H817open Great MOOCspectations

Block 2 of H817 Openness and Innovation in e-learning started this week and takes the form of a MOOC on Open Education. As a first impression, I am enjoying the injection of energy into H817 with the tutors and MOOC-Master Martin Weller’s active involvement. I’m enjoying the novelty of moving into the OpenLearn space and away from the OU Moodle environment.
Although I have participated in MOOCs before , I’m not quite sure what I am expecting of this MOOC but as an enrolled formal student on H817 it will be interesting comparing the experience of being in a closed, formal space and the more open and chaotic space of the MOOC. As a formal H817 student, I still have the tutor and group support if I need it so I think my experience could be a MOOC+ type of thing (the best of both worlds?).

In this context and considering that for me this MOOC is part of a larger formal learning experience, I’m planning to reflect on these specific areas:

1. How will the experience of the MOOC compare to the formal learning and tutor support of H817? Will Blocks 3 and 4 be a relief after the chaos of the  Block 2 MOOC or will they seem a bit flat?

2. There is a formal assessment for H817 following the MOOC, so how will focus on this assessment affect the way I participate in the MOOC?

3. What will the open students bring to H817?

4. Is a MOOC for time-consuming than studying the formal OU way, (as effectively it is the same material and activities but in an open format)?

I also hope that it will be possible to focus on the actual content and topics of this MOOC as well as on the fact that this is a MOOC, although I don’t think it will be possible to get away from a discussion on the relative MOOCness of this MOOC and all the associated hype that goes with this.

H817 Analysis of connectivism


This post analyses connectivism and is a response to Week 3 Activity 13.

Opening comments – I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post because I am struggling to say anything particularly new about connectivism based on the plethora of blogs, posts, videos and wikis that seem devoted to it. I am still undecided as to whether connectivism is a learning theory, but in the spirit of experimental blogging, I am going to present some initial thoughts with the caveat that I can change my mind about what I say if at a later date something inspirational occurs to me or my thoughts become more settled.

What is connectivism?

It’s a ‘learning theory for a digital age’ (Siemens 2004). Siemens contends that the theory is  necessary due to the abundance of content and information made possible by networked technologies. In short, it’s not possible to know everything and learning resides in the connections a person makes, starting from their own personal networks to the wider network they are part of. Siemens contrasts connectivism with other learning theories (behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism) which were ‘developed in a time when learning was not impacted through technology’.

Connectivism espouses a notion of learning that focusses more on the capacity to learn more or keep learning rather than what is learned, based on the assertion that what is learned today is likely to be out of date. Siemens illustrates this by saying that  that ‘the pipe is more important than the content of the pipe’, seemingly stressing the importance of the process of connecting rather than the content or information itself, which is Siemens’ view might well be out of date. In contrast, Siemens categorises other learning theories as focussing on knowing something in a static sense but that cannot deal with the speed and complexity of learning needs in a digital age.

There does appear to be a contradiction though with the pipe analogy. In Siemens’ own paper, he extrapolates what a learning theory should be, criticising that ‘Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned’. By this he seems to be saying that what is being learned is more valuable than the process, but the pipe analogy seems to suggest the opposite – it is the connection (process) rather than the content that is important in connectivism.

As to what learning is, Siemens talks about the ‘primacy of the connection’. He also says that knowledge and learning  cannot reside inside your head (as in cognitivism) but can reside in the network – in other people, in databases etc. and that learning is about the ability to manage and access those connections.

Connectivism has generated much debate, supporters and detractors. I’m just going to focus on a few points of discussion which are interesting.

Analysis: Is connectivism anything new?
Siemens’ assertions in his 2004 paper seems to gloss over the history of social, informal and situated learning and ideas about Communities of Practice, which also focus on networks. Theorists of social learning and CoPs have espoused that learning happens with other people, in communities and that knowing who and where is important to learning. While connectivism appears to be  less hierarchically organised than a CoP,  some of the basic ideas about ‘knowing who’ rather than ‘knowing what’ manifest in a CoP.  Furthermore, Siemens’ ‘weak ties’ in connections can also be seen in the role of legitimate peripheral participation (LPPs) in a CoP.

There are other ways in which connectivism isn’t necessarily new. Siemens talks about knowledge residing in non-human appliances (which sounds a bit scary), referring to databases for example. Yet, it’s probably fair to say that an important non-human appliance has been the book!

Siemens also  talks about self-organised learning, which might broadly equate as learner centred or learner controlled learning. This contrasts with behaviourism and congnitivism, which has a stronger role for the teacher and instructor and where there is one right answer. However, there is an alignment with constructivism in the sense that learners are encouraged to self-organise and where there isn’t necessary a right answer. Even in cognitivism, the notion of scaffolding has its aim of getting the learner to the point here they do not need the scaffold.

Analysis: Does the digital age need a new learning theory?
Considering that connectivism does seem to be an evolution of some social learning thoeries, what’s new about connectivism and the digital age? Weller (2011) acknowledges the importance of the ‘pedagogy of abundance’ that is changing education and teaching, where ‘we are witnessing a change in the production of knowledge and our fundamental and our relationship to content’. In The Digital Scholar, Weller reviews pedagogies that appear to support this fundamental shift – one of which is connectivism, which he calls the only ‘post-network’ theory. However Weller also cautions that that ‘abundance does not apply to all aspects of learning…an individual’s attention is not abundant and is time limited. The abundance of content puts increasing pressure on this scarce resource…finding effective ways of dealing with this may be the key element in any pedagogy’. So could we say that connectivism is an attempt or option to deal with this – for the knowledge to reside in the connections.

But we need more research to see if this is actually the case. c-MOOCs are one way where connectivist principles are tested — self-organising, aggregation, co-construction of curriculum. How successful are they? Take-up rates are very high but there is anecdotal evidence that students struggle in the chaos and drop out rates are high. However, in the connectivist approach, drop out rates should not be a problem, as the whole system is designed not to mimic a start to end course. Students are free to take what elements they want and don’t want. Judging the success of a connectivist course is difficult because it’s not clear what to judge it by – if the ‘old’ rules of course completion, assessment and objective assessment of learning don’t apply (c-MOOCs don’t have assessments).

Final reflections
Connectivism seems suited to many contexts as an approach or mindset — where problems are complex (difficult to predict), where there are no right answers and the process of learning is fundamental to achieving a solution. Using the abundance of connections, resources and people now more tightly connected by digital technology as a way of learning is attractive and sensible – and is happening organically in some contexts. As a teaching and learning pedagogy, it’s not an easy solution and requires learners to take responsibility and teachers and designers to take multiple roles. It also may make learners out of teachers – teachers are no longer the sage or the guide but perhaps just another node in the network. It seems to suit a style or method of learning in a context of abundant content. I am not convinced that it is in itself a learning theory (how people actually learn), which I believe is still to some extent an individual process.

In writing this blog post, I think I have learned about connectivism using a plethora of learning approaches. I am enrolled in a Masters’ course which appears to be structured along constructivist principles – of developing this blog post in a way that is most relevant to my context and which is meaningful to me. I have approached the research in a cognitivist way (using my prior mental models of what a theory is and what questions I can apply to interrogating connectivism). I have taken a connectivist approach to  the connections I have in my personal learning network, harvested my social bookmarking and Twitter feeds and used Google to find videos and presentations to enhance my understanding of connectivism. I’ll tweet its publication and invite feedback and comments. And now I’ll reward myself with a cup of coffee (in the style of behaviourism).

Image courtesy of blplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [online]. Available from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice, London, Bloomsbury Academic [online].  Available from http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/view/DigitalScholar_9781849666275/book-ba-9781849666275.xml

Hello WordPress, goodbye Posterous


I have just set up this blog as I heard that Posterous, which until today hosted my blog, is being shut down by Twitter as confirmed in this official blog post. This isn’t a great surprise as Posterous has often been patchy since its acquisition by Twitter. Although I was slightly annoyed, it’s not as if I have a leg to stand on, as the Posterous blog platform has been completely free.

I decided to get my blog exported straight away as soon as I heard. The process was quick and efficient. Kudos to Posterous for making the backup available quickly and to the WordPress import tool for importing the blog fairly seamlessly. I’m looking forward to exploring the blogging features WordPress has to offer.

It’s somewhat ironic that this week on H817 Openness and Innovation in elearning, my tutor group has been discussing the difference, advantages and disadvantages of ‘open’ and ‘free’. We all like ‘open’ I think, in the sense of access and making it possible to get content, services and tools made possible by new technology. ‘Free’ though has evoked more mixed reactions around the idea of whether it is possible for anything to be really ‘free’. We have also discussed that  ‘free’ lacks credibility and trust and you ‘get what you pay for’; indeed, in the case of Posterous, it was completely free and liable to be pulled at any time. I couldn’t demand continuity of service or any level of support. I am also currently using the free and hosted version of WordPress for this blog, but at least WordPress has a ‘freemium’ model whereby it is possible to upgrade to a paid versions depending on use and need. This gives me a level of comfort that there is a business model, and that if I need something more reliable, secure, or with greater storage capacity, it will be available. Along with Evernote, Dropbox and Survey Monkey, these models with a low-cost options and tiers of service are great examples of the ‘long tail’ made possible by digital storage capacity, bandwidth and networks.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


H817: Searching for relevant references


Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post is a response to Week 1, Activity 4: Reading an article and searching for relevant references.

I chose to search for references to MIT OpenCourseWare Initiative mentioned in Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0 (Seely Brown and Adler, 2008).

Approach to research

A Google search revealed a lot of information, starting with the project’s own website and many news articles and blog posts. The project has its own Wikipedia page and its own Twitter account, which I have chosen to follow (as I think it will be relevant for the MOOC part of this module). I also searched in the OU Library using the search term ‘MIT Open Courseware’. This brought up many journal articles, and I chose a recent one that looked interesting to read further.

Perusing these resources suggests that the initiative has continued to grow and has evolved, from putting courseware online to now putting self-study courses and now MOOCs through the MITx and Edx initiatives. This suggests that the project has had wider implications and moved beyond the institution – impacting on other institutions.  According to Johansen and Wiley (2010) ‘Since 2002, the OCW movement has reached far beyond MIT. Over 200 institutions
around the world have joined to form the OCW Consortium, openly publishing over 8,000 courses in a variety of languages’ (p.370).

According to the references I found, MIT’s original purpose MIT’s was to make its resources freely available to enable other teachers and educators to take the resources for their own teaching. However,  research found that it more students than teachers are making use of the resources. It would seem therefore that the  MIT OCW was one of the pre-cursors to the MOOC movement.

Reflection on finding references

A Google search was a good way of gauging the trajectory of this initiative. The quality and currency of the initiative’s own website and Twitter account indicate whether it is still going or not – in this case the project has developed and evolved. There was a lot of information available including press and blog articles suggesting that this initiative has high visibility and interest. While Wikipedia cannot entirely be relied on for accuracy, it is a good starting point.

Finding journal articles in the OU Library was an indication that this initiative is being researched and is having a wider impact. Peer reviewed papers can provide more credible information about the initiative that news, press and blog posts might not.


Hafner, K (2010) ‘An open mind’, New York Times, 16 April [Online]. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/education/edlife/18open-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Johansen, J, & Wiley, D. (2011) ‘A sustainable model for OpenCourseWare development’, Educational Technology Research & Development, 59(3), 369-382. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-9160-7

@MITOCW (2013) MIT OpenCourseWare [Twitter account]. Available at https://twitter.com/MITOCW

MIT OpenCourseWare (2012) Home Page [Online]. Available at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

MIT News (2012) ‘MIT launches online learning initiative’ [Online]. Available at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/mitx-education-initiative-1219.html

Watters, A (2011) ‘New MIT OpenCourseWare Initiative Aims to Improve Independent Online Learning’, 12 January, [Online]. Available at  http://readwrite.com/2011/01/12/new_mit_opencourseware_initiative_aims_to_improve

Wikipedia (2013) MIT OpenCourseWare [Online], 25 January, Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIT_OpenCourseWare


H817: Blogging and publication of research


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post is a response to Week 1, Activity 3: how blogs are used to assist in the publication of research.

Maintaining and contributing to an academic blog can help in making research more accessible to a wider audience, both in the process of research and after publication. Academics can use blogs as part of the research process to formulate thoughts and put ideas for peer discussion and critique (Weller 2011). This equates to a new type of literacy and an ’emerging academic practice’ (Kirkup, 2010, p.82)  and for many academics a change of scholarly practice (Weller 2011), which not all are comfortable with. Ferguson et al’s  (2010) study showed that Phd students were more open in using blogs but that research staff might be more reticent about sharing commercially sensitive material on a blog. I was intrigued by the use of Ferguson et al’s terminology of ‘dark blogs’ which are not open to the public, but which might be part of a researcher’s practice. It seems that the act of blogging, whether public or private can potentially assist in the publication of research as being a tool to disseminate initial findings, get peer feedback and reach a wider audience (Weller, 2011). Weller also talks of a different ‘granularity’ of research projects when using web 2.0 tools, so that what is considered research may also differ and evolve (p.59).

Despite the potential, it’s unclear how extensively blogs are used for publication of research. Guidelines for blogging are unclear (Conole, 2010), researchers tend to focus on getting published in peer-review journals rather than blogs for recognition and promotion (Weller, 2011),  while blogs may not be the only social media tools available to researchers as microblogging, Facebook and other tools are also used by researchers in the research process for connecting and communicating about research and in some cases aiding in the conduct of research (Conole, 2010). Blogs therefore exist in an ecosystem of web 2.0 tools as a new form of communication about practice and research, although the actual take-up of blogging is relatively low not least because of ongoing concerns about an academic’s reputation in what is an unfamiliar place  for communication and publication (Kirkup, 2010). Ways in which blogging can be formerly recognised as legitimate academic practice are needed to encourage a greater participation in blogging (Kirkup, 2010; Weller, 2011).


Conole, G. (2010) ‘Facilitating new forms of discourse for learning and teaching: harnessing the power of Web 2.0 practices’, Open Learning, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 141–51.

Ferguson, R., Clough, G., and Hosein, A. (2010). Shifting themes, shifting roles: the development of research blogs. In: ’Into Something Rich and Strange’ – Making Sense of the Sea-Change. The 17th
Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C 2010), 7-9 September 2010, Nottingham, UK.

Kirkup, G. (2010) ‘Academic blogging, academic practice and academic identity’, London Review of Education, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 75–84.

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice, London, Bloomsbury Academic.

H817: starting with a whimper


Image courtesy of Victor Habbick FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817 Openness and Innovation in elearning stated this weekend. This is my fourth and (hopefully) final module towards the Master’s in Online and Distance Education. As with all the previous modules, the first week is mainly orientation and getting going with a few activities and meeting other members of the tutor group. As H817 is an online module, meeting other students and the tutor happens in asynchronous discussion forums as students post information about themselves. Two days in, a technical hitch with the date the forums are set to open means that students are unable to post to the forums, meet other members of the tutor group and start on the week’s activities. All students can access the course website, read but not post – which is akin to rattling around an empty classroom or school looking at notices and accessing notes and books but with no one there to talk to. The tutor has been in communication by email to say the problem will be rectified today and in the meantime students can work through the week’s activities and have their contributions ready for posting when the forums open.

A few students have found each other on Twitter and are tweeting using the hashtag #H817, so there is at least some sense of community. This has been quite nice as I have recognised some people from previous modules, and there certainly seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for this new module. It also underlies the fact that whether online or face to face, the need for social presence is an important motivator for participation. This type of post-graduate module stands and falls on student participation; on all the previous modules it has been the quality of fellow students’ contributions (as practitioners) as well as the tutor quality (in terms of interaction and guidance) that has contributed to a positive student experience.

Technical hitches are part and parcel of online learning, and a good experience for students of educational technology to understand the implications and effects on students (especially novices to online learning) they may support in their own practice. Let’s hope this week progresses from a whimper to a bang.