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attending to the shadow of living and learning on the web

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Learning about the intersection between education and technology

Of monsters, contemplation and information

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CC by Michael Branson Smith from a poster CC by D. Kernohan

I have seen this animated gif many times but only this week I focussed on the quote ‘a tsunami of poorly understood pedagogy’. It really does seem as if the word MOOC carries some kind of magical properties.  The miracle tonic that will cure all the ills of education for some, as soon as faculty agree to drink it; the evil monster that will destroy all in its path if it is not stopped. I have learnt in my old age to be a more than a little skeptical of polarising constructs and am with Bateson on the need to keep stamping out nouns rather than keep creating them.

Recently I run a session at Higher Education Academy Conference ‘Heroes and monsters: extraordinary tales of learning and teaching in the arts and humanities’.  My extraordinary tale was DS106, of course! (I may have talked about other online experiences but not with the fervour I talked about DS106 I am sure).

I was only there for a day due circumstances beyond my control, and was struck by the kindness of those who came to my session – the first time I was talking about emerging ideas on the psychology of open education.

This post is about how lucky I feel to have somehow managed to join a community of people who believe in open distributed online education and my new found awareness that I have learnt much about the nuances of the online experience, when all the time I thought I was just learning to make art, damn it!

Whilst at the conference, I was saddened that both those supporting faculty and faculty itself see the potential and the barriers of open education as something that is in some way dependent on the chosen platform or some other external circumstance. So I listened. The biggest barrier is that faculty just do not want to deal with the technology. The biggest barrier is that the university does not support us. The biggest barrier is….I kept being reminded of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and the famous scene ‘It is beyond my control’. I am sorry but it is beyond my control….

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Gif by @gifadog (Film Source: http://youtu.be/cjUmvHBgHr0)

Continue reading “Of monsters, contemplation and information”

The psychology of open: On wrestling your inner MOOC

Monsters dwell in the hinterlands of the known world, symbolic expressions of cultural unease. Inhabitants of an imagined realm adjunct to the everyday, monsters offer powerful tropes and tools for learning and teaching in the arts and humanities

Introduction

Afraid

The Higher Education Academy is running a conference called  ‘Heroes and monsters: extraordinary tales of learning and teaching in the arts and humanities’ . I have been invited to run a workshop on the psychology of open education ‘You cannot be half-open: On wrestling your inner MOOC’. I want to focus on the inner barriers academics wanting to operate in the open web encounter and how they can overcome them. This is what I am defining as the psychology of open education and I have decided that my next book will be about this. I do not mean to patronise those who know, but some people new to open education are reading this post and may not know about MOOC monsters, here is a good start. There are numerous references to MOOC monsters and even some sound academic dialogue. What follows are my notes for the conference session.

I have come to believe that the success of open education may rest on our ability to support new adopters in wrestling these inner monsters and find spaces to tell epic stories about inner battles with open sharing. Without this inner viewing, interest and learning about infotention and other digital literacies may be tactical but not sustainable. I am not alone in this belief.  Jim Groom was quoted as saying recently:

 You don’t need new technology to change your teaching… you need a new you.

Continue reading “The psychology of open: On wrestling your inner MOOC”

Wanna do a cMOOC?

rhizomeI participated on the P2PU course called ‘Rhizomatic Learning – the community is the curriculum’ (#Rhizo14)   on a previous post I talked about how it was an unplanned participation driven mainly by my own need to be a helper – I knew the organiser Dave Cormier from my DS106 connection and somehow I found out he wanted some help on Google Plus.  I volunteered and he accepted my offer.

I made a choice to only use the social media spaces I normally use for the course. I only engaged on Twitter and Google plus. I went to the course site only to get links for G+ and access link not to join the discussion. I do not have a Facebook account and did not participate there. I used Netvibes and created a dashboard just for the course, fed by the hard work of Matthias Melcher – he made it so easy to follow everyone’s blogs.

In this post I want to use a recent talk by Stephen Dowes to help me explain my learning.  For me, this MOOC very much reflected what Stephen describes in this talk as ‘a MOOC of one’. It raised a lot of questions about the role of online educators on a cMOOC. My experiences of open online learning have been limited to Digital Storytelling 106 (DS106) and H817open, a MOOC on open education taught by Martin Weller where I learnt about the possibilities of open digital scholarship and about DS106. As my first open education experience – it has a special place in my open learning life as does Martin Weller who introduced to so much I value on the open web today.

It is worth me disclosing here that I consider DS106 an example of best practice of what learning on the open web can be. I also believe that its power is not due to the technology or its design, but to the actual people involved in the learning process. They could make a group of people learn inside a paper bag and even paper bags get to register for it! No other MOOC does that, for sure.

All this said, any other course I attend has a lot to live up to in terms of alignment with my own pedagogy of engaging the contemplative mind in any educational endeavour. I believe in the transformative power of awareness and educational presence. This is what I offer my students over and above my extensive academic practice. This matters enough to me that in order to practice what I preach I stopped a full time teaching career in 2012 and entered a 3 year supervised part-time buddhist retreat – in order to put in place the lifestyle that allows me to practice offering full attention to those I engage with.

In plain English this has meant letting go of ‘being important’ and embracing an ongoing inquiry into the quality of the inner mind and its interactions in the world. As Pema Chodron often reminds us, when you stop to be in truly in the present moment the demons are all right there to walk with you. They are. I have made a commitment to open up my life, no longer too busy to attend, but with all the time in the world to watch my own demons and offer a better quality of awareness to the few students I still choose to work with. This choice has led me to the open education movement and the many shared themes it has with life as a contemplative in the world, particularly the shift to self-disclosure on the open web. I am a-work-in-progress still unpacking all the threads that are part of this inquiry. Even this blog was set up to challenge my own thinking, by blogging ‘from the other side’ of what I take as given. My last book ‘Lived Time’ was my inquiry into how to make a change between a life driven by the clock, and the one I am fortunate to have now driven by awareness…on a good day at least!

So, when I did DS106 as a course for the first time in 2013, life was already set up in such a way that I could give it my full attention.

The situation was different with Rhizo14 as I intended my participation to be bounded. I had little interest in the subject matter as I have been using self-directed pedagogies in my teaching for nearly 20 years. My intention when joining was very much one of supporting Dave Cormier as he set up this learning experiment. I was also interested in seeing how an approach that relied on extreme learner control in its design strategy would play out online. I am used to working this way in my face to face work, so my background questions on joining were the  two key questions Stephen raises in his talk:

  • What is it to teach in this type of environment?
  • What is an educator supposed to provide in a self directed learning environment online?

In what follows I borrow liberally from Stephen’s talk. I wanted to bring a different voice into the sense making process, rather than use conceptual frameworks already operating within this course. I suggest you listen to the audio before you continue reading – so that you can judge for yourself where my gaps in understanding may be. This post is intended as a personal reflection and I offer it under my usual health warning for this kind of post:

recite-16601--717716810-1u39sqrThe post is a long read, but I make no apologies for this. I engaged with the course for 6 weeks and have learnt a great deal.

Continue reading “Wanna do a cMOOC?”

Working virtually: Treat each thing as if it were alive

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When I started thinking about this post I wanted to write about ‘team’ work and how to do it virtually. Team seems such an overused word it means little anymore when used to refer to groups of people working together physically or virtually.

In my work I am often asked often how to manage groups of people who are not co-located but have to collaborate. There is literature on it but it mostly says just ‘use what we know about teamwork in the physical and find ways to apply it to the virtual’.  Trouble is, this advise does not work very well. Or, more accurately, if you have the right people for the job they will make the advise work. But then, they would make any advise work. It matters to me to find out what is the difference that makes the difference practically not theoretically.

I set out at the beginning of this year to learn about virtual collaboration by becoming a student again. It is easy to think about the theory of effective team work and say to my own students, this is how I would apply it to working virtually. It is quite another to say, this is how I made it work. This post is about how I made it work. All I offer here is a personal view, informed by many years of teaching and facilitating groups for the purposes of learning and getting business done.

I want to compare a negative experience with a positive one. I studied with the Open University (#H817) earlier in the year and we had to to get a project done in project teams. This ‘teams’  were little more than a collection of individuals mandated to work on a disposable assignment, in the sense the sense David Wiley uses the term:

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.

Much of that course was designed through disposable assignments, this was managable when working in isolation, but took a new level of complexity and learnt helplessness when having to engage others in order to succeed at something nobody (including the educators) cared about.

Continue reading “Working virtually: Treat each thing as if it were alive”

I am not doing #rhizo14 but I guess I’m in!

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Thank you Matthias for your video which I used to remix. See: http://x28newblog.wordpress.com

I made the decision to not join #rhizo14 as I like to focus on one course at a time when I learn. It was all too tempting though. Many people from my online network were doing it and I wanted in too…

I decided to help out with Google Plus as it seemed an unloved branch of the course. I visited, created a few categories, added some images and resources, offered to support Ron who was really keen to moderate the community and who had actually been moderating it since before the course started welcoming new members and simply being present on G+ – he just did not have the label.

I then moved on to DS106 and what is next for me there. Or so I thought. This morning I thought what harm could it do to watch Dave’s introductory video and then get on with work? I was fascinated by the notion that ‘Learning as cheating’ had been set up by Dave as a way to disrupt and challenge preconceptions about learning.

The whole ethos of this blog (some might say my life…) is the idea of looking into the double mirror of life. Humans get so comfortable with our preconceptions and certainties that I make it a daily practice to live in a state of ‘epistemological hovering’ as Tyler Cohen likes to say. I live life in uncertainty and no longer look for certainty. I ask as often as possible: What have I changed my mind about recently and why? and worry if the answer is nothing. I set up this space to help me look at the other side. Given a chosen field, what are the themes that are being backgrounded or in the shadow? What are we not paying attention to that we might benefit from exploring? In keeping with this, one of my first posts on the #rhizo14 community was one that offered some challenge to the idea of the rhizome as a descriptor for deep learning. A ‘weedy’ rhizome did not seem inspiring and less so this statement:

Bamboo and other rhizomatic plants are great at spread, survival and colonisation of new territories. But as ecologists and gardeners know, if unchecked they become weeds and can dominate and suppress a plant community or a garden instead of enriching it. They are also clones – the rhizomes produce exact copies of the ‘mother’ plant.

So instead of free exploration and exchange of ideas leading to rich and unpredictable learning – the story of rhizomatic learning can equally be a story of domination and monoculture, with rarer and more delicate ‘flowers’ getting pushed out, suppressed – not able to grow.

I can probably spend the next 6 weeks unpacking the implications of the statement above in relation the psychology of learning – which is my passion as a cognitive psychologist. I will come back to this I am sure.

Right now, I was grabbed by the idea of using ‘cheating as learning’ as a construct to challenge dusty beliefs about how we teach and learn. Juxtaposing old beliefs about copying and creating; using the apparent clash to reflect on what it means to learn. Of course, coming fresh from doing DS106 more than full time ( I took a sabbatical from teaching last year to do this) this is not an unfamiliar concept. After all, I now know that ‘everything is a remix’ and find it much easier now to teach creative thinking to my students through this construct than many hours of experimental psychology evidence that shows that  a focus on individual creativity is only half the story. It is only when we ask, where is creativity that we see that individual creativity relies on a domain of knowledge, a community of shared contacts and that systemic creativity is the only sensible way to describe creative thought.

Continue reading “I am not doing #rhizo14 but I guess I’m in!”

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