Yesterday I attended a session by George Siemens with the title “Extending the classroom: Open content and open teaching”. The presentation was video-conferenced from the Sunshine Coast to a range of locations across Australia. I was in a room at CQUniversity in Rockhampton with quite a number of folk. What follows are my reflections on that talk.


A good talk for starting discussions and thinking amongst folk who may not have come across these ideas previous. Also a good talk for identifying a couple of resources, perspectives and quotes for those that have heard some of it before. My recollection was that the talk had three main sections, separate by Q&A from around the sites. The three sections were

  1. What do we know about learning?
    This was summarised in 6 points. Good learning is

    • Social
    • Situated
    • Incorporates prior learning/existing knowledge
    • Requires reflection
    • Is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional – considers the “whole person”
    • Is distributed between people, minds and tools.

    George references the Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences (Amazon and Google books) as the source of much of this.

  2. What is technologies role in learning?
    Another 6 points

    • Access
    • Presence
    • Expression
    • Creation
    • Interaction/co-creation
    • Aggregation

    These were illustrated with examples of existing Web 2.0 tools

  3. Openness, in its various forms
    With the groundwork established, the next step was to talk about openness. At this stage there were a number of examples of different types of openness, I didn’t write them down. So I’m sure I missed at least one. What I remember included

    • Content
    • Teaching
    • Accreditation

    Very quickly at the end there were four steps/suggestions for starting to be more open

    • Use Open Educational Resources (OER)
    • Share resources
    • Work collaboratively to produce OERs
    • Experiment with open/transparent teaching


Various somewhat related reflections or thoughts from the talk follow.

Importance of context, of place

A number of times the presented emphasised the importance of context. Of how the staff, the students, the content and the institution within which you were going to apply some idea should play a major role in the considerations you go through when planning an implementation. What you do in your context might not be the same as someone else has done.

This resonated strongly with me as it’s a foundation of my practice. In the Ps Framework stuff “place” is an important, if not the most important consideration when looking at the application of educational technology.

Who’s installed elgg or some other portfolio

The importance of place and how it is regularly ignored was reinforced for me in the discussion of e-portfolios. George was very positive about the benefits of e-portfolios. He mentioned the elgg is perhaps the best/most popular e-portfolio tool to have adopted a social media approach.

I’m now waiting for someone at the session, or someone they talk to, to be asking about or attempting to install elgg and think about using in their course. This is one example of how the “product” (in terms of the Ps Framework) overwhelms consideration of “place”, of context. How fads and fashions arise in educational technology and organisational/management practice in general.

This is not to suggest the elgg or e-portfolios is a bad idea, there is some value in them. If they are appropriate for the organisational context. If they are adopted because of a large organisational need and not because someone heard or read something positive about the idea.

Systemic constraints on innovation

A regular theme throughout the talk was that the “systemic structure is a drag on innovation”. i.e. the organisational policies and structures were a major limiting factor on what can be done in terms of innovation.

Technologies embody a perspective

Another common point, but one not well recognised or understood in terms of its impacts within institutions is the idea that all technologies embody a particular perspective. They tend to serve the purposes of the designer. When it comes to learning management systems Col has written about some of the limitations of the purpose they embody.

Teaching is a learning process and its implication for staff development/curriculum design

My occasional responsibility is associated with how do you improve the quality of learning and teaching at a university. In relation to this task, George’s talk, and in particular the 6 things we know about learning lead me to reflect on teaching being learning.

Traditionally, at most institutions teaching is seen as something different than learning. In particular, it usually embodies the idea that the academic teacher knows it all and has the task of sharing his/her expertise with the learners. The learners learn and the teacher teaches.

All the best teachers I know, have treated teaching as a learning process. As they are “teaching” they are also learning about what is working and what isn’t. Learning about the content they are teaching and what pedagogy works best and what technology works best within the place in which they operate for the people they are “teaching”.

Assuming then that it would be a good idea to encourage this practice of teaching as learning then the organisational units responsible for helping academics teach should be aiming to help them learn how to do it better.

Which brings us back to the 6 things we know about learning and how well they apply to the practice of helping teaching staff learn.

  • Social – How much of the design, development and delivery of a course is social? How much of it depends upon and actively uses social connections and activities between multiple academics?
  • Situated – How much of this occurs during the act of teaching? Not at the start of the end, but during the act? How much support do staff receive during term?
  • Incorporates prior learning/existing knowledge – How much of the “support” is tailored to the differing capabilities and backgrounds of the learners? How much of it is delivered at a consistent level, assuming that all are starting from the same place?
  • Requires reflection – How, if at all, is reflection by teaching staff encouraged and assisted in a way that is both situated and social?
  • Is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional – considers the “whole person” – How much of this support moves beyond purely efficiency and effectivess aproaches and looks at the affective?
  • Is distributed between people, minds and tools – What examples/supports/tools/processes are teaching staff provided with that encourage and enable distributed cognition about how they practice L&T? How much of it is locked away within the heads of individuals?


  • Could the presence of the above 6 be used to evaluate/identify good courses/teaching/teachers?
  • If the above 6 were used as the basis for designing processes for helping teaching staff teach, what would it look like?