attending to the shadow of living and learning on the web


productive inquiry

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



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?”

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

Thank you Matthias for your video which I used to remix. See:

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!”

Of introverts, trolls and hangouts on air….

Learning about introverts

My explorations backstage at the Internet Show continue looking at privacy issues on Google Hangouts and reflections on digital privacy as part of building a personal cyberinfrastructure.

Whilst I reside on the Internet, I am a visitor when it comes to privacy. I don’t want strangers to know I am there and I certainly don’t want uninvited guests on my video calls. It turns out that when you record a video call on a Google hangout it has to be set to public – you have a ‘Hangout on Air’ or a ‘Hangout’ but no ‘private recorded hangout’ feature yet. So, as I had a team meeting on a hangout on air, I discovered the delights of Trolling behaviour that YouTube is (in)famous for. Well, I say that as if I have known about it all my life, but I found it out researching for this post. It turns out that a troll is ‘any person that comments or leaves their response to a video that negatively effects the community, or provokes the emotions of others in a negative way’. You can also go online to learn how to do it, with some handy student guides or by visiting certain forums. I learnt that some trolls have even been jailed for extreme behaviour…but back to my hangout.

I signed off after an eventful (technical problems saw us lose a team member again this week) hangout, looking forward to working out how Google managed to get a video of my hangout on my YouTube channel automatically. Let me own up – I use YouTube but have always refused to post anything on it as was concerned about privacy issues and had no time to navigate backstage to ensure my settings were aligned to my personal values on internet use. Well, as soon as I logged on I had to get a crash course on YouTube privacy. I was glad that I did not know how to use the software so that all the commenting had happened in the background and we just did not see comments as we got on with our work. I saw 24 comments and frankly, panicked. Yes, I have unresolved issues that lead me to protect my privacy online – more on this later in the post – but it was not an overreaction to feel angry when I found out that strangers had been listening to my private conversation.

So, I read the comments. I noted that it was only 2 users interacting with each other and attempting to get a reaction from us as we talked. I calmed down a little. I used the transparency of the Internet to find out about them. It turns out one of them (scary, but not really, as you will see later) had tracked me down on Google Plus and sent me a message ordering me to ‘Look at your comments’. From there, it was easy to find him and no, I did not want to add him to my circles, thank you very much Google Plus. A photo of a kid who could not be older than 8 at the top of the profile. What did I do? Nothing. I did not know then that this is the advise given to deal with this behaviour in sensible places but after thinking about the many ways I could make him suffer for scaring me – I figured out I was better off blocking him, deleting all my comments from YouTube, blocking both users on YouTube, changing my privacy settings to Unlisted by default, Unlisted my video, blocked all comments on the video, and asked any viewer to sing the national anthem of their country of origin before they could click play. Just kidding on that last one. The  whole process took 3 hours – the issue is, of course, that none of these social media sharing sites make it easy for you to be private. There were other factors at play for the length of time it took me to sort out: I was exhausted and trying to get a task done that had nothing to do with navigating privacy settings on YouTube and Google Plus. I was annoyed that I was having to do this at all, and hence not exactly in the frame of mind to learn how to use yet another service. As it turned out, there had been no need to panic, it was just 2 silly kids messing around, nothing malicious about it. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, nevertheless. I set out to learn from the experience. I needed to tackle my unresolved privacy issues. I could not have it both ways – stay private and become an open scholar. Or could I?

Firstly I needed to challenge my fear of ‘being seen’ on the web by strangers. I started to think about the similarities between my home in the physical real and the different ‘homes’ I am establishing in my virtual life. What rules apply? Are the rules for the physical and the virtual regarding privacy the same? Can I expect the same reasonable behaviour from people online as I expect in real life? I did a little thought experiment – How did what has just happened online translate to the physical?

Continue reading “Of introverts, trolls and hangouts on air….”

A condo in Terra Incognita?

‘Productive inquiry [is] that aspect of any activity where we are deliberately seeking what we need in order to do what we want to do (Dewey, 1922 and Cook and Brown, 1999). In the net age we now have at our disposal tools and resources for engaging in productive inquiry – and learning – that we never had before.’ John Seely Brown  

Productive Inquiry is what we do when we leverage the net, Seely Brown tells us.

I think productive inquiry is also what we do when we say ‘ There must be an app for that?’. I am not writing this post to explore the challenges presented by this confirmatory non-evidence based approach to learning, but to look at innovation in online learning as a kind of productive inquiry. In preparation for writing,  I have been tinkering with various innovations and in the process formulating a view of what counts as innovation which will be the subject of my next post. I have been ‘learning to be’ innovative on the web as I ‘learn about’ innovation in the context of education. This is an example of what Seely Brown  calls using the web for ‘purposeful tinkering’ or productive Inquiry. I was curious (and may be a bit doubtful) about how successful I could be at bringing up to date a given innovation using the web. Seely Brown’s paper was written in 2008, there was so much in it I could pursue. Once again blogging for the sake of learning, my assignment this time was to blog about just one innovation, having researched it to bring it up to 2013.

Continue reading “A condo in Terra Incognita?”

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