Alan Levine, #etmooc, and the cMOOC That Would Not Die

May 29, 2015

We can cut off its head, fill its mouth with garlic, and drive a stake through its body, but we apparently can’t kill a well-designed, engaging, dynamic learning experience and the community of learning it spawns. Nor would we want to.

Graphic by Alan Levine

Graphic by Alan Levine

At least that’s what a cherished colleague, Alan Levine, suggests in “The cMOOC That Would Not Die,” a newly-posted article (with accompanying graphics that puckishly draw upon horror-film imagery) that captures the spirit and reach of #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course he helped shape and facilitate as a course “conspirator” in early 2013.

Inspired by the #etmooc community’s latest learning endeavor—a tweet chat that drew community members together for a lively hour-long discussion about integrating Twitter into learning earlier this week—Levine combines his usual wicked sense of humor and insightful perspective into a set of reflections that should inspire any trainer-teacher-learner.

I’ve been among those writing extensively about the unexpected longevity of #etmooc as a learning experience/community; a model for lifelong learning communities; and an example of how connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) are beginning to serve as a new form of (collaboratively-produced) textbook; in fact, I’ve probably produced enough to kill a small forest of virtual trees, and am far from finished with the topic. But none of that stops me from eagerly reading and learning from Levine’s “cMOOC That Would Not Die” and recognizing it as a manifestation of the very thing it is exploring.

The playfulness with which he tackles his topic reflects the playfulness that was at the heart of the learning process in #etmooc (and, for that matter, almost every significant learning experience I can remember having). That same playfulness is certainly one of the elements that binds members of the #etmooc community together, as anyone reading the slightly-edited transcript of the integrating-Twitter-into-learning session can’t help but notice. The sense of camaraderie is palpable, and when I talk with friends and colleagues about the value of engagement in training-teaching-learning, I often wonder aloud why so many people seem to be reticent about fostering a sense of community in the learning process.

etmooc_blog_hubLevine’s obvious passion for #etmoocers’ continuing levels of engagement—the community had produced tens of thousands of tweets and 4,746 posts from 513 blogs before he wrote his article; his latest contribution pushed it to 4,747 posts—reflects the same passion that continues to draw #etmooc community members together through tweet chats, Google Hangouts, and other online platforms. And, he notes, it’s not about massive numbers of participants; it’s about the quality and openness of the engagement: “I will cherish and take this kind of experience any day over some massive MOOC of tens of thousands of enrollees, 2% or so who stick around, and [whose] corpus remains stockpiled behind a login.”

His reflections further serve as a manifestation how he and other #etmooc community members learn via extended cross-platform asynchronous exchanges that inspire additional collaborations: he blogs; we read; we respond via the sort of linked response I’m producing here; and we extend the conversation via comments on his own blog site as well as via tweets that call attention to his blogged reflections—a process that is continuing to unfold even as I write these words.

As I often note in learning sessions I facilitate, this is a wonderfully messy and engaging approach to learning—one that offers numerous rewards while also inspiring us to learn how to learn through entirely different approaches to learning than we ever expected to encounter. It’s what many of us learned, from Dave Cormier, to refer to and think of as rhizomatic learning—learning that expands as rapidly and expansively as rhizomes do.

etmoocBut when all is said and done, it all comes down to something Levine facetiously asserts at the beginning of his article: “Someone never told the folks who participated in the 2013 Educational Technology and Media MOOC that it was over. They are still at it.” And the perfect riposte comes in a form of a tweet posted by Thomas Okon (@thomasjokon) in March 2013 as the last of the formal #etmooc modules had been completed and people were talking about how sorry they were that the course was “over”: “Over?  Was it over when the Germans… Its not over till we say it is. Im keeping my column in Tweet deck!”

Okon was—and remains—right. We continue to learn together in a variety of settings. To work together (several of us went on to design and facilitate another connectivist MOOC). To write about it individually and as co-writers. And to engage in teaching-training-learning-doing so that the community continues to grow by acquiring new members and inspiring others to produce their own versions of our successes.

On the Make: Co-learning, Making, and Sharing in the Connected Courses (#ccourses) MOOC

November 12, 2014

Let’s create and play a trainer-teacher-learner’s version of blog-hopping (specifically crafted for connected-learning students and aficionados) by seeing how many blogs we can link together into a cohesive asynchronous discussion. Our goal is to see whether the process leads us through the act of making something (e.g., a virtual, sprawling, multi-site learning object) that contributes to our understanding of our own learning, co-learning, and the learning process—and perhaps even to other people’s learning.

ccourses_logoThis particular learning object is already a work in progress thanks to interactions among a few of us connected via the Connected Courses (#ccourses) massive open online course (MOOC). It started with a self-contained set of reflections, by long-time learning colleague Alan Levine, on what constitutes “a make” (something created as part of the learning process to facilitate the learning process itself) within a connectivist MOOC (#ccourses, in this case). It grew a bit through #ccourses co-learner Maha Bali’s reflections inspired by Alan’s article and something I had written about the development of communities of learning similar to what we’re seeing in #ccourses. It continued growing rhizomatically as I posted individual responses to Alan’s and Maha’s posts and then realized that my own comments, if carried over into the article you’re now reading, could provide the foundations for what paradoxically is a self-contained lesson/make on “makes” that, at the same time, is interwoven into other makes—some of which are yet to come.

Alan deserves the credit for unintentionally inspiring this admittedly complex yet intentionally playful attempt at showing how a blog can be a make. He begins by suggesting that blog posts are “part of the regular things to do” in the connected-learning process and he explicitly says that he does not “see blog posts or comments as ‘makes.’” Maha responds by acknowledging how engaging and supportive of the learning process a collaborative make can be, then circles back to suggest that “for some people, blogging is ‘their thing,’” just as other learners may immerse themselves in equally engaging and productive makes. Our colleague Kevin Hodgson, for example, has produced course-related cartoons that are very much his version of a make and inspire the rest of us to absorb Connected Courses lessons through those playful makes. And, she continues, “every blogpost of Simon [Ensor]’s is a make.”

I initially inadvertently extended our make-in-progress by commenting on Alan’s blog. As a big supporter of experiential learning, I assured him that I agree that some level of making is essential in the learning process, and I obviously do believe that blogging can fit that category when we see our blogs as more than personal reflections. Blog postings, I suggested, can also be self-contained lessons (particularly through the use of hyperlinks that lead our co-learners to other learning resources). I’m ultimately not very concerned about what my co-learners and I make; an instructor’s recommended “makes,” in fact, often simply don’t support my own learning goals. I am, however, concerned that we make something that is seamlessly integrated into the learning experience so we have learned something useful, quantifiable, and rewarding to ourselves and others who learn with and from us.

The theme seemed to grow without much effort on my part as I turned back to Maha’s blog to assure her that I agreed about Kevin Hodgson’s cartoons and Simon Ensor’s blog articles being makes for them as learners and for others who see and are inspired by their work.

As we’re seeing through the current Connected Courses two-week module on co-learning, we have countless ways to creatively and effectively engage in making. I would even suggest, as I wrote to Maha, that participating in the “Case of #etmooc [the Educational Tecnology & Media MOOC]” panel discussion earlier this week was a form of making in that it produced a learning object—that online archived recording that is stimulating plenty of conversation and will continue to be a learning resource for anyone interested in knowing how sustainable communities of learning can develop out of well-designed, well-facilitated connectivist MOOCs.

It all very nicely wraps around and draws upon some of the other learning objects we have accessed during our co-learning explorations this week: the Howard Rheingold/Alec Couros interview about building communities of learning, the video of Dean Shareski discussing educators’ “moral imperative” to share, and Rheingold’s “Toward Peeragogy” article for the dmlcentral blog.

If some of the makes that Alan so rightly admires are grounded in collaborative efforts that shape new learning objects from mashups of open educational resources and other freely-shared items, then makes like the one you’re reading—drawing upon a variety of resources to create a unique learning object springing from the learning process itself—most certainly should qualify as makes. The beauty of this type of make is that, like the idea of MOOCs serving as a new form of open textbook, it is never completely finished. If you build upon this in your own blog or contribute through a comment to this piece, you’re contributing to the make—and, more importantly, to the rhizomatically-expanding set of learning resources available to us all benefiting from co-learning through connected learning efforts.

N.B.: This is the fourteenth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and other MOOCs.

Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Communities Dealing With Violations  

October 5, 2014

We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.

ccourses_logoThese two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.

Posts by two of our colleagues—Alec Couros and Alan Levine—recently made us aware of what happens when others violate that trust. Couros describes how he and others had their trust violated through an unethical practice known as “catfishing”—a form of Internet fraud in which “individuals or groups create false identities to lure victims into online, romantic relationships.”  There are the obvious victims: the men or women who fall for the fraudulent online postings. There are also the less obvious victims: people like Couros and Levine, who discovered that their photographs have been used as part of the fraudulent online accounts that entrap people who haven’t fully developed first-rate digital literacy skills, including what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.”

oclmooc_logoAn experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.

This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.

I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.

Librarian_in_Black--Sarah_HoughtonSarah is a trusted and cherished colleague who tirelessly addresses issues—like face-to-face and online harassment—consistently, directly, and often with a sense of humor even when she is documenting the most distressing, disgusting situations imaginable. Many of us—after moving beyond the initial shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her profession; we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted to be sure that others knew that when they disrupted our community, we would do all we could to stop the disruption. When she addressed the controversy brewing around efforts to create a code of conduct for conference attendees, we were right there with her to be sure those posting anonymous obscene responses were drowned out by calls for positive action. And when Sarah recently wrote a deeply personal article about the toll violations have taken on her, we were quick to publicly and vocally outnumber the first anonymous respondent who was naïve enough to believe that abusive comments online would be allowed to stand unchallenged on our virtual community’s turf.

That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.

N.B.: This is the ninth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  

#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC: The World as Our Learning Space

September 5, 2014

Diving into two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOC) this month, I am learning to pay more attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving.

Each of the MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) originally started by a group of educators in Alberta and now expanding rapidly to include trainer-teacher-learners worldwide—offers me a different learning opportunity.

ccourses_logoIn #ccourses, I’ll be among those learning from and with a group of educators I very much admire and whose work I have been following for many years. There’s Mizuko Ito, whose work as a cowriter of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design broadened my understanding of and appreciation for connected learning after I read and wrote about it in early 2013. And Michael Wesch, whose YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us about Web 2.0 entirely changed the way I taught and learned and saw the world after watching the video in 2007. And Cathy Davidson, whose book Now You See It introduced me to the concept of “unlearning” as part of the learning process and who is listed as a participant in the September 15, 2014 #ccourses kick-off event. And Alec Couros, whose work on #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) in 2013 opened my eyes to the wonderful learning opportunities inherent in well-designed connectivist MOOCs and drew me into a community of learning that continues to sustain me in my training-teaching-learning efforts. And Alan Levine, whom I first met through the New Media Consortium several years ago and whose work on creating a blog hub for #etmooc set a high standard in terms of facilitating connected learning online and continues to provide learning objects to this day—nearly 18 months after the course formally concluded. And Howard Rheingold, whose writing on “crap detection” and so much more is a continuing source of inspiration.

oclmooc_logoThe #oclmooc experience, for me, will be very different. I’ll be working, as a “co-conspirator” helping design and deliver the MOOC, with an entirely different group of educators I very much admire—colleagues from other connectivist MOOCs, including #etmooc and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln) designed and facilitated magnificently in 2013 by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott at Northwestern University. I know that the learning curve for all of us has been tremendous—moving from learners in MOOCs to learning facilitators in MOOCs in less than two years—and that the best is yet to come. We’re already honing skills we developed in #etmooc and elsewhere—using Google Hangouts for our MOOC planning sessions, scheduling tweet chats to facilitate learning, organizing a blog hub so #oclmooc learners can create and disseminate their own learning objects as an integral part of their/our learning process. And as energetic and inspired trainer-teacher-learners, we’re pushing ourselves to further explore open connected learning and educational technology with our colleagues worldwide.

So yes, I am learning to pay attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving—because I am continuing to learn viscerally, through the use of online educational technology, that the entire onsite-online world, more than ever before, is our primary learning space.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.

Coming Full Circle with Digital Storytelling in #etmooc

February 11, 2013

After dabbling with digital storytelling last week as part of the work I’m doing as a learner in #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators,” I circled back on the theme in a more focused and serious way. And found myself in far deeper emotional waters than expected—as is often the case with any completely engaging learning experience.

etmoocCouros and his colleagues have offered us choices among eight different digital storytelling challenges ranging from simple acts (writing a six-word story and combining it with an emotionally engaging image) to an “ultimate challenge”: “Write a story, and then tell that same story digitally using any number of digital tools and freely available media! For inspiration and story creation guidance, see Alan Levine’s 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story.”

Starting simply, I tackled the six-word stories; saw the emotional depth others were achieving; and went back to the drawing board until I found one that promised to carry me into the level of exploration others had achieved: “Through stories, our departed remain alive.”

One of the departed who remain alive for me is David Moebs, who died from AIDS-related complications in June 1998, yet remains amazingly present. He was a person whose understated generosity made a substantial difference to his friends during his lifetime: at least three different times, he gave substantial amounts of money to friends in need, knowing that the money, if used wisely, would make life-changing differences for them. He had no expectation of receiving anything in return; he simply wanted to take action at the right moment, with people he perceived to be the right people.

It was not a complete surprise to me, therefore, that when I wrote about his spirit of volunteerism and generosity and posted the article online (more than a decade after he left us, in a rudimentary form of digital storytelling long before I ever heard the term), it touched a few people who still carried strong, positive memories that were rooted in his actions.


David Moebs

I was, in preparation for the #etmooc digital storytelling assignment, already going back to unpublished writing I had completed about David. I was also trying to find the appropriate way and tools to give new life to an old story. Video still felt a little beyond me; blogging felt as if it wouldn’t force me to stretch in ways the assignment was designed to make all of us as learners stretch. So I started looking for tools I hadn’t yet explored—Prezi and Vuvox among them—to see if I could revisit David’s story in my ongoing role as a learner. My starting point was to storyboard the effort using PowerPoint: I actually completed a draft that placed the script into the notes field of each slide; incorporated images licensed through Creative Commons and posted on flickr; began moving the images into Prezi and Vuvox; and recorded the script using Audacity.

That’s when I hit the sort of glitch we expect to find while learning: Vuvox wasn’t cooperating, and Prezi didn’t want to take the audio files in the format that Audacity produced and stored them. I did find an online service that would, for a fee, have transformed the recordings into a format compatible with what I had developed visually in Prezi, but I held myself back with a challenge to either locate a free online tool or find a new way to use existing tools that I already had acquired.

The solution proved simple once I returned to PowerPoint. Using the “sound” function that is under the “insert” tab within the program, I was able to easily re-record the individual elements of the script and insert them into each slide—and even pull in an audio clip from YouTube to pull the story together at a multi-media level.

And while I don’t expect to win any awards for innovations in digital storytelling, the entire exercise not only offered a wonderful opportunity to revisit an old friend, but to benefit further from the learning opportunities that #etmooc is producing at a time when so many of us are exploring what MOOCs are and will continue to offer as part of our overall learning environment. 

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc. The digital story described in this posting can be viewed online in “Slide Show” mode; to produce the audio, please click on the audio icons on each slide.

On the Horizon Report: Training-Teaching-Learning Innovations (Part 2 of 2)

February 9, 2010

We will, if the authors (Laurence Johnson, Alan Levine, Rachel Smith, and Sonja Stone) of the 2010 Horizon Report are as accurate as they have been in the past, soon be as proficient in and comfortable with simple augmented reality, gesture-based computing, and visual data analysis as we currently are with other more familiar educational tools and trends.

The report itself suggests that simple augmented reality, “the concept of blending (augmenting) virtual data—information, rich media, and even live action—with what we see in the real world, for the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses,” will reach maturity as an educational tool within two or three years. Simple augmented reality, the writers note, “is older than the term itself,” having first been used more than 40 years ago. As is often the case, however, diffusion of innovation has occurred gradually and appears to be working its way into educational settings for “discovery-based learning.” Current applications already include augmented reality in showing learners how to repair cars, interact with books and other physical objects, and work in collaborative learning environments.

Right behind augmented reality is gesture-based computing, according to our Horizon Report colleagues: “In schools where the Microsoft Surface has been installed in study areas, staff report that students naturally gravitate to the devices when they want to work together to study collaboratively.”  Those familiar with TED talks have already seen the MIT Media Lab demonstration of the Sixth Sense gesture-based system which shows where we might be headed with this technology, and Georgia Tech University researchers “have developed gesture-based games designed to help deaf children learn sign language,” the Horizon Report writers note.

We come full circle in our exploration of overwhelming amounts of information when we reach the final of the six trends explored: visual data analysis, a way to “make it possible for almost anyone with an analytical bent to easily interpret all sorts of data.” Tools including Many Eyes, Wordle, Flowing Data, and Gapminder are already available to trainer-teacher-learners, and they are helping us spot patterns which might otherwise remain hidden.

“The promise for teaching and learning is further afield,” the Horizon Report authors tell us, “but because of the intuitive ways in which it can expose intricate relationships to even the unitiated, there is tremendous opportunity to integrate visual data analysis into undergraduate research, even in survey courses.”

What this suggests, of course, is that those of us involved in workplace learning and performance need to see the simple augmented reality writing on the virtual wall: if students—future employees in the workplaces that we serve—are already using these resources in their educational endeavors, we are going to have to be equally adept at and comfortable with these tools if we’re going to be prepared to meet their workplace learning needs.

On the Horizon Report: Training-Teaching-Learning Innovations (Part 1 of 2)

February 7, 2010

Because training-teaching-learning never ends, we’re continually inundated by a flood of information and innovations which threaten to overwhelm us. When something as stimulating as The Horizon Report: 2010 Edition comes our way, I’m completely willing to dive in without thinking about whether I’ll ever come back up for air.

This annual collaborative report produced by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative uses conversations with “hundreds of technology professionals, campus technologists, faculty leaders from colleges and universities, and representatives of leading corporations” and the work of an advisory board to identify those technology tools and trends most likely to have an impact on education over a five-year horizon. The results are as much a road map as they are an e-learning experience in and of themselves.

For those who work diligently to follow tech trends, some of what appears in the report—mobile computing, open content, and electronic books–may seem already to be old news, while other concepts—simple augmented reality, gesture-based computing, and visual data analysis—may be somewhat or entirely new. But exploring the report offers new twists even to the most familiar of information as the writers document what they call “the particular relevance of [each] topic to education, creativity, or research.” The results are worth whatever time it takes us to absorb them.

One of the many impressive elements of the annual reports is the way the authors (Laurence Johnson, Alan Levine, Rachel Smith, and Sonja Stone) use what they describe. The 2010 report, for example, describes the growth of visual data analysis as an educational tool; the New Media Consortium then, on its own website and with little fanfare, provides an example of visual data analysis using Wordle: “a word cloud, which gives a visual representation” of the themes which have been most prominently featured in all seven of the annual [Horizon] reports. Those of us who are immersed in reading and producing blogs are obviously familiar with tag clouds, but what our New Media Consortium colleagues have produced here as a supplement to a free online “boxed set” of all seven Horizon reports adds a stunningly beautiful and inspirational twist to what has become commonplace for us.

Another impressive element is the often overlooked e-learning potential of the hyperlinks—provided within the report—to other learning resources. Having called attention recently to the potential for online learning provided via innovative websites such Smarthistory and even through well organized archives on blogs such as one created and maintained by Lori Reed, I was particularly ready to pursue the opportunities provided by the “in practice” and “for further reading” sections following each description of the six horizon technologies explored in the 2010 report. Like any good online bibliography, these sections serve as rudimentary knowledge management systems that lead us to additional information when we are ready to pursue it—just-in-time learning at its best.

What better way to control that flood so that we as trainer-teacher-learners have a chance to swim rather than to sink?

Next: Horizon 2010 Technologies


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