Lurking or Legitimate Peripheral Participation

By Christy Tucker, CC/A/3.0

During the July 7 early #lrnchat about social media and social learning, there was a lot of discussion about lurking.

Can I Play?In response to the question “What are some ways you learn through social media that aren’t collaborative, with other people per-se?”

I replied:

I do a fair amount of lurking (ie “legitimate peripheral participation”)

I also retweeted this message by Colby Fordham:

We all like sharers, but there is a value in lurking. [You] have to [learn] the rules and important topics.

and Jane Bozarth replied

…and then stop lurking

Often, lurking is just a temporary phase, and you do jump in afterwards. But is that always necessary? I have lots of online communities where I sit on the periphery and lurk, long past the initial phase of learning how the community works.

A few examples:

  • YouTube: Most of the time on YouTube, I’m just watching. I’m not creating my own videos, commenting, sharing, or bookmarking. I have a few videos, but I’m lurking at least 90% of the time.
  • Kongregate: Technically, I am not a lurker on this gaming site by the strictest definition, since I do rate games. I read through the forums and chat  sometimes, but rarely jump into the conversation.
  • News: I don’t get a newspaper in “dead tree” format; I get most of my news online. I read several newspapers and blogs, all of which have commenting or community features. Most of the time I don’t even read the user discussions, and I never add my own comments.
  • Slashdot: I skim the RSS feed, but I don’t have an account and have never commented.
  • Wikipedia: At one point, I contributed quite a bit (2500+ edits), but it’s been over a year since I’ve been active.

I learn on all those sites. (Yes, even Kongregate: I learn game strategies on the forums. What I learn is of limited use in the rest of my life, but it’s useful for my goals when I’m on that site.) I’ll be honest; I’m not really interested in getting sucked into the high drama conversations on most of those sites. Wikipedia, for example, can be pretty intense and nasty. It’s the only place online I’ve actually been directly threatened (although there was no actual danger, it was still disconcerting). If I’m going to be part of conversations, I’d rather they be part of the learning community, or at least more productive than many of the conversations at the sites above.

Would I be a better gamer if I was active in the Kongregate forums? Most likely. But I’m not looking for a high level of expertise in gaming. So why should I expend my energy there, when peripheral participation gets me enough expertise to meet my personal goals?

In the #lrnchat conversation, Jane called this behavior “taking,” and she’s right—I’m reading and taking advantage of the resources without giving back. I give back here, but I don’t give back in every community that I use. My giving is very uneven, and sometimes I just lurk.

Is it wrong to lurk, or is it appropriate to have different levels of participation in different online communities? Should we exclude anyone from reading the RSS feeds of our blogs if they aren’t commenting,  bookmarking, +1-ing, etc?

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith call lurking “legitimate peripheral participation”:

From a community of practice perspective, lurking is interpreted as “legitimate peripheral participation,” a crucial process by which communities offer learning opportunities to those on the periphery. Rather than a simple distinction between active and passive members, this perspective draws attention to the richness of the periphery and the learning enabled (or not) by it. (p. 9)

Do the people active in a community learn more than those on the edges? Yes, I do believe that. But if your goal isn’t to be an expert, peripheral participation may give you enough learning to meet your needs. You can learn via social media without it actually being social learning.

What do you think? Are there communities where you are in the center of the action, but others where you’re on the periphery? Is there a place for lurking in learning communities, or should everyone be an active participant? If we’re designing learning with social media, can we focus just on social learning, or can we also support use of social media for peripheral participation?

Image credit:

Can I play? by jaxxon

2012 – the year of the MOOC?

by Alistair Creelman

Is 2012 the year of the MOOC? It certainly seems so since I’m discovering new providers of free open learning every week. The latest to turn up on the radar is a new development from Udemy offering university teachers a chance to offer courses for free. Udemy has been around for a year or two now and their main aim is to provide people with a platform for creating and marketing courses in just about anything. Create your course, place an ad for it in Udemy and see if it takes off. Courses may be free but most have small course fees attached.

The new venture for Udemy is called the Faculty Project. Here university teachers can make their own courses open to all, including video lectures, presentation material and texts. Students enroll for free and progress at their own rate through the material using a discussion forum for collaboration with other students and even with the teacher according to the information. The initial list of courses available covers a wide range of subject areas from Operations management to Ancient Greek Religion and this is planned to expand as rapidly as they can recruit new teachers. They promise to keep the courses freely available indefinitely.

Here’s yet another example of people getting together to offer free education to a global audience. The course material itself can teach you a certain amount but by adding the input of a mentor/teacher and gathering students together into study groups using discussion forums or even better through all the other collaborative learning tools available today (eg VoiceThread, Skype, Google Docs, OpenStudy etc). Different students will learn different things; some will take the whole course, others will take selected parts. You learn what you need to learn.
There may not be any university credits on offer for all these open courses but tangible rewards may still be available.

The open badges initiative that I have written about several times is gaining momentum and a new article in none other than the business establishment magazine Forbes highlights the potential of alternative credentials: Why Get a Pricey Diploma When Badges Tell Employers More? They see the potential of badges to harness the energy of informal learning but point rightly to concerns about validity and quality assurance. If these concerns are addressed a real power shift in education will take place:

“… once we find empirical ways to verify competency via accredited and ranked badge providers, not only might traditional education brands and their pals in the standardized test industry lose their monopoly on credentialing, but badges themselves might gain the widespread legitimacy they currently lack. If that happens, we will be a step closer to destroying the time-consuming, budget-busting, bubble-inducing myth that everyone must have a four-year college degree to succeed in America.”

Massive Courses Sans Stanford

by Steve Kolowich

Leland Stanford first planned to found an institution in 1884. 127 years on some Stanford instructors are pushing beyond the boundaries of  ‘the institution’ with several professors setting up private initiatives to provide massive open online education. This follows on from an Artificial Intelligence course in 2011 which attracted around 200 000 participants. The article describes various options being considered including establishment of a recruitment agency for technology industry rather than traditional forms of accreditation.

Getting to Know You: Change11 and Mooc Participation

The second in the series from Liz Renshaw.

Vanessa Vaile here, my current landing spot is Mountainair (isolated, rural) in central NM. Both current location and places along the way are relevant, context to what I do and how I do it. Status: retired from teaching other than some volunteer and design work; active curating content, blogging and other online and community projects.

Why did I decide to participate in Change11? I ask myself that same question, along why the others too? Why not? I started two weeks late with PLENK10, lost at sea most of the time but kept on signing up. Whatever my reasons are, “professional development” is not among them, although personal and even community or network would be. Remember Zorba’s stone?

As for “MOOC highlights,” weeks, topics, presenters, commentaries, newsletters, groups become something of a blur. Not all highlights took place in a MOOC. The best are aha moments when a MOOC moment connects elsewhere, wether higher education reform, curating open GED resources, self-paced ESL study group or community development ~ and vice versa. Those I tag, bookmark, add to reader and share appropriately.

After trying and rejecting complex strategies for managing information, I’ve simplified the process to ‘sort, tag, aggregate, read what I can and most catches my attention, comment on and tweet time permitting, ignore what I can’t’. That includes not worrying about what I will surely miss, lose track off or just plain forget. It’s still there waiting and may or may not return.

I’m still working on my own definition of a “Personal Learning Network,” its parameters and sometimes even what to call it. My network is eclectic, neither 100% personal nor exclusively “educational” (another problematic term).

Use tools: don’t be one. Social networking tools favored one mooc may not take center stage the next, Why, I could not say. Convenience and availability of apps to make them more efficient are important considerations. I live on the wrong side of the digital divide. Not being bandwidth hogs is probably the real deal maker.

Most used are: blogging platforms (Blogger, Posterous, most recently Tumblr); Google reader, sort, tag, bundle, share, search; email (forget that crap the death of email or it being where ideas go to die unless a) not web based, b) user is a preternaturally gormless searcher); Twitter – four active accounts (higher ed, personal, local, literary); social bookmarking, both Delicious and Diigo; Facebook (convenient for sharing even though search and archive suck big-time, for pages, get around that for pages with rss feed in readers; aggregators: NetVibes;;, iGoogle ~ and whatever helps sync all of the preceding. Also used but less or on the tryout list: Dropbox;; Storify; Pinterest; Twitter / social media management systems; and some used so little that I cannot recall their names.

Resonate? I am not a tuning fork. Just off the top of my head, Dave for clarity, ecology, rhizomes; George for structure, analytics; Stephen for newsletter, attitude and magpie mind; Snowden because we are both Welsh. I feel the meaning of ‘cynefin’ in my bones. All of them for “messing with boundaries, barriers, and silos” (George).

There are others in between that I am still processing and will be long after the course is over. A moveable feast. Applications are another story and another post for another time.

Open Badges, MOOCs and Recognising Lifelong Learning

By Grainne Hamilton

Grainne discusses participation in a Mooc, recognition and accreditation of learning including open badges:

“I think badges awarded for different levels of participation or perhaps for contribution to the wider knowledge of the learning community through blog posts, contributions to discussions etc could have worked really well here. I participated in the MOOC for my own personal development, to gain knowledge useful for my job and out of interest to experience a MOOC so I wasn’t really looking for a qualification from it. Looking back though, it would be useful to have some kind of recognition of my increased understanding of mobile learning but it could also have been a good motivator if there had been some tangible way of acknowledging if my peers had valued my contributions or spotted a particular attribute in me. It would also have been good to be able to separate the assessment for a badge from the timeline of the actual course, so that I could still for example, present evidence for assessment after the course had finished”

Full post

Another brick in the wall? Reflections on higher education in the 21st century (#change11)

By Paul Prinsloo


[Image retrieved from 11 January 2012)

In this week’s focus in , Valerie Irvine and Jillian Code invited us to reflect on the future of “brick and mortar” universities in the light of some of the challenges these institutions face such as

  • diminishing funding
  • increasing competition
  • growing prevalence of online programs

The most important challenge, according to Irvine and Code, is the changes in the demographics where the “number of people aged 18-22 are smaller than in previous boom eras”. As a way to address these challenges, (especially the decline in the number of prospective students in catchment areas), they share an approach they adopted at the University of Victoria termed “multi-access learning” through which learners choose the delivery method they want for their studies.

In the South African context, our registration periods have just started and the daily press is filled with pictures of long queues of prospective students hoping for successful admission. I write this reflection in the midst of evidence of an unprecedented growth in students who want to enrol in higher education. Just yesterday a person was killed in a stampede in an attempt to register at the University of Johannesburg (link).

While higher education in South Africa also faces diminishing funding, increasing competition and the growing prevalence of online offerings (often by overseas institutions), changes in student demographics and profiles; we are facing the dilemma of too many enrolments, the majority of which are ill-prepared for higher education.

My immediate context is the University of South Africa (Unisa), a dedicated mega comprehensive open distance learning institution with more than 400,000 students. We are differently subsidised than residential “brick and mortar” universities and our students are spread throughout South Africa and the African continent with some students scattered across the globe.

For many students, Unisa is the last resort due to capping at residential universities, higher admission requirements, access and cost.

In general, many of our students would have opted for “classroom teaching” if they had a choice, if they could afford it, had access to and if their life circumstances allowed for the “luxury” of face-to-face tuition. So many of our students (younger, unemployed) want face-to-face tuition.

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, there is also still the widespread belief that face-to-face education is of a higher quality than distance or e-learning programmes. There is also the belief (despite contradictory evidence) that distance and e-learning are cheaper options (which explain the different funding formulas).

Back to our context: Though the majority of our students have increasing access to our learning management system the main delivery mode is still printed materials.

In 2012 our Senate approved a number of proposals that may be of interest for the current discussion. These are:

  • Up to recently we designed learning experiences with the emphasis on printed delivery while providing for and increasingly optimising the affordances of e-learning. From 2013 onwards all course development will be designed for e-learning while providing for a range of delivery options, including print.
  • We are in the process of moving towards device-independent delivery but the process is more complex and time-consuming than expected. The main purpose is to make learning available and possible no matter the choice of device from which learners access their learning and learning resources. We would therefore like to provide students with a variety of delivery and support options (with different pricing).
  • There are various initiatives to increase students’ access to the Internet and many of these initiatives will start to bear fruit in 2012.

In our context as a distance education provider, we will never be able to offer full-time face-to-face education to our students. That is one choice students will not have despite the fact that many of our students want face-to-face teaching. On some of our regional campuses there are more than 8,000 students per day using the library and a variety of venues for their studies. While we do offer a relatively extensive tutorial support programme throughout South Africa, most of our students cannot attend these and there is no clear-cut evidence to suggest that students who attend these tutorial support programmes perform better than those who don’t.

So, while there are some differences in the challenges we face in comparison to the situation posed by Irvine and Code – multi-access learning is a reality which higher education faces – no matter what the context.

We should however not underestimate the complexities of “multi-access learning” or giving students some choice on delivery options. Some of the challenges are

  • How we cost the learning – and ensure that the cost is just not transferred to students?
  • How do we ensure quality in a range of learning experiences aimed at achieving the same outcomes?
  • How do we prepare academics and teaching staff for the different challenges and opportunities of these different experiences? What skills-set and more importantly value-set should faculty (and our students) have?
  • How do we manage the fact that students may not know (when they enrol) which delivery option would be optimal for them? How do we manage the fact and cost if students want to change their initial choices half-way through the period?

In this reflection I specifically attempted to address the issue of multi-access learning as proposed by Irvine and Code. There is however the nagging question whether we still need “brick and mortar” higher education in the 21st century….

Is it not time to break down the wall?

#Change 11 – Halfway Point Reflections

by Jenny Mackness

Well it’s time to take stock a bit – not the ideal time – with Xmas looming and everything that entails and needs thinking about  – mostly food. Every year I cannot believe how much food is consumed :-)

But how much of Change MOOC have I consumed and what are my tentative and first reflections at this point.

There have been 14 weeks of presentations and activities and I managed to keep up with all of them but two (and I may yet get to the two I missed – that is the beauty of this type of course) :

Week 01 : Orientation
Week 02: Zoraini Wati Abas
Week 03: Martin Weller
Week 04: Allison Littlejohn
Week 05: David Wiley
Week 06: Tony Bates
Week 07: Rory McGreal
Week 08: Nancy White
Week 09: Dave Cormier
Week 10: Eric Duval
Week 11: Jon Dron
Week 12: Clark Aldrich
Week 13: Clark Quinn
Week 14: Jan Herrington

I have found it fascinating  and very enjoyable on a number of levels.

  • I have been intrigued by which elements of the MOOC have been changed and which have been kept the same as previous CCK type MOOCs and have noted that this MOOC has had more of a conference style than previous MOOCs.
  • I have really enjoyed the range of different presenters, with their different styles and the different tasks they have set. Although not many people, including myself, have responded to the tasks, I still think these are a very valuable part of the course, as they help us to understand what is important to the presenters.
  • Some of the MOOC presentations have fed directly into research I am doing to the point where I have been anxious about whether we (my colleagues and I) can get our research out in time, before it has all been said and discussed already. There has been the element of trying to keep up with the ongoing conversations and work out how they relate to our research – and consider whether our research is going out of date as we do it!
  • The MOOC topics have helped me to feel more abreast of current discussions and issues in relation to learning, networked learning and e-learning. Some of what I have learned in the past 12 weeks that I have attended has already fed into a research paper that has been submitted and accepted, and into a forthcoming project.


What have I found difficult or what would I change?

Despite my blog post ‘Doubts about slow learning’ there is no doubt that I am a slow thinker, reader and learner – not by choice, but simply by capability – so I have found the weekly change of topic very difficult to keep up with.  For most weeks I have managed to find the time – but for a couple of weeks, I gave in and recognized that other priorities were higher on my list.

On the other hand – you can’t get bored when the topic changes weekly – so there is a fine balance to be maintained here and I suppose everyone’s personal balance point will depend on his or her personal context.

What have I done differently this time?

I have now participated in 6 MOOCs and written 5 research papers as a result – either loosely or closely related. I realize that I am all the time slowly learning more about how to participate in MOOCs and each time I approach it a bit differently. This time, I wanted to make more of an effort to make connections across the MOOC network. I have not been brilliant at this, as I still haven’t spent enough time reading other people’s blog or Twitter posts, but I have tried to respond to anyone who has commented on my blog. If I’ve missed anyone it is because of lack of skills, organization etc. rather than intent.

Initial reflections

I am all the time reflecting on what it means to learn and participate in MOOCs and why I find this way of learning so intriguing. I notice that Heli (who I met in CCK08) is also thinking about this. What is interesting for me, is that in my ‘day job’, i.e. the job that earns the money – only a few have so far been interested in MOOC pedagogy as Heli calls it. But I sense that this is changing. I remember talking about CCK08 to a group of academics in 2009 and being met by a wall of blank faces. That group is now hoping to design a course on MOOC principles. Exciting times!

I think participation in Change11 has not been that high – but personally I don’t see that as a problem. As I have mentioned before in a post – a colleague once said to me that however small the numbers, those who are at the table are those who are meant to be there.  I always find that very helpful.

There have also been those who have missed having a central discussion forum, e.g. a Moodle forum as we had in CCK08 – but personally I am OK with no central forum – in fact I sincerely hope that Stephen, George and Dave stick to their principles of how they think learning in MOOCs should be modeled, demonstrated and exemplified and don’t get swayed by low engagement figures to cave in and provide more structured courses. For me – the whole point is to recognize that we need to learn in distributed open spaces and educators need to help learners to develop the skills to do this.

20-12-11 Postscript

Evidently I was wrong about the low engagement – which is good to hear. :-) Here are the figures that Stephen has posted on his blog today

it’s not really that low, in my view: in addition to the more than 2000 people receiving the daily newsletter, we’ve had 38,000 visits and 135,000 pages read during the 14 weeks of the course – and that’s just on the main site, not counting all the Twitter and blog posts read on other sites. And the have been 1300 blog posts harvested and almost 2500 tweets – you can read 766 blog posts online.

Connecting, Sharing and Curating

by Keith Lyons

The New Year has prompted a range of posts about trends in connecting, sharing and curating.

Some examples I have found in the last few days:

Stephen Downes linked to Nick DeNardis’s post Why now is a great time to do an OAuth audit. Nick points out that “The beginning of the year is a great opportunity to start fresh and look at everything with a new set of eyes. Something that is easily overlooked is who (or what) has access to your social media accounts. It’s easy to change your password and revoke access from co-workers but it isn’t as easy to identify which websites and services have access to your accounts.”

Alistair Gray shared a link with the International Sports Management LinkedIn Group to a Dan Schawbel discussion of optimising use of LinkedIn. Dan identifies two fundamental principles of networking in his conversation with Jan Vermeiren, the founder of Networking Coach: the networking attitude (give and receive); and the Know, Like, Trust factor.

A Diigo Teacher-Librarian Group link from a page to an Apollo Research Institute Report (April 2011) on Future Work Skills. The Report identified ten skills “vital for success in the workforce”:

  • Sense-making: an ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence: an ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking: a proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency: an ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking: an ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New media literacy: an ability to assess critically and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mindset: an ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management: an ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration: an ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Robin Good observes that:

By looking at the set of emerging skills that this research identifies as vital for future workers, I can’t avoid but recognize the very skillset needed by any professional curator or newsmaster.

This week’s presenter in the #change11 MOOC, Howard Rheingold has discussed five essential literacies:

I’ve concluded that one important step that people can take is to become more adept at five essential literacies for a world of mobile, social, and always-on media: attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network know-how. The effects of these literacies can both empower the individuals who master them and improve the quality of the digital culture commons.

Stephen Downes shared a great link to Alec Couros’s end of year Social Media and Open Education blog post about student work. Alec notes that:

I wanted to use the last post of the year to share a few examples of the great work that is being done by my graduate and undergraduate students. I am so very fortunate to have creative & hard-working students who are committed to improving their knowledge of teaching and learning in light of our new digital landscape. I hope that some of these examples will inspire you to take up new challenges in your own context.

These examples included student projects using: stop-motion technique; Glogster; Freemind; Xtranormal; Screenr; Jing; Voicethread; TikaTok; Prezi; and Knovio.

SlideShare compiled 12 presentations that look at change in 2012. I was particularly interested in Skytide’s 7 Online Video Trends to Watch in 2012 and the discussion of Adaptive Bitrate Streaming. Skytide suggest “As adoption of adaptive bitrate protocols grows, providers of legacy streaming methods will find themselves under increased pressure to prove their added value. Witness the recent decision by Adobe to cease further development of its mobile FlashPlayer.”

I noted from an iSportConnect alert that the Philadelphia Wings Lacrosse team is using Twitter handles on its shirts (and following on a lead from two football teams (Valencia and Jaguares de Chiapas). Whilst looking at the Twitter possibilities I saw the Twitter blog post about New Year’s Eve activity. The post includes a video visualisation of tweets.

Phil Davis has written a post for The Scholarly Kitchen, Tweets and Our Obsession with Alt Metrics, that offers another perspective on tweeting. He discusses Gunther Eysenbach’s paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. The comments on this post make for fascinating reading and raise some salutary issues for me about connecting, sharing and curating.

I thought I would end this post with a link to Tagxedo. It is a word cloud generator and I have used it here to summarise the content of this post.

Photo Credits


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Research publications on Massive Open Online Courses and Personal Learning Environments

by Rita Kop

People interested in Massive Open Online Courses will probably be aware of the research by Helene Fournier and me on Personal Learning Environments and MOOCs. We carried out research in the MOOC PLENK2010 (The MOOC Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge that was held in the fall of 2010). The data collected on this distributed course with 1641 participants has been massive as well. Its analysis has kept us and some fellow researchers busy over the past year. The research has resulted in a number of publications and I thought it might be useful to post links to all of our journal articles, conference papers and presentations that were published  in relation to PLEs and MOOCs in one space. Each publication looks at the data from a different perspective, eg, requirements in a PLE, self-directed learning, learner support, creativity.

Kop, R. (2010) The Design and Development of a Personal Learning Environment: Researching the Learning Experience, European Distance and E-learning Network Annual Conference 2010, June 2010, Valencia, Spain, Paper H4 32 (conference paper) conference presentation

Kop, R. (2011) The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 12, No 3 (2011): Special Issue – Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning  (journal article)

Fournier, H., Kop, R. and Sitlia, H. (2011), The Value of Learning Analytics to Networked Learning on a Personal Learning Environment, 1st International Conference on Learning analytics and Knowledge 2011, Banff, February 27-March 1st, 2011. Paper 14 (conference paper) conference presentation

Kop, R. and Fournier, H. (2011) New Dimensions to Self-directed Learning in an Open Networked Learning Environment, International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, Volume 7, Number 2, Fall 2010, page 1-18  (journal article) – conference presentation

Kop, R. and Fournier, H. (2011) Facilitating Quality Learning in a Personal Learning Environment through Educational Research, online session at the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research, May 2011. The link gives access the the Elluminate recording, an Mp3 and Powerpoint slide.

Kop, R., Fournier, H. and Mak, S.F.J. (2011) A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant support on Massive Open Online Courses, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Special Issue – Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for LearningVol. 12, No. 7, pg. 74-93 ( journal article)

Fournier, H. and Kop, R. (2011) Factors affecting the design and development of a Personal Learning Environment: Research on super-users, in the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, Volume 2, Issue 4, 12-22, October –December 2011. (journal article) conference presentation conference paper

Kop, R. and Carroll, F. (2011) Cloud Computing and Creativity: Learning on a Massive Open Online Course, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, Special Issue on Creativity and OER (journal article)

Some of the background data of participants and the course cause a little overlap in the papers, but we think the diversity of subjects covered in the papers will shed light on the learning experiences on MOOCs and make for a varied tapestry of information on MOOCs. PLENK2010 provided us with rich in data and we are still working on the analysis of the dataset as a whole for a paper on motivation and one on research methods, in collaboration with Guillaume Durand, using some challenging research methods. We will let you know when these papers will be published.

Two Worlds Colliding

by Bonnie Stewart, Inside Higher Education, with thanks to University of Venus for permission to publish here:

So, I’m having the learning experience of a lifetime. I’m in doctoral student heaven.

With the context of my course structure this fall, there’s lots to read and lots to do. I interact and grapple with ideas from multiple perspectives. I mentor and teach; I am mentored and taught in return. I work through my ideas in writing and in casual conversation, and in video or podcast or any other modality I choose. I publish. I get critical feedback. On a variety of platforms, my fellow learners and I talk about theory and educational applications. We speak across disciplinary boundaries.

It’s heady, and challenging. It’s also not a course in my program. Or my university. There is no recognized channel by which to represent its value on my academic CV.

It’s a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course: specifically, it’s #change11, a 36 week exploration of the theme of Change: Learning, Education, and Technology, worldwide.

There are 36 facilitators. I’m one, though my week of leadership comes near the tail-end of the course. I’m also a participant, with over 2000 other registered people. It’s free and unregulated: a chance to engage in coordinated conversations about learning and connect with folks whose interests intersect with and enhance my own.

It’s the largest and most ambitious in a series of MOOC-style courses offered over the last three or four years at the intersections of education and technology. And it’s a model that’s catching on: Stanford is running a muchhyped massive open online course on Artificial Intelligence this fall, with tens of thousands of reputed registrants.

It’s likely that only a few participants – in either the Stanford course or #change11 – will complete all the assignments set out by instructors. That isn’t the point of this kind of radically open learning experience. There are weekly topics, some with suggested activities, but the majority of engagement is what Axel Bruns calls produsage: a networked system in which participants both create and consume content.

Learners in #change11 essentially do what people have been doing on social media for years, within a loosely-organized structure: they write blog posts, create video, and expound on discussion questions, and then comment on the posts and videos and contributions of others, amplifying what they find most engaging. Conversations erupt, ideas are debated, and ties are formed between participants, all at once. With hundreds of posts coming through the #change11 course feed every week, taking it all in isn’t possible: I choose and contextualize, focusing on applications to my own practices and research. I’ve been involved with MOOCs for awhile, as both a participant and a researcher, and the repeated lesson for me has been that it’s what I do focus on that matters: the questioning, the exploring, the connecting with others.

Now, #change11 is not my only learning environment. I am also a conventional grad student, researching social media and identity in an Education faculty at a small university with a fledgling Ph.D. program. Three of us completed our residency last June. Two more are immersed in the coursework this fall. Obviously, for sheer numbers, the face-to-face experience can’t compete: the overlap of interests in my tiny cohort is minimal, especially when compared with an experience like the MOOC. But I like my faculty, and my colleagues. And I value the learning experiences I’ve been offered in this traditional environment.

Nonetheless, in an emergent and participatory field like social media, it goes without saying that I need to do some of my learning outside traditional academic structures. The publishing cycle is too slow to account for social media’s changes. My advisors’ expertise in theory and pedagogy and research doesn’t necessarily extend to Twitter practices. Luckily, the MOOC fills in. It’s perhaps closest to a regular, ongoing conference experience, in academic terms. Except, of course, it has no formal status in academic terms.

Thus I stand with feet in two worlds, trying to make use of each to enhance the other. This series, Postcards from the Participatory, will explore the benefits and challenges of both sides of the experience as I go.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Bonnie Stewart is a Ph.D. student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In higher ed since 1997, Bonnie has lived and taught on all three coasts of Canada and in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. Published at and winner of the 2011 PEI Literary Award for creative non-fiction, Bonnie blogs ideas at and identity and parenthood at Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart