Emergence, improvisation and course design

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic. The next few will likely be the same. But it’s also been a productive type of hectic. Lots of tasks and activities generating ad hoc connections and mixing of concepts and ideas. Mostly (but not entirely) it’s been the NGL course generating the interesting connections. Anne’s highlighting of this quote from Anderson is just one example

Technology is the music setting the tempo, the beat, the timbre and the compelling melodies. The pedagogy defines the choreography, directing the dancers sweeping motions, graceful extension and enduring embraces. Together technology and pedagogy reveal and develop our human creativity and responsiveness and allow us to effectively and enjoyably.

As I engage with the course and its participants a range of new connections between what we’re reading/doing and my own thinking are being created. Reinforcing some perspectives, lessening others. For example, the concept of “big up front design” as an approach to teaching. The NGL course is starting to take a much more interesting turn as the course progresses than I could have pre-planned. There are signs that this is only going to increase as some of the other very knowledgeable (and different) students engage more in the course. I expect to learn a lot.

Yesterday, while sitting beside the pool while Messers 9 and 7 were doing the swimming thing, I was giving some thought to the criteria for the assessment for NGL (yes, thinking hasn’t evolved beyond that idea just yet). The prior version of this course made use of the SOLO taxonomy as one informing lens. Without Internet access while poolside I used Spotlight to search my Mac and turned up Starkey (2011) as a PDF on my hard drive. A quick skim and it seems fairly appropriate (more on that soon).

This afternoon a quick Google scholar search was undertaken to see if any subsequent work has built on this work about evaluating 21st century learning. While I didn’t find that I did find Dillon et al (2013) which is most interesting because of its mention of improvisation (rather than the use of micro-blogs). Improvisation, bricolage etc are all increasingly of interest to me as I’m struggling with the limitations of “big up front design” as experienced as part of being a member of a large organisation. Not to mention the thought that with something like NGL, but also increasingly other courses in this “network age”, that improvisation/bricolage/emergence etc are a much more useful set of practices than traditional approaches. However, because they are so different from previous practices, they are challenging. Especially for those of us who have been successful under the old assumptions.

I wonder how much any difference in the experience of students in NGL is due to their different perceptions and preparedness for bricolage? How could you tell? What are those differences? How can you create an environment that prepares and enables folk to engage in bricolage? Is this “bricolage” all that different from aspects of constructivism, situated learning etc?

I’m particularly interested in exploring the interplay between the structure of the environment and the agency/fluency/literacy influences all of this.


Dillon, P., Wang, R., Vesisenaho, M., Valtonen, T., & Havu-Nuutinen, S. (2013). Using technology to open up learning and teaching through improvisation: Case studies with micro-blogs and short message service communications. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 10, 13–22. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2013.06.001

Starkey, L. (2011). Evaluating learning in the 21st century: a digital age learning matrix. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, (February 2013), 37–41. doi:10.1080/1475939X.2011.554021

Learning journal, activity completion and nudge analytics

Week 2 of 2nd semester. Time to start checking how students are going and checking in with those that haven’t started yet. For EDC3100, this means putting in place the various “shadow systems” that bridge what’s provided by the institution and what I need in order to enact the practices I deem appropriate. What follows is a record of the ongoing evolution of this idea.

Extending things a bit this semester is that EDU8117 will leverage some of the same system. So it will all have to be a bit more general. Also hoping to tweak it solve some issues from last semester.

BIM backups – bring user details in

A request for backups of the BIM activities for the two courses brings the user data in I believe. Will need to do this once more.

Figure out which users belong to a course

I’m kludging this with Perl. So no friendly Perl APIs. A kludge with groups perhaps – that’s what was used last semester. So identify the groups that apply.

mdl_groups: [ id, courseid, name, description etc. ]
mdl_group_members : [ groupid, userid…]

Courseids for

  • EDC3100 – 4 – gives the right set of groups it appears. 46 is the group I’m after for EDC3100
  • EDU8117 – 5 – only 1 group 68

There is also a role for dropped students that should perhaps be checked at some stage.

Given new use of MoodleUsers->new_all( COURSE => “EDC3100”, TERM => “2014_S2” ) and then do the translation.

That’s working.


Relies on two classes. One is hard coded to the ID for the BIM activity. Both are. So same kludge as for the MoodleUsers. A simple hash to translate COURSE/TERM into a BIM activity.

Actually Marking only needs updating to take a BIM id.

Done. It’s a bit of a bugger that Webfuse is dead. Quite like the flexibility of the class system. Perfect for bricolage/tinkering.

Importing activity completion

It’s currently done with activityCompletion/import.pl

  1. Reads the CSV file with Activity Completion data,

    Biggest kludge here is the student ID number which is missing leading 00s.

  2. Arbritarily creates a base course module ID for each activity starting from a common, hard-coded base.
  3. Compares that data with the Moodle user data to get a match up, Currently done on USQ student number (ID).
  4. Inserts the course completion data for each user into mdl_course_modules_completion : [ id, coursemoduleid, userid, completionstate, viewed, timemodified ]

    Currently does this by deleting all the data in mdl_course_modules_completion – perhaps overkill.

    [code lang=”perl”]
    foreach $student ( @enrolled ) {
    foreach $activity ( @csv_activity_records ) {
    # create a database record for course_modules_completion that activity
    push @rows, $activity
    # insert into database

Got that all fixed up. Finally.

Identify the students slow getting going

Next step is to identify those students who have been a bit slow getting going.

Each week has a “learning path” of activities to complete. The idea is that given any particular week it would be useful to identify those students who are “slow”.

Perhaps something like

  1. Class that takes the course code, term and the week of term.
  2. Generates a CSV file with student details (email address, name) and the percentage of activities that have been completed up until this week.
  3. This can be manipulated with Excel and emails sent as a result.

Raising questions

  • How to know which activities apply to which week?

    Current approach is to hard code the start and end pretend CMIDs for activities for a period. Could extend this to each week. ActivityCompletion class does something like this based on START/END for hard coded CMIDs.

    Convert this class to use COURSE PERIOD WEEK instead.

Done. And first email sent to students who have yet to complete 50% of the tasks from last week. A very primitive nudge.

Will need to send out a reminder about registering blogs so I can send out a learning journal report.

A bit more exploration of identity

A bit more reading/thinking about identity in the form of reading Day et al (2006) and also in light of some conversations going on around identity and the Reclaim Project. More on my personal Reclaim my Domain project tomorrow, hopefully. Day et al (2006) was one of the readings set in the NGL course, meant to spark some thinking about identity and its connection with NGL.


  1. How has the identity of the participants in NGL evolved over the last couple of weeks? A few have reported struggles with the change in “structure” the course has wrought, often due to their limited agency in being able to handle/respond.
  2. How does identity play out in the context of enterprise educational technology in Universities? (How) Does the amount of percieved agency one holds about your ability to “hack to suit our needs” the enterprise systems impact your identity at a teacher?
  3. If Goffman’s idea of being able to adapt the self is essential, then what does this say for the templated self and the limits it places on being able to adapt the digital self?
  4. What if any links have been established/discussed between agency and affordances?

Beyond the summary of the literature on identity, not sure I got a lot out of this reading.


Recognitions that the environment in which teachers operate impact their identity. If identity is an influence on teachers’ sense of purpose, motivation, satisfaction etc, then investigating these impacts is important. Mentions the impact of “centralist reform contexts”. Looks at the research and then draws on a project with 300 teachers in 100 schools “which investigated variations in teachers’ work and lives and their effects on pupils” and finds that

identities are neither intrinsically stable nor intrinsically fragmented, as earlier literature suggests. Rather, teacher identities may be more, or less, stable and more or less fragmented at different times and in different ways according to a number of life, career and situational factors

Which challenges some of the propositions in this conversations. Perhaps not all that surprising that something as complex as identy(ies) influenced by complex environments demonstrates more complex behaviour. But perhaps increasing the argument for systems/tools that enable the complexity of change in identity(ies) to be more in the hand of the holder of the identity(ies).

Early notions of identity

Understanding selves – cognitive and emotional identities – central to work, lives and effectiveness. In this work of teachers, but perhaps more broadly. A dynamic tension between “structure (external influences) and agency (one’s ability to pursue the goals that one values)” have a significant influence.

Self and identity used interchangeably. Both complex drawing on philosophy, psychology, sociology and psychotherapy. Concept has evolved

  • Early ideas see it as “singular, unified, stable essence that was little affected by context or biography” the focus on individual creating concepts that lasted
  • Self-awareness and the perceived opinions of others a major influence on the construction of self extending to a “reflexive, learning process by which values, attitudes, behaviour, roles and identities are accumulated over time”.
  • Mead suggested the “generalised other” which included a range of values, roles, identities and many other attitudes that were integrated and influenced an individual’s view of self.
  • A view that the self is stable but “could take on different approaches to different social experiences based on the particular part played by they individual”.
  • But lives are multi-faceted – Goffman (1959) suggests we have a number of selves focused on particular roles, time and situation. Being able “to adapt the self was essential in order to effectively communicate the social processes within each situation”
  • Ball (1972) “separates situated from substantive identity – the situated is malleable, but there is a “more stable, core presentation of self that is fundamental to how a person thinks about himself or herself”.
  • Erikson (1959) from psychoanalysis identifies three stages/crises in adult life
    1. distantiation – readiness to define identity against threats
    2. generativity versus stagnation – goal oriented or coasting to disenchantment
    3. integrity versus despair and disgust

Teacher’s identity

Common thread is agreement that understanding of self is important to understanding beliefs, attitudes and actions. There’s research in teacher education that shows this and that’s it influenced by technical/emotional aspects of teaching, personal lives and the social, cultural and institutional environment. Perhaps because that teaching “demands significant personal investment”. Lots of that research summarised.


Day, C., Kington, A., Stobart, G., & Sammons, P. (2006). The personal and professional selves of teachers: stable and unstable identities. British Educational Research Journal, 32(4), 601–616. doi:10.1080/01411920600775316

Some readings on networked learning

What follows is some ad hoc thoughts and reflections upon the somewhat ad hoc collection of readings (Kligyte, 2009; Bonzo & Parchoma, 2010; Bell, 2010) around networked learning from Week 1 of the NGL course.

Kligyte, 2009 – Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning

Connects nicely with one of my interests to “explain why it has been so difficult to inspire academics to adopt technologies in their teaching” (p. 540). Apparently is going to use threshold concepts and networked learning to do this.

So the world has changed and thus

Information, media and network literacies are becoming vital skills for academics to be able to perform in both their research and teaching roles today (p. 540)

Of course this bugs me. The assumption is that it’s primarily the academics that need to lift their game. Of course all universities have already transitioned to deal effectively with the brave new networked world and its only the academics that are lagging.

List of solutions to the laggard academics have included

  1. F-t-f workshops focusing on technical features without the link to teaching context
  2. More “embedded” approaches include CoP, fellowships and good practice databases (yet another repository will fix it).

Apparently all these have had limited success, but “academic development units still struggle to promote innovative uses of technologies among mainstream academics, and the small group of technology enthusiasts at the forefront of the academic staff seems to be growing at a very slow pace”

The case here is a formal foundations of teaching program for academic staff. And the use of threshold concepts to challenge practices and beliefs. Apparently this is challenging, confronting and can be transformative.

A session on networked learning and network literacy gets the most extreme reactions in both directions. I’m assuming there are a few participants in NGL that can relate to some of these feelings.

Threshold concepts are characterised as

  1. Troublesome – alien, in coherent.
  2. Discursive – language is enhanced/extended.
  3. Irreversible – transformative in how the discipline is viewed.
  4. Liminality – i.e. traveling back and forth until the full implications dawn.
  5. Integrative – reveals connections between different concepts

Ahh, the advice is that taking this view requires change in the academic to be seen as a long-term process. One to be treated “with empathy and respect”.


  1. I wonder if the NGL participants are seeing NGL as a threshold concept?
  2. Is there value in having the NGL participants go back to this framework and apply it to their own experience?
  3. An obvious question would be what are the threshold concepts underpinning NGL?
  4. Raises the question of network literacies as a future topic/reading for NGL.

Bonzo & Parchoma – Paradox of social media and higher education institutions

Draws on an experience from a Canadian university where values of social media conflicted with those of higher ed (especially QA). This sparked a lit review of research to identify the issues. Quotes Trinder et al (2008) at length

widening of the gap between the culture of the educational institutions and the culture of learners’ lives outside higher education. Outside formal educational environments individuals act as active participants navigating their way independently through complex multimodal digital environments. Yet in higher educational they are expected to submit to a pedagogic regime that is fundamentally premised on the transmission and testing of decontextualised knowledge and skills, and which is dominated by “old- generation” technologies (Web 1.0) underpinned by a radically different philosophy and a different set of affordances” (Trinder, et al, 2008, p. 4)

Ahh, a quote from Ferreday & Hodgson (2008) that covers some of my disquiet about the current shape of NGL

Participative processes can be experienced as tyrannical when participation is demanded by course designs, tutors and ultimately by participants in an unreflective and normative way. (Ferreday & Hodgson, 2008, p. 647)

Gives some background on learning theory leading up to social constructivist learning which is summarised as having 5 main elements (Yilmaz, 2008, p. 167)

  1. Learning requires active participation by the learner. Learning is not passive.
  2. Previous experience coupled with and compared to new experience results in a reinforcement of /or adaption of that knowledge.
  3. Individual knowledge construction requires a social interaction element within the environment.
  4. 4. Negotiation within the learning environment is essential to the development of shared meaning and common knowledge.
  5. Learning best takes place within a sociocultural context – a community of practice.

The argument – as shown in the table – is that social media and social constructivism are compatible.

Comparison of social media and social contructivism principles (adapted from Bonzo and Parchoma, 2010)
Social Media Social constructivism
Are dynamic and based on active participation rather than passive viewing Active participation where learning is created based on collaborative effort
Information sharing Knowledge is built upon experience
Communication Social interaction
Information is created by the individual participation and interactivity of the users/Collaboration Shared interaction creates common knowledge
Information sharing Learning takes place best in a sociocultural context

Woo Hoo. Social media are disruptive because they can change the university model. Mmm, having a wiki within a Moodle course site doesn’t seem that disruptive.


Three areas where conflict may emerge

  1. Existing hierarchical structure of higher education institutions

    I get this one and have seen it in action. Nice extension to involve the hierarchy of knowers (i.e. teachers know more than students) and how social media disrupt that).

  2. Accreditation and quality concerns and

    The fearful response of “how can we certify that the learners have learned”. Not sure this is a strong one. Misses the how can the institution QA the experience (even though it doesn’t really now).

  3. Formal and informal learning


  • What if any of the struggles on the part of NGL participants arises from their expectation of NGL to be “premised on the transmission and testing of decontextualised knowledge and skills” and the difficulty of being “active participants navigating their way independently through complex multimodal digital environments”?
  • Both EDC3100 and EDU8117 attempt to walk a fine line between providing some structure and demanding specific types of participation. How good a job is the design that’s been adopted actually doing? How do participants view it?
  • Is a social constructivist perspective the only (best) way to look at social media?
  • If you applied the 5 main elements of social constructivist learning to the environment in which university academics engaged with around e-learning, how well would it fair? Must do a little test.

Bell et al 2010 – Undergraduate experiences

Grounded theory research into undergraduate on-campus students’ experiences with network learning. Four themes

  1. Familiarisation with the networked environment;

    Unsure about required engagement, unfamiliar with the technology….

  2. grappling with collaboration;

    Competition versus collaboration. But benefits including vicarious learning opportunities and observing others.

  3. learning anew the ‘text as talk’ medium and

    Limited efficacy in writing.

  4. coping strategies – reverting to the familiar.

    Meeting f-t-f to overcome issues.

The focus here was the use of asynchronous discussion forums in a class of 21 learners. Only 5 randomly selected students were interviewed.


Bonzo, J., & Parchoma, G. (2010). The Paradox of Social Media and Higher Education Institutions. In Networked Learning: Seventh International Conference (pp. 912–918).

Bell, A., Zenios, M., & Parchoma, G. (2010). Undergraduate experiences of coping with networked learning: Difficulties now, possibilities for the future. In L. Dirckinck‐Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, & T. Ryberg (Eds.), 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010 (pp. 904–911).

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. In Proceedings of the Ascilite 2009 Conference (pp. 540–542). Auckland, NZ.

Creating the EDC3100 OPML files

Just documenting the process I use to create a collection of OPML files for distributing the details of EDC3100 student blogs (because I didn’t document it last semester).


Each semester students in EDC3100 create their own blog on their choice of service. They then register the blog with the course website via the BIM module for Moodle.

For the current semester 63 students have registered their blog, 47 are yet to do so. The students are almost entirely pre-service educators ranging from the Early Childhood all the way up to VET sector. The task here is to produce a range of OPML files containing feeds for each sector.

The data I have to play with includes

  • the OPML file produced by BIM that provides feeds for all students; and,

    Each OPML item contains the blog URL/feed and the student’s name and the short student number.

  • the spreadsheet from the institutional system that specifies which sector each student is associated with.

    Includes a range of student data, including the short student number as part of the email address, however, the sector is not always standardised. For example, the Secondary students, HPE and VET students can have a strange variety of labels.

The process

  1. Read the CSV file data.
  2. Normalise the sector names.
  3. Read the OPML file.
  4. Produce separate OPML files for each sector.

The above was done with quite a liberal smattering of manual work. Got it down to a Perl script with a bit of manual stuff at the end.


Biggest problem is the sector names. It doesn’t appear that the institutional system has adopted a common approach to this so there are half a dozen special cases. It’s this sort of thing that makes it extra difficult to do productive stuff with the provided technology/information.

Wonder if BIM can be modified to allow the uploading of additional information about users and then use that to produce OPML files (and other actions). Suppose the Moodle group functionality would be the default means for that. Would still have to be manual.

Give them a fish, or teach them to fish?

Andrew’s main worry is indicative of one of my concerns with both courses I’m currently teaching. Both courses throw the participants in at the deep-end with a few new (to almost all) technologies that the courses draw heavily on. There is varying levels of scaffolding to help, but it stops well short of being involving very detailed and specific instructions.

There are a few reasons for that, including

  1. The importance to both courses of students developing the skills to solve their own technical problems.
  2. The desire for students to explore the specific technologies that suit them and not be limited to what I recommend.

But learning “how to fish” in this context is not a easy process. Which is both another plus, but also a minus.

So if you are (or have been) a student in EDC3100 or EDU8117, let me know what you think. How did the approach work (or not) for you?

I wonder if there’s anyone doing this well that I can gain some insights into how to do it better. Perhaps that something to add to my list of tasks around participating in NGL/EDU8117.

Me as a teacher

One of the tasks asked of participants in the NGL course is to write about “me as a teacher” (i.e. some sort of involvement in formal education helping others learn). The idea is that as we read and think about NGL ideas, theories and tools we’re working towards figuring out how we can transform what we do as a teacher using those ideas, theories and tools.

What is your role as a teacher?

According to the HR systems I’m a Senior Lecturer in what used to be the Faculty of Education at USQ. In terms of workload allocation for 2014 my main teaching roles are as course examiner in two courses: EDC3100, ICT and Pedagogy, and EDU8117, Network and Global Learning.

In a previous post I give a potted history of the trajectory of my University teaching career (apart from a couple of months teaching in schools as part of a Grad Dip in Learning and Teaching, all my teaching has been in a University) from teaching Information Technology in 1990 through now. While the institution and the discipline may have changed, a common theme throughout my teaching career is that most of my students are not on-campus. That has influenced my approach to teaching, what I see as my role.

Perhaps the biggest example of that that I think lectures suck. In fact, I have a dislike for most face-to-face teaching practices in a University context. I have – what Bali and Meier describe as – an affinity for asynchronous learning. As you might imagine, this doesn’t necessarily fit well with many of my colleagues, but it does mean I’m naturally inclined towards NGL.

Print-based distance education – as practiced in the very early 1990s, when I got started – revolved around the provision of a study guide. A skeleton set of connective pieces and activities written around a larger textbook that would guide the student through what they had to learn. That’s where I started and being an academic I was never happy with the available textbooks and so a colleague and I ended up writing our own and published it online. You can still find copies floating about. That book took much the same approach, guiding the student through a set of activities.

You could make the argument that I see my role as teacher as being the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage”. Though I must admit to always disliking that term. Have grown to like the McWilliam’s (2009) idea of the “meddler in the middle” which is described as

descriptive of active interventionist pedagogy in which teachers are mutually involved with students in assembling and/or dis-assembling knowledge and cultural products. Meddling is a re-positioning of teacher and student as co-directors and co-editors of their social world. As a learning partnership, meddling has powerful implications for what “content” is
considered worthy of engagement, how the value of the learning product is to be assessed, and who the rightful assessor is to be.

I’m yet to tease out what this means in practice, but think it particularly appropriate for application in network learning.

I also see myself as a bricoleur, rather than an engineer. An engineer (or instructional designer which has the same pedigree) has a clear idea of the requirements of a perfect solution and won’t start work until all the necessary resources are available. A bricoleur tinkers with what is at hand to rethink what and how something is done. Having an Information Technology background helps greatly when it comes to engaging in bricolage in an NGL world.

Who are your students? What is the context?

EDC3100 is offered twice a year. The first offering averages just over 300 students spread across 3 campuses and around the world. The second offering averages just over 100 students who are all online. The students are generally 3rd year under-graduate students studying to become teachers in a range of specialisation (early childhood through to VET).

EDU8117 is offered intermittently and so far hasn’t broken 20 students. All are totally online and are postgraduate students. Typically spread throughout the world and with a range of backgrounds.

What role does NGL currently play in that context?

A little bit more than in most other courses.

In EDC3100 students are required to maintain a blog (Google EDC3100 blog”), use Diigo and complete weekly “learning paths” via the Moodle course site. The aim is to get them actively building their own connections and PLN specific to their needs.

Currently EDU8117 is a quickly implemented evolution of that idea. The Moodle course site is largely gone, replaced with a course blog. The aim is to focus on the participation between members of the course (see the blogroll on the course blog for links to the participant’s blogs) as the focus of the learning, rather than a fixed bit of content. This is the first time the course is being offered this way.

How do you think NGL might help?

Put simply, I think applied well NGL has the promise to create a better learning environment than more common approaches. But I don’t think the approaches used in either course are applied as well as the could be. That’s due to a combination of the limitations of the pedagogical design, the technologies being used, and my limitations and available time. For both courses I’m interested in questions like:

  • How I can be a more effective “meddler in the middle”?
  • What learning environment is going to be best engage students most effectively in NGL?

For EDC3100 the challenge is scaling this to a course with 100+ students. For EDU8117 the challenge may be to be a bit more experimental in how it’s done. In both the challenge may be for me to break my limitations/conceptions and those of the institutional environment.

Some misc. related topics follow.

Finding the balance

In his post “as teacher” Brendon, one of the other NGL participants, mentions Sugata Mitra’s work and the idea of students being “able to develop their own connections and learning without … explicit teaching”. Brendon identifies as a key challenge for schools the task of developing (or perhaps unleashing learner’s inherent ability to be) “self-directed and inquisitive learners”. For both my courses I see this as the main aim and the main challenge.

One of the challenges is that – as Donald Clark points out – Mitra’s work isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Larry Cuban uses Mitra’s work as an example of magical thinking in education. These comments point to the problem that not all learners are ready to be self-directed. In EDC3100 there seems to be two main inter-twined contributors to this

  1. successful enculturation into formal education; and,

    i.e. it’s all about being told the answer and then successfully repeating the answer, “will this be on the exam?”. Being self-directed and developing your own answers is a challenge. This is both the student and the teacher. I’m not convinced that the learning environments I’ve created successfully escape those confines. Not to mention that the institutional and societal environment continually reinforces these confines (e.g. even with an acceptance of criterion referenced assessment final results processing retaining a focus on a results that don’t fit a bell curve).

  2. pragmatic self-interest.

    For a variety of reasons the desire isn’t to engage fully in the course, but instead to do enough to get the desired passing grade. There isn’t a passion or drive for the course or sometimes the broader teaching profession. With something similar challenging me and existing in the environment as well.

This links to the point made by Goodyear et al (2014)

Unless learning is very closely supervised and directed (which it rarely is), there will usually be some slippage between task and activity, for good and bad reasons. This is important to acknowledge, when designing, because what people learn is a consequence of their actual activity, and therefore only indirectly a result of the task set for them. Tasks are designable, activities are not – they are emergent. (p. 139)

Though the requirement for close supervision and direction is interesting. Just how much is needed?

Participants use their own devices – 21st Century Skills

I have long been and continue to be an eportfolio skeptic. I’m not skeptical of the idea of it being important for students to use some form of electronic portfolio to track and present their learning. I’m skeptical of the organisational practice of selecting and mandating a particular eportfolio tool that all students should use. That’s such an ancient way of looking at the world and one that is fraught with danger.

One danger is that the institutional system is just crap. Sorry, but Mahara still doesn’t compete with WordPress (or any other of numerous freely available online alternatives). In reflecting on her “as teacher” Anne relates a similar story around one school’s pilot program with Microsoft where each student has their own tablet device “but the device is not able to be taken home”.

But perhaps the bigger danger is that rhetoric mismatch between these practices and the much vaunted “21st Century Skills”. The pilot program Anne mentions is apparently aim to focus on helping students develop 21st Century Skills. Having access to a mobile device that you can’t take home doesn’t strike me as very 21st Century. Requiring all students in the Bachelor of Education to create their eportfolio in the institution’s installation of Mahara doesn’t strike me as very 21st Century. Instead it suggests to me an institution that is still stuck in 20th Century assumptions around how to manage technology. Shouldn’t institutions recognise this and help students develop these skills, rather than be constrained by ancient corporate IT practices?

What do I want to do?

At the moment, here are some initial ideas of what I’d like to explore for both courses as I progress through NGL.


I’m interested in exploring how the Reclaim Hosting service and the feed wordpress work from @cogodog can be harnessed to transform the NGL course site from a bog standard wordpress.com site into a Connected Course. As it happens it appears that Connected Courses – “an open course in how to create open courses” – could be something useful to engage in. A pity it doesn’t start until October, just as NGL will be winding down.

This is much more than just the technology. It’s also about exploring and leveraging the practices that ds106 and similar have developed. In no small part because the “Domain of one’s own” idea strongly connects with the idea underpinning EDU8117 that participation is essential to really understanding NGL. But also because the process of going through this change will allow new, different and hopefully interesting changes/insights emerge.

I’m also interested to see how this might scale to a course like EDC3100 and how it can/can’t be integrated with the institutional environment in which I work.


The immediate aim is to explore how the EDC3100 learning environment can be tweaked to enhance student learning. What designs for learning might work better? What changes to the technology used might better scaffold student learning and enable meddling from teaching staff?

I’m particularly interested in how we more effectively harness the collective artefacts of past and current EDC3100 students? There are 1000s of blog posts from EDC3100 students online. Are current students using those prior posts? How? What can be done with those? We have 100s of student assignments describing why and how they are using ICTs in schools and reflecting on those experiences. How can those insights be harnessed by new students? Increasingly there are online information used by teachers and EDC3100 students (e.g. the Australian Curriculum website, Scootle, and Australian Curriculum Lessons) that are all disparate sites. Is there value in adding a layer of connections between those sites and the experiences of educators? What might that look like?

How can NGL be used to address limitations of institutional systems? e.g. the fact that you can’t search the EDC3100 Moodle site and I’ve had to resort to a kludge using Evernote.

What difficulties might you face with implementation?

In no particular order, the problems to be overcome are likely to include

  • A mismatch with organisational expectations.

    Just one example is the growing movement within the Bachelor of Education to have all students make use of Mahara, which as I argued above I see as short-sighted. Organisations still see the need to mandate strategic or single approaches around the use of technology (a new standardised course look and feel is coming soon) and with other administrative practices. A more NGL approach as described above challenges these assumptions.

  • Technological affordances.

    Goodyear et al (2014) pick up on the term affordance as both important, but also as “a term that is also very widely critiqued and contested” (p. 137). The idea is that particular technologies afford different possibilities dependent on people’s perceptions of a technology. But an affordance isn’t a single set of possibilities seen by every person. Taking what Goodyear et al (2014) describe as a “relational-materialist” the idea of affordance becomes much more complex and emergent.

    As someone with a software development background the affordances that I see in technologies are very different to what most education academics see. Also, the affordances that I see with technologies within an enterprise context (like my current University) is also very different from what I would see in the University context I worked in 15 years ago. Not because of the technological changes, but because the institutional context around IT wasn’t as constrained and singular.

    At the moment the institutional context I operate in doesn’t make it very easy to get access to data and to integrate that data with other services. Institutional systems are still seen as the solution rather that as part of an emergent collection of solutions to be combined and re-combined. Perhaps echoing their foundation in the engineering mindset, rather than the bricoleur mindset.

  • Student conceptions.

    Many of my students have been hugely successful in learning how to navigate the existing educational system. Many of the NGL ideas result in that hard won knowledge being somewhat less than useful. Combine that with pragmatic self-interest and often student reluctance can be a barrier.

  • My conceptions.

    Just like the students I’ve been somewhat successful with the current approach, I have pragmatic self interest, and am also limited by my existing conceptions/identity.

  • Time and energy.

    Just thinking all this through and writing down in this blog post is taking time and energy. Actually doing it will take more. But I think it will probably be worth it.


Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Dohn, N. B. (2014). Design for networked learning: framing relations between participants’ activities and the physical setting. In S. Bayne, M. de Laat, T. Ryberg, & C. Sinclair (Eds.), Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 (pp. 137–144). Edinburgh, Scotland.

Identity, community and trajectories – Jawitz (2009)

The following is a bit of a reaction to one of the readings set for Week 1 of the NGL course. The reading was actually part of the old version of the course and it was brought over into this offering as it gives a brief summary of some of the academic perspectives around identity, trajectories and community.

To be up front I’ve never been a big fan of the Communities of Practice (CoP) model. Initially because my first experience of CoPs were flawed attempts to use the CoP model to increase the engagement of academics with learning and teaching. They always failed to create a sense of community (at least beyond the small handful of people who were driving the creation of the CoP) and because I’m almost inherently opposed to the “happy-clappy we all one big community” ethos that underpinned the approach.

So it was with some relief when Stephen Downes expressed a distinction – that I felt much more at home with – between groups and networks and extended by others. It was also nice to hear Goodyear and Carvalho (2014) suggest

some writers and educational practitioners enamored of the ‘communities of practice’ or ‘learning communities’ labels can be accused of undue romanticism (n.p)

Some of this perspective may be evident in the following.

Academic identity

Jawitz (2009) has a particular focus on identity in higher education (the context for the case being explored) which may make this a little less directly applicable to some NGL participants but works for me.

The argument is that identity is influenced by both individual and structural aspects, especially the communities the individual belongs to. In terms of higher education Jawtiz (2009) suggests that both “the discipline and the institution play an important role in the development of academic identity” (p. 242).

Which perhaps points to some of the trouble I have with my identity as a teacher/researcher/academic.

Which discipline do I belong to? My academic career has perhaps been best defined as moving disciplines and rarely feeling as if I belong. I started in academia teaching Information Technology. From one perspective that was very satisfying, focusing on the technology and manipulating it to do useful things for yourself. Not having to worry about the messy complexity and intransigence of people (did students count?). But then I started building (e-learning) systems to be used by other people, and they didn’t.

That led to a transition to the Information Systems discipline. A discipline that looks at the combination of the hardware, software and wetware required to get such systems working. This is where my PhD is situated, but I wasn’t there long enough to belong. It doesn’t help that it’s not the most settled and confident of disciplines. On one side the IT/computer science folk think they are the only ones that know about hardware/software, and on the other the remainder of the business disciplines think they are the only ones that know about the wetware. The idea the at the combination of these perspectives is different doesn’t fit within our hierarchical world.

From Information Systems I moved briefly into central learning and teaching at a University. Talk about a hierarchical world and a place I never fit. The assumptions underpinning such work just never worked for me (nor perhaps me for it).

So now I find myself employed as an education academic. Someone responsible for teaching pre-service educators (teachers). I’m approaching the end of my 3rd year in this role and at my current institution. I think I’m only starting to feel like a resident of Toowoomba/Darling Downs, the trek toward seeing myself as a teacher educator is taking a bit longer. There are a lot of reasons for this.

Jawtiz (2009) suggests that for academics

teaching is viewed as a generic activity that lies ‘on top of’ the ‘real’ academic work, namely research, and is ‘unconnected with the disciplinary community at the heart of being an academic’ (Neumann 2001, p 144) (p. 242)

While this resonates with my experience in other disciplines. I don’t think this can apply to education academics. Anecdotal observations of my colleagues seems to suggest that particular perspectives on teaching are a core of the discipline and of their identity. For some this is evidence by their strong identification with being a teacher of a particular specialisation/discipline (early childhood, primary, mathematics etc) that is strongly connected with their pre-University teaching career. A connection that I perhaps pay more attention to than they due to it being absent for me.

That said, the suggestion that teaching can be “characterized as an individual private affair” (Jawitz, 2009, p. 242) still largely remains the case. In part due to the increasingly online component of teaching, which due to the LMS remains enshrined as private due to default access control. However, I wonder if it is also due to a combination of limited time and because of how core particular approaches to and conceptions of teaching/learning are to identity. I’ve observed quite strong defenses of particular approaches to teaching amongst my education colleagues. Perhaps a little stronger and typically better informed than those I’ve seen from my colleagues in other disciplines.

I wonder, if an education academic’s identity is more tightly dependent on conceptions of learning/teaching/education, it would have to be harder to get them to adopt new approaches (e.g. NGL) than other academics. In particular when those approaches that challenge any of the pillars of that individual’s identity. For example, a move to online learning when all prior experience of teaching has been in the face-to-face classroom. What might this say about the challenge facing the education system from the type of NGL factors we’re looking at in the NGL course?

Research alert: I wonder what research has been done exploring the interaction between “teacher identity” and online learning? Not the conceptions of teaching stuff (e.g. Gonzalez, 2009), but teacher identity.

Given the on-going rhetoric about how university-based teacher educators are so disconnected from the realities of teaching in a school, I find it interesting to observe how their prior roles as “school teacher” continues to be an important part of their identity.

Identity construction and participation

This is where Jawitz (2009) draws on situated learning theory, communities of practice, and activity systems to explain how participation in a community can influence (be influenced by) identity formation. The idea is that different types of participation leads to the evolution of practices and the shaping, re-shaping and transformation of identities. The “paradigmatic trajectories” are introduced.

Adapted from Jawitz (2009, p. 243)
Trajectory Description
Inbound Where newcomers’ identities are invested in their future as full members of a specific community of practice.
Boundary Where newcomers aim to sustain participation and membership across the boundaries of different communities of practice.
Peripheral Where newcomers do not aim for full membership but where limited ‘access to a community and its practice … (is) significant enough to contribute to one’s identity’.
Outbound While being directed out of a community may involve ‘developing new relation- ships, finding a different position with respect to a community, and seeing the world and oneself in new ways’

When I think about my own trajectory I wonder whether I need to have only one label? Do I have to focus on one community/network?

For me, membership of a number of communities is inherent in the position. I’m potentially a member of: the school (organisational unit of academics in my current university); researchers looking at higher education’s attempt to harness ICT and pedagogy; people teaching ICT and pedagogy to pre-service educators; developers of Moodle plugins etc. Almost by definition I’m a boundary rider.

Is this again another reason why networks are a better fit than communities?

Some of the networks I’m happy to remain on the periphery (e.g. learning analytics researchers) and others I’m almost certainly going to have to head inbound (some slower than others) simply because I engage with that network more than others. For example, while I don’t feel like I’m currently a full member of the school, I can feel how the shared experiences (especially with the universities various administrative processes) is exerting its gravitational pull and dragging me in.

While agency is mentioned as a major deciding factor in the trajectory an individual takes, I can’t help but feel that’s a little simple. What about the agency of the other members of the community, the nature of the community etc? What are the factors that influence the individual’s agency? e.g. does my continuing sense of limited membership of these communities arise from the fact that I’m a cynical introvert incapable of making a connection? Or perhaps I’m a truly innovative, deep thinker destined to never find a home? (more likely the former I think)

It’s some of these questions which are possibly most interesting to me and the task of how to design NGL learning environments.

I imagine that the identity/CoP literature has addressed these and related questions.


Gonzalez, C. (2009). Conceptions of, and approaches to, teaching online: a study of lecturers teaching postgraduate distance courses. Higher Education, 57(3), 299–314.

Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2014). Introduction: Networked learning and learning networks. In P. Goodyear & L. Carvalho (Eds.), The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks. New York: Routledge.

Jawitz, J. (2009). Academic identities and communities of practice in a professional discipline. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(3), 241–251.

Who are some good folk to follow re: network learning

I’m building an initial list of people (some additional folk are listed below) who might be considered “good to follow” for the participants of the course I’m teaching on Network and Global Learning which potentially covers topics/terms/phrases such as connected learning, open learning, connectivism, PLEs etc.

The intent is that this list (which the participants will also contribute to) will provide some initial pointers for the participants to explore. The only criteria is that they are saying/doing something interesting related to “network learning”.

Who do you think should be on the list?

Some additional thoughts (in no particular order): George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, Barry Welmlman, George Veletsianos, Bonnie Stewart, Audrey Watters, Jesse Stommel, Jim Groom, Gardner Campbell, Chris Bigum, Joyce Seitzinger, Clay Shirky, Dave Cormier, Evgeny Morozov……

Me as learner – WoW, MMPORGs and learning

Week 1 of the Networked and Global Learning (NGL) course asks the participants to think and write about what they would like to learn. It’s meant to be something other than the principles of NGL and is intended to be something that can be learned through the use of NGL. What follows is my contribution and plans.

What would you like to learn? Why?

My plan is to learn how to play World of Warcraft (WoW) one of the archetypal massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORG). Though perhaps “play” doesn’t really capture the full intent/complexity of participating in WoW.

There are a number of reasons for doing picking WoW

  1. To illustrate a different type of learning.

    I had originally considered using this task as an opportunity to spend more tie re-learning the clarinet (you can hear an early exploration of this on SoundCloud). However, I feel that’s a topic that’s a bit too close to a topic you might learn via a more formal course/learning approach. One of the aims of participating in this activity is to set the example and illustrate something that is quite a bit different. A game is not something many associate with learning.

  2. I’ve always wanted to.

    I’m a frustrated (by time and energy) gamer. I owned a copy of Warcraft (an offline early version of WoW) ages ago and have been aware of MMPORGs for ages. An old friend was completely hooked on them back in the late 1980s/early 1990s when they were a text only affair. More recently I’ve observed vicariously tweeps like @sthcrft and @edugnome report on their explorations of WoW via Twitter. More recently I enjoyed playing Skyrim. So this seems like a perfect opportunity to justify spending a bit of time getting into it.

  3. I can.

    For many years I lived in a rural setting where I didn’t have the broadband connection to play a game like WoW. That’s changed.

  4. It’s a challenge.

    I’m an introvert. I’m the quiet guy that sits up the back in a class, doesn’t really talk, hates the idea of group work and is more than happy to work through something on his own. The idea of working with other people to play a game is a challenge. I’ve tended to avoid this, time to challenge myself.

  5. Exploring a metaphor for courses.

    The rise of gamification – especially in education – is driven by the observation that millions of people (including many people who are not successful participants in formal education) spend huge amounts of enjoyable time learning quite complex bits of knowledge through games. If games can achieve that, why can’t formal education be more like games?

    As someone responsible for a course that averages 300+ people in its largest semester, I want to see what I can learn from participating in WoW that might translate.

  6. A different but successful example of “networked learning”.

    WoW apparently has over 7 million subscribers. Creating a world in which millions of people actively participate requires significant skills. As an example of networked learning what formal education does pales into insignificance. The biggest MOOCs I’ve seen mentioned are talking about one or two hundred thousand participants. You call that a community? This is a community?

How suited do you think it will be to learning via NGL?

An absolutely great fit. Large numbers of people. A huge community around the game. A complicated world in the game with a huge array of roles and possibilities. The necessity at some stage to join with others to achieve more complex tasks….and the other reasons I gave above.

As I was writing this post I did a bit of searching in the literature. A taste of what I found follows.

Seely-Brown (2006, p. 21) describes gaming this way

The first thing you realize is that most video games are incredibly difficult to master. If you’re not extremely good at pattern recognition, sense-making in confusing environments, and multitask- ing—and if you’re afraid to constantly explore and push the limits—then you won’t do well in the game world. In this world you immerse yourself in an immensely complex, information-rich, dynamic environment where you must sense, infer, decide, and act quickly. When you fail, you must learn from that failure and try again and again and again. Continuous decision-making in conditions of uncertainty is the essential skill.

The difficulty of learning a game itself will be a good test of NGL. Can the community around WoW help learn the game. The need to become a member of a community (a guild) to proceed further in the game also offers some possibilities of insights into the notion of community as talked about in the NGL literature.

What will be the benefits and the barriers?

I’m guessing it could be a time sink. Too enjoyable to give up. But beyond that not many barriers.

But that level of enjoyment is also a benefit. It also requires me to break out of the web/social media perspective of NGL. I’ve been stuck in that view for a very long time. Long overdue to break out of it.

What is learning?

Now that’s a question! Or a can of worms when you involve academics and a topic that could take up a course.

The Wikipedia definition current starts with

Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves. Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.

I can live with that.

@cj13 did point towards this article which takes aim at associationism largely seen as the underpinning mechanism of learning which I found interesting.

Rather than delving further into that can of worms, time to move on to other work and hopefully some first steps in WoW tonight.


Seely-Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change, (October), 18–24.