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Live notes from DML Commons Intro Hangout 23 March:

Here are my notes for the first 30 minutes of the March 23 Introductory #dmlcommons hangout (exported  to Evernote from videonot.es).

I’ve found a Why? and I’ve found a How? I’ve set the Why comments below in blue.

TIP: Click on the + sign for any line to open the video source in context. This will open in the same window you are in. The relevant time stamp will be highlighted. Click that time stamp to go to that point in the video. You need to have the videonot.es plug-in for Chrome enabled for this to work.

+ Alan: Connected courses project brings people in to talk about people working together on blogs and connecting together through a central course.
+ Include your blog here at any time.
+ Why would researchers blog?
+ Keeps an ongoing narrtion of things that are important and that are not important.
+ Creates a record or narrative of what you’ve been thinking about and working on
+ Connects you to others who are thinking about the same things.
+ Howard: Uses as an “outboard brain” – for incomplete thoughts, stuff that won’t be edited lot.
+ A collection of spare parts.
+ Things that you throught out for a public that is potentially responsive.
+ Thinking in public, with a public, can help you to refine your thoughts.
+ This connects you to a community.
+ DS106 was the beginning, using WP
+ Provided students for an individual voice in their own space.
+ Public communication is important – it isn’t about closed groups, peer-reviewed journals and so on.
+ Having control over your own online platform is important. It means that you are the publisher and you “have your hands on the mechanics” – you are indepenednt and empowered.
+ Jim: Works with faculty across disciplines to think about the relevnce of digital media to scholarship. Faculty need their own space.
+ Faculty resisted – is this part of my tenure package?
+ Group blogs for academics help them to understand what the point is. They are building a community in space they control.
+ Many faculty at MWU now have their own WP blogs.
+ Some develop these into group blogs that involve scholars from other countries, or become conference blogs…
+ Alan: Use blogs as a way to think in public – a notebook – write about what’s interesting to you.
+ Public activity creates a “serendipity potential energy field”
+ Personal blogs do not disappear when the course is over and connections also persit.
+ Students decide what to include and what not to include.
+ Content is more important than presentation. Blog content is stored differently than formatting is so the entire blog can be reformatted easily. Focus on content.
+ Howard: titles of posts are important. Learn to think of good titles quickly.
+ Blogs are a ‘WORK IN PROGRESS’ you can customize it later.
+ What is it like to get started as a blogger?
+ People think with their finger tips so get started and see where it goes.
+ Jim: Got profession for what he needed to do.
+ Started to blog about his work – became a professional blogger.
+ Bulding a professional network helped to develop skills rapidly.
+ Someone is always reading. If you blog, pepole will find you and read what you’re saying.
+ When you put yourself out there, something more will come back… manifestly far more.
+ Reflect quickly. YOu don’t need completely formed thoughts. It can just be a record of where you are.
+ Reading this on other people’s blogs can be disorienting. Over time, you build up a sense of what is going on.
+ You are following lives and ideas as much as you are following a discipline.
+ It is humanizing. It is an investment and it takes a lot of time.
+ I’m going to become a digital scholar, to become a connected scholar … this will take a lot of time.
+ Howard: Blogging is leveraging. You put out what you’re doing and it comes back as more.
+ Share what interests you. This is a small investment. People will understand your interest and will reciprocate.
+ Rhetorics of blogging: link share, write something about a link, tell people why they should read this; reflect, just say what you’re thinking about – you don’t need to refer to what your reading – you can include link or reference; critique – link to something and say why you disagree; advocate – others who share this advocacy will respond.
+ Alan: Gardner Campbell – do you need to summarize an entire paper? Go for the nugget. What is it there that sparks your interest. Follow your reactions.
+ Look for something outside the scope of your research.
+ Draw in unlikely links – disconnected things and bring them in.
+ Jim: Working in different spaces – twitter, flicker, tumbler … each has a different character.
+ Link to someones blog – this creates a connection – an ET Moment.

So, why participate in DML Commons?

This is a learn by doing sort of thing. My personal goals are to

  • learn to use the WP platform – I’ve used it for a long time but have not learned it well.
  • learn to use blogging as a foundation for my personal learning network
  • learn to integrate Twitter into this network
  • find people who are interested in some of the same things I am
  • become an active participant in a learning network
  • explore digital scholarship

Tools for #DHLCommons

Skate Keys 1950I3

Who doesn’t like tools? This is a first response to brotherly DHLCommons “hangout” on Monday with Jim Groom, Alan Levine and Howard Rheingold.

This is meant as a spectator event to introduce DML Commons and explain the Landing Page for the website. The first half hour includes a very interesting discussion of connected, digital scholarship and how we can use blogs to discover and create communities.

The second half of the conversation is a description and explanation of the DML Commons landing page, which you can find at www.dmlcommons.net.

Here’s a link to my notes on the video – a kind of summary really, using Videonot.es plug in for GoogleDocs, (Opens in a new window. Install the videonot.es plug in to view, from GooglePlay).

Videonot.es is a video annotation package that’s really nice for keeping track of what people say on video.



#DMLCommons Kick Off

West Bay - Doha

West Bay – Doha

Connected Courses Kick Off

I’ve registered in a lot of MOOCs but only ever finished a couple. Finishing is not really the point. I’ve been involved one other “connected course” – the 2013 OLDS MOOC organized by the Open University. OLDS stands for Online Learning Design Studio. The event lasted for nine weeks and used Cloudworks as its main platform. Cloudworks is an experimental platform designed to channel / explore emergent learning networks. It was an interesting experience, but a lot of people struggled with the platform. In the end, there was little point in learning this since skill in Cloudworks would not be particularly useful after the course. Connected courses using Blogging platforms should raise this problem. Personally, I like the idea of working beyond the LMS to focus more on learning design and less on web design.

My day job is as an “Instructional Designer”. I’m not sure what that means. I see myself more as a “learning scientist”. I try to understand how learning happens, what the features of productive learning environments are, and how productive learning environments can be “designed” – whether these are face to face, online, or blended.

Designers typically work with faculty and this is another thing that interests me. There is a space between the designer and the instructor where new understandings learning can and does emerge. This question, too, moves beyond the LMS to look more at learning science. I suspect that a connected or networked learning environment that is not locked into an LMS with its limited “affordances” may be more convivial to learning science research.

This brings me to Design Based Research. For the last few months, I’ve been investigating the Change Laboratory as a means of investigating these emerging learning spaces between designers and faculty. The Change Lab isn’t quite the same as DBR but comes from the same tradition.

So, I have several objectives in #dmlcommons. I hope to:

  1. get a better understanding of connected courses and how they support networked learning;
  2. get a better grasp of DBR and evaluate its applicability to my own work environment;
  3. expand my professional and research network and explore opportunities for collaboration.

I live and work in Doha, Qatar. I’m new in this country but have been in the Middle East for over two decades.  Qatar is a rapidly developing country with a clear vision for its future and solid determination to achieve it. It’s also wonderful place to be.



Approaches to Learning #ocTEL


Amazing Mud Skippers are Surface Mavens

This week’s core activity on #ocTEL is to evaluate Marton, Hounsell and Entwistle’s approaches to learning framework in the light of one of a choice of four questions.

  • Have you seen any evidence of these different approaches in online contexts, e.g. in technology-enhanced courses you teach? How did these differences manifest themselves in terms of online learning behaviour.
  • Are you leaning towards one approach in particular on ocTEL, and if so why might that be? Perhaps you are employing strategies from more than one approach
  • Are learners who tend to take a ‘surface’ approach likely to learn more or less effectively online versus face-to-face.
  • How might we encourage ‘deep learning’ in online contexts?

This is the framework as stated in the article:


Marton, Hounsell and Entwistle

Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh

How might we encourage ‘deep learning’ in online contexts?

I started this by reading and responding to Tim Leonard’s post about this activity on his blog. I hadn’t actually realized that this was “homework” so I guess that qualifies this bit of participation as “deep learning.”  In this case, maybe we can encourage ‘deep learning’ by telling people not to read their course materials or assignments – but if they did what they were told to do, wouldn’t they then be “surface” or “compliance” learners?

I actually like this framework, which I’d prefer to call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly since I see it as value laden as this question is loaded.

The problem I see lies in the issues identified at the “surface” level learning, and with its by-line cope with course requirements – as if the goal of a swimmer were simply not to drown. In my own classes I see all three types of learners, with most of them apparently at surface, and why shouldn’t they be.  Some few are strategists, and there would probably be more of these had they the skills this requires.  If you ask them, most all would say that their primary objective is to get the highest mark possible in the course and what’s wrong with that anyway. Don’t we value them by their marks, after all?

If I knew I was being valued only for a mark I might go in either direction — become a surface learner feigning disinterest, or a deep learner disdaining assessment. So, there’s something about the directive to “encourage deep learning” that I find grating. If we are talking about student-directed learning, they why am I encouraging any type of learning at all?

From a design perspective, the framework is very useful since it helps me to conceptualize these different kind of learners.  Of course, I’ve seen them all and can even put faces to the patterns but having a neat little three part plan is still quite helpful. As a designer I ought to be mindful of the various approaches that I know students will take (at least three) and try to design for that. I should do something to support surface types, and something to support strategists, and something to support deep learners.

I should also be aware that no one will fit neatly into any of these three little boxes but that people will migrate from one to the other as the course progresses, according to what they find, according to what I and other participants provide, and according to their own changing moods, ideals, understandings and ambitions.

#ocTEL Big and Little Questions

This is our first “assignment” in ocTEL. Simon Hawksey asks us to

reflect on your work experience and ambitions for developing your teaching.

  • Can you identify the most important question about TEL that matters to you?
  • Or alternatively do you have a cluster of issues? Or perhaps you’re ‘just browsing’?

Some people are discussing this here.

The most important question I have about Technology Enhanced Learning is about how technology transforms teaching and learning?   I don’t mean that technology directs or determines change, but I do believe that tools change the way we work and see the world – and I’m defining technology very broadly.

2001 Bone to Space

Technology has always had a transformative impact on human cultures and societies.  I became involved in TEL because I was interested in teaching and learning, not because I was interested in technology, and I’ve continued with it because I have found that it did change the way I saw learning and teaching.

I teach English Second Language in an academic bridge program. Our administrators have always been interested in appearing to be “cutting edge” so they provided us with a minimum amount of support: WiFi connectivity and email for students and faculty, Internet wired classrooms with LED projectors and “SmartBoards” (TM) installed. The stuff has been poorly maintained —  the photo-op is now over — and most regard WiFi as something to keep students busy between classes, but it is there anyway, for anyone to use. I have used it.

One thing I’ve learned from this is that I cannot and should not plan what students will learn and I should not be saying things like “students need” this and that. I’ve learned to provide tools and opportunities and then watch and listen. It’s changed my own practice and helped me become a co-learner with them. Others continue their control culture, deciding what students should do at every step… these are “accountable” and “responsible” teachers, unlike me.

I see it changing students too. It changes the way they interact with one another, how they use the space, how they use the material, how they relate to me. They begin to take possession of all these things, and to self-direct, to a large degree. They co-opt me into their subversive activities, learning whatever they feel they need despite what is handed down to them in the syllabus. They do this without commenting. They are not noticed anyway. They reward me by doing well on their common assessments. I’ve learned that the best way to support their learning is to stay out of the way most of the time. This gives me a lot of time to see who needs extra “help” and then to help them. Usually this just means talking to them, showing some interest, showing some support.

This is totally unlike anything I could have imagined happening. I started out with it just as a way to make it easier to handle classroom management tasks, to free me fro the photocopier, to free them from carrying books and papers, but so much more has happened.

So, now I sit quietly in staff meetings and listen to others talking endlessly about control issues – never about teaching or learning, never about students…

TEL will alienate you too, eject you from your control culture, show you that you are more like your students than you had ever suspected.

A Twitch in the Void

Tomorrow is the first day of the Spring Semester and I have a new class. I’m excited about this because I’ll have a chance to try out Dave’s ED366 method and put some of what I’m learning on #rhizo14 into practice. I know I’ve only been doing this MOOC for one day but I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy and I hear opportunity knocking.

There are a couple of things in my favor. First, I’ll have a small class, about 14 students, and I’ll be with them 14 hours a week, in three hour blocks most days. Then they all failed this course in the first semester and are repeating. This means they’ve already been goose stepped through the “standard curriculum” once… no need to repeat that.

This morning on FB, I saw a link Ma Bali posted to one of Dave’s 2011 blog posts Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach. I had been distracted by the Academic Elitism brouhaha and ended up at a 2008 post on Dave’s blog, Rhizomatic Education: the community as curriculum.  Both those were very interesting, but scrolling down further I found a ping back in the comments from Hybrid Pedagogy.  This pointed back to a post by Tanya Sasser titled Bring Your Own Disruption: Rhizomatic Learning in the Composition Class.  

If you’re interested in teaching writing, then have a look at her post. She says that writing students – or student writers if you like – need to begin to see themselves as writers before they can write. In another context, you cannot learn to swim by watching swimmers. You need to be a swimmer first. If you are a swimmer, you will swim. If you are not, you will sink.  To do this, you need to overcome your fear and Tanya reminds us that “We cannot ignore the fear that writing engenders in many of our students. And we cannot assume that autonomy is desirable or solely effective for motivating and inspiring all of them.”

We can offer students autonomy, but many do not like this. They want to be told what to do. They want a good grade.  They do not believe that they can do what we are asking them to do, and in any case, why should they learn to do anything that is not on the test? 

While I was rummaging about, a couple of things were rattling around in my brain: First, there was Cath Ellis post about Deleuze and Guattari, and Ma Bali’s reply to Cath, Academic Privilege. Then, there was Dave’s ED366 Course, and how he had built that using easy tools: WP and GoogleDocs. I had earlier poked around on his GoogleDrive folder for that and thought – “I can steal this for my course.”

sumerian homework 2400 bc

Sumerian Homework, 2400 BC

In discussing the “essay” – the standard assignment in writing classes – Tanya quotes Mark Sample who says, that the student essay is  “is a twitch in a void. A compressed outpouring of energy (if we’re lucky) that means nothing to no one.”

Teachers have been doing this for a very long time: old habits are hard to break. Students have old habits too. Tanya also mentions this, saying “Many of [students] don’t think they can write. Some of them don’t wish (or think that they have anything) to learn about writing. These are nodes of thinking that are often, ironically, created in K12 English classrooms and, unfortunately, sustained in the college-level FYC [First Year Composition] classroom.”

Before arrested students can move forward, they may need to losten these nodes that bind them. The twitch in the void haunts them. Nothing comes from nothing.

So, I’m looking forward a rhizomic semester with my new class. Who knows, some of them might learn something. All of us will learn something. Who knows what that will be?

Independence Enforcement

This is week two of #rhizo14 – Rhizomatic Learning – and Dave is asking,  “How can we take people who’ve spent their whole lives believing that this is ‘learning’ and MAKE them independent?”

He explains this a little more in the video intro for the week and places this in the context of his own course, ED366, Educational Technology and the Adult Learner. Even though this course is aimed at teachers, he says that they have difficulty understanding that what happens in institutionalized instruction is not necessarily learning.  (Dave makes a box with his hands and peers through it).


Well, the idea is that you hop from door to door. There are lots of metaphors here… keep to the beaten path, the wolf eats the wandering sheep, and so on. The general mood is of danger lurking – so do what you’re told.

So, to paraphrase Dave, How can we compel people to take responsibility for their own learning?

Teachers are planners and planning assumes control. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is relinquish control of my class – give them control of their time and their space. I have not been completely successful… but I’m getting there.  I don’t think we can talk about students becoming free until we are willing to set them free.

Dave says that teachers set objectives, assess progress and give direction. How can people believe that this is ‘learning’ – and if they believe it, how can they ever learn anything?

This is interesting. Dave’s ED366 course, according to its course description, is about “the integration of current and future online computer technologies into today’s and tomorrow’s classroom [and provides] an overview of current computer based technology (e.g. multimedia applications, streaming audio, streaming video, online audio chat, online discussion forums, web conferencing, blogs as well as other evolving technologies),” [ ED#366 Revised Course Description ].  A teacher could make a lot of choices here, but Dave’s designed his course to be reasonably unstructured.

I teach English. My course is structured by colleagues who think that learning is the same as covering material in textbooks. They believe that if we cover the material students must learn. If students don’t learn, then it’s because someone didn’t do something right – teacher didn’t cover, or student didn’t do.

I don’t think my subject is much different than Dave’s – it is vaguely contained in a parade of important sounding nouns, but it actually rests on development and mastery of a limited range of skills: we do not stream video, we use video to say something that is worth saying. We do not write to arrange 500 words in 5 paragraphs; we write because we have something worth saying. Everyone has something worth saying.

Coverage doesn’t bother me anyway. I can uncover whatever my colleagues have covered, and by doing this I think we have a chance.

Dave says that making people independent means that they learn how to self assess and self re-mediate. If you are familiar with language teaching then you might have heard of Stephen Krashen. Krashen talks a a lot about self-assessment and self-remediation in the context of language development and literacy.  Krashen’s monitor hypothesis is all about this. One of the techniques he promotes is free voluntary reading. I think it goes like this: to learn to read, you must read. To read well you need to enjoy what you’re reading. To enjoy what you’re reading, you must choose what to read yourself. To read well, you must have no reason for reading other than your desire to do so.  Then you will enjoy reading. You will read, and you will learn.

Krashen has been saying this for at least 30 years. It’s the only thing that works. But education is not evidence driven. This is why you’ve never heard of it.

So, I think we can help people to become free and independent learners but to do this we need to be patient and caring. It can be like re-introducing a wild animal into the bush, after it has been reared by people … like Born Free. (Musical Interlude here)

And it can also be a personal journey, the answer to a call, as with Buck, in Call of the Wild. It can happen with a mentor, or without, but its happening unfolds naturally once we unlearn whatever it is we learned in school.