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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…………

Learning about Learning


I can’t believe this course is over and thank you Deborah L Gabriel for telling me about it and inviting me to the G+ Open Education community.

For the final activity we had to create a video or use another tool (avoiding just plain text) and reflect on what we have learned in this course, covering one of the following elements:
What aspect of openness in education interests you most (and why)?
What the future direction of open education will be in your opinion, justifying your answer.
Your experience of studying an open course versus traditional, formal education.

For me, it was interesting to find out that traditional academic literature and debate is being produced on open education. I had taken a number of MOOCs and read articles about the whole phenomenon, but I had never realised that it was starting to become “mainstream”.

The aspect of openness that interests me the most is it’s connection to social media and online communities. I like the idea of people being responsible for their own learning and I would love to see this developed in high schools. I have already talked about my feelings on how important online communities are for support, PLN and learning. I think open learning is exactly what social media was made for. Open learning and social media foster creativity, connectiveness, collaboration, and a love for learning.

I don’t think open learning will be a disruptive technology for a little while time, but I think it will start to be woven into the fabric of traditional education. I also think it will begin with higher education and high schools will eventually follow.

Schools and educational institutions are already realising the importance of open education and social media. I have seen an increase in the use of Twitter and Facebook for learning as well as blogging, Skyping and students being allowed to collaborate on projects. The human race is changing in many ways and the way we learn is one of them. Can you imagine sitting in a class of 40+ learning facts by rote and spending the day reciting them back at the teacher? As an adult learner you wouldn’t return and as a child you would most likely disengage and stay that way. But it wasn’t so long ago that this was normal. As technology and the world around us changes surely our brains and methods for processing information also changes. I blogged about this after reading an article about the possibility of Google making us stupid. Education is becoming open in so many ways. Not only through the use of technology and social media but also through efforts to engage learners and recognising that there are different ways to do this. Technology and social media is one of the main drivers for this change.

I consider myself as a born again learner. I used to love learning stuff when I was younger and was a voracious reader. I used to like making my own skin creams using natural ingredients, drawing the human skeleton from books, learning about animals from documentaries, about nature when on walks on the beach or countryside, cooking from recipes, and picking up bits of a language when on holiday abroad. But I didn’t really like school (apart from art and sport). I hated maths, grammar, standing up in class and cramming for exams. This Ted talk by Ken Robinson sums it up for me.

This paper, The Traditional University is Dead: Long Live the Distributed University, by Steve Wheeler makes for interesting reading and I agree with the section on the “regurgitation” of information.
For me, open learning is giving me the chance to learn in a way that works for me combining formal with creative learning. I listen to lectures and complete assignments and I like the formal structure which includes deadlines. But I can get my creativity fix by joining online communities, writing blogs and creating and maintaining a supportive and dynamic personal learning network. It’s like a two tier learning system, each tier complementing and supporting the other. This form of rhizomatic learning is something we looked at as part of the course and I have also previously blogged about it.

I personally feel that open learning will continue to grow and start to form part of a new approach to education (not sure if that will happen in my lifetime but at some point). What is crucial is how open education is managed. We need to make sure that it stays open and free/affordable where possible. It has to ensure that it doesn’t become too “mainstream”. I don’t mean this in terms of being available to all but in that it doesn’t try to become what our current education system is today. We can’t afford to lose the ethos of the early days of open learning. I have included a link to my Prezi presentation, Openness in Education. I learnt about Prezi from someone on my online leaning community! Thank you to the Open University for providing this course and to the G+ and Blogging community that took the time to read and comment on my activities. I enjoyed reading, and learnt from, all the posts and blogs I read, so thanks for sharing.

Open learner literacies – activity 24

For the final activity this week we were first asked to read Helen Beetham’s Review and Scoping Study for a cross-JISC Learning and Digital Literacies Programme: Sept 2010

Secondly we had to draw up a set of open learner literacies.
“These should be based on what you have experienced and researched so far in this course. They should cover the types of skill you feel are important for an individual to learn successfully in an open learning context (whether that is using OER, in a MOOC or through informal, lifelong learning).”

The number of skills is up to you, although they should cover most of what you feel is important in being an effective open learner. Each literacy should be accompanied by some explanation and justification.
Blog your list of literacies and look at those suggested by others. You should reflect upon the following:

Are there literacies that are particularly related to the open element, or would your list apply to all learners?
Did you find literacies suggested by others that you would like to add?
If these are important literacies, how would you go about developing them for learners?

In the paper digital literacy is described as

those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society

I am using my own MOOC journey as a the basis of what, I think, are the digital literacies you need for the world of open learning.

I mean this in terms of openness to learning. Openness to trying new things. Openness to meeting new people. Openness to trying new ways of thinking. In fact openness to everything. Since doing MOOCs have tried lots of new applications and technologies. I don’t necessarily have to keep using them but I need to be aware of them and try them. Some of this is down to confidence but it also rests on how we may have learnt at school. Traditional schooling doesn’t always encourage openness, although this is changing. Much of what we did was based on individual attainment and what your results were and what you achieved. This is great but doesn’t always encourage openness and a willingness to share hard earned knowledge. I think traditionally there was an attitude of “I found it out and studied for it. If they want to find out they need to do themselves”.

Collaboration and community
I think at some stage in your learning journey you need to collaborate in some respect. You may totally embrace it or you may just do the bare minimum but at some point you will have to learn to work collaboratively. Learning within a community such as G+ and Facebook can also take some getting used to. Collaborating and contributing to communities is vital for your own learning but also to others. You are adding to resources already out there which makes it similar to a bartering community.

Research, skim reading and critical decision making
This is crucial as the amount of information can be overwhelming. At the start of my journey I was trying to read everything but there isn’t enough time and not everything is relevant or of sufficient quality. You need to find a way of running your eyes over something and make a decision, to keep reading or move on. In his blog Wayne Barry calls it critical filtering which I think is a perfect description. On a daily basis I come across stuff that isn’t relevant to what I am doing there and then, but I want to read later. Thanks to a fellow MOOCer I discovered Pearltrees which allows me to save information for when I have time.

Reciprocal learning
Having the confidence to offer your opinions and sharing your work. This was, and occasionally still is, my weak point. When I first had to create a blog I thought “who’s going to be remotely interested in what I have to say”? I have no formal qualifications on the subjects I was blogging about. The same problem with Twitter. What would I Tweet about and who would listen to little ole me”? My heart still does a little skip when someone comments on something I have blogged.

Most of the above should be applicable to both open and traditional types of learners but some literacies are stronger or work in slightly different ways since the emergence of social media. Take collaboration for example. Learners have always worked with their peers but now we are digital it has been taken to a completely different level. Since doing MOOCs I have collaborated with people from all over the world and at a more rapid pace. The scope is almost limitless.

For me the biggest change is that of reciprocal learning. Again this is something that also happens in traditional learning. Students speak to each other, recommend books, form study groups etc. However, technology has transformed this, particularly in open learning. With the rise in blogging, social media, Google Hangouts etc more of us are “publishing” and reading the posts of other students as well as “qualified” academics. In essence we are all educators as well being educated.

A lot of these digital skills are already being used by people when they are socialising using social media or sat in a circle of friends chatting. What a lot of people don’t realise is how easy it is to transfer this to learning. One of the big barriers is confidence but this can be overcome with experience and the support you get from online communities. What is really exciting is that the skills learned online can be transferred to the “real world” so digital literacies shouldn’t be seen as exclusive to this realm.

Open Technologies – Activity 22

Image by Kathleen Donovan

Write a short blog post suggesting one additional technology that is important for open education, either from the role of a learner or a provider. The technology can be one that has been significant, or one that you feel is going to become increasingly relevant.
What you include as a technology can be quite broad: for instance, it can be a general category (such as social networks), a specific service or a particular standard.
In your post briefly explain what the technology is, and then why you think it is important for open education. The emphasis should be on open education in particular, and not just education in general.

Personally I would choose social media as it has become my PLN (personal learning network) and an important way of getting and receiving support. Wikipedia defines social media as

the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

There are many examples of social media, Facebook and Twitter for example, both of which I use. But for me G+ has become the most important and, I think, is perfect for open education. I find G+ to be a friendlier more supportive version of Facebook. I am a member of a couple of G+ communities created by students on MOOCs I am studying, and have created one myself. The Human-Computer Interaction MOOC community now has 365 members and is essential for asking questions about the course and assignments, providing additional resources and supporting each other. To me it is the common room at my old university where I spent time socialising with fellow students and working together on assignments or projects. Google hangouts give you the opportunity to speak “face to face” with colleagues.

This online network also helps me stick with my courses. I have taken about 10 so far and dropped out of two. Both of those involved courses where I wasn’t a member of any online community (from searches I made I couldn’t even see that there was one) and I didn’t have the sense of connection I normally had. Being part of these communities gives you a sense of belonging and I also had a feeling that I would be letting my peers down if I simply dropped out. Being part of a community also makes me feel that I have invested more and makes me think twice about dropping out. Given that MOOCs report such a high rate of students “dropping out” maybe this is a way of keeping more students engaged?

Some MOOCs have 50,000+ students enrolling on their courses. Admittedly the numbers do reduce as a course continues, but the numbers are still too high for one professor and a handful of teaching assistants to support students. Online communities can help as someone will always have the answer, and given its global appeal, 24 hours a day.

Online communities provide me with additional reading and links to useful and interesting sources of information. It means that when I log in each time I don’t know where my learning will take me.

To me online communities are what your tutors and peers were at college or university. You went to the lecture and did the exams. Meeting with other students and your tutor was not only essential but enhanced the experience.

“Pedagognology” – Activity 21

Use the Week 6 forum to discuss the relationship between technology and pedagogic theory and practice, drawing on your own context and experience.
What is your own experience and view?
Do you regard either pedagogy or technology as more significant than the other?
How do technology and pedagogy influence each other?
Do you have experience where either technology or pedagogy has been given more weight than the other?

The title I created for this post gives a clue to my position on this subject. We started by reading chapter 1 of Martin Weller’s The Digital Scholar We are introduced to the term Technological Determination which was first used by Thorbein Veblen, an American sociologist.

The technological deterministic viewpoint is that technology is an autonomous system that affects all other areas of society. Thus human behaviour is, to a greater or lesser extent, shaped by technology

This is often discussed in negative terms but I see it from a different point of view. Human behaviour is shaped by many things including culture. To me technology is just another form of culture like film and art. And similarly, debate rages here too. Think of the arguments over modern art and film and opera versus pop. None of the above are bad they are just a matter of your level of exposure, taste, preference etc. When I was 14 I loved the group Bros, now my tastes are slightly improved!

To me, technology versus pedagogy is the same thing. There is no “versus” as they can work separately, in part and together. At the school where I work we are slowly introducing iPads but already use Twitter and Facebook. We will soon be moving to Google in terms of documents, email and our website. Departments and individual teachers have Twitter accounts for their subject areas and to engage with their students. I use social media for advertising, PR and engaging with students and parents. We also use Edmodo, GCSEpod and Doddle and Vimeo. Our PE department use Wii Just Dance for lessons and it goes down a storm with students. But we have also introduced lacrosse, to me a fairly old fashioned sport, which is being met with equal enthusiasm by students. We also practice DEAR (drop everything and read, which is basically just that. Everyday at a specific time we all drop whatever we are doing and read) as a way of encouraging literacy. I see most students reading good old fashioned books but some are using Kindles and other tablets. Last week I had to walk around the school and spotted an English class sat outside in the sun reading a play from books.

This just illustrates that neither replaces the other and people will always have a preference for one but, generally, this can be accommodated in an education setting. Technology and pedagogy influence and drive each other. There may come a day when technology has a bigger influence but however far it goes it will all have originally come from traditional pedagogy. I am doing an Internet history course and its amazing how much of what we do now is influenced by things like the code breaking equipment at Bletchley Park. This happened a long time ago but it’s influence live on in the digital genes of the Internet.

Admittedly, I couldn’t study what I do without technology as I don’t have the time or money to attend a physical college. So for me technology currently is the winner but that’s not to say this won’t change. I was also at school when we didn’t have computers and the Internet was still in the early stages of development. I know you can teach without technology but we would miss so many opportunities and there is a whole wave of creativity we would miss out on. Children blogging, making films, debating on Facebook, and creating art with Photoshop to name but a few.

Technology is just like any tool that humans discover, invent, use and then adapt for other uses. Man discovered fire as a means of keeping warm and then heating food. We have now adapted the principal to posh gas barbecues, wood burners and fancy heaters outside in the garden and pubs. We invented the wheel and look what we have done with that. One day we won’t use wheels as we will all be in flying cars and gliding trains but echoes of the original wheel will always be heard.

Like the type of education we are discussing we need to be Open. Open to new technologies and open to trying them. Maybe they won’t work. Maybe they won’t work in the way they were intended. But if we don’t try we won’t know and that rather defeats the point of learning.

Activity 20 – Rhizomatic learning

Picture from Flickr

For the last activity of week 5 we watched Dave Cormier Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012).

I enjoyed reading (read the transcribe and didn’t watch the video) this article as I am a fan of what I now know to be rhizomatic learning. My favourite line has to be

And at that point the community really can be the curriculum

To me, working in a high school, the word curriculum usually makes me think of regimes, timetables, tradition, conservatism, basically something regimented and old fashioned. I like the idea, and have experienced, the concept of the community being the curriculum.

I also like the idea of a messy network which is dynamic. My ideal method of learning is a combination of good old fashioned lectures, tests and assignments (online or being physically present) and making and joining networks which take you in all sorts of directions.

Cormier also describes them as

taking off in directions, they fit into an eco system, they adapt to the eco system around them. They grow and spread via experimentation, so they’ll try out this way, maybe they run into a rock, maybe it turns a corner, maybe it hits a wall but it ends up reaching out it’s tendril and trying to figure out whether it can find a place to grow, whether the nutrients are there, whether that’s a direction that’s gonna work out. And again I think this is a really nice metaphor for the learning process.

I too like this metaphor and enjoy the process of my tendrils working their round the Eco system. I also like the fact that occasionally a root will break off and then start another plant off. The network cultivated in my EDCM MOOC technically broke off when the course came to an end. However, the community still exists not only in the original “neighbourhood”, but in new ones which then took off other directions. I would use the metaphor of a family tree. You start and raise a family. Parts of the family grow up and start their own. Families may break up and never or seldom speak or maybe they marry into a new family and become step relatives or in-laws.

I could definitely imagine implementing rhizomatic learning in, as an example, my high school. However, it wouldn’t replace traditional learning. It would complement it. The ratio of pedagogies may change but they would still complement each other.

The main issue of rhizomatic learning is that it’s “looseness” wouldn’t suit everyone. Some people need a traditional structure, but this would be the plus side of using a complementary way forward. Using a combination of the traditional and rhizomatic could mean being able to reach and engage with more students as you appeal to whichever preferred method they have. I can see this working with some of our students who are not always in classes for one reason or another. Give them the structure of the school day and curriculum but teach it using a rhizomatic method may appeal to them and give them the confidence as they manage their own learning.

Students need to be more prepared for the outside world. They are too mollycoddled with laws and policies covering health, safety, human rights, equality etc. (I am not disagreeing with them but there seems to be too much wrapping in cotton wool in case something happens) Show students how to take risks and let them once in a while. They need to experience adventure, danger (I don’t mean throw them in a shark tank danger, more supervised rock climbing or even that they can lose or fail at something and that the world won’t end). Rhizomatic learning is just an adventure, a journey, taking risks along the way.

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