attending to the shadow of living and learning on the web




I thank Viv Rolfe for the title of this post! Her post helped me reflect on my own motivations and role what I have been labelling ‘open online education’ in this blog. I responded to Viv’s post with a comment published in Known that I titled Virtues and Vices. In that post I reflected on how sad it was that we had to apologise for asking questions that challenged conventional wisdom and the importance of making ourselves keep asking them,

I am thinking about all of those things, Viv. I also find myself ‘questioning not just openness but my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.’ Some people have already said adios. If we do not take time to consider the vices as well as the virtues, in the spirit of inquiry rather than self-righteousness, many more more might say adios in the not too distant future. Is this how we want it to be?

It is not how I want it to be. My first step in taking action to feel free to say what I want to say is to close comments on this blog. This post talks about how I hope my decision might help me tackle virtues, vices and heffalumps.

Continue reading “What’s not being said and where’s that elephant?”

The expert linchpin

I have been on many back channel conversations of late that have led me to reflect on Bateson’s idea that only  ‘a difference which makes a difference’ is information.  It makes me smile to think that so much of what I read and write may be just noise and not information.

Let me explain.

Just this week a paper that looked at the light and shade of one MOOC was extensively discussed on the web. Jenny offers a balanced view of the discussion in answering some of the commentary. I must say that her description of the reaction to their paper is much kinder than mine would be – I have seen a great deal more defensiveness and unwarranted personal attacks than her post may indicate to the casual reader. Of course, unless you have a Facebook account, you will be unable to see the full conversation. The joys of the not so open web. I digress.

What I see foregrounded in these interactions are categories and the application of those categories to a given idea. Interaction is about whether the reported research applies cMOOCs, or to  xMOOCs, but not to our MOOC because it is different. Ah! but this research applies to networks not communities, communities have people and networks have nodes. Networks lack caring, no they don’t. Each position taken can, of course, be defended (and I chose the word purposefully) with a long list of references depending on what your particular perspective and interest might be. Clearly there is value in making distinctions that map a territory. Perhaps there is less value in arguing if my food map is truer than your road map of the same territory. I am not interested in taking a position on the issue here, I learn each day from the wisdom with which Jenny and Frances deal with dialogue online. Read their article and make up your own mind about the value of some of the commentary about the paper.

Personally, I have been led back to an old idea in my knowledge map, that of the expert linchpin. A facilitator role to support individuals navigating the tacit seems an important element in any conversation of what can make these open educational spaces safer for us all.

This is what this post is about and the above is offered only by way of context. It feels to me that, sometimes, after we create our ideal structures, procedures and technologies we start to wonder about where and how people might fit in. Do networks have nodes or people? Do communities care about people or not? To me this reasoning is a little back to front.

What is a difference that has made a difference to me in my journey into open education?

Continue reading “The expert linchpin”

A human OER

The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. […] Once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together. The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the web could be immense. Tim Berners-Lee (in 1998)

I love the ‘webness of the web’ for learning, I love the relationships I am building and am full of wonder about the kindness and gentle nature of the people in my network. Yet there is a dark side to it all that makes me wonder what role I want to play as I engage in online dialogue with others going forward. Each day I learn a little more about the implicit norms of behaviour a given collection of individuals shapes as they come together online. Decisions about belonging or ‘liking’ are often made on the basis of unstated group norms. I have spent my life offline noticing these patterns and the web does ‘make sense of what we are doing and where we individually fit in’. It is easy for me to see pattern even without engaging in fancy analytics.

As I reflect on my role I notice a world where acronyms abound. This is similar to the insular organisational cultures I visit offline in my consulting work. They are a marker of belonging as much as a marker of exclusion.

I learn about OER, about the OpenEd, about MOOCs of assorted varieties, about the pros and cons of the LMS, I observe confused metaphors about what it means to teach online – is it a course, it is the open web, is it the platform, is it blended or BYOD or all of the above? Am I a teacher, a learner, a peer learner, part of personal or professional learning network? Am I part of a community, a group, a CoP or a network? Can we measure my BC (between centrality) to see if my life is worth living? I can go on. All of this has felt quite unsatisfactory to me as I reflect on how to engage those people who have not made the transition to working in the open web. It is not self-evident that this is a ‘good’ thing and historically it is often just thought a ‘good’ thing by those who stand to benefit from it.

In this post I clarify an online role for me personally that aligns with evolving values and beliefs about open practices.

Continue reading “A human OER”

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?”

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