Dominant design is the idea that, once a design has risen to prominence, all innovation will aim at improving it, rather than competing alternatives, regardless of whether the dominant design is better than the alternatives. The most commonly used example seems to be the QWERTY keyboard layout, which was implemented when typists would type fast enough to jam the keys of old typewriters. The QWERTY layout was designed to slow down typists in order to prevent jamming the keyboard. So, even though it’s not the optimal layout for typing, and we no longer have the problem of jamming keys, we still see all innovation aimed at improving the current, dominant design, even though it’s not the best.
Another commonly used example is the institutional learning management system (LMS). It would be hard to argue that this represents an optimal design for driving learning, yet this is the design that has risen to dominance in the higher education sector. All efforts to enhance online learning are therefore aimed at improving the LMS, rather than investigating the merits of competing alternatives.
One alternative that continues to be ignored is the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Many others have written about this and I’m not going to try and summarise their work but I did want to capture some of the ideas that I find most appealing about the concept.
We say we want students to be lifelong learners but we encourage them to use a system – the LMS – that cuts off access to their learning artifacts when they graduate. In most cases they are cut off from all of their activities at the end of each year. There is absolutely no incentive for students to invest any time and effort developing a learning space that they will lose at the end of the year. All of their interactions, content, grades, etc. are all deleted – or at best, archived – and are lost to the student. The data that they created is mined and used by the institution to make choices about future cohorts but even that data is lost to the student.
Now consider the PLE, the primary advantage of which is the fact that control of the learning environment reverts back to the student. When the student enters the university they are given hosted space on the institutional servers and taught how to manage that space. Some universities are already moving forward with this innovative system, called A Domain of Ones’ Own. In this system the student controls their data and gives permission to the institution – or any other 3rd party – to use it.
Another thing that really stands out for me is the fact that learning consists – in large part – of creating networks. The networks may be biological in the connections you make with people, digital in the connections you make with devices and content, and cognitive in the neural connections you make over time. Learning is fundamentally about networks; Think web, not website. The LMS deletes your network when you graduate, while the PLE enables you to take your network with you.
The PLE enables us to connect with people as well as with systems. People have a central online space that they control and then choose how to best to use that space and it’s connected services to learn. They choose the tools they’re most comfortable with, pull in data from other services (e.g. Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and are able to publish their work into any of those services too. A PLE doesn’t preclude the possibility of students being connected to their institutional LMS, it just gives them other options for connection and developing networks.
There are no single platforms that constitute a PLE and no set frameworks that describe how they work; they are personal to you. However, there are some design principles to take into account that make sense for networked learning. The collection of services in a PLE should allow for:
Diversity: Did the process involve the widest possible spectrum of points of view? Did people who interpret the matter one way, and from one set of background assumptions, interact with people who approach the matter from a different perspective?
Autonomy: Were the individual knowers contributing to the interaction of their own accord, according to their own knowledge, values and decisions, or were they acting at the behest of some external agency seeking to magnify a certain point of view through quantity rather than reason and reflection?
Interactivity: Is the knowledge being produced the product of an interaction between the members, or is it a (mere) aggregation of the members’ perspectives?
Openness: Is there a mechanism that allows a given perspective to be entered into the system, to be heard and interacted with by others?
In terms of the practical features of the PLE, it should enable the following activities:
The aggregation of personally meaningful information, resources and ideas in a variety of formats e.g. text, images, video, links, tags, etc., from a variety of sources.
The student should be able to remix those resources into different formats by reinterpreting, combining and editing them using their own personal insights.
It should be possible to repurpose the resources so that the student can use them for a different objective than what they were created for.
The student should be able to publish the newly created artifiact in a feed forward mechanism that adds new ideas to the world.
If we want students to take advantage of the enormous possibilities enabled by digital and online learning environments, we will have to challenge the dominant design of learning management systems in higher education. We need to think about systems that not only provide the support that students’ needs for their learning, but also create space for them to move in ways that suit them rather than the institution. The adoption of personal learning environments will not only require significant changes to institutional systems and how these platforms are provided to students, but will also challenge educators to think differently about the kinds of learning activities and assessment tasks that they use in their teaching practices.
As teaching and learning activities move into online and blended learning environments we need to think carefully about how we use those spaces, which is often determined by the features of the platforms and services we choose. One topic in the field on online learning that’s been getting a lot of attention, is the MOOC (the New York Times declared 2013 the year of the MOOC). However, for all the rhetoric about how MOOCs are disrupting higher education, we have yet to see any strong evidence that they lead to any kind of improved learning, and we are slowly starting to realise that “MOOCs are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with high quality qualifications.” In other words, if you don’t already have a good foundation upon which to build, the promise of MOOCs seems to be an empty one.
One of the reasons that disruption is difficult to apply to the mainstream MOOC phenomenon is that – for all intents and purposes – these MOOCs (specifically, xMOOCs) are not doing anything particularly innovative. They reproduce distance learning models that have existed for decades and moreover, they do so less well. This post will focus on the Open aspect of xMOOCs – in particular how they are anything but open – and to discuss some of the ways that educators need to think differently about how we use the web in our teaching practice.
The majority of xMOOC providers design their courses using non-open formats and use restrictive content licenses preventing reuse and sharing of the content and learning experiences. These MOOC providers are fencing in and closing off the educational experience, while at the same time preaching openness and enhanced accessibility. This loss of openness in online learning – as it is conceived by the major xMOOC providers – is, according to some, a horrific corruption, as more and more of our learning experiences are controlled by organisations that dictate the direction that online and blended learning is taking. Which brings me back to the idea that started this post; if we are going to move teaching and learning into online environments it is important for us to understand the environment that we’re moving to. We need to remember that when we talk about online learning, we should be talking about learning on the web. Not learning on an app, or on Coursera, or on Facebook. And therein lies the problem:
This isn’t our web today. We’ve lost key features that we used to rely on, and worse, we’ve abandoned core values that used to be fundamental to the web world. To the credit of today’s social networks, they’ve brought in hundreds of millions of new participants to these networks, and they’ve certainly made a small number of people rich. But they haven’t shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they’ve now narrowed the possibilities of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.
Maybe we need to reclaim online learning for what it is and what it represents. The open source movement has provided the tools we need to build our own (open) online courses, so what exactly do we need Coursera and Udacity for? As we give up more and more (or, as platform providers take more and more?), we must remain cognisant of what it is that we’re losing. The restrictive licensing requirements of most xMOOC providers has shown that we – the people doing the teaching – need to take the online learning environment back, eliminating (or at least reducing) our reliance on convenient platforms that do more to impoverish the learning experience than enhance it. We can provide an open online learning experience while at the same time enabling a culture of democratized, permission-less innovation in education.
We need to remember that delivering mass media is the least of the Net’s powers. The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.
We, the People of the Internet, need to remember the glory of its revelation so that we reclaim it now in the name of what it truly is.
No one owns that place. Everybody can use it. Anyone can improve it.
Anil Dash described how we lost the web and then followed up with how to rebuild the web we lost, highlighting the utility of the open web to enable transformative change in the world. The web as an open platform for creative expression and unfettered communication is slowly being eroded and replaced by gilded cages. As the services we champion make it more difficult to move content into and out of, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create connections between people and ideas in open online spaces. Sure, if you want to do everything in Facebook, then Facebook works. But just try taking something out of Facebook to use somewhere else.
We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.
In his post about rebuilding the web we lost, Anil made the following suggestions for taking back the open web, which I’ve repurposed here in an online learning context. I’m sure that my take on it isn’t perfect, and I’d be happy to hear any other interpretations.
Take responsibility and accept blame. This is our fault. Educators have allowed companies like Coursea / Udacity / Future Learn to take over and drive the online learning agenda. We did this because we didn’t understand what the web was and how we could build enriching educational experiences with it. Instead of embracing the web, we’ve spent the past few decades demonising it. We blame it for increases in cheating, lower levels of critical thinking, and encouraging lazy approaches to student work. Just think of all the rants about why students shouldn’t use Wikipedia, instead of taking on the challenge of making Wikipedia as good as it could possibly be. Educators and students could have used the platform in ways that would have improved the content of the site, while also helping students to develop important 21st century skills that are not covered in the formal curriculum. We dropped the ball, and now we need to ask what we’re going to do about it.
Don’t just meet the UX standards, raise the bar. Coursera, Future Learn, Udacity, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest are all beautifully designed. They have great websites and come with user-friendly mobile apps, and we marvel at how easy they are to use. They must be wonderful places for learning. All we have to do is provide the content. But is that all there is to learning? Pre-packaged collections of readings, with no opportunities to empower students as part of that process? High quality, well-produced video lectures that students can’t download? Forum discussion boards that were also boring in the 90s? Why do we put up with it? Because it’s pretty? We can do better.
Rethink funding fundamentals. If we want to move the learning experience into online spaces – and with it, open up access to education that xMOOCs so proudly take credit for – we must rethink how we are going to fund the development of those experiences. Is it realistic for individual lecturers to try and manage courses with thousands of students? Does everyone understand that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and every other social network that exists does so in order to make a profit for their shareholders or their founders. These are companies designed to make money, not enhance learning. We will need to come up with different ways of funding large-scale online education if we are going to take it seriously.
Explore architectural changes. The ability to manage enormous numbers of users used to require banks of servers and the installation of costly database software. Now you can get the same functionality as a service, either from Amazon (AWS) or a range of other providers. Cloud-based storage providers (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.) provide hosting and collaborative editing of files – largely for free – that just a few years ago would have been prohibitively expensive. By making use of free or cheap services, we can reproduce platforms that previously would have been impossible or very expensive. Changes in how software and services are offered provide new opportunities for growth and innovation. We need to not only be aware of these services but to think carefully about how we can use them in ways that are truly disruptive.
Exploit their weakness: Insularity. Be sceptical of those who tell us that This New Thing is open in any sense of the word, other than open = free. But even the use of “free” in this context means simply “without cost”, and is dissociated from the freedoms we have come to expect with the web. Instead of looking to the big institutions for guidance – and therefore falling prey to their limited perspectives – we must establish collaborations outside of the walled gardens of closed online learning environments.
Don’t trust the trade press. Stop believing everything that the mainstream media tells you is true. “MOOCs are disrupting higher education”; only…they’re not. Not yet, and certainly not by the Coursera’s of the world. It is essential that teachers, principals, students, parents and every other stakeholder involved in learning educates themselves on what the web is, and how it evolved to become what it is. It’s only by knowing what we’re losing that we can take steps to reclaim it. Even as the mainstream media and uncritical academics proclaim the disruption and end of traditional models of higher education due to the emergence of whatever is trending on Twitter, we must maintain a critical perspective in how we design our online learning experiences.
Create public spaces. Think about this; almost every online space where you can currently assemble large groups of people is privately owned. Facebook, Google+, Instagram…there are no truly open and public spaces where we can engage in public performances, at least not in any real numbers. This holds true for educational online spaces too; Coursera, Udacity, EdX, Canvas. All are privately held and all exist to make a profit. Where are the open spaces that position learning as a public good? Other than a few marginalised experiments like Wikiversity it’s difficult to point out a truly open learning environment. It seems that if this is something that we want – that we value – we are going to have to build it ourselves.
While this list isn’t perfect – it was written for a different context – I think it gives us some ideas about how we can think differently about moving education into online and blended learning spaces. It’s not enough to simply add online to our teaching and learning activities, and think that we’re changing anything. We need to stop doing “business as usual”. The mainstream xMOOC providers offer little more than structured collections of content, well-produced video lectures and extremely limited forms of engagement. There is nothing fundamentally innovative about this approach, nor does it have any pedagogical foundations to support learning. The promise of technology – and the web – in teaching and learning is not simply to reproduce a poorer version of the classroom experience. We need to ask who is setting the online learning agenda and whether or not we are comfortable with that (hint, the correct answer is “No”).
Open source software has given us the tools to create sophisticated online spaces for learning – all we have to do is learn how to use them. We would be asking no more of ourselves than we ask of our students every day i.e. to push ourselves to learn something new; to make a difference in the world. As long as we’re performing in closed spaces, we are disempowering our students and colleagues, preventing them from participating in educational experiences that are liberating and that develop a sense of agency.
Stephen Downes offers us four principles of open and networked learning via the theory of Connectivism – principles that could be useful in our designs for online learning experiences. We could do worse than these concepts when it comes to interrogating what kinds of online platforms we use, and how we use them. It would be an enlightening experiment to take an honest look at our learning spaces – online and physical – and ask if they encourage and facilitate the development of these concepts:
Autonomy: Learners should have the ability to choose where, when, how, what and with whom to learn
Diversity: Learners represent sufficiently diverse populations to avoid group-think and “echo-chambers”
Openness: The learning environment accommodates all levels of engagement, with no barriers between ‘in’ and ‘out’, helping to ensure the free flow of information through the network, and encouraging a culture of sharing
Connectedness: “Connectedness” and interactivity is what makes all this possible, as knowledge emerges through the connections that learners make
At the risk of sounding like an uncritical fanboy, I’m well aware that the web is not the panacea we sometimes make it out to be. The presentation below – given at the 2014 meeting of The Network – Towards Unity for Health, in Fortaleza – was largely inspired by the ideas presented here, and highlights the challenges with online and blended learning, especially when we are uncritical about what we use and why.
This uncritical perspective is most evident than when we talk about the web. We speak about it as a discrete entity, something defined, bounded and imbued with a set of characteristics that is inherently Good. The web positioned as the solution to our many educational problems is somewhat the essence of the xMOOC contingent, and most solutions to the “education problem” that emerge from Silicon Valley. Evgeny Morozov has suggested that our tendency to look to the internet as the solution to everything is problematic, calling it the “quasi-religion” of “Internet-centrism” where Internet-centrism views the internet as being inherently special. As educators responsible for using the web and it’s features to our advantage, we must ensure that we are cognisant of both it’s utility and potential for harm (or, at the very least, it’s potential for ineffectiveness). Taking a critical position – one of the roles of academics in society – allows us to see mainstream xMOOCs for what they really are: impoverished walled gardens that diminish the learning experience. Learners are treated as users, content is viewed as knowledge, and the learning interaction is regarded as linear and subject to control. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The internet is essentially a set of agreements (protocols) that tell us how to write a page that can link to any other page without needing anyone’s permission. Without needing anyone’s permission. Without having to ask if it is OK. Without needing to login. Without needing to share our personal information. Without giving up our content through resrictive licensing requirements. “Every link by a person with something to say is an act of generosity and selflessness, bidding our readers to leave the page to see how the world looks to someone else.” When we construct our learning experiences behind closed doors, hiding our interactions inside platforms and apps that we can’t make real choices about, we give up something. As we continue to move teaching and learning into spaces like Facebook – because it’s “where the students are” – we cede our autonomy and ability to make real choices about how we teach and how students learn. We change our teaching practices, not because it is in the students’ best interest, but because it is all that we are allowed to do.
We all love our shiny apps, even when they’re sealed as tight as a Moon base. But put all the closed apps in the world together and you have a pile of apps. Put all the Web pages together and you have a new world. Web pages are about connecting. Apps are about control. As we move from the Web to an app-based world, we lose the commons we were building together. In the Kingdom of Apps, we are users, not makers. Every new page makes the Web bigger. Every new link makes the Web richer. Every new app gives us something else to do on the bus.
Artificial intelligence is still in the very early stages of development–in so many ways, it can’t match our own intelligence–and computers certainly can’t replace doctors at the bedside. But today’s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans can’t. Artificial intelligence–essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this data–can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctors’ aides that can deliver clinically relevant, high-quality data in real time.
Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and its power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.
But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting us, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity.
Perhaps, there is some middle-ground, not skepticism or luddism, but what Sean calls digital agnosticism. So often in our discussions of online education and teaching with technology, we jump to a discussion of how or when to use technology without pausing to think about whether or why. While we wouldn’t advocate for a new era of luddism in higher education, we do think it’s important for us to at least ask ourselves these questions.
We use technology. It seduces us and students with its graphic interfaces, haptic touch-screens, and attention-diverting multimodality. But what are the drawbacks and political ramifications of educational technologies? Are there situations where tech shouldn’t be used or where its use should be made as invisible as possible?
Those of us who have grown up with the web sort-of, kind-of know the mechanics behind it (although we could use a refresher). For the next generation, will they know the difference between the Internet and Google or Facebook? Will they, to put it bluntly, know the difference between a public good and a private company?
The intent of this module is to assist you in developing a personalized and deep understanding of the concepts of this unit – the concepts that are core to using social networking as a learning venue. Communities of Practice, Connectivism, Personal Learning Networks, create one or a combination of the following to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts: a slide show or Glog of images, an audio cast of sounds, a video of sights, a series of hand drawn and scanned pictures, a mindmap of images, a mathematical formula, a periodic chart of concepts, or another form of nonlinguistic symbols. Your product should contain the major elements discussed in this module: CoPs, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks. These are connected yet different concepts. As such they should be portrayed as separate, yet connected elements.
What we think about who we are, and where we are, tells us how much we are likely to learn. This is key to the gap in Connectivist thought. Central to that gap, at the core of what I think Connectivism might be missing is this idea: Motivation is the engine of effort, and the sense of self is the ticking heart of motivation. Our sense of self is formed by the experiences we have, the environments we have them in, and the people who design those environments. And that negotiated sense of self can engineer the success or failure of the educational experience.
The key is to stop thinking of these as content to be mastered, and to start thinking them as skills to be practiced. There isn’t some point of success or failure in any of these, you just do them – like talking to your friends, like walking from class to class – until it becomes second nature.
Indeed, so long as you think of knowledge and learning as something to be acquired and measured and tested – instead of practiced and lived and experienced – you will be dissatisfied with connectivist learning. And – for that matter – there’s probably a limit to how far you can advance in traditional education as well, because (to my experience) everybody who achieves a high degree of expertise in a field has advanced well beyond the idea that it’s just information and skills and things to learn.
Students differ in their aspirations, interests, and aptitudes. But it is worth considering how distinct pathways, trajectories, or streams that too often limit opportunities for students could become permeable spaces for learning. What if the curriculum anchors their learning, but ceases to anchor the students themselves because its aim is the development of important competencies through diverse learning experiences that value and extend young peoples’ knowledge, interests, and capacities across all curriculum domains?
They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by the lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we choose to attend.Failure to spend the
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time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium.
As education continues the march toward a student-driven, project-oriented approach that values intelligent solutions to open-ended problems, it won’t be sufficient to focus on the wonderful discoveries and authentic work that result from an inquiry-based system. Instead, a far more difficult issue will come to the fore: How will we know if inquiry-based learning is successful, and what non-standardized measures of achievement, like better attitude, apply?
Human enhancement—our ability to use technology to enhance our bodies and minds, as opposed to its application for therapeutic purposes—is a critical issue facing nanotechnology. It will be involved in some of the near-term applications of nanotechnology, with such research labs as MIT’s Institute for Soldier Technologies working on exoskeletons and other innovations that increase human strength and capabilities. It is also a core issue related to far-term predictions in nanotechnology, such as longevity, nanomedicine, artificial intelligence and other issues.
The implications of nanotechnology as related to human enhancement are perhaps some of the most personal and therefore passionate issues in the emerging field of nanoethics, forcing us to rethink what it means to be human or, essentially, our own identity. For some, nanotechnology holds the promise of making us superhuman; for others, it offers a darker path toward becoming Frankenstein’s monster.
Do not feel free to delete the work done by someone else. If you think something is out of place, or should be deleted, leave a note explaining your reasons
“contribute what isn’t there” One of the great things about working with other people who care about the same things as you do is that you get things that aren’t expected. Surprise is a very important part of learning. It is a great testimony to people’s work that their contribution made you think of something else and caused you to go off in another direction
“Do the grunt work” Any piece of work is going to be well served by cleaner sentences, more organized bullets, good spacing… that kind of thing
“Leave feedback” Create a new section, call it ‘feedback’ or something and just write out what it made you think
“wear the skin of the idea” try to follow it’s thinking before criticising it
“cheer” Just say “you know, i really enjoyed reading that”
What used to be the side show activity of only a few edubloggers now has the attention of researchers, academics, and conferences worldwide. Networked learning is popping up in all sorts of conference and book chapter requests – it’s largely the heart of what’s currently called web 2.0, and I fully expect it [networked learning] will outlive the temporary buzz and hype of all thing 2.0
numerous factors are at play here:
the tools we use to connect (blogs, wikis, podcast, Facebook, Twitter, Ning)
the theories of learning we adopt (connectivism, situated cognition, social constructivism, activity theory)
affordances of tools and theories
finally the systemic or structural changes required as a result of tools, theories, and affordances
We are well on our way in all areas, though systemic change is lagging. But I expect this is a temporary resistance as anomalies build under the existing system and weaknesses become increasingly apparent
All in all, it’s a rather delightful time to be in the knowledge, learning, education, technology field
Here is our current state:
We are actively networking
connection forming is natural. It doesn’t need coercion. We do it with language, images, video. We create, express, connect.
We are discussing the spaces of learning
an ecology, habitat, or studio is simply the space for fostering connections
Networks occur within something. They are influenced by the environment and context of an organization, school, or classroom
I’ve paid much attention to our role as teachers and instructors, but I’m not satisfied with how the conversation has progressed. I’m rather sick of “sage on stage” and “guide on the side” comparisons. The clear dichotomy chafes
the term “network administrator” to describe the role of teachers
learners get into trouble. They sometimes walk unproductive paths (though any path leads to at least some learning) that someone with experience can readily direct them around
From the 2008 course outline, the Connectivism and connective knowledge course is a “…twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future.”