Open Education MOOC: some initial reflections… and Activity 4

Week 2 of the Open Education MOOC started yesterday and I am already falling behind, slightly… Yet, the first week has been an enriching experience and has given me plenty to think about! Like many participants, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of contributions either via the blog aggregator or via the Week 1 forum. I soon realised that the latter does not really work for me. Too chaotic, difficult to select what I should read, too many threads and posting clogging my inbox. So much so that I have been filtering and archiving forum postings without reading them, hoping to get back to them at some point. So I was very pleased to see that the course tutors are in the process of tidying it up. It may indeed become a useful resource once I find some time to go through the postings. And then, there is Facebook and Google+. I haven’t tried either…

The blog aggregator is a different story, although the interface is rather basic. But with feedly (which I have been using since Google announced that Google Reader will disappear in July), it is much easier to read, organise, and even tag the posts I want to come back to later. However, it did take me some time to get organised, I did not bookmark the posts I wanted to read again or comment, and now I have some difficulties finding them again :).

So after this first week in my first MOOC, my head is buzzing with new ideas, questions and areas I want to explore further as they relate to my current research interests. Activity 4 asked us to identify the three main priorities that a funding organisation wishing to promote activity and research in the area of open education. Based on my experience so far, and on my involvement in various teaching, research and development, and research projects, these are:

  • Sustainability. There has been a lot of discussions on the forum or blogs about this. For me sustainability is a multifaceted concept, that should not be restricted to business models, although this is clearly crucial if open education is to survive and expand. We also need to think sustainability in terms of sustainable pedagogies, sustainable communities or collectives of open learners, sustainable platforms and tools to support the former two. This is something that we have started to work on in the context of a Lifelong Learning Programme, SpeakApps. Plenty more work to do on the subject!
  • Learning across multiple spaces and timescales. I don’t really have time to expand on this, but issues of space and time in virtual learning environments are a hobby-horse of mine at the moment… And my first experience in this MOOC suggests that openness in education raises many spatial and temporal issues that are worth researching (I am particularly interested in how learners create learning chronotopes, but this is for another day…).
  • Language and literacies. I was delighted to come across some blog posts in other languages than English. And it seems that there are quite a number of participants in this MOOC who are not native English speakers (like myself…). Yet the question of language is often neglected by institutions wishing to embark on an open education project, or simply trying to recruit students from all over the world. Can we have openness in education without thinking about the fundamental role that language has in learning, and beyond language, literacies?



Openness in education: a visual representation

So here it is! I finally managed to come up with a visual representation that defines what I understand by Openness in education, based on the readings suggested by the Open Education course creators. After reading Martin Weller’s (2012) article, The openness-creativity cycle in educationand Terry Anderson’s (2009) slides of his keynote at ALT-C, I decided to use iMindMap to represent some aspects that I found particularly interesting and useful. Unfortunately, iMindMap is not free (although there is a free version with limited functionalities), but I got it a little while ago and never got the chance to play with it until today. I have used other free mindmapping tools in the past, such as freemind and Cmap Tools (and I particularly like the latter), but I find iMindMap easier to use!

Activity 3, Openness in education

Openness in education: a visual representation (click on the image to enlarge it)

Open Education course

After a long interruption (18 months!), I am back blogging, and I will soon be back tweeting… My sabbatical is well and truly over (and yes, I had a fantastic year!), I have been back teaching since last September, and I am just as busy as ever. So much so that I haven’t had time to go near my site until now. And now, I have no choice :). First, all my students at Dublin City University (DCU) have been blogging for the past month as part of their French modules and it is time that I blogged again! And second, I have just enrolled with Open Learn (Open University) on an Open Education course, which recommends that participants use their own blog to take part in the course activities.

So, why did I decide to study this course? When I read about it on the March edition of OpenNews (Alumni edition), I was immediately drawn to it. I have toyed with the idea of studying a MOOC for a good while, but I never got around enrolling in a course. Having done my PhD with the Institute of Educational Technology (as a part-time external student), and having close links with colleagues in the Department of Languages, I felt quite confident that this could only be a good experience… if I manage to keep up with the course, that is!

I am keen in learning more about Open Education, and there is no doubt in my mind that participating in an open course on open education will be extremely beneficial to me. For the last two years, I have been involved in  a Lifelong Learning Programme project, SpeakApps. The project finished last month, and during those two years we have developed open source tools and resources for the teaching and learning of languages online. My team was responsible for piloting the tools and tasks for the Irish language and for coordinating (with the University of Jyväskylä) the development of a sustainability framework and exploitation plan. I wish I had done the Open Education course before the project started :)! Still, I believe that studying this course will help me make sense of and continue to build on the SpeakApps experience as well as give me tools and methods to make my own courses more ‘open and innovative’.

On sabbatical…

This is it, I am officially on sabbatical!

The last six years as Associate Dean for Learning Innovation in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences have been an incredible experience. I have learned so much, and I had the privilege to work with exceptional people, both within my own Faculty and outside. I will certainly miss working with them on a regular basis. Above all, I will miss the weekly meetings with my fellow ADs, and the support and friendship that we offered to each other, in good and bad times, as well as my close contact with the Dean, the Associate Dean for Research, the Faculty Manager and all in the Faculty Office during all these years.

But it is time to move on and to learn new things! It is time to catch up with reading and writing, to get stuck in EU projects and other exciting ventures. It is also time to take a bit of “me” time  :).

Taking time off…line

Four more days, four very busy days, and then I am taking some time off for the Christmas break. I am actually taking some time offline. No email, no Twitter, no Facebook for three weeks. At least, this is the plan!

This is something I had wanted to do for a long time but never really managed to achieve it. I am quite good at ignoring messages for a while, filing them in an organised way so that I don’t forget to take any required action when I go back to work. But then, I spend days sorting out the important from the trivial, wishing I never took some leave, and feeling harassed by the sheer volume of messages clogging my inbox, most of them obsolete by the time I read them. When I read danah boyd‘s blog post “I am offline!“, that was it. Her post was the push I needed.

I am not as organised as she is, though. I haven’t given much notice to colleagues and students, but I expect that there won’t be too much traffic over the Christmas period… And I will have hopefully cleared my desk before I take off…line.

So from Monday 20 December until Monday 10 January, I will be offline. All incoming emails will be redirected to a “trash” folder, and I will not read them. I will not try to catch up when I get back to work, so any important message will have to be resent on or after 11 January. On my return to work, I should be fully refreshed and ready to take on whatever lands on my desk.

In the meantime, I wish everybody a peaceful and happy break. Do take one if you can!

The joy and pain of life online… and offline

Flights cancelledWhat a week! As extreme weather conditions brought the country to a standstill, I was forced to cancel my trip to the FLiT 2010 Conference in Nicosia. This is the  second time this year that I find myself stranded at home instead of delivering an invited talk abroad. Last April, the ash cloud closed the airport for a week, and I never made it to Barcelona. Last Wednesday, snow and ice prevented me from leaving Dublin for Heathrow, where I was due to catch a flight to Cyprus the following morning.

Android LogoMy android phone proved to be invaluable during the 8 eight hours I spent trying to leave the country. During the 3 hour  taxi ride to the airport (it usually takes 45 minutes…!!), I was able to keep an eye on the latest updates from Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus. As soon as my initial flight to Heathrow was cancelled, I used my phone to get a later flight that same evening and decided to continue the journey to the airport. Once there, still hopeful that I would be able to get away, I voiced my frustrations and hopes on Twitter, conversed with a friend whom I was hoping to meet later on in London for a drink, checked my email and the Internet for more updates. But it was not to be. One hour after having finally boarded the plane, we were asked to disembark, collect our luggage and make our way back to… wherever! I would never make it to Heathrow, I would never catch the flight to Cyprus, and I would not attend the conference. Instead, I barely made it home.

Webex LogoI did however deliver my plenary. Within 24 hours, and with the amazing support of the Techspectations team, a session was set on Webex, I was expertedly coached on the system functionalities and shown how to make the most of them. We ran a test with the FLiT Conference organisers and technical team, and I slightly revised my presentation to make it easier to deliver online as opposed to face-to-face. At 7.30am on Saturday, I was giving my talk, from my kitchen. During those four days, stranded in my neighbourhood, I remained connected to the very people I was supposed to meet face-to-face, and to many more.

But I also felt disconnected. I was missing a great opportunity to catch up with friends from various parts of the world and to make new ones. During my talk, as no camera had been set up on the Cyprus side, I had absolutely no idea of what was going on out there. Interaction between myself and the audience was mainly one way.  Given the very short time available to convert a face-to-face presentation into an online one, we kept things very simple. In the Webex session, there were only two participants: the conference organiser who was liaising with me and projecting his laptop screen onto the big one, and myself as session host and presenter. Being the host and the presenter at the same time is not something I would recommend, especially if it is your first time using a particular platform! Even though I did not have to manage attendees, I did find the whole experience a bit stressful (to say the least…). So much so that I forgot to record the session, despite all the reminders on post-its surrounding my laptop! I also forgot to watch the time.  With nobody to alert me, I went overtime and deprived my audience and myself of the interaction that makes conferences so valuable. And to make the disconnect feeling even worse, as everybody in Cyprus went for a well deserved coffee break after listening to my blabbering, I was left in my kitchen, still dark outside and freezing cold…


Stop bullying

And then, just as I was getting ready to go to the airport on December 1st, there was Gavin’s blog entry, “Bullied, Blackmailed, Defamed, Threatened…“. This must be the most moving and distressing post I have ever read. I don’t know Gavin very well, but I feel privileged to have met him at the EUROCALL 2009 Conference in Gandia, to have been taught by him about Second Life. His generosity, sense of humour, and above all his professionalism, are second to none and all contribute to making the online life of language educators interesting, fun, exciting and connected. Yet, for over a year, Gavin has been the victim of unacceptable vicious cyber attacks from a person who bullied him, blackmailed him, defamed him, and threatened him. Like the hundreds of people who manifested their support to him, reading his post triggered in me many emotions such as sadness, anger, shock, incredulity, and fear. Old memories came back, I know what bullying can do to you. I know what it did to me, and I know what it did to friends or colleagues of mine. Each story is different, but none of them should have ever happened. Nobody deserves to be bullied, online or offline, Gavin certainly does not.

By the way, December 17th is anti-bullying day. What are we going to do?