The following is a summary and touch of reflection on Couros (2010) and is the another step in thinking about the design/implementation of a course I’m working on.

Thoughts and to do

As expected a good overview/rationale for the type of approach I’m interested in exploring with EDC3100. Some interesting departures to think about. For example,

  • Alec’s course had 16 registered students, mine will have 200+ (first semester), perhaps another 80+ (second semester) and possibly have to be taught by someone else in semester 3.
  • Alec’s much more effective and engaged with his PLN than I am.
  • Alec’s course is post-graduate, mine is under graduate.

to do

  • Look at Tabak’s (2004) concept of distributed scaffolding.
  • Engage in an analysis of the learning environment available for EDC3100. Is Moodle appropriate? Would a self-hosted WordPress be a better fit? Having 200, rather then 20, registered students is an argument for Moodle (perhaps).
  • Think about the question about whether to be overly explicit in terms of what students should post to the blog, or take the more open approach.
  • How many of the student blogs are still active today?
  • Over time it appears there’s been a move away from the Wiki assessment, I wonder why that is?
  • Is it still difficult/different to read social media?


Tells the story of EC&I831 an open access, graduate level, educational technology course at the University of Regina in 2008. 8 non-registered participants for every official student. Experience provided insight into the potential for leveraging PLNs in open access and distance education.


Course title – “Open, Connected Social”. Fully online course developed using FOSS and freely available services. Design demonstrate “open teaching methodologies: educational practices inspired by the open source movement, complementary learning theory and emerging theories of knowledge. Students builts PLNs to “collaboratively explore, negotiate and develop authentic and sustainable knowledge networks”. Couros (2010, p. 110) writes

It is my hope in writing this chapter that I capture and document relevant reflections and activities to provide starting points for those considering open teaching as educational innovation

That’s what I’m looking for Alec.

Three sections

  1. key theoretical foundations;
  2. the course experience
  3. discoveries related to the role of PLNs, techniques for developing and leveraging PLNs in DE courses and the role of emerging technologies.

Theoretical foundations

  1. The open movement
    Educators participating in FOSS communities had strong tendencies toward: collaboration, sharing, openness in classroom activities and professional collaborations. Technology was a barrier, but Web 2.0 etc addressed this. Now they could easily create, share, collaborate. Added is the greater availability of educational relevant content. So much so that

    The dilemma of the educator shifted quickly from a perceived lack of choice and accessibility to having to acquire the skills necessary to choose wisely from increased options.

  2. Complementary learning theories
    Influences include:

    • social cognitive theory – suggests it is the combination of behavioural, cognitive and environmental factors that influence human behaviour. People learn through observations of others. Self-efficacy is important.
    • social constructivism and
      Related to the above. Sociocultural context and social interaction are important for knowledge construction. Tabak’s (2004) concept of distributed scaffolding – an emerging approach to learning design.
    • adult learning theory.
      Adults learn differently from kids, which results in principles such as: adults be involved in planning/evaluating their instruction; experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities; interest is generated from subjects that have immediate relevance to their job/life; learning is problem-centred rather than content-oriented.
  3. Connectivism
    Heavily influenced by theories of social constructivism, network theory and chaos theory. Digital technologies become important to learning. Stresses metaskills of evaluating and managing information and the importance of pattern recognition as a learning strategy.
  4. Open teaching
    Defined as Couros (2010 p. 115)

    Open teaching is described as the facilitation of learning experiences that are open, transparent, collaborative, and social. Open teachers are advocates of a free and open knowledge society, and support their students in the critical consumption, production, connection, and synthesis of knowledge through the shared development of learning networks.

    Typical activities of open teachers include

    • Use of FOSS tools where possible and beneficial.
    • Integration of free/open content into L&T.
    • Promotion of copyleft content licences
    • Help students understand copyright law.
    • Help students build PLNs for collaborative and sustained learning.
    • Development of learning environments that are reflective, responsive, student-centered and incorporate diverse learning strategies.
    • Modelling openness, transparency, connectedness and responsible copyright etc. use.
    • advocacy for the participation and development of collaborative gift cultures in education and society.

    That last one is interesting

The course

20 registered students. Mostly practicing teachers or educational administrators. Normally there is a maximum of 16 students (I wish). Development funded by $30,000 government grant. Important: this funding was not used in the design and development side, but instead on hiring learning assistants who “were hired as social connectors, and their primary responsibilities were to support students in the development of PLNs” (Courous, 2010, p. 117)

In terms of selecting a learning environment, WebCT, Moodle, and Ning were rejected. Wikispaces was adopted. Wikispaces (hosted) was used. The site 2007-2010) and now. Have moved to a WordPress site (by the looks).

Course facilitation model

  • Major assessment (3) guided the activities
    1. Personal blog/digital portfolio
      Student responsible for developing a digital space to document their learning through readings and activities. For many these became showcases and acted as distributed communication portals. Most remain active beyond the end date.
    2. Collaborative development of an educational technology wiki resource
      Wiki with collaborative content.

      I’m wondering how collaborative this process was? A group or a network (a la Downes).

    3. Student-chosen major digital project.
      Range of projects (produce videos, instructional resources, social networking activities, participation in global collaborative projects, development of private social networks etc) developing resource specific to their professional context.

    It’s changed a bit and is described somewhat on the assessments page

  • Tools and interactions
    1. Synchronous events
      Two each week. 1.5-2 hours. First on content knowledge in form of invited presenters. Connect/elluminate and used and associated recordings. The second was a hands-on session for technical skills and pedagogical possibilities.

      Combination Skype and became the preferred method for video conferencing. How is explained here

    2. Asynchronous activities
      • reading, reviewing and critiquing course readings in blogs.
      • sharing resources through social bookmarking.
      • Creation of screencasts, tutorials etc for personal learning and that of others.

      And a bunch of others including reading blogs, participation in open professional development, posting content to open sites, microblogging, collaborative wiki design and collaborative design of lesson plans. Most were unplanned.

PLNs in Distance education

First session in course was closed and explanatory. The author’s PLN became important to support the model. Which does raise the question of how someone without the author’s PLN might go.

Conceptualising PLN

Mentions absence of definition and the need to discern PLE from PLN. Offers two images (click on these to see the original) The old and new style “PLN”. A discussion picked up a bit more online here. In short it appears that the PLE are the tools, processes etc that allow management of learning. The definition used for PLN

personal learning networks are the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment.

TypicalTeacherNetwork by courosa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  courosa 
Networked Teacher Diagram - Update by courosa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  courosa 

PLNs for teaching and learning

Strategies deemed effective in the course

  • Immerse yourself.
    i.e. use and understanding of the social media tools, how they can be used, and how the students can use them.
  • Learn to read social media.
    Social media is read much differently than traditional media. Tools aren’t great. Need to use what’s available.
  • Strengthen your PLN
    Creating content and commenting on the work of others is important.
  • Know your connections
    Be aware of skills/backgrounds of PLN allow identifying who can help students.
  • PLNs central to learning
    Courses/communities hosted in the institutional LMS die. The community in this course lived on.

Final thoughts

two questions often asked after conference presentations on this

  1. How did you get away with this?
    Institutional support for open teaching is essential. Colleagues are “constructively critical of technology, but strongly supportive of innovation in teaching and learning”.
  2. Where did you find the time to teach this way?
    Good teaching always requires more time


Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance education (pp. 109–128). AU Press.

Tabak, I., (2004). Synergy: A complement to emerging patterns of distributed
scaffolding. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 305–335.