Tuesday, January 7, 2014

5 of the many things I have learned this year

5 Things I’ve Learned This Year

Rhonda Jessen threw down the gauntlet. . .  post 5 things you have learned in 2013.

Only 5? 2013 was a year of massive learning for me. I took the plunge, and returned to university, enrolling in a Master of Arts in Communication Technology at the University of Alberta. So far . . .  it has been great! So it is a major challenge to winnow my list down to five things I have learned this year. Here are 5 of my key learnings from 2013.
  1.  The Internet is a new language
  2. Twitter is powerful as a professional platform
  3. Qualitative inquiry is a respected academic approach
  4.  cMOOCs fit my pedagogical values
  5.  The 3 Cs: comments, creativity and credit are critically important

1. The Internet is a new language
Under the guidance of Howard Rheingold, and with an international cohort of colleagues, I had the privilege of exploring the history, ideas and practicalities involved with intellectual augmentation and knowledge management. Howard introduced me to the work of Robert Logan, a physicist and communications scholar at the University of Toronto. Logan maintains that the Internet constitutes the sixth major human language in an evolutionary chain of languages. The language of the Internet has five characteristic features:
  •  two way communication [I claim this should be multi-way communication]
  •  ease of access of information
  • continuous learning
  • alignment and integration
  • community

The multi-directional nature of accessing information via the Internet leads to the corollary that accessing Internet information is very different from accessing print information. The language of the Internet is not bound by linear sequencing, either when it is being composed or when it is being consumed. Hyperlinks disrupt top to bottom, left to right, first this then that orientation. The way in which we understand, converse and communicate via the Internet is altering the way in which we know what we know (our epistemology). I have simply dipped my toes into this ocean but it continues to fascinate me as it unfolds. The implication and ramifications of all this are challenging, still unfolding, paradigm shifting and will have a major impact on education, business and pretty much all aspects of society. Whoah – who wouldn’t be fascinated to learn more! This little appetizer version of 1/5th of the things I’ve learned does not do justice to the whole field or in anyway represent how huge all of this is for me. I have continued to explore aspects of the Internet as Language within the three grad courses I took this fall. Fellow graduate student, Sean A. Jones and I wrote a paper, Zombie Lingo, that provides a further look at some of the aspects of the Internet as a mega-language. Thanks Sean. My thanks also go out to Mark Wolfe who created and taught a great course on using and managing communication technology and introduced me to the work of Michael Heim and Brian Winston.

2.     Twitter is powerful as a professional platform
If the Internet is a language characterized by the ease of accessing information, then how we access information is critical. Conservative estimates indicate that the sum total of information available to the world is doubling every eighteen months. Part of parleying Internet (as in coming to a truce with the challenges of the Internet) is figuring out how to effectively filter forward and how to flow. I mistakenly thought Twitter was primarily about broadcasting personal missives on one’s whereabouts, likes, dislikes and activities. What I discovered this year is that Twitter is an incredibly rich, flexible way of custom tailoring information inflow and having trusted colleagues and sources tag and share information points of interest! I learned that Twitter is a river and that I get to influence both the flow rate of information coming to me and the rate and frequency of my participation.
Flow is what happens when your content and your data becomes unmanageable. Flow is what happens when all you can do is watch it as it goes by - it is too massive to store, it is too detailed to comprehend. Flow is when we cease to think of things like contents and communications and even people and environments as things and start thinking of them as (for lack of a better word) media - like the water in a river, like the electricity in our pipes, like the air in the sky.                      –Stephen Downes
My self directed learning has been heavily influenced by Twitter, Twitter hashtags (best way to attend a conference on the budget of a grad student), and Twitter lists! Twitter has also assisted me in my efforts to share the information I curate. Twitter has been a key platform to assist me in creating, caring for and expanding my personal learning network (PLN).

3.     Qualitative inquiry is a respected academic approach
This is absolutely enormous for me. I am the daughter of a scientist. My professor father was chairman of a Chemistry Department, Chairman of Computing Science and Dean of Science at a various times in his career. I have an undergraduate degree in industrial design. My quantitative pedigree is full on. One of many reasons that I waited so long to attend graduate school was that I was unaware of the legitimate role qualitative inquiry plays in academia. Discovering qualitative inquiry has been like coming home to me. It reassures me that I could, can, and will be able to appropriately participate as a scholar without compromising my integrity. It allows me to look at environments and situations as ecologies not simply Petri dishes. My colleague, who works as an IBM analyst and was skeptical about even taking a qualitative inquiry course, voiced my own sentiments when she commented on the qualitative inquiry course we took together this fall by saying, “This course has changed my life!”.  I couldn’t agree more and much of the credit belongs to our skilled professor, Maria Mayan. I was so excited that I started a qualitative inquiry blog.

4.     cMOOCs fit my pedagogical values
I have to admit that this whole post is really tough to write because I think I have enough material for a full length book, or multi-media website associated with each one of my 5 items. It is hard to keep each point fairly short.
My career has centred around alternative educational programs that exemplify connectivism and rhizomatic learning. I just didn’t know the terms and had not connected with the scholars associated with theories of emergent learning. Finally, I have found colleagues, theories and a whole new lexicon which reflect, challenge and assist me in extending and expanding my view of education. cMOOCs are a practical application of much of the theory.
In 2013 I not only learned the difference between a cMOOC and an xMOOC but I participated in both varieties. MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. cMOOC is the term used for a connectivist MOOC that is characterized by a network or decentralized structure where the participants both locate and provide the content. The initiators act as host/facilitators of the process, providing feedback and encouragement as well as a “mechanism for linking participants and resources to each other” (Downes, 2013) A cMOOC is designed as an outline rather than a package and is built by participants creating a network of links to material. Resources are developed through reflexive practices and/or interaction with each other. Reference material is identified and accessed via hyperlinks. cMOOCs use an immersion model of instruction. The work I did with Howard Rheingold was based on a connectivist/constructionist model, as was Northwestern’s University open online seminar: Exploring Personal Learning Networks, moderated by Kimberly Scott and Jeff Merrell. I blogged about my involvement and ideas associated with Exploring PLNs at xplrpln.blogspot.ca. Thanks Howard, Jeff and Kimberly!
For the record, the MOOCs that have tended to make the news lately are xMOOCs which are delivered by organizations such as Udacity and Coursera (eg. The University of Alberta’s Dino 101). They use a more traditional course format and are designed as a centralized, content heavy broadcast. I did participate and complete a Coursera, xMOOC hosted by Vanderbilt University called, Leading Strategic Change Innovation in Organizations.

5.     The 3 Cs: Comments, Creativity and Credit are critically important
Tanya Lau and Rhonda Jessen have both modeled and reinforced the 3C’s for me.
I consider Tanya to be an important member of my PLN. While she is in Australia and I am in Canada, we have nevertheless had numerous good exchanges and influenced each other’s thinking. Tanya does an absolutely amazing job of constructively and insightfully commenting on other people’s posts. Thanks to Tanya I am making a concerted effort to provide more and better feedback and encouragement to others. Tanya has shared resources and flagged a number of key articles that will likely be part of my thesis lit review. I responded to one of Tanya’s posts by sharing a poem I had written. She embraced the poem and her response was so positive that it has encouraged me to risk responding creatively more often. Thanks Tanya!
Rhonda, Terry Godwaldt (another amazing educator who is the co-odinator of the Centre for Global Education) and I meet early Tuesday mornings for tea and ed talk. Rhonda introduced me to cMOOCs, to Twitter vs. Zombies and to a host of other connected education ideas and educators. Rhonda is a facilitator at heart and she too has shown me the power of comments and creativity. Thanks Terry and Rhonda.
The final C is credit and it too has been an important part of my learning this year. Credit, credit, credit, cite, cite, cite. So thanks to Howard Rheingold and Jeff Merrell’s for responding to my emails and pushing my thinking and my scholarship along. Thanks to my thesis advisor, Thomas Barker who has been very supportive of all my social media explorations and my PLN forays that have provided me with global interactions. Thanks also to Gordon Gow. Thanks to my MACT13 cohort, to my family, friends, my CoP Ginger Group and work colleagues.

To give credit where credit is due and come full circle this list started off with Rhonda throwing down the gauntlet with her post, 5 Things I Learned This Year based on a post by Julie Balen, 5 Things I Learned in 2013. Julie in turn was inspired initially by Ewan McIntosh and the Pearson Foundation’s FIVE Things I’ve Learned. In addition to inspiring Rhonda, Julie seeded the idea with Donna Fry, who posted, Five Things I’ve learned: The Challenge.
In addition, two other member’s of my PLN inspired me with their year-end reviews; Helen Crump’s 2013, a year on the global learning commons and Helen Blunden’s, 2013 In Blogging an animated info graphic.

. . . and yes, by having 3 C’s I did, in the end, squeeze in more than 5 things.


  1. Great post Maureen. I had a blast working on that paper with you. Hope we have a chance to collaborate again soon!

  2. Maureen, thanks for this post (and mention!), really interesting to hear more about the ideas that have impacted you over the last year.
    And I'm thinking that one of the reasons we get along well is because we're fascinated by a lot of the same types of ideas.

    I remember being riveted by the idea of hyperlinks as a non-linear content form might impact the way we think and learn way back in my undergrad days. And with the internet evolving into an increasingly social platform, it's fascinating to look at how these changes further impact the way communicate (agree w/ multi-way
    communication), think, learn, develop and maintain relationships - and what even defines a 'relationship' in this context. Like any tech though, whilst there are embedded affordances within the tech itself, it's the way we use (and evolve) these affordances that creates the impact - not merely the affordances in and of themselves (e.g. much of the content is still mostly created and consumed linearly. This doesn't mean there's no impact of non linear content but perhaps points to how it's important to examine empirically how people are actually utilising the affordances of tech...)

    The other thing that's always really grabbed me about you is your Big Ideas. Love how you think on a macro - meta level - and this idea of internet as a language (e.g. 'zombie lingo') is an example of this. It's often only thinking at this level that allows paradigms to be shifted.

    Like you, I have also discovered twitter as a professional learning tool over the last year. Definitely agree it is invaluable for connecting with ideas and people who seem to be at the forefront of experimenting with & evolving technologies and pedagogies. As with blogging, it's like finding out about a whole new world you had no idea existed. The challenge is definitely not to become overwhelemed by it all. I do find I need to have breaks from it periodically.

    I'm pleased you mentioned qualitative inquiry. I think this is often looked down upon and possibly underutilised sometimes (although becoming more common). I think it's critical to be aware of the limitations of quantitative methods - particularly in social / human research - especially the danger of coming to overly simplistic conclusions to very complex phenomena. Quantitative will generally only be able to tell you What is happening - not Why. This is what we need qualitative for. Obviously there's going to be an element of subjectivity, but I think that's the case with interpreting quantitative results too. Your course sounds great, I'll have to look up your professor's work. I'm glad you linked out to your QI blog as well, it finally gave me an opportunity to check it out! MOOCs- another new big thing we had in common last year!

  3. ....And like you, I experienced both xMOOC and cMOOC. I actually think both have their place (providing they're done well); they're just different and result in different learning outcomes. cMOOCs I see as inherently social - the underlying objective is or should be connecting / learning with peers through discussion, reflection, collaboration, creation and I think supports more higher order thinking (critical thinking, evaluation, analysis, reflection...). Whereas, if you want to learn about some foundational concepts and apply them in a basic way, a cMOOC could be quite effective. Part of understanding the value of MOOCs is becoming better at crticially evaluating learning experiences as learners - rather than just accepting the stated course outcomes at face value. Ultimately - whether it's a cMooc or xMooc the value you get from it is comensurate to the effort you put in. It may be that this is just more glaring with a cMooc because participants - and participation - make or break them.

    Very sneaky packing 3 in 1 at the end there ; ). I was just thinking looking at how the inspiration for your post evolved through similar ideas borrowed and remixed through various people. And thinking that this is probably one of the biggest impacts of the internet - the speed at which this now happens! I've also been inspired by various end of year reviews / new year posts and will probably reference a few to write one too (although I'm running out of time!).

    I'm really looking forward to doing and exchanging more ideas with you this year!