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Activity 17: The role of abundance

Image by Joi Ito

The Open Learning week started with us reading Martin Weller’s A pedagogy of abundance

We were asked to do the following;

In the conclusion two questions are posed: ‘The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it?’
Post a comment to contribute an answer to one of these questions, drawing on your own context and experience. For example, you might suggest that we could best equip learners to make use of abundant content by developing their critical analysis skills.

I like the whole debate of abundance and although I am in the middle of it, MOOC addict that I am, I have never really thought about education and abundance. To me abundance relates to crops, grazing, store cupboards, actually anything food related but not education. But when you think about it, it’s obvious that it is abundant. Think about it. In the 19th century only the rich (mainly boys) were educated and the only way you could access knowledge and resources was by attending school, having a governess or living in a household big enough for a library. In other words, you were rich. This slowly changed over the decades as we saw the emergence of education for all, cheaper books and libraries. However, the things associated with education (the resources, expertise and knowledge) were still scarce. You had to go to the library or attend school, college or university to access these resources. Educators were put on the same level as lawyers and doctors, trained experts who spent years learning their trade (they still are but I feel they have became more accessible).

And now we have the digital devices and tools that allow us access to so much more. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are so long you have internet access, a computer (smart phone, tablet etc) and a basic level of IT. Obviously this still excludes large groups if the population who don’t have this, but nonetheless you stand a better chance now compared to the 19th century. You can access online degrees, MOOCs, OERs, online books, talks, programmes and the experts themselves. A lot of this costs nothing (apart from the obvious costs of broadband and your own time). In his paper Martin Weller talks about “Freemium”

Freemium as the opposite of the traditional free sample: instead of giving away 1% of your product to sell 99%, you give away 99% of your product to sell 1%. The reason this makes sense is that for digital products, where the marginal cost is close to zero, the 99% cost you little and allow you to reach a huge market. So the 1% you convert, is 1% of a big number.

This is perfect for people like me who can’t afford to buy everything I want as I can access it and the providers make money from those who can and are are prepared to pay for a premium service.

I have been desperate to take courses but don’t have the time and money to go to college. With MOOCs I can basically learn anything I like. To complement this I have access to another level of “education”, namely social media and OERs. Since doing MOOCs I have had to create a Pearltrees in order to manage all the things I need/want to read and watch as part of what I call my second education (as opposed to the formal one I undertook at “proper” institutions).

Pearltrees means I can save things posted and sent to me via social media communities, plus the things I have found online, to an online “tree” for reading at a later date. I am constantly trying to catch up with the things I want to read. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining. I love the fact that there is so much out there and that I can share this with my peers and PLN (personal learning network). It feels like I am helping to educate myself and others and that they are helping to educate themselves and me.

Whilst having all this information to hand is a boon we need to learn how to manage it just like you would any tool. Just because its abundant and free doesn’t mean we have to like or use it all. We can still be discerning. Free doesn’t mean good, or even that it’s relevant to you. We don’t have to be grateful either as it doesn’t do anyone any favours. I think this is one of the most important lessons we can learn and teach other. Once we have understood this we will start to appraise free resources in the same way we would if we were paying for it. However, you’re not asking if it is worth your hard earned cash but if it is worth your precious time. Limited time + abundance of resources = time spent on resources not suitable, relevant or of good quality.

Personally I have learnt this through experience and as my confidence as increased. When I first started I assumed everyone knew better than me and anything they wrote had to be read. I felt guilty if I didn’t read someone’s blog or G+ post. If I started reading something but didn’t like it or it wasn’t relevant I persevered as I felt bad when someone had taken the time to write it.

But this led to frustration when I realised I had lost half an hour reading something that turned out to be irrelevant to what I was doing. So I started be discerning. Disregarding the irrelevant and giving my full attention to what was useful and helpful to what I was doing. That’s not to say the things I disregard aren’t useful, they could be to someone. Another good thing about using digital tools and communities, you will always find something you need.

Being a teacher in this day and age must be amazing in terms of resources. They have the whole world at their fingertips in terms of resources and their peers. But like learners they have to learn how to manage the resources and not let the resources manage them.

Oh and another useful skill for learners……. Skim reading!

Weller, Martin (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, 249 pp. 223–236.

TCP/IP architecture – Simply really!

I am now in week 7 of my Internet History, Technology and Security course with Coursera. I decided to do the optional assignment for extra grades. I didn’t do it for the extra grade, although, this will be useful, but to gain some level of understanding. Or should I say understanding full stop. This course is fascinating and whilst it claims not to be too technical, I am finding some parts very much so. I have loved hearing the stories about the early days of the internet from the people that were there. I am also interested in hearing about some of the technical aspects but I struggled in parts with the TCP/IP architecture which we have been looking at. I am determined to get some sort of grip on it and I think I get it. Sort of! Anyway, here it is. If there are any geeks (and I mean that in a good way) who want to correct any of the text below feel free. But just make sure it’s done in words of one syllable or less!

Assignment: Choose an element or aspect of the TCP/IP architecture and write a simple essay explaining how it works to a non-technical person. Do not reuse an example from the lectures in the class – come up with your own example. Your essay should choose one (or more) technical terms like “CSMA/CD”, “DHCP”, “InternetNetwork Layer”, or anything else from the topics in the class. Explain how the concept you have chosen functions in a way that someone not taking the class could understand what we are talking about. This is about writing for a non-technical audience.

In the early days of the “internet” a store and forward method was used for transmitting data. This basically is what it says. A message was forwarded and then stored and then it would be passed to the next computer, stored and forwarded and so on until it reached its destination. It was a bit like hopping across a river on stepping stones. Obviously the wider the river (or the greater the geographical distance) the more jumps were required and it took longer to reach the other side. Or in the case of the message the longer it took to get to the final destination computer. If there are lots of people (or messages) wanting to cross the river they have to wait until the previous person (message) reaches the other side. It is a lonely journey as the person jumping from stone to stone is doing so on their own. No networking here!

Academics knew there had to be a more efficient method of getting people across the stones and after many years of research they came up with packet switching. Packet switching basically meant that information was broken up in to small parts and sent across the network, which sped up the process and meant people jumped over the stepping stone more quickly (although chopped up in pieces and sent across different routes. Don’t worry they were put back together at the other end!)

So all these packets of data are jumping all over the place to get across buildings, states, countries etc. They are going through various servers and computers so that’s a lot of jumping around and potentially very complex. How could it be simplified? Easy really. Break it up (Internet researchers seem to enjoy breaking things up!)

As a result TCP/IP architecture was built. It’s full title is Transmission Control Policy/Internet Protocol and it is essentially responsible for telling the data what to do including how it should be addressed, formatted, the route it takes and how it is received at the final destination. There are four layers and each has an important job to do, the layers are:

The link layer contains communication technologies for a local network.
The internet layer (IP) connects local networks, thus establishing internetworking.
The transport layer handles host-to-host communication.
The application layer contains all protocols for specific data communications services on a process-to-process level. For example, HTTP specifies the web browser communication with a web server

For the purpose of the assignment I will be explaining the Link Layer. This is is the first of the stepping stones, the first layer in the TCP/IP architecture. It only concerns itself with the data jumping from one stone to the next (from one computer to another) at the host end. The devices (computers, printers etc) connected at the link layer is what is known as a network. Ethernet and wireless are the most common forms of link layers. The link layer basically looks out for the devices and the subsequent data only in it’s neighbourhood (network). It doesn’t care if there is a big wide world (the Internet) out there it is only worried about it’s own house and immediate neighbours within the neighbourhood. The distance between neighbours may be great or small, but it is still only the one step that the link layer is concerned with.

The link layer may have to think a bit if there is another device connected to the same network. How will the connected computers share the same network for example. What if there are 5 computers sharing the same network? If 2 of them want a conversation that isn’t meant for the other computers sharing the same “wire”, how do they do that? What about sending information whilst another computer is sending information? How do they ensure there isn’t a crash? If a computer wants to send data the link layer will have to consider how it is going to be carried during the jump. These are all the things that the link layer needs to consider. Once it’s issues have been addressed it doesn’t worry about any other aspect, it leaves this to the other layers. And this is the beauty of the system. It’s complex but each layer has it’s own job which it needs to focus on and this what simplifies data transmission.
There is obviously a whole lot more at work here but the aim of the assignment was to keep it simple. Besides this is the extent of my knowledge and even with additional reading my brain refuses to take in any more!

Image by Jelene Morris

Week 6 of Know Thyself – The Somatic Marker


Week 6 of Know Thyself and we are looking at Neuroscience, emotions and somatic markers, particularly, Antonio Damasio and his book Descartes’ Error. The study question I chose was;

Damasio hypothesizes that one factor causing certain societies to permit genocide, discrimination, slavery, and related forms of injustice is the corrosion or manipulation by demagogues and propagandists of somatic markers across an entire population. Please explain his reason for this view.

Somatic markers are;

The somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making.

Basically, for Damasio, the somatic marker is your gut feeling. He used an example of you meeting a potential business partner with whom you could make lots of money with. However, you know he is your best friends arch enemy. You can conjure up an image of sitting outside the cafe with the potential business partner and your friend walking past and seeing you. Not only can you conjure up the image but you can “feel”how your friend would feel when he saw you. This would then probably make up your mind not to continue the association.

Most of us have the ability to use gut instincts to make decisions. In fact most of us have the ability to make logical decisions but also follow our instinct and use our gut feelings to help the process. Some might go as far to say that the somatic marker hypotheses can be considered a higher type of reasoning and precludes practical reasoning. This You Tube video featuring Damasio sums it up nicely. It is also a process based on previous experience. You aren’t born with it as you need to first experience things and how they make you feel. If you are trying to make a decision and it conjures up a previous experience that was pleasant it may encourage you to follow a specific course of action.

As part of this theory it is also important to understand that we have two types of emotions, primary and secondary. Primary emotions are basic and are generally found across cultures; happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust. Secondary emotions can be described as more sophisticated and are based on evaluating and reflecting on a previous experience and can be based on your specific culture. In the lecture Professor Green used the example of the Japanese emotion of “Ame” (can’t seem to find out any more about this and don’t even know if this is the correct spelling). This is a feeling of bliss that some people may feel when lost in a large crowd. This obviously can’t be described as a primary emotion as it more than a basic emotion and is based upon you holding certain views or being from a certain culture. You are unlikely to experience “Ame” if you grew up on an African plain or in the Canadian mountains.

However, there are some people who have somatic marker dysfunction as Damasio touched upon in the interview on You Tube. Professor Green spoke to us about one of the subjects that Damasio studied, Phineas Gage who had appeared to have this dysfunction following a brain injury. Professor Green explained

he seems to have no way or at least no feasible way of contemplating a potential outcome of his actions and having a gut feeling as to whether or not that would be a good thing or a bad thing. Remember, he has emotions, but he’s not able to apply his effective responses to
perspective outcomes, in such a way as to get the whole process of practical rationality up and off the ground.

Another subject was Damasio’s patient “Elliot” (his name was changed for anonymity). He had sustained damage to the same area of the brain as Gage and experienced similar problems particularly when it came to making decisions and being able to apply emotions to perspective outcomes.

This is an outline of Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis, so now on to the study question. Damasio suggested that it was the corrosion or manipulation by demagogues and propagandists of somatic markers which allowed genocide and other forms of injustice or cruelty.

Damasio said that “a sick culture prevailed upon a presumably normal machinery of reason with disastrous consequences” when discussing Nazi Germany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Basically he proposed that people can manipulate individuals, or even large groups of society, into believing that its okay to hurt certain groups within society i.e. Jewish people, black people, women etc. It’s something we have seen throughout history and sadly continue to see. No doubt this won’t change any time soon.

Damasio claims that

Most of the somatic markers we use for rational decision-making probably were created in our brains during the process of education and socialisation, by connecting specific classes of stimuli with specific classes of somatic state.

Damasio goes on to say that these markers can also go wrong. The Nazis successfully convinced a large part of society that Jewish people or disabled people were not human, sub-human, and therefore it was okay to discriminate against them and kill them. They didn’t count. Ordinary Germans contributed to this. Can we say that this was because they followed orders because they were scared? In some cases yes but certainly not all. They had been successfully brain washed into thinking this was okay. If, as Damasio, claims, somatic markers are used for rational decision making, and they are created thought the process of socialisation and education, it is easy to see where the weak link is.

If somatic markers are created through socialisation and education and they are based on experience then it is easy to see how they are open to manipulation. If you grow up being told by your family, school and community that a particular group of people are bad, wrong, sub human, there is a good chance you will believe this. If it is true we use our somatic marker for rational decision making then, to you anyway, discriminating against a particular group will be rational or normal. This reminded me of an experiment I once read about where a teacher in America divided her class into blue and brown eyed groups. She then told the blue eyed children they were better and treated them more favourably. It didn’t take long for them to become arrogant and pick on the blue eyeds. The blue eyeds in turn quickly became subservient. If this can be done by a teacher, in a short period of time, without conviction it’s no wonder that political leaders, can manipulate large groups of the population.

Oops! How did that OER happen?

Image by Tim Morgan

I have just finished a Google Hangout with Sukaina Walji and John Baglow where we started planning our OER. Creating our own OER? How did that come about? Well it was all John’s fault for not being clearer. Or possibly mine for not reading properly.

In response to one of my posts John wrote

Nat, do you work in He or FE, where I am? In preparation for our TMA I am thinking about ways that MOOCs could have a role in my college. It would certainly be with adult learners, not the 16-19 students and maybe CPD and HE courses in FE are the best candidates.
I wonder if we could produce a mini-MOOC just for our own staff. What do you and Deborah think?

I read…….. “let’s create a MOOC!”

John replied

Nat, when I wrote “perhaps we could produce a mooc for our own staff” I meant we in my college – but maybe we could come up with one ourselves! What topic do we already have some stuff on? I teach teacher training now. Maybe we could come up with part of a mooc for our own colleagues. It wouldn’t be very massive of course. Any ideas for a subject? Blended learning? Improving your learners’ digital literacy? Communication? …..

Then Sukaina joined in and that was that.

This to me is the epitome of open learning and captured the spirit of creativity, collaboration and of in the “momentness” it’s supposed to embody. Despite having using G+ for a while this was my first Hangout and John introduced me to Etherpad so if nothing else I have learnt something already.

We have since down scaled the MOOC to an OER but that doesn’t matter. We have started something, we will invite others to join in, and we will see where it takes us. Hopefully we will create am OER. Maybe someone else will develop it into a MOOC. Who knows. Watch this space………..

PLN – Innovative or Old Hat? – Activity 16

Photo by Garfield Anderssen

Activity 16
Now you have a definition of PLN, the question you need to answer is:
‘Does this offer anything new?’
In terms of innovation, can we say a PLN is truly innovative, or merely a rebadging of existing practice? As with many new terms in educational technology, some people find a PLN usefully captures a new development, while others say it is simply a new term for an old practice.
In considering this, take into account the scale and possibilities offered by new technologies, past networking practice and any of the references you found when constructing your definition.
Write a blog post setting out a position statement on what PLNs are and whether it is a useful term or not.

Of course PLNs are not new. Since the beginning of time humans have reached out and connected with each other and tried to establish networks.

People still connected with each other before the Internet and the World Wide Web was invented. In fact, academics trying to connect with other academics was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the internet. Prior to this people phoned each other, met face to face, held meetings, sent memorandums (for the youngsters out there memorandums are basically emails but on paper, hand written and put in a person’s pigeon hole. If you don’t know what a pigeon hole is you haven’t lived). People would hold training courses and attend conferences.

This blog sums up the changes perfectly.

What is new is the way they are done. We now have the technology to connect with anyone, anywhere at anytime in our neighbourhood or the world. Social media is now being considered as a PLN, even as part of someones personal development.

The blog author summarises;

The kinds of discussions I have, and information I share with my PLN hasn’t changed all that much over the years–what works in class, how students learn, how to become a better teacher. How I meet other teachers, where we discuss ideas, and how we share information has changed. Significantly. My PLN now includes teachers who live quite far from me—in Asia, Australia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. I meet them online. I learn from them online. I share with them online.

There are a lot of sites and posts about PLNs out there which highlight their importance and how guidance is being sought by users. It would appear there are PLNs for PLNs!

35 ways to build a PLN online

Your PLN made easy

Supporting PLNs for educators

What is the point of a PLN?

In this blog, Teachers Helping Teachers: The PLN Road Map Andrew Marcinek explains how to start a PLN

Find like-minded people and start a conversation. Make your PLN personal and beneficial. And remember, it’s ok to make it all about you

PLNs are not new they are just wearing a different coat. The term, PLN, is useful because it is simple and says exactly what it is. It is up to you how and what tools you use and who you connect with (personal). The aim is to acquire knowledge through connecting and collaborating (learning). It’s all about talking to the people you work with and people all over the world (network).

My definition

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move

highlights the other exciting aspect of PLNs. They aren’t just for teachers and their students or even subject and industry experts. It’s a network of people which can be anyone. Because of the technology and resources available to us we can all be students whenever we want to be.

Activity 15 – Defining a PLN (Personal Learning Network)

Photo by Sue Waters

Activity 15 concerns PLNs;

As with many new terms, PLN is used in a variety of contexts. The Wikipedia entry defines it as:

‘an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment . In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.’ (Wikipedia, 2012 )

Use search tools and the discussion in the forum to formulate your own, one-sentence definition of a PLN.

I have had PLNs in my life, at college and uni, but this wasn’t what they were called then. Study group or partner was what we would have called them except we didn’t give them a name, we just did it generally because we had been asked to as part of an assignment. In my experience you either teamed up with friends and did well (once you had stopped snacking, gossiping and flicking through magazines) or were teamed up by a teacher and it turned out badly. Someone didn’t pull their weight or turn up and there was always an over-ambitious one that out shouted everyone else in the group.

It is only since I started doing MOOCs that I have discovered the power of PLNs. Actually I didn’t discover it in my first 2 MOOCs, it was the third one E-learning and Digital Cultures where I was truly inducted. Some of you may have already heard me going on about this course but it really was a defining moment for me. I had embarked on a course I was terrified and exited about. On my previous two MOOCs there had been no interaction on social media and I wasn’t keen on the official forums. All of a sudden I was thrown into a thriving, dynamic and supportive network which I still remember with great fondness today.

Obviously PLNs don’t need to be purely digital, you can have a discussion by the water cooler or in the canteen. But social media and technology make them global, instant, dynamic and potentially as big as you like. My experience of them has made me determined to try and create or build upon a PLN in future courses if one doesn’t already exist. To me it is an essential component of any learning experience.

I came across lots of websites dealing with the subject which highlights how important they are becoming/have become. I have included a selection;

Ways to build a PLN

How to create a robust and personal PLN

What is the point of a PLN?

So to the difficult bit. My one sentence definition of a PLN

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move.

(Okay two sentences but that was hard enough without trying to get it in one!)

The MOOC Approach – activity 12

Photo by OCLC

Activity 12 for Open Education is;
Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings

The first thing that comes to mind when considering this question is staff (teaching and non-teaching) and not students.

It is difficult to find time for all staff to get together and learn. We hold twilight sessions and inset days but there are a limited number of days in the year set aside for this. There is also a lot to fit in and it is mainly teacher focussed. MOOCs could be offered as part of the twilight/inset days or as separate personal development, or even both. Courses could be tailored to teaching, non teaching and combined groups.

We don’t always have the space to have all the staff learning together and MOOCs would create a virtual space for debate and collaboration. I would love to be part of a staff MOOC, particularly if it involved all the additional “chatter” found when using social media and blogs.

Obviously there will be staff that either won’t be interested or need encouragement but I can definitely see its value in staff development.

In terms of students, I think it would be useful but would need to be targeted and used in conjunction with traditional methods. Our students are aged 11-18 and many would benefit greatly, especially as they are considered to be “digital natives”. For some students, who perhaps don’t respond to traditional methods, for whatever reason, this could be a way of engaging them.

In practical terms it could also be used for students absent for long periods because of illness for example. They could also prove helpful during holidays to target those students revising for exams. We currently hold one off revision sessions in the holidays but MOOCs would be a great supplement.

Some adaptations would need to be made but I think MOOCs would play an important role, in partnership with traditional pedagogy for staff and students.

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