I am an open learner :-)

Activity 24: Considering Open Learner Literacies

For this activity, we’ve been asked to draw up a list of open learner literacies and justify each element on our list. My list of open learner literacies is based on the elements that I feel have been necessary in order to learn successfully in this MOOC on Open Education. I also admit to have included some elements from my own formal education context that I find relevant but that need upgrading to the open and digital age.

From colourbox.com

From colourbox.com

But what are open learner literacies?

Sukaina Walji, one of my fellow MOOCers on H817open defines it like this in her blog post:

“Open learning literacies therefore focus on those capabilities that enable learners to survive and thrive in an open learning environment. This means surviving and thriving beyond a course, in the absence of a course or getting the most out of a cMOOC. More broadly, open learning literacies are those literacies that enable lifelong learning in an digital environment with abundance of content and opportunities afforded by others’ increasing open practices”.

(Walji, 2013)

I like Sukaina’s definition because the focus is on the open learner and not any tool or device that must be mastered to achieve open learner literacies. Furthermore, her definition stresses my own point of view, namely that successful learning should be seen through the lens of social constructivist pedagogy combined with connectivism to capture the full potential of the open aspect and also the full potential of the online aspect.

In my list of open learner literacies below, I’ve tried to focus on the literacies that “help learners bridge the gap between their informal knowledge practices and the demands of study” (Beetham, 2010:7). I.e. what is needed to go from a bit of internet surfing and social networking to open learning?

I first had a look at the Jenkins et al. list of 11 new skills for learners to find out what learner literacies have already been labelled and defined. I came across some literacies that cohere with my ideas:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving (Jenkins et al., 2009).

I’d rather call this literacy “experiment” as I see it as a drive to investigate how e.g. social media tools work and how content can be used and reused. A sort of “trial and error” approach that I think is necessary for learners to make the most of open, online learning. “[S]hortfalls in learners’ […] confidence to use new devices and applications, or to use familiar technologies in new ways” have been identified (Beetham, 2010:12-13); therefore the ability and confidence to experiment and try and try again is very important if learners are to fully engage in open learning.

Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content (Jenkins et al., 2009).

This literacy is a version of “Remix skills – the ability to identify, evaluate and select relevant content on the web and remix this into new works that respect any copyright and licensing of the content used” that I wrote about in my blog post for activity 17

Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details (Jenkins et al., 2009).

With the abundance of content, some decision-making is needed to cope within the time available and to secure that you’re focussing on what’s important to your particular learning needs.

Judgement – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources (Jenkins et al., 2009).

This literacy, or source critique as it’s labelled in formal education, becomes increasingly relevant because we have access to an ever growing pool of content on the open web. As the amount of information grows, learners’ judgement, or the more encompassing information literacies, seems to fall behind: “Information literacies, including searching, retrieving, critically evaluating information from a range of appropriate sources and also attributing it – represent a significant and growing deficit area” (Beetham, 2010:16). Studies show that learners “[…] do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web” (Beetham, 2010:12).

Appropriation, multitasking and judgement are literacies that are needed in order to meaningfully navigate and make use of the abundance of content on the open web. So a heading could be “Coping with abundance”.

Jenkins further suggests “Networking – the ability to search for, synthesise and disseminate information” (Jenkins et al., 2009). However, I find that the focus is on information/content rather than on people which, I believe, should be at the centre of things. So my version of this literacy would be:

Connecting

Connecting captures the people angle. I find that what motivates, engages and drives me forward is very much the connections to other learners. Reading and relating to their ideas, thoughts and interpretations and receiving comments that nudge me on and that makes me feel included in a learning community.

Inspired by Walji (2013), Beetham (2010) and Weller (2012), I’d also like to add this literacy:

Identifying oneself as an open learner

I.e. coming to grips with embracing openness in your approach, attitudes and behaviour. Embracing the idea of being on open learner and being able to identify the means to survive and thrive in an open learning environment.

“Aggregating their own services, managing their own identities, building their own networks, and mashing up their own content, demand different attitudes and a much stronger sense of self-efficacy compared with participation in an institutional learning environment” (Beetham, 2010:9).

During this MOOC on open education, we’ve discussed how the lack of open learner literacies can be a barrier to successful participation in open, online education. Thus also being a barrier to the fulfilment of the altruistic goals of providing learning to all. Open learner literacies therefore become quite vital for digital inclusion (Beetham, 2010). But how can we help develop open leaner literacies?

I’ve had some inspiration from Beetham in her review of the research study “Learning Literacies for a Digital Age” (Beetham, 2010:16). She mentions several approaches:

  • Tutor support – is relevant, extremely helpful and highly needed as most of us have discovered in the course of this MOOC.
  • Embed literacies into curriculum – this is an approach that highlight the need to work with open learning literacies in general to prepare people for lifelong learning and for a life as a digital citizen.
  • Learners need to be engaged in their own development – learners’ existing practice should be recognised – this approach attempts to build on what learners already do in terms of engaging with people and tools on the web and from there motivate learners to develop existing skills and behaviour into open learner literacies.
  • Academic staff must rethink own practice – Academic staff must act as role models that learners can imitate.

The project “From the Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology” suggests to provide “learning experiences in ways that support the development of autonomous digital learners” (Beetham, 2010:17). I feel that this is exactly what the Open Education MOOC has been all about. We’ve been asked and encouraged to engage in the learning activities provided in ways which have helped us develop into not only digital, but open learners.

References:

Beetham, H. (2010) Review and Scoping Study for a Cross-JISC Learning and Digital Literacies Programme: Sept 2010, JISC. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearning/DigitalLiteraciesReview.pdf

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. and Weigel, M. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Chicago, IL, The MacArthur Foundation. http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Walji, S. (2013). Considering open learner literacies. http://littlegreycellsblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/considering-open-learner-literacies/

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME. http://jime.open.ac.uk/jime/article/view/2012-02

Activity 22: Mobile open education technology

Sukaina wrote a very interesting post on Mobile devices as open educational technologies in which she talks about access and affordances. I’d like to continue down this path and stress the importance of mobile technology and mobile devices for open education.

During this MOOC on Open Education, I have primarily used my iPad for reading and annotating texts, reading and commenting on blog and forum posts, participating in the Google+ group etc.

Being an open education learner with no physical lessons to show up for and with a full time job, I have to fit the learning in between work, family and spare time activities. So it’s been quite essential for me to have mobile access and to participate from anywhere at any time. I’ve been doing quite a lot of work during evenings sitting in my favourite arm chair with my iPad and full access to the world. Another favourite place of study has been beside the swimming pool waiting for my daughter to finish her synchronized swimming practice.

Mobile technology and mobile devices are essential to the open learner because it helps you fit the learning into your particular context and so makes participation possible for a larger number of people.

In my experience mobile apps provide the learner with a great overview of activities and connections. I’ve really enjoyed the visual and compelling interface of the Google+ app and the detailed WordPress app. Both apps make it very easy and quick to connect and engage with other learners.

I have come across a few obstacles though. For a few of my MOOC activities, I’ve had to refer to my laptop to be able to participate. It’s not been possible for me to comment on Blogspot posts on my iPad. When commenting, you need to choose a sign in method and type a code. I haven’t managed to make this work. I wasn’t able to participate in the live sessions in Blackboard Collaborate on my iPad either. Seems that iPad doesn’t support this. So it seems that mobile devices do not fully support learner activities in open education as yet. But it’s probably only a matter of time…

Activity 21: Technology and pedagogy – the donkey needs both its head and its tail!

From colourbox.com

From colourbox.com

In my job I help university teachers design and carry out e-learning activities. In this context of formal education and using a closed e-learning platform with a wide variety of tools and functions, important elements are teacher and student roles, requirements concerning “output”, degree of interactivity and read and write permissions. So the first thing I discuss with teachers is what sort of learning process they want to facilitate and what learning objectives students should pursue. I then help teachers sketch out a learning process and we look at the tools available and select the one that best matches our design. However, teachers often get very inspired when I present the selection of tools available and often they haven’t themselves considered roles, interactivity and read and write permissions. I find that many teachers return to the design process once they’ve got an overview of the tools available and then they want to adjust the design, we made, because they’ve suddenly seen some very specific possibilities to motivate and engage students to work more in-depth with the subject. So my view is definitely that technology and pedagogy supplement each other – each lending the other inspiration and opening the door to new experiments. I see “the two as being involved in an iterative dialogue”, as suggested by Weller (Weller, 2011).

I put the motivation and engagement of learners at the centre of education, technology and pedagogy go hand in hand with respects to achieving this in practice. In my experience, though, it seems a lot easier for people to talk about technology than pedagogy. Colleagues, including faculty members, often present cool gadgets, apps and open web based services that have just become available but talking about learning and pedagogy seems difficult. The past couple of years, we’ve been talking about the class room of the future at my university and we’ve had a room equipped with smart boards, interactive posters, process facilitation tools etc. There’s been much talk about the hardware and the software but discussions have been vague when it comes to learning scenarios. I think the main hurdle is to persuade teachers that learning can indeed be facilitated by technology and to also persuade them to spend time investigating this.

Reference:

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Academic Practice, London, Bloomsbury Academic. http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/ view/ DigitalScholar_9781849666275/ book-ba-9781849666275.xml

Activity 20: Exploring rhizomatic learning

I just watched Dave Cormier’s video on rhizomatic learning and am now considering the questions posed in activity 20. The first question goes:

1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?

Well, I first had to get to grips with the rhizome metaphor. I think Cormier describes it pretty well in the video. Rhizomes, he says:

  1. Can map in any direction from any starting point.
  2. They grow and spread via experimentation within a context.
  3. They grow and spread regardless of breakage.

Cormier further states that rhizomatic learning is a useful model in a world with increasing uncertainty and complexity.

From colourbox.com

From colourbox.com

Rhizomatic learning, I think, is an approach that firmly puts the learner at the centre of things. As such it’s a useful approach if the context is lifelong learning. It might also be a good approach in formal education in support of students’ thesis writing where students pursue a topic of their own choice. Also, I can see how an entire organisation that wants to keep ahead of the development within its particular trade and market can do so by adopting rhizomatic learning as the approach to gaining new knowledge.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?

Yes, I quite like the idea that the community can be the curriculum and that participants set their own learning goals, follow their own learning paths and build the curriculum together. Faculty development, which is my area, must be 100 % meaningful for participants. They immediately want to know how things can be adapted to and implemented in their specific context. With rhizomatic learning teachers can experiment, evaluate, revise and so forth or “probe, sense and respond” in their own particular context so that they are able to find approaches that work and to continuously improve these to fit the current situation.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?

The biggest difference between rhizomatic learning and current approaches is probably the element of learner autonomy with regards to learning goals, topics to study, how to study etc.

Many current approaches also offer some learner autonomy, but not as full scale as rhizomatic learning. Project pedagogy, for example, lets learners select a problem or challenge to work with. Learners have some autonomy with respects to finding relevant literature and deciding how to investigate the topic chosen, but the overall work method is predefined and a certain output is expected.

I also see some parallels between rhizomatic learning and action learning. Action learning is also about probing, sensing and responding in a certain context. Learners set their own goals and pursue these with the help of e.g. colleagues. The difference between action learning and rhizomatic learning is a.o. that action learning is “confined” to the work place. The focus is on actual work tasks and processes and how to improve the methods used or develop new ones. Action and reflection are key words.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

Working with faculty development, I often hear the phrase: “I don’t have the time to study new learning approaches, teaching methods or technologies”. Just the other day, I did a workshop on ePortfolios. One of the participants told me that it was excellent that people like me were employed at the university, so that we could study, summarise and disseminate relevant topics. Clearly a time saving set-up for faculty. So potential issues would be: allocating the time, setting your own learning goals and pursuing these in a dedicated manner, self-organisation skills, networking skills etc. Probably, the learning outcome of rhizomatic learning would be deeper than just doing a traditional course, but it would be more difficult to engage in rhizomatic learning because there is no framework, you are the only driving force.

Reference:

Cormier, D. (2012). Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education. YouTube video. Available at http://youtu.be/VJIWyiLyBpQ

Activity 19: Why change a good thing?

Implementing connectivism

In week 2 of the OU course on Open Education, I put together a course on digital skills for university teachers. The topic of the 5-week course was “Blended learning: the pedagogy, teacher and student roles and the tools”.

I found several good OERs on the topic and was very happy with the course I was able to design. However, we’ve now gotten to week 5 of this course on Open Education (we are actually in week 6 now, but I’m a bit late – fashionably late :-), and we are asked to “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”. We are, furthermore, asked to explain how Siemens key principles of connectivism are realised in our “course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity”.

I found this activity very challenging. Perhaps because it means flipping the coin completely, going from a resource-based approach to a network-based approach (Weller, 2011). Revising a course slightly, adding a few new OERs or learning activities and taking out others, seems like a more reasonable task, but this is not a feasible approach because we’re talking about different learning and knowledge paradigms. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out how to recast my course. I’ve been inspired by studying the approach to learning in Change MOOC, particularly the “How it works” section on the web site and by the pedagogical model of cMOOCs outlined by George Siemens:

  • High levels of learner control over modes and places of interaction
  • Weekly synchronous sessions with facilitators and guest speakers
  • The Daily email newsletter as a regular contact point for course participants. The Daily includes a summary of Moodle forums, course participant blogs, Twitter iscussions related to the course, etc.
  • Using RSS-harvesting (gRSShopper) to track blogs of course participants
  • Emphasis on learner autonomy in selecting learning resources and level of participation in activities
  • Emphasis on social systems as effective means for learners to self-organize and wayfinding through complex subject areas
  • The criticality of “creation” – i.e. learners create and share their understanding of the course topics through blogs, concept maps, videos, images, and podcasts. Creating a digital artifact helps learners to re-centre the course discussion to a more personal basis.

(George Siemens in McAuley et. Al., 2010: 23)

So here’s my recast course:

digitalskills_recast

The columns Aggregate, Remix, Repurpose and Feed Forward are inspired by Change MOOC.

* Aggregate: Participants are asked to pick and choose content that is relevant to them and pursue their own learning goals.

* Remix: Participants are encouraged to keep track of their “favourite” content. A toolbox is made available for participants to show them some of the possibilities: Social bookmarking, blogging, Twitter, Google + etc.

* Feed Forward: Participants are encouraged to share the outcome of the “repurpose” stage by blogging, posting to Google + groups, tweeting etc. An important part of the stage is connecting to other participants through e.g. comments on work they have shared.

Now the question is how Siemens key principles of connectivism are realised in my recast course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity.

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of pinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • 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.

Key principles devised by Siemens from http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/open-education/content-section-5.4

When placing people at the centre of a course rather than OER it becomes possible to realise Siemens key principles. In my course, I want to invite different experts and experienced teachers to present each their approach to the topic. This sets the scene for diversity of opinions. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to study different approaches rather than one specific approach. Also, I believe that live sessions are a good way of connecting people and a good starting point for growing networks. Encouraging participants to use various social media tools for sharing and connecting is also an important element because these activities nurture and help maintain connections.

The paragraph above explains how Siemens key principles are realised in the course as general principles. With respects to the “[a]bility to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts”, this principle is realised through the activities in the Repurpose column in the table above. In these activities, participants are asked to explore, compare, reflect and encouraged to see connections and to widen their understanding of what blended learning can be.

The principle of currency is realised through the live sessions with experienced teachers that can share their current experiences rather than old text book examples.

During the course, participants will have to navigate between the many streams of content and live sessions and make decisions concerning what to focus and spend time on and what to let go. Thus they learn that there is no absolute truth or one right answer, but that it’s about being able to choose solutions or answers. So decision-making becomes a learning process.

I think connectivism is useful because you put people in the centre, and wonderful things happen when people meet and exchange ideas and experiences. They build on each other’s input and things grow.

But is connectivism in conflict with the traditional concept of a course? Well, I guess that depends on what traditional is. Having graduated from a Danish university that uses problem-based project work as the pedagogical model, I’m used to learner autonomy and control. However, if traditional means teacher controlled, transmission paradigm, teacher as sage on the stage type of course, then it’s very difficult to see any comparison at all to the connectivist type of learning.

What would it be like to teach a course based around connectivism? Very rewarding I suspect. But also very hard work trying to guide and comfort learners who feel in at the very, very deep end with too many choices, too much content to keep up with and too little direct contact with a tutor or teacher. I also suspect that participating in a connectivist course will be difficult for people who are not comfortable or used to “being exposed”, let alone learning online. There’s something very vulnerable about posting online and being visible to a group of people that you may not now in person. You may feel shy and insecure. I think this is the downside of recasting my course as a connectivist course. I’m not sure that this approach is the best way to scaffold the learning of new teachers. My own experience is that a connectivist course works wonders when an e-learning consultant, such as myself, wants to get up to date with current topics.

References:

Change MOOC (2011). How it works. http://change.mooc.ca/how.htm

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. and Cormier, D. (2010) The MOOC Model for Digital Practice, Charlottetown, University of Prince Edward Island, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Knowledge synthesis grants on the Digital Economy. http://davecormier.com/ edblog/ wp-content/ uploads/ MOOC_Final.pdf

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. http://oro.open.ac.uk/28774/

Activity 17: The scourge of abundance

In activity 17, we were asked to consider the role of abundant content in education, more specifically how educators can “best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice” or how educators “best equip learners to make use of it?” We’re advised to draw on our own context and experience in our comment.

The discussion of abundant content and education is very welcome. In my context, higher education, the internet and the access it grants to abundant content is seen very much as a scourge rather than an opportunity to improve teaching, learning and assessment and bring higher education into the digital age.

From colourbox.com

From colourbox.com

At our university all written, campus-based exams are being digitized and this has caused a lot of concern with faculty and administration who fear that students will copy/paste answers and essays from somewhere on the internet without giving the proper references. Plagiarism is not only a concern in relation to exams but also in relation to the coursework students need to do. So resources are used on plagiarism detectors and time is spent discussing the best means to control that students are not engaging in any illegal communication or actions during exams, where instead resources should be used for  improving and developing new, up to date teaching, learning and assessment activities. So yes, a pedagogy of abundance is relevant and called for in order to try to cope with and realize the potential of abundant content rather than implementing control measures.

I’m not advocating the abandonment of academic skills, but I’m suggesting an upgrade of these skills to fit the digital age and reality. In practice this could be done by extending the list of academic skills (critical reading, critical thinking, writing skills etc.) with:

Remix skills – the ability to identify, evaluate and select relevant content on the web and remix this into new works that respect any copyright and licensing of the content used.

When teachers pose assignments to students, points should then be awarded for good remix skills.

Another skill that needs to be emphasized is source critique. It’s not at all a new academic skill. However, source critique seems to have been left behind, as the internet was swamped with content. The connection between source critique, the internet and abundant content is quite important. Educators can help students learn this by creating assignments that focus on source critique. I found an assignment, college level, that requires students to engage in source critique. In this assignment, students had to find three different sources to be used for a paper. Source guidelines in the assignment specify that

  • “only one source may be published before 2005
  • only one source may be a book
  • print out your online resources or copy them so that you may quote from them accurately and reference the author, publisher, date published (for online sources also note the date you print out information).”

(Putnam undated).

I think this approach is very refreshing in that it acknowledges the abundance of content and also emphasizes more recent content and content other than the book format. Also this very explicit way of working with source critique helps students see the importance and hopefully also the value.

Let’s help students get the most of the abundant content rather than block their access and ban usage.

Putnam, D. (undated). Source Critique. http://cabrillo.edu/~dputnam/source.critique.html