Defining Online: Ask the Machines?

Dave Weinberger had a very interesting post on Backchannel last week that suggest AI now has knowledge we will never understand.  Dave noted:

“We are increasingly relying on machines that derive conclusions from models that they themselves created, models that are often beyond human comprehension, models that “think” about the world differently than we do.”

He goes on to say that we have long been trying to simplify the world – think Einstein attempting to find a Unified Field Theory to tie together relativity, electromagnetism and gravity.  This new machine way of thinking may suggest “simple” is wrong.  Google’s AlphaGo program can now beat anyone playing Go…but cannot teach you how to play Go.  It thinks differently than its human competitors.

Dave noted that for thousands of years, we acted as if the simplicity of our models reflected the simplicity of our universe.  We are beginning to learn that with an almost infinite number of interrelated variables, the real world is too complex to “know.”

In Tom Friedman’s book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, he suggested that Mother Nature provides a good model for facing the future, as Mother Nature has been adaptable and resilient for billions of years.  Mother Nature has shown the ability to adapt when new knowledge becomes available, the ability to embrace diversity, the ability to balance micro- and macro-level processes, and the ability to change in a sometimes brutal fashion.  In other words, Mother Nature crunches the numbers and does not attempt to simplify the models.

I am not sure why..but this all came to mind as I read Tony Bates’ post “What is online learning: Seeking definition.”  Tony described a new survey going out to all Canadian institutions of higher education, seeking to understand the future direction of elearning in Canada.  He noted that simply defining “online learning” has proved problematic, as different institutions have somewhat arbitrary definitions of online, blended, hybrid, and even the differentiation between credit, contract, and free courses.  Over the past two decades, I have run into similar issues trying to define what is meant by online learning.  I have run the gamut from structured courses run asynchronously (and sometimes synchronously) through LMSs…to “It’s All Frigging Online!” – meaning that we are all now so interconnected that “online” is simply a continuum by which learning can be facilitated…but that continuum rarely approaches zero.

Tony noted that the results will be available in early September, and I suspect his team will learn from these results.  I also wonder if sufficient data already exists in the cloud that machine intelligence could look at the same issues and come to new understandings which might be difficult for us to understand?

It is amazing that we live in an era where contemplating that is even possible!

{Graphic: The Vital Edge}

Seminal Books on Online Learning

Monty Jones at VCU emailed several of us today with an interesting thought query from Brianne Adams:

What are the seminal texts in online education?  Given how fast the field has evolved, are there any?

I have been evolved with online education for two decades, and along the way, there were books that had a huge impact on me, so I do believe there are “seminal texts.”  They were not the first books on online teaching and learning, but they were five books that stay in my mind.

book_palloffThe first book that really impacted my teaching online was the 2007 Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt.  I had read several “how-to” books like Susan Ko’s Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (now in its Third Edition), but Rena and Keith’s book solidified for me the learning community aspect of elearning.  I had just shifted from directing an online program at Gwinnett Tech (and teaching several business management classes) to faculty development at VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, so Rena and Keith’s book hit at just the right moment for me.

Using case studies, vignettes, and examples from successful online courses, Rena and Keith provided a mix of theory and practical ways to handle challenges such as engaging students to build an online learning community, establishing a sense of presence online, maximizing participation, increasing collaboration and reflection, and effectively assessing student performance.  During the four years in which I coordinated VCU’s Online Course Development Initiative, this was the book we gave all participants.

book_AndersonThe second book that comes to mind is Terry Anderson’s 2009 The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd Edition).  This edited collection of chapters on theory, design, and support of online learning provides background and context around the Community of Inquiry framework, which Anderson and others developed. The Community of Inquiry framework was developed during a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project which ran from 1997 to 2001. The framework focused on the social, technological, and pedagogic processes that could lead to collaborative knowledge construction in online learning environments. This framework was extensively researched over the past 15 years, exploring the three forms of ‘‘presence” -teaching, social, and cognitive presence.

I used Terry’s book as my textbook in my hybrid course on the Theory of Online Learning that I taught for VCU.  The second edition brought in the concept of connectivism as a theory, as well as the use of social media for networked learning.

The third book builds on this framework of the Community of Inquiry.

Garrison bookRandy Garrison, another contributor to the CoI, published his second edition of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework For Research and Practice in 2010. Randy synthesized a decade of research into the Community of Inquiry model for online learning.  Our CTE team spent a semester reviewing this book and related research around the Community of Inquiry, such as an article by Karen Swan, Randy Garrison, and Jennifer Richardson in 2009 – “A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework.” The CoI factored in to the design of VCU’s Preparing to Teach Online course back in the last decade, as well as their year-long Online Course Development Initiative.  From Randy’s perspective, learning is shaped by a collaborative constructivist view, with discourse inseparable from critical thinking.  Critical thinking is both highly individualistic and shared…we co-construct our knowledge with others.  This connected learner framework has certainly informed the design of my courses.

One aspect of Randy’s book I like is the holistic look at the interplay of all three presences together.  Not only does the influences shift between them, but they also shift over time within a course and beyond a course.  The “learning” might kick in two to three courses later as continued integration and resolution occur.

Clark Mayer bookMy fourth “go to” book is by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer, who in 2011 published the Third Edition of E-Learning and the Science of Instruction.  This book not only looks at the science of learning, but it brings in Richard Mayer’s concepts of dual channel learning with multimedia.  Mayer has researched how our minds process information from both visual and audio channels.  He found that students learn better when material is presented with both words and images, when information is provided in smaller chunks to prevent cognitive overload, when words and images are integrated within a presentation, and when information is presented in a conversational style.  His work has informed much of our Online Course Design Orientation Program here at Northeastern University.

minds_online2My final go-to book is a recent addition that I have blogged about before – Michelle Miller’s 2014 Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.  Michelle’s book is one of the first books to tie what we know about how people learn to online learning.  I am currently using this book as the textbook in my latest online course – EDU 6323: Technology as a Medium for Learning.

There are a ton of other books and articles out on aspects of elearning (such as Tisha Bender’s (2012) Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning), but the five above are my go to volumes.  This is also does not begin to scratch the surface of books on learning science, such as Susan Ambrose’s How Learning Works.

It would be interesting to hear from you as to what you consider seminal works.  What would you add to this list?



Inquiring into CoI

With my colleagues at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence, we have challenged ourselves this Fall to dedicate time each week to exploring a learning framework that has informed our work for years – the Community of Inquiry Framework.  Or as Bud Deihl so eloquently stated, we are starting a Community of Inquiry about the Community of Inquiry.  The Community of Inquiry Framework flowed out of work done by Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer in Canada back a decade ago.  I made Terry’s ebook The Theory and Practice of Online Learning a cornerstone of my course on The Theory of eLearning, and the CoI has factored in to our Preparing to Teach Online course as well as our Online Course Development Initiative.  So, there is a good bit of legacy associated with our use of CoI…which should suggest that it is time to question our assumptions.  I hope to journal our journey in this blog and use it for my own reflections into the CoI and why it resonates so well with me.  I am looking to my colleagues to push back and challenge my assumptions as the semester unfolds…and I would invite readers of this blog to do the same.


We started our process by collectively reading Randy Garrison’s second edition of E-Learning in the Twenty-First Century: A Framework for Research and Practice.  I mentioned last month in a blog post that I was rethinking fundamentals, and situating community front and center in the design of online learning is certainly one of those fundamentals.  Garrison’s Second Edition lays out the conceptual framework for CoI – including the overlapping three presences – social, cognitive, and teaching.  Garrison’s point (which aligns with those we made in our White Paper – Building from Content to Community) is that new media allow for new opportunities, and that it is a mistake to try and integrate this new media into “passive educational approaches.”

Garrison noted that it “is not issues of access to information but the connection to others that distinguishes e-learning from both conventional face-to-face or distance education.”  From his perspective, learning is shaped by a collaborative constructivist view, with discourse inseparable from critical thinking.  Critical thinking is both highly individualistic and shared…we co-construct our knowledge with others.  This connected learner framework lies behind the design of my courses.  Whether working with undergraduates or doctoral students, I have endeavored to facilitate connections and then let the connections facilitate the learning.  Garrison spends a chapter each on social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence, from both the faculty and the student perspective.  I intuitively see how each of these presence play out with faculty and with students, but I am still working on operationalizing and articulating this to my students.  So the practical applications in the second half of Garrison’s book are helpful for me.


Our study group spent much of yesterday defining how each of us viewed CoI, and what we hoped individually to get out of our study.  We are coming to terms with the fact that we need to better understand CoI before we can adequately examine alternatives to CoI.  Garrison noted in his final chapter that there is still much work to be done.  From his perspective, higher education has in some ways failed to examine the affordances of the web.  He noted that we have had a decade long infatuation with personal information and inexpensive communications, and the challenge now is to understand how these developments can enhance the ideals and values of higher education.  He suggested that the past decade was one of turmoil networkingand confusion…that it is time to stop focusing on technology and return to a focus on educational needs.  The pedagogy from his perspective lagged the technology.  If one agrees that a sense of community is crucial to student satisfaction, persistence, and engagement, then it follows that one would develop elearning in web-enhanced, blended, and totally online classes from a CoI framework.  This opens up new areas for research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Garrison listed numerous questions for further research.  What new practices are suggested for faculty incorporating the CoI Framework into their courses?  What are the causal relationships among the three presences?  How do students differentiate between cognitive presence and teaching presence?  In creating community, which are more important – course goals or interpersonal relationships? What is the balance between facilitation and direct instruction? Could the CoI Survey be used as a formative diagnosis instrument?  Are there disciplinary differences in applying the CoI?  Does application in blended learning look different than totally online learning?

There is no way in this blog post to capture the pure enjoyment that comes from having an intellectual and collegial conversation with team mates.  I work with an amazing group…and that was reinforced yesterday.  As was evident yesterday, we each have a vocabulary that comes to bear as we talk…and asking for clarification between us led to new understanding for me.  We have a new CTE Grad Fellow joining us – and Laura dove right in to the discussion and research.  She crafted a neat literature review of dozens of articles on CoI that was extremely helpful, including a retrospective from Garrison, Anderson and Archer.  I am looking forward to our collective examination of Community of Inquiry…and our continued growing of our own community.

{Graphic: Giulia Forsythe, love2dreamfish}







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Our Annual Online Teaching Institute

We just wrapped up our annual institute…a part of our year-long Online Course Development Initiative.  Again this year, we have 20 faculty who joined our eLearning Team this week at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence to focus on teaching and what teaching means in an online environment.

O C D I Banner

During our final lunch, we all discussed what this week meant.  Many suggested that they came to the week expecting to learn about online courses, but left reconceptualizing teaching in general.  It was an intense forty-hour week, yet they left with more energy than they had the first day!  For that, I thank my team mates who once again made a huge difference.

I made good use of Prezi this week – here are five sessions I led:

Growth and Evolution of eLearning

[Un]Packing the LMS

How People Learn

Building Community

Choosing Digital Tools

All in all, a great week.  Now, the five of us in our eLearning team each have four faculty whom we will work with over the next year to develop and teach online classes!

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Exploring EDCMOOC Digital Artifacts from My Global Classmates

In this last week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures, I mentioned in my last post that our assignment was to create a digital artifact for this learning experience.  I chose to explore Scoop.It as a way of curating resources from this course, and posted my resulting artifact here.  Now I wanted to go explore what some of my many classmates have done.  I conceptually know that some 40,000-plus started the course, and that 7,000+ were active at the mid-point, but I have no idea how many saw the course through to this final step of submitting an artifact.  However, I have another 36 hours or so before I can begin assessing my three assigned artifacts, so this is more a journey to understand the landscape (and maybe gather baseline data).  After all, I would assess my own work as meeting the minimum standards…but I am interested to see what truly remarkable artifacts there might be out there.

What did the five instructors mean by digital artefact (Scottish spelling – we Yanks use artifact)?  On the course website, they stated that it meant something that was designed to be experienced digitally, on the web. In other words, it would have the following characteristics:

  • Contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
  • Be easy to access and view online.
  • Be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

So in no particular order…but these I liked:

At A Box of Thistles WordPress site, a cool idea:

“…the idea that old technology gives way to new technology before we know it and at an ever more alarming rate. But somehow we assimilate it into our lives, into our world; the environment adapts and we adapt.  However, there is always some fall out, some long lasting effect be it positive or negative and it is cumulative. So I think my message is that we should embrace technology and the opportunities it can offer us to enhance our lives and our learning but we should also treat it with respect and look to how we can protect and nurture our world so that it is there for generations to come.”

Which led to her artifact on New Hive – a neat compilation of text, images, and video.  I actually like this layout better than Scoop.It!  The tagxedo is more compelling than most wordcloud layouts and fits the theme perfectly.

I next explored Steven Sutantro‘s Prezi on Being Human Based On Local Culture.  Very interesting to see the aspects of digital culture viewed through the lens of someone in Indonesia. This “young and enthusiastic” teacher suggests that “being digital human with local culture will bring harmony and balance in highlighting local action with global technology.”  This brought to mind Tom Friedman’s popular book, The World Is Flat, and his premise that local individuals can have global impact…or use global resources to have local impact.

@jonopurdy (a name I recognize from Twitter) posted a YouTube video as both a digital artifact and a future message to his kids.  Not sure what program he used, but nice mix of videos, images, animations, and audio.

I love that Sally Ann Burnett used Xtranormal to create an animation with two robots debating what it means to be human!  Side note – if the definition of being human is having five cups of coffee, then I am definitely human!

John Love created a visual journey of his #edcmooc journey through a YouTube video.  Basically a screencast…but nice flow of images and voice.

The final artifact was from Buds in January.  It was a voicethread that wove her journey through this course.  Neat use of images to convey emotions and reactions…while using the larger audio as a reflective medium.

Six out of hundreds of artifacts…but you get a sense of the creativity displayed … and the potential these artifacts bring to adult learning.

For those of you in #EDCMOOC, what were some of your favorites that I missed?

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EDCMOOC and My Digital Artifact

As we entered the fifth and last week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures, our assignment was to create a digital artifact for this learning experience.  I chose to explore Scoop.It as a way of curating resources from this course, and then to use Camtasia to record a short video that would add my face and voice to the Scoop.It links that I curated.  Nothing earth shattering in my comments, but what I was really about was experimenting with the mix of video, audio, and linked images in a package that could be embedded into a blog – this blog.

So, with no further adieu, here is my artifact for #EDCMOOC:

… and to link to the Scoop.It directly, go to

I got this idea from one of my students, who used Scoop.It to curate resources aligned with David Weinberger’s book TO BIG TO KNOW –

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EDCMOOC, Posthumanism and the Bowels of Christ


Cyborg –

We are in our fourth week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures.  Last week, we explored what it meant to be human in a digital age.  This week, we focus on posthumanism…and its near twin, transhumanism.  Transhumanism is a movement that supports and affirms the desirability of using technology to eliminate aging and enhance human intelligence and physical capabilities.

As in past weeks, we started with a series of short videos.  Two of this week’s short videos dealt with robots attempting to be human.  Robbie told the story of a robot who became sentient and lived in space, but missed his human friends.  The course profs asked “if Robbie is capable of experiencing loneliness, happiness, faith and friendship, in what senses is he not human?”  It brought to mind the idea of a technological singularity, where improvements in digital intelligence lead to the emergence of a digital superintelligence.  Vernor Vinge first proposed the idea back in the 1980s, and it was further refined in Ray Kurzweil‘s book, The Singularity is Near.  Some welcome the coming emergence (which could happen in my lifetime), and some fear the impact on we humans.

Captured from YouTube

The second clip was about Gumdrop, a robotic vacuum cleaner that dreamed of being an actress and dancing with Gene Kelly.  I grabbed a couple of screenshots of the clip and display them to the left.  Here is a robot that one could genuinely like.  She likes Charlie Chaplin but prefers Buster Keaton.  She wants to act but will not do hallucinogenics or nudity.  Her best skill is cleaning the rug.  Yet, if you close your eyes, you hear “life” in her words.  Again, a movie clip…not reality…but are we moving to a future where machines will be intelligent…and if so, will they have a soul?  Gumdrop seems to!

True Skin was a dark clip of a future world where people will look to enhance their bodies with robotic parts.  The ultimate insurance will be downloading your memories so that if you get killed, your memories can be uploaded into a new you.  Avatar Days looked at several people who played World of Warcraft, and how they continued to visualize themselves as their avatar self when interacting with the real world.  Both of these videos beg the question – which “you” – your physical self or your virtual self – is you?

The readings were interesting but pretty deep.  Nick Bostrom (2005) ‘Transhumanist values’ gave a good background on transhumanism, which sees human nature as a work in progress.  As I read this article, I thought about one of my favorite science fiction books, Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, which was turned into the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man.  As the show opens, we hear each week that “we have the technology…we can make him better.”  Bostrom notes that the history of economic and technological development with the concomitant growth of civilization is humanity’s most glorious achievement, freeing humans from illiteracy, disease, and famine.  Yet, he did not mention the collateral issues of population explosion, limited resources, and global warming.  Transhumanists assume that we will overcome these issues with technology.

Katherine Hayles, (2011) Wrestling with Transhumanism seemed to agree with my pushback on Bostrom’s optimism.  She did not see the coming developments as necessarily evil, but suggested that we should “take advantage of every available resource that will aid us in thinging through…the momentous changes in human life and culture that advanced technologies make possible.

Two readings had to do with education.  “System Upgrade: Realising the Vision for UK Education” (2012) EPSRC Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme, suggested that education lags the rest of the world in taking advantage of technology to enhance learning.  It suggested twelve themes:

  1. Connect – Exploit the power of personal devices to enhance learning.
  2. Share – Catch the wave of social networking to share ideas and learn together.
  3. Analyze – Use technology to understand better how we learn, and so help us learn better.
  4. Assess – Develop technologies to assess what matters, rather than what is easy to assess.
  5. Apply – Allow technology to help learners apply their education to the real world.
  6. Personalize – Utilise artificial intelligence to personalise teaching and learning.
  7. Engage – Go beyond the keyboard and mouse to learn through movement and gesture.
  8. Streamline – Enhance teachers’ productivity with new tools for designing teaching and learning
  9. Include – Empower the digitally and socially excluded to learn with technology.
  10. Know – Employ tools to help learners make sense of the information overload.
  11. Compute – Understand how computers think, to help learners shape the world around them.
  12. Construct – Unleash learners’ creativity through building and tinkering.

The AtlanticThe other education article was Nicolas Carr’s piece from The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” If the report from the UK above suggested that society harness the power of technology, Carr would suggest that technology is altering society…and not necessarily for the good.

I must admit that I have in the past dismissed Carr’s piece, but I have been reconsidering it this week in view of one of my graduate student’s blog post.  “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken” was the title of his post, taken from a 1650 letter by Oliver Cromwell to the Church of Scotland.  Goodman’s point in his post is that Cromwell suggested we can “correct biases in our thinking by considering the implications of opposing arguments.”  Good point, Robert!

So, is “being human” a flexible condition that society re-makes as it evolves?  Can we still “be human” in this digital age where everyone seems connected 24/7 with their smartphones?  I would say YES.  The past decade has certainly seen personal growth for me, and yet I believe that the fundamental values that make Britt Watwood who he is have not changed.  I embrace the possibilities, but I also question skeptically the assumptions that these new technologies bring us.  As we consider how new and emerging technologies COULD enhance teaching and learning, we must consider the implications of the opposing arguments – and make informed decisions.

Next week is the final week of this massive online course.  I have enjoyed the interactions with the professors and my fellow learners.  I still am considering the “digital artifact” that I must turn in by next Wednesday.  A Prezi would be fun and easy…but I really want to explore the possibilities of Scoop.It and see if it lends itself to being a digital artifact for learning.  We will see in the next post.

{Images: Kamal Krishna, Wikia}


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EDCMOOC Week 3 and Being Human

edcmooc sign

CC:BY:NC:SA created through


We have moved into our third week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures and have shifted from examining utopias and dystopias to an examination of what it means to be “human” in a digital age.

This is a timely examination for me, as it gave me a new lens through which to examine the blog posts of my own students in GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  More on that later.

The week began with quite a few of us uploading images to Flickr to represent our take on this massive course.  To date, there have been 328 uploads to the edcmooc Flickr site.  (WARNING – Time Suck) It is fascinating to see the various visual representations.  Mine pales in comparison to some of the really creative examples displayed…but it was a fun activity to start the week.

In this second block of the MOOC we are asked to question: ‘what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?’.  As in previous weeks, we had a series of videos and articles to review.  We watched a couple of video advertisements here and here that suggested breaking out of technology and being human (though breaking free sometimes required technology).  World Builder involved the creation of a virtual world to help a comatose patient escape her situation, while Made of Meat was a cute look at humans from an alien (and robotic) perspective.  Steve Fuller wrapped up the videos with his TED Talk in Warwick on Humanity 2.0.

Fuller’s talk raised a couple of interesting themes for me.  First was the idea that “humanity” is an artificial construct.  He provided a history of the concept from ancient to medieval to modern times, noting that it is difficult to define what it is to be human.  Neil Badmington in his introduction to his book Posthumanism (2000) suggests that what makes us human is the capacity for rational thought…but will that definition need redefining as AI improves?

The second idea I pulled from Fuller’s talk was how many are reconceptualizing themselves in cyberspace – developing a second self.  This resonated with me.  Do I have a different “humanness” as bwatwood in Twitter or this blog or Facebook than I do as Britt Watwood in person?  Perhaps I do.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Is my physical being enhanced or damaged by my virtual being…and would the answer to that question differ based on colleagues or my wife?

We read two articles on humanness and education.  Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Education discussed “The Human Element.”  While noting the growing body of research about the effectiveness of elearning, he suggested that the issue of poor retention has much to do with the lack of human touch.  He noted a move by Douglas Hersh to move his college away from Blackboard towards Moodle, so that they could more easily incorporate video and audio components into their online courses.  Hersh suggests that engagement and audio-visual connections go hand-in-hand.  Increasing social presence through visuals could increase engagement, comfort, trust and ultimately retention in online studies.  Hersh’s 2009 dissertation studied the satisfaction and completion rates of a sample of 145 students in his “presence”-oriented learning environment compared to a similar sample taking their courses through a “traditional” LMS. He noted that “students feel more satisfied in their online courses when they feel engaged through human presence design”.

(Talk about human presence…as I type this, I am waiting for the noon Google Hangout session with our five professors….)

That said, I agree with Reggie Smith of the United States Distance Learning Association, who noted that adding flash did not guarantee results – it is the meaningful engagement of both the faculty and students that made the difference.

The other article was Lowell Monke’s “The Human Touch.”  Monke discussed the issues with having an uncritical faith in technology.  He focused on K-12, but suggested that exposing kids to computers early was similar to exposing them to church and Fourth of July parades – rituals to initiate them into a culture.  What I took from his article was that filling schools with technology did not address society’s problems as much as getting teachers and kids to use technology with a human purpose.

Which leads me back to the graduate class that Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I are teaching this Spring.  Our 25 students are reflecting about the use of digital media in teaching each week – check out our class portal and please engage with our students!  I was struck how some of the posts and comments this week connected with this theme of humanness.

For instance, Laura in her blog post “A Rainbow Connection” noted that she was exploring “networked thinking and its role in the evolution of humanity.”  In the comments, Megan notes “I want to know the people I am “engaging” with.” Laura replies with ” Well, if we are to embark into online education, it’s not about replicating face-to-face but rather reproducing the magic of face-to-face.”

In the comments to a post “To Tweet or Not To Tweet,” @filly47  states:

I am saying this with an open mind. I am not against learning and trying new things but at the same time I am not going to blindly believe that all technology is for good. I have changed my mind on the usage of facebook as a learning medium and do believe that some classes could benefit from twitter (such as the social sciences or ones where opinions are taken) but not necessarily biology. It would take far more than 140 characters to answer a question and personally it would be easier to do so via spoken word. That being said-youtube videos may be the connection that I would be more apt to (spoken word and ability to demonstrate a theory/process).

This same theme of the spoken word having more impact showed up in Caribou Cafe’s post “A Short List of Why I Will Not Be Using Twitter…“, with a desire to answer in person over typing out an answer.  For me, that is the human element coming through again.  Yet, these students are also grappling with their “other self” as Fuller suggested.

In “Digital Tools to Maintain a Digital Presence,” @evanibm notes “Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google+ all have a place in our ‘individualistic yet craving for connection” or “loving our independent spaces yet craving to be part of a community”, type of lives.  We all need human contact to survive as healthy human beings.”  This view was countered by @magistra14 in the comments in “Twitter, Facebook, and Networks, Oh My!“, which noted “I’m not computer adverse. I repair and upgrade my hardware all the time. I’m also not people adverse…I am just an intensely private person and feel one needs my permission to know much about me, and no one has the right to demand more of me than I am willing to give.”  And @ScienceTeacher noted in the comments in “Web 140.0” that “Maybe there’s something to also showing our students that it’s a good thing to ‘get away’ from technology for a bit…but that’s just my personal opinion.”

So, thank you, #edcmooc team, for week 3 and this discussion of the human side of digital life!

Google HangoutSpeaking of the EDCMOOC team, another fun Google Hangout today.  You can watch it hereBud Deihl and I sat together to watch it, and amazingly (given the number of people worldwide viewing and engaging on Twitter, Jen Ross mentioned one of my tweets and two of Bud’s.  Talk about an instant human connection!  It has been fun watching this team engage with the learning community within this MOOC. One of the things I have appreciated is their own self-reflection on the process.  They are blogging together at Teaching E-Learning and Digital Cultures, and I have enjoyed their posts.  This is a grand experiment, and it is nice to follow their own perspectives, questions, and doubts!

Hamish noted some statistics for engagement this week.  The EDCMOOC had 42,874 people enroll, of which 7,392 were “active” last week (not sure how that was defined).  While that suggests around a 17% engagement, Jen noted that there were probably some who were lurking and learning, and that the team was okay with that.

Next week, we continue to explore the human side of digital culture.  Bud and I continued to talk long after we got off the session about our positive views of this course…and the fact that we see it as a course – and I would suggest those positive vibes come from the human side of this technological experiment.  As Hamish noted, “It’s a Happening!” (…and those of us who survived the Sixties knows what he means!) 🙂

{Image credit: Eleni Zazani}


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EDCMOOC Week 2: Looking to the Future

krupp: Creative Commons CC:BY (Flickr)


We are in our second week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures. This was the image that greeted us when we clicked on the Week 2 page – a cross-stitch noting that its gonna be the future soon!  Nice Flickr photo from krupp!

Of course, we are typically pretty bad at predicting “the future.”  I was in high school when the movie 2001: A Space Odessey came out, the movie from which the course banner comes.  This movie vividly pictured a near future where moon colonies and space stations would exist by 1999.  Our current International Space Station is cool, but nowhere as cool or massive as the one embedded in my teenage movie mind.  Now, some 45 years later, the future is quite different from this childhood vision.  As Buzz Aldrin noted on the cover of MIT Technology Review back in November, “You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook.” Indeed!

Course Banner

Yet, there were things  the movie 2001 got right.  Technology has pretty much invaded our lives, becoming ubiquitous and always on.  Back in 1968, the movie depicted humans conversing with HAL – the intelligent computer on the Discovery spacecraft.  Today, we converse with Siri.

As with last week, the course facilitators began our learning journey with a series of short videos that had quite different views of the future.  The first is a favorite of mine – A Day Made of Glass from Corning. This was the second video in a series, and both give a quite utopian view of the world where technology is seamlessly interwoven with our lives.  The two kids in this video impishly used their tablets to shift the car interior to pink…and I could see my granddaughters doing the same thing.  A similar world of integrated technology unfolded in Productivity Future Vision.

In Sight and Charlie 13, we have a much darker view of the future, where technology is used to manipulate or track people against their will.  This theme shows up often in science fiction literature and media.  One wonders just how accurate the opening of each episode of Person of Interest is.  We may already live in a world where technology is used to track us – if Hollywood is to be believed.

These two world views were also evident in the readings.  In Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4), an analysis of editorials about the internet showed that people tended to have either a utopian view of the web (transformative and revolutionary in a good way) or a dystopian view (destructive and supplanting humans in a negative way).  Annalee Newitz in an address noted the combination of hope and fear as themes in science fiction (and I thought I was an avid science fiction reader – I had not read half of what she had!).  I loved her comment about “You Can’t Stop the Signal!”  That could be good news or not so good news.  Bleecker, J. (2006) in A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things discussed the increasing degree to which objects are becoming connected to the internet and communicating with humans.  Again, one wonders if one can (or should) stop the signal.

Regarding education and these twin views of hope and fear, the course facilitators focused on the emerging phenomenon of MOOCs (massive open online courses).  They used a blog post from Clay Shirky to provide the utopian view.  In Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy., 12 November 2012, Clay suggests that the disruption that MP3s caused for the record industry might be a model of how MOOCs will disrupt higher education in a good way.  Countering this is Bady, A. (2012). Questioning Clay Shirky. Inside Higher Ed, 6 December 2012, in which Bady suggests that Shirky ignores the profit-driven business model driving the development of some MOOCs.

The week’s reading ended with an hour-long keynote address by Gardner Campbell on open education, which I embed below.  Gardner weaves a tale of many different open initiatives and continues to use the T.S. Elliot quote: “That is not it all all, that is not what I meant, at all.”

One image that stood out to me from his talk was how hospitals could be viewed as providing either a home or an institution, and how that view impacts interactions with patients.  I was drawing the same conclusion about online education.  In higher education, are we designing and delivering online education that is open, welcomes learning, and celebrates participation across a diverse group of learners, or are we building rigid institutions with strict rules of access and participation?

Sidebar – totally stoked that Gardner will be keynoting at our Online Summit later in May!

MOOCs are an interesting lens through which to view both utopian and dystopian views of higher education.  On the one hand, MOOCs were noted by the 2013 NMC Horizon Report as one of the top tech trends on the near-term horizon.  The Chronicle quoted Larry Johnson as follows:

Surprisingly, MOOCs have never before appeared in a “Horizon Report,” though the technology was mentioned last September as a far-term technology in a separate report from the consortium, said Larry Johnson, its chief executive officer. Nearly six months later, MOOCs have moved to the forefront of emerging higher-education technology, according to the report.

“It’s unprecedented,” Mr. Johnson said, noting that the closest parallel he can remember was the rise in interest in virtual worlds in 2006. “But even those didn’t catch on as fast as this is,” he added.

On the other hand, there was some recent piling on when a Coursera course on “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” crashed and burned – primarily due to a lack of planning and application.

For even more reading, check out the series of articles this month in MIT’s Technology Review.  The articles focus on the business side of online education, but also suggest interesting fodder for reflection about learning.

We are in the early days.  I hope that MOOCs are disruptive as Shirky suggests.  I also suspect that they will not be as disruptive as the dystopians warn.  As Gardner might suggest, I do not know that we know what we mean when we say “disruptive education.”  I don’t know…but like my little friend here, I say “Hell Yes!”

And…as Gardner ended his keynote with lines from Carl Sandberg’s poem “At a Window“, I hope we are at a window to watch “…and wait and know the coming of a little love” … a hopeful message rather than a dystopian one.

For those in #EDCMOOC, I would as always be interested in your views.  Agree?  Disagree?  Reframe the question differently?

{Image credits:  krupp, krupp}

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