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Activity 19 – Connectivism? Check!

In this activity you will be devising a course that takes a strong connectivism approach, based on some key principles devised by Siemens.

Take the description of the short course on digital skills that you developed in Week 2 and recast it, so that it adopts a highly connectivist approach. Or, if you prefer, you could take this ‘Open education’ open course as an example and recast it in a more connectivist model, or another course you have familiarity with. You should take each of the principles set out above and state how they are realised in your course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity.

I was quite excited about attempting this activity because I am basing it on an OER/online course that some of us MOOCers created ourselves! So not only can I base my answers on the course but also on the process of creating the course.

Looking back at the initial “course” I designed in week 2 I realised that I had chosen a similar subject, social media/digital skills for teachers, so it was obviously meant to be!

In some respects I found connectivism complicated. Reading about it that is. I read Siemens Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age. and Downes, What Connectivism is and I struggled through it. It was only when I got to the end that I realised I was already doing it. What I found difficult was the theory and the way it was presented, in parts, in the above articles. I then looked back over comments on my blog, discussions in the G+ community and Tweets and remembered how simple it was. I am doing it all the time!

According to Downes connectivism is;

the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

Basically it’s all about the connections and how you manage them. Something which I experience and value everyday. In addition to using Twitter, Facebook, G+, I have started a G+ community for one of my other MOOCs and recently moderated a Twitterchat for another MOOC I am doing. So I am constantly “connecting the nodes and information sources” Siemens refers to. Whilst blogging for this MOOC I started talking to students doing the full version of Open Learning and via some misinterpretation on my behalf we ended up creating the OER named My Social Network Toolkit.

To be able to base an activity on a nearly real life course is obviously too good an opportunity to miss. Thank you to John Baglow and Sukaina Walji for letting me use parts of their work in my blog.

Course outline
My Social Network Toolkit: Course Outline

1. Introduction
The course starts with an introduction and then looks at some of the most popular social media tools that are used in education. John Baglow coined the term “DIY (Do it Yourself) toolkit.” when talking about the resource we created. “We will suggest a basic set of tools and you will then be encouraged to explore their potential. When you use each tool we want you to use it to connect with other people also working on the Toolkit”. We suggest and actively encourage students will learn

  • by engaging with other people’s opinions
  • by forming interest groups with other people
  • you will become more skilled at using social media as a learning tool
  • by developing and maintaining links with others
  • you will develop the skill of seeing how ideas interrelate??
  • the skills and knowledge you acquire will be up-to-date
  • you will constantly be developing the skill of decision-making

How will all of this happen? Students are encouraged to connect and let others know how they got on with a specific tool they have tried.

The course also includes a section on Cybersafety and Online Etiquette, an outline of how the tools can be used in the classroom and further reading.

That was a short outline of the OER we are in the process of creating and hope to post soon. I will now look at the key principals of connectivism and how they are realised in our OER.

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
Learning is no longer about sitting in a class, listening and learning parrot fashion. Students are encouraged to be more proactive and the Internet is perfect for this. Visit any social network community and watch how a simple post can cause a debate. Our course is not advocating that specific social media is used, or even that it is used at all. We are just suggesting that people take a look and give it a go. Everyone has their preferred platform and that is the beauty of social media; the choice is ours.
Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
The three of us “meeting” and starting a project was definitely a process of connecting the nodes and information sources. John introduced me to Etherpad as a method of collaborating and brainstorming our initial ideas. We then moved to Google Drive and Prezi which we shared so we could all work on them. John set up the G+ community which we used to hold initial discussions and will eventually be the platform for our OER.

As you can see from the outline of our course

“We will suggest a basic set of tools and you will then be encouraged to explore their potential. When you use each tool we want you to use it to connect with other people also working on the Toolkit”

we are actively encouraging people to go down the connectivism route. This is the best way to learn and something I have found in my MOOC experience. Someone sets you on the road with an idea or lecture and you go off and explore, making connections along the way. These will inevitably lead to more connections and so the process continues.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
In this case it applies to the devices we used to create this OER and those that learners will use to access it. Laptops, PCs, smart phones and tablets. This appliances allow us the freedom to learn.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
Our learning no longer stops when formal education ends. We can continue to connect and learn for as long as we like. The whole point of our OER is to start people on their way. We don’t claim to be an authority and emphasise the need for further reading and readers to make connections. By connecting with like minded people (discussing, arguing, collaborating etc) we make the things we learn more relevant to us.

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
The connections we gain are our PLN (Personal Learning Networks) and help us to continue learning. In our Toolkit we encourage students to make connections by following Twitterchats, comment on blogs and joining the G+ community. We recognise this as one of the most important factors to learning something new: Being able to connect and collaborate with our peers.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
Because the emphasis is on making your own connections and self learning, managing the connections is a key skill. It is easy to be overwhelmed, unmotivated and become bogged down in irrelevant information. Being able to see and use the connections is a key skill which does come with experience and as confidence is gained.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities. The point of encouraging students to make connections is so that they are able to access up to date information. By accessing learning via communities and individuals you are learning from the people who are directly involved in the areas you are interested in. If you continue to follow sources in this way you get updates as they do and your learning becomes dynamic.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision. Our toolkit places choice and responsibility in the hands of the resource user. Throughout we encourage them to investigate and experiment but the final decision as to what they take up and how far they take it is up to them.

I couldn’t do what I do without connectivism. I have done MOOCs where I haven’t made the connections and although I completed the course it lacked the energy of courses where connections were made. I did what I had to to pass and nothing more. Which is fine if that’s all you want to do but to me it seems a waste of an opportunity. The connections I have made on previous courses are still with me and continue to help me learn. As Siemens said “The pipe is more important than then content within the pipe

Connectivism compliments the traditional concept of education. I think anyone involved in networks (blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc) is already educating others based around connectivism. The course we created is just a more concentrated version of what people do every day.

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.

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.

cMOOCs or xMOOCs? Both please

image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

I am now on week 4 of my Open Education course and the theme is MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Course). This is rather handy as I am currently doing 5, so I hope I have something to say!

This week we have been asked to;

Compare either DS106 or the Change MOOC with offerings from Udacity or Coursera

Write a blog post comparing the courses with regards to:
– Technology
– Pedagogy
– General approach and philosophy.

I have decided to look at DS106 and Coursera. Apart from this one from the Open University, all my MOOCs have been offerings from Coursera, so I have some experience from a student perspective.

The biggest difference between the two is that one is a cMOOC and one is a xMOOC. DS106 is a cMOOC. This is basically a MOOC that is based on connections (connectivism) and is less structured, or at least more dynamic in that the participants seem to drive the course. I suppose you could call them a virtual learning community. Coursera is a xMOOC

Have a look a look at the two sites and the different philosophies are immediately apparent. You get a different vibe from each site. DS106 feels like you have just walked into a party where there are nibbles and drinks all over the place and groups of people chatting in every corner of the house. The music is eclectic and dancing varied. Even walking in as a stranger you will soon find someone to talk to. Coursera is like visiting your favourite restaurant. If you are celebrating a special event it can be exciting. The rest of the time it’s familiar and, hopefully, makes you feel welcome. You know what to expect, food, wine, staff, etc and, as a regular customer, you will have an established routine.

Basically Coursera is a traditional “classroom”. You can see from the photo of the HCI course I am doing that there are lectures, assignments, deadlines, syllabus and quizzes.

It is everything you remember from school, college or university, just online. In fact in Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility Bates is quoted as saying that the teaching methods

‘are based on very old and out-dated behaviourist pedagogy, relying primarily on information transmission, computer-marked assignments and peer assessments

If you visit the DS106 site you will see the difference straight away. There are assignments but the difference is that lots are suggested by participants themselves. It feels more relaxed, as you can see from this excerp from their About page

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need

It goes on to say

First of all, in ds106, there are multiple levels of participation- but most importantly, it is designed so you can pick and choose the when and where. We expect NO APOLOGIES for not being able to participate when other parts of life intrude. There is no concept in ds106 of “dropping out” c.f. Groom, Jim (2010-present), “ds106 is #4life”.

The other big difference, highlighted in the above quote, is that there is “no concept of dropping out”. You can dip in and out as you like. You can of course leave a Coursera course anytime you like. There are no fees to pay so you won’t lose anything except perhaps any time you may have invested. If you leave you have to click on the “unenroll” button which makes it feel formal and of course you won’t receive your final grade for any of the quizzes or assignments you may have already done. You don’t join Coursera with a view to leave, although the “drop out” rate is high, but with DS106 it almost feels like you should pop in and out. Some people argue that students aren’t dropping out but engaging with MOOCs the way you should. Dipping in and our, using and sharing resources. The problem (depending on your point of view that is) is that Coursera is structured whereas DS106 isn’t.

There are some similarities, no formal accreditation for example and the need for basic IT equipment (computer and Internet connection) and a certain level of IT and social media literacy. However, technology, it is claimed, is another area where there are differences in c & xMOOCs. xMOOCs use technology but are less focussed on connecting in the same way cMOOCs do. In the quick start guide on their website they specifically ask you to do a number of things including, create a gravatar and social media accounts, create and/or register a blog and explore digital tools. You are generally not required to do this in Coursera but it may depend on the course. For example it would have been impossible to complete the E-learning and Digital Cultures course offered by Courera without social media, blogs etc. However, it is possible to get through most of the courses with access to a PC and the Internet and nothing else. I have taken Coursera courses where I haven’t connected with a single fellow student.

There are differences in MOOCs. However, a lot does also depend on the participants. I have been on Coursera courses where it has all the flavour of a cMOOC and others where it is definitely an old fashioned xMOOC. The subject matter is the driver of this. One of my courses The Ancient Greeks, lends itself to tradition. Whereas, Human-Computer Interaction is more about connectivism. Both are Coursera courses but both are very different.

Although there are differences in DS106 and Coursera generally we have to be careful not to tar all of Coursera’s courses with one brush. I see the same differences in the Secondary School I work at, some classes will be more dynamic, IT based, exciting and allow for more interaction compared to others. Think maths v PE. It also depends on the the teaching style, overall school philosophy and resources. Ultimately, some classes are just “cooler” but teachers and students can make of them what they will.

Just as there are different MOOCs there are different types of learners. We need to embrace the variety of MOOCs as it ensures that there is one out there for everyone.

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