What is the value of openness?

May 7, 2011

Openness. When I think of this topic I often think of Clay Shirky. His writing on communication and technology is clear and inspirational. He talks about cognitive surplus, which basically means using our free time for productive collaboration and sharing the results. Sharing the results WIDELY.

The very title of his latest book explains this beautifully.

“Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age”

Perhaps what intrigues me the most about this idea is that through the collaboration allowed by social media, we might just be returning to values that are inherently human, but have been sidelined for a while due to industrialization.

A review of the book (via Amazon) says:
“Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus-rather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior-actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up through the early twentieth century.”

I think of the industrial or factory model of education as an example of where our society got ‘off track’ in the early twentieth century. My wish to transcend this is what got me into educational technology in the first place, about twenty-five years ago. I believed that the closed, compartmentalized view of education does not reflect how humans have learned — learned what they needed, learned when they needed to, through interaction, for centuries. Open learning can bring us back to that.

Shirky says (comparing the post-industrialized/pre-social media era to the present day):

“We have lived in this world where little things are done for love and big things for money. Now we have Wikipedia. Suddenly big things can be done for love.”

Here is a short (2.5 minutes) video that explores my personal response to the idea of cognitive surplus (created as a response to the theme of an upcoming conference).


Online Learning Advice via Tony Bates and other experts

May 2, 2011

I’ll quote the part that represents Tony’s difference of opinion with the overall study summary:

“Although I agree strongly with the importance of design, I’m not sure I agree with playing down the importance of technology. In my view, the technology, and especially web 2.0 technologies, are potential game changers. What makes the difference is the shift in power: web 2.0 technologies give learners as equal if not better access to learning technologies as instructors, and thus more control over their learning. True, if instructors don’t take advantage of this, things may not appear to be changing, but in the end, if instructors and institutions do not adapt and respond appropriately to this technology shift, they will lose control.”

I fully agree that institutions need to incorporate all that’s right about informal learning or they will become less and less relevant to the overall learning picture.

Here’s the link:


And I also believe that the education system needs to ensure that kids/young adults leave the system with good strategies for finding information, evaluating it, thinking critically etc.

Stuff I’ve said before but perhaps it’s time to say it again 🙂

And a recent article by David Parry on what he calls “Mobile Literacy” (I like the concept but almost wish there was another name for it as we’ve had so many ‘literacies’ I suspect people are getting tired of them ) does a good job of addressing the education system’s responsibilities regarding ensuring students are aware of factors involved in information access, hyperconnectedness, and sense of space via mobile devices. Link:

Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication (Chapt 14)

November 10, 2010

Chapter 14 in the Veletsianos book is titled “Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication” and is authored by Rita Kop: (Chapter 14)

Kop’s chapter describes a project in South Wales, UK, built around distance learning with extensive use of Web 2.0 tools. The intention was to explore a model where increased learner control and shared information are key components. Blogs, wikis, chat, pod and video-casts were all used in the interactive environment that was created for this undergraduate Higher Education Certificate program, taught mainly at a distance. Tutors, learning technologists and students were all interviewed as part of the evaluation of the project. Activities and interactions (blog use, wikis, chat etc.) were monitored, analyzed and coded.

Conclusions of the analysis revealed that the students responded well to “spur of the moment” videos from their tutors, found wikis to be less useful for collaborative knowledge creation than would be expected (the author sees this as possibly because the concept of collaborative knowledge was just not very familiar and the asynchronous nature did now help with time management issues that the students were having), and found chat to be a good way to create a sense of togetherness. (p. 279). For all tools, the role of the tutor was seen as working best when it was supportive and nurturing, while still allowing semi-autonomous learning. The ideal is that semi-autonomous learning is a bridge that will one day lead to fully self-directed learning.

Having just concluded co-instructing a course that attempted to incorporate some of the ideas in this chapter, I would agree that finding the right balance as an instructor can be a challenge. For any student new to online learning, there seems to often be an initial sense of uncertainty at being left on one’s own. Teamwork very early in the experience is a good motivator, and tools like chat, forums and wikis definitely do create a “place” for this to happen. I’m not sure if the UK project described encouraged the collaborative writers to select a person to take the role of editor. My personal experience is that this, rotating from assignment to assignment, can really help with the time management issues. I’ve seen teams start to self-manage in an amazingly quick period of time, but again, there is a need for subtle facilitation and being ready to step in if things are not happening as they should be. In some ways, (again in my own personal experience) the most effective “instruction” in this model is often completely invisible to the students much of the time.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Veletsianos Chapt 9: Trey Martindale & Michael Dowdy, “Personal Learning Environments”

September 13, 2010


Chapter 9 in the Veletsianos (ed.) book is the beginning of Part 3 (Social, Organizational, and Contextual Factors in Emerging Technologies Implementations).

The chapter itself, by Trey Martindale and Michael Dowdy, is titled “Personal Learning Environments” and discusses the history of the concept, its use, how it compares with Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and its future. In this chapter, the PLE is shown to have some varying definitions, and examples range from ELGG to Facebook. And in looking at how the PLE compares to the LMS, these authors provide several scenarios.

At this point I have to point to a blog post that also compares the PLE to the LMS (and has a graphic that I really like)

In a nutshell, almost everyone who compares the LMS to the PLE tends to see the LMS as more formal and structured, with the PLE being more transformative.

Basically I agree with the concept – I’d say that the LMS *can* be a bit better than “one size fits all” though, but it does take work to make that happen. I like one of the comments to the above blog — that the LMS can be part of the PLE. Certainly my work revolves around delivering courses via an LMS, but as much as possible, I encourage everyone involved to use the LMS as a springboard to developing a PLE (or PLN) because I don’t want the experience to end with the final assignment of the “course”.

Finally, for an account of a story that shows the power of making educational opportunities less formal, look to:

Using mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India

by K. Balasubramanian et al, August 2010 in the special edition of the Australian Journal “Distance Education” p. 193-209 (your library may have this journal in their online collection and it’s definitely worth accessing)

for a description of nine female goats, one buck and one cellphone and how the combination of mobile phones and goat grazing is allowing women to learn without sacrificing their employment.

Note: The PLE is sometimes distinguished from the PLN (Personal Learning Network – see my blog post on Chapter 6 where Alec Couros describes this https://elizabethtweets.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/alec-couros-chapter-6-developing-personal-learning-networks-for-open-and-social-learning/) with PLE being more focused on the technology and PLN more focused on the networking of people. But I think many of us (Alec Couros included, as far as I can tell from this link: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156) see a lot of overlap and are interested in collaborating for learning in any way possible.

Fifteen minutes after posting this, I find a new take on the controversy here:
http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2010/09/when-worlds-collide.html “The institutional PLE? Impossible or feasible?”

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Alec Couros, Chapter 6 “Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning”

August 22, 2010

Alec Couros is one of (at least) two educator brothers that are in my personal learning network (PLN). Alec is a fellow Canadian and I’ve found many interesting educational resources by following his tweets.

Alec is also the author of Chapter 6 in “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education”, a chapter that happens to be about “Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning” so the chapter is especially interesting to me because it reflects what I’ve been experiencing.

The chapter is about an open teaching project. An open course was developed to address the role of Social Media/Web 2.0 in education. The chapter deals with the theory and social justice premise that informed the project’s design, the development process and tools used for the course, the unexpected uptake, and, to me the most important part, the ongoing “authentic, dynamic and fluid” learning connections that emerged. I wasn’t a direct participant in the project described, but I was in contact with people who were and certainly my awareness of the project led me to add people to my PLN that I might not have known about otherwise – sort of a ripple-out effect.

If you search on Google for “EC&I 831” (this was the course identification) you’ll find many links to wikis, youtube videos and more that were part of this course and I believe that browsing through some of this material provides an insight into the flavour of what is described in the chapter itself.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Chapter 4:”Beyond Distance and Time Constraints: Applying Social Networking Tools and Web 2.0 Approaches in Distance Education.”

August 6, 2010

More from the new book edited by George Veletsianos:

Chapter 4 of the new “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education” book is Mark J.W. Lee and Catherine McLoughlin’s “Beyond Distance and Time Constraints: Applying Social Networking Tools and Web 2.0 Approaches in Distance Education.” (note: the chapter may be freely downloaded via: http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/04_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf )

This chapter provides a useful overview of the context of distance education including its function and its shortfalls — with social isolation, leading to demotivation, being one of the main traditional concerns. It is interesting to reflect on the impact of isolation from a scholarly community and this chapter clarifies and highlights the importance of social presence (and the culture of a learning environment) to the actual learning that will take place.

The authors then consider how Web 2.0 might address this and other issues for distance learners. With concrete examples of work being done with respect to social presence, reconceptualization of design and new pedagogical strategies, this chapter focuses on authentic collaborative activities for distance learners. The authors describe distance students working together to create meaningful content and support each others’ learning.

I would highly recommend this chapter as an idea generator for distance educators who want to incorporate Web 2.0 strategies, or as an introduction to those who may require a coherent overview of the possibilities to guide their decision, taking the history and the potential future of distance education into account.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Thank You Clay Shirky’s Mom

July 6, 2010

There is a great interview in the Guardian (which by the way, you can read for free online…)


Some interesting highlights (apart from the fact that Shirky is convinced that the paywall for online news is going to fail) include the fact that he didn’t have a computer till age 28 and when he got one it was his mother who taught him about the internet. He’s 46 now so doing the math suggests that lesson was somewhere around 1992 (Thank YOU, Clay’s Mom  – you done real good!)

As always, Shirky is both optimistic and realistic about technology and all the things people do with it. What’s particularly refreshing about this article is that the interviewer, Decca Aitkenhead, has captured his viewpoints in a light, skeptical-but-willing-to-reconsider, style of writing.

Here’s a quote directly from Shirky, “if the new technology creates a new behaviour, it’s because it was allowing motivations that were previously locked out. These tools we now have allow for new behaviours – but they don’t cause them.”

And here’s one from Aitkenhead, “Had I never been online before, and had just read his book, I’d probably be so inspired by his account of the creative and collaborative instincts of the online community, I’d be rushing to log on. But if I started out on, say, the Guardian’s Comment is free site, the sheer nastiness of many of the commenters would floor me like a train. If the web has unlocked all this human potential for generosity and sharing, how come the people using it are so horrible to each other?”

Shirky’s answer to the question of human ‘horribleness’, in my opinion (and I know there are zillions who would agree with me), hits just the right note of compassion for the way people are and always have been (mean when anonymous), and the way that technology reveals this. And he suggests that we have a challenge that might lead to the implementation of social norms to allow our considerate sides to shine through.