Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching: Revisited

I recently posted a developing framework for open/networked teaching. In the post, I introduced a working definition for open teaching, and two diagrams; analogies to inform the open classroom and the emerging role of the educator. This ‘revisited’ post provides revisions to these preliminary ideas, reflections on what was learned, and insight into why developing thoughts ‘in the open’ is an important process for (personal) learning.

Working Revisions:
Knowledge is both a process and product. Improvements to my framework were fostered by the conversation around the previous post.

Working Definition of Open Teaching:
First, as I have thought for some time now, and as Dave Cormier challenges, the term ‘teaching’ in ‘open teaching’ is problematic. This problem was also voiced by Sui Fai John Mak in the comments of the previous post. I have lamented that I would rather use the term ‘open education’ (to include those that do not regard themselves as ‘teachers’), but that term has already a distinct meaning. For now, the problem remains unsolved. Does anyone have suggestions for an appropriate ‘catch-all’ term for educators (teachers, professors, instructors, lecturers) who increasingly use and advocate for open and networked forms of teaching and learning in educational environments. Or, is ‘open teaching’ good enough for now? Do we need to get hung up on a term? I look forward to the day when we do not have to distinguish among educators who facilitate learning this way; when ‘open education’ is simply ‘education’.

That note, leads me right into the next big observation regarding my thoughts on the subject so far. It was observed by both Richard Schwier & Silvia Straka that my ideas on open teaching were intensely value-laden. While these comments did not seem written as distinct criticisms, it really did alert me (as I often forget) the basic assumptions regarding teaching, learning, and society that ‘openness’ encompasses. A few of the most prominent assumptions in my work include:

    * the importance of information and communications technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning;
    * the relevance of critical media and technological literacy as a way to expose and deconstruct power and influence by consumers/adopters;
    * a strong focus on social learning, collaboration, and group growth (as a means for individual growth); and,
    * the nurturing and preservation of a free and open knowledge society, where access to information and knowledge is a basic human right (where proprietary knowledge & ownership are dramatically reduced, or ousted altogether).

While this latter point may seem radical, I found that my thoughts on the subject were not nearly as radical as others would have liked. Commenters Minhaaj Rehman, Steve Foerster, and Charles Evans (collectively) argued for a position beyond Creative Commons licensing and to advocate for public domain dedication (no restrictions to users/consumers). I do not oppose public domain dedication at all, in fact, I believe it to be a pure form of gifting within the knowledge economy. However, my support for Creative Commons licensing is based on these important premises.

    * Creators are given a choice of what licenses to waive or to keep. (I feel this is important for artistic works, although my position flips when it comes to life, death, economics, poverty, education, e.g., genetic/pharmaceutical patents, some educational resources). In my work as a professor, I am able to give up rights to my work through copyleft licenses and still get paid. Those who earn their living through the sale of books, music, poetry, etc., should not be required to waive their rights to support their livelihood. Yes, many fine lines exist.
    * I believe that attribution is vital to the history and progression of ideas in society. A simple ‘attribution’ requirement is not too much to ask for most work.
    * Creative works, in at least the current political and economic economies of Canada and the US, are often produced because of existing monetary incentives. This is not to defend the capitalist system, but rather to explain that an entire reality (e.g., copyists, copyleft licenses, pirates) are reactive channels to current, restrictive conditions (e.g., intellectual ‘property’), not components of an alternative, viable economy in and of itself.

It is also important to know that a true Public Domain designation is not legally possible in many nations. The new Creative Commons Zero license (CC0) is about as close as creators can get in some jurisdictions (here are the details).

From these critiques, and others, I will continue to improve the working definition of ‘open teaching’ (or whatever it may be designated as in the future).

Thinning The Walls (Diagram):
The “Thinning the Walls” diagram was fairly well received. This diagram represents my experiences in facilitating the EC&I 831 graduate course where students went from a (somewhat) traditional learning configuration to an increasingly networked learning context. The walls of the “classroom” where slowly thinned as students developed their personal learning networks (PLNs).

Open Teaching - Thinning the Walls

The most important feedback on this diagram was that it failed to represent the continuous learning of the teacher and it failed to recognize the knowledge of the students (special tks to Kristina Hoeppner & Maryanne Burgos). These aspects were always meant to be within the overall model, but I believe it is important to make these pieces more explicit (as attempted below).

Open Teaching - Thinning the Walls - Revision #2

Network Sherpa (Diagram):
I also put forth one possible analogy for the role of a teacher, that of the ‘network sherpa. At the time of the post, I could not recall where I had heard this term. I have since remembered that it was included in Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video (recommended viewing), although I do not believe this is the original source. While the diagram was generally well-received, critique included:

    * the idea of sherpa bearing the entire ‘load’ of learning (a critique I thought was pre-empted with each individual carrying identical baggage);
    * the difficulty of (re)presenting inquiry within the diagram (or analogy itself);
    * “that it misses the tremendous amount that teachers learn from their students” (Maryanne Burgos); and,
    * ethnic misinterpretation or discriminative interpretations by the name (a critique I take very seriously).

Open Teaching - Network Sherpa

I stand by the analogy as a potentially powerful way to view a method or view of open/networked teaching. However, for those that dislike the metaphor, I now provide you with an alternative.

Open Teaching - Network Sherpa - The End

“Publish Then Filter” & The Importance of Analogy:
A week from today, this blog will be five years old. While this space serves a number of purposes (resource sharing, announcements, advocacy), the most important activity to me is that it helps me think. Not only is it a giant storehouse of my ideas, it is a place where my thoughts are vetted, beaten around, and transformed. It is an extension of my brain and one of the entry ways into my personal learning network. It is where, as Shirky describes, I “publish then filter“.

The most popular of my posts, not surprisingly, have included visualizations, rich media, metaphors, or analogies. The latter two devices played an important part in these discussions as the diagrams provided the context to resonate, to disagree, to extend, and negotiate understandings as well as to project future visions for teaching and learning. As Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein (1999) point out “it is the inexact, imperfect nature of the analogy that allows it to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown.” So while the analogies may not be perfect, this is quite intentional, unavoidable, and (I believe) forgivable. It will take many of these imperfect models and raw conversations to create and shape the future of education. Believe in the conversation, throw out your ideas, engage with others, and teach and learn with the passion that this process breeds. This is openness at its very best.

29 thoughts on “Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching: Revisited

  1. Very interesting post, it was helpful for me in a couple ways. But it added up to several other posts making me increasingly uncomfortable. It often appears to me that by focusing on knowledge in education we are missing other important aspects. One of the main purposes of education in my opinion is to enable to come to good decisions. While they can be derived from knowledge, we are often in a situation, where we only have partial knowledge, but still have to make a good decision. Making solely knowledge-based decisions based on partial knowledge can be the cause of many mistakes. So we must also take values into account as I explained further in my post at

  2. Perhaps it would be helpful to think about ourselves as learners, helpful in continuing this discussion about open teaching.
    I’ve started to feel a shift inside myself, as of late. Here is how I would describe this shift: I am learning. This sentence does not mean I am in the process of learning. No, it mean I equal learning…learning is what I am. If this is the case (and I’m kind of thinking it is) everywhere I go is about learning. It doesn’t mean I’m taking notes or preparing for a quiz on everything.
    If my students felt this way about themselves, my job as a teacher would be radically different. I’m not sure I completely know how to help my students feel this way. That’s the part of this metaphor where I’ve got work to do.

  3. Thats a wonderful, comprehensible and potent model how learning takes place in wired world Alec. Congratulations in advance for the fifth birthday of the blog. You writings have inspired most of us and has shown us how to conceptualize and fathom the intricacies and benefits of technology.

    I am also happy that i have atleast made you ‘flip’ about the devastations copyrights and notion of ‘owning’ content can bring to a free world or atleast the ideal and peaceful world we want it to be. I can agree with your point that ‘creators’ should not be required to waive their rights for their content, if in whole history you could show me a word which was entirely thought or delivered by an individual WITHOUT the help of experiences, shared-learning, legends and stories. If you could only prove me we are ORIGINAL creators of content i’d be happy to dedicate myself to copyrights movement :)

    I also want to ask the reasons for your assumption that people are generally disrespectful of other’s creation and without copyrights, people will not respect your creation and will not attribute you while using your works. J.K Rowling would be as famous as it is, even without copyrighting the book. People are generally respectful, considerate and honoring when it comes to extra ordinary works that contribute to humanity.

    I have argued at length in my blogposts about the fallacy that US and Canada has a monetary-based incentive system for the content creators. Money can keep you alive to write, but money can’t you make a great and wonderful thinker. Ideas are irrespective of monetary incentives.

    My views about new Creative Commons Zero license are on my blog. Leigh Blackall, Lecturer at Otago Polytechnic, and a wonderful supporter of free learning discussed this new license with me in an informal chat session. Otago Polytechnic has launched an Open Intellectual Property policy recently and is active in creating OERs on WikiEducator.

    Great Post :)

  4. Alec, I was most struck by commentary you have received about the value-laden nature of your discourse. I was somewhat blind to that previously, which I guess often happens when you share the values being consciously or unconsciously spoken to.

    Still, I think it often happens when the writer feels that certain conclusions have been established beyond the need to qualify their value.

    Being called on it though, and where to go from there?

    I think it shouldn’t mean that the perspective is no longer shared, but rather, perhaps it could be brought to the fore, so that there is no sense that it is being mixed into the punch bowl while no one is looking. As you did above, to good effect.

    If placed prominently, the theoretical foundation behind your approach wouldn’t have to be unpacked as a set of unconscious values, but rather, foregrounded as a robust discourse in itself, ready to be explored by others in your open teaching community.

    I believe your “value set” would stand up to that kind of examination, but, if not, at least we’ll know why not – and be that much farther ahead.

  5. @Ulrich: Thanks for your post and your point toward what seems to be missing. This is not meant to be a comprehensive vision of teaching, but as you say, it’s much more focused around knowledge communities. Schwartz’s TED Talk, while fairly new, is one of my favourites and he brings up excellent points. Thanks for your thoughts here, they’ll certainly be considered next time around.

    @Nancy: I thought I had brought that piece in a bit clearer (educators as learners), but perhaps I need to make this even more explicit. In any case, I should have acknowledged you within this post as I believe you mentioned this previously. Thanks again for your input.

    @Minhaaj: First, *you* did not make me flip on these views. I have been speaking about my aversion to patents (and other forms of control of knowledge) for some time now, most recently in my Academic Integrity presentations ( If anything, you (and the others) caused me to make an existing view more explicit, and help to steer the conversation beyond what I had originally intended.

    Also, I read your discussion with Leigh, and noticed that he comes from a very similar viewpoint re: attribution as I do. You ask for the reasons re: the assumption that people are generally disrespectful of content/ideas … well, that comes from being in schools and universities for 16 years now, seeing 100’s of cases of plagiarism, and other forms of academic misconduct. It also comes in the form of seeing teachers not cite their resources well or at all. And of course, there is that whole pirating/copyist piece that you bring forth. Sure, the system may cause these things (as I mentioned, there wouldn’t be ‘pirates’ if content was freely available), but this leads to my next point.

    You say you have argued at length about the fallacy of the incentive based system. However, I have not yet to see anything that convinces me that this is in fact the case. It seems most of it is based on your opinion that this is the way it should be. I can argue all day for a crimeless society, but that won’t make it happen, nor will it prove that it is possible. Show me something, or write something, that gives ‘meat’ to your argument.

    @Evan: Yea, I didn’t realize how values based it was until it was brought to my attention. Of course, my long-standing argument is, well, what isn’t values based (see curriculum, pedagogy, etc.). However, I am glad that it made me dig a bit deeper and pull out a few of the important assumptions in my work. I am sure there are others, but at least it’s a good place to start.

    Thanks all for your comments so far.

  6. Thanks for putting these thoughts on paper. Over the past year or so, I have been struggling with these ideas and how to transform my teaching (college level – teacher education). However, I have really struggled with putting these ideas to paper…or explaining them to colleagues. My students generally compliment me on “practicing what I preach,” by modeling best-practices, minimizing lecture (my longest lecture during the semester is 20 minutes), etc. But, last fall I came to the realization that I may be practicing what I preach, but not always preaching what I believe. I feel like I am moving in the right direction, but struggling to scaffold my students.

    There is a lot of power in structuring learning experiences that are collaborative (beyond just the students in a specific classroom), self-directed, and authentic. I think the assumptions that you describe early in your post are important and valuable. I would add at least on — “content” learned is inseparable from the context that it is learned within. — Learning in a “closed” environment severely limits an individuals ability to be a flexible thinker.

  7. Thanks for you feedback Alec. I wouldn’t mind professing how someone helped me rethink the whole validity or the fallacy in my point of views, but i happily disavow any contributions of mine, Steves or Charles’s in jolting you out of this untenable position you took on patents. Nice to see your take on patents but it still stumps me how can you be self-contradicting on this issue so openly. How do you disagree with patents and agree with copyrights or even creative commons in the same sentence. Eludes me, my friend.

    Just like most academics in western hemisphere, Leigh is pretty intimidated by either his self-assumed integrity that he thinks is associated with using copyrights, which itself is an absurd idea and also because of the institutional intimidation and consequences of talking against copyright in the contemporary system. We have talked at length about the possibility of free, open and collaborative knowledge discussing Swedish example of Education system and concept of chained knowledge in web 2.0 sphere. I also think Leigh would like to see world devoid of copyrights and even creative commons if existential facts weren’t here to effect his notions about content creation. This is also your assumption that Leigh thinks attribution is a good idea. Way down the chat when we talk about academic anathema’s of ‘owning’ the content, he clearly didn’t appreciate the fact. I have no idea what reasons you have to assert that he argued otherwise.

    It also leaves me clueless on how you think North American society has a monetary-based incentive system. In a capitalistic market, everyone is free to trade without government regulations or lets say very limited regulation at federal levels, which we both know for a fact isn’t true, positively. Picking up from the assumption, everyone who competes and outsmarts rivals, earn more than others and at some point creates monopoly which again calls for anti-monopoly regulations. Emphasis is based on performance, innovation, and competition and there is no regulation to draw the outline for fair and equal competition between participants. You can use power, media, and weapons to influence powers that-be to gain competitive advantage and that is considered fair in a capitalistic economy. We are not yet discussing the natural abilities and IQs of citizens in society which are substantially different from each other and creates an imbalance of equal opportunity at the outset. Given the lack of governance by government, there is no one to ensure that least of us are protect by the intelligence and tricks of best of us. Given these assumptions of free markets (i didn’t make them. Its what the economists say e.g Milton Friedman, Adam Smith and Alan Greenspan) if accepted as true, people who are best equipped and armed with tricks and IQ will win, leaving least of us to rot. Best content, products, works, drama and music will be created by the best of us.

    This supports your idea of monetary incentive up til now. No? You would probably say yes, but thats where you go wrong. Best of us get lions share not because they were prompted by monetary reward, which definitely has a little share in the motivation, but by their very ABILITY to create that content. If its ideally a free market and people are free to use their content or not, they will have to write good content to be able to sell that and if they can’t, according to these assumptions they can’t survive. So North American market is not about Money largely, its the very ABILITY that creates customers and subsequently monetary benefits.

    You got your meat :)

  8. @minhaaj: That entire response was full of false assumptions, faulty generalizations, and misunderstandings. I don’t know where to start, but I do know that it would be foolish of me to do so … it won’t get either of us anywhere. If that is your “meat”, then you *must* be a vegetarian.

  9. Love the goat, Alec! LOL.

    I see Minhaaj’s point, but I have to say that I agree with you – my family was supported for many years by my DH’s patents, and I do think it is only fair that he should get monetary compensation for corporations making millions with his engineering creativity. But then, the corporation is required for turning the creative idea into a mass-produced machine people can use, so I guess it is not a good analogy for Creative Commons – you can’t just throw an engineering idea out there for people to copy. Or maybe you can, but why would you? One could argue that making the result of the engineering creativity easily available to all would be the best – but somebody has to put money into building the machines. Who should it be? Should there be some kind of World Fund to compensate creative people while making the ideas freely available? I think I would like that one.

    About open teaching – I find myself more and more uncomfortable with the authoritarian stance expected from classroom teachers. You are teaching a graduate course, Alec, but should K-12 teachers be enforcing no-hat rules, telling students where to sit or how to think? Looking for a more collaborative model but bumping into factory model rules …

  10. Minor point: “reactionary channels” – I think you mean “reactive,” since “reactionary” has the connotation of politically (hyper-)conservative.

    Still not sure where I am on the whole Sherpa thing, although I don’t want to be butted off the mountain. Guide, collaborator? The troublemaker in me wants a term like ‘instigator,’ and the lefty wants ‘comrade,’ emphasizing learning as a collective struggle. Le shrug. Metaphors get us only so far.

  11. no problem about the acknowledging.
    i’m talking (i hope) about something bigger than educators as learners. i’m talking about being inside and of learning…learning as perpetual not within any specific structure. i’m learning at the grocery store, on a bike ride, at the post office….not in a labor-intensive way. i’m wide awake (that’s i think what maxine greene calls it).
    i think such a stance begins with the conscious choice to do this. then it finds its way inside a person where it is simply a part of him or her. it’s vygotsky…social speech to inner speech to private speech. there is, i think, a huge difference between me—the–teacher–as–learner and learning as my identity.
    have i achieved this yet? no…this is where i’m trying to get.

  12. Is learning just an identity defining process? This would sound like a Cartesian argument – I learn therefore I am. Do I need that? Or are there goals of learning? Generic or specific for a problem? Am I lost?

  13. I am so impressed with your willingness to let us follow and participate in your process. Everything you say here resonates with me, and I especially like

    “…attribution is vital to the history and progression of ideas in society. A simple ‘attribution’ requirement is not too much to ask for most work.”

    It is important to recognize that requiring attribution is more than recognizing ownership. It IS vital to our future that we understand how we have arrived here today.
    Thank you for your open teaching.

  14. Hi Alec. Just to make a pedantic little quibble, there’s no such thing as a public domain license. Material can be dedicated to the public domain, but that’s not quite the same thing because unlike a license it affects the copyright status of a work. I do agree that even though it’s designed to mimic the effects of a public domain dedication, CC0 is still a license, just like other “no rights reserved” licenses such as the WTFPL.

  15. Attribution is extremely important. So important, that the Sages of the Talmud considered it one of the major ways of improving the world (translation from

    For we have learned that anyone who says a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world, as the verse says, ‘And Esther said to the King in the name of Mordechai’ (Esther 2:22).

    In other words, this scholarly discussion is not new ;-). Happy Purim to anyone in this conversation who happens to be celebrating it.

  16. @Eric: Thanks for your input. I really do believe that modeling is an essential piece of all of this. I try my best to include all aspects of openness (FlOSS, open content, open access, etc.) in my teaching, although pure adherence to such a philosophy from a technical/administrative/pedagogical level is not always possible. I think for whatever philosophy we adopt, we need to place the needs of the learners first.

    @Hadass: On you first comment, I have to say that this is not a framework (if you can call it that) that should be mandated. These are really very personal guidelines that inform my practice. I am not looking to generalize anything, or tell people they should teach this way. That would defeat the entire purpose of this exercise, I think. So, I hope that you do not feel this is some sort of authoritarian exercise. Take what you want from this, or nothing at all.

    @Edwebb: Thanks for your feedback. That *is* something I overlooked, and have made the wording change. You’re correct that “metaphors only get us so far”, but my lefty self as finds that “comrade” piece quite appealing … really love the idea of a collective struggle.

    @Nancy: Have you looked at Stephen Downes’ ideas on ambient learning? If not, look back a couple of posts (in this blog), I actually recorded the session and this may get you a bit further re: what you seek.

    @Ulrich: I guess I am not sure where you are either. I don’t think this is simply about identity seeking/development. Can you expand? You may be onto something, but I do not understand your inquiry.

    @Chris: Thanks for the kind words. As you can see from the list of responses here, I can’t do this alone. This is a collective effort, and I am very lucky that I have people that share their ideas here … even when I do not agree. The conversation is key.

    @Steve: Very good point, and I have made changes to the wording. I knew this, but slipped on the language, especially when discussing CC0.

    @Hadass: Interesting find. Yet another reason to believe in the long history and importance of attribution in the development of human thought and creativity.

  17. I take your message as part of my learning journey, openness at its best: “It will take many of these imperfect models and raw conversations to create and shape the future of education. Believe in the conversation, throw out your ideas, engage with others, and teach and learn with the passion that this process breeds. This is openness at its very best.”
    I am curious to know why the ‘learner” fall. Was it the goat who has four legs who did it? Or was it due to a slip with the learner? Good “slip” for thoughts! Where is the safety harness for the learner? Is it a traggic? I still recalled the famous motto: “Four legs good, two legs bad” from Animal Farm. Is this related?
    Thanks for the follow up metaphor, so insightful, and mysterious!

  18. Lovely! Just lovely…
    On the matter of the goat, every act of creation is also an act of destruction– perhaps that’s one way to best sum it up.
    You are a valued colleague and friend.

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  24. Further to “every act of creation is also an act of destruction” Ive just been reading through some more obscure work by Ivan Illich. A came across a booklet by Verne and Illich called, Imprisoned in the Global Classroom (1976). In it they criticise early attempts at deschooling for coming up with (or empowering) the notion of “life long learning”. Not only because it evidently resulted in a new way for industry to limit and exploit people, but because it spread the premis of education across a person’s and communities entire life. This, they say, is because the deschoolers (let’s say edupunks in the employ of an institution) didn’t review the fundamental critique of the legitimacy of education and the illusion of scarcity they propell such as courses, certificates, degrees, and so on.

    So, are we – todays open teachers – once again insensitive to our dominance over people and communities, devising this thing called open teaching that will simply entrap more people into our illusion?

    I hope you’ll join me in an exploration of this seed of doubt and radical humanism.. Building you a prison

  25. Once again WordPress looses my comment. I can only hope it is being held for moderation by Alec :(

    ALso, for the record I do side with Minhaaj – sorry for not responding at the time.. I must have been busy. Minhaaj does capture my feelings of being compromised by the dominant paradigm. While on the one hand we say we appreciate PD or CC0, we *think* forcing attribution is needed. It is a very interesting position Minhaaj takes – that respect is earned (and learned), and that forces our hands on the whole altruism train we are skip riding.

    Altimately, altruism in the real measure (for me). It is something I’m reflecting on more and more, and I think Minhaaj for his seeding this in me. Minhaaj is uncomprimising and fierce in his views, but I’m sorry to see Alec rejecting his efforts to communicate with us here. Now that time has passed, I hope we can all look back on this discussion with fresh eyes and take another step forward.

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