Ramdon thoughts on Rhizo15

Dave Cormier’s Rhizo 15 – a practical view is here and i find myself in a precarious position – sort of between a state of wanting to participate, yet remain peripheral. The trouble is i don’t know how to do either. We are well into the “thing” (a course still?, massive?, not sure) by way of Learning Subjectives. Blog posts from are already popping up from participants and on random thoughts. Sarah Honeychurch offered her views on collaboration. She suggests that not all learning is collaborative and that some learning is necessarily private. A discussion around Collaboration/Cooperation is taking place in the rhizo Facebook group as expected. The challenges for me as always is way-finding – to “start” and get “acclimatised”. So far the ways of #rhizo15 are unclear and perhaps this is so by “design”. Not a problem. Can I design a learning space on my own, and for myself? And what about collaboration? For now I think I will ponder collaboration/cooperation.

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Critical Pedagogy, Anarchist Pedagogy, #moocmooc

This week the topic of discussion on #moocmooc centers around anarchist educational alternatives in the context of critical pedagogy. A fascinating topic. But let me be the first to disclaim – I have no idea what all of this is about. So I can share some random feelings.

The big question for me is how do you do “anarchist pedagogy” in the context of formal curriculum? I really do not know how, or even if this is a valid question to start with. I have asked it nevertheless in the #moocmooc Twitter space and hopefully some more will be shared on it during the chat later this evening.

But back to the topic. In this blog post – Are you frustrated with Education only for Employment,  the author argues for  anarchist pedagogy as a counter to education solely (almost) for the purpose of employment as is evident in an American-styled meritocratic capitalist education system that rewards based on credentials. The author  suggests that  –Free Skools and other counter-cultural institutions that engage in anarchist practices often try to reskill participants in these often forgotten areas of study.In the reading material for #moocmooc  Adam Heidebrink-Bruno  writes that “…the primary aim of education, especially an anarchist education, isn’t economic”  and that “anarchist pedagogies promote the critical skills necessary to be that counter friction“.  Clearly the idea of some “counter” to the existing pedagogy is necessary.

So back to my ‘big question’ – how do we do this in the context of formal education that is now so deeply rooted in the ‘education for employment’ paradigm? Do we need alternative approaches to curriculum development? For example can we develop specific curriculum grounded in anarchist pedagogy? And is that even possible at all? Or can we build into existing curricula opportunities for exploring anarchist pedagogy?

As I write it has occurred to me that if we mean pedagogy in the sense of the action – how we teach and how we educate then it might be possible to create windows for looking through existing curricula (content?) differently.  I really do not know how to think about this from a Computer Science Education perspective  (my field of work) when it’s almost always interpreted as one of those areas where you study in order to seek out proper  employment/create employment, generally speaking. Or is this a limited view to start with? Are we making too many assumptions?

And even as I read on it is becoming less clearer to me what this anarchist educational experience might look like.  For example, the reading for this week  on #moocmooc leaves us with questions that probe the structures that exist currently. How might we “act as a counter-friction to oppression structures“?

I summarize my fuzzy understanding of anarchist pedagogy as the following three questions:

  • What really is anarchist pedagogy?
  • How can it be made practical (is this what is called praxis?)
  • How can we address the structural challenges and potential opposition to its furtherance?

Sometimes I wonder if I do ask reasonably questions.

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MOOC Learning and Group Learning

Gabi Witthaus’ thoughts on Making massive learning social and the discussions that followed raised some interesting questions about the need for effective groups formation and group work.  Groups [or whatever we choose to label them] are important for achieving social learning in MOOCs as they provide the space for discussions beyond content and course.

My experiences with MOOCs of the content kind [xMOOCs] is almost entirely in the form of a lone-ranger, content-hunter. This is partially because of what i am in search of – content and my expectations of little or no interaction. On occasions, attempt to join discussion groups were quickly shattered by the sheer confusion and massiveness of those group spaces. Sometimes it feels like being thrown into a huge crowd of strangers with  good intentions. It just doesn’t work for me. It takes too much time to figure out and as Gabi Witthaus noted – just too hard to do, too much initial effort is needed to start up in something you can easily opt out.

Contrastingly my time with the more connectivist type MOOCs [cMOOCs] has been more about socializing and continuous learning. More times than not, the discussions extent beyond what that particular course is/was all about. My best experience to date has been #rhizo14 which , by design exists to this day, approximately one year after the course ended. Rhizo14 and whatever is left of it is because of the way it was intended from the beginning – to be really open, to allow for learners to do what they like, and such things [my interpretation].

I remember how terrible I reacted when I was placed in a group algorithmically to do course work in a MOOC.  I am not sure how well this works for traditional courses. I have been teaching face to face for 15 years and it always occurred to me that organic groups for learners tend to be more useful than other variants. It takes time to get to know your groupies [social?] if you don’t yet know them and that, while a learning element in itself, may not always work out.

This brings me to what i think it is that i like about group learning in MOOCs. I think the greatest benefit of groups lie in their potential to exist and grow long after the curtain of a MOOC has been pulled.   The fact that you need to go back to the course space [of xMOOCs] to access the groups may be the first hindrance to after-MOOC learning. But this is not exactly how group work in the xMOOCs are conceived. So can xMOOCs be really more social in their current configuration? I suppose that’s one of the challenge for designers.

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14 years on

September 1 is a special day for me. 14 years ago this day a new journey commenced. It is my work anniversary. Thanks to Mr. John Caesar (RIP) I found employment at the University of Guyana. He was the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the time. One day he found a wandering, jobless youngster with little hope of employment (at least in the near future) as all applications were greeted with ‘sorry no vacancy’ or just silence. I did not do an interview. I was employed on the spot. Such was my luck. In fact, I did not formally apply for this job (the only one i didn’t). So that is a bit of my work history.

So what has happened since? Much has changed. I am older, and hopefully wiser, and still learning the craft of teaching. After 14 years i still feel like i haven’t mastered this teaching thing. It is a work in progress. Indeed, it has been so from day one. The first years were very rough. Large classes. Inexperience. Demanding students. Old stuff to teach, like Fortran. It was a steep learning curve.

Many things have changed – more technology, the Internet, Social Media, an almost new generation of students. Some things never change – reaching out to students, a word of encouragement, these things, they don’t diminish in significance.

Fast forward to 2014 and I now find myself teaching the children of my friends and those of my former students. It is hard to explain how that feels. Sometimes i wonder what they think of my work and my style and everything else. It’s a feeling of vulnerability.

Cheers to 14 wonderful years. Life has been kind to me. I look forward to many more special years ahead.

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The MEd. Journey

Two things will happen in the coming week.

Firstly, I will formally commence reading for a Masters degree in Education with specialization in Curriculum and Instruction. Admittedly, the thought of sitting in class again as a student and listening to a lecture/r is both exciting and intimidating. It is exciting simply because I will  be experiencing what my students experience when I’m the teacher. It is a chance to feel that feeling again. Strangely,  being a lecturer and a student at the same time and sitting in the classroom of one of my colleagues as lecturer intimidates me.

Why? The questions are many. Would I have the courage to question my colleagues? And would I have to spend too much energy negotiating any power struggles that might arise? Am I going to have to work hard at maintaining some sort of balance between being a student, a colleague and a lecturer at the same time? Is the course going to challenge and expose my weaknesses? Will there be enough time to engage with the learning experience? Uneasy is the road ahead.

However, the challenges apart, curriculum studies excite me.  The exposure to Curriculum Theory in general and Curriculum Development and Evaluation in particular fuel this excitement. One of the justifications for my enrollment in this program will mold me into a rounded educator. In particular, however, this program is a potentially the stepping stone for my movement closer to the intersection of Education and Technology. It is my long term desire to work in the environment where education and technology interacts seamlessly. In the 21st century IT/CS educators with foundations in education will have a greater role in many aspects of IT/CS education since not many IT/CS educators are formally trained in education and not many educators work with the technical aspects of technology.

I will let you know more about the second thing soon.


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Twitter and Limits

Twitter has its limitations too, it would appear. But nothing to worry about, not just yet. It could be a blessing in disguise. Or could it be a well thought-out plan for us?

Recently, I noticed that i could no longer ‘follow’ new people; that my account has reached its peak. Apparently, Twitter uses some sort of formula to limit the number of people you can follow. This formula, i would guess, seems to include variables such as number of followers, number you already follow, and perhaps more? Who knows! Maybe there is a fine print to be read somewhere?

Initially, i interpreted this as a ‘limitation’ and had to find a way out of it, if possible. I was forced to take the ‘unfollow’ route. However, this proved limited as i could only add a few more for every couple unfollowed (few and couple, as i do not know what the formula is). Incidentally, new followers appeared, shifting the balance of the formula in my favor. But still problems. This is not enough. If they unfollow me at some stage, i am back to square zero. Not a sustainable plan.

So what to do, really? I decided to visit my list of 2000 followers. In 15 minutes my list was down by 105. Wow! Yes, there was a time when i followed anyone and anything that appeared remotely interesting. What i noticed as well is that some of the handles i followed were no longer functional – choice, death, moved to another handle, etc. This is an important reason for periodically cleaning up your Twitter.

As i reflected on this, i thought about the value of the limitation enforced by Twitter. Is it there to help us better manage our network? Certainly! Of course the less people you follow, the greater the chance of seeing what your interesting follows are sharing. It is much easier to capture the good stuff appearing on your timeline, isn’t it. This limitation has also forced me(us?) to think about the choices we make, who to follow. While the next person to follow is ‘one click away’, easy to do, we may think much more about this choice.

So overall, I am in agreement with the limitation in so far as it allows me to better manage my Twitter network. Can you think of any possible real limitation?

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NWOER Open Education Week

Thanks to Carol Yeager, i was invited to help facilitate some of the activities of the NorthWest Open Course on Openness in Education from March 10-15, 2014. More information can be found at the Manchester Metropolitan University Cross-Institutional Open Education Week initiative website.

On Tuesday evening at 8pm UK time, i will be co-facilitating a Twitter chat with Kathrine Jensen. We will explore the following agenda using the hashtag #nwoerchat

Day 2 Tuesday 11th March – What is Open Education all about?

Facilitators: Kathrine and Lenandlar

  1. Q1 What does openness and open education mean to you?
  2. Q2 Why does openness matter?
  3. Q3 What/How/Where do you share?
  4. Q4  How can we become more Open (in our practice or sharing our learning?)
  5. Q5 Do you use Open Source Software? Pls give details of what tools/platforms you use?
  6. Q6 What stops people from sharing their work? Or what are the benefits of sharing?

More information on this week’s activities can be found on Twitter, Facebook and G+

Thanks once again to the NWOER team for the opportunity.

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