I was told this week that we’re only meant to be dong work that is essential. Now, if this is true, then I know that it’s being said for good reasons – that our senior management are saying this out of a concern for staff – out of a wish to give people permission only to do what is needed and not to worry that they are not doing enough.
But the person who told me about this had understood it in another way. in their interpretation, we are not allowed to do anything that is not essential work – and they were feeling guilty for doing something that they enjoyed, but that was not considered essential.
I might have forgotten about this, but a couple of other conversations this week have got me thinking about it, and realising how important it is, especially right now, that we give ourselves permission to do things that are not essential – that we give ourselves permission to enjoy our work and our leisure time.
I know this – I write about it in my PhD and I practice it every day. CLMOOC and DS106 are good for me – they are serious fun. I laugh a lot, and learn a lot. But I still find it hard to give myself permission to spend time at work on things that are not visibly, immediately useful. This week, thanks to conversations with friends, I realised that I have been feeling guilty about any time I spent doing things I enjoy. If I’m not constantly working on things that I can show to others, then I’ve been worrying that others will think that I am not pulling my weight. And, of course, I am not the only one feeling like this.
So this weekend, as I chip away at my thesis, I want to remind everyone that it’s ok to enjoy your work, its absolutely fine to do some things that are not essential but that are enjoyable, and that we all need to give ourselves permission to have fun, serious or not.
Nearly there. This week I spoke to my supervisor and my Graduate School and I have sent off my “intention to submit” by March 31st 2021. It’s almost done- I just need to finish the final chapters and give it a thorough edit.
It’s been a long journey – as I scrawled down on a scrap of paper this week, my thesis has gone through changes from looking at collaborative learning, through to thinking about peer interactions and ending with a rich picture of participatory learning.
I’ll leave the thanks for the acknowledgements, but for now I will give a shout out for my loyal little research assistant, who keeps me going through it all.
Today I gave a presentation for the #SocMedHE20 conference. It was a conference with a difference as it was all online – presenters were asked to submit up to 5 tweets which we then scheduled to be tweeted from the conference account. Here’s mine – partly done to nudge myself to write a paper about it (the conference will have a special issue of the Journal of Social Media for Learning). Here’s what I said as a warm up:
My basic idea is that, at least for those of us who practice and share out in the open, learning can be seen as a performance – in a similar way to the thought that teaching is a performance (the sage on the stage). I’ll be using #CLMOOC and #DS106 to illustrate my answer.
I can rarely find a bookmark when I want one – I use scraps of paper, post it notes, whatever I have to hand. I remember trips to bookshops as a child, the thrill of a book token for Xmas or a birthday, swapping the token for a stack of new books, picking up a handful of free bookmarks at the till. Now I buy most of my books online, of course. But sometimes I take a book from my shelf and find a real book mark inside it – like this one, made for me by Algot:
So here’s my latest project – a series of bookmarks doodled in odd moments – some from daily doodle prompts, others just because. Now I am addressing envelopes and awaiting postage stamps so I can send them around the world.
I’ve been involved in open learning for several years now. It started almost by accident, when some guy called Dave ran a crazy learning experience that we called rhizo14, carried on serendipitously into a sister experience called CLMOOC, and gradually became a part of my daily ritual as I started participating in Daily Creates. Much of what happens in these open, online experiences can appear to be random and unstructured, but beneath and behind them is a set of core principles and values and a tried and tested design. Those can be broadly summed up as belonging to an educational framework called connected learning. That’s helped me to learn some tricks to help all of us (staff and students) to teach and learn online. They’re at the end of this post, for those wanting to skip straight to the punchline.
Connected learning is a work in progress. It begins from an (intuitively plausible, I think) set of beliefs in the value of learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported and academically relevant, and harnesses the power of social media in order to make these types of learning better integrated into learners’ lives while attempting to make it accessible to anyone who wants to participate (equity is a core value). As such, it is platform and technology agnostic, although the values of open education are central to what practitioners do.
At the heart of connected learning is the thought that we live, nowadays, in a participatory culture. Sometimes people describe this as “Web 2.0”, but participatory culture is actually a richer concept than that. Henry Jenkins contrasts the concept of “interactivity”, which he describes as a relationship between a customer and a software company and a property of some social media platforms, and “participation” which is a relationship between people (which can be facilitated by use of social media). This means that we can’t take student engagement for granted, we have to explicitly design it into our courses. For those familiar with the terminology, I might use this distinction to explain the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I say this to note a difference, and not to imply that cMOOCs are always superior – knowledge acquisition and participation in learning are not, imo, contradictory concepts – each has its place. Anna Sfard makes this point better than I could.
To an outsider, learning in the open can look unstructured and random, and those new to this type of learning and teaching can feel overwhelmed, out of their depth, unsure of their own abilities, frustrated, scared or even angry. This goes for both learners (often called participants) and educators (often called facilitators). This is why it is so important to design these experiences carefully, and to think carefully about the types of support that can be provided. I think, in the interesting times that lie ahead of us, we are all going to need all the support we can get – both to keep ourselves going, and to help our learners. Teaching and learning online can be an isolated experience, as those of us who do it know only too well.
So how can all of this help us now? First of all I should stress that I’m not suggesting that everybody immediately abandons whatever they are doing and redesign their courses so that they are connected learning experiences – I’m not trying to make more work for anyone. What I am going to tell you about is some tried and tested strategies that have helped the community that I am a part of to emerge and continue. I’m not pretending to have invented any of these strategies either – just to have used or experienced them for myself.
Remember that your learners will be in many different time zones, some of which will have better connectivity than others. People who can’t participate are likely to feel very left out and uncared for. Think about asynchronous activities as well as synchronous ones.
Some learners will have state of the art technology, others … won’t. Think about designing activities/resources that can load on different devices.
Realise that there is no such thing as a digital native: some (staff and students) will find it easy to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning others … won’t. We can’t predict who will and won’t adapt. Think about how to support staff and students who just can’t work out how to log in/submit/engage.
Don’t rely on one platform or one mode of delivery. Systems could be overloaded, or not available for a particular device, or not available in a geographical area (YouTube content, for example, can be restricted by geographical area). Yes, this could mean duplicating important content/messages in order to ensure that everyone who needs can access them.
Don’t force anyone to use a particular platform (other than official, institutionally supported ones). Your students might well have ethical objections to using a particular one. Respect those. Never require anyone to sign up to a (non-institutionally supported/“official”) platform in order to participate. Data rights are human rights.
Tap into the altruism of others. Nurture a community that helps each other (both staff and students). Model this yourself, watch for others doing it and publicly thank them. Think about the types of roles that might be needed to build a learning community: as well as you (the teacher), you might look for particularly active and/or knowledgeable students to become mentors.
Structure informal activities that people can engage in if they want. These don’t have to take a lot of time to design – you might ask students to share something unique about where they are living, to tell others about their hobbies, pets, or family. You could ask them to do this by sharing a small image, a link to a website, or a forum post. These help participants to feel that they belong and can build a sense of community over time.
And, finally, reach out to others around you. Use your networks and don’t be afraid of saying that you are finding something hard. My initial experiences of all of this was a baptism of fire. Those who watch me nowadays often think that I always find it easy to participate, and have always found it easy, but that’s not true. In fact, I nearly dropped out of an early connected learning experience (CLMOOC 2015) because I was feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed. What happened next was, I realise, due to the carefully designed support structure that was in place. I shouted out into the void and someone answered. The rest, as they say, is history.
It took me a long time to start doing the Daily Create. I wanted to participate, but I was not sure I should, or could. Although it’s an open community, I still felt that I’d be an interloper, rudely bursting into a private conversation (and I’ve heard others say this about similar situations, so I know that this is an issue for open educators, but I am going to side step this for today). And the people participating all seemed so proficient – they seemed to do it all so expertly and effortlessly that I was sure that my feeble efforts would not be worthy (again, there’s lots here to tease out that I will pass over for now). Still, I finally took the plunge on March 19th 2016, and now I have 1148 submissions under my belt. For the last couple of years I have made sure to submit something every single day. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to submit my daily create, other days it takes a few hours, but every day I make sure that I do something – it’s now part of my everyday practice. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to find the time, and sometimes I feel that I am not putting in the effort that I should, but doing something every day helps me in ways I don’t always recall at the time.
So this is my resolution for 2020 – to keep on keeping on. To submit to the daily create every day, to continue with my doodling challenges, and to rejoice in playful learning.
More doodling – a reindeer today. Again I searched Google images and scanned through to get an idea of the basic shapes I wanted to draw. Then I sketched, quickly, using a Tombow brush pen this time (lovely pen, I am enjoying drawing with this). I grabbed a read crayon and coloured in the noses and hats.
Then, when the first piece of paper was full I grabbed a pad of plain paper and drew another reindeer, coloured it in with pencils and scanned both sheets to my PC. Uploaded the results to Flickr and her we are.
One reason that I like participating in daily drawing challenges is that it encourages me to try to draw something new, rather than doodling the same shapes that have become familiar to me. So when I saw that it was a poinsettia for Thursday’s drawing I was a bit daunted, but luckily I had a few minutes before going into a workshop to do and image search. I searched for poinsettia outline and scrolled through the results to get a feel for the basic shapes. Then I grabbed some crayons and a notepad and headed off to the seminar room. As the prof spoke, I sketched some basic shapes in pencil without worrying too much what the end result was going to be – I wanted to get the shape of the petal/leaf right. Then, when I was confident drawing them freehand I got out my 0.5 micron pen (I usually have one of these in my bag) and drew the basic outline. Then I got out my crayons (I could sense at this point how envious the others at my table were that I had something to occupy my hands!) and coloured it in. The end result is not perfect – I’d meant to sketch some more leaf detail on the red petals, but the workshop was over.
Imagine how pleased I was to see this post by Sheri talking about how she’d taken inspiration from my drawing – this is connected learning at its best.