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.
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.
I’m doing a MOOC from Futurelearn at the moment with some friends: Social Media Analytics: Using Data to Understand Public Conversations It’s interesting, I am getting to use some familiar software (TAGS) and some new stuff (Tableau), and it’s good to think through all of this with others. One of the topics for this week is the concept of public spaces – how a hashtag can create them. And, as a result of that I’d started thinking about public and private spaces, and conversations I’d had in the past about how, though Twitter is public, sometimes one does not like to join in a conversation one sees as it’s not clear whether those speaking would welcome the intervention, or see it as an intrusion. (For the record, if I am tweeting to some people and others want to chip in, that’s great – that’s one of the reasons I’ll be tweeting and not using email, Facebook, or any of the other more “private” spaces I have.)
But, as I say, the MOOC has got me thinking – and one of the things it’s got thinking about is this: who owns a hashtag? This post has been brewing for a couple of days now – and at the back of my mind was the idea that I’d introduce it by telling a funny story, then something happened that gave me pause. Well, I’ll tell you both stories …
Ages ago, probably when something like a rhizo or a pop up CLMOOC was happening, some of us happened upon a hashtag. You know how it is – you’re chatting, you hashtag your tweet with #SomethingYouThinkAmusingOrApt and think no more about it. Maybe your friends also use the hashtag. Tweets and Tweeps can do that. But not this time. Oh, no. This time was different. As we carried on conversing (without the #AmusingOrApt hashtag), a very angry person replied to us all. Apparently we were USING HER HASHTAG. Hers, just hers. Her hashtag for her personal use. She had bagsied it and that meant that nobody else could use it. NEVER. NOT EVER. Well, as I recall, we ignored her and left her to her solitary tweeting (honestly – she was tweeting onto a void using the hashtag – nobody was replying to her or “liking” her tweets), but it made me think: can somebody really own a hashtag? Can one person, or a group of people, dictate to others how they can and can’t use it? Surely not – that’s just not how Twitter works. But then this happened …
I noticed a Tweet this morning that interested me. It was hashtagged #LTHEChat, and hence came up in one of my columns in TweetDeck. It was about learning and teaching in HE, the person tweeting was an #LTHEChat “regular” as were the others in the conversation. It seemed relevant. I replied, also with the hashtag. That’s how Twitter works. But, then, I got a notification of a reply to us and saw this:
Looks like a great topic for a future #LTHEchat! But perhaps not in the channel for the current one?
Hmmm. Well, I am not sure. Is that how it works? Do the volunteers behind the “official” Twitter account get to be hashtag monitors? Maybe. The chat happens on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm, and I can see that part of a facilitator’s role might be to keep conversations roughly on track. Maybe. But does that mean that nobody can use the hashtag for other conversations, at other times? Surely not. So if we, as a community (I think that #LTHEChat is a community now, by the way), want to use the hashtag outwith the regular chat times, should we be policed? Of course, in a sense, nobody can STOP me using any hashtag I want, but if we’re talking about social niceties (which I think I am), then what sort of conventions would we like to see in place, or follow ourselves?
I don’t have hard and fast answers to this. I do think it’s worth talking about. So I am going to publish this now and tweet it. And I am going to hashtag it #LTHEChat. You can tell me if you think I am out of order for doing this.
“Got Hash Tag?” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Sitting, pen in hand, with blank paper in front of me, I chastise my past self. I shout at her for being lazy, for not writing more, so that I would need to write less. But my past self was not ready to write: she didn’t know what I know now. Her thoughts had not crystallised, she had not read what I had read. I need to stop blaming past-me for what she did not do And start thanking her for what she did.
“Thank You” flickr photo by Orin Zebest shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
I’ve stalled. With just under five months till I submit my completed thesis I have run out of steam. I have no time to waste, and so I waste time. I know all of the advice – I have given it many times, but still I pause. My bookshelves are tidied, my yarn is sorted, my fridge is clean.
I still feel that I need to give myself permission to write. I’m framing my thesis as an auto-ethnography because that feels right – it feels authentic – but I still struggle to justify my approach. Maybe I worry that it is not rigorous enough – maybe my background in anglo-analytic philosophy has trained me to privilege an argumentative style over the explanatory … Maybe I need to channel my inner philosopher (note to self: do not channel your inner Deleuze).
Whatever, the time has come. I remind myself of one of my favourite quotes:
“Fool,” said my muse to me. “Look in thy heart and write.”
Phew, I am glad May is over. Annual review and a deadline to submit a draft lit review in the same week – both done. I am apparently on track to submit by January 2020. I hope I can cope – I have spent the last few weeks either writing or feeling guilty that I was not writing. Today I gave myself permission to take a day off. I have gardened, doodled, read for fun, relaxed.
I’m not going to share my draft lit review here – it’s not that interesting. A whistle stop tour of some educational theories with a nod to constructionism, and a note to myself to think more about tinkering as an approach.
I submitted a draft of my PhD discussion chapter yesterday. It’s over 7,000 words, so I won’t post it all here! I can never remember the actual title of my thesis – but I am looking broadly about how peer interaction helps to support learning, and I am using CLMOOC (and a bit of DS106) to think about the question. My draft thesis statement at the moment is this:
CLMOOC is best conceptualised as being an affinity space, or affinity network, in which the principles and values of connected learning support and facilitate a participatory culture of lifelong learners who engage in reciprocal and collaborative practices such as remix. This ethos of creative playfulness leads to meaningful learning because members of CLMOOC perceive themselves to be in a safe space where they can experiment and learn new skills without fear of ridicule or censure, and can ask openly for help and advice as they need it. Much of the learning that occurs in CLMOOC is emergent and thus unplanned in one sense, and the structure and ethos of CLMOOC are carefully designed so that they support and facilitate this emergent learning. However, although this structure is carefully designed, this design is not immediately obvious.
I’ve done various types of analysis – some social network analysis (using TAGS), and a textual analysis of some CLMOOC tweets. To do this, I focused on the 2016 summer pop-up, as looking at the 40K tweets I have in my TAGS database would have taken me years. My summary of that analysis is this:
CLMOOC is a highly connected, non-hierarchical community of lifelong learners with an ethos of social justice who support each other and learn through creative play. In summary, CLMOOC has the following features:
Connected community: the social network visualisations in particular show that CLMOOC is a highly connected community of learners, and the thematic analysis shows that many members feel a sense of belonging and being connected to each other;
Communicative conversations: the content analysis shows that many of the conversations in CLMOOC are more than just informal chit-chat. They are:
highly cognitive and meta-cognitive: members talk about teaching and learning and consider how to apply what they are learning to their own teaching practices;
highly social and supportive: members praise each other, are not afraid to show their feelings for each other and their appreciation for what others are doing;
Creative and collaborative: the thematic analysis shows that CLMOOC is a maker space where participants engage in reciprocal creative play and that this leads to serendipitous and surprising happenings and emergent learning.
I am calling CLMOOC an affinity space, or affinity network, based on my reading of writings by James Paul Gee and Mimi Ito (especially the book some of us recently read together), and characterising the interactions that we engage in as HOMAGO. In order to explain this, I’m adding some examples of the sorts of collaborative and reciprocal activities we play around with. I’m also adding pictures to make it look pretty (all CLMOOC designed with CC licences, of course. At the moment my examples are:
Off the cuff play: I’ve used our giffing around as an example here,
Volunteer suggestion: I’ve used the badges from CLMOOC 2016, and Ron’s artwork,
Shared practice: I thought Silent Sunday would be good here. with a collage of a few pf the pictures,
Collaborative: I’ve chosen Story Jumpers for this, with a pic of Miss Direction,
Transcending the virtual: well, the postcards have to be mentioned, don’t they? I have a pic of my pin board to illustrate this,
I have not added this yet, but I will write something aboutdaily rituals – either the daily creates from DS106, or the daily doodles some of us have been drawing.
I’m also suggesting that the broad values we subscribe to are those of connected learning: that is, learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational opportunity.
In the next section, I’m going to look at the design of CLMOOC, using papers written by Anna, Christina, Mia and Stephanie as a starting point.
So what do you think? Does this sound like CLMOOC to you? What have I missed out? What would you want me to say about CLMOOC?