Monthly Archives: February 2014

Information wants to be free, Humanity wants to be smarter. So play nicely and be kind.

On the #FutureEd mooc we have crowd sourced a class constitution (think class rules) and we had to select 5 of them and say why we thought they were important.  I think these would be useful in any course and may well use them in the future (maybe as a seed and let my students add to them)

I selected 3 principles and 2 expectations from the constitution, below each point I explain why I think it is important

Principles, We believe that:

  • Knowledge should be open and accessible to all people, whether in print or electronic format.

For me the open is key, it was one of the defining characteristics of MOOCs and ties into my belief that learning and education should be available to anyone who wants to learn.  It also has echoes of phrase “Information wants to be free” which would place the MOOC within the wider open source movement.  The accessibility helps ensure that “anyone” does mean anyone and doesn’t exclude because of disability.

  • Curation (the finding and sharing of learning materials) is a function of any and all willing members of the learning community, not the sole responsibility of the teacher.

This was my contribution to the constitution and it comes out of my experiences on social media.  I have found that on some MOOCs I learn as much or more from the blogs,discussions, links and materials found by other students on the MOOC (and shared on social media).  Its a key part about allowing scalability, if every person that feels confident to share materials does so then the potential for learning increases with each additional student.  If you follow the concept that the smartest person in the room is the room, then this allows the room to become the teacher.

  • Support should be made available to learners who are motivated but may lack the technical skills to fully participate online.

My background is as a Learning Technologist, I feel that lack of support is an area that MOOCs can fall down on.  While the digitally literate dance off across a virtual sea of learning, some can be left wondering how to start and what to do.  Designing in support and encouraging peer support helps everyone to participate.

Community Expectations, We expect that:

  • We will collaborate in a constructive manner as we assign, guide, and assess the work of peers.

Collaborating constructively means playing nicely together.  There were a number of points similar to this but I think they can all be covered under the concept of being kind.  Why is it important? because a kind supportive environment is one in which people will feel confident in learning and happy to take the risk of seeming foolish in order to learn.

  • The community will be open to dissenting voices and seek to engage with dissenting opinions constructively. A dissenting opinion is not a personal attack. Reciprocal respect is required when responding to a post.

Its important to have dissenting voices, when you express your thoughts in juxtaposition with someone who disagrees with you then you are forced to clearly consider and explain your thinking.  Ideally both sides learn from and refine their understanding, if the discussion is constructive it greatly increases the chances that both sides will learn.

By Tilemahos Efthimiadis from Athens, Greece [<a href="">CC-BY-2.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

By Tilemahos Efthimiadis from Athens, Greece [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Every Problem needs ?

So I am mooc-ing again doing the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education mooc over at Coursera – and the first task was to write about “Unlearning” something.

When I first saw this question I struggled to think of something I had unlearned, I have always considered education as a building on and refining of prior knowledge.  I might find out that something I had learned was incorrect or that there was a better model to describe something than the one that I knew, but I didn’t unlearn the original information I just incorporated the correct information into what I already knew.

What I had to Unlearn

Im a Learning Technologist solving problems is a large part of my job and I am very good at it, no matter what a Teacher is trying to do I will have some advice (often involving technology) that will help them achieve it.  Similarly my degree was a scientific one and most of my education could be loosely described as identifying problems and finding solutions.

By andrea silva from santiago (HEART!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By andrea silva from santiago (HEART!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was at university I had a friend called Monica, who was bubbly and cute and really fancied the barman who worked at the student bar.  She asked my advice, I suggested she buy a round and ask him out but she didn’t.  Over the next few weeks I heard repeatedly about the object of her affections and my solutions grew more detailed.  I think at one point I went so far as to draw up a 12 point plan with diagrams and things to say, sadly she never took my advice and her love remained unrequited.

A few years back a friend was having problems at work, I suggested a number of things they could do but nothing really did the trick.  When I got home I complained to my wife that he had refused all my solutions, my wife (who is much smarter than me) said “He didn’t want solutions, he just wanted to tell someone his problems”

My Unlearning lesson

Sometimes people don’t want a solution, they just want you to listen and show that you care about their problem.

What Successes experienced after the Unlearning

Well apart from in social situations one area this has helped in is getting staff to adopt online marking.  You see whenever a group of staff are asked to adopt online marking there is always a significant percentage who really dislike the process no matter how straightforward you try to make it.  However marking is hard work, time consuming and most staff are overstretched during the marking period so its not particularly the online they dislike its the marking itself.  Now instead of spending time and effort further effort optimising an online process that is probably as optimised as it is going to get, instead you make sure that staff have a chance to express their opinions and that they are aware technical support in on hand should they need it.  In one school (that for complicated reasons) went to online marking, stopped, then started again we have had some staff expressing relief at returning to online.