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Implementing Connectivism

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Thinking back to the course I outlined to develop digital skills in a previous blog in relation to H817 week 8, I can see many connection to  a Connectivist approach.  I was planning to frame the course around question which students would use the resources given to investigate further - for example: 

  • Why do I need to be successful in a digital world?
  • Why are digital skills necessary?
  • Why should I have a positive online profile?
  • Why is this important for teens?
  • Why is it necessary to evaluate online sources and check their attribution?
  • How do I created a positive online profile?
  • How do I help my students to created a positive online profile?
  • How do I search for and evaluate sources?
  • How do I contribute to a supportive online  community/
  • How do I build beneficial relationships online?
  • How do I become successful in the digital world?

These questions are not exhaustive and would be added to by the learning community as the project develops. Similarly, the investigation  would begin with the given resources, but soon expand into learing making their own searches and testing for currency, authority and accuracy, which is an essential skill of the course. . 

Taking this further inline with the key principles of connectivism devised by Siemens, the goal would be to collaboratively create a digital skills user guide. The guide would develop according to the initial investigation combined with the knowledge, skills and experiences of the students.  The role of the tutor would be to guide, challenge assumptions and ask questions to provoke deeper thought.  

Learning and knowledge would reside with the individuals, the community and the technology.  There is the possibility to find out more than is currently known, through  the shared experiences as individuals explore new areas and share with the group. 

The responsibility for "Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning" may begin with the tutor, but becomes the responsibility of the whole group as individual become expert in different aspects of knowledge and skills.  Learners will begin to make connections between concepts and decide what should and should not be included in the Digital user guide.

Considering the ever changing face of technology, I am certain that learners will find things which are right today may not be right tomorrow.

I am reminded of when I was watching "The Social Dilemma" on Netflicks where they were interviewing employees from  different tech companies.  One person interviewed was from FaceBook. He had designed and lunched  the 'Like'  button which he thought was a cool idea ... he had no idea of its addictive quality and the potential impact on the mental health of young teens 

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Developing a PLN - what does mine look like?

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Hmmm.  My PLN map would focus on the friends and colleagues I meet, talk and walk with, and the resources I access via the internet. ... oh yes and Linkedin

I do not use Twitter or Facebook or.... Does that mean I do not have a PLN?  NO!.   I am can defend the idea that my personal learning network does not need these tools, however, if I wish to learn more, I need to increase the reach of my PLN

Thinking about this activity I have come to the conclusion that my PLN needs to be deliberately nurtured.  This graphic sums up the situation for me:

Map to show a process of nurturing a PLN: Explore/Search/Follow/Tune/Feed/Engage/Inquire/Respond


The elements of the graphics are explored further in this interesting post


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Comparing MOOCS - Or Comparing Ways of Learning?

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021, 13:30

"Learning is a messy journey. We are all different, and we skip, slip and jump our way towards becoming knowers... towards creating our own sense of meaning in any discipline. "

Davie Cormier A Rhizomatic Learning Companion  <https://davecormier.pressbooks.com/>  Accessed 21 April 2021

In Comparing  DS106 or Rhizomatic 15 with offerings from FutureLearn or Coursera, two observations come to mind:

  1. Have MOOCS, of the kind presented by Coursera and Future Learn, really changed Distance Learning?
  2. How similar DS106 is to the project based learning which takes place in a middle school classroom which works with the IB MYP curriculum framework.

Have MOOCs changed Distance Learning?

Distance learning in 1989

When I began  my OU journey  in 1989 ( T102: Living with Technology)  I eagerly awaited the arrival of the course materials through the post. I was given advice on 'Active Reading Strategies' , a pacing guide and instructions to post CMAs (Computer Marked Assessment) and TMAs (Tutor Marked assessments) by given deadlines. (Yes I did say the CMA was posted! The paper copy was fed through a machine for marking and there were rules about not using blue ink). There was an exam at the end for which I needed to attend a testing centre.  

For collaboration, I was invited to join the tutor group discussion in my nearest town and In common with many OU courses at that time there was a summer school, but I did not attend as I had two small children under 2 yrs old.

What do the Coursera and Future Learn style MOOCs offer?

In order to compare the offerings I reviewed the Coursera  MOOC:  "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking"  provided by Stanford.  I have also taken various courses from Future Learn on research skills together with some of the STEM offerings for CPD.

I notice in both MOOC formats, there is information provided, documents to read, and video or audio to watch and listen to.  In Coursera these are followed up with quizzes which have a mark assigned. In Future Learn the quizzes do not have an allocated mark and each question may be attempted as many times as desired. Each Future Learn activity includes an invitation to contribute to a discussion forum, although I could only see patchy evidence of interaction or facilitation - just posting.

They each have their own character, but in essence I see them both as distance learning using an online distribution mechanism. Both taking the same behaviourist, cognitive approach: knowledge gained through acquisition of information and testing.

The Stanford course explicitly states it follows the pattern of "Lecture -> Assignment -> Tutorial -> Problem Set -> Tutorial"  (The Tutorials are explanatory videos, not interactive). Students are repeatedly advised to find or form a study group to support understanding.

The goal is clearly knowledge acquisition and they have both opened up the opportunity for knowledge acquisition for many who could not afford or have access this knowledge. The convenience of access brought about by technology is certainly an improvement over books arriving in the post!... and yet I feel something is missing.....

Learning IS a messy journey.

DS106 is a MOOC which encourages mess, mistakes, sharing and reflection and learning together as community.  Cormier puts forward the idea that the "...community of learners is the curriculum"  where learners agree the aims and objective for their own learning.  In the DS106 style MOOC the tutor becomes a member of the community as coach, guide and negotiator.

It seems to me there is also a hidden element in DS106  - that of the basic knowledge and skills needed  in order to be able to make valuable contributions to advance understanding in the learning community.  Novice learners need exposure to basic concepts within the structure of the course - rather like the apprenticeship model of learning.  For a successful courses this needs expert facilitation, either by tutor or experts within the community.  This needs to be a safe space where each member has their own expertise to share and is valued. Courses like DS106 with its messy structure can allow for this to take place.

The medium for DS106 is the technology and without it DS106 (Digital Story Telling)  would not be possible.  Online sharing is at the core DS106 and those who participate are expecting online interaction.  This contrasts significantly with the MOOCS of Coursera and Future Learn which could be taking in isolation as if using a digital course book.

So what is the connection with the MYP classroom?

It is widely recognised that when children are small they learn together through play.  As they grow older it is important to capture this sense of wonder and exploration. The IB MYP curriculum aims to balance the acquisition of factual knowledge and skills with independent or collaborative investigations in order to develop conceptual understanding and encourage students to make connections with other disciplines.  Students investigate through using a cycle of inquiry, action and reflection - not unlike the approach of DS106.  In fact Digital Story Design would be a perfect project within the MYP curriculum. 

The overriding  philosophy  is  for students to think critically and collaboratively construct their understanding. The teacher ( as for DS106) is in the role of coach, guide and negotiator.

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Could MOOCs have a place in formal education?

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MOOCS in a formal education setting could be used to provide a valuable resources of factual content.  In a school setting, for example: 

  1.  Continued Professional Development (CPD) for teachers.

There are several MOOCs on Future learn which are designed for this purpose.  These would be a good basis on which to build a professional learning  community within the school where teachers study independently and then meet to discuss on a regular basis.  The face to face discussion would supplement the online discussion forum of the MOOC.  Alternatively teachers take from the  MOOC what they need to enhance  their understanding of the practice being discussed.  This may then lead to peer observation and feedback.

This may appear Pie-in-the-sky for those who are aware of the pressure in teachers. In my previous context we simply discussed and shared understanding during the morning coffee break - 15 min.  It was interesting to see how the language of that MOOC still pervades conversation between colleagues... and we went on to set up peer review in classrooms, too.  I think the key to success here was that the gatherings were informal, and participation was voluntary.

  1. Provide a source of factual information for students before further discussion and re-enforcement in class.

The schools am involved with offer the IB curriculum which takes students from factual knowledge to developing  concepts which enable connections to be made between disciplines. Lessons involve collaborative exploration, investigation, critical thinking and debate.  I see a role for carefully for chosen MOOC resources as a source of key content which students could study independently.  This means that class time is not about transfer of information  rather collaboratively constructing deeper understanding and asking questions. 

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To Licence or not to Licence?

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Monday, 12 Apr 2021, 13:50

In my previous experience, working in schools, I have successfully created and edited  many different kinds of materials including, worksheets, course outlines even a project handbook for students which I created and shared using Microsoft OneNote.   Some were developed from scratch and other remodelled on a given framework.  The ideas of ownership by me felt very strange, so often I did not even add my name.

Now, all has been left behind  The knowledge that it was created by me has been left to institutional memory and  word of mouth.  I wonder - does that mean the value is not recognised and those who follow feel they need to create new?   I have a strong suspicion that is exactly what is happening.

I was not encouraged to own the materials.  In fact  we were clearly led to understand  that anything created as a member of staff  belonged to the school - although I am able to take a copy for my own use upon leaving.  Looking back, the CC-BY-SA attribution would  have been perfect both within the institution and for any work outside.  Especially if the school's name was also on the materials.  Thus the materials and ideas would be shared with the wider educational community, enhancing both my own reputation and that of the school.

Oh my! - 'Hind Site' is a wonderful thing!

Now I see that the building of the collaborative community of professional practice is the key here.  A place where members are respected for their ideas and contributions, not status or how much they earn.   A place where members are encouraged to own and share their work to create something better.  

Upon reflection, this is they way I wish to move forward.  I will make  materials I produce as Creative Commons -Attribution -Share Alike (and therefore include Non-commercial , ONLY of the materials I use have that attribution). 

... and see how it works. 

I can only follow the example of the OU and make a decision  and deal with obstacles as they arise. 

I feel that I have made a huge step in owning the materials I create in the first place!

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Developing an OER course (H817 W8)

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Friday, 30 Apr 2021, 09:37

Following the given process to create a course was very interesting.   My aim was to prepare a digital skills course for Middle School Teachers who will need to support their students in the development of these skills in the context of their own subject. To support further, the content, for the teachers, will be based around a deepening understanding of the understanding the MYP pedagogy

I first designed my course outlining a list of topics based in work I have done previously, focusing on efficient search techniques and evaluation of sources, followed by collaboration online and creating  presentations, videos and podcasts.  This fits with the MYP Inquiry based curriculum where students are expected to work  collaboratively on research projects.  In some cases teachers set this task  and provide little support for the development for research and digital skills.

Initially I imagined that the development of research, digital and collaboration skills would be mainly within the school community.

Once I began to search the OERs, I found resources which would  widen the scope and at the same time change my priorities for eth course.  The course from Saylor: LiDA100: Learning in a Digital Age drew my attention to the important of digital citizenship which is especially important when working with teens.  It is something which I have always encouraged teachers to include as part of what they teach rather than a stand-alone lesson teaching skills which may be later forgotten or ignored.  Digital citizenship is something which I think needs to become habitual and part of the school culture and personal value systems. 

Upon further searching I found the Open Learn course materials: Digital Skills: Succeeding in a digital world  This  made me think again and refocus.  From the title this is exactly what is needed for both teachers and their students.  I  began to consider restructuring the course based around digital citizenship and building community, knowing that the tech tools will follow as tools of eth trade. Follow  the spirit of the MYP  inquiry approach, I would now base the course around questions such as:

  • Why do I need to be successful in a digital world?
  • Why are digital skills necessary?
  • Why should I have a positive online profile?
  • Why is this important for teens?
  • Why is it necessary to evaluate online sources and check their attribution?
  • How do I created a positive online profile?
  • How do I help my students to created a positive online profile?
  • How do I search for and evaluate sources?
  • How do I contribute to a supportive online  community/
  • How do I build beneficial relationships online?
  • How do I become successful in the digital world?

The use of both the Open Learn and the Saylor materials is possible under the CC Share alike attribution with the provision that individual resources used within the course may have a different attribution and will need to be checked before use.  Adaptions may be made as long as the original sources and authors are credited.  In addition the Open Learn clearly explains their guidelines around non-commercial use.  For this course it may be that as a professional development course for teachers, used in one of two ways:

  1. In-house with no additional charge,
  2. Advertised more widely and presented with for a fee.

To use the Open learn materials in the second case, they would need to be significantly adapted and supported, with fees set at a level which cover these costs.

These OER materials are excellent resources to develop the chosen course.  Both have far more than I could use for the length of the course I am to design.  Time wise, I would first take time to review all materials, before deciding which to use, adapt or re-make.  I feel secure in basing my course using these researched and well prepared courses.  I frequently develop courses based resources from the internet which I would then inform my development as I use or adapt as needed for my context. 

Following this exercise makes me see that I need to check more carefully for the CC attribution  when I am searching for resources and background for a course I am preparing.  In addition, I can see the benefit of starting with one of the given OERs as this would save me time, giving me reputable sources and  narrowing the pool for my search.

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Exploring OER Issues

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Saturday, 10 Apr 2021, 17:58

Issues in OER

The OER movement has grown and expanded over the past 20 years, starting with start of the OER movement in 2001 when MIT set the goal of making the learning materials for all its courses available one the internet.  (Weller 2021 H817 Block 2 week 8).  Today, the movement encompasses anything to do with education and learning:  Resources, text books, MOOCS,  data, research, pedagogy, ideas, ... In many different situations:

Formal education   - Universities, schools, health care, companies....

Informal education - individuals who simply wish to learn because they can

In the same way as when the internet started anyone could publish anything they wished on a website (and they still can with little regulation), now it seems that anyone a can decide to publish a course, research data, ideas, etc and follow up or not as they feel. And these OER are not always peer reviewed.  It seems to me that OER in the broadest sense is potentially just as unregulated as the internet and no-one is responsible for what is presented.

I see this as where the formal educational institutions have a role to play. To maintain the quality of what is offered and ensure the sustainability of the OER movement before it is too late.  In his book “The Battle for Open", Martin Weller suggests that the current issues around openness in education boil down to 'responsibility and ownership'.   Perhaps it is for formal educational institutions to own the movement and take on the responsibility for OER, ensuring that:

  • The OER are sustainable – independent of a specific champion or financial backer.
  • Barriers to uptake are reduced
  • Pedagogy is adapted to employ OER effectively

OER need to be sustainable

The report  “Journeys to Open Educational Practice” identifies the growth of communities of practice around OER as a way forward, but warns against the community becoming too institutionalised and not truly open.  Funding is clearly a challenge, but it seems to me that funding is more likely when there is a sustainable project.  The report identifies practices where institution are building on what they already know to develop open practice around OER.  They are supporting a culture of openness where departments collaborate and curriculum development is shared and policies may be developed to ensure longevity.  There is a danger of squashing creativity and as  Anna wrote (Forum post H817-21B W7 “Identifying priorities for research”) , these policies need to have “flexibility to innovate built in.”  

Barriers to uptake are reduced

Barriers experienced by students may include speed of internet access, cost of materials, language ability, study skills, cultural bias in the OER.  JISC identifies a move towards a more student centred approach in the use of OER  where both teachers and students gain confidence in its effective use which in turn leads to further uptake.  Barriers to uptake by institution depend on the sustainability  and the willingness of eth teachers to engage with OER. This leads to the next section:

Pedagogy adapted to employ OER effectively

The OER Evidence Report finds:  “There is strong evidence that OER use and exposure leads to reflection on practice by educators. It causes them to incorporate a wider range of content, to consider different teaching approaches and to reflect upon their role as educator.”

If this is the case, then it seems to me that the institutions need to support this process by allowing teachers time for reflection and adaptation, and making this part of their own practices.  McGill identifies this along with the need for digital training to support these changes.  OER  has the capacity to support a change to a more open, student centred and/or student led pedagogy where teacher and learner are co-contributors.  For this to be most effective, collaboration and  the development of open communities of practice are key for success.


de los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Perryman, L.-A., Pitt, R. and Weller, M. (2014), OER Evidence Report 2013–2014, OER Research Hub [Online]. Available at https://oerresearchhub.files.wordpress.com/ 2014/ 11/ oerrh-evidence-report-2014.pdf (Accessed 20 March 2020).

McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report, London, JISC [Online]. Available at https://oersynth.pbworks.com/ w/ page/ 60338879/ HEFCE-OER-Review-Final-Report (Accessed 20 March 2020).

Weller, M 2014 The Battle For Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: http:// dx.doi.org/10.5334/bam (Accessed 3 April 2020).

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An Understanding of Openness

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Thursday, 8 Apr 2021, 15:42

Following on from my previous blog post where I had so many questions about what may or not be 'Open' and what is meant by  something being 'Open'  I offer the visual representation below to show my current understanding.  As I see it, there are many things which may be shared openly, and as soon as 'Ideas' are in the mix, then the options are huge...  anything has the potential to be shared and use in an 'Open' manner.  The Key to something being described as 'Open depends on its place along what I have described here as  'A Continuum of Openness'  The main factors to consider (as I see it) are:  Affordability,  Availability and Accessibility.

I  suggest that something may be described as 'Open without being at the same place on the continuum for all factors.  I think availability and accessibility are the most significant.  Open resources do not need to be free, but the do need to be freely available, with no barriers to access.

A continuum of Openness

Hmmm... Even as I right, I think the visual could be modified to show that emphasis.  The contribution of  Affordability,  Availability and Accessibility is not equally weighted when considering the concept of openness.  

... I think I will leave that  discussion for another time! 

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H817 W7 A1 - Open Education

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Publish a blog post that describes your experience with open education. Is it just with the OU, or have you studied a MOOC, used open resources, or engaged with open access publications?

Open Education -  I am still trying to understand exactly what comes under this umbrella.

Does it mean Open access... if you can pay, 

Is it free at the point of use?

Does it mean 'open' because there are no pre-requisites or qualifications?

Is the UK school system a form of 'Open' education ?.. if so then yes I have been lucky to have been part of that.

International schools provide and IB educations, school fees can be high,  but no student is excluded by ability. - is that Open Education?  

Are resources published under the Creative commons license 'Open' resources and those behind a paywall not?

These are just a few questions which I hope to be able to answer at the end of this  module,.

As to my own experience with what I currently understand to be 'Open' education:

I attended school in the UK. ( although my secondary school was selective, so not 'Open' to all) 

I taught at in international school as described above

I completed a second undergraduate degree with the Open University and I am currently working to finish MAODE

I have dipped in and out of courses in Future Learn, Coursera and Open  Learn.  All are constructed in a way that I have been able to gather the learning I needed at the time, without completing the whole  course and paying for badged or certificates.

I successfully used the Coursera course: "Learing how to Learn" for students with a group of students in school as they were learning and applying independent study skills.

I am frequently looking for quality resources available on the www to inform my teaching a learning practice - does this constitute 'open' resources?   

This includes freely available news articles and podcasts.

I am looking forward to working on this  module and getting clearer idea of what is meant by open education, open resources, and open access publications.

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Connectivism as a theory of learning

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Edited by Margaret Richardson, Friday, 30 Apr 2021, 09:36

H817 a reflection on: 

Siemens (2005), Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age.

The concept of connectivism is borne out of and acceptance that an individual cannot EVER know everything. Rather the important thing is to know where/how to find the information and critically evaluate what is relevant, truthful, accurate and  important to know. I see these as essential skills in a world with an infinitely large and chaotic source of information (the www) which has evolved over time.  This is reflected in Seiman's observation that  "Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime."   and  " Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience."

But hang on - what about  Behaviourism,  cognitivism and constructivism...  Are they now redundant theories?


Behaviourism - Tell me what to do. Train me, and do not expect me to understand what I am doin

For example: Rote learning of Multiplication Tables  Information source: one line of the table at a time

Cognitivism - Tell me what to do and explain so I can think about it.  I expect to understand what has been taught,  so when I do not, I find it difficult to remember.... There is so much going on in my brain!

For example: Understanding how a multiplication table is built up from repeated addition, rather than remembering every the multiplication fact.  Information source:  Many sequential lines from the multiplication table

Constructivism - I  observe and try to make sense of what I see to find meaning

For example:  Comparing different multiplication tables and looking for patterns  to understand how the tables are constructed.  Information source:  Several different multiplication tables, with many lines each

Connectivism  -  I  choose the information I select and make connections among its elements to find meaning.  I will connect the connections. As I make connections, my personal understanding will evolve as new information becomes available.

For example: Looking at a huge set numbers and looking for patterns in the numbers, seek out commonalties and make connections.  Then connect the connections!   In this way, the learner creates order out of the chaos to establish (for example) multiples, factors, prime numbers... and this is only a sub-set of the connections  which could be made!   Data source:  A large number of random numbers.

Siemens argues that connectivism requires  " [the learner] to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden."   He sees " The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns is required to learn in our knowledge economy."

I would argue that this aspiration is beyond the brain power of many individuals without the aid of technology (see example above).  Learning as connectivism is both a product of our digital age and necessary to learn successfully with it. - but not the only way to learn ( as described above) 

A massive amount of data is now gathered by  companies. The question is, how does this data become useful information?   There is much controversy at present around data, who owns it and what can/cannot be done with it.  I also argue that there is a large amount of data which has been collected and is not processed to become useful knowledge due to lack of capacity to do so.

Seimans rightly state that: "Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning."  To do this requires the appropriate technology to  turn the data into information to allow humans to make better decisions.

Eg: https://medium.com/world-food-programme-insight/coronavirus-world-food-programme-harnesses-data-and-tech-to-save-lives-c57c2b9e22ea

Connectivism describes the way people may work  WITH machines to make the optimal decisions and understanding  how to create and use the technology is an important human learning skill together with the wisdom to learn from the information gathered.

In his conclusion, Seimans states that: "Learning is no longer internal, individualistic activity"   I disagree.  I think that learning begins with the individual. The acquisition of personal knowledge is an important part of the growing knowledge network.  It is by connecting different nodes of personal knowledge, that the knowledge network begins to grow and personal knowledge becomes part of the shared knowledge network.  

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