Future of Online Learning – Stephen Downes

We were very lucky to have had a conversation with Stephen Downes last night as he took us through his vision of the next 10 years in online learning. The presentation was based on Stephen’s insightful post from last November.

For the presentation, we used Elluminate as the “front row”. As well, I hijacked the Elluminate video/audio out to Ustream.tv for those that preferred a pure back channel. Even with this provision, the majority of the conversation remained in Elluminate (the front row).

The Elluminate recording is available here, and the Ustream recording is here. Previous sessions from this course (with various other presenters) are available in the course archive.

Thanks to Stephen for an excellent presentation, and one that will keep us thinking for some time to come.

A Communications Primer

Something about this 1953 instructional video on communications theory gives me warm fuzzies. I love this stuff, and the way it was presented makes me long for instructional videos produced this way.

(Embed no longer working for this video, click here.)

“A Communications Primer” is an instructional film created in 1953 for IBM by Ray & Charles Eames with music by Elmer Bernstein. (via Laughing Squid)

Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching

Recently, I have been conceptualizing/personalizing the concept of open teaching as informed by my facilitation of EC&I 831 and ECMP 455. In my view, open teaching goes well beyond the parameters of the Free and Open Source Software movement, beyond the advocacy of open content and copyleft licenses, and beyond open access. For open teaching, these are the important mechanisms, processes, and residuals, but they should not be viewed as the end goals in themselves. Rather, open teaching may facilitate our approach to social, collaborative, self-determined, and sustained, life-long learning.

My working definition of open teaching (focused on the above areas) follows:

Open teaching is described as the facilitation of learning experiences that are open, transparent, collaborative, and social. Open teachers are advocates of a free and open knowledge society, and support their students in the critical consumption, production, connection, and synthesis of knowledge through the shared development of learning networks. Typical activities of open teachers may include some or all of the following:

* Advocacy and use of free and/or open source tools and software wherever possible and beneficial to student learning;
* Integration of free and open content and media in teaching and learning;
* Promotion of copyleft content licenses for student content production/publication/dissemination;
* Facilitation of student understanding regarding copyright law (e.g., fair use/fair dealing, copyleft/copyright);
* Facilitation and distributed scaffolding of student personal learning networks for collaborative and sustained learning;
* Development of learning environments that are reflective, responsive, student-centred, and that incorporate a diverse array of instructional and learning strategies;
* Modeling of openness, transparency, connectedness, and responsible copyright/copyleft use and licensing; and,
* Advocacy for the participation and development of collaborative gift cultures in education and society.

(Key phrase, “working definition”, comments always welcome.)

Through interactions with current and former students, the resulting practice has lead to a learning environment where the walls are appropriately thinned. This process is visualized through the following graphic.

Open Teaching - Thinning the Walls

Through the guiding principles of open teaching, students are able to gain requisite skills, self-efficacy, and knowledge as they develop their own personal learning networks (PLNs). Educators guide the process using their own PLNs, with a variety of teaching/learning experiences, and via (distributed) scaffolding. Knowledge is negotiated, managed, and exchanged. A gift economy may be developed through the paying-forward of interactions and meaningful collaborations.

In the digital and rich-media environment, educators may also take on different roles, metaphors that extend beyond “sage on the stage”, “guide on the side”, etc. The “network sherpa” (source?) may be a suitable metaphor to describe these pedagogical processes.

Open Teaching - Network Sherpa

This metaphor projects the role of teacher as one who “knows the terrain”, helps to guide students around obstacles, but who is also led by student interests, objectives, and knowledge. The terrain in this case consists of the development of media literacy (critique & awareness), social networks (connections), and connected/connective knowledge.

As with any models/images/diagrams/metaphors there are always limitations and (outright) flaws. Yet, I present these three pieces (i.e., working definition of open teaching, thinning the walls, network sherpa) in hope that it will lead us to a discussion on some of the perceived changes in teaching & learning in the wider scope of education.

Feedback and critique always welcome and encouraged.

CBC Sask on Twitter

Jordan (a former student of mine) and I were briefly interviewed for a short CBC piece about Twitter. It is interesting to see the increased interest in the service by mainstream media, especially in the past several months.

Additionally, here’s an older piece from the CBC (March 2002) that discussed the implementation of highspeed Internet in every Saskatchewan school (was quite a big deal at the time). While there is a shared focus in the two pieces around connectivity, there is certainly a shift in what this means. In 2002, the focus here was in retrieving content/information. Now, the focus is much more on establishing human connections and social interactivity.

Feedback and Support for My Students?

As many of you know, I am teaching two online courses this semester. These courses are ECMP 455 (undergraduate) and EC&I 831 (graduate), both which are focused on educational technology. My students are all blogging, and I’m starting to see some real improvement in their writing and reflecting on topics related to the course.

I have tagged my student blogs in Google Reader, and shared the public pages below:

I know that many people in my PLN have already begun engaging my students, and commenting on their blogs. Several of my students have commented on how inspiring and motivating this interaction has been for them.

For those interested, I would love if you could subscribe to the feeds above and follow my students through their journey. They could definitely benefit from your encouragement and insight. And, interactions like these are important for them to understand the benefits of a personal learning network.

Thanks if you are able, and always greatly appreciated.

Animal Abusers Caught

About 17 hours ago, I came across a video on Youtube (referred via Reddit) of a teen in a face mask being videoed as he abused a cat. I immediately sent this tweet:

Twitter / Alec Couros: So how exactly does someon ...
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

A few of us discussed it on Twitter, reported it to Youtube, and within about 15 minutes, the video was taken down. We wondered at the time if the people involved would be caught. I am happy to report that this is the case, and this news report outlines what happened.

It is great to see that members of the Youtube community were able to act quickly and identify the perpetrators.

Professor Denis Rancourt & Academic Freedom

In response to the recent firing of Professor Denis Rancourt from the University of Ottawa (detailed here), my colleague Dr. Marc Spooner has written and sent a letter to the President of Ottawa U, Alan Rock. This is a passionate, well-written piece that outlines important ideas for those who defend the principles of academic freedom. I commend Dr. Spooner for his bravery and action.

RE: Professor Denis Rancourt & Academic Freedom

It is with a great deal of regret that I compose this letter. However, an overwhelming sense of alarm compels me to write to you as the president of the University of Ottawa because your institution is my alma mater, the university where I received my doctorate, worked as a part-time professor, and served many years as an elected representative on the Graduate Student Association (GSAED, 1999-2004). Collegial affiliation is a powerful “tie that binds”, and I cannot pretend that momentous events at the place that shaped me as an academic are of no concern to me now that I have taken a position elsewhere.

So it is with immense dismay that I read two recent articles in the Globe and Mail (February 6 & 11, 2009) outlining the suspension, possible firing, and forcible arrest and removal of Professor Denis Rancourt from the University of Ottawa campus.

It was at the U of O that I came to understand the power of the great ideals that have always guided the Academy. Ideals that are fundamental to the Academy’s role in a progressive and inclusive society and so compelling that if borne in mind for even a moment would surely disbar us from allowing faculty disagreements, academic differences, and/or bruised egos to cloud our judgment and let the petty politics of the day win out.

At your behest the university invoked an armed branch of the state, the police, to squelch speech. This speech did not promote hate nor incite violence, but simply took a critical view of the institution itself, and the larger polity it serves. The university’s action was not only irresponsible, but reprehensible, anathema to the very cornerstone upon which the academy rests.

There must be space for dissent and critical reflexion in a pluralistic and peaceful society and universities ought not shirk their responsibilities in this regard. To the contrary, they ought to be shining examples of it– beacons of freedom, diversity, and rational and passionate dialectic. In a world where, all too often, parties seek to resolve conflict at the barrel of a gun, or through force and intimidation, a university’s role as a space for dialogue and respectful disagreement becomes all the more evident and all the more vital. As the first point in the CAUT’s policy statement on academic freedom1 reminds:

“Post-secondary educational institutions serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge, truth, and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students. Robust democracies require no less. These ends cannot be achieved without academic freedom.” (Source)

As to the specific of Professor Rancourt’s grading policy: I first implore that we do not make the fallacious assumption to mistake grades for learning. Second, to suggest that under a pass/fail (or in Dr. Rancourt’s case an all “A”) approach students do not learn, become unmotivated, or that such a system is not a well-respected and credible marking scheme is simply unfounded. I proffer the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school and the University of Prince Edward Island’s Bachelor of Education program as two examples; the former highlights that, even with something as self-evidently important as a medical doctor’s education and training, such a system can be employed to great success; the latter is an example of its adoption by those who research and practice effective pedagogy.

Professor Rancourt and I worked on several projects in my time at the University of Ottawa that I truly believe made tangible contributions to the campus, community, and greater society, despite not always sharing one view of the way forward. Had I been in his position these last four years I no doubt would have employed a different set of tactics than those utilised by Dr. Rancourt throughout his longstanding conflict with the Physics Department, the Faculty of Science, and the Central Administration. Although Dr. Rancourt’s tactics, or my tactics, or anyone else’s tactics, might offend, a discussion of them is simply not germane when the issue at hand is the fundamental right and essential need for universities to respect academic freedom and divergent viewpoints.

I believe in my academic colleagues. I believe in their intelligence, their expertise, their experience, and in their difference. I also believe that our actions should follow that which we profess. To act on anything less than the belief in the fundamental principles of academic freedom is an assault on the creative act of teaching, and an insult to the abilities and expertise of our colleagues as we seek, in the ideal, to serve in the public interest.


Marc Spooner, Ph. D.

Is This Forever?

One of the videos I showed last night during my Media Literacy presentation was the recent “David After Dentist” video. The scene is of a seven year old boy who just left the Dentist’s office and was still feeling the effects of sedation. I’ve posted the video to Twitter, and while most people report it to be quite funny, others were more critical of this scene being posted to Youtube for all to see. The original video (posted below) was posted January 30, 2009, and has already been viewed over 7 million times.

Boing Boing, a highly influential group blog, posted the video on September 3. At that time, there had already been a few remixes. Since the Boing Boing mention, the number of remixes has exploded. Two of my favourite are found below:


Chad (Vader) After Dentist

There are dozens more!

How does this relate to media literacy? During his state of sedation, the boy asks “is this forever?” While the dad reassures him that it isn’t, in the (digital) media sense, it is forever. Whether the boy likes it or not, he is now an Internet star. The scene will likely follow him into classrooms, into careers, into relationships; it will forever be part of his identity. Whether he accepts his fame as mostly positive (see Gary Brolsma) or especially negative (see Ghyslain Raza) is yet to be seen. What is certain is that the distribution of this video, a piece of David’s identity, is no longer in anyone’s full control.

Media Literacy Presentation

Tonight I presented “Popular Issues in (Digital) Media Literacy” to my EC&I 831 students. The presentation covered various topics such as: offensive content (bad taste, sexuality), viral videos & memes, misinformation (satire, hoaxes, scams, phishing), safety & cyberbullying, hate (racism & violence), social networks & privacy. It was very much a survey approach to the topic in hopes that my students will understand the broad scope of related issues.

The slide deck is available below:

The Elluminate recording is also available for viewing.

The End of Alone

While I do not agree with all of the assumptions regarding human connectivity in this article by Neil Swidey, the main point of this article has me thinking. Are our tools of ubiquitous connectivity “dulling our very capacity to ever be alone, or alone in our thoughts”? I know it’s not a new idea, but certainly one I am becoming much more sensitive to. Maybe you are experiencing similar feelings?

If you are interested, I would recommend the article and viewing the supporting video (below).

And, I’m thinking. Currently I’m leading a group of students toward greater connectivity and networked interactions. I strongly believe that connections and the supporting network are important for educators to experience, and can be potential transformative for teaching and learning. For most of these individuals, the concepts and practices are quite new, and critical resistance is anticipated and supported. As educators, we should wonder if we will find ourselves 10 years from now teaching courses on how to disconnect from the masses, and reconnect to one’s self, and to our local communities. Let’s try to avoid this future. Teach critically, adopt cautiously, and reflect constantly.

See also “The End of Solitude” by William Deresiewicz.

Digital Storytelling Resources

I find that one of the most useful features of Twitter is the resource sharing. With a well-established network of educators, it seems easy to solicit responses from educators who are willing to share favourite resources on various topics. Today, one of my undergraduate students Krystal (@tealek) inquired about digital story telling resources. I sent out a tweet, and many good people within my network sent back their responses. I have collected these below (sorry if I missed anyone):

@pcwoessner sent me to David Jakes’ excellent Digital Storytelling resources.

@CherylDoig offered Jason Ohler’s resources.

@lloydcrew sent me to the Images4Education site, and a great article by Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine.

@cheritoledo offered a link to the Center for Digital Storytelling.

@clintlalonde sent me to his long list of Delicious bookmarks tagged as digitalstorytelling.

@plowenthal linked to a techheds podcast on digital storytelling.

@sammora sent me to the resources at Montclair Public schools and their digital authoring initiative.

@MagistraM led me to Langwitches blog and the various resources offered there.

@bcdtech offered her Diigo list/digital storytelling category.

@jorech sent me his Wikispaces page with a long list of resources.

@shyj offered her list of Delicious bookmarks tagged on the subject.

@barbaram sent Krystal her wiki of resources on storytelling and other activities.

MtnLaurel offered her Diigo collections of resources.

Again, sorry if I missed anyone or screwed up any of the links. Do let me know.

This is one of my favourite uses of Twitter. Through the generosity of educators, it can be easy to gather a substantial list of educator-recommended resources on topics like this. And, I’m happy that through this post, I can give back a little to my network.