Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: August 2014 Page 1 of 2

Personality and other factors in education

Tracey’s found her blogging mojo with a raft of posts (new since I last looked) including this one linking to work that identifies conscientiousness as the main secret to success in much of life. The focus on personality is in common the connections to Myers-Briggs and related ideas that Brendon and Anne have touched on.

Tried one of the tests Brendon pointed to and it confirmed earlier results – INTP. So at least it’s somewhat reliable in a broad, “I haven’t changed much” sort of a way. Even if there are some significant questions about it. I wonder whether this labeling of me makes sense to the other NGL participants?

Tracey’s post links to some more work that the current formal education system is set up to reward “dependability, perseverance, consistency, following orders, punctuality, and deferring gratification” and penalise “creativity, aggressiveness, and independence” suggesting that schools “promote individuals with the personality traits most associated with ‘good workers.'”.

i.e. the factory model of formal education produces what it is required of it be the type of society that set it up.

As the folk that participate in a course like NGL (both teacher and student), I wonder whether we’re coloured by our time in school? Is this something that might explain part of the struggles getting underway in NGL?

Tracey ends with the $64K question

How do we encourage educators to adopt methodologies that support such learning?

As alluded to in my last post, I’m pessimistic about whether this is possible as achieving that requires systemic change. Or perhaps more explicitly a change in the system and its foundational assumptions. Something which would appear very difficult to happen under current management approaches.

Can you really expect educators change their practices, when the organisation remains the same?

Can you expect educators to be digitally fluent when their organisation isn’t digitally fluent? Another member of staff commented today that our institution appears caught in this really strange nether world between an old paper-based organisation and a “network age” organisation. As evidenced by the struggles to get a form signed.

Can a network model of learning and teaching exist in such an environment?

On trying to be optimistic in a stupid world

It’s been an “interesting” few weeks destined to challenge the optimism of the most optimistic person – of which I’m not. Broader events in the world do appear to be the outcome of a conspiracy to rob the world of optimism. Mix in some personal woes – death of a grandparent, illness (no great problem), interruptions to routine brought on my Apple’s inability to provide a working iPhone, and the stupidity of organisations (especially universities that have been recently restructured) – and it’s definitely a time for pessimism.

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

Antonio Gramsci by flickrenric, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  flickrenric 

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve come across this quote from Antonio Gramsci

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

It resonates as my pessimism (i.e. my inability to whitewash the limitations of a solution with the supposed benefits) often gets me labelled as “being negative”. Which always struck me as unfair as most of what I do in terms of “research” has been “design research” and informed by the optimistic view that it can be made better. Hence the tag line for this blog.

Lately I’ve found myself sinking into a more negative form of pessimism, perhaps brought on the difficulty (due to organisational stupidity, and not a small part of my own) I’ve had getting back into “making things better”. Perhaps this is a realisation that my sanity needs time being able to make things better.

Perhaps linking to Bryan Alexander’s point

I lost sight of human capacity and agency

in a round about way. My own feeling of agency has been taking a beating.

What could be with a blank cheque

Which makes it interesting to come across related struggles, solved in part by focusing more on what could be.

Bryan Alexander started the ball rolling with his post – “Returning to optimism” in which he diagnoses the source of his gloom as being “Analyzing education at the macro level in 2013-14”. Interesting much of my current malaise arises from working within education at the micro-level. Bryan describes his failure as

of late I’ve failed to pay enough attention to the positive developments. And I haven’t been open enough to the ways we can shove history around and make things better.

Anne shares some of the malaise of dealing with the micro-level of education

Over the last several years, I have watched as policy, curriculum changes and the great scrabble for implementation and compliance have gradually begun to suck all the fun out of learning! Our schools days are so cram-packed with achieving outcomes so that boxes can be ticked and grades can be assigned that the process of learning and discovery has been compromised.

But then explains how she and others are taking steps to “shove history around and make things better”. Like Brendon is thinking about, Anne has implemented a “Genius hour” in her class with positive results

What a change I saw in my students. We both found ourselves looking forward to Friday afternoons

In terms of think about what could be, Anne links to an interview some middle school students did with Sir Ken Robinson in which he was given a blank cheque “to design a learning place of his dreams”.

Brown fields, green fields and systemic change

Of course, this brings me to this point from (emphasis added)Siemens (2008)

Yet, in spite of small-scale innovation, new methods typically do not result in new spaces and structures of learning. As noted by David (1990), new innovations are adopted in the context of existing physical spaces. Changes of a more significant and profound nature need to be enacted at a system-wide level. The adoptions of blogs and wikis in classrooms, or use of Second Life and other virtual worlds, or the use of social networks to connect learners with peers around the world, still occur largely within a classroom context. To truly harness the transformative potential of new technologies, change at a systemic level is required.

Add in some points from Dave Snowden from this presentation and it’s not hard for pessimism (or perhaps negativity) to rear it’s ugly head. One of the points Snowden makes is that in human systems

you are always dealing with people’s perceptions of the present and memories of the past….you never get to build on green fields. You are always building on what’s called brownfields.

In the absence of my iPhone I’ve been sent back to physical books as the source of reading material. The two most recent I’ve been reading are Confronting managerialism: How the business elite and their schools threw our lives out of balance and “An Elusive Science: The troubling history of education research. Both a historical pieces, one of the rise of managerialisation and the US-based business schools and the other on education in the US. Both show how entrenched the idea the quantitatively focused, hierarchical mindset of management/control is in both fields. Which is only increasing Australian universities and will only increase more.

The idea of a greenfield free of these “memories of the past” seem unlikely as does building the type of systemic change that is necessary on the dirty brown fields of today’s education system. A topic Anne picks up in her follow up post.

The cost of being flexible and pushing the boundaries

For some time Australian universities have led an increasing mantra around increasing flexibility. An inevitable repercussion of the vast majority of students not being full-time learners, but instead having to balance family, work and study, is that study comes last. Family and work pressures lead to difficulty in meeting set deadlines for assessment, hence the call for flexibility. I’m actually all for that increase in flexibility, but it comes at a cost.

This post is evidence of that cost. We’ve just started week 6 of second semester and I’ve got three assignments from last semester to mark due to the need for flexibility. As it happens with this course I’ve engaged in a bit of development to do things a little differently. That’s all well and good, but when you’re kludging together technical solutions flexibility isn’t typically deeply considered at the “design” stage.

That last post reported on the evolution of the kludge I use to the next generation. Now I need to go back make sure that evolution will work properly for the previous generation so I can mark these assignments. Work that will never show up in institutional work allocation calculations or in the budget for IT.

What I’m finding particularly concerning about this extra work is that I’ve only got finite reserves of time and cognitive energy. Doing this is taking time away from current students, but it’s also taking time away from thinking about the learning experience of students and how it can be improved. Does the cost I expend doing these changes outweigh any potential benefit to students?


Importing activity completion

  1. Moodle users working? – DONE

    Need to identify course id and groups.

    The semester 1 course is much larger than semester 2 and has more offerings. Hence more groups. So rather than work with a single group, it needs to be able to work with a list of groups.

  2. Are we starting with the right first activity at 150000?
  3. Ensure only activities that count have activity completion turned on in the course site. – DONE

Updating the report

  1. Mapping activities to weeks
  2. making sure the mirror of blog posts is up to date.

An hour later, seems to be working and I can get to marking.

One process for the NGL course

One of the other participants shared her current position with NGL

I’ve also found it a bit tricky to get my head around all the components I need to cover off on in my blogs for assignment 1, as there seems to be a lot of different pieces we need to address. Hoping this will become a bit clearer to me as I go along.

In an attempt to help I’ve outlined below the basic process I’ve used in fits and starts. The reason why I haven’t done more of the follow process links more to factors external to the course and the process. But I haven’t engaged as much in this process as I’d have liked. Also, this is a process that works for me and where I’m at right now. It may not work for anyone else. So take the following with a grain of salt and as one example and certainly not as an exemplar or the “one way” to do it. In the end it’s important that you develop an approach that works for you.

I’m thinking I might share this more broadly as I think it might help the odd other person.


First, have a PKM process that centres around Feedly as my main “seeking” mechanism. All the feeds etc go there supplemented by the weekly pages linked from the study schedule. Perhaps the biggest tool/seeking mechanism that sits outside of Feedly is twitter. A great source of unexpected connections.


Second, whenever I’m doing or reading anything about the course or NGL in general I should consider it from three perspectives

  1. As learner – I.e. How does this connect with what I’m doing around learning World of Warcraft? How can this help me understand what I’ve experienced? How can it help me make plans for changes to how I participate?
  2. As teacher – same questions almost but connected to my thinking about how I’ll evolve both courses I teach (this one and EDC3100).
  3. As student – focused more on how I’m thinking about and engaging with the course readings, the blog posts of others and the resources shared via Diigo. How does the experience of using my PKM process compare with other approaches to learning? How does it fit (or not) with how I like to learn? What can I do to change and improve my learning in this course? Etc.

For me, an important part of the “sense” phase is to write summary blogs of any readings. For example, this one. These are meant not to only give a summary of the reading, but also to record my initial reactions to the paper and what linkages I think might exist with what I’m thinking about as learner, teacher and student. This does take longer than simply reading an article, but it does encourage me to read and consider the article more deeply (something I need) and it also provides a record of my thoughts that I can come back to at a later date.


As part of the sense process I’d be writing it all down in blog posts. Not just thinking about it. In some cases what I do is start a blog post and just jot down rough ideas and links to what sparked those ideas. So that later I can come back and fill them out.

In other cases I write them straight out. The idea is not that these are polished, complete formal bits of academic writing. They are quick mind dumps an example of working through ideas and thoughts. Often with fairly significant flaws and unfinished thinking. The point is to get the thinking down, because I find that writing about it helps. More importantly making my thinking publish has often led to an unexpected bit of learning as someone makes a point or connection about what I’ve written.

Importantly, I need to make sure that as I’m writing these posts I’m making explicit connections with both what other participants have written and also with various readings, both those set from each week and also others that I find and follow up with because they link with what I need to discover/understand about me as learner, teacher and student.

As part of the above process I also come across resources etc as I follow various leads. Some of these I’ll share via Diigo

Ahh Mendeley and freemium tools

You don’t have to be rich to invest in i by joe.ross, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  joe.ross 

I’ve been using Mendeley for a few years now. Generally fairly happy with it. Move to it from Endnote after the bad experience of using it for the PhD thesis. Have heard that more recent versions of Endnote may not be as horrible anymore, but Mendeley has me locked in a little (better the devil you now etc).

In theory Mendeley has some nice support for groups and I thought that NGL would be a good opportunity to try this out. At the very least the currently group approach I used would allow sharing of the references and we could always explore a bit further. The sharing of annotations on documents sounded useful.

This week I found out you can’t share documents in a public group. Had assumed this might have been connected to copyright of articles etc. But no, that was me being naive. Apparently it’s part of a Freemium strategy.

Mendeley supports the notion of both private and public groups with a private group you can

upload files to which only a selected set of people have access to. Each member can collaboratively contribute to this group too – adding new papers, updating document details and by annotating and highlighting PDF files.

Public groups allow you to curate a reading list, but not share the documents.

Private groups are limited to 3 people, but the premium subscription package allows you to grow your private groups. In fact, it appears that a free account can only have 1 private group.

A team plan will allow you to have more, but the base rate for a team plan is $49 (USD I assume) a month and that’s for 5 group collaborators.

Looks like we won’t be playing with that feature of Mendeley in NGL.

Should probably look for an alternative myself at some stage. Some thoughts from @thesiswhisperer on the possibilities (and with a lot of comments of people sharing their perspective).

And more NGL catch up

I had a choice to make. Do a bit of prep of content for the next week of NGL or make more connections with what folk have been doing? I’ve decided that the later is more important and long overdue.

Wonder what the participants think?

Technology or Pedagogy? – EduDoggy

Musette makes an interesting point about what she’d have liked more of in her post-grad education course

In the subjects around ICT and teaching and learning I would have loved more of an opportunity to play with different technologies and learn about how they work and can be used

As a “technologists” teaching in an education program I’ve always been questioning of the balance between pedagogy/theory and technology. The previous version of NGL matched many of the prior courses that Musette and Mari have discussed. Readings, discussion forum posts, write an essay. Not much focus on technology at all.

I wonder how much of this arises from the “digital fluency” of the teaching staff involved? How much is from them being education experts? In much the same way that my courses perhaps include more technology because, in part, that’s where my expertise is. But I also wonder how much of it comes from a view that technology isn’t that important. That it’s important that pedagogy is considered first. My current view is in line with the point Goodyear et al (2014) make about dualistic perspectives (technology or pedagogy) being limited and a relational perspective as being much more useful.

A personal justification why both my courses include folk engaging with technology as part of their learning. Engaging in the complex entanglement of technology and theory/people is much more useful and effective than studying technology from afar.

How far can all this go?

Paul asks

  1. Whether social media will guide the future of learning or will learning shape social media?

    For me this is a good link back to the relational perspective mentioned above. I don’t think it will be one or the other, it will be both plus a whole range of other factors.

  2. Whether there is any limit to NGL?

    As it happens, we’ll look at some of this in a week or two. To identify where I come from, the limits largely reside with us. Human beings are inherently irrational and stuck in the ways of thinking. Especially when in groups.

    I tend to think individuals will get more out of NGL quicker than formal education will.

    e.g. even with some of the smartest technology brains currently around, the xMOOC crowd gave us lectures with quizzes!

This appears to link nicely with another of Paul’s questions

So if educational institutions are supposed to be as that lovely quote from Men in Black, ‘the best of the best of the best’ then surely shouldn’t they be at the forefront of networked and global learning and not relying upon out-of-the-box solutions?

Networked learning and functional efficiency

Philip comes across a claim in the literature that I hadn’t heard before

It has also been suggested that networked learning offers educational institutions more functional efficiency, in that the curriculum can be more tightly managed centrally, or in the case of vocational learning, it can reduce costs to employers and tax payers

The tighter central management of the curriculum is possible with certain types of ICT, especially the large single enterprise system approach inherent in the LMS. However, the type of radically networked approach in NGL makes this a little harder (though not impossible).

The social cyborg

Philip finds and reports on an article “Dawn of the social cyborg”. Beyond the disruptive changes with IT, globalisation etc it suggests that the next big challenge to corporate learning environments is the “appearance of a new species of learner” called the social cyborg and I quote

It’s helpful to think of these people as a distinct species, one that has evolved unique capabilities to take advantage of networked people and information systems

This challenges corporate learning with extinction as they become irrelevant. The solution is new tool sets, skill sets and mindsets.

Frankly, I’m not sure that the need wasn’t there all along. The “4 steps to best leverage the social cyborg in the workplace” strike me as particularly weak and inappropriate. The first one is to appoint a taskforce and draft a technology plan. Sounds like stone-age thinking to me.

Learning through community

Annelise’s latest post includes a nice quote related to an important idea in NGL

I now know that for me to become that master I must be engaged in a knowledge-based community in the real-world of writers who are further developing their craft.

The idea is that to learn to be a writer (or many other things) it’s very beneficial (perhaps best) to be engaged with a collection of people who are writing and sharing how and what they are doing. More so than attending a formal class on writing, or just reading a book.

Of course, there are numerous areas of interpretation within this, for example

  1. What exactly is meant by “community”?

    Many different definitions, some of which I don’t like, but in Annelise’s case she’s using a definition from Reil & Polin (2004) that she describes in more detail in her post.

  2. How do you engage most effectively?

    Really don’t think there are simple answers to this.

The reward of NGL?

Annelise also quotes her son

Maybe the lecturer is trying to show you how the real-world of blogging is like. To keep on doing it without reward, and how you need to be persistent.

Which begs the question of what is the reward that you expect from “the real-world of blogging”? What do you want, rather than what’s possible?

For much of my early blogging the reward was having a space to make random thinking a little more explicit. I didn’t really care whether others read or commented on what I was writing. However, seeing the stats trend upward was a motivating factor eventually. Getting comments are also great, but the value for me remains as a learning tool for myself. Certainly a tool enhanced by the input from others, but not necessarily required.

Assessment in NGL

Annelise also writes about assessment. The problems with more traditional forms of assessment and the difficulties I’ve mentioned in coming up with the criteria for NGL. The process we’ve used to formulate the criteria seems to have been a plus for Annelise, but I still think what’s been set remains questionable.

One of the problems I’ve faced is the assumption (from the institution and the participants) that there should be a clear expectation of what is required. It’s not surprising that students want to be able to answer the question, “What do I need to do to get the grade I want?”. But the problem I have here is that NGL is meant to be very open and emergent. What each participants learns from the course can’t possibly be predicted by me ahead of time. If this is the case, then how valid can a rubric or three designed ahead of time be? I’ve tried to use “generic” criteria related to reflection, learning, and participation but I still feel it can be improved. This is one area I’d like to explore “as teacher”, if I ever get the time.


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.

A bit more NGL catchup

Catching up with everyone in NGL is taking longer than I thought, mainly due to external factors. Here’s some more.

Stone-age facebook

It is interesting to see a reference to the “stone ages” that includes Facebook. I still remember explaining to my daughter how lame she was going to feel because she was still on MySpace and not Facebook. A pre-Facebook time.

Short cut kings

I really like this sentiment for a few reasons

We are shortcut kings really

Kat was talking about this in the context of Toolbelt Theory from @irasocol. I use this early in both my courses as it represents an approach to technology that I like on a number of levels. For example

The thing about toolbelts though, is that no two people ever really need the same one.
the trick to tool use is to learn to evaluate tasks and environments and your skills and the tools themselves as they change and determine what works best for you
The only way to allow students to assemble this essential toolbelt for information and communication is to to throw open your classroom and let the world in

It also brings to mind Kahneman’s (2011) idea of “fast” and “slow” thinking and the linkage that Goodyear and Carvalho (2014) make between it and networked learning

For example, in a learning task, there are often some aspects that require close attention – hard thinking – and others that do not. A well-designed task, and supporting resources, will act in ways that focus hard thinking on the parts o the work that are intended to leave a beneficial cognitive residue – in short, mental effort needs to be focused on what is core to the achievement of learning, on what is hard and important. Well-designed scaffolds, navigational cues and other kinds of procedural facilitation or performance support will mean that ‘slow thinking’ is not required for those enabling, but marginal, tasks.

Toolbelt theory is about individuals finding the tools that help them focus on the important tasks.

I wonder about the NGL course. I’m guessing many participants would argue that the first few weeks were really, really hard. Especially the need to learn a range of new tools. Shouldn’t this process have been scaffolded better?

Aspects of it could have been. However, there’s also a part of the difficulty that is required. Actually learning those tools and having difficulties with it are part of what is “hard and important” in the context of this course.

I also believe that many institutions of higher education have a lot of learn from this perspective. Too often I find myself wasting time on marginal tasks and expending energy that could be better spent on more important tasks.

The other illustration from this post is Kath’s mention of her dyslexia. As I was reading through her posts I had noticed the writing and wondered what I’d end up saying. With this post I now know what’s happening, not something that would always be readily apparent in a different type of course.

The links

I now find out that Kath plays WoW (which is more than I’ll claim for myself at this point in time, time is a problem). Her experience reinforces the importance of the community part of NGL and is illustrated nicely through the use of Diigo’s annotation ability.

Walled gardens and protection

Andrew and Anne share experiences with EdModo. A tool I played with a bit as I headed towards high school teaching. I wonder whether their perspective of Edmodo will evolve as they proceed further into the course?

For me, Edmodo isn’t that far removed from the LMS (learning management system). Yet another walled garden. Something that puts in barriers between the “real” world and the world of formal education. Of course, that’s a view formed from my context in higher education, many years struggling with the confines of the institutional LMS. I don’t have the same sorts of concerns about student protection (and societal expectations) that exist in a school setting.

But I’ve also argued that working within the walled garden and slowly opening up more holes in the wall has some promise as a “change management strategy”. One of the reasons for that perhaps links to the comment above about not wasting time on the marginal tasks. The walled garden provides a safe environment and an opportunity for the teacher (and/or others) to open it up as called for.

But then I also wonder how this approach compares with the plethora of teachers who have bitten the bullet and broken the confines of the walled garden? For example, this post from a teacher that has been using Twitter with her 6 and 7 year old students.

Learning how to get a grade

Interesting to read Mari’s reflections as she engaged with a new program. In particular by her 5th subject having “learned how to achieve an HD in any subject, regardless of how deeply I really engaged in the study materials”. Something that certainly resonates with me. Also interesting to hear how that learned process translates into a standard approach to the use of ICTs and study.

Speaking of “games”. Mari also connects the idea of Wittgenstein’s ladder used in Bigum and Rown (2013) to the metaphor as life as a game – Snakes and Ladders. Especially as

as a game that could be played over and over and not to see losing one game as failure, but rather as a motivation to immediately “start a new game.”

Personal and Personalised learning

The institution has adopted the idea of personalised learning as having strategic importance. I’m not much fussed on the idea, especially given some of the bad press it’s been receiving recently. Mari references the following tweet from @downes and reflects a bit on how NGL is learning toward the personal end of the spectrum.

Though I’m not sure I would limit the following statement to just “art” educationArt education (in an ideal world) has to be more about the process of individual discovery and learning from mistakes than about completing specific tasks and handing in a final piece

Ahh, success

It does sound like Mari has achieved a level of success as an NGL participant. Her PKM process is becoming routine, her network is providing unexpected sparks and she realises that it isn’t linear.

I also wonder about the implications that this statement might have for institutional planners

I don’t think I’ve signed into my USQ account once over the past 3 weeks, as everything happens through the blog

Evaluating the use of blogs/reflective journals

The use of blogs in one of the courses I teach is now into it’s fourth semester. Well past time to do explore how it’s all going, evaluate some of the design decisions, and make some decisions about future developments. In preparation for that it’s time to look at some of the extant literature to look at findings and methods. The following is the first such summary and is focused on @spalm et al’s

Palmer, S., Holt, D., & Bray, S. (2008). The learning outcomes of an online reflective journal in engineering, 724–732.


Looks at the use of an “online reflective journal” (implemented using discussion forum in WebCT) in a 4th year engineering course. Combines a survey-based evaluation of student perceptions with “an analysis of student use of the journal…to investigate its contribution to unit learning outcomes”

Findings are

  • Most students understood the purpose and value the journal in their learning
  • Most read the entries of others and said this help their learning
  • Two most useful things about the journal
    • The need to continuously revise course material
    • Ability to check personal understanding against that of others
  • Least useful related to problems with using WebCT – the difficulty of the interface and “problems with CMS operation”.
  • Significant contributors to final mark
    • Prior academic performance
    • Number of journal postings
    • Mode of study


The quantitative nature of this is interesting as it’s something I need to do more of. If only to gain some experience of this approach and to tick the box (which is a great reason).

There is always going to be a bit of a “so what” issue with this type of thing as research. What really does a study in a single course reveal that’s new or easily transferable. But perhaps doing almost a replication addresses that somewhat.

Of course the real interest in doing this research is just to find out more about what’s going on in the course, its impact and what the students think so it can inform further development.

To do

  • Can I get a copy of the evaluation survey used?
  • Can I apply the evaluation survey to past students?
  • Do I need to get student permission to analyse the data around their use of their blogs and final results?

Comparison with EDC3100

My impression is that prior academic performance would be the most significant factor in EDC3100. Raising the question about how much value there is in what teachers do, if prior academic performance is a big contributing factor are we “failing” the weaker student?

Question: Could the students performance on the course be included in the evaluation survey in some form?

I think mode of study might play a role. My guess is that the online students would get see the value in the blogs more than some of the on-campus students.

Question: What impact does mode of study play in EDC3100?

Given that the blog posts were only marked based on number of posts, average word count and number of links it would be interesting to explore what impact that had on the final mark. Especially given the quote about “assessment” as a “strategic tool for creating student engagement”.

Question: Exactly what type of student engagement is the assessment of the blogs in EDC3100 creating?

Question: What patterns exist in the learning journal marks?

The journaling is contributes 5% of the total course mark for each of the 3 assignments. Is there a pattern in the marks for each assignment and the final outcome?

Question: Does the medium used make any difference?

In EDC3100 students are using their own blog hosted on their choice of external service. Very different from an LMS forum. Does this make a difference? Is it more their space?

Is it seen as too difficult or a waste of time creating a blog?

Question: Is the collection of technologies used to complete this task too difficult?

To get marks students have to create their blog (e.g. WordPress) and follow the blogs of others (Feedly, WordPress “follow” mechanism, WordPress reader etc). This leads to problems with creating links to posts. E.g. students link to the post in Feedly or the WordPress reader, not in the student’s blog.

But that said, the interface is “better” (subjective) and might be seen as more realistic – not a Uni tool, something broader.

Question: Does the time of posting make any difference? What are the different patterns of posting visible? Any patterns indicating task corruption?

Palmer et al (2008)’s journal is essentially a weekly task. In EDC3100 students need to post at least 3 posts a week to get full marks. There is no specific direction as to what or when to post. What patterns are there?

Question: How does the perception of reflection/journaling in the discipline impact thoughts?

Palmer et al (2008) describe how a work journal is a common practice for engineers. Hence doing this in the course can be linked to professional practice.

The same doesn’t apply to the teaching profession. While reflection is seen as important, there’s doesn’t appear to be the accepted practice of regularly keeping a work journal.

Reclaim, identity, and bricolage

Some thinking and reporting on some explorations of getting into the Reclaim project (movement?). — update: picking this up after a few weeks of inactivity.

It seems like now or never. Just as I’m starting (somewhat unexpectedly) on a journey participating in a Masters course on Networked and Global Learning with an explicit desire to “walk the walk” (i.e. break out of the confines of the LMS, traditional approaches to such courses etc.) there’s quite a bit of movement around the Reclaim Hosting project. Tim Klapdoor is sharing his planning and approach to getting into the Reclaim Project. Audrey Watters and others in my network are also sharing reports on the recent hackathon around the project. Rather than any great confluence, perhaps its just that I’m in a place where I’m now more likely to recognise this activity in my network. Either way, it’s time to bite the bullet.

Interestingly just came across this review of reclaim. As it happens the author has also written on why you shouldn’t do DBR which could be very useful for the NGL course. And there’s another post from elsewhere on what the process involves.

Interestingly I discovered this morning that Philip – one of the other participants in the NGL course – already apparently has his own domain. It will be interesting to see how and if he makes any connection between this and the brief touch on identity in the course during the first week. Which is another connection to the Reclaim Project which is proudly challenging/asking you to “Reclaim your Digital Identity”.

Which is where I first got stuck at the first hurdle for my Reclaim Project. What will my domain be?

Being introduced to anyone as “David Jones” in part commences the obligatory cultural reference test. Does this person associate “David Jones” with

  1. The Australian Department store.

    Growing up in Rockhampton – which doesn’t have a David Jones store – this wasn’t common. More so when meeting people from capital cities.

  2. Davy Jones from the Monkees.

    You typically had to be of a certain age to make this connection. Though the rise of Pay TV and its raiding of historical TV shows changed that a little.

  3. Davy Jones locker.

    Entering unlikely candidates now, though the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies opened this up to a whole new population.

  4. David Bowie

    Only the deeply informed are aware that he was born “David Jones”.

  5. Or finally some other David Jones they’ve met.

    While perhaps not at the level of “John Smith” (though I’ve only ever known one of those) there are few of us around. Including one guy who was obviously so much better and engaged in MP104 at UQ in 1986 than I.

First world problems

Why are my wipes at home not warm? #firs by avlxyz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  avlxyz 

At this stage I have to label this as very much a first world problem. Given what’s happening in Western Africa, Iraq, Ferguson (the inclusion of America in this list is incredibly sad, silly etc), Syria, Ukraine and many other places, worrying about my online identity strikes me variously as self-serving, irrelevant, confronting, worrying etc.

What combinations are possible?

My initial desire is to use David Jones in someway, without having to draw on middle names ( or birth years to avoid duplication

What does the reclaim project offer? The top level domains offered by default include: .com .net .org .us .name .info .ca .uk .es. Is there a David Jones possibility available there? Quick check via the web.

The last one strikes me as interesting, if a little Spanish. It doesn’t quite enable the rapid sharing of a domain name like “”. “It’s davidjones but put a dot before the es”, but it will do I think.

Which generates a “already taken” from Reclaim Hosting, back to the drawing board. Ahh, reclaim is looking at – my check didn’t use the wwww. It appears this applies to the .uk version above, however, is available.

Is that something I can live with?

Other identities?

Which raises the question about other “identities” I have online and offline

  • Jonesy – which mostly applies in the context of playing cricket. – an Australian domain is available.

  • dj – started by some students many years ago. However, does tend to connect me inappropriately to the mixing of recorded music.
  • davidtjones – this blog. is available. As is .info is available

  • davidthomjones – an email address. – would prefer not to use this
  • djplaner – Twitter – would prefer not to use this

    This particular identity started life on Second Life where you had to choose from a list of random words for the last part of your username. “planer” appealed because of the (bad spelling) link with planning and my hatred for teleological planning. You could choose the first part and “dj” connects with the above identity.

  • djones – not known but this, but a smaller version is available

What now?

Reluctant to bite the bullet immediately. Going to let the options percolate a little. Current options are


    Plus, it’s short and a little different. Which is of course it’s draw back. Also suggests I’m Spanish. Actually would be interesting to see how many people make the connection between .es and Spain.

  2. or .info

    Connects with this blog to some extent. Not specific to a country.


    Not sure how I feel about the .au

On the whole it’s been confronting almost immediately to be confronted by the need to choose an identity from a fairly narrow set of options. It’s delayed diving in and having a go somewhat with the reclaim hosting. Though I’m fairly sure there’s flexibility to change this as time and perspective changes, however, not sure I want to go through that.

So will wait and ponder a bit more.

Part C of catching up on NGL

Time to continue catching up on all the interesting work of the participants of the NGL course.

Design-based research

Anne’s taken the challenge of finding out more about design-based research. The last assessment piece for the course requires the participants to develop a DBR proposal for how to change their own teaching through application of what they’ve learned in the course. Later in the semester there is a week that will look at DBR, Anne’s resources could be useful for that.

Further on, it does sound like Anne’s likely target for her “as teacher”

might centre around managing change as a means of increasing teacher uptake of online technology.

might resonate with a couple of other participants who are employed by universities to help academic staff enhance their L&T. Though I might perhaps be reading too much into this as it fits with one of my interests.

Wow, it appears that Anne’s student project has taken off.

Interesting also to see her diving into PKM and coming to a realisation

that it is about the dialogue not a perfect finished product

which is a nice complement to a post from yesterday

Do you need a sense of community?

Anne suggests that

it is clear that a sense of community must be developed between the participants if the true power and benefits of NGL are to be realised

I’d like to suggest an alternative. One which arises from my introverted nature and automatic negative reaction to the idea of the need for a common sense of community/identity etc. I do agree that there does need to be something. The problems Anne identifies are important, but it’s the nature of what might contribute a solution that I wonder about. I also am not suggesting that a sense of community won’t help address these problems, nor should be ignored entirely, but I do wonder if there is something more fundamental.

One of Anne’s problems is

People seem happy to draw from the collective, but are decidedly less likely to share. If collaboration is central to NGL, then why have I generally found this to be the case?

I wonder if it’s not the sense of community that’s missing, but rather that the members of those networks aren’t network literate/fluent. Rather than develop a sense of community, wouldn’t having members in the network be network fluent (e.g. they recognise the importance of giving as much as taking etc.) work as well?

Which links to Anne’s thoughts on how the course could be improved. i.e. strengthening the ties between the participants. Given I’ve established my way of looking at the world above, it wouldn’t be surprising that I wonder whether the solution is to encourage the participants to become more “network fluent”? In a conversation with Anne last week, I suggested that one of the flaws in the course so far has been my practice. Picking up on the Downes’ conception of a teacher’s role, I haven’t been “modeling and demonstrating” as much as I perhaps should have.

It’s all about the connections

Brendon’s post is nicely illustrating the importance of connections. He links to a video shared by Mari – another of the participants – where Mari is using the SAMR to reflect about the integration of IPads at her school. Good connection.

But what’s really nice is that in my other course we’ve just been talking about SAMR. I can now share this resource with the folk in that course, another connection. Also interesting that this connection is really only likely to be important to me. It’s not a connection that many other people could make. It makes sense in my network.

But then Brendon asks the hard question

How can we further stretch this concept and develop a more connected and reflective approach to learning?

Newb versus n00b

I do wonder if Brendon’s students know the difference between newb and noob? Wonder how they’d react if it was applied (appropriately) to their behaviour at school?

The big barrier

Anne also talks about the barrier I’m most concerned about to NGL principles in organisations

While I am excited by the possibilities, the harshness of reality soon grounds me. While government structures, higher learning and business still work in largely traditional models, as teachers we have little choice but to continue to prepare our students to be successful in those models.

Mendely – going private to share?

And sharing my own discovery, the course is using a Mendeley group to share references. However, it appears that the real value of a Mendeley group occurs when the group is private. I imagine this has something to do with sharing copies of papers.

"Supported" versus "unsupported" ICTs in a network age

Just heard of a PhD student exploring the question behind where teachers’ decide to use unsupported learning technologies in higher education. A topic near and dear to my heart. Not to mention I think part of the challenge that Deb faces.

The question that immediately arose – mostly from the NGL course I’m currently participating in – was what’s the definition of “supported” and “unsupported”.

I imagine that the official enterprise definition of “supported” would include officially evaluated and approved by the organisation and its IT experts. Not to mention that the support resources and staff provided by the institution have some training and expertise with the supported tools.

Assuming we’re in a “network age”, many of the assumptions underpinning that definition appear questionable. For example

  1. The only or best form of support for a tool is within the institution.

    When I have a problem with Moodle – the approved institutional LMS – I do a Google search and find help on the wider web. Knowing where to find the institutional support is too difficult, time-consuming and probably not going to match or exceed what I can find online.

    I would suggest that the community/network around most of the widely used tools will always exceed what an institution, especially a small one, can provide.

  2. The institutional support people have to be trained and have expertise in order to support a tool.

    A connectivist perspect suggests it’s the ability to know where to find information/knowledge that is more important now than knowing something. You can never know everything you need to know, it’s more important that you can learn what you need as quickly as possible.

  3. The staff and students need a middle-person between them and the broader community of support around tools.

    This assumption is probably still applies. However, if institutions ever achieve the goal of having digitally fluent staff, then what will institutional support staff do? Won’t the digitally fluent staff know how to engage with the broader community – they’ll have good “know were”?

I have to admit to feeling significantly better supported with the “unsupported” tools that I use in my teaching (Diigo, WordPress etc), then I do with the “supported” tools provided by the institution. Even with the “supported” tools, I predominantly use the “support” provided from outside the institution, not inside.

Do not fear perfection, you'll never achieve it

Impossible Perfection by mikecogh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mikecogh 

The title of this post is a quote attributed to Salvado Dali. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it appears to fit very nicely with a struggle a couple of the participants in the NETGL course are having. The desire to get everything “perfect” is getting in the way of engaging in the network. This appears somewhat connected with the more traditional approach to formal education and perhaps the understandable desire not to be seen to make a mistake.

I’d like to suggest that to get the most out of the NetGL course there needs to be a shift to a different mindset. One perhaps better represented by the Dali quote and a saying I’ve been using for a few years

It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better

For me this idea arose out of the difference between teleological and ateleological processes. The teleological approach (aka the planning approach process) is based on the idea of knowing exactly what you’re going to do before you do it and then planning how you’ll most efficiently achieve that plan. The ateleological approach (aka the learning approach to process) starts with where you are, makes a small change in response to local needs and learns from that experience.

The reason I think the ateleological approach works better for the type of world that the NetGL course assumes arises from Introna’s (1996) identification of the three conditions that must apply if the teleological aprpoach is going to work

  1. The system’s behaviour must be relatively stable and predictable.
  2. The designers must be able to manipulate the system’s behaviour directly.
  3. The designers must be able to determine accurately the goals or criteria for success.

The nature of a distributed world is that it is inherently unstable and unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen so investing lots of time and resources in a fixed plan is wasteful. Better to be able to respond quickly. To get better.


Introna, L. (1996). “Notes on ateleological information systems development.” Information Technology & People 9(4): 20-39.

Catching up on the NGL participation – part B

So Part B of the NGL catch up. Main focus here will be on the 11 participants blogs I haven’t yet caught up on and a to do list to follow up on.

The challenge of now knowing

Tracey reflects on the challenges posed in crossing disciplines linked with the almost traditional challenge that the more open approach to NGL poses.

But she’s also tackling the challenge in an organised way. For example, setting up her own glossary and discovering new tools. Trello is a new one to me and looks exactly like the type of tool I’ve been thinking about recently. This looks like a real find.

Tracey also has an interesting post on getting organised, but I wonder whether she’s missed a very NGL type solution

Brick walls

Brick Wall by larstho, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  larstho 

It appears Eleisha may have broken through the brick wall concept that is NGL etc. It’s good to see some increasing evidence of this.

I’m wondering whether there is anyway to make it easier to achieve this? Does the fact that I’ve broken through that brick wall and as Bigum and Rowan (2013) suggestion the bottom rungs of the ladder have fallen away for me, mean that I can’t do that. Perhaps that’s a cop out. A bit more work required here.

And some more suggestion of broken brick walls and light bulb moments.

Cheese making

Oh that is interesting. Goksu is planning to learn how to make cheese in warm climates (that climate might make a difference reveals my ignorance). The more I see of the variety of topics people are exploring, the more I like the choice of assignment. Shall be interesting to see how it all evolves.

NGL applied to central L&T support

Interesting there appears to be a number of participants (one, two, three) who are engaged in “central L&T support”. i.e. employed by an organisation to help teaching staff develop their teaching. They’ll be seeking to apply NGL to their practice. In fact, it’s the major aim of assignment 2.

A bit of self-organising and critique

Also nice to see some self-organising occurring.

Even better to see some critique coming out of the course.

The constrains of assessment and concepts

Annelise touches on the constraints of assessment and

how the consistent focus on assessment would prevent any discussion of other ideas that may or may not be directly related to the exam or assignment.

It will be interesting to see how well the assessment for NGL avoids this problem. There’s already a bit of tension around the assessment, or perhaps more correctly it’s lack of clarity. Something I need to look into.

Perhaps the issue arises from another point from Annelise

Learning, regardless of the environment, should foster the ability of individuals to actively participate in creating something that they, themselves, find as valuable.

Perhaps by engaging in NGL participants are finding their way in terms of being able to actively participate in learning, but perhaps the assessment isn’t helping them create something they find valuable.

Ahh, the Pomodoro technique. One of those buzz words I’ve seen circulating through social networks but have never taken the time to explore. Thanks for the pointer Annelise. And the quote from Siemens – “The 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak” – and its contradiction in the formal education system. Though this seems to attribute it to Jared Cohen.

Annelise is also writing about what to do when you’re different from your peers. This speaks to me about the difference between group and network (a particular schema I’ve been mentioning a lot recently). The NGL approach is not to require similarity, but to actually value the difference. It’s the difference that will provide some real benefit. The more we’re all the same, the more similar our networks and the less our learning from each other can be. Goksu worries about homophily. Something I hope a network approach can avoid more successfully than a group approach.

Will continue this anon.

Joining the "swarm": what a course might be?

Early this week I received an email from a student who took the course EDC3100, ICT and Pedagogy in 2013. In essence he had remembered a useful bit of information in the course study material and wanted to use it. On the plus side, he still had access to course material but because of the big flaw (the absence of a search engine) in our institution’s Moodle implementation he has to manually search through the information to find what he was looking for and didn’t have the motivation/time to do so.

Evaporating “residue of their experiences”

A couple of days later I was reading Riel and Polin (2004) and this quote pointing to a bigger problem with the course site

Over time, the residue of these experiences remains available to newcomers in the tools, tales, talk, and traditions of the group. In this way, the newcomers find a rich environment for learning. (p. 18)

The problem is that the current course site isn’t as rich an environment for learning as it could be. Largely because each semester the course site is created a new and as such destroys any chance of the residue of the experiences of past students being available to the new.

Some examples of the residue of experience

For this particular course, there is already a couple of examples where the “residue of experience” hasn’t evaporated due to the end of semester migration.

The residue of experience by David T Jones, on Flickr

For example, this blog post from @irasocol is used in the first week to help the students think about ICTs as part of their toolbelt. The activity is also used to have them begin experimentation with course Diigo group. The image to the right shows the residue of experience available via Diigo in terms of highlights and annotations.

I’m interested in how this type of functionality would work on the course site. For this to work, the pages in the course site couldn’t change URL each semester as they do now. Students could us Diigo to highlight what is important and annotate connections or questions they have. Teaching staff could do the same.

One of the difficulties would be that while I wouldn’t necessarily want the URL to change, I might want to change some of the content of the page. Largely in response to student feedback. The problem is doing that while effectively retaining the residue of experience.

The other large residue of experience now available to new students is the work past students have done in public on the web. Either in their blogs or in artefacts for assignments.

Making stuff available early

If the course site never moved, then the course site could always be available. This fits with a suggestion from a current student. The first few weeks of the course are tough for many students as they are thrown into the deep-end and expected to learn a range of new tools. The student suggested that if the course site was available early, some students could get an early start and be better prepared.

The main limit to this at the moment is that “opening up” of the course site is controlled by an institutional process that does it at a fixed time – 2 weeks prior to the start of semester.

Group, network and swarm

Dron and Anderson (2007) make the distinction between group, network and collective as outlined in the following table.

Table 2 - Group, network and collective by David T Jones, on Flickr

It’s perhaps possible to suggest that “group” is the predominant label for most existing courses. The current shape of EDC3100 is perhaps moving into (in a very slight way) a network. The aim here is perhaps to move further into the network and add aspects of the collective. Dron and Anderson (2007) suggest

The benefits of and, indeed, the distinguishing features of social software are only fully realised when they embody networks and collectives

The aim here perhaps is for the course to operate as both network and collective. For current students to enter into the network and perhaps only stay for a semester. But if it becomes useful perhaps hang around as part of the collective for a bit longer. Either way the on-going participation in the network could/should provide aspects of the collective.


Apart from the time and motivation to get this done. Perhaps the biggest barrier is going to be the challenge to the existing institutional systems and processes. Questions such as

  1. Can it be negotiated that the EDC3100 course site is always open and always in the one Moodle course site?
  2. How would/could Moodle by configured to have multiple cohorts of students enrolled in the course and still be manageable in terms of fulfilling the traditional course-based requirements (tracking participation/marks etc)?
  3. More broadly both the organisation and everyone involved being able to learn and respond to the unexpected problems and possibilities that arise from a fairly major change in underlying assumptions.


Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2007). Collectives, networks and groups in social software for e-Learning. In World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 2460–2467).

Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling, & J. Gray (Eds.), Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning (pp. 16–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strategic plans, theoretical models and just doing it

Suffering a minor malaise brought on the strategic/operational planning process currently underway at my place of work. As a process it always seems an exercise in futility and frustration, but at least the current process is significantly better than some I’ve observed.

The problem is that it’s all based on a faulty assumption. That an institution can respond to an incredibly complex and rapidly changing context by having some smart people go away for a few months and create a theoretical conception of the way forward for the institution. A theoretical conception informed by their own existing schemata, which in an incredibly complex and rapidly changing context are always going to be insufficient. Especially when those smart people are those that have been successful in the current system which is based on old ideals. Some (many?) of which are unlikely to be relevant in the future.

As it happens one of those smart people came across the following tweet/image which essentially summarises what is wrong with this approach.

I’d suggest some additional related statements

  • A prototype is worth a thousand strategic plans.
  • A prototype is worth a thousand theoretical models.

and also the definition that a prototype is NOT some toy system that no-one uses. It’s a system that has been used in anger and been used to learn real practical lessons.

The illusion of the “one university”

Much of this practice seems to emerge from the belief that it’s important that the institution take center state. The institution has to have a plan, a set of graduate attributes, a set of systems for doing X etc. Perhaps an artefact of the rise of the Vice-Chancellor as CEO approach to leading universities.

I find this increasing importance of “one university” way of doing things interesting when talking about personal/personalised learning and the inherent diversity and flexibility inherent in such a concept.

Feeling left out of the conversation

In a comment on this post about the ups and downs participants are going through in the NGL course Mari shares the struggles of being offline in this type of a course. The feeling where being offline feels a bit like you’ve left the conversation and have fallen behind the evolution of where the others are up to.

I’m wondering whether is something inherent in a NGL course, or whether it’s a combination of a bunch of other stuff.

Learn to love the ignorance

I wonder how much of this is similar to Elisha’s worry about keeping “up to date with the latest educational trends and research”. In an NGL world can you know everything or keep up with all the conversations? Should you even try? Should you instead do what works for you, maintain and build your connections to others, and use those connections in ways useful and appropriate to you.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Sto by twm1340, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  twm1340 

In an NGL course, do you have to learn to stop worrying and love the knowledge you can’t know everything?

And doing this is hard.


The NGL course itself has been emerging fairly quickly. This has likely created an enhanced level of uncertainty amongst participants beyond the need to make the above transformation. Something that hasn’t been helped perhaps by the lack of appropriate modeling of this practice from others.

Groups versus networks

I wonder if the distinction between network and group is also part of this. Many online courses take the group approach. People working toward common outcomes or projects. Which in turns requires a more synchronous approach to participation as others are directly depending on your contribution.

The NGL course is (in my head) trying to take a more network approach. There isn’t a common outcome or project. Everyone is working on their own projects as student, learner and teacher. They are working on roughly the same schedule but it’s intended to be a fairly flexible schedule. You do what you need, when you need it as much as possible. With there really only being two fixed deadlines, and even they are fairly flexible.

If you need to drop out for a while and work on something, then you should be able to and then reconnect as needed when you return. Perhaps not necessarily catch up on all the conversations. Plus if ideas have moved on, that’s a positive in terms of being able to learn from that.

Do others feel this about the course? Or is it just a group-based online course in a network course’s clothing?

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