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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Me and MOOCs – 1 Year on

As you may have noticed from previous posts I love MOOCs. They have restored my faith in education, something which I lost whilst going through the secondary school process myself. I have discovered just how much I love learning, something that I never experienced as a teenager, certainly not at school anyway.

As soon as I found out about Coursera I was away, averaging about 5 MOOCS a month. I even completed a MOOC about open learning; A MOOC about MOOCs.

Having some experience I now feel qualified (somewhat) to comment on them. Firstly, I still love them and strongly believe that they are the only viable way for me to continue my education as money and time are not in abundance. However, as time is so precious I am beginning to be a bit discerning about where I direct it. At the beginning I continued with a MOOC to the bitter end even if I wasn’t enjoying it or felt it wasn’t up to scratch. More recently I have “dropped” two MOOCs, the last one because I found the way it was organised to be overly complicated and time consuming. All the reading material was generated by the course organisers and was based on their research. I have no problem with this as such but I felt that I was part of an experiment without quite remembering giving consent or what the experiment was about.

I no longer feel bad about dropping MOOCs and I think this is something that providers need to be aware of. At the moment they are still relatively new and exciting and mistakes and quality issues are forgiven, especially as they are still free. However, learners are catching up and are now prepared to vote with their feet in the same way they would with any service they consider to be under par or not fit for purpose. At the same time providers are also realising that they have to up their game as demonstrated by the Quality Matters Programme. It is also discussed in this paper by Li Yuan and Stephen Powell

I still continue to be positive about MOOCs, and have enrolled for lots more, but I also take a more realistic approach to them. I no longer feel “grateful” and feel I should persist if it isn’t working. Perhaps this will be the most important measure of quality: Us. From the beginning I have felt I am part of something new and exciting. Something that means we can learn on an equal basis, globally and at our convenience. If we want it to continue we have to help shape it. This has been the best bit about my MOOC experience, social media and the creation of my PLN (personal learning network). Since my E-learning and digital cultures course social media has become more than a platform for posting photos of cute puppies (although this is still important!), it is a place for sharing, collaboration, learning from peers and discussion. As part of my Open Learning MOOC I even created a MOOC with John Baglow and Sukaina Walji. We may not have published it (yet) but the fact that we did it is testament to the collaboration and “openness” experienced by MOOCers and open learners.

If nothing else I am grateful for the PLN that I have gained. MOOCs started this but, again, it was Us that cultivated and shaped it. Even if I never take another MOOC I will still have my network who will continue to share my learning adventure. There are too many to mention but special thanks to Deborah Gabriel for your support and encouragement so far.

The Times are a Changing

I recently read The Role of the Educator by Stephen Downes and it made me realise how much education has and continues to change. The fact that we are even asking what the role of the educator is is an indication of how much it has changed. If you had asked that question 30, 20 or even 10 years ago it would have been considered obvious. The role of the educator was to teach and in a school building it was to teach and keep the kids safe.

According to Downes

Most practitioners in the field are familiar with the admonishment that an educator will no longer be a “sage on the stage”. But that said, many others resist the characterization of an educator as merely a “guide by the side.” We continue to expect educators to play an active role in learning, but it has become more difficult to characterize exactly what that role may be.

Downes goes on to provide a comprehensive list of the roles that an educator plays today, including coach, alchemist and lecturer. It is a comprehensive list but I wanted to pick out the 3 that meant the most to me.

The Learner
Personally I think this is the most important one as I can’t see how you can be an educator if you are not a learner. Times have changed and teachers are no longer the distant figures who stood at the top of a class and instilled fear and/or respect as they once did. I work with teachers and they amaze me. They are at the top of their game in terms of knowledge in their subject but are still curious and, more importantly able to listen to others in order to gain more knowledge. Technology has really opened this up and allowed learners and educators to broaden their field of teaching/learning. It has also given all of us the chance to be learners as well as teachers. We all have something to offer at some point.

20130527-191419.jpg Image by John Le Masney

The Sharer
Teaching has always been about sharing in the sense that a teacher knows something which is then passed on. Technically this is sharing knowledge but not really, not in the true spirit of sharing. I spend a lot of time in on-line communities, G+, Twitter etc learning and sharing information (and yes looking at pictures of cute puppies, it’s not all high brow you know!) and technology has made this process less rigid. On average I am doing 2 MOOCs at any given time and the on-line communities are an essential learning tool. It’s not necessarily about having a right or a wrong answer. Sometimes having the debate is more important than the outcome. I also love discovering things which I can pass on and finding things that others have passed on. I have recently been introduced to something that is a perfect example of this sort of sharing. Teachmeet is basically a mini conference which allows educators to learn from each other. The Isle of Wight is hosting their first one on 6th June and although I am not a teacher I will be going along. It is being coordinated by teachers for teachers. It’s short, collaborative, and innovative. It is also relatively cheap compared to your traditional conference. Basically you need a venue and participants but you can go as cheap or as grand as you like. Their home page shows all the Teachmeet events taking place around the country and it gives you an idea of the enthusiasm for this kind of activity.

The Coordinator
According to Downes

this person organises the people who have been brought together, organizing groups or things together for the common good

I see this at school every day as teachers organise classes of students, and in the evenings whilst I complete MOOCs. I have joined and created groups and communities on-line as well as Twitterchats and this is the beauty of studying in a digital world, we can all have a go. I wouldn’t be allowed, and I would be too scared, to organise a group of students in a class as I am not a teacher or teaching assistant. I can however set up a Twitterchat or Google+ community and this role of coordinator allows me to bring together a group of learners and educators in the style of rhizomatic learning. This is something that David Cormier has written about in his blog and describes as;

A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by Delieze and Guattari to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-relicating. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process

These are exciting times for teachers and learners and never before have we had so many opportunities for teaching/learning. These are also uncertain times but embracing the technology and resources available to us allows us to be more creative, innovative and, I think, gives us more control over our learning. As educators the breadth of jobs that make up a teachers role must be exhausting but also liberating in other ways. Teachers have access to so many different tools for teaching, learning and connecting with students as well as colleagues.

Learning has changed but the school systems are not changing at the same rate. The teachers and students will be the vehicles of this change which is being driven by technology. This is not a bad thing as they will take the tools and see what they can do with them. We just have to ensure that the powers that be acknowledge this and harness the changes to ensure they are used properly and that this spark of innovation isn’t left to stagnate whilst they try to catch up.

Accreditation where Accreditation is due

Why do humans like their achievements acknowledged by a bit of paper? I may be making a generalisation but I am assuming, based on observation and discussions over time, that this applies to a lot of people.

I started pondering this whilst waiting for my certificate for the Internet History Technology and Security MOOC I recently completed. I loved the course, learnt lots and am no doubt enriched for the experience. And yet I am sat here waiting for a bit of paper. I am also fairly certain I would feel a great sense of disappointment should I not get my certificate. Obviously I would get over it but there would none the less be a sense of short term deprivation.

I noticed, and have discussed this, in my recent Open Learning MOOC provided by the Open University. The Open University used a system of Mozilla Open Badges which is “a new online standard to recognise and verify learning”.

To me this was a step up from certificates! Online digital badges that you can take with you and add to whatever platforms you use. As soon as I achieved them they went straight on my blog. I am not by nature a show off but I had no qualms about pasting these all over my blog!

There has been been lots of debate about MOOCs and accreditation. Some people say it’s one of the critical factors for MOOC Survival whilst others aren’t so sure

Maybe it comes from years of being in an institution that tells you that achievement is measured by results which have to be backed up by a certificate. Schools drum it into us that we have to attain certain levels, sit an exam to prove it and then wait for a bit of paper to tell us and others what we have achieved. Although I have only taken courses that offer statements of accomplishments I wouldn’t be put off doing a course because it didn’t offer one. I am doing it for the learning experience, the connections and to strengthen my personal learning network. The certificate is the icing on the cake and something to add to my CV.

I suppose certificates and badges are a bit like photographs. You don’t need a photo to tell you had a good time (or in the case of a course, learnt something) but it is nice to have a physical reminder and sometimes you might want to share it with someone.

In the meantime I continue to wait for my certificate…………

24 Hour Walk Round The Island – Update

We set off from West Cowes at 4am at a 4mph pace which didn’t really ease off until 4 hours later in Yarmouth.

Nearing Yarmouth

My plan was of course to complete the whole 73 miles. However, I knew that this was a bit unrealistic. My average comfortable walking distance is about 25 miles so it’s a big leap.

Anyway, I didn’t complete it because of bad feet and I felt very disappointed at first. I have had time to reflect and feel less bad about not completing. I did 32 miles which is about 5 or 6 miles more than last year, at least it’s heading in the right direction.

This sight was a real moral boost

It has spurred me into action and I need to start planning more regular long distance walks. I walk every day as we don’t drive but this is usually only 1-3 miles a day. I have also been toying with the idea of running for a while but lack the confidence. I think planning for the next big walk will give me the boost I need.

What I am proud of is being part of a great walking team. We do all sorts of walks and we have become good friends. As well as walking we have some laughs, great conversations, food and beer.

Here’s to the next walk!

24 Hour Walk Round the Isle of Wight

I am getting ready to walk round the Isle of Wight on Saturday. We start at 4am and end on Sunday at 4am and we will walk a total of 73 miles.

I have a back pack stuffed full of sweet and salty foods as well as the contents of a small pharmacy!

Very excited and very scared. I tried this last year and only managed about 26 miles. I would really like to complete it and my age is right. I have just turned 37 so walking 73 miles seems fitting!

Anyway off to bed in preparation for the early start. If no more entries appear I am lost somewhere on the Island. Send help. And food!

Blog for the Isle of Wight Long Distance Association where you can read more about the walk as well as other walks we do.


Humanising Leadership

Image courtesy of Deb and Dave and FD Toys

“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.”

— Lance Secretan, Industry Week, October 12, 1998

I havent blogged for a while as felt a bit blogged out towards the end of my previous 3 MOOCs. I have now had a couple of weeks down time and enjoyed some good walks. I have also started 2 new MOOCs, Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence and Introduction to Psychology.

The start to the ILEI course has been fascinating as I have been forced to think about previous leaders I have worked with, but it has also made me think about how I come across to people.

But what makes a great leader?

According to the course professor, Richard Boyatzis;

The best leaders build or rebuild resonant relationships. These are relationships in which the leader is in tune with or in sync with the people around him or her.


outstanding leaders know that the music of leadership is emotions. And that people who are really good at leadership are able to help inspire, and help us manage our emotions in the process.

We then went on to learn about the 3 categories of competencies that need to be fulfilled in order to be an effective leader, social (concerns your relationships with people around you) emotional (being aware of your own emotions and how to manage them) and cognitive (basically concerns how you view and make sense of the world around you).

What you may notice about everything so far is how big a factor emotions and relationships play in this field. I wasn’t surprised that emotions play a role, I have worked with enough ineffective leaders who just weren’t ‘people’ people, but I was surprised at just how big a part they play. When I first started in the world of work, and with little experience, I alway put “people skills” on my CV because I thought it sounded good and I could blag it in an interview, something I couldn’t do with a “tangible” skill. People skills was then considered to be a “soft” skill. Something that mainly women possessed and particularly those working in the customer services industry.

It is only with experience that you realise how a leader can make or break an organisation and make individuals feel about themselves. In years gone by qualities such as ruthlessness, emotionless, toughness, cognitive intelligence, powerfulness were considered to be good qualities for a leader. Thankfully this is changing (slowly in some industries) and I found this article in Forbes interesting. Notice how many of the qualities could be considered “soft”; honesty, sense of humour, communication, creativity, intuition and a positive attitude. You may not agree with all the qualities, or consider others to be more important, but there is no escaping the fact that what is considered to be good qualities for leaders is changing.

I look forward to learning more about this subject and, hopefully, myself and my colleagues in the process. However, age is a great teacher and I have come to realise that it is the little things that have the biggest impacts. As an effective leader we don’t need some grandiose gesture or successfully conquer the world (although if you do succeed at this please use your new found power wisely and kindly), it’s the little things that count. This Ted talk by Drew Dudley sums it up for me.

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