Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thinking about thinking

You're giving a 20 minute lecture and you don't want your students to drift away while you're passionately talking about your slides. What would you do? (Let's say "I wouldn't lecture my students for 20 min. in the first place" is not an option.) Apparently, there is a lot you can do to win your listeners' attention. You could ask your students to stretch their legs, for example. Or ask them to take notes and give them some time to check their notes with their classmates at some point during the presentation. You could ask them to write down a few questions about the lecture. Discuss a question, take a short test, brainstorm keywords, watch a video clip, and... reflect, that is, ask your students to "take three minutes to think about what we have dealt with so far." And, of course, remind them to "Stay quiet so as not to interfere with others' reflection."

Reflection is often thought of as a planned activity, a learning strategy, and the list by the University of Sussex clearly illustrates that. It is often an afterthought. The thing is.. all the strategies I mentioned above to engage students are a type of "reflection" as long as we consider students as thinking human beings, consciously or unconsciously. Our reflections could be formal (as in we may be asked to think about thinking) or they could be informal (like asking "are we there yet?" when stretching our poor legs). 

I'm not really against the lecturing method, although it may sound like it because of the way I protest against how the University of Sussex frames student engagement during lectures. (In case you're wondering why I was looking at their website, it all started with a simple search on student reflection in lectures.) So after thinking about (reflecting on) the structure of the assignments on thoughtvectors, I am almost convinced that in formal schooling, what matters most is to allow students ask questions, get them excited about their learning, and help them see the world from a different perspective. Regardless of the pedagogical model--inquiry based, project-based, lecture, etc.--we need to design the learning activities in such a way that reflection must be allowed and encouraged; it should be understood as part of the learning process, at all times. So you might use an inquiry-based approach and but if you don't really have time to attend to the learner experience and work with surprises, what is the point?

I'm still thinking. I need counter-arguments. Please help.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Finally! I had my doctoral dissertation proposal meeting in late December and received formal approval for my study on #thoughtvectors. My research plan and focus have changed quite a bit since summer, so if you'd like to learn more about what I'm doing please check my presentation slides.

Few notes:

- My committee suggested that "a case study using qualitative methods" would be a more appropriate methodological framework for the proposed study (I initially wanted to an ethnographic research).

- My focus will be on the process of open pedagogy. I also shifted my RQs from "what" to "how", thanks to great discussions with my advisors and colleagues and the things I learned in the course in summer.

- I narrowed down my focus to one section only (section 09) because of the amount of data I will work with. However, because all sections (well, everything really) are connected in this class, section 09 will be a starting point to investigate the course in general.

- The committee also suggested that I interview instructors and course participants to better understand the inner workings of the course. I will send invitations for the interviews soon, I would be thrilled if you are interested in having a brief chat with me about the course!

I'm really grateful to those who've kept an open mind and supported this study. I have just finished transcribing the first Google Hangout with instructors and feel inspired. I'm going to put some of the things I've learned/embraced into practice in my class this Spring. So all in all, I have a feeling that this is going to be a great semester, hope yours will be too:)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Layers of Openness

I wasn't able to blog last week and now there are so many things I want to talk about: layers of openness, teaching as caring, natural pedagogy, open pedagogy, use of humor, RUBRIC, teaching styles, collective IQ, posting first drafts as a request for comments, and so many other things. My thought vectors are shooting in every direction. I need to turn these internal monologues into a dialogue (I feel like I'm talking with someone when I blog), so I will keep blogging after UNIV 200 ends--this is the beauty of a truly open online course.

I'll start with the layers of openness...

I recently watched Ecologies of Yearning--the keynote Gardner Campbell gave at the Open Education 2012 Conference. The talk really spoke to me this time, but even more, it touched me deeply because it beautifully framed my experience with openness in Thoughtvectors. Here is a powerful quote from the talk: 

... feeling at home in the world, knowing in the depths of one's being that one has a real place in the home of the world.

How does open education make you feel?   How do we want learners to feel when we open up education? How do I feel in this course?

When we ask these questions, we immediately shift the focus of open education from product to process. Audrey Watters has a really nice post reflecting on this:

[Openness is] process, not product after all. It’s not so much the what we learn but the how and the who with and the why we do so. As Campbell suggested in his keynote this morning, it’s not so much about “open” as an adjective to describe education; rather it’s “opening” as a verb to describe what we must do. What we want students, learners, all of us, to do.

In my research proposal, I had argued that openness is not simply a property of digital content--it is also a pedagogical worldview, a stance on educational activity. Then based on Cormier and Siemens (2010), I described openness as the transparency of educational activity. Now three weeks into Thoughtvectors I feel like openness can be much more than that. It can be an opening, as Gardner Campbell argues, an opportunity, a warm welcome to be part of a learning community. It can be hospitality. It can be a genuine interest in the learner experience.

In a recent article on connected learning, Philipp Schmidt said:

There are many good reasons why we have focused on young people. It's easier to make a difference to someone's life if they are just starting out, if they haven't already fallen behind because they lack access to good schools or other opportunities. And, as everyone who works with children will confirm, it is also very rewarding. Seeing how your work makes a young person's eyes light up is a wonderful experience. Working with adult learners on the other hand is often harder, messier, and less likely to succeed.

I need to think more about this, but I feel strongly about what open education might mean for adult learners, because, I believe, when adults see an opening, they have the amazing ability to persevere under the most challenging conditions and be successful. I'll talk more about this in my next post. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tools to think with

For mature thought there is no mechanical substitute. But creative thought and essentially repetitive thought are very different things. For the latter there are, and may be, powerful mechanical aids. Vannevar Bush, As We May Think

By Saturday, June 14, only after 4 days after the class officially started, 642 blog posts were published on, a total of 1165 vectors launched into the concept space including the tweets. Gardner Campbell defines thought vectors as "the lines of inquiry, wonder, puzzlement, and creative desire emerging from individual minds" [Link coming soon]. Each vector thus is a thought, waiting to be discovered by others and continue its journey in a different direction and form. 

I feel like 75% of what I'll be doing is to follow these vectors and rediscover what is already known by the community. The remaining 25%, or maybe less, is left to how I make sense of that using my creativity, research skills, and knowledge base (those aha moments).

But as Roy Pea says, "mind rarely works alone" (he probably wanted to say never, but that's a bad word in social sciences). I don't operate in isolation: I think in relation to my environment. I think with @GoogleGuacamole, with Gardner Writes, with cogdog (hence my associative trail), and all the learners in the environment. I think with the learning space and the tools available to me. How I feel about my environment and the nature of my interactions with other people will no doubt shape the way I go about my research and my findings. 

Perhaps creative or, let's say, independent thought cannot be reproduced by machines (although bottom-up approaches to artificial intelligence may prove just the opposite), but we certainly use our surroundings as aids/objects to think with. In a networked field I am a networked researcher (to be), and I use many online tools as powerful thinking aids:

- Dropbox to organize all the bits and pieces that go into this research, all the text files and folders
- Storify to pull stories from Twitter 
- Pinterest to bookmark websites and media and to create instructor profiles (the last one is just a thought for now)
- Mendeley to save related journal articles 
- NetFiles to create URLs for my image files 
- Blogger for reflections and sharing my research with others 
- Vimeo to record screen captures and brief reflections 
- to create concept maps (this might change)
- Gmail to archive e-mail communications

So..onto data collection! (a continuous cycle of copy and paste, drag and drop, bookmarking, recording, saving, typing typing typing...) 

Can you think of any other tools I can use for this research? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Open scholarship and vulnerability

I recently read Open Practices and Identity: Evidence from Researchers and Educators’ Social Media Participation by George Veletsianos. I was fascinated by the arguments presented in the paper mainly because they accurately describe my experience with open scholarship. Here is a brief excerpt from the article where Veletsianos talks about how he felt when he first started sharing his work openly online:

At first, I often struggled with the notion of public participation on social media, of “putting myself out there,” publishing draft ideas and sharing details of my professional and nonprofessional life that I assumed others would find incomplete, dull or irrelevant. In retrospect, the source of this struggle was partly the training and scholarly enculturation that I received during my graduate degree. This training, implicit as it may have been, highlighted the notion that researchers: (1) can be “scooped out of ideas” if they share ideas prematurely and (2) are experts, knowledgeable in their field of study, confident of their work and should present themselves as such.

Let me include in open scholarship all teaching and learning activities that are publicly enacted. How do learners feel about publishing drafts online, reflecting on their learning openly as it happens?

Veletsianos has also written about vulnerability in open scholarship arguing that academics often experience vulnerability in online spaces. Vulnerable is a peculiar word, something I don't use in everyday language or even think about. So what is vulnerability?
English is not my first language, so I had to consult Google first:
Wikipedia defines it as "the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment."

The Free Dictionary offers 3 definitions: (1) Susceptible to physical or emotional injury,  (2) susceptible to attack, and (3) open to censure or criticism.

So we feel vulnerable when we expose ourselves to others knowing we might get hurt because of that. Does opening up ourselves online, entering an environment with no clear cut boundaries mean that we may become subject to, and must be ready for, harsh criticism, disapproval, and ridicule? Yes, of course that is a possibility in a public space (like being hit by an egg thrown from somebody in the crowd), but I don't think this is how a learning community can thrive. "Exuberant" discoveries in a community of mutual care, support, encouragement, and respect [challenge: add other nouns with a positive vibe here], that is what (ideally) learning should be all about.

This is not to say that I'm against critique, quite the opposite, as Jesse Stommel says "our work (as both teachers and researchers) is to build networks that facilitate discussion and critical engagement." Critical engagement--questioning, challenging, extending, and refining one another's work and ideas-- should be central to all scholarly practice, which is something significantly overlooked in higher education, almost non-existent in many graduate level classes, at least in my experience. Let's be honest, how many graduate students experience a mild shock when they receive feedback from a blind review for the first time?

I think I'm getting somewhere here... We may feel absolutely comfortable putting ourselves out there when a) we are  indifferent to the impact of our work on others or b) when we are ready, and willing to, engage in critical discourse. I don't think we necessarily need to feel vulnerable to experience the latter. A strong sense of wonder is probably all that is needed: I wonder what they'll think about this? I wonder if there is something I haven't considered? I wonder if they will respond... When we share our work online, as Alex Reid says, we "must begin with skepticism and allow [ourselves] to be open to persuasion." We must wonder, we must be critically engaged. 

I'm curious to know how much of what I've discussed here applies to learners who openly share their work and thoughts online in the thoughtvectors community. Do they feel vulnerable, do they feel a strong sense of wonder?

And what is happening in the thoughtvectors community? I don't quite know how to make sense of a community of this scale. I quickly realized that I got myself into something quite amazing and extraordinary here. My documentation plan will be the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From ethnography to new paradigms of learning

In some unexpected and beautiful way, I am living the dream. It's a bit difficult to start this blog because it means opening up myself in a way that I haven't done before. But, hey, I'm not going to "talk [myself] into failure before it even shows up." So here it is/I am:

I'm a doctoral student in Learning Technologies at the University of Minnesota researching a massive open online course Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds. I'll share my research activities and any other musings related to my research on this blog.

This is going to be an ethnographic case study. I'll focus on the shared learning activity and try to make sense of it using the participatory learning framework (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). (I'll talk more about online ethnography and the implications of a networked field on ethnographic research in future posts.)

I ask three (very) broad questions as a starting point:

1) What types of shared activities do learners engage in in an open online course? What is the nature of those activities?
2) In what ways does the architecture of the environment support or constrain shared learner experiences?
3) In what ways does the pedagogical framework (i.e., educational vision, instructional strategy, and instructional method) support or constrain shared learner experiences?

I've thought a great deal about the type of data I'd like to collect for this study and (with help from my advisor) decided on two major data collection methods:

- Unstructured participant observations
- Artifact and document analysis

I'm also planning to conduct interviews to better evaluate my observations.

No learning analytics, no big data, no surveys--at least for now. So, why ethnography at a time when big data is getting immensely popular?

In a recent interview Connie Yowell says:

In this time of big data, ethnography and qualitative work are needed to develop new paradigms. Traditional work in education and learning is not funding this kind of work. But we need to because otherwise we can’t understand how people are participating with these new tools and what the social practices are. That’s how we’ll develop new paradigms for learning. Right now, in the education and learning space, we sorely lack new paradigms. 

Open education has the potential to combine new and exciting paradigms of learning (open, personalized, distributed, connected, collaborative, collective) in an online platform and fundamentally change what we are used to seeing in traditional (text-based, confined, solitary, competitive) education. Can you imagine what education might look like when this happens? Ethnography--broadly speaking, the study of social groups or culture--is indeed needed to understand this complex social change, because, after all, learning is a social endeavor.

So why am I living the dream? Because at this moment I'm connecting with you online for something I'm passionate about, something I could never have imagined myself doing only three or four years ago. I'm fascinated by online learning--the tremendous potential it holds for education at all levels. Thank you for reading, and thank you for giving me an opportunity to connect with you.

Do you have any questions? Do you see any holes in my thinking? Do you just want to say hi? Please leave a comment and let me know.


 I was looking for an image about dreams and this one came up on a Google search. I quite like it!