In the Open, Vulnerability is Essential, Agency is Everything and the Network is the Classroom

I’ve just returned from ELI2018, where a few of us presented on the OpenLearning ’17 experience and took the opportunity to promote OpenLearning ’18. My colleague Gardner Campbell, Hub Director extraordinaire and leader of our motley crew gave me the opportunity to talk about my “Novice to Node” experience in OpenLearnimg ’17. I started that journey with no blog, no Twitter presence and no experience in a networked learning environment. In some ways, I had no business being a facilitator for OpenLearning ’17, but in some ways, I was best guide for fellow newbies and my newness to it all gives me a unique perspective among my colleagues on the steering committee. And besides, not knowing how to do something is not a valid hurdle for me. I figured out how to do it by doing it. I learned through trying to teach others.

There were some tweets from audience members in the session that called out my pithy personal learning outcomes from the OpenLearning ’17 experience. I had my 5 seconds of fame as they were liked and retweeted, but I think they may have been misinterpreted as lessons learned from one specific week. I want to be clear about this– these are takeaways from my entire experience over the duration of the course. These ideas evolved over a 15 week period (don’t worry, OpenLearning ’18 is just 8 weeks!) when I was focused on learning about teaching and learning in the open.

So now that I’ve cleared that up, I’d like to explain a little more about what I meant in the session at ELI2018.

Vulnerability is Essential

If you can be vulnerable and in the moment, you can make connections between ideas and you can make connections with other learners in this networked environment. The network is the classroom and the more time you spend in the network, the more experiences you will have and the more you will learn. Vulnerability and authenticity are important traits for leaders, and I would argue for teachers as well. They are certainly important traits for learners, but it can be hard to admit what you don’t know, especially if you are used to being an expert in your field.

Having just returned from a conference, I find the conference scene a useful metaphor. If you go to sessions, but talk to no one there or in between sessions, you are going to have a more shallow experience than if you strike up conversations in the hallways and over meals. It requires putting yourself out there, but the reward is significant. If you engage on Twitter with others at the conference, you might have an even richer experience.

The Network is the Classroom

The same is true for connected learning–to get the most out of the experience, you need to connect, not just with the readings, but with the other learners in the network. And ideally, you get the opportunity to connect with people who are another step further out from the course you are engaged in. You begin to build your network thought the connections you make in the course, and then you make connections with their connections (it’s like those shampoo commercials from the 70s and 80s–and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and that’s the power of the network).

But back to vulnerability. Think about times when you have really made a connection with someone, not over something superficial (like shampoo…), but over something meaningful. How did that connection happen? One or both of you probably shared something personal, something that was important to you, something you’ve been thinking about for some time. That’s what can happen in the network if you open yourself up to connecting in that deeper way, but you do have to put a piece of your deeper self out there. The network IS the classroom. It’s where the learning happens. To be part of the learning experience, you need to be in the network, connecting with others.

Agency is Everything

Agency is about having a choice, and in the connected learning environment the choice is for the learner. The learner decides whether to do all, some, or none of the readings in a cMOOC. The learner decides whether to participate in the synchronous activities offered and at what level (are you lurking in the Hangout, or are you engaging in the chat?). Each learner’s experience will be different based on the choices they have made. Agency is empowering. It also lets us make decisions about our privacy. Perhaps you don’t want to join Twitter because you are concerned about how your information will be used. You can choose not to participate in that way. Your experience will be limited by that choice, but the choice is yours to make. Open pedagogy takes further steps to give students agency. Students might have a voice in how the syllabus is shaped or in the tools they use to complete an assignment. Perhaps they even have a choice in which assignments they will complete. Again, each learner’s experience is unique based on their decisions and what learning opportunities they choose to experience.

And a little about time management for cMOOCs

For me, I choose it all. My only limit is time and I have been amazed at how much time I can create when I adjust my priorities and my habits. So when I’m in the cMOOC, I will take a break from social media that is not connected to the experience (sorry, Pinterest and Facebook), and I will engage on Twitter over my morning coffee, but I will filter for #OpenLearning18 and focus my experience. I might write a blog post over several mornings or evenings (this one was begun in an airport and finished in my office). I will find ways to fit this experience into my days and nights because it is important to me. I know I will gain valuable insights from connecting with others in the network. It’s worth the small sacrifices and adjustments to my routines. For 8 weeks, I can change my lifestyle and it will change my life for the better.

Here’s how to join OpenLearning ’18: 

We’ll get started on Sunday, February 4th. I look forward to connecting with you!

My trip to Digital Pedagogy Lab’s 2017 Institute

Welcome to the new home for my blog–my own domain! I set up this domain while I was attending the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2017 Institute at the University of Mary Washington. I will continue to use this space to think and tinker with ideas about connected learning, and more broadly higher education and libraries.

At DPL, I attended the Networked Learning and Intercultural Collaboration track and was excited to meet Maha Bali, one of the track’s facilitators, with whom I had collaborated in the spring. Maha and I co-directed the Open Access week of learning in the OpenLearning17 cMOOC. Since Maha lives in Egypt and I in the United States, all our collaboration was virtual, using Google Docs and Google Hangouts. I also enjoyed getting to know Kate Bowles, Maha’s co-facilitator for the Networks track, and all of the colleagues who were in this track throughout the week. The week revolved around philosophical discussions about building connections across identities and cultures, authority versus agency and intersectionality. We had many discussions attempting to define and redefine constructs. My notes are cryptic, so it’s impossible to try to capture the thread of the conversation.

I also attended two workshops during the week. The first was a workshop about Respecting Students in Digital Pedagogies by Chris Guillard. He introduced his work on digital redlining and challenged us to consider what we ask our students to give up when we use commercial technologies in the classroom. To paraphrase Chris, don’t enter students into any relationship with technology where they don’t have control over the relationship. Chris had us pick apart a syllabus to locate the places where students’ were being asked to put their privacy at risk. Related to this were discussions about surveillance capitalism and extractive data. Chris also alluded to these ideas in the final keynote he gave with Maha Bali.

The second workshop I attended was on Decolonizing Rigor in the Classroom. Ashleigh Wade presented some ways of providing students with assignments that give options beyond writing and she discussed how writing is often privileged over other forms. Thanks to some hands-on time with a partner, I decided that I would offer an infographic as an option for an assignment in our Roadmap to Research course the next time I teach it, and I will encourage my librarian colleagues to do the same. Students could be given the option of creating a traditional presentation, or an infographic as their assignment. I would also have them evaluate infographics in class as it relates to thinking about how information is presented and citing information accurately.

As is typical of other conferences I’ve attended, the in-between conversations were incredibly valuable–the lunches, the hallway conversations, the chats during the reception. My network is larger and richer for having made these connections during the Institute. I even met some individuals I had connected with online in OpenLearning17, including fellow Faculty Collaborative Steering Committee member Laura Gogia. That was definitely a highlight! There is something really special about having face to face time with someone after having collaborated for months in virtual space. In fact, I noticed lots of hugging and gentle touching at DPL (the hand on the shoulder or arm, the fist bump, etc.). It’s as if we had to touch each other to be sure that the physical connection was real. I have the impression that many of the attendees had connected via Twitter or other online spaces and I think many of us were grateful to finally have that face-to-face connection.

I’d love to tell you that I came away with clear ideas that will shape how I move forward, but I don’t think it’s that kind of learning experience. I hope that the philosophical discussions I participated in will re-emerge as I run into ideas in my day to day work with students and faculty. I hope that I will come to conversations of connected learning and digital pedagogy with a better understanding of the complex issues involved. What do we need to think about when we ask students to connect, particularly through a specific platform? Platforms are political, extractive, and limited. What choice are we really making when we select a platform and for whom are we making that choice? Are we sure we have the right to make such choices for our students? What about the choices they have already made for themselves? Are they aware of what’s involved in those choices? What’s the best way to help them understand what it means to live and work in the open? These are the ideas that resonated most with me.

So in the end, I left with more questions than answers, but I think that’s what was supposed to happen. What happens next, well, time will tell. Watch this space for more tinkering with these ideas.

MOOCs, Motivation and Me

I am intrigued and inspired by Steve Greenlaw’s observations (in two parts) on motivation in the OpenLearning17 cMOOC and on motivation and MOOCs more generally. For OpenLearning17 specifically, I have an additional theory. Like Steve’s observations, mine are based on my own experience. I don’t have the data in hand, so I’m relying on Steve’s interpretation of it and simply adding to his insightful comments.

I am particularly intrigued with the notion that some participants who did not continue through the whole course may have gotten as much as they wanted from it. MOOCs are not the same as credit-bearing courses. No one is paying to be in the MOOC and no one will receive a degree based on their completion. MOOCs do require a different kind of motivation, a more intrinsic one. We have to want to complete it to do so and in order for that to happen, the MOOC needs to have priority over other things. Steve addresses this issue in Part 2 of his reflections.

The reality is that for many, the MOOC cannot be the priority. Life gets in the way. Work gets in the way.  OpenLearning17 was an opportunity for professional development, primarily for those of us working in higher education. As Steve suggests, maybe the motivation isn’t there because we’re not held accountable for our own development in the same we are for other parts of our professional lives. Professional development is about self-development and therefore focuses on the self, not on others. Here’s my theory, it seems to me that self-development often ends up towards the end of our list of priorities because we put the needs of others first. We do this even when we know that our improvement will positively impact others (e.g. teacher development improves teaching, thereby improving the learning experience for students). Most of the participants in OpenLearning17 were educators, or involved in higher education in some way. We are “givers” as a breed and therefore, we tend to put the needs of others before our own. We start out with good intentions about improving ourselves, expanding our knowledge, and then the needs of others creep into the space we had carved out to focus on our own development. I know that for myself, during the weeks I couldn’t participate at all, it was the needs of others that took priority: the needs of my team, my institution, my family. I just didn’t have time for me, which meant I didn’t have time for the MOOC.

There are comments that suggest that participants who had to drop out due to competing priorities would try again. To help give participants and organizers a sense of completion, we could try offering a different approach to the content. If 14 weeks is not sustainable for focusing on one’s own development, perhaps a shorter time frame might be more manageable. Perhaps the same course content could be reorganized into smaller parts that could be offered sequentially with each part requiring a smaller commitment of time. The parts could be offered back to back for those who want a more immersive experience, but each part would need to be able to stand on its own so that those participants who can only commit to that part can begin without prior knowledge needed.

The course content is still available, so of course past and new participants can access the information, but we know that the synchronous (Twitter chats and Google Hangouts) and time-bound asynchronous pieces ( annotations) had significant value for participants. The activity of the course is what brings connection and community to it and the course (or perhaps some other event?) must be active in order for that element to occur.

I hope that in the next iteration we can intentionally design the experience for participants who have a limited amount of time to devote to the cMOOC and I look forward to helping figure out a way to do that. For those of you hoping to participate in future iterations, what would you like to see?


Image courtesy of Addison Berry “Changed Priorities Ahead” via Flickr.

OpenLearning17–an end and a beginning

We are in the last week of OpenLearning17. It’s been a marathon of learning and connecting, and the experience has reminded that I’m not built for marathons. The only sport I was ever remotely skilled in was fencing–short bouts where it’s not about endurance, but rather strategy, sizing up your opponent quickly and leveraging your individual strengths (being left-handed is nearly always an asset). I have made it to the final week. It’s been sporadic bouts for me, but I’m still in the game. I’m still learning and connecting and I want it to continue.

How will we sustain the learning and connecting after the course? Certainly many of us have new connections on Twitter and through our blogs, but how can we use the to continue the conversation? What it will look like after the cMOOC is finished? Where will the conversations go? What needs will emerge that the hub could support?

I think we’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. The participants in the cMOOC have been so thoughtful and insightful. It’s been wonderful to see the sparks of individual epiphanies and the connections between and among participants. We have built a community of learners here and I am eager to see where we take it.

It seems to me that much of what we have discussed involves experimentation with learning environments, whether they are online or face to face. How could the hub support that experimentation in a sustainable way? I want to continue to hear more about what others are doing as they try new things with open learning. If I get brave enough to experiment, I want a place to share that experience and get feedback.

I would also like for us to explore how we could incorporate student experiences into the hub, not just second hand reports from instructors, but actual student voices. We’ve had some links to student blogs, but that’s linking out to students, not bringing them in, right? We’ve included students in panel discussions, but that brings them in for just a moment in time. Are there ways we could incorporate the open learning experiences of students in an ongoing way? Is the life of a student too transient to make this possible? If open learning is student-driven, how can we bring students into our discussions about open learning? What are the risks?

Open Pedagogy Praxis

This week’s focus for OpenLearning17 has been Open Pedagogy. Co-directors Amy Nelson and Shelli Fowler have provided an engaging array of readings and activities that have inspired some great dialogue (don’t miss today’s Twitter chat at #OpenLearning17). Inspired by all that I’ve been reading this week, I talked with a colleague here in my library about our “Roadmap to Research” course (a face-to-face, 2-credit class) and how we might be able to fold in some open pedagogy praxis. We also need to be thinking about how to move this course into an online environment and the whole OpenLearning17 cMOOC experience is helping me think about what that could look like.

I have been especially inspired by Robin DeRosa’s Extreme Makeover: Pedagogy Edition and am thinking about how we might have students collaboratively create the learning outcomes for the course. I am excited about the possibilities and wish that I were the one teaching it next, but perhaps I can focus on what the course could look like in an online environment while others are teaching the F2F class.

As I said in Wednesday’s Twitter chat, I was never trained to teach (many MLIS programs have “user education” courses, but those are often not required), so I am a clean slate, with no formal training to undo. This lack of training has always seemed a hindrance to me, but after reading Amy’s interview with Shelli about Contemporary Pedagogy at Virginia Tech, I now realize that it might be a gift. I have only habits to break (that’s easy right?).

So Amy and Shelli, thank you for an inspiring week! See you in the Twitter chat.


#OpenLearning17 is Connected Learning

I was a bit daunted when I was asked to be a co-director for the Open Access week of OpenLearning17, and had mixed feelings when I realized that my co-director was a total stranger in Egypt.  Would this person be a good collaborator (yes!) and how would we plan a week of activities together when we were so many miles apart (Google Docs!).  I could not imagine a better experience.  Maha and I both embraced the spirit of collaboration from the start and have had a great synergy and a likeness of mind, but also a welcome diversity of experience and knowledge.  I hope that will come through in the activities we have planned for week 7.

So from this learning facilitator’s perspective, OpenLearning17 has definitely been a connected learning experience, both as a student and as a learning facilitator. I have learned a great deal through connecting with Maha and through our collaborative design of the learning experience for week 7 and I hope she feels the same. Teaching is always a learning experience for the teacher and I am grateful for having been nudged out my comfort zone (that is where the best learning experiences happen!).

I hope you enjoy week 7 as much as I have enjoyed planning it with Maha!

How to survive (and thrive?) in a cMOOC

I’m in my first MOOC and I’m learning.  I’m learning how to be a learner in this new-to-me environment.  This is a constructivist MOOC, so while each of us is constructing our own learning path, we are also all shaping the learning experience together.

What I’m learning about how to be a learner in this space is this:

  • We need a strategy for managing our time.  This is exactly what our first-year students need to learn and I find myself struggling all over again to find time for learning.  This morning I replaced my 1/2 hour morning-coffee-social-media time with #OpenLearning17 time (I kept the coffee).   I think that’s going to work.  What little bit of time could you let go for the duration of the MOOC to spend on learning?
  • We need to engage.  Commenting on other people’s blog posts and writing my own is not in my current comfort zone, but here I am doing it and I’ve already been rewarded with some great interactions.  We need to step out of our comfort zones and engage.  And won’t it be fun if we meet in person someday and feel like we are already connected!
  • We need discipline.  Just like a new exercise routine, it takes discipline to create a new habit.  It takes discipline to get results.  If we are going to learn in this space, we need to be disciplined enough to come back to it regularly and actively participate.
  • We need to be discriminating.  Not every post will grab our attention, not every week’s topic will pique our interest.  That’s okay.  We don’t need to follow every hyperlink or comment on every post.  We just need to stay engaged in the overall learning and follow what interests each of us.
  • We need each other.  This form only works if we connect, discuss, and debate.  We need to ask questions.  We need to be provocative.  We need to be caring.

What am I missing?  What are your strategies for thriving in this learning environment? What have you learned so far?

Updated 2/10/17:  I just found Laura Gogia’s great Conversation with Gardner Campbell where she articulates the need to develop a strategy for our connected learning.  Great stuff!