Facilitating #edcmooc

Elearning and Digital Cultures, EDCMOOC, is taking place for the third time. And I am there, participating again. I was very pleased when Christine Sinclair sent me an email and asked if I could act as a Community Teaching Assistant, CTA, this time. Her request was easy to accept because  I had enjoyed the course very deeply. I recognised there similar pedagogy which I had developed while working as an online teacher. I felt at home there.

Another CTA, Rajiv Bajaj, gives basic information about the participants in his blog post ‘interesting statistics‘. The course is really global, 35 percent of the participants coming from emergent countries and the number of countries is over 150. The education background varies from none to doctors. Participants’ interests vary more than I can imagine.

The curriculum is open and participants choose what to do. Materials are offered for every week with varying themes and discussion forums are in use. Writing blogs were recommended and the course has its own Twitter hashtag. Blogs are aggregated into daily News. For voluntary image competition the course uses Flickr. The studies are distributed and not followable, choosing one’s own way is the key. What can facilitating be in these circumstances? I can answer only partly. Directs questions for help can be answered or commented and CTAs are needed to help in the Hangouts.

But what could be real facilitating on a mooc like this? Christine has published a blog post about ‘who is the teacher?‘ and she gives an answer: teacher cares about the participants, teacher cares what happens during the course. The post is written for the first edcmooc, but it still helps in a similar way. The expert can say it shortly. The students do the work and they understand that so it must go. Peer learning is very important. The participants who register into edcmooc already know very much about the learning process during MOOCs.

What can be said about networked mentoring?
The term is young and its definition will probably evolve as what we do becomes fleshed out through action. For me this is my third time working as an Expert participant, Teaching assistant and now Community TA.  It is possible to define that  network mentoring means the direct and indirect support of individual in their learning through the affordances made available through networking technologies.

More specific examples are listed below (this was begun in some mooc, I copied from Google Drive creative commons)
1. Write blog comments.  Check regularly the aggregated posts. Comment on individual student posts.  You can provide students with rich feedback and a richer sense of audience (I hope I could 🙂 )  If you blog yourself, add its feeds to the reader so that others can find it.
2. G+ community. Feel free to join this space. We invite you to share links and resources in this space, lead or reply to discussion topics, answer students’ questions,  participate in impromptu Hangouts or act in other ways to support the learning of students and the entire community
3. Hangout or Blackboard. Help the instructors to find students’ needs. I left this to the other CTAs who are much more skillful in technological issues and quicker in speaking and understanding English
4. Twitter #edcmooc, please monitor, engage in converstations with participants, share links and resources, offer support when possible. To do it efficiently you may consider apps such as Tweetdeck  which allow close monitoring of hashtags. Rajiv recommended this.
5. other ideas: create screencasts, videos or other media that might assist in a student’s learning generally or to answer specific questions. You could post these to the G+ community or Twitter.  Create your own blog and participate in course assignments, reflect on weekly sessions and or share resources. Curate content  in other tools (Diigo).

The previous text is more like a to-do-list. Actually it is similar to the course guides given to all participants and many experienced students fill these recommendations without being named as CTAs.

I am most interested in the last guide which is as follows:

In general, model networked learning through openness, transparency of your thinking and connecting with others, This process is experiential and to truly understand the power of networked learning and openness students need to participate in a highly collaborative connected culture.  Create successful learning environment for learning.

If I could do that I could have the identity of a network facilitator. I began my work by conceptualising human presence in the previous post (and many others actually) but it is challenging to go further. Coursera’s guidelines for responding to students are obvious to experienced teachers but they had one good point: Engaging students on questions that leverage your strengths or speak to your personal interests will make your time as a CTA much more enjoyable. Perhaps I have been too cautious this time and only followed the discussions, been afraid of speaking about my interests. I am – as licentiate in psychology- very conscious about this advice:  “feed the community, not your ego”.


This post is long and I feel tired of using the English language, I must go to the kitchen for lunch. Have a good day!

Please take a cup of coffee. This mug is my daughter’s – she sent it into Facebook morning coffee conversations today and I got the permission to use it.

Mug humour is something which we will remember  #edcmooc3 – and Whitney Farmer’s parrot taking away her earring in the first Hangout.


Human online presence in #edcmooc

Reasserting human is the theme of week 3 in edcmooc. I am interested in the different ways of being present on the internet,  not only technologies used but human interaction. This post copies some ideas of my blog post a year ago when the first edcmooc began.

What are the different ways of human presence in purely online-held courses? I have a personal history of working as an online facilitator and I had a feeling about being closer to my adult students online than f2f. I am convinced that human presence is possible online, but it is not easy to define. I’ll try now to tell shortly about my findings. I have a feeling that edcmooc is similar with my own way of facilitating adult students’ learning. I worked to the end of the year 2009 at teacher education and I’ve participated in many online courses or communities after that.

Dialogical space is a necessary condition and facilitators have a role in creating it. Dialogical space is safe and supporting, creative and challenging. It is the atmosphere in which everyone wants to do his/her best and enjoys the work. Presence can be described in many ways and the parts are connected to each other.

Dia2Facilitating presence includes all actions which help the students to learn. I’ve used the concept “didactical” but it is not used in English and “pedagogical” does not sound good, so I chose the term facilitating presence. Mentoring and tutoring are near concepts.

Emotional presence is very challenging and interesting to define. The teacher must be personal, it is not good to hide one’s personality. It is good to locate oneself in some ways. In an online  course we took photos about ourselves in a Hangout situation. We could see that we are human beings (with much technology 🙂 ). Emotional connections are between people but also toward online studies. It is good to share problems and solutions and be anxious together. And to build up community humour when it is possible. This all means “being human”.

Cognitive presence is easy to understand, but also it is complex in practice. We have a duty to disturb our students intellectually, said someone in edcmooc. It is good to avoid direct guiding , and better to support students as they find their way. The general guide lines must be clear, but thinking and assessing is students’ work, not only teachers’ job.

When the community reaches a dialogical state and finds its own working habits, every  comment is also a component in the shared dialogue and new connections are found. It is emergent learning, every participant is learning and creating. In edcmooc the photo “competition” in week 3 supports this side of studies, otherwise it could be too serious. The community builds up  it own curriculum, and everyone may participate in this process.

I took a short glimpse at other theorists in this field. I remember Terry Anderson and the many research groups, who were working on this theme in 2006-2007. This image integrates the basic concepts of  Anderson’s presentation.

Dia1In the middle of the diagram is educational experience. In this image Social presence includes emotional presence. Setting climate connects social presence and teaching presence. Supporting the discourse combines social and cognitive presence. Teaching presence means also selecting and recommending the content.

I like the concept of triggering event, it describes the dynamics of learning. Sense of community is another important concept. Otherwise studies can be only external performance. I am myself very sensitive to the atmosphere.

I return back to edcmooc again. Professor Fuller links his talk to our key theme of re-asserting the human. His stance seems to be that ‘you can only be morally credible’ if you are addressing issues of human freedom and equality. Thinking about education specifically, we might see MOOCs as an example of an ‘old humanistic project’, particularly in the promise they appear to offer for democratisation, equality of access and so on? I wanted to say that the humanistic project is possible in certain conditions.

Often the question about online teaching is that what it is lacking concerning human communication. The solution is in offering videos in which the teachers can be seen.  I think that in edcmooc the Hangouts bring the facilitators near us, they are personally present and they have fun as a team, but the most important thing is the atmosphere of equality and enthusiasm all over the studies. We understand elearning and digital cultures from this perspective. We are studying with our facilitators without any hierarchy. This is my view, how about yours?

Research about cMOOCs

It is my lifelong interest to follow research about learning events during cMOOCs. This time I’ll tell about an article Participants’ Perceptions of Learning and Networking in Connectivist MOOCs, written by Mohsen Saadatmand and Kristiina Kumpulainen. It was published in Merlot Journal of Open Learning and Teaching in March 2014 and you can read the whole text here.

I remember this research because I have answered all the questions and had discussions with Mohsen during  the PLENK2010 and CCK11 courses. I liked the way Mohsen planned the research. Now I can learn more using his article. I have to copy pieces of the article in order to use the right concepts, please read the whole article if you are interested. This is only a short copy of it.

The research questions were as follows:
1) How do participants in cMOOCs use tools and resources for their learning?
2) What networking activities take place in cMOOCs?
3) What is the nature of participation and learning in MOOCs, and how is it perceived by Mooc learners?

I am interested in the question 2 and 3, not so much in changing tools and resources. Twitter had become well-known in those days, perhaps for the first time in cMOOCs.

I liked some concepts Mohsen used to describe the research:  the study employed an online ethnography design to gain deeper understanding of participation and learning in cMOOCs. Online ethnography or virtual ethnography is a method designed to study cultures and communities online, and the complexities of technologically mediated social worlds.  Because of the researcher’s crucial role in ethnography, Mohsen participated in and observed different MOOCs since autumn 2010, which enabled a better understanding of the nature of learning in the MOOCs. I remember him. The methods consisted of an online questionnaire, online semi-structured interviews and autoethnographic insight. The numbers of complete answers were low but it is not necessary to get all the answers to understand a phenomenon.

This paragraph reminds me that research is hard work, the raw data is not the result as such:

The data were interpreted using an ethnographic research design based on a framework of analytic induction and comparative analysis. In this framework, the broad and existing categories and the initial definition of the phenomenon of study were examined through preliminary observations and a small case data collection process (questionnaire). They then underwent continuous refinement throughout further data collection and analysis. The process continued by redefining the phenomenon, developing and reformulating research questions over the course of research, and modifying and refining them based on subsequent cases and more data collection phases (e.g., interviews, participants’ artifacts). Different sources of data were scanned for categories of the phenomenon and relationships among them.

Ethical issues pertaining to online data retrieval were addressed well and the list of references was long and includes all needed sources. I trust it, no need to check them.

Some results: A great majority (87.5%) believed the cMOOC environment helped enhance student autonomy and improve self-directed learning by defining their learning goals and organizing learning activities and interactions. This is perhaps due to the less structured nature of cMOOCs, which creates more room for learners to shape their learning. The role of the instructor is also as important in MOOCs as in a traditional learning setting. MOOC learners had a positive attitude toward the support and feedback received from the course instructor or other course facilitators.

The results show that participation in MOOCs challenges learners to develop self-organization, self-motivation, and a reasonable amount of technological proficiency to manage the abundance of resources and the more open format. Participants in cMOOCs use an array of technologies and various networking skills. The nature of cMOOCs requires students to assume active roles, in a spirit of openness, to shape activities and collaborate in goal achievement. In the dynamic learning environment of cMOOCs, learners become more autonomous in selecting tools and resources, making sense of information and finding their appropriate learning pathways.

Although the descriptive results of this study were based on rather a small number of responses, the data triangulation of online interviews, participants’ online content and interactions, and autoethnographic insight provided a rich account of the nature of learning and participation in cMOOCs. The findings of this study can be further explored in different MOOC contexts.

My copy ends. These results are well-known, but how  to go deeper into participatory learning ? The voluntary answers as in this research tell about the most active students who ‘know the rules of the game’ and want to learn more. I don’t know how to continue but I’ll seek for other interesting studies.

How to measure the success of learning in rhizo14?

This time I’ll discuss a small but interesting  part of the autoethnography gathered after rhizo14. This was the introduction for the participants:

“Share your personal story of rhizo14 in your own voice. You could freewrite, link to some of your blog posts, quote things you said in Twitter/Facebook or if you prefer a loose structure you might like to consider some of the questions below.”  The last question was: “measures and perceptions of success??” and it was connected to an article of Bentley et al 2014 “measures of success and perceptions of the success of their learning (OLDSMOOC, many cases) .

I’ll only deal with the answers given to this last question for rhizo14 participants. Half of the 31 participants had answered this question (15). I’ll summarise  their results and leave  away the other half: more individualistic solutions (images, zeega, numerous links) or very short answers without a clear comment on learning. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that eleven answers to the given question were given by men and only four of women, while the total distribution was 15/16. How to interpret this difference? Does it matter?

First I read all the answers (>2000 words) and then I combined similar answers together and the story diminished to a half. I am not sure if it is wise to separate answers to parts but it was easy/ possible. The answers had a lot in common. I’ll describe the results using the raw material. I do not mention the names of the participants. I try to write down one idea per paragraph. Here come the answers, let’s listen to the raw material:

Each individual participant has to define their own goals and measure the success in relation to them.
Although we had the option of presenting a personal project .. we didn’t use it. Dave Cormier has given his guide how to participate successfully in a mooc: only one used his concepts (declare or focus).
Success = meaningful connections for own learning /new friends/names to recognise. As my intent was to work at building a personal learning community, I’d say the success of that is ongoing.  I am successful when I strengthen the useful connections I already have, make some new useful connections, and identify some potential connections that might be useful. Making connections with individuals who have a passion for connection (and education) is priceless.  That, much more than content, was the largest part of what I define as success.
There was only one comment referring to learning theories:
From my own teaching and research experiences, the building of learning communities is the key. James Paul Gee talks about affinity spaces and Etienne Wenger-Trayner writes about communities of practice. Learning with others. That’s what rhizo14 has been.
I really wanted to improve and increase the diversity of my learning network. This is a very selfish reason and measure of success. MOOCs that are open are a fertile ground for cultivating your learning network. This course , more than any other that I have done before, have caused me to grow. My network is much larger and much stronger and I feel very much more connected.
Success = having participated. Learning and practicing the range of digital literacies needed to participate, even marginally in some areas, is valuable. I made some progress in the “I can’t read everything” department.
It may be an illusion of enthusiasm that I’ve “learned” these things but it feels like I have a better grasp on how to know them or reconstruct a more viable approach. I’ve gained a tool of understanding that clarifies things that I didn’t have before. Success = People having a serious conversation or, very often, people having fun together. That’s enough. This has been a good experience and I feel that I passed through something. I want to return to some of the potential paths I spotted over the past weeks and make sense in terms of this rhizomatic learning.
Success = I come out with a different perspective on my own network? Do I have at least one or two new nodes (people or ideas) that have altered the landscape or perspective I went in with? Rhizo14 was a rousing success for me and I look forward to ongoing conversation, engagement. / I measure success by my perceptions of the amount of consolidation and change in my thinking and doing. / have stretched me to think outside of the box. I am thinking and engaged in the higher levels./ helped me to think over the questions I had on learning together. I’m grateful for all the people that helped me in my thinking.
Success = I was able to take the ideas from the conversations into interactions with colleagues and was excited by their excitement.
Success = Yes, for me it was success. There was much beauty, I loved the occasional poem and other artistic expressions. I for myself can say I learned a lot.
Success= means also to have some new devices to use (Zeega Diigo Pinterest Unhangout)
Success number one = a working understanding and ways of thinking about rhizomatic learning
  • case 1. I thought that new ideas and ways of thinking about rhizomatic learning would be one measure of success. In fact this could be said to be aligned with the main reason why I joined. I was not entirely convinced that I know what rhizomatic learning is all about. I have to admit that it is not much clearer but I have a working understanding of the idea.
  • case 2.  As for content, I finally got motivated to read some of the insanely convoluted writings of the revered Messrs. Deleuze and Guattari. I understand much more clearly how to articulate, “Continued participation in a community like this allows me to be able to do things I did not consciously set out to learn how to do.” I am still grappling with the rhizome metaphor – trying to see positive points in Knotweed.
  • case 3.  On characteristic of rhizomatic learning lifted from Dave Cormier is to “…participate with and among those people who are resident in a particular field…” This I have done and will continue to do. In each community I will leave behind my rhizomatic project idea with a rootlet (URL) back hoping the connections might strengthen the meme. I clarified and strengthened my own ideas about rhizomatic education, gained many new ideas to test and work with, and outlined some future ideas that I need to know more about. Win-win-win.
Now I have listed all the factors which I separated in the stories. At last I give a copy of a story, which combines all of them:
I did this MOOC to explore and experience new pedagogies and ways of learning online, discover new people to inspire me and introduce me to new ideas and ways of thinking and it’s certainly been a success from that perspective. It’s been fairly pervasive and made me realise that almost every aspect of life involves some form of learning – life is rhizomatic, and thus rhizomatic learning is about learning about life and living it better. I found myself reflecting on it all the time, and it’s evolved my thinking on a range of things, and introduced me to some new people some of whom will develop with closer ties over time.
Here comes another story about the learning journey:
Yes, I learned new things, I met new people, I found new rabbits to chase. But the idea of success implies a stop, to reify the process. If I need to reify the experience, or get it certified, I can do so, and the generation of this text is a case in point, but for me rhizo14 was a participatory journey. Not a place but a movement. And the criterion for success may be only that this movement continues. Dave Cormier described the course at one point as a beacon, an attractor. I think he got that right, and many. We came together, or crossed paths, each in our trajectory, and new fires developed, and around them conversations. Now we move on…
So? Have I learned anything new?  Bentley et al spoke in their article about their reflective exercise. I think it was a suitable concept.  This is learning by writing. The descriptions found here are similar to earlier given in so called connectivist principles. The participants belong to that bigger community as I said in my previous post. The theme rhizomatic learning was weakly understood although it was the main content – or there were huge differences in understanding it? The participants didn’t copy Dave’s sayings about how to mooc well, which fact can be considered as  positive? The connections to learning theories are weak or hidden, because attitudes against educational sciences are mostly negative? I am only asking  comments.
If you have read this you may be interested in Tanya’s blog post and article about inclusion and exclusion in rhizo. It was one of those questions in the autoethnography.

Communities around rhizo14

I continue my rhizo research topic by pondering on internet communities. The subtitle of the rhizo14 course was ‘community as curriculum’. It includes an assumption that a community develops around the course and creates new connections and content . I studied in this blog many concepts around this theme: virtual communities, networks, crowds, tribes and clusters and found new ones: congregation, fan club, Dave as our Elvis. Network is most popular in describing life in internet, but  communities and tribes can be used as well.

Now I am thinking about rhizo14 and notice that I see it as a part of continual process happening in the internet. Most of the people who participated in the autoethnography at the end of the course already belonged to the community. Perhaps it could be named a community of connectivist life long learners or networkers. I don’t like the term connectivist, but I used it because it is known and may help to understand what I am saying. There is no beginning and no end, said Vanessa Vaile. I had a similar orientation in my autoethnography: I just passed by the rhizo14 and studied something. Later in this text I want to say story, I am tired writing the long term autoethnography.

When I read the collected 30 stories, I can recognise 11 names which have lived in the interned many years. They are experienced moocers and self-directed learners and their participation skills are up-to-date. So they come to a course and take what they want and contribute here and there so that others can learn from their comments. Dave Cormier’s transparent live in the internet is very well-known to these people and they like him. They believe that something will happen when Dave is the facilitator. Some of these people were interested in rhizomatic learning and their connection to Dave included this shared interest. A few were very old friends of Dave and co-worked many years with him. Some of the experienced networkers have more general interests about learning and living in online communities. I could name them outer circle ripples of the Dave community 🙂

I found 30 different stories and only three were written by novices in the sense of first time moocers. I appreciate that they have written their stories. So I have about 16 stories left. It is a heterogeneous group of people following actively and participating selectively in the open internet. Some of them were interested in rhizomatic thinking and wondered why it was not studied properly.

I belong to this group. I remember that I had discussions about the allowed interests. I felt guilty of not being interested  in rhizomatic philosophy and someone (Tanya) promised that it is allowed to be interested in human learning generally. I was not alone with my orientation. Cath Ellis had a researcher’s orientation and she helped to find writings about Deleuze & Guattari. Some followed her but most participants wanted to be free learners. When the course proceeded further, the artistic ways of describing learning took more space. It is metaphorical and near the ideas of the course, so this trend is easy to understand. Some very touching stories were presented in the blogs and warm support was in the air. Simultaneously I could recognise a norm arousing that writing is boring and linear, do not use it.

Some of the participants had been publishing about learning online in some journals, I remember Apostolos and Maha. Now Sarah and some others were interested in following this line. So we have this rich material of 30 stories in Google Drive. The idea of collaborative autoethnography is excellent and suits the purpose. It is

A form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural-political-and social meanings and understandings. source

We have  different stories which could be used in various ways. My first feeling was that no one wants to read the stories as such, separated from the context or the community. I have tried to contextualize the stories partly to wider cultural settings in this post. I could use the stories by analysing them focusing in certain questions. For instance I’ll leave the inner circle of experienced networkers around Dave and continue by analysing more normal people 🙂 I have no intention to deepen into rhizomatic thinking and I leave it to them who are interested in it.

I had an idea to draw a map of different motivations but I changed my opinion. One question is how to use the writers’ names. If I connect names into motivation I could get feedback (and many angry comments). So? If I give new names for people it will be ridiculous. Every research effort is valuable in my mind but it takes time. An idea of collaborating is very challenging to implement.

It is a nice summer day today, not too hot, but next week is predicted to be very hot again. Perhaps I’ll rest.

Research about rhizo14

Exploring learning in open online studies is my hobby and so I wanted to check what is happening to the  two research projects of Rhizo14. A group of course participants planned a survey for us and began to gather our answers. It was called an autoethnography. Keith Hamon wanted to activate the process in his blog post “Who is writing the rhizo ethnography?” This post helped me to check the situation and now I know that the raw material is still waiting for researchers. It is open to the writers and nothing has been done since April. But now the group (Sarah Honeychurch et al) is planning a Hangout and you can follow the process via the  FB rhizo group – and participate, of course, if you will. A lot of hard work is waiting for doers. The material consists of answers to many questions about the learning process. You can read the questions in my blog post, my autoethnography. Keith Hamon tells the names of 35 possible authors who have told their stories.

Another research project was started by Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell (and Mariana Funes). You can read in Jenny’s blog about their presentation in June. It was very interesting to watch. Their interest is to follow the name of the course and explore how it was interpreted. They received 47 answers to the four questions and continued with interviews of 35 people. The questions were:

How the Rhizo14 experience relates to learning/teaching experiences before, during and after the course, triggered by the rhizome image. Your interpretation of learning and teaching need not be confined to formal settings.
1. How does the image of a rhizome relate to your prior experience of teaching, learning?
2. How does the image of a rhizome relate to your experience of learning during Rhizo14?
3. How might the image of a rhizome represent your future practice?
4. If the above questions did not allow you to fully explain your learning experience in Rhizo14, then please comment in the box below on those aspects of the course which were significant for you, and what kept you in the course or caused you to leave early.

It was not easy to answer the questions if you hadn’t thought anything about any rhizomes ( or actually it was easy to tell: no connections). I was a bad answerer in their research but I liked to watch their presentation. I took 2 screenshots of the presentation (the link to it is found in Jenny’s blog post). First they emphasize the complex nature of learning and then they combine the Deleuze-Guattari principles to learning in the course.

rhizoresHow are connections emerging? Is it really possible to connect from any to any?

Heterogeneity is obvious when the course is open to anyone. There was a huge amount of variety of beliefs and schooling and interests etc.

The researchers are working on these concepts in order to find the connections between the principles of rhizomatic thinking and participants’ experiences during rhizo14.

The metaphor level is fascinating but it can be used according to the writer’s own beliefs and I am not sure how much it will help. If rhizomes are spreading via clones, it doesn’t sound good or how? How many like-minded students I met on the course? Many?

The researchers know that objectivity is not possible in a research where they have acted as engaged participants. It is a challenge to listen to all the voices of participants. One solution could be to write down the researchers’ own beliefs before analysing the material. Transparency helps the readers to assess the researchers’ influence to the results.

The other image gives concepts for describing the possible results (or descriptions).

rhizores2Ambiguities and concerns vary greatly in the material. As a participant I could follow many lines (personal orientations) inside the course. Some people were interested in scientific research while most denied its value totally. Artistic line (poetry, word art, videos, images etc.) was very popular and it is a good way to describe complex phenomena. I could define those arrows as clusters toward these lines (conceptual vs images or learning vs rhizomatic learning).

In a course without content the personal orientation is most important and it means that many people are worrying about own space and competencies. Are my sayings worth saying or should I be quiet? Self- confidence is not given as a talent. Part of the energy during a course always goes around the own ego -or the facilitator’s ego.

It was interesting to hear that someone questioned the community as curriculum – is it possible to use side by side with rhizomatic thinking or learning. The learning process becomes deeper during the research process. I appreciate every effort to deep understanding of human learning.

This is a poor reference about Jenny’s and Frances’ presentation. I blended my thoughts here and there and it makes this messy. Please watch the video yourself (18 min). It is in Echo360 environment and you can find other interesting knowledge about MOOCs too.

The third survey in my mind was implemented at the end of the course. I checked Dave Cormier’s blog but did not find the results about his survey. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, he is planning the next rhizo course already.

My next post will deal with my own summary and my vision for mooc research. It is a hot summer here in Finland and lakes are too warm for swimming, can you imagine that? I came to town because it was too warm at our summer cottage.


Growing Old Around the Globe

I’ve just received my certificate from Penn (University of Pennsylvania) for the course Growing Old Around the Globe. I was interested in the topic and I had a lot of knowledge about it. I thought that I’ll watch some of the lectures and follow the discussion forums a little. But actually I watched all the video lectures and did all the assignments and wrote all the feedback which was needed. The lectures were interesting and well implemented (they were discussions actually) but the course became international through the peer interaction in the assignments. I loved the way the facilitators  guided us to work: first a source (video, image, poem, link or whatever) and then a short argumentation according to the choice. It was very easy and enjoyable. It was allowed to give full points to everyone, no demands of a normal curve.

oldgpieniThe most important thing  for me was to find my own thoughts concerning the theme Growing Old. I have knowledge and I got more information during the course, but I had to connect my experiences and my private life with my thoughts. The process opened my eyes. I became aware about my ideas at this moment. I loved the peer feedback from all over the world. If I told that I live in Finland, I got feedback about living in the Scandinavian countries. It is important that feedback is anonymous and that’s why I used examples from my private life more than ever. Growing old is a very personal experience. Of course we handled all the possible levels of ageing as well, but the personal level touched me the most.

The best surprise concerning the feedback was that my peer students understood me so perfectly. I did not expect it, because the assignments were short cuts of my life and my thoughts. I could see myself  in their feedback and I wonder how well they followed my presentations. My style is very personal and original and I hesitated over my choices, but everything went just as I wanted. I received full points for every task, but the understanding in the peer feedback was the real prize. There were 8900 students from 143 countries and the course was open to everyone. How is it possible that all my reviewers could follow me? It is a mystery 🙂

The course was designed very wisely and it worked well. I did much more than I intended. Thanks to Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker and all the guest experts. Growing old around the globe is a theme which must be worked on and shared continuously and you showed the way forward in the last webcast. We have the Facebook group and many other networks in use. All these aren’t made for the old, they are planned with us old people. So we will use them.

Open online learning in this blog during rhizo14

The assessment process is going on in the rhizo14 uncourse. It would be most popular to make a Zeega with music and rapidly changing images. Digital culture offers great new possibilities and learning is complex: so we need new artistic media. I’ve nothing against that direction but this time I’ll follow my old style and try to combine practice with theoretical concepts. I try to describe what happened in this blog when we tried to understand learning in our uncourse. My interest was to understand the conditions for well-working online community. I blogged and some old and new friends came to comment on my posts.

My first post in Jan 29th ended in some kind of hype: we have a possibility to create something quite undone earlier in online communities. Jaap understood me at once and was ready to continue. That clumsy sentence meant that I had a hunch about something new, I could not explain what and why, but there were possibilities in the air.

My way was to continue with scientific concepts which could help us in understanding our doings. Actually Jaap had written a post about roles of participants first. Sense of virtual community was my post on Febr 4th and I used a short slideshare of a Finnish researcher Miia Kosonen. In this post I offered some basic concepts to use in exploring in our participation. The comments of Jaap, Tanya, Mariana inspired me and I remembered also my earlier posts about a similar topic (bond or identity based commitment). Jaap gave me the concepts congregation and market, Tanya described her paths and gave me better English to use, Mariana handled power dynamics and choices of trust or not trust. I stepped from my social and cognitive psychology & sociology to the field of communication on the internet. I need a model for describing  the process, in which participants’ experiences meet the scientific concepts.

nonakaThis is a famous model about knowledge creation in innovative workplaces or projects, made by Nonaka and Takeuchi. I suppose that most of my blog’s readers know it and have used it in some contexts. This could still be a good model for understanding the learning events: how tacit knowledge is shared and externalised/ internalised and connected in new ways. The learning event has not changed, we can still use these concepts. A team was the concept used about the participants and it had similar ideas as a network has nowadays: there must be diversity and it must be used in the working process.

This blog received comments from Jaap, Sarah, Tanya, Mariana, Matthias, Frances, Jenny, Rita, Dave, Simon, Pat, Kathleen and Mark and some more in the Facebook. I referred to Apostolos, Ann, Maha, Maureen, Kevin, Viplav and Terry. My first idea was to write the names or faces of all the participants around the model, but soon I understood that it is not possible to put a name only in one place. The real interaction is too complex. (Or should it be a Prezi or Zeega to describe the process and its quick changes?) It was important to notice that people commented to each other, not only to my writings. I think Frances and Jenny were very good at this. They took the whole topic in her hands.

Everyone brought his/her voice into the learning process.  All the differences are valuable and can be used as a step in the spiral process.  It is a collaborative process open to people who want to bring their voices in participation. I don’t describe every post and every event in this process, that would sound boring even it is interesting in my mind. You can read the ten posts and make your own conclusion if you want. There are excellent links, which are worth opening. A rich material indeed.

What is success in this working process? To me it means that my understanding about online communities and learning in them has deepened. I have a feeling that I know these phenomena and the diversity inside them. I also see many borders in my understanding: for instance the participation funnel of open online courses could have been handled more and I have a hunch that it could explain the inclusion/exclusion phenomena. If we don’t see the exclusion process going on, we must be blind (or defensive actually). There are a lot of open questions and there will be more.

What were the emotionally touching moments during the course? I mentioned the enthusiasm with Jaap at the beginning of the course (to do something great, undone before this). It is a normal phase of a community building: get engaged> forming> storming> norming> performing> mourning.  The next emotionally touching event to me was Dave’s comment to Jenny in her blog and the FB group. I had to handle it in my blog “the community is the curriculum” and I could forgive the event after his apologies. How to handle the mistakes made during the process, it tells about the quality of interaction (authentic, honest vs pretended). It was a storming> norming phase simultaneously with working and collaborating.  Now I can see much emotional support in the FB group, when the course is ending and we have the mourning phase going on.

One happy fact still: I found a solution to my problem “how to find interesting books which I want to read”. I went to the local university library and learnt that anyone can borrow books there. I got a card and came home  with McLuhan and Rheingold and some other books. I can easily find the shelf of communication science and will visit there in the future. Perhaps this solution came to my mind when folks were pondering the connection between books and stupidity 🙂

I have often had a feeling of re-inventing the wheel. I have written better posts about similar topics some years ago. Here comes a slideshare from Vahid Masrour: Participation Spiral. I used it also in November 2010.



My autoethnography about rhizo14

I’ve to write another story about my experiences. Some participants are collaborating on an auto-ethnographical story and I want to support all research about MOOCs. Maha Bali is one of those active students and she asked for more information about my participation. So I decided to answer the questions:

Share your personal “story of rhizo14” in your own voice. You could freewrite, link to some of your blog posts, quote things you said on Twitter/facebook, or if you prefer a loose structure, you might like to consider some of the questions below:
a1. Comment on your reasons for joining #rhizo14,
a2. your level of participation and your experiences of the “course”.
b. Comment on your experiences of inclusion/exclusion in this community
c. Comment on how you are experiencing this MOOC, why or how it engages you, how you navigate it
d. Measures and perception of success??? “”measures of success and perception of the success of their learning.” Bentley et al., 2014

a1. Why I came in? I followed some people and I knew the idea of a connectivist course. Participating is normal to me. I follow the social and intellectual affordances of the internet all the time.

a2. My level of participation varied. During the first week this blog moved to this new address and I had no intention to write. I was not interested in the cheating debate, but I joined to the FB group and began to follow the Twitter hashtag #rhizo14. I started blogging during the second week. I declared my experiences and old and new connections in my post. I blogged two posts in week 4: Sense of virtual community in rhizo (8 comments) and  The community as the curriculum (10 comments). You can see that a community around my blog arose quickly. In week 5 I posted four times : Knowledge in interactive practice disciplines (5), Network as curriculum (2), Real or imagined community (15 comments). In my post “rhizo as a gathering place” I explored the visits to my blog and concluded that this is a European and ‘British global’ course, only 29% of the visits were new.  In week 6 I wrote about  My experiences during the rhizo14 and now I am writing another about the same topic. I used all my normal ways to participate: Twitter, FB group, Diigo, reading others’ blogs and commenting on them.

b. inclusion/exlusion in this community. I continue by telling which parts I ignored and why. I noticed interesting experiments with words and poetry but I did not want to participate because English is not my native language. I heard discussions around some names and cultures, music which I could not follow. That brings an experience about exclusion even it is not meant to be. This ‘culture’ increased into the end and I stopped writing. A good example is the new topic ‘Lunatics from asylum’ – not funny at all in my eyes. I don’t know the TV programmes or movies, from which that concept comes, and I do not care. I stopped following the FB group.

c. experiences. Dave Cormier said in his blog before the course had begun that to some people rhizo will

simply be an extension of your normal practice on the internet. You’ll find familiar faces who make references to previous learning events online, you already have web places from which you speak, and many of you are already familiar with the material.  I’ve been experimenting with online community style learning which I have called rhizomatic learning for about 10 years now.  A journey that will have different results for different people.

I am one of those people which are open to social and intellectual affordances of the internet all the time. This was not my ‘first love’ but one of many in my journey on the internet.

c. engagement I chose to handle the basic concepts network, community, tribe, crowd, curriculum, personal learning plan and network. I blogged and received comments and also commented on others’ blogs. Many participants had the similar interest.

c. No problems with navigation, P2PU was open without registration and I followed the course every week. I found the links to recordings somewhere (Twitter or FB threads).

d. measures of success. This is interesting. I have an intention to handle this in another post, but to put it short: some new names to recognize in the future. Three new names in FB including Dave. Many new Twitter contacts which began to go down 415-414-413-412-411 one per day when the course came to its end (and immediately up again when I started my following course). Some new devices or programs, Zeega to express the findings.

I try to embed here the presentation which Frances Bell has done. It is an excellent way to show the blogs and people behind them. And I am honoured to be one of them.


My experiences during rhizo14

I’ve been away one week and it is a long time. I’ve missed the last week of rhizo. I watched the last recording and I could see many happy participants there. To me this experience is like many other MOOCs which have been working well. I was not very active, I wrote eight posts and some comments, got three new FB friends and about ten new Twitter connections. I’ll follow some blogs after the course.

These were  my thoughts before the beginning of rhizo:  “How to participate in this international world? I’ve some circles of friends here and there and – after deciding not to participate in any course – I have noticed that many of my friends began the course “Rhizomatic Learning” run by Dave Cormier. I am a member of the FB group “Rhizo14” already and read enthusiastic writings by many people which I’ve met in previous courses. So, what to do? Perhaps I must get acquainted with the course programme and participate those weeks which are immersive enough. The real reason for participation are the people, anyway, I trust their capacity to interact with the co-learners. I follow people, not topics. It is a waste of time to ponder about my aims or interests, I’ll find them only by participating.”

I was interested in the question what makes online communities work. My post  ‘sense of virtual community’ is one of my favourite. So what can I tell about rhizo?  I met the old friends (Frances, Jenny, Jaap, Matthias)  and some new. I don’t mention their names, because I don’t remember everyone just now.  I was interested in some names which I lost soon. Why some connections continue and others not?  Time available is one factor, but there are differences in sensitiveness and openness. The facilitator’s behavior can influence more than other participants. I had seen Dave earlier in many situations and I admire how authentic he is in front of the camera. He is capable of interacting and listening to others. I could see this happening in the last hangout, he kept in the background and gave the space to others. Earlier on the course there was one silly comment from Dave to an experienced participant and I was very disappointed. Dave apologised openly so many times that I’ve had  to forgive him for that event. We are all human beings and make mistakes (a good model if I want to see it as such).

Rhizo is an experiment about totally personal curricula with a power shift to the participants. There must be many curricula in the course and mine is far from the normal one. I didn’t follow the weekly topics as most participants seemed to do. I did not open my heart to rhizomatic learning, I have no reason to study what those guys have said. So perhaps I am a test for personal learning plan (PLP). I wanted to learn about random learning online, what are the signs about virtual community or network. How to interpret the changing events?

The core concept in developing a course must be interaction. It is easy to build connections with like-minded people. It strengthens and sharpens the mind and the will. I remember Frances’ words about me: wise and strong. In rhizo we lived in the middle of self-made abundance. There is a tendency toward surface communication. Perhaps I should stop my serious pondering and say as Viplav in his blog: Dave is our Elvis. We lived in a Dave Cormier fan club some weeks and it was soo fuun. The event may end, but online learning in MOOCs and conferences continues. Viplav said: “A course is just a plot device to get people together, to communicate, to interact, to take part in this common exercise. And in this common exercise our connection between each other and our connections inside ourselves will be exercised, will be increased, augmented, developed — and we learn.” Show must go on …