NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 3 of 6): Personalized Learning, Digital Literacy, & Other Key Challenges

February 19, 2015

Intriguing educational-technology challenges ranging from “solvable” to “wicked” remain on the horizon for trainer-teacher-learners, the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition reminds us.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverAlthough focusing on learning in formal higher education settings, the report’s summary of six “significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education” covers a set of challenges trainer-teacher-learners in a variety of learning environments would do well to consider—and attempt to address. In the short term (a one- to –two-year horizon featuring challenges “that we understand and know how to solve”), there are the challenges of blending formal and informal learning and improving digital literacy. In the category of “difficult” challenges—those “that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”—we find personalized learning and teaching complex thinking. And in that wonderfully knotty area of “wicked” challenges—those which become more difficult the more we attempt to resolve them—are the efforts to address competing models of education (massive open online courses—MOOCs; competency-based degree programs; and other alternative models of learning) as well as the need to find effective ways to reward teaching.

Cork_Lifelong_Learning_FestivalReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada begin with the solvable challenges by noting that “there is an increasing interest in the kinds of self-directed, curiosity-based learning that has long been common in museums, science centers, and personal learning networks.…Many workplaces already encourage informal learning methods for professional development…” (p. 22).  They help us better appreciate the roles social media and other resources are playing in helping us blend formal and informal learning, expose us to innovations including the Cork City Lifelong Learning Festival that “promotes and celebrates learning of all kinds, across all ages, interests and abilities, from pre-school to post-retirement” on an annual basis, and discuss numerous “informal professional development opportunities,” including NMC’s Academy; among the resources explored are the European Union’s Lisbon Recognition Convention—in essence promoting recognition of learning achievements across learning organizations—and the “Formalising Informal Learning” article written by Rory McGreal, Dianne Conrad, Angela Murphy, Gabi Witthouse, and Wayne Mackintosh and published in the Open Praxis distance- and e-learning journal in 2014.

NMC_Horizon_Project_WikithonIf we care to go beyond what is already copiously documented in the report, we might further explore efforts to support the blending of formal and informal learning by looking at proposals for a lifelong-learning database (item #6 in NMC’s 2014 Wikithon list of new topics in educational technology) and Stephen Downes’ efforts through the National Research Council of Canada to create and promote learning and performance support systems.

Remaining in the realm of solvable challenges, we join the report co-authors in a brief survey of efforts to improve digital literacy. They begin by noting that “[l]ack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address these challenges”—a failing that is equally prevalent in many other learning environments, including workplace learning and performance (staff training)—and point out that “[c]urrent definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity” (p. 24). But they don’t just leave us at that juncture where need and confusion intersect; they take us to “20 Things Educators Need to Know About Digital Literacy Skills” (from Innovation Excellence) and the “Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Infokit” as points for departure for addressing the challenge. The Public Library Association division of the American Library Association offers links to additional digital literacy resources for those interested in going beyond what the 2015 Higher Education Edition offers.

When we follow the report into the area of personalized learning, we find ourselves immersed in the intriguing world of learning designed to “enable students to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn”—learning opportunities that support the learning process at an individual learner’s own pace: “The goal is to give the student the flexibility to make…learning as effective and efficient as possible” (p. 27). Those already familiar with self-paced learning in settings ranging from the online staff training efforts to the flexible learning environments provided by connectivist MOOCs will find themselves on familiar ground here, and those wanting to become more familiar with the challenge and possible solutions can follow the report links to “Personalized Learning Changes Everything,” from the University of Maine at Presque Island, and Mike Keppell’s engaging “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education” article that explores interrelated topics ranging from “learning in ubiquitous spaces” to “personalized learning strategies.”

Moving through the final three challenges (teaching complex thinking, working with competing models of education, and finding ways to effectively reward teaching), we find ourselves in areas interwoven with other topics covered in the report. We can’t, for example, explore competing models of education/learning without thinking about how we try to transform the formal-and-informal conversation from an either-or proposition into an and-and proposition. When we seek ways to effectively reward teaching, we find ourselves struggling to even define what “exemplary teaching” is: lecturing, facilitating learning in ways that encourage learner-centric approaches, guiding learners to a level of proficiency that allows them to pass competency-based tests, or a combination of these and additional learning goals and objectives we are still struggling to define within our various learning sandboxes?

One of the many strengths of the Horizon Project reports is that they help us focus on these challenges and, in the process of fostering that level of attention, encourage us to actively participate in the creation of effective, creative responses to these and other challenges to which curious, dedicated, innovative trainer-teacher-learners are drawn.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and Flipped Classrooms


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.


Co-learning, #ccourses, and Keeping the Lights On: #etmooc and the Connected Courses MOOC

November 11, 2014

We may have a new corollary to one of the most famous lines from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life (“Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’”): Every time #etmooc is mentioned, a learner gets new learning wings.

ccourses_logoWhich, apparently, is exactly what happened as the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) webinar about #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course—and the development of online communities of learning drew to an end last night. No more than 15 minutes after “The Case of #etmooc” concluded, an audience member posted the following tweet: “Just watched the live #ccourses webinar about #etmooc. Impressed = signed up for my 1st MOOC. Excited to learn.” And if that means another teacher-trainer-learner finds the pleasures and rewards of participating in connectivist MOOCs and the sustainable communities of learning they are capable of spawning, then we have yet another example of what well-designed and well-facilitated MOOCs along the lines of #etmooc and #ccourses can and do offer.

There was something wonderfully circular, encouraging, and tremendously important there for all teacher-trainer-learners to absorb. The hour-long session began with #etmooc’s Alec Couros, two of his #ccourses co-facilitators (Howard Rheingold and Mia Zamora), and several #etmooc alums discussing what made #etmooc different from other MOOCs and, more broadly, from other learning experiences we had had up to the time we joined that course. As part of the current two-week-long #ccourses exploration of co-learning within connected learning opportunities, the session also served as an example of co-learning in action since the lines between learning facilitators (Couros, Rheingold, and Zamora) and learners (the #etmooc alums) quickly blurred—all of us were learning plenty from each other (and probably thinking about what we would next be doing to share those learned lessons with others). And it circled back to the idea of how interwoven our communities of learning are when Zamora surprised at least a few of us by telling us that she learned about connected learning by observing us in action while #etmooc was in progress. Turns out she had signed up for #etmooc when it was first offered in early 2013, but had little time to become actively involved: “I watched from afar,” she said. “I learned something from all of you…because I watched, because I lurked.

“Transformation,” she continued, “happens in places that you cannot even see it happening, not even in yourself….Watching community build is also a powerful learning process. I think that’s what #etmooc gave me as a sort of out-of-the-gate kind of experience for this” experience of helping develop and facilitate the equally dynamic Connected Courses MOOC.

etmoocAnd have no doubts: one of the most significant results of that hour-long session last night was that transformations were occurring. We could see that our explorations of what transformed #etmooc into a vibrant, vital, sustainable community of learning were also helping solidify #ccourses as another learning community that is likely to continue far longer than the formal period during which all of us are interacting within the current course structure. We could see that the same sense of openness—the commitment Couros and his #etmooc “co-conspirators” maintained to injecting a very human, personal element into that massive open online learning environment—was and is in play in the Connected Courses MOOC. We could see that the playful interactions among the session panelists reflected the playfulness that flows through #ccourses and just about every other successful, inspiring, and memorable learning experience we have—a reminder that we need to carry that level of playfulness, as much as possible, into the face-to-face and online learning environments we help create and nurture.

Most importantly, we could see that all-too-rare occurrence in learning: the transformation of a group of learners from students to collaborators to long-term friends—“which is really amazing,” #etmooc alum Susan Spellman Cann observed during the conversation. “I did not expect that from a MOOC.”

Among the reasons cited for the transformation from student to collaborator to friend were Couros’s tremendous skills at facilitating conversations, his natural inclination to make participants feel welcome into that developing community of learning, and the playful introductory activities that included a crowdsourced communal “lip dub” that quickly drew #etmooc participants together while using the educational technology and media tools explored at that point in the course.

As to the underlying question of what #ccourses facilitators and participants (and members of other learning communities) can do to create communities that outlast courses: there was an acknowledgment that connected learning endeavors have a tool we haven’t thought to develop in our more traditional learning environments—the learning environments (e.g., Google+ and Twitter communities united around a hashtag such as #etmooc or #ccourses) that don’t shut down as courses usually do when content within a learning management system is closed and archived beyond the reach of course participants.

It’s not as if “we’re turning the lights off now” when a connectivist MOOC delivers its final lesson, #etmooc and #ccourses co-learner Rhonda Jessen observed.

“Opening up the doors…was really cool,” our co-learner Erin Luong added.

And as long as we keep those lights on and those doors open, we’re likely to see an extension and continuation of learning communities unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And many more wings.

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


Learning When No One Is at the Center of the Room: Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses)

November 10, 2014

Frequent flyers, at one time or another, have the disorienting experience of having to consciously look for reminders of where we are; our minds simply can’t keep up with the frequent leaps between cities, states, and, occasionally, countries. Frequent learners engaged in co-learning (what Edward Brantmeier describes as the act of changing roles so teachers and learners become “joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and…wisdom”) within the world of connected learning may be facing a parallel challenge in at least a couple of ways; when interacting with connected-learning colleagues, we need to remind ourselves which of our wonderfully overlapping communities of learning we are currently engaging (Is this #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course? #xplrpln—the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC? #oclmooc—the Open and Connected Learning MOOC? #ccourses—the Connected Courses MOOC? Or all of the above?), and we have to remember that the line between teacher/trainer and learner is increasingly dissipating in the best of teaching-training-learning opportunities.

ccourses_logo“The Case of #etmooc”—a learning opportunity that is less than two hours away as I write these words—shows us just how all-encompassing, rewarding, and intricately interwoven co-learning can be when it is effectively supported. The one-hour webinar, which initiates a two-week-long exploration of co-learning within the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) and will be archived online for viewing, promises to be an example of how co-learning works to the benefit of everyone involved. Start with the idea that #ccourses facilitators are using the session to examine how co-learning in #etmooc contributed to the creation of a community of learning that still continues more than 18 months after that connectivist MOOC formally concluded. Continue with the fact that the learning facilitators have transformed several of us who are current #ccourses learners into co-learners by inviting us to join them in the formal discussion and recording of the session this evening. Then consider the idea that one of those #ccourses facilitators, Alec Couros, was among those who introduced so many of us to connected learning and connectivist MOOCs while deepening our appreciation of co-learning through all he and his “co-conspirators” did to bring #etmooc to fruition.

etmoocAnd that’s not all. Among the co-learners are colleagues from #etmooc, #xplrpln, and #oclmooc. But not just any colleagues. We’ll be with Jeff Merrell, an #etmooc learner who crossed the co-learning line last year by playing a key role in designing and facilitating #xplrpln. And we’ll be there with several of the #etmooc learners who, having sustained the #etmooc community since the course ended, reunited earlier this year to design and deliver #oclmooc. If it’s beginning to sound as if “The Case of #etmooc” is another homecoming party for many of us, a celebration of how co-learning in online environments fosters training-teaching-learning opportunities unlike any we could have imagined a decade or two ago, and an invitation to the ball, then #etmooc, #xplrpln, #oclmooc, and #ccourses are doing exactly what great learning opportunities should do: providing learning spaces where no one stands alone at the front or in the center of the room, where new long-lasting cohorts of learners/co-learners gather and coalesce, and where everyone with the least amount of interest is welcome. And the best is yet to come since so many of us continually engage in the overlapping roles of teacher-trainer-learner: we will, no doubt, continue to adapt our ongoing co-learning experiences in ways that invite our own learners to, sooner than later, become co-learners in our jointly-shared endeavors.

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


#oclmooc, Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), and ATD Chapter Leaders: How Big Is the Room?  

October 17, 2014

A recent week-long trip to spend time with Association for Talent Development (ATD) colleagues and other friends in the Washington, D.C. area provided yet another reminder of how seamlessly interwoven our blended (onsite-online) communities have become. Walls are permeable. Distances become negligible. And connections—and connected learning—are abundant in many parts of the world.

ATD_LogoThe “Perfect Blend: Seamlessly Serving [Chapter] Members Onsite and Online” session I designed and co-presented with New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and Larry Straining (serving as our tweet-stream manager) at the 2014 ATD Chapter Leaders Conference was designed to demonstrate how well-blended we all are becoming through training-teaching-learning. What it really did for me, at a personal level, was serve as a central example of a weeklong intensive immersion in pushing the envelope of what the combination of people and easy-to-use tech tools can produce.

What made “Perfect Blend” work for so many of us was the onsite interactions my colleagues and I had with Samantha, who participated in the session, from her home in the Chicago area, via a Google Hangout. Samantha and I had successfully engaged in this level of interaction with other ATD colleagues several times, so the gist of what she, Larry, and I were attempting to convey was that tools such as Hangouts and Twitter, when used effectively, make it possible for us to feel as if we’re physically in the same space with people who are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s telepresence without the associated high price tag. And, once again, it worked very well as we quickly jettisoned the formal presentation we had prepared and simply engaged with our colleagues face-to-face, via the Hangout, and via the Twitter stream that Larry so masterfully managed during the hour-long session. As the session came to an end, we knew that we had effectively answered a question I asked at the beginning of the hour (“how big is this room?”) with the obvious answer: our room—our learning space—is as big as our use of technology makes it—700 miles wide if we consider the distance between Chicago (where Samantha was sitting) and the Washington, D.C. area, where most of us were participating. Or a couple of thousand miles wide if we consider some of the interactions we had via Twitter with others during and after the formal session.

oclmooc_logoIt was clear to everyone that, as we said during the session, we (trainer-teacher-learners) are social people who are frequently drawn together in social situations, so we’re becoming increasingly comfortable with our ability to socialize while we learn onsite and online. It’s equally clear that the technology we’re exploring allows us to create social learning spaces that are variations on the Third Place that Ray Oldenburg first described in 1989 in his book The Great Good Place. It’s very much a part of what we see through our interactions within connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc), the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), the Educational Technology & Media MOOC (#etmooc), and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln). It’s also very much a part of a world where connections overlap with connections that, in turn, overlap with other connections.

ccourses_logoAnd that’s what I saw throughout the week. The conversations during the “Perfect Blend” session were interwoven with face-to-face and online exchanges in the days preceding and following that learning opportunity. Some were with ATD colleagues; others were with my #oclmooc and #ccourses colleagues. They even carried over, via the conference backchannel, into exchanges with training-teaching-learning colleagues who were completely unfamiliar with the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference, but entered the conversations a bit and interacted directly with each other without any previous face-to-face or online contact by retweeting comments from the conference and offering their own observations about the various topics we were discussing. They extended further as I had brief exchanges with learners in the “Rethinking Library Instruction: Libraries as Social Learning Centers” I’m currently facilitating for the American Library Association, and carried some of those learners’ thoughts back to my ATD Chapter Leaders Conference colleagues.

But it didn’t stop there. After the conference ended and after I had a couple of days to relax in our nation’s capital while continuing to interact with various members of my overlapping communities of learning, I saw one additional enlargement of the room: I was able to interact, from 37,000 feet above our planet, with #oclmooc colleagues in a live session that connected my cross-country flight with trainer-teacher-learners in Alberta (Canada) and several places throughout the United States.

So I return to the expansive question—how big is our room?—and see, as I shared with many of those colleagues, that the room is as big as we and our technology can make it. Cross-country. International. And even above the planet. Which makes our social learning space a wonderfully large and magnificent place to be.

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


#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses): Learning, Connecting Globally, and Tweeting from the Air  

October 14, 2014

It’s not often that I feel inspired to try live tweeting during a cross-country flight. But then again, I don’t often have the opportunity to explore the extreme edges of connected learning with colleagues while more than 37,000 feet above the surface of our planet. There’s something very satisfying about this sort of learning experience that becomes an ouroboros-like example of itself, and I’m trying to literally go full circle by blogging about it before my WiFi-enabled flight from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco lands.

oclmooc_logoWe can start with this connected-learning ouroboros by noting that many of us in several countries are currently learning about connected learning by participating in at least one of two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs): the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) and the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses). We can then follow the curve of this figurative ouroboros by adding the fact that a live Week 3 (“Collaboration and Community”) event within #oclmooc connected us, via Blackboard Collaborate, to a highly interactive session about The Global Read Aloud that connects young learners, teachers, parents, librarians, and others around the world through the reading of a specific book within a well-defined period of time. The #oclmooc interwoven connections circle around further by bringing us together with Global Read Aloud creator Pernille Ripp and with Kelli Holden, an Alberta-based fourth-grade teacher involved in The Global Read Aloud. We see our growing interconnections circling back to their point of origin through online connections fostered by live-tweeting from a few of us who were participating in the session in the United States and Canada. And I find my own connected-learning experience enhanced by trying something new—something inspired by necessity: participating in this session from the air rather than on ground because it is taking place while I’m in transit—something that previously kept me from being part of learning opportunities I had not wanted to miss.

Global_Read_Aloud--LogoOnce we move past the novelty of engaging in this level of air-to-earth connected learning (in this case, learning about the Global Read Aloud with colleagues spread over an enormous geographic range), we realize once again that the technology takes a back seat to the content—and the learning. We hear Pernille talking about how she was inspired by a dream of a world connected by a book when she was creating Project Read Aloud. We visit the project website and read her reminder that “[g]lobal collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them” and that endeavors such as The Global Read Aloud provide opportunities for them to speak to each other. We learn that more than 300,000 students are currently connecting through the project, and that more than 500,000 from more than 60 countries have participated since Project Read Aloud began in summer 2010. And we wonder what we might be doing to translate that sort of massive open online and onsite labor of love into efforts that would be equally compelling, engaging, and rewarding for adult learners around the world.

Holden then builds upon her own connected-learning efforts in this arena by letting us know that the participants are using many of the same tools we use within our connectivist MOOCs, including Twitter and Google+ communities. She tells us that using a Twitter backchannel can be as rewarding and engaging for the young Global Read Aloud participants as it can be for the adult communities of learning that foster effective backchannels. We see through chat exchanges that the end of this session will not be the end of the connections #oclmooc is inspiring. And the world begins to look even more connected from 37,000 feet than I ever imagined it could be.

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


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.  


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