideas, which has resulted in both learning and the (co-)construction of new ideas and resources.

He goes on to outline four process that are integral to connectivism:

  1. Aggregation
  2. Remixing
  3. Repurposing
  4. Feeding Forward

Considering this list closely, it would appear that connectivism is very similar to constructivism, particularly given that these activities encourage sharing, creation and collaboration.

However, Downes et al., see connectivism as a distinct model of its own. In ‘What is the unique idea in connectivism’, George Siemens explains that “learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.” While this sounds very similar to Downes’ interpretation, Siemens emphasis on the “creation of new connections” implies that the learning occurs through networking as opposed to the act of construction. Artefacts created, either individually or collaboratively during MOOCs are, to some degree, a byproduct. The dialogue and connections generated before, during and after their creation is where the learning occurs. The network is the essence of connectivism; the essence of the MOOC.

Siemens continues, asserting that “Coherence. Sensemaking. Meaning. These elements are prominent in constructivism, to a lessor extent cognitivism, and not at all in behaviourism. But in connectivism, we argue that the rapid flow and abundance of information raises these elements to critical importance.” This is certainly true, and within MOOC MOOC this has been more than evident. However, for some participants, the sheer scale of information generated by the network can be overwhelming. Therefore, I would argue that, to be successful in a MOOC, you have to be well-versed in the use of tools that can help you make sense of the information. Moreover, as I have previously written, it is important for participants to be willing to plot their own paths and not feel that they have to read/do everything.

Moreover, connectivism, is a pedagogy that places significant emphasis on interdependence. Perhaps then the most important facet of the MOOC acronym is ‘openness’. Relatively free from geographical, economic, social and cultural constraints, the cMOOC gives rise to democratised, networked-learning that emphasises participation and collaboration.

Participant Pedagogy

Day Four’s task was to consider participant pedagogy. I entered into this having not really had time to look at the reading, but with some strong views about learner participation and the student/teacher paradigm. In my own words

Learning is and should always be in the hands of the learner.

A number of us, decided that some face-to-face interaction was needed and so a Google+ Hanout was instigated. After a few technical problems, Sheila MacNeil, Martin Hawksey, David Kernohan, Alan Ng and I engaged in a fruitful discussion.

The discussion covered a number of related topics:

  • the pedagogical models found within the cMOOC/xMOOC dichotomy;
  • the position of teacher/lecturer and the way that we (educators) view education/learning;
  • the problems with systematised education (sage on the stage, teach to the test culture);
  • participant pedagogy, including the problem of the teacher/student paradigm

As I suggest a number of times during the discussion, I believe that the dichotomy of the traditional student/teacher relationship is a false one; based on an out of date system of education. If our goal is to foster a love of learning, then I believe it is necessary for educators to position themselves as learners, facilitators, guides; not as experts. A scary prospect for some.

Pete Rorabaugh argues that:

Critical pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century because critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power… Digital tools offer the opportunity to refocus how power works in the classroom. In its evolution from passive consumption to critical production – from the cult of the expert to a culture of collaboration – the critical and digital classroom emerges as a site of intellectual and moral agency.

This is certainly a thesis that I can support, given that I would describe my own classroom in similar terms. However, I am left asking whether or not such an evolution requires ‘digital tools’ to achieve such equity? Can learning not be democratised within traditional educational settings, without the influence of technology? Does this not, have more to do with shifting beliefs and values about pedagogy and the student/teacher paradigm?

Teo Bishop, makes a similar case, asserting that:

A teacher and a student, when presented as text on the screen, look exactly the same. They are just text. The internet is the Great Equalizer not only because it provides the world with a seemingly unlimited amount of information, but because it reduces us all to font, to pixels, to bits of sound and noise that only begin to approach our full complexity.

Perhaps… although I think this is a naive view. Technology, in this case ‘the internet’, is being given far too much credit. Social status, expertise and power are in no way absent from the world wide web. Blogs and social networks may have given everyone a voice, but that does not mean that everyone is listening.

Technology, itself, does not have the power to improve education. Nor does it have the power to democratise it. The participatory pedagogies alluded to by both Rorabaugh and Bishop require a change in values and beliefs on the part of not just educators, but society as a whole. Moreover, they require a dramatic shift in the priorities of educational institutions. It’s better economics for institutions such as Stanford and MIT to proffer xMOOC style courses, as the investment in participant-based co-creation and the development of networks is labour intensive and difficult to control.

Earlier in the article, Bishop asked what I think is a more important question: “I’m in a position where I can do my best work, and inspire the most dialogue, by openly not having the answers. Do teachers have that luxury?” Yes they do, but they have to be prepared to take risks; to be willing to redefine their role within the classroom. As I shared in the Hangout, I do not consider myself to be a teacher anymore. I am a learner, facilitator, and guide.

On reflection, I wonder to what extent teaching Media Studies has impacted on the way I view education and my role within it. Media Studies is in a continual state of evolution, built on theoretical ideas rather than absolutes; responding to a changing landscape, influenced by social and technological developments. There is always something new to learn, to understand, at no point would I therefore, profess to be an expert.

Jesse Stommel (on Twitter) shared: “Every semester I teach at least one book that I’ve never read before. I read it with the students and actively under-prepare.” Within his words, there is a clue to a deeper philosophy, a belief in shared, interdependent learning between teacher and student. I take a similar approach with my own students, wishing to participate in a ‘learning journey’, where the opinions of student and teacher are of equal value.

Of all of the reading that was provided to support this part of the course, I found Howard Rheingold’s article ‘Toward Peeragogy’ provided the most compelling narrative. Reflecting on the development of what he has coined “peeragogy”, Rheingold draws out, what I believe to be, key tenets in encouraging independent/interdependent learning in any classroom.

In retrospect, I can see the coevolution of my learning journey: my first step was to shift from conventional lecture-discussion-test classroom techniques to lessons that incorporated social media, my second step gave students co-teaching power and responsibility, my third step was to elevate students to the status of co-learner. It began to dawn on me that the next step was to explore ways of instigating completely self-organized, peer-to-peer online learning.

In his classroom, both online and in the lecture hall, Rheingold’s “peeragogy” is built on ‘openness’, ‘social media’, and ‘student voice/choice’ – the same three tenets advocated by Catherine Cronin during a presentation at #EdTech12. Three tenet that can easily be applied to cMOOCs.

The Role of the cMOOC

Returning to one of the articles, from day one of MOOC MOOC, I would argue that Siemens is correct. c“MOOCs are really a platform”, out of which an interdependent network is built. A network that encourages, openness, social connectedness/collaboration, and voice/choice. The cMOOC is nothing without its participants and its participants are in control of the pedagogy.