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.


Time Travel, Personal Learning Networks, and Rhizomatic Growth

October 17, 2013

Let’s engage in some trainer-teacher-learner time travel; let’s revel in a wonderfully and gloriously circular learning moment whose beginning and end have not yet stopped expanding—and won’t if you decide to enter into and further expand this moment as part of a connected educator network.

xplrpln_logoIt starts with a simple realization: that participating in a well-organized connectivist MOOC (massive open online course) or any other effective online learning opportunity not only puts us in real-time (synchronous) contact with those we draw into our personal learning networks, but also allows us to extend and connect online conversations with those that began days, weeks, months, or even years before the one we are currently creating, in venues we are just now discovering. It also can easily extend into days, weeks, months, or years we haven’t yet experienced.

I am, for example, writing this piece on October 17, 2013, and if you end up reading it on the same day, we’re in a fairly obvious and traditionally synchronous moment—the sort of moment we routinely experience face to face. By connecting this piece to others I’ve been reading and reacting to with colleagues in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program, and by further connecting it to interactions with colleagues via Connected Educator Month, I am in a very rewarding way extending and weaving this moment across weeks and months of conversational threads created by others. They wrote earlier. You and I respond now. They pick up the thread and run with it at some as-yet-undetermined moment. And all of us are in a figuratively synchronous way connected through a conversation and learning opportunity that flows in multiple directions, over multiple platforms, as Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) explain in an article they wrote in 2011 and which I explored with a segment of my own personal learning network colleagues in a blog post and other online venues.

etmoocWe see this in play through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC, where we are exploring and attempting to define personal learning networks by developing our personal learning networks. We are developing (or further developing) personal learning networks by drawing upon newly-created resources as well as resources that can be weeks, months, years, or even a century old. One colleague suggests that Jules Verne, the nineteenth-century novelist-poet-playwright, is part of his personal learning network in the sense that Verne’s work continues to guide him in his never-ending evolution as a learner. I am suggesting that a colleague from another MOOC is part of my #xplrpln personal learning network via a wonderful article she wrote months before the personal leaning networks MOOC was written and in progress; because her article is inspiring so many of us, she feels as if she is an active member even though personal time constraints are keeping her from posting updated material—for and in the moment. And several of us are suggesting that people who are still alive but with whom we have no one-on-one in-the-moment personal contact still are very much a part of our personal learning networks because they influence and affect our learning through the work they are producing or the examples they provide—something I experienced while participating in #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media MOOC) earlier this year.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoThat creates a wonderfully dynamic and continually evolving personal learning network—or network of networks—along with a tremendously expansive moment that remains open to further expansion through your participation. And the more we engage with #xplrpln course facilitators Merrell and Scott and course colleagues in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia synchronously and asynchronously, the more we find our own personal learning networks, personal learning environments, affinity spaces, communities of practice, and overall communities of learning overlapping in ways that once again transcend geographic and chronological borders—suggesting that in the world of training-teaching-learning, borders and barriers exist only to be erased (or, at very least, made much more permeable than we often assume they can be).

It’s an obvious extension of the concept of rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning, as I noted after picking up the term from Dave Cormier via #etmooc. The learning rhizomes in our personal learning network now continue to move backward to capture parts of the extended conversation we hadn’t previously noted, and they move forward into the moment you are living and extending in collaboration with the rest of us. Together, we may be on the cusp of even greater collaborations. Learning experiences. And being part of contributing to a world in which connections through time, across time zones, and over geographic boundaries produce possibilities we are only beginning to imagine and bring to fruition.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


#etmooc: A Midterm Review of Connectivity, Collaboration, and Learning

February 20, 2013

With massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the center of hype, overhype, and plenty of justifiable criticism, a midterm review of one—the highly interactive Educational Technology and Media MOOC (#etmooc, organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others)—shows what a well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC can offer to learners with the digital literacy skills required to benefit from them.

etmoocDiving into #etmooc to gain my first hands-on experience in the burgeoning world of MOOCs—one of two technologies cited in the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report (Higher Education edition) as likely to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months”—has far exceeded anything I expected. In less than three weeks, I have gained a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the differences between two types of MOOCs (the xMOOCs that many mainstream journalists seem to be addressing, and the much more interactive cMOOCsconnectivist MOOCs)—and much more. I have become an active part of a newly formed, dynamic, worldwide community of learners; continue to have direct contact with some of the prime movers in the development of MOOCs; had several transformative learning experiences that will serve me well as a trainer-teacher-learner involved in onsite and online learning; and have learned, experientially, how to use several online tools I hadn’t explored four weeks ago. My MOOCmates and I have already explored connected learning and digital storytelling; are currently engaged in efforts to better understand—and contribute to an understanding of—digital literacy; and will also have explored the open movement and digital citizenship by the time the course ends on March 30, 2013.

#etmooc shows more than 1,600 people registered. Of that group, at least 850 are part of the #etmooc Google+  community; more than 500 have already contributed to the course blog hob—an example of how digital literacy involves acts of creation as much as the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills; and many have engaged in acts of learning and creation through the more than 150 #etmooc videos that have been posted on YouTube. Live sessions on Blackboard Collaborate generally attract at least 75 participants, with many more viewing the programs via the course archives—which suggests that the course is providing content that will be useful to far more people than are currently participating in the live version of #etmooc. And there is an official course Twitter feed that reflects only a small number of the 12,000 tweets collected and archived as of this evening via the #etmooc hashtag—many of them containing links to valuable resources.

etmooc_graphic[2]What it really comes down to is contacts, connectivity, collaboration, and learning. It’s about individually and collaboratively producing significant learning objects including, but far from limited to, Alec Couros’ course introduction; Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning; and the digital literacy sessions led by Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold. Any of the ever-growing list of sessions within the course archive provides stand-alone engaging examples of what online learning at its best provides. Each also inspires connections between the course designers/facilitators, other presenters, and learners; where I had initially expected very little direct contact with those delivering the course, given the large number of participants, I’ve been absolutely floored by the personal responses delivered in the form of tweets, responses to blog postings, and other interactions.

Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.  I also see that New York Times editorial writers have just published an editorial on why MOOCs and other online learning opportunities may not be appropriate for all learners—a valid point of view, but one that only in the most cursory fashion acknowledges the idea that MOOCs are a perfectly fine addition to the learning landscape for those of us who develop the digital literacy and learning skills to take advantage of what they offer—those who develop, in a sense, the very thing we’re studying at this point in the #etmooc curriculum (digital literacy and the skills that support a form of literacy that is increasingly becoming essential to 21st-century learning).

The point here is not what is wrong with MOOCs or how they might pose a threat to our current learning landscape. The point is what can be right about them and how the best of them are already becoming essential elements of training-teaching-learning. It makes no more sense to ignore the important, positive roles MOOCs can play than it would make to propose the abandonment of any other element of our learning landscape—from classroom-based academic offerings to the workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts that are essential to lifelong learning. And participation in high-quality offerings like #etmooc are the best response of all to those curious about how MOOCs might fit into that landscape.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

It would appear that the learning rhizomes are spreading uncontrollably—which, for any trainer-teacher-learner, is a wonderfully positive phenomenon.

etmoocHaving been introduced recently to what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a connected learning process that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning—I now am seeing this connected learning phenomenon nearly everywhere I look. (There seem to be more learning rhizomes than the total number of Starbucks outlets or branch libraries around me.)

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

There is no denying the rapid spread of the rhizomes and my awareness of this wonderful phenomenon. Interactions with a small (but growing) number of the more than 14,000 people who are signed up for the current offering of #etmooc are already taking place through live-tweet sessions and the absolute flood of tweets under the #etmooc, @etmooc, and #etmchat hashtags, along with postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub, and responses to their YouTube posts. It requires a tremendous sense of discipline—and an acknowledgement that there is life outside of #etmooc—to keep from being overwhelmed by the information deluge produced in this course.

Those learning rhizomes, furthermore, are not just firmly rooted in the fertile ground of #etmooc itself; they are reaching far beyond the incredibly permeable walls of the course. Posting comments on a few MOOCmates’ introductory videos on YouTube apparently initiated some sort of algorithmically-triggered response from YouTube, for among my incoming email messages yesterday morning was a first-time alert from YouTube under the subject line “Just for You from YouTube: Weekly Update – February 13, 2013.” And under the subheading “We think you’d like…” was a learning link I really did like—to a video posted by Kansas State University associate professor Michael Wesch—whose work I happen to adore.

Although the “Rethinking Education” video turned out to be one posted more than a year ago, it felt completely fresh. An extension of his earlier “A Vision of Students Today” video coming out of the Mediated Cultures/Digital Ethnography projects at Kansas State University, it was right in the center of a playing field—the wicked problem of rethinking education and online learning—that I’ve been recently been exploring in conversations with colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project, with American Library Association associates Buffy Hamilton and Maurice Coleman, and many others with whom I’m increasingly rhizomatically and quite happily entangled.

Tower_and_the_CloudWatching the “Rethinking Education” video gave the rhizomes a significant growth spurt, for the numerous references in that brief yet densely-packed video sent out new learning shoots ranging from references to Wikipedia articles on commons-based peer production, education, Education 2.0, and knowledge to numerous glimpse of other resources easily accessible online. Even in his ending credits, Wesch managed to send out one final learning rhizome: a reference to the EDUCAUSE book The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. Being a huge fan of what EDUCAUSE produces, I went to the site; discovered that the book was available both in a print version for purchase and as a free PDF; and soon had a copy on my tablet. My home-based online learning experience morphed into a mobile-learning (m-learning) experience as I left home, tablet in hand, and continued learning by reading the beginning of the book while using public transportation on my way to an appointment in downtown San Francisco.

So many rhizomes, so little time! The simple act of having created a personal learning environment that, in the space of one morning, included the MOOC-inspired use of print materials, online materials accessed from a desktop computer, exchanges with colleagues from the desktop and from the mobile device (the tablet), and reading material from that same mobile device, helps any of us understand viscerally why the 2013 Higher Education edition of NMC’s Horizon Report documents tablets and MOOCs as the two technologies currently having the greatest impact on higher education—and, I would suggest, on much of what we see in training-teaching-learning.

Buffy_Hamilton--Nurturing_Lifelong_LearningMy head explodes. I need to the intellectual equivalent of mind-to-mind resuscitation. I need to breathe. So I spend that latter part of the day more or less offline in face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, then attend an evening neighborhood association meeting that includes interchanges with two recently-elected City/County supervisors. But the rhizomes are not dormant. While I’m asleep, they’re expanding. Lurking. Waiting for me to log back on this morning and discover that Buffy Hamilton has posted her stunningly beautiful PowerPoint slides from the “Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks” presentation to Ohio eTech Conference attendees yesterday. And through the act of posting that deck, she brings us and our tangled-spreading-sprawling learning rhizomes right back where we started, for she includes references drawn from our conversations about #etmooc, rhizomatic learning, and much more to inspire me to complete this latest act of digital storytelling that draws upon the #etmooc rhizomes.

N.B.: This is the eighth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


#etmooc as an Example of Connected—Rhizomatic—Learning

February 4, 2013

If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.

etmoocCormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media MOOC (massive open online course)organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.

Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.

His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:

  • The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
  • The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
  • Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
  • We need to make students responsible for their own learning.

Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.

“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.

Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.

Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:

  • Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
  • Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
  • Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC

“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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