My first babysteps into openness #101openstories

During #openeducationwk 2017 Penny (Australia), Vivianne (Brazil), Judith (Kenya), Jenni (Canada), Sujata (India) and I launched together the #101openstories project. We hope by the end of this year to collect and curate 101 such stories which show how individuals have become open learners, open practitioners or open researchers. The Open Education Working Group and especially Javiera, kindly offered to help us create an open book from #101openstories.

Stories have always fascinated me. As a passionate reader of novels, translator of novels and children’s stories, writer of children’s stories, but also teacher of modern foreign languages, teacher educator and academic developer. facilitator2-259x300The Open Facilitator project with Carol Yeager (@couki1), whom I met in 2011 when I engaged passionately in the Creativity and Multicultural Communication (CMC11) MOOC she developed, and in collaboration with the Open Education Working Group and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, is a collection of stories and brought insights into the facilitation experience that were of value for all of us. We hope others will use the collection to carry out further research in this area. Maybe I should also consider this myself after I have completed my PhD studies.


Another story-related project, the storyboxHE with Ellie (@ehannan14) aims to collect practitioner stories around learning and teaching that can be used in academic development situations and help academics to engage with these and reflect on their own practice through dialogue and collaborative problem-finding and problem solving. I am also using stories in academic development courses and FDOL and FOS that followed based on this, are such an example. 

Stories are a powerful way to share experiences, ideas and create links between the story and our own life experiences and learn from each other. We hope that many individuals from around the world will contribute their story to the #101openstories collection.

Today, I would like to share my open story.

The key questions I asked myself are the following:

  1. How did it all start?
  2. Were did it lead me?

Mmm… it is difficult to pinpoint the exact start. I suspect that my personal life journey in three different countries helped me recognise from early on the importance of sharing and collaborating as well as valuing diversity to survive and thrive.

Sheila, in her open story talks about the usefulness of a timeline… her post reminded me of one I created a while ago as an Excel spreadsheet when I was making another set of timelines for my PhD research. I thought it would be useful and linked to my prologue in the thesis in which I make reference to my path towards openness but as it is part of my PhD I am not sure I can just copy and past it here… so I didn’t read it but started from scratch here…. Creating the timeline helped me visualise some of the connections and see my path into the world of open, all on one sheet, at least the digital dimension. I suspect another layer that captures the non-digital dimension would be equally useful as this was my actual starting point into openness and perhaps I need to add this dimension too after I finish writing this post.

Professionally, I think I could locate my first baby steps towards openness when I started creating learning resources while I was teaching German in Athens. That was before 1990 and I used WordPerfect and a PC that took up a lot of room and hard hardly any brain and used these things called floppy discs which were really floppy. Life as an undergraduate student was challenging… only phone calls, word processing and email or fax for remote communication. No VLE or social media. And I was working full-time in Athens while studying full-time on Corfu… I know, hard to believe. Later, after I had left the Navy (yes, I was in the Navy for 5 years) in 1996 I had the opportunity to stay for a whole academic year in Germersheim at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germany to carry out research into translating children’s literature where I also had the opportunity to teach in the department. I remember sitting in front of a computer screen there and was told that this was the internet… while I had been using emails for some years, also worked in a computer centre for five years, and was involved in localising cd-roms as a translator, the internet was alien to me… at that point in time… My expectations were that it would be something much more dynamic than the university site I was looking at. Believe it or not, I asked somebody for help to understand what this was all about… while still in Germersheim, I managed to find my mum’s best friend via the internet who she had lost many years ago… the rest is history. 

6e455650-0324-4907-abc7-e34ba46545d4As a translator I often struggled to find specific terms and I remember in one case calling a casino on Syros island when I was translating Hermann Hesse’s book Der Kurgast for Kastaniotis publications. Would you consider this as open practice? There was no network and especially when the author was no longer alive, books, reference guides and encyclopaedias did not always have the answer, as answers often are within people and the conversations with them, this is what I have found. 

main_menuWhen I become familiar with navigating the web, and social media arrived, I found the freely available SEBRAN software and volunteered to translate this into Greek in 2005.  I was living in the UK by then and was teaching again languages. Also I had an interest in coding  I attended a 10-week html could thanks to which I was able to create my own website and activities for my students who were learning Greek. My prior work as a computer programmer in the Greek Navy did help a tiny bit. I was hooked and soon had created 300 Greek language learning activities and made them freely and openly available. I had used many different freely available software tools that I had found online. This activity all started in 2004. Often people contacted me, not just my own students but also others who found the site and used the activities.this site no longer exists as it was build on a free freeserve ftp space.  I still have all the activities offline and would love to find a place for them online to share again and use in combination with an open course perhaps. 

Many other open activities followed. From wikis for audio feedback in 2008 to collaborative learning and development spaces in the same year using Ning. It was free at the time and I created a whole a teacher development course into it and anybody could access and join us. Earlier when I was still teaching languages, I used the ning platform for language learning combined with cookery lessons. A wide range of projects followed also thanks to the MSc in Blended and Online Education I did at Edinburgh Napier University. I started using the creative commons licenses and integrated open educational resources in courses and materials I used and created. Furthermore, open licenses were also added to the courses I (co-)developed as I feel that this would encourage re-use and adaptation. PhD research in open academic development (I developed a cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework) followed and will hopefully be completed this year. Very quickly, the open projects became collaborative ones as I felt that while I can plant seeds, ideas only grow when they are shared and there is mutual and sustained commitment and trust among collaborators and the focus is above all on the collective interest…


curiosity didn’t kill the cat (image source here)

My curiosity has led me to explore possibilities to maximise learning and development through making, practice and research based on open sharing. Through these activities and the communities these have developed around them, I have had the privilege to get to know and work with diverse individuals from different parts of the world. These relationships continue to expand my horizons with perspectives and ideas I could never have imagined before. 

Thank you all.

The open journey continues…



Share your open story with us all. How did it start for you?
Visit #101openstories!

Better late than never…

… how time flies…

I am buried in revising my draft thesis and the new academic year has started. There are ongoing open initiatives I support and new projects starting, internally and externally. All exciting stuff!

However, it is about time to write a little something here about what happened early in September. I did make a start on my tablet a while back… I think at least twice, but today I  decided to start fresh and finish the post in one go while sitting at my desk at home. Here we go…


Congratulations to all! Image source

ltawards-2016-individual-runner-upIn September this year, I was awarded runner up ALT Learning Technologist of the Year 2016. I feel humbled and honored to receive this award for my work in open education. Thank you Dr Cristina Costa for encouraging me.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everybody for their individual and team awards and all highly commended colleagues.

It was fascinating to read about their achievements and  successes.

I really enjoyed the one day at the conference at Warwick University (lovely campus!!! the ping pong table was such a great idea!) and meeting so many innovative colleagues. It was especially wonderful to see Daniel Scott (the big individual winner!!!) and Iain Griffin (Highly commended!!!) and have chats with them. We agreed to stay in touch, which we have, and collaborate on a little project to give something back to the ALT community. We are going to make this happen ;). 

As an academic developer, digital and open practitioner, with a passion for experimentation it has been a fascinating journey and a pure pleasure to work with many colleagues in my own institutions, nationally and internationally. I feel that I have learnt a lot and their support has given my imagination wings to come-up with ideas that have become reality and are helping us all to engage in new and exciting professional development activities. From my work you will see that I have shared my ideas openly with many others. I guess for me collaboration is not a strategy, it is more a way of being, a philosophy. I also know that ideas can only grow if we share them. My dear friend and colleague reminded me a few years ago of the following African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go on your own. If you want to go further, go with others”.

Below are some of the key projects I initiated. You might find some of these useful for your development or they might give you ideas to develop something new in your area.

The openly licensed course Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (FDOL), which is a postgraduate module that was opened-up and became a cross-institutional collaboration initially between the University of Salford and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden (Lars Uhlin was my partner) and later Manchester Metropolitan University when I changed institutions.  FDOL an idea that originated from my MSc dissertation, was offered three times, with varying length up to 12 weeks. One of the iterations became a case for my PhD as it had collaborative open learning features using a problem-based learning approach.

FDOL provided the foundations for the openly licensed Bring Your Own Devices for Learning (BYOD4L) course. I was keen to experiment with something much shorter and enable different forms of collaborative learning that are community-based. Again it was inquiry-based and scenarios were used, this time in additional video format presenting student and academic staff perspectives  I shared the concept with Sue Beckingham and we became partners. BYOD4L was offered for the first time in 2014 and since 2016 the community itself organises it. I think this is an important move and a necessary one, if we want to sustain OEP and create capacity. The next iteration is in January 2017 and I am looking forward to supporting our three musketeers (Neil Withnell, Sheila MacNeill and Alex Spiers), in the background.

BYOD4L does have a daily tweetchat feature which was the highlight of the day and attracted large numbers of participants. This triggered a new idea in my mind for a weekly tweetchat that would be a regular CPD opportunity for all of us. While the idea was fresh in my mind, I shared the idea for the Learning and Teaching in HE chat (#LTHEchat) with Sue Beckingham, David Walker and Peter Reed and we decided to go ahead with it Since September 2014 the #LTHEchat has grown and the introduction of rotating organising teams as well as the collaboration with the #HEAchat has enabled it to grow further and become a popular weekly gathering of practitioners with rich and varied exchanges and debates around learning and teaching.

I had in mind to do something with FDOL, to take it into a new direction and this was materialised through using it and building the openly licensed course Flexible, Open and Social Learning or short FOS (Do you know that this means in Greek?). Again, I invited Sue Beckingham to work together on FOS. It was an opportunity for me to become more playful with the original formula, introduce a game-approach, create scenarios, with Ellie Hannan’s help, that were visual and engaging. As FDOL stretched over a series of weeks, again, I wanted to experiment with offering something like this over a week. We have offered this once so far.

Creativity for Learning is a postgraduate module I created at Manchester Met and opened-up. We call it #creativeHE and it has become more of a community and an ongoing collaboration among the Creative Academic network and many colleagues from different institutions nationally and internationally. One of the iterations (8 weeks) became my second case study for my PhD as it had collaborative open learning features in groups which were different from FDOL and it was a useful opportunity to explore how participants experienced it. It is a wonderful opportunity to become more playful and creative in our practices and the work we have done so far evidences that this is happening. This year we decided to launch the Creativity in HE project led by Prof. Norman Jackson with many happenings until the summer 2017 via #creativeHE. The  #greenhouse community at Manchester Met has lined up with the Creativity in HE project and I invited Ellie to lead the micro-project #101creativeideas. If you haven’t seen this yet, please have a look and contribute your ideas to this OER project.

Then there are the Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC) webinars which start again this week. An initiative I brought to life when I was at Salford University, which has now grown into another cross-institutional collaboration with rotating organising teams. I guess the OER series Food for thought dates also back to that time and is something I would like to continue developing as well as find a way forward for my wheels idea.


The journey continues… image source

Yes, an exciting and full academic year is ahead of me. I plan to finish my PhD studies (must work hard on this until then!!!) and work with many colleagues on learning and teaching projects that open our minds to new possibilities and practices.

… and I also decided to reflect on my journey as a digital and open practitioner and submit my CMALT portfolio. It might all have started when my dad sent me to college to become a computer programmer and then working as a programmer in the Hellenic Navy for 5 years… then leaving the army to go to university as a mature student to study…  or when we moved from Germany to Greece… and then the UK… the story continues…

What will you do this year?

ps. A very special thank you to Neil Withnell.

“Openness is the absence of restrictions, so ultimately about freedom” Rob Farrow #OEGlobal #go_gn

The above phrase by Rob @philosopher1978 stayed with me… such simple words that mean so so much! This is why we need philosophers!!!


Is this what we are after?


… or do we prefer this and what does this mean in the context of OER and OEP?

It was the first time I experienced the Open Education Global conference and it was truly fascinating to find out about open ed projects that were happening in different parts of the world and most importantly connect with some of the people associated with these.

The conference started with the Open Ed scene in Poland while during the conference I had the pleasure to meet and chat with Dr Tomasz Boinski a lecturer in Computing from Poland. We started talking after our contributions and I could sense that he was keen to make a real difference in his institution through opening-up practices. We started talking about our open source app we are developing at the moment and he offered to help us with finding the right licence for this and forwarded extensive resources around these which will be extremely useful for our project. On the last day, Jaroslaw Lipszyc, a polish poet, emphasised that he sees open as free, and therefore he claimed, that we don’t need the word ‘open’. But open doesn’t come without a cost attached… there is the human cost, time and resources etc. Even if for the learner the “open education product or experience” is free or freely available, the process of making this happen can be costly and rarely calculated in especially when we talk about non-funded projects and funded projects usually have a funding time frame which doesn’t go on for ever… some might.


I felt that there was still a strong focus on content at the conference and many seem to be working on the production of OER, including film format. We are creating more and more such resources, not just universities but also private providers. Are we reducing learning in the open with watching videos?

While we talk about active learning, many do watch videos for hours and I can see this with my own children. We often reach out to YouTube to learn a new skill or find a new recipe or activity. It is not just children… My youngest started video production and shares his films via YouTube with others. He shares Minecraft stuff. It is an interesting development and I haven’t asked him yet why he is doing it. Looking at it from my perspective it almost feels as if he wants to give something back, as if he wants to connect through his work with others, he loves it when others leave feedback on his clips. So I think it is more than just watching videos, it might be more about connecting with others in a very humane way and non personal at this stage as he is only 12 and he is using a pseudonym. So the social interaction he has are at a somehow removed level.

My eldest, 14, seems to have great fun watching science films and funny stuff on YouTube.He hasn’t got a channel and doesn’t leave digital traces behind. He doesn’t share the stuff he creates, except some clips we added to my YouTube channel a while back now.  I often hear him laughing loudly and there seems to be emotional engagement when he watches the clips, it is really fascinating. Sometimes the boys watch YouTube video on telly… My eldest also started coding and he can do this for hours,he is searching for help to develop what he wants without interacting with anybody online… As far as I can see. We haven’t got any firewall but both seem to have a maturity when navigating through the video jungle. Two very different behaviours which make me think about learners more widely and there is something there that reminds me of the digital residents and digital visitors model by Dave White and Alison LeCornu and other stuff that might indicate that change is happening. Both are autonomous and know where to look when they need help.

… I only have snippets of their digital behaviour and habits  and maybe this is problematic especially as they are still children. Do we trust them too much? Is this freedom good for them or not?

Back to my world… still thinking about resources… While I recognise the need for putting together course resources it would be useful to further explore opportunities using inquiry-based models of learning which would I think free us from racing to produce new content. We have done this in different open initiatives such as FDOL, BYOD4L and FOS as well as #creativeHE. Could we shift the purpose of creating resources for  teaching to capture the process of (co-)constructing learning? After all we learn so much more through experiencing and making stuff. Is this another reason why OER are not used that widely? As we want to create our own resources as educators since we recognise that the process of making helps us engage deeper with our subject that we will help others understand? Is it also about academic ownership? And what about context? De-contextualised resources with global reach… how valuable are these? I am now wondering if the real potential of resources is actually (c0-)creating these as part of the learning process? Could the resources actually be more valuable for the creator and what does this mean about sharing? Are resources more ephemeral than we think? If we talk about authentic learning, could we instead use open data as Dr Javiera Atenas invited us to keep learning and teaching fresh, fully contextualise and create the conditions for an inquiry-rich environment for learning through discovery?


As an open practitioner with a focus on work that sits outside MOOCland, I was interested to hear at the conference how things have progressed within it. In some cases making available resources equated to course design in a MOOC context. This was very problematic for me… I was looking for a pedagogical rationale but couldn’t see it. Some called this platform pedagogy. Not sure what this is… There were some cases and I had read about them and included in my Literature review were MOOC organisers recognised the need for social learning including learning in groups and collaborated with other institutions or colleagues in other institutions to facilitate these. One of these projects was introduced by Alannah Fitzgerald and it was fascinating to hear their exploration into using facilitators in a MOOC as well as groups and the difficulties they experienced with both but also with the technology, the team tool from EdX. Alannah mentioned “platform education”. Is this similar to teaching from within a VLE or LMS? I shared with her some information about our work in this area outside the MOOC world and the Open Facilitator Project. I would have loved to find out more but in the end we didn’t manage to get together again. At scale the challenges are amplified, of course, require big investments in time and resources, but also a robust pedagogical scaffold, I would say. The support scaffold is vital but often missing.

The conference didn’t help me understand “massive”. I am still confused why we need and often start with massive. Somewhere I read “what we mean by massive, is the potential, the potential is massive”… But  does massive work? Businesses start small and in nature things grow from a seed… Does the education world know better? What is the rationale for massive and global? And what are the real expectations? What are we trying to achieve and what is happening in reality?

The more I think about it the more I see grey zones in open education. Maybe I see them more as red zones, zones that are alarming. We all have different motivations, of course, why we are in it, in open education. If only we could collect authentic and honest responses, I think that might be eye opening… Would there be any surprises? Philosopher Dr Rob Farrow, highlighted that some of us see Open Education as a moral mission. What about everybody else? The OER Hub invited us to think big… how big can we think? And how can we make our thoughts and ideas reality? And what would we change through these if we could make them happen?

My own research reveals that learning with others and being supported by facilitators makes a big difference, feeling part of a community that fosters online and offline interactions shape our engagement in open learning with others who are like us and very different from us. Like-minded people create a sense of belonging and other-minders people stretch us intellectually. Above all, we flourish when there is variety… Variety of people, variety of approaches and freedom to make our own choices.

Learning has always been personal. How can we think that technology would change this? We are still seeking personal connections. Technology actually can strengthen such opportunities and create new ones. I have used this example before… The party. And I have a question for all of us: when we go to a party, do we chat and dance with everybody? Does it depend on the size of the party? How many people are there? How confident we are etc. etc? But I am sure if there are loads and loads of people there, we wouldn’t even attempt to interact with all in a personal way. Or would we? But we would reach out to a few, or one other individual nearby perhaps? But then again, sometimes we go to the party with somebody and stick with this person throughout. Are there parallels? Something to think about…


What really matters are the conversations, the collaborations and feeling and being part of what is happening around us, nearby and sometimes further away. We humans always had a need for belonging as social beings and social media can be useful tools that help us connect with others in the digital jungle. Open practitioners as I mentioned already use a variety of tools and platforms, including social media. Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman and Tony Coughlan shared some findngs from their Facebook project and it was lovely to hear that the emphasis was on community. Educators and learners are appropriating social media for learning, teaching, professional development and research and they have become valuable spaces to be to meet peers and keep up-to-date with what is happening in our area. I had a very interesting conversation during the conference with Tony Coughlan about social media and open practice. Are they compatible, we were asking ourselves with open practices? Dr Ronald Macintyre in his contribution about the “hidden tariffs” also talked about the fact that open educators might be exploited by others economically… I have felt uncomfortable about this for some time now, despite the fact that I am using social media regularly and the open projects I  have initiated are all built using these. There are open practitioners out there who stay away from social media, not because they don’t like to be with others and share but because of the commercial character of social media. The poet Jaroslaw Lipszyc mentioned that we can learn loads from the open source community.Tony Coughlan has written a post about the conference and included some thoughts around this too.

“In distance education the equivalent space is owned by network providers and proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, whose primary motivation is commercial rather than educational, so their environments are designed for commercial benefit.

The open education movement has some experience of this type of challenge, as open textbooks and journals have been challenging commercial publishers with similar priorities.” (Coughlan, 2016)

I am just wondering what we could do about this as an open community… some ideas are emerging…

Very pleased I went to the OER Hub action lab on the last day where we got some insights into the very first voices that come through the survey that was shared recently. All data will be open data and I am looking forward to reading some of this. With Viviene Vladimirschi, a PhD student buddy from Brazil, we actually would like to do a tiny bit of work on some of the data linked to the action lab we participated and hope this will be possible. One of the key outcomes for me from this action lab was that we need frameworks into open pedagogical practices. I am working on one of them for collaborative learning in open settings. So that was good to hear that my work might be of interest to others. Hopefully others will test it in practice and develop it further.

logo-gogn-blue2-e14393890788191A big thank you to the GO-GN  and the OER HUB team, Prof. Martin Weller, Dr Bea  de los Arcos, Dr Rob Farrow, Dr Beck Pitt, Natalie Eggleston  for supporting this trip and enabling me to share the work we do within the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University with many colleagues from my own and other institutions in the area of open education and related PhD research. A big thank you also to all colleagues PhD students part of GO-GN who were present and others who engaged online as well as Prof. Robert Schuwer and Prof. Fred Mulder for their camaraderie.

Getting ready for #OEGlobal

logo-gogn-blue2-e14393890788191In 2015 I was made aware of the Global OER Graduate Network by Dr Bea de los Arcos and decided to join. As a PhD student, I often feel lonely, I am sure others do too, so becoming part of a network that would help me feel more connected with other PhD students and their projects around open education can only be a big big bonus.

After a few months of joining the network, I received an email about the possibility to share my research at the Global Open Education Conference in Kraków in April 2016 as part of the Global OER Network. I applied for a funded place and after a few weeks I found out that it had been accepted. This was very exciting and a great opportunity to share my work and get some feedback on my research-in-progress.

I started my self-funded PhD in January 2013 at Edinburgh Napier University and am now in my 4th year. I went through ups and many downs, so far and am sure more will follow. Working full-time, being passionate about my job and leading a professional life with many open-ended projects and internal and external commitments, having a family and doing a part-time PhD at the same time is an explosive mix. Juggling priorities is hard. Now in my fourth year, I feel that I am finally making some progress. Draft Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4 have all been approved as such by my two supervisors, Dr Sandra Cairncross and Prof. Keith Smyth. I have also written a draft abstract, a prologue and my growing acknowledgements section. I have even made a tiny start with Chapter 7… the conclusions and am adding ideas for further research… If I look back, I can say, that I am today in a much better place than I was a year ago… there is however still a lot to do…

All fieldwork has been completed and I am currently in the data analysis stage. I thought writing Chapter 3: Methods and Data, was hard but actually applying it is even harder. Learning being a phenomenographer while actually doing it is extremely challenging. But who said this would be easy?

During the conference, I plan to share some details about my research, the context I am working in as well as some preliminary findings linked to one of the themes that is emerging through the data captured in 100,999 words of transcripts from 22 phenomenographic interviews. The theme I will share is Cross-Boundaries. In case you are wondering, the context of my research is open academic development, which is organised through informal cross institutional collaboration. I am looking at how open learning is experienced in two particular cases with a focus on collaborative learning.

I hope delegates will be able to relate to my project and ask questions. As there will be many other PhD students there, I can’t wait to find out more about their projects, their dilemmas and discoveries as some of them might also be relevant for my project. Going to a conference, I think,is less about our work, and more about how we can connect with others and their work that will trigger dialogue and debate and move our understanding forward and possibly into new directions. This is what excites me most!

Some of you might wonder what my research is about… and perhaps I should have started this post explaining… apologies. I have created a page, where I provide an overview of my research together with related dissemination activities so far. Also, occasionally I blog about different stages and my reflections can also be accessed through this blog, sometimes using doodles to visualise my thinking. I also keep a, currently private, reflective diary of the phenomenographic analysis I am working on at the moment, which I plan to include as an appendix to my thesis. My data is linked to two open cross-institutional courses FDOL132 and #creativeHE which followed my professional journey from the University of Salford to Manchester Metropolitan University. The thesis will be made available under a Creative Commons licence together with the collaborative learning framework for open cross-institutional academic development, I plan to develop.


image source here

In a few days, I will be packing my suitcase for Kraków. My contribution is sort of ready for the pre-conference event and the main conference. I am sure there will be a few more tweaks. I really look forward to the week ahead and am very excited about meeting other fellow PhD students and experienced open researchers and finding out about their projects and the innovative work that is done globally around open education.

I am grateful and thankful to the Global OER Graduate Network for funding this trip.

See you there 😉

@BYOD4L ing this week from the other side

Monday note…

“Inspired by a tweet by Emma Gillaspie @egillaspy on day 1 about a photo competition around the 5Cs (check this out at on Twitter using the hashtag #UoSBYOD4L) I plan to capture this BYOD4L week using images but also think about the 5Cs in a different light… ”

Saturday morning

yes… this was the plan at the start of the week but it didn’t come to fruition… unfortunately…

However, the competition made me think about the 5Cs (Nerantzi & Beckingham) in a new light and I started thinking about antonyms of the 5Cs and the 5Cs as a continuum. I am just adding my notes below at this stage and am exploring currently in what way a 5C continuum would be useful as a diagnostic tool perhaps for individuals and learning communities using social media but not exclusively. At work, we will be developing a mobile app which will be valuable for educators, students and many others as a self-development tool and I think one of the applications that I would like to try in the summer, when we hopefully have the first version of the app, is the 5C continuum. More about this at a later stage. Together with the 5C continuum I would also find a better way to represent the 5C at a specific moment in time and through time, if this makes sense. 

This week I experienced the BYOD4L course from the other side. As a little helper to our very first community-led January 2016 iteration with Neil Withnell, Sheila MacNeill and Alex Spiers. Sue Beckingham and I have been leading all three previous iterations with many passionate colleagues from the UK and further afield and while we did enjoy them enormously and helped us really get to know each other and find effective ways to collaborate, we also felt that a change was needed and a shift at the same time to empower the BYOD4L community, refresh the offer with new faces and ideas as well as help others develop new capacities and also share the load a bit as this is an initiative by the community for the community and now with the community. I feel it is not enough to talk and write about learning and working in partnership. Making it happen is the real value for all.

For me this week was fascinating, because it showed that we can re-use OER courses and we can work with other peoples course materials and we can make it a success. I guess it also depends on the materials, how flexible they are. Our approach has been inquiry-based and the course course can be fully personalised and contextualised. I think this might be an important enabling factor. Letting go and loosing control can be scary but also very liberating and I have experienced how empowering this can be when working with others who are committed practitioners. Committed to the course but also the team and the community. It definitely needs to be a team effort. Otherwise it won’t work. Together, we can grow ideas and take initiatives into new and exciting directions. I am very keen to continue exploring this way of working  with others in the open and am excited about what might happen in the future, or what we might create in the future.

Friday evening, our last BYOD4Lchat was an experience in itself and something we didn’t anticipate of happening. Twitter to crash? Alex said it is our fault… I know he is kidding but I am sure it is partly our fault as we were using it too… Experiencing something like this in the middle of a live event were you are not in the same room with others leaves you feeling hopeless. First, you think it is your connection, as I did and blaming my boys who were both on computers…, then you try different things to re-connect and nothing works… you feel stuck. You want to reach out and let everybody know but you can’t, at least you can’t through the same channel. Just imagine the whole internet would suddenly disappear under our feet…

I think we need a plan B for these things and plan C and this should perhaps be communicated at the outset of each event. So what could we have done? My first thoughts would be the following

Plan B: Move the conversation to another social media channel, in our case this could be the BYOD4L community in Google plus. If this fails?

Plan C: Re-arrange after connection has been re-established to minimise frustration. 

Really would love to hear your ideas about the above.

The organisers decided to use the DM feature in Twitter to co-ordinate activities during the BYOD4L week and I think this really made a difference to speed-up communication, troubleshoot in no time, support each other, often instantly, but also acknowledge each others’ contributions and really proof that this is a team effort where the collective comes before the individual. I saw all these things happening this week and it was wonderful and made me smile many times.

I hope everybody enjoyed BYOD4L this time as much as I did and found it useful too. It definitely helped me reflect, plan and act. The week and what happened during this week   seeded new ideas for me, so thank you all! Sheila has written an excellent summary of the week. Please access here.

BYOD4L will be back in the summer as a 24h experience.  The BYOD4L community is open all year round so just jump in to connect, communicate, curate, collaborate and create. The community is  here. For the BYOD4L day, all we need is people who would like to organise it with others. Get it touch if this could be you. We are looking for colleagues from different parts of the world.





handing over the baton to the community @BYOD4L @LTHEchat

We have heard, read and probably experienced that OERs are often under-used… does it have to be this way? And what about OER courses?

Orr et al. (2015) in a recent study recognise among others that OERs can bring educators together and trigger opportunities for collaboration especially in the area of professional development of educators.

I have been exploring various approaches and strategies to achieve this with many passionate colleagues and closely with Sue Beckingham over the last few years and (co-)created openly licensed courses and initiatives in the area of informal open cross-institutional collaboration in academic development since I did my MSc in Blended and Online Education with Prof. Keith Smyth which helped me discover opportunities in this area and I am since January 2013 a PhD student exploring open cross-institutional professional development.

Scalability is often mentioned as something we haven’t worked out yet… an answer could be cross-institutional offers perhaps? I have been interested in this with a focus on creating conditions for versatile and collaborative learning experiences within supportive communities.

Sustainability is perhaps something that needs more our attention as well? How often have we heard projects that have received seed funding disappearing after this dried out? And what about non-funded grass-roots open initiatives that solely rely on good will and sustained commitment? Do they have the potential to live longer? But how?

To sustain open courses and initiatives that are of value for others, make them truly democratic, inclusive and collaborative, I think one way of doing it could be through community engagement – community driven leadership that empowers and creates shared ownership. It requires the community to play an active role in shaping and reshaping the course or initiative and taking it into new and exciting directions. It might also be a way for open practitioners to give something back to the wider community while developing new capabilities?

Projects which grew out of seeds I planted, and are out there in the open are changing… What I just described has actually started happening and I am including specific examples here:

The Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC) webinars: Since September 2015 we introduced a rotating organising team. I am extremely impressed with how well it has worked so far. Dr Rod Cullen, Prof. Ale Armellini and Calum Thomson are definitely taking the TLCs to the next level where one person couldn’t.

The Learning and Teaching in Higher Education tweetchat (#LTHEchat) had a mixed team last term but from this term we have 2 colleagues from the LTHEchat community, Dr Stephen Powell and Ian Tindall leading together with a colleague from the HEA, Kandy Woodfield, as the #HEAchat and the #LTHEchat have come together, which will be beneficial for the wider academic community. I am really looking forward to this new collaboration and the forthcoming #LTHEchats.

The open course Bring Your Own Devices for Learning (BYOD4L) is going to be offered for the 4th time next week (11-15 January 16). Colleagues who have participated and facilitated in previous iterations of the course, have kindly volunteered to become organisers. I am  extremely grateful to Neil Withnell, Sheila MacNeill and Alex Spiers for taking on this exciting opportunity forward. I would suggest to join BYOD4L from Monday for a week of development where students and educators are coming together to learn about how they can utilise their smart devices for learning and teaching. It has been a very popular course so far, creates a real buzz every time it is offered, has lead to rich learning and changes to practice and generated many opportunities for collaboration that stretched beyond the course. Jump into the BYOD4L community directy! No registration is required!!! Read Sheila MacNeill’s related post here.


The title of this post says… handing over the baton… it doesn’t mean that I will disappear. Relay only works with great team work and that means sustained commitment! In my new role, I will be there to support the teams as long as needed, more silently in the background 😉



Hands Passing Baton at Sporting Event, source here

I am looking forward to finding out where this new direction in my thinking and practice will lead us. Might this be a valuable path for more democratic, distributed and participatory leadership of open practices and help us sustain and grow practices further?

To an exciting year ahead!

Your comments and ideas are, as always, very welcome 😉




Orr, D., M. Rimini and D. van Damme (2015), Open Educational Resources: A Catalyst for Innovation, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Dear George @gsiemens

For some strange reason the comments feature was switched-off, now back on. 

Dear George,

This talk was brought to my attention on Twitter via Mark McGuire, a dear colleague I first met during CMC11 and who later visited me and other colleagues at Salford Uni. Together we facilitated a session on our PGCAP programme, which was a memorable experience for all of us.

I couldn’t resist watching your talk from start to finish. Despite its length it captured my attention throughout. I felt the need to respond to your open invitation to get in touch with you and am doing it via this open response.

This message has been written during my train journeys over the last five days to work and back. In a way your thoughts kept me in good company in the crammed train and helped me to be transported into a world of exploration.

What follows is a personal account based on my experiences, my readings and related research activities and initiatives I have co-organised and participated in the open.

I have been following your work since I found your articles via the innovate Journal which then suddenly disappeared… and your Knowing Knowledge book in which I have scribbled on every page as I saw this as an opportunity to interact with your words on paper. I remember when CCK08 was offered but in the end I didn’t participate. Then there was suddenly all that noise about MOOCs. They started popping up everywhere. Were the initial ideas to open-up education hijacked as my colleague Dr Stephen Powell said to me recently? It makes me wonder, isn’t this what happens with ideas anyway? As soon as they are shared, they travel, often to destinations we would never dream of taking them. With this comes loss of control and freedom but also responsibility, I think.

I have to admit that I have tried to engage in some of the MOOCs organised by different individuals, groups, institutions or providers and through different platforms not because everybody else was or is, but because I had a special interest in the topics explored in these. I also really wanted to experience first hand what MOOCs are all about and what can be achieved through these. I failed. My own experience shows that neither interest in the topic nor my curiosity to find out how they work were enough to really engage and get something out of them, do I dare to say complete any of them…

Content is everywhere. We are drowning in it. I understand that bundling content can be a way of filtering or curating information and therefore a useful strategy to attract individuals who have an interest in a specific subject. We can of course also learn a lot through selecting resources and perhaps we could take this idea into a new and exciting direction to maximise on some of the opportunities this thought could bring to self-regulated learning, how we put courses and programmes together and what that means for the individual and educational institutions. Are we thinking about these possibilities? Often MOOCs seem to adopt a content-based curriculum with high-production video resources etc. automation and interactivity. In that way, they can be handy for others as focused resources spaces that individuals or groups visit and can complement formal education really well and safe valuable time and resources for others.

But I think people are hungry for different things. People want to learn with others. After all we are social beings. For them, or for us, I should say, it is often more about interaction than interactivity. We saw this when software for learning appeared in the market before 2000. This enabled individualistic learning in the digital world while we were talking about cooperative and collaborative learning in the face-to-face classroom.

A visualisation which synthesises my readings around cooperative and collaborative learning, key features and an important question this generated for me

Many of us have been critical of Virtual Learning Environments… a management solution… Both cases are not dissimilar. The focus is on technology as a controlling power but what about pedagogies, flexibility, freedom and choice? I am aware of the distinction of xMOOCs and cMOOCs (and there are other terms…. the most bizarre one is mini MOOC) and can see that the content-factory is more linked to the first type. Learning with others seems to be the aim of the latter but can it really be realised to its full potential exclusively via peer-to-peer strategies? Do we assume that it can work for all and that it is a financially viable solution? But at what cost? I have been reviewing pedagogic frameworks supported by technology over the last few months. The importance of the facilitator support in these is a common feature to scaffold engagement and learning. What is different in the open that makes us immune to this?

reviewing collaborative learning frameworks supported by technology, key findings… part of my lliterature review

I mentioned that I have attempted and failed “to do a MOOC”… except one… The course had the MOOC label, it was actually a cMOOC. I fully engaged in this one and stayed until the end and even longer. This was the Creativity and Multicultural Communication course in 2011 (CMC11) led by Carol Yeager. I was again very interested in the topics we explored and it was a “we”. However, I could just have googled the resources without joining a course. What this course enabled me to do was to create connections with other learners and the course facilitator and engage in stimulating exchanges about the topics in the context of my practice. I therefore actively engaged in this one, I really felt that others showed interest in my work and I showed in theirs. I didn’t just write stuff which the black hole swallowed… Carol, the facilitator was present, modelled positive engagement in activities throughout and I got to know her really well, others too. The experience was personal and humane, as you said in your talk George. But also collaborative, These characteristics definitely made a difference. BUT CMC11 wasn’t what I would call Massive with a capital M or even with a lower case m. Maybe we all understand different things under “massive”. For me it was a course in the open and openly licensed, a course that linked students within a university course with open learners from across the world and created a sense of learning community everybody could be part of. According to Carol, there were around 300 participants, 15 of them were studying towards credits. During the course 50-60 learners were present,  but the core participants were around 20 or 30 who actively participated.

This message to you might now seem written upside-down. I hope you forgive me George. I should have started this, introducing myself first…

I am an academic developer in the United Kingdom and a doctoral student in the area of open cross-institutional professional development for educators in higher education at Edinburgh Napier University thanks to Prof. Keith Smyth. Beyond my above described MOOC experience and many failures to engage as an open learner, I have reviewed a small number of MOOCs and have been experimenting with open educational practices on a micro-scale compared to MOOCs. My special interest is exploring collaborative learning in cross-institutional provision in the area of academic development. My experiment back in 2010-11 to bring academics and other professionals who teach or support learning and study towards a teaching qualification in their institution, using Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as part of my MSc dissertation opened-up new opportunities for exploration for me, colleagues, my practice and research. I was curious where my thoughts would lead me and actually was encouraged to submit a PhD proposal to Edinburgh Napier University in this area. I am since January 2013 researching open cross-institutional practices within academic development and aim to develop a collaborative learning framework in such settings. I have found it a fascinating journey so far, also a very challenging and exhausting of course… no different I am sure from any other PhD experience. I have initiated a number of cross-institutional open courses with colleagues from other institutions. These are courses that have been developed to open-up, connect provision and create meaningful and stimulating experiences for sharing in distributed communities, networks and groups. They are in the area of professional development for educators in HE but are of course also open to student participation and are developed  using collaborative pedagogies. Examples include the Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (@openfdol) which has been repurposed and evolved into Flexible, Open and Social Learning (@FOS4L), Bring your own Devices for Learning (@BYOD4L), Creativity for Learning in Higher Education (#creativeHE). All of them are underpinned by inquiry-based pedagogies, provide opportunities for collaborative learning in small groups where facilitators are present and engaged. Creating learning communities is at the heart. My findings so far confirm that the collaborative aspects of these courses together with facilitator engagement and support as well as their inquiry-based nature make a real difference to learners.  Carol Yeager and I initiated the Open Facilitator project in collaboration with CELT where I work and the Open Knowledge Foundation to further share experiences of facilitation in the open and learn from each other. If you are interested, have a look at our Open Facilitator Stories collection from 2014.

I don’t think massive is the answer to everything. Is it the answer to anything? I am wondering, We have been over-emphasising in massive, far too much, for far too long, It doesn’t work in face-to-face situation for learners and teachers, how do we expect it to work online and in the open? I prefer an approach where we can scale-up and -down depending on the situation. We have been working on this and came up with the snowballing model (Nerantzi & Beckingham, 2015). Asking ourselves why we are doing it is also important. Broadcasting can work wonders via digital channels and yes, have global reach. Are we however in danger to reduce “education” to marketing? If we really want to reach and engage learners, educators, students and more generally citizens of this world, I am wondering if something else would work better… One size does not fit all, and bigger is better might not be (so) true. Of course face-to-face learning and online learning are not the same. But in both spaces and in between we do seek and value interaction above flashy interactivity. We seek human connections. Things have started changing in MOOCs… and I am following them with great interest.

Often when we read about open education, the terms that come up are Open Educational Resources, MOOCs and open educational practices. The last one seems to grow in the shadow of MOOCs… but it is growing… more and more seem to abandon MOOCland… actually there seems to be a trend for some time now that even MOOC providers call their courses just open courses or free courses, which in itself is an interesting shift. What does this mean?

Visualisation of MOOCs while I was re-drafting my literature review this summer.

However, we also need to learn to work more effectively together. Together is the answer for me, at personal, institutional, cross-institutional level and beyond cultural walls. Do we really want to go down the path of imperialistic educational constructions? I would and am voting for a democratic alternative. We all have something to contribute. Building on our collective wisdom can be so rewarding and make impossibilities happen. Power to the people! Let’s share expertise and resources, co-develop and co-facilitate courses, learning and development opportunities in collaboration with colleagues and groups from our own and other institutions to avoid replication and create collaborative learning opportunities that truly benefit educators and learners and enable collective growth.

It is now Friday and my last train journey of the week. I could continue for a bit longer but I am interested in a dialogue and therefore decided to post this now. It is dark outside but I hope you and others will read this to help me better understand what is going on.

Learning can happen everywhere. We talk a lot about learning that happens in the head… we also have hands and hearts. In a research interview one of my study participants’ said: “we don’t learn to play the piano by just reflecting on the piano”. What does this mean for all of us?

Open education and open learning more generally have a huge potential for all of us. We have come to see education as a money tree… this is very sad and worrying, I think. What can we do about it? What is our individual and collective responsibility to (re)focus on learning and development?

ps. It was lovely to see my colleague’s Dr Stephen Powell work mentioned in your talk.