image of network of people

Thinking About Learning Webs

Why webs for learning?

In designing the Teaching With WordPress course, we ran across a notion proposed by Stephen Downes that open course design should be more about creating a web than a website. The idea, as I understand it, is to create opportunities for cross connections between ideas, resources, people and their networks. The course is a connection point for people to share their thinking, ideas in progress, experience and learn from each other. We consider ourselves learners and teachers together.

This notion helped us make decisions about how to build in opportunities for people to connect with each other through comments, posts, tweets – inside and outside of the course hub. Many people connecting with #TWP15 seem to understand the value of connecting, sharing links, ideas and works in progress. Many of us subscribe to open practices and have had enriching experiences as we have exchanged with our growing and changing networks over time. Through practice, we’ve found deep and enduring value in those exchanges. We could relate to the idea of webs for learning mainly because our experiences helped us make the connection.

How do learners relate to/ connect with this vision for learning “webs”, networks and communities?

In my own conversations with a handful of very bright, motivated and sensitive learners lately, I have learned that their engagement with learning communities (associated with their formal learning courses) involve the following concerns:

  • what the teacher wants: what requirements to I need to meet for discussion and “participation”?
  • what the community offers: who knows what and what do I know that can help others?
  • insecurities about self: online learning communities are big – it’s intimidating.
  • how much time will I need to spend on this?

In short, the goal for many learners, is to maximize learning and make friends without the high cost of extra effort or public embarrassment.

So, I am thinking about this as I am considering whether/how we might use Twitter to connect learners between courses. I think appealing to the “maximizing learning” idea – may be a way in for some students. I want to pose three questions to students (and others who want to play):
* why would (or would) you contribute to an open, learning community/network online?
* how might an open, online learning community/network help you maximize your learning?
* what would you consider before using Twitter to connect with a learning community?

There may be other, more interesting, pertinent questions. If you have any, let me know.

I am starting an open G-doc to collect responses.

Further thoughts on trust, learning communities and our role as mentors and facilitators.
Amanda Hayden, grad student at CSU, Chico in California, posted an excellent and insightful video blog on Speaking Openly UK, where she shares some of her thoughts on barriers to and opportunities for the development of trust in a learning environment. She is my teacher for this piece. Some thoughts:
* institutional barriers to students developing own learning paths and practices. Students don’t trust themselves to “get it right” “learn what they need to fulfill a requirement”.
* teachers hold the power – as long as grades are currency – implications for peer assessment?
* vulnerability in learning – need to establish caring culture, mentor relationships with faculty, shared vulnerability.
* when students focus on self (and their own learning) it leaves very little room for creating meaning with peers.
* trust can happen quickly among students (think MMPOG). Needs: shared goals, reputation built on skill to help and support each other achieve goals.

Via my expanded Twitter network (thanks to #TWP15) I came across Laura Gogia, who shared this excellent resource on Twitter and learning – something I plan to propose to students as a resource for the blended learning course we are creating together.

I am thinking about my responsibility as a collaborator with students on the design of learning environments for their peers. I’m looking for approaches to scaffold networked learning and learning in the open.


Hackathon for Blended Learning 101

Lately, the big question[s], I am grappling with have to do with notions of learning community or learning webs:

  • what conditions are necessary for learning webs or communities to work?
  • why do we care about webs, networks and communities for learning, and how do we make that explicit to learners?
  • why would learners care about webs, networks and communities for learning – what would they need to know to help them decide whether or not to care?

I plan to explore these questions over a couple of posts. Starting with a course design project that I am working on with students.

The project is to make space (and provide guidance/mentorship on the design process) for a group of 7 students to design a short 2 week orientation course to prepare them to participate in a blended learning physics class. We’re calling it Blended Learning 101. I’m collaborating with Lucas Wight (for edX expertise) and Noureddine Elouazizi (for the Science and research context). We had some constraints:

  • time: we have three days with students to accomplish 90% of the build.
  • platform: we needed to use edX – given UBC’s new collaboration for open/flexible course development.
  • re-use: it has to be easily adaptable to other contexts (outside of physics)
  • community: one of the goals was to build a framework that would support the development of a learning community

My role in the hackathon was to guide the students through a design process. In the past, I had used a pared down versions of Stanford’s d-school (design school) bootcamp, so I decided to stick with that. The bootcamp includes some really great principles/mindsets to work from (including focus on human values, embrace experimentation, be mindful of process, etc,). I also appreciate their framework for the design process as follows:
design framework

The aspect of empathy building is so important to the process – through interviews with each other, students learn about different perspectives, values and approaches to learning. Discussion and debriefing of the process has led to some pretty important insights/questions as you can see below.

Learner Attributes 1

Learner Attributes 1

list of learner attributes

Learner Attributes 2

Mindsets about learning

Mindsets about learning

The aspect that students really seemed to get stuck on (when it came time to start building the course) was the aspect of learning community. Questions emerged like:

  • why would learners participate in a community, for just one course?
  • why would people want to interact with large, unknown groups of people when it can be so intimidating?
  • why would anyone want to use Twitter for networking – isn’t it just for celebrity gossip?

We spent some time talking through these questions, and deciding an approach for the first iteration, then revisit. It was helpful to have the visual map of #TWP15 Twitter connections to show them what was possible when a learning network was actively sharing.

Back to the questions I started out with in this post:

  • For learning webs to work (at least for new undergraduates) I think the value and rationale and relationship to learning needs to be made explicit in order to motivate learners to take a risk and try it out.
  • It helps to have enough people on the network, beyond a typical course enrolment, to make for rich interactions. That’s the only way learners will stay engaged.
  • As mentors/instructors/guides, it helps for us to model (through our own interactions/participation its value (sharing links, posing questions, commenting, bringing in new networks/people with a common interest.

Not quite sure how we help learners begin to see themselves as teachers, mentors and guides and view their peers as such. I see this as partly a developmental challenge, but not entirely. Any ideas?

I’m still reflecting on Christina’s course challenge – to build more of a web than a website – and I’m thinking that this is a big challenge for all of us. Many learners got to university not by collaborating, sharing and connecting – but by competing, keeping their heads down and grades high. Beyond building a web, maybe we’re supporting a shift in values.

image of person being recorded by video camera

this old learning community

Early this year, it became apparent that, as faculty were figuring out what it meant to create a flexible learning environment, many would turn to media development as a place to begin a whole series of DIY experiments in “transformation.” That meant, despite the prevailing atmosphere of competition and confusion, we, as a community of learning designers, technologists and media producers (who are accustomed to fee for service arrangements) needed to bring our collective skills to the table and figure out how to support a community needing consultation, curated/crafted resources, and inspiration. We felt like we were standing on quicksand and we needed a branch – that was the birth of the DIY Media Learning Community.

Learning communities aren’t really anything new. We have a long tradition of coming together and learning from each other – guilds as far back as the Middle Ages brought members together to exchange ideas and best practices of the day. Today’s learning networks mean that we can leverage online spaces for collaborations without the burdens of time and distance. But effective learning networks also require shifts in thinking. In a dated but succinct summary of this shift, authors Angehrn and Gibbert offer up:

The main shifts involved in the emergence of LNs are from

bureaucracies to networks,
training and development to learning, and
competitive to collaborative thinking.

Read more: Learning Networks – INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, Shift from Bureaucracies to Networks, Shift from Training and Development to Learning – Knowledge, Value, Lns, and Collaboration – JRank Articles

So, we decided to meet monthly in order to do three things:

  • exchange news
  • share something to get feedback on
  • create something together

We created a wiki space where we could easily collaborate on content for feeding into a website – which I created the structure for over the winter break. And we are creating in the open – so that anyone can re-use what we develop/curate.

People show up. Every month. People contribute content to the wiki (some people – this is still a bit of a hard sell). People are taking on roles (running focus groups to get feedback on the resources we are creating, trying out various tools and approaches for creating learning resources for different purposes and writing about the process). Boundaries between traditional roles and turf is breaking down just a smidge. And, it seems like there is less of an air of competition and more an intention of collaboration. People seem OK with a website that is “in development” – building as we go.

Navigating the politics of collaboration with senior management – more on that sometime later. Spoiler alert: when boundaries break down, everything shifts and new value propositions may need to be articulated.

My most favorite thing…leads to my least favorite thing

My most favorite thing about my job is when I have the opportunity to facilitate a great discussion.  I got the chance to do this, World Cafe style recently with colleague Jan Johnson and assisted by our intrepid co-op student Victor Ng.  We posed 2 questions to learners and teachers on separate occasions:

  • what are the qualities of a really great learning (or teaching) experience you’ve had lately?
  • what are the necessary ingredients to make a great learning experience from your perspective?

Here are some of the results in graphic form (thanks to Victor and Wordle). Teachers on the left – learners on the right.

Detailed results were assembled on our  wiki

And talked about (yes, this was my least favorite part) during the Learning Conference last week – here’s the video:

If you have any responses to those questions – I’d love to hear them.