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?

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

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!!!