a new year, a new start, a new unit: Creativity for Learning #creativeHE

mixing things up a bit, is it worth it? image source: http://blog.colourandpaint.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Paint-pots.jpg

Exciting times!!! Finally after initial development, unit approval and a few months of on- and offline development, time has  come to put the concept of the unit to the test with our first cohort at MMU. Old and tested ideas have been brought together with new ones in a pedagogical cocktail which is hoped to unzip minds and empower colleagues to become more experimental and playful in their teaching to create rich and stimulating learning experiences…. How will it work in practice? I am really looking forward to finding out! I am talking about the Creativity for Learning Unit. This has become part of our PgCert and the MA in Academic Practice and enables flexible engagement with a number of formal and informal engagement pathways.

Our very first group started officially yesterday, the 29th of January and I am still buzzing. Some of us met the week before for a portfolio building workshop but yesterday was the first time we really started getting to know each other.

On my list there are currently 16 colleagues from MMU (7 of whom are participating in our Creative Academic research project with Prof. Norman Jackson) in very different roles, disciplines or professional areas who create a very rich mix of experiences and expertise from which we will all benefit. I will broadly categorise the different modes of participation of these individuals:

  • Official registration on the Creativity for Learning unit and assessment to be completed over two terms in order to gain 30 credits at postgraduate level
  • Official registration on the FLEX unit, with multiple starting points throughout the year and assessment linked to this which can be completed over one calendar year from registration to gain 15 or 30 credits at postgraduate level. In this case the Creativity for Learning unit or the open course Creativity for Learning in HE as a whole or in parts are selected for FLEX activities. Already more than one options included here and I might need to break this down further.
  • Some colleagues who officially registered for the FLEX 30 credits unit, will be working towards the Creativity pathway. This means that their transcript will say FLEX [Creativity for Learning in HE] in contrast to just FLEX if a variety of CPD activities which have different pedagogical themes have been selected.
  • Participation in the Creativity for Learning unit face-to-face and/or online without formal registration and without studying towards credits

There are further individuals from outside MMU who participate in the open course Creativity for Learning in HE and all participants from MMU and outside can work towards the open course badges, all of them, or individual ones.

Ok, so how could we bring all these learners together? Only colleagues who had officially registered would be able to join the related institutional Moodle space… and we have colleagues working towards multiple MMU units, which would mean they would be attached to separate online spaces… and they will be… not good, when we try to bring a diverse community of learners together. Social media and freely available platforms in the spirit of open education was the option we are exploring. I have had a p2pu account for some time now. When we were designing FDOL, we were considering using the platform but then in the end we didn’t. As I did struggle to see how we would be able to do all the things we wanted to. Recently I participated in the course Open Research led by colleagues at the OU and felt that I should give p2pu another go. Creativity for Learning provided a good opportunity, would take me away from WordPress and external discussions.I guess we could do something similar on a WordPress site… but I haven’t done this before. Something to think about for the future… I still struggle to do some of the very basics within the p2pu editor and make the pages look pretty… if further personalisation would be possible that would be fab. I guess I am used to a different platform and this makes it harder as I constantly compare the two and think that I can easily do what I did elsewhere. I have some problems with the avatars as well… different ones seem to be used. A bit confused at the moment… and no idea how to change this and other bits. I would benefit from some help.

My main channel of communication with all MMU participants is still email, this is the one an only medium to ‘catch’ them all at once. All have been invited to join our p2pu space but not everybody is there yet… hopefully this will happen over the weekend. I hope it will! Some discussions have started happening in p2pu. Some participants have also started reflecting on their experience so far and some have engaged with the activities. But not all. Do I expect too much? I guess what I would really like is participation to be driven by the individuals who have joined us and do as much or as little as they want to. Am I thinking correctly? I have now also started using the announcement feature within p2pu and of course Twitter but again, only a few of the participants are on Twitter. While I am writing this, I am actually thinking that we would benefit from a regular workshop on using social media for learning (something Ellie and I could do?) and we could also organise a TLC webinar around this which will produce an additional resource and there are the related CELT resources as well. Participants who join a unit could be encouraged to study the resources but also participate in a workshop before the unit starts. This is something we need to think about and take forward as I feel it would be useful, at least for some.

Our Ellie, kindly offered additional portfolio sessions and I suspect that we might need a session also to get us all on p2pu. The situation shows that we are all at different stages and need different levels of support. Not everybody can or will just follow guidelines and click themselves onto a course. The more personalised approach makes more sense to many of us.

Just writing the above was a challenge and it is not easy to set up flexible learning pathways for learners as this often means unthinking of traditional practices and requires flexible thinking and action by educators which is not always easy to achieve. I see this as a great opportunity that shifts responsibility of CPD to the individual and created CPD pathways that can be tailored to own needs and aspirations and fit around their own life and practice. Have we achieved this here?

I am very fortunate as Prof. Norman Jackson, founder of Lifewide Education and the Creative Academic, has joined the open facilitators team together with Dr Sam Illingworth, lecturer in science communication at MMU. Teaching can be lonely but it doesn’t have to be. Bouncing  ideas of each other, reflecting collectively will enrich our own practice but also enable us to spot new opportunities and challenges quickly and do something about it. We learn a lot about ourselves and others and this in itself is valuable! The three of us will be facilitating the online discussions through the course site, Twitter and hangouts that will bring individuals from a diverse and distributed community closer together.

The session at MMU went well. What I wanted to achieve was to bring individuals closer together, to start forming a community and this was achieved. It is time worth spending for so many reasons. If you were part of this session, why not reflect on this and share with us how this worked for you. I had, of course, again over planned… brought many different approaches together… when will I learn to do less? Would it help to go into a session completely unprepared and improvise? Maybe this is actually something that we could try… I like playing with ideas. The playfulness enables ideas to grow and become something exciting and meaningful for ourselves and others but also to test out things and discover what works, what doesn’t and why, why not. But ideas on their own are just the seeds. We need to feed them and weed them too! In other words they need to be nurtured… just like human beings. Now think about the session again after reading these last words. Ideas that don’t have a heart, where there is no passion and no commitment, won’t have a (long) life…. After all, ideas are just ideas. We can dream up anything. To imagine how it would be like. Action is required to make ideas happen, to see them develop and grow!!! And this is why we talk about creativity as applied imagination. Anyway, I think I am getting carried away here.

The Value jar sits on my desk. Not seen the responses yet but will study them carefully on Monday and share with all. Thank you everybody for joining the unit and your openness and creative input so far.

Monday addition: responses from the Value Jar after session 1:

Meeting like minded people and do fun creativity!
I enjoyed the variety of activities and hearing about other people’s ideas.
Very exciting. I’ve got creative ideas already able to use. Motivated to do reading.
The excitement of developing exciting new ideas to engage our stduents.
Lots of seeds have been planted… lots of ideas to think about.
I have realised that there are many people interested in creativity just like me.
It made me feel braver. It helped me start thinking about the opportunities that could come from this experience.
It got me thinking about the kind of sessions I could design and implement, that would be really useful for the students!
It helped me to connect with with who I am, what led me to working within HE which is my passion for creativity. It was also valuable to meet other colleagues who potentially I will collaborate in developing creative approaches to teaching.
Allowing me to meet a lot of people and have a stronger understanding of the university


ps. This is the third draft

… and do something about it…. I would add… image source https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BvztjzJIUAAc5P_.jpg:large

#BYOD4L No. 3 looking back and ahead

It has been a fascinating week and such a rich experience working and learning with so many lovely individuals from different corners of the world but also our own garden.

The BYOD4L family, facilitators and mentors, was bigger than ever before. Nine institutions and two further collaborators from the US (Texas Educator Chat) and Germany (ICT-REV) joined us this time. These included all institutions from the previous iteration, July 14, and four further institutions from the UK (see the full team). The online inquiry-based, authentic activities scaffold using the 5C framework (connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating), Nerantzi & Beckingham (2014), stretched over a number of social media platforms and there were opportunities to engage asynchronously throughout the day on Twitter, Google plus community, the Facebook community, but also synchronously via daily tweetchats (wow, what a buzz these generated!!!) and two hangouts (organised by Dr Sam Illingworth) and further creative activities such as the recipe project an idea brought to BYOD4L by Whitney Kilgore. In addition to the plethora of online planned and unplanned activities, participating institutions organised local events, extending engagement even further and linking global to local – is this what we call glocal?

Facilitators and mentors were busy bees during the week. For some it was their first time, others had been involved in similar activities before. We all saw ourselves as co-learners, supported learners but also each other and I observed the same camaraderie we found in previous iterations (Nerantzi et al., 2014).

A community of participants, facilitators and mentors emerged pretty quickly, if you think that byod4l only lasted five days. the team managed to make engagement personal and social at the same time and this is what, I think made a real difference. Interest in each other’s ideas, thoughts and reflections was demonstrated and communication had a warmth and caring tone. I am including a few links to blogs here: Ian Wilson (participant), Sheila MacNeill (facilitator), Deb Baff (participant).

It was wonderful that some participants from previous iterations came back for more and that there were many new faces as will. Engagement in the tweetchats was probably the climax of daily activities and brought probably the largest number of individuals together synchronously. We will be exploring why this is the case, what we can learn from these and what opportunities these might bring for other areas of professional development.

I personally, am particularly interested in inquiring into institutional participation, benefits and challenges to engage colleagues locally, in our own institutions. Sue and I developed the scaleable framework for cross-institutional collaboration and it is now time to find out how it has worked in practice and were it could take us. We are in the process to establish a working group and identify ways that will help us gain a deeper insight into what happened in our institutions and what we can learn from this.

Further research activities will involve the tweetchats, participants’ experience and impact of BYOD4L on them and their practice, open badges to recognise informal learning and others. As we are an extended team, there are now opportunities for many exciting collaborative research projects to be set-up to find out what works, fir whom and why and to uncover opportunities for the future that have the potential to take us to new adventures, stimulate our curiosity and appetite for learning and development.

Special thank you to my dear friend Sue Beckingham and all staff and student facilitators, mentors, badges reviewers, external collaborators -Marc Smith for the NodeXL SNA visualisation of BYOD4L interactions on the various social media platforms and Peter Reed for the tweetchat visualisations using Martin Hawskey’s code, both helped us visualise BYOD4L as it was unfolding – but also our artist and all colleagues and students who joined us during the BYOD4L week.

My favourite tweet of the BYOD4L week is:

@chrissinerantzi I enjoy using Doodlelicious-bet Coaches Eye would be fun. But in the bath and dictating tweets can’t join in #BYOD4Lchat (Kerry Pace @diverselearners, 8.31pm, 16 Jan 2015)

I think, this tweet sums up the atmosphere throughout the week perfectly!

We will start evaluating different aspects of BYOD4L and consider when and how to offer BYOD4L again later in the year. We will be exploring a number of options looking more holistically to connect and combine with other initiatives. Our thinking now develops more into a whole year plan that will enable us to scaffold activities and initiatives.

Bye for now and speak again soon,



Nerantzi, C., Middleton, A. & Beckingham, S. (2014) Facilitators as co-learners in a collaborative open course for teachers and students in Higher Education, in: Learning in cyberphysical worlds, eLearning paper, issue No. 39, pp. 1-10, available at http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/article/Learning-in-cyber-physical-worlds_From-field_39_2

Nerantzi, C. & Beckingham, S. (2014) BYOD4L – Our Magical Open Box to Enhance Individuals’ Learning Ecologies, in:  Jackson, N. & Willis, J. (eds.) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities and Colleges E-Book, avaialable athttp://www.learninglives.co.uk/e-book.html. – invited chapter

Wow, almost #BYOD4L time again!!! @byod4l

Happy Birthday BYOD4L! image source: here

While I am waiting (im)patiently for BYOD4L to start again this Sunday evening (the Twitter superchat between #BYOD4Lchat and #txeduchat which will be a question shower to kick off BYOD4L) for the third time, I feel the need to briefly share some thoughts.

I am adding here a link to my reflections from the first iteration in January 2014 which I re-read recently and might also be useful for others who are joining us for the first time as facilitators or mentors.

BYOD4L is now one year old and has been offered twice in 2014.  My dear friend and colleague Sue Beckingham and I developed this open learning event collaboratively without any funding and only using freely available resources and with the valuable expertise and collaboration of individuals from our professional networks for which we will be forever grateful.  Our idea was not to worry too much about the technology but focus on learning and the learner and be creative and resourceful in our approach. Technologies come and go anyway. Modelling an approach that could be adapted easily by others was very important to us! Sue and I quickly realised how well we work together and how our skills, working practices and personalities complement and enrich each other. We also have shared personal and professional values, trust each other and have a shared vision. So while BYOD4L started as an experiment, it has led to many more collaborative initiatives including further open initiatives, related research and publications which are still evolving. This was natural as we enjoy working together. Our next open adventure will be FOSL but more about this soon.

At the heart of our explorations and aspirations was to create a versatile open offer, for staff and students in higher education that would bring them together in one open and evolving learning community (in a way the learning and teaching focus could be any but it just happened to be around smart devices for learning and teaching which helped MELSIG to gain a new momentum and led to a few  further successful smart learning events across the country and the Smart Learning book publication!), to share experiences, ideas, dilemmas, experiment and collaborate – to grow, individually and collectively. But also to support and be supported and create a model of open practice that could/would be sustainable and scalable. I would like somebody to show me an example where a successful business was founded and was massive from day one or called themselves massive before even opening for business. There is room for all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all. Is bigger always better? And because we can, we will – is this good enough or always appropriate? There are different strategies that work in different situation and not everything works. Big is actually problematic for learning (we don’t need to go far. Have a look at Gibbs’ work Dimensions of Quality and Implications of ‘Dimentions of Quality’).  But we do recognise the opportunities and attractiveness for global and massive creations especially as the connected technologies make this happen extremely easily today. Too easily perhaps? Learning at the heart, however, is personal, I think. even in social settings, networks and digital jungles. I have written elsewhere about parties (parties? not political parties, the other ones!) and how when we go to a party, we don’t really dance with everybody or do we? Unless it is tiny and we really know each other very well and get on with each other. Usually we pick our dance partner(s). Some will never dance with somebody, they prefer to sit in a corner quietly -is this (not) fine?- or really need to be encouraged to get on their feet! This scenario reminds me of what happens in a course, any course, open or closed, offline or online, massive or small. There is probably or should I say definitely, room to refine the approaches used currently in open educational settings, massive, big, small or tiny, if we want to make learning happen for those you can’t engage at the moment or who have great difficulty with the technology and/or the pedagogical design used.

Perhaps smaller or smallish systems and offers are more elastic and bendable and we can implement changes quicker? Something to think about. There is also a question of educational imperialism for me… but let’s not  get political! We started small and BYOD4L was a collaboration based on individuals first, then it progressed to institutional involvement and informal institutional collaborations. As you can see, our approach is collaboration-rich from design to delivery, evaluation, enhancement and research. We encourage learners and collaborators to take initiative and feel part of a flexible community. We recognise that a collaborative ethos and culture is empowering and creates shared ownership and can take us so much further! This is so motivational for many of us! Our approach really reminds me in so many ways of the Happy Manifesto!

We share resources and expertise to help others develop and give something back to the community as BYOD4L and related activities and outputs are openly licensed.

Join us this Sunday evening 8-9pm UK time on Twitter to find out more how you can become part of the BYOD4L family. Follow @byod4l or follow the hashtags #byod4lchat and #txeduchat. See you there.

A massive thank you to all our collaborators, their commitment to this project, their creative energies and ongoing support and engagement!!!