Category Archives: Education

Some thoughts on Dave Cormier’s Massive Open Online Courses for Network Creation

From the beginning of this course I stated that my intention was to explore how we can use the MOOC model and principles to engender the “large-scale and rapid social transformations I believe we need in this time of change, challenge and crisis.” (I’m not so much interested in the content of #PLENK2010 – PLEs & PLNs – as I am in the process.)

Dave Cormier’s video of a draft presentation touches upon this idea.

In the video Dave talks about how the MOOC model can be used to leverage the social web for:

1) Effective collaboration
2) Network creation
3) As a platform to learn how to use social media effectively

This takes the MOOC model well beyond a course for learning and speaks to what I’m interested in doing with it.

I would like to add the following possibilities to the list:

4) Community-building
5) Peer support and learning
6) Crowd-sourcing solutions

I’m sure there are many more.

So what interests me is whether the MOOC model be used to create an issue- or topic-based open network?

But what about the name?

An issue that has always bothered me about terms such as PLE & PLN is that they don’t seem relevant to the average user of social media. These people are using what we in educator-land call PLEs and PLNs all the time but they don’t call them that.

Of course social media users on the web are learning, but they are also creating and sharing and networking and a whole bunch of other things (in fact learners are doing this with their PLEs and PLNs too!). They don’t single out “learning” as the focus of what they do, yet lifelong & lifewide learning is embedded in what they do.

Are these terms self-marginalising? Do they limit the concept to the education sector only?

This takes us back to the term “MOOC” which, after all, stands for Massive Online Open Course.

If the goal is to extend the MOOC model beyond a strict learning or education focus then shouldn’t we come up with another name for it? Wouldn’t calling it a “course” hold it back from its full potential?


What about Massive Open Online Network?

Or Massive Online Network, since it’s only open in relation to historically closed courses anyway?

Or what about Massive Network, since the “online” is a given and therefore superfluous?

What about just Network, as they can small or large, depending on need?

Does it really even need a name?

Participating in a MOOC is like dining at a banquet

So I was checking the #plenk2010 Twitter stream on Hootsuite the day after our first PLENK2010 Elluminate session (recording available here) and I saw a lot of re-tweets for this blog post – PLENK 2010: Just Like ‘Watching Football’ – by Stefanie Panke. (Stefanie later got a mention by George in The Daily).

Stefanie doing a great job of knowledge curating

Stefanie’s post is a review of the Elluminate session. She writes about coping with the surfeit of information involved in a Massive Online Open Course and reports:

Stephen Downes encouraged participants to be selective in their attention and activities within the class. “Think of it as football. People do not stop watching football just because they cannot watch everything!”

(I quipped I’d be paying selective attention to the hot dogs at the time!)

Then in the post comments George Siemens pointed to a post by Leigh Blackall which in turn led me to George’s slideshow at SlideShare on Curatorial Teaching.

Cafeteria or buffet?

The sixth slide in the show is on the “Cafeteria approach to education”. The picture George used to illustrate this (see above, I hope George doesn’t mind me pinching it) looks less like a cafeteria to me and more like a smorgasbord or buffet.

And that got me thinking: to me, approaching a MOOC as I would approach a smorgasbord or buffet makes a lot of sense (and not just because I’m a foodie! :-))

You say metaphorical, I say analogical

Here are some of the ways I see dining at a banquet/smorgasbord/buffet as being analogous to participating in a MOOC.

  • You are responsible for getting your own meal.
  • You serve yourself when you are ready, rather than being served by someone else when they are ready.
  • There is a wonderful array of choices, with something to satisfy everyone.
  • We can pick and choose according to our own unique tastes and nutritional needs (I’m allergic to the Moodle forum. I just have to look at it and I break out in a cold sweat! :-))
  • There’s way more than I could ever consume (or even taste), yet I can appreciate the diversity of the food without having to eat, or even try, all of it.
  • If I try to take in everything I would just make myself sick. It’s possible to over-consume, whether it’s food or information. We need to be selective, learn to discriminate and not be too greedy!
  • I can get all the necessary nutrients and nourishment I need without eating everything on offer.
  • There are many things I have no interest in, and that’s just fine. It’s horses for courses (although steer clear of restaurants that offer horses for courses).
  • If I try something and I don’t like it, I don’t have to eat it. I can go back and choose something else.
  • We don’t have to test everything ourselves. We can ask others what they recommend. And we can steer clear of the dodgy prawns if people are screwing up their noses and leaving them uneaten on the side of their plates.
  • I can sample a much wider range of foods than I would be able to if I was just ordering a single dish from a menu. I can have a bit of this and a bit of that.
  • I can try new things I might never have tried if I was restricted to meals on a menu.
  • I can make up my own crazy combinations that wouldn’t make sense to others. Brussel sprouts and cheesecake? No worries!
  • I can make choices authorities may not approve of. Your Mum may not have let you pile your plate high with roast beef and nothing else, but if you want to, knock yourself (and your arteries) out!
  • There is a sense that we are participating in a shared social experience (any shared meal would do this, I guess, although I find buffets to be particularly fun).
  • It’s a more efficient system. You can eat as little or as much as you like, yet it still works out as affordable. There is less waste than when everyone is given the same meal size. Those who eat more are balanced out by those who eat less. You only take what you need.

Okay, I’m not so sure about the last one. Does it make sense to talk about efficiencies and waste in the digital realm where information is infinitely reproducible and distributable at virtually no cost?

But there is a sense in which MOOCs seem an efficient use of money and resources, by providing broader access to the learning experience for the same costs (to the institution) as traditional courses. The Wikipedia entry for buffet describes it as “a popular method for feeding a large number of people with minimal staff” and that seems to fit.

Football or food?

The smorgasbord analogy talks about consumption and so for me it’s a better analogy than the football analogy which talks about attention. When I consume something I take it in and digest it. When I’m giving something my attention that seems like a much more passive act to me.

What do you think? Does the analogy work for you? Can you see any other ways we can extend it?

Analogies can be wonderful things!

It’s surprising how powerful analogy can be. When Stephen mentioned the selective attention football analogy I felt a shift within myself. I relaxed and felt more confident about dealing with the information flow from the MOOC, and I saw others in the Elluminate chat have a similar moment. From the number of times it’s been re-tweeted it seems that the analogy struck a chord with many people.

For me the smorgasbord analogy takes that feeling of being able to relax and yet feel more in control even further.

It’s all a good reminder how right-brain activities like analogy, metaphor, imagery and symbolism can be just as effective in learning and cognitive change as rational thought.

Easier said than done

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I still have a tendency towards gluttony. I have to keep reminding myself to pace myself. Too much of a good thing can still make you sick. I have a tendency to want to take it all in. This of course, is fear: fear that I will miss out on something; fear there will never be enough; fear that I won’t be good enough.

Abundance is good

To me, one of the greatest strengths, and greatest challenges, of a MOOC is the sense of abundance. We are provided with a veritable cornucopia of choices. This is a good thing. I’d rather have too much than not enough. When there is abundance we can choose to be overwhelmed or we can choose to relax and enjoy the plethora of options.

Now eat, drink and be merry!

So let’s tuck into the feast that is the PLENK2010 MOOC banquet and dine to our heart’s content (without pigging out)!

I’m baaaaack! And I’m reviving this blog for the PLENK2010 MOOC

I’m back, and I’ve been inspired to emerge from my (latest!) blogging hiatus by Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge 2010 (#PLENK2010), a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) facilitated by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier & Rita Kopp.

Well, that’s a surprise!

I am surprised to find myself engaged in a course on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). These were topics that were of a great interest to me back in the days when I was actively involved in the elearning, online learning and ed-tech sector, but I swore off this field in the mid 2008 (see Where in the World Wide Web is Sean?)

No more ed-tech for me, no siree!

I’d had enough. It wasn’t for me. I wasn’t making the impact I had hoped for. I seemed to be hitting my head against a brick wall all the time. (However, on reflection I’ve realised that the brick wall was internal, caused by my own fears, which led me to hold back from saying the things I wanted to say. No wonder I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, I didn’t feel heard and I end up feeling unsatisfied.)

Since then I’ve been off exploring (the not too inconsequential problems of) the state of the world, how we got to be in the situation we are in, and what we can do about it.

Finishing unfinished business

Now the emergence of the PLENK2010 MOOC has had me reviewing and thinking about that earlier period of my life and made me realise that there are many things I didn’t say back then – mainly because of a block I had about expressing opinions publicly – that I’d like to say now. I believe the MOOC will give me that opportunity.

New applications of old knowledge

I also feel that the principles underpinning PLEs, PLNs, MOOCs, and the pedagogical models and philosophies that accompany them – such as free and open learning, Networked Learning and Connectivism – offer great hope for creating the type of large-scale and rapid social transformations I believe are needed in this time of change, challenge and crisis.

I’d like to use this course to explore ideas about how we can use these tools, strategies and methodologies to create what one of my favourite thinkers, Charles Eisenstein, calls “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.”

Coming out of hibernation

So, after many years of self-imposed sequestration, I’ve decided to “go public” again, so to speak, and reconnect with the world.

The timing is a bit earlier than I had planned – I haven’t quite finished working through my ideas and gathering my resources for my new projects yet – but maybe waiting for things to be “perfect” rather than sharing my unfolding process has been part of my problem with expressing myself all along.

Although it feels weird and a bit scary, getting involved in the MOOC does feel like the right thing to do.

But how long will it last?

I’m not sure how involved I’ll be. And I might lose interest, especially if I’m not learning anything new, or if it gets too overwhelming (staying abreast of the things I’m interested in is hard enough without taking on a crazy, full-on MOOC about topics I thought I’d left behind!) We shall see.

Staying in this part of the blogosphere for now

I had intended to walk away from this blog and leave it behind when I left the ed-tech sector, but it seems like the logical place to continue to share my thoughts, ideas and explorations regarding the topics related to the PLENK2010 course.

So I’ve brushed the dust of this ol’ thang, picked a new blog template and revamped the design a little to reflect the it’s new purpose. All up I haven’t expended much energy on the changes, so if my interest does wane then nothing will be wasted.

I plan to publish my thoughts on other things I’ve been exploring elsewhere in due course.

For now, let the MOOCly adventure begin!

Laconica and – the open source alternatives to Twitter

(Image by camera obscuraCC-by-nc)

I’m a big believer in open source philosophies, free software and decentralised systems, so I want to do my bit to give a plug for Laconica – a microblogging system that offers an open source, distributed alternative to Twitter.

So, what is Laconica?

According to the article, Twitter for the enterprise:

Laconica is an open source microblogging platform—a network service software that allows participants to post short messages on a Web page, which then can be read by peers and other interested parties. The messages can also be sent out to instant messaging clients, to cell-phones as a short message service (SMS)-based dispatch, and to other conduits.

Laconica is different from Twitter for several reasons. One is that it is available as a stand-alone software platform available without cost under an open source license.

So anyone can setup a Laconica server. There is a growing list of Laconica servers here – Currently the most popular service is My account there is

Twitter is often down due to scaling problems, and they have reduced the number of features to reduce the load. For example, they removed the useful “With Others” tab that allowed you to view someone else’s conversation with their friends. With anyone being able set up their own Laconica server many of these load-related problems should be avoided.

Laconica also can offer federated messaging: Two different installations of Laconica can be linked so that a message on one service can be relayed to users of the other service.

It’s this federated messaging that really excites me. It means I can follow someone on any Laconica service, not just the one I’m registered with. This is pretty cool. Laconica is a truly distributed microblogging service.

Laconica also supports OpenID, the single log-on identity service, which is another plus.

See a full list of current and upcoming features here –

Content on Laconica is Creative Commons licensed

This is the only thing about Laconica I don’t feel 100% comfortable about – when you sign up for you agree to license your contributions under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of producing work under Creative Commons licenses, it’s just that I would rather have choice over which license I apply to my content, like I do at flickr.

Besides, even though my microblogging may not produce any great works of art, I prefer to put a by-nc-sa license on my content because I don’t want to see it being restricted for commercial use and potentially sold back to me.

Private microblogging networks

Being able to host your own Laconica server means that you can create your own private microblogging network. As the Twitter for the enterprise article points out, this could have some important uses in business:

Deploying Laconica within an enterprise can help employees from different parts of the organization share information, Prodromou said. The software can partition off different user groups for collaboration, or have users communicate with the world—or organization—at large. Organizations can also set up conduits to personnel at other organizations running their own microblogging services.

Laconica in an educational setting

Being able to set up your own server also means it may have some uses in an educational setting. As a general rule I support web services being on the open web, but there are some instances in educational settings where private services are appropriate, such as with younger students, or vulnerable students, or other areas where Duty of Care is an issue. I’m a realist, so I also accept that sometimes private networks can provide a stepping stone for institutions that are just too nervous to let their students use tools on the open web.

A Laconica network could be a great way to provide a peer learning support network. As SMS support is improved (it only works with some networks at the moment) a Laconica network could also potentially be used to broadcast information to students.

Supporting the distributed microbloggerverse

I hope more people jump on board with Laconica and and help create a distributed microbloggerverse. As an open source project the more people who get involved the faster it will improve.

If nothing else, even if Laconica doesn’t replace Twitter, or become anywhere as big as Twitter, it should at least keep them their toes knowing that they have an open source competitor.

So I think it’s worth checking out at least. And besides, if this really is Lawrence Lessig on (thanks gnuchris), then all the really cool people will be there. 🙂

By the way – if you use FriendFeed it’s now possible to follow updates over there.

Glogster – faces of Edupunk

At some stage I intend to post my thoughts on Edupunk, but for now I wanted to point to cool new Web 2.0 tool I’ve discovered called Glogster by embedding this Glogster done by ccosmato/chaz maloney featuring some of his “poster-children” (yuk yuk) for Edupunk.

faces of Edupunk | Glogster

Ok… well I did want to embed the Glogster, but of course won’t allow embedding, so you will have to settle for a lame screenshot instead and click through to the actual Glogster to see it in all its multimedia goodness (which sort of defeats the point!).

Glogster lets you create multimedia posters with embedded text, graphics, photos, videos and music. It’s sort of a multimedia scrapbooking application.

My only gripe is that I’d like to see the ability to hyperlink. It’s odd to be able to roll over an item and have them react but not be able to click on them… that’s what I’ve come to expect on the web.

Glogster has all the usual social software feature such as profiles, friends, tagging, commenting etc.

What I love about Glogster is the Post Modern bricolage-y way elements are combined into a non-linear presentation, allowing for the viewer to bring their own meaning and interpretation to the collection of sources and the relationship between them.

Oh well… the Glogster would have looked good embedded in the post. Hmm… time to organise that self-hosted blog, I think.

Perhaps someone would like to embed this glogster (or any glogster of your choice) in their blog so I can actually see what it’s supposed to look like!

Coincidentally, in today’s OLDaily Stephen Downes points to a summary he took of a talk given by Jason OhlerBeyond Essays: Web 2.1 and the World of the Multimedia Collage – at the Desire2Learn Fusion 2008 conference.

I checked out Ohler’s website and came across this:

Beyond Words – New media literacy, fluency and assessment in education

Literacy means being able to consume and produce the media forms of the day. The default media form has shifted from the essay to the multimedia collage.

Appropriate, no?

This looks like a great resource on using digital media literacies and storytelling in learning. I’ll have to read it when I get a chance! I think there might be something in this storytelling business for me.

Update – 25/07/08:
Hyperlinks on the original Glogster are working now when you roll over areas that have the pink marker circle pop-up, which is exactly what I was expecting. They didn’t work for me before, so maybe ccosmato/chaz/Charley just hadn’t added or activated them. Interestingly, the title and Angrybeth’s avatar pic jumps out of the page when rolled over at the embedded version on OLDaily, but not on the original Glogster site. Weird, although all of this weirdness may be due to the behaviour of Flash on Ubuntu.

Update – 27/07/08: In response to Alicen’s comment I posted the Glogster over at my Blogger test blog (why didn’t I think of that before?!) – Glogster – faces of Edupunk.