A surfeit of learning…

It’s pretty sad to see that I haven’t posted anything since early January – although I have three drafts partly written – just never got around to posting them. This is what happens when you get carried away by opportunities and fail to consider that you can’t really do everything that interests you!

So I began the year by scanning all the amazing MOOCs, TOOCs (go here for an explanation of the initialism), free and open discussions on SCOPE, the face-to-face options offered by our local SCOPe, and thought I was being organized and rational by skipping the potentially fascinating MOOC with Dave Cormier (to explore rhizomatic learning which I’ve touched on before but this discussion would be nudged along by Dave himself!) and signing up (but ultimately withdrawing) from the equally intriguing TOOC (truly open online course) offering from UofSaskatchewan’s Heather Ross, and finally signing up for the Deeper Learning MOOC from High Tech High (primarily to see how they would utilize the technologies and integrate the principles of deeper learning).

Sadly (on one hand), I was an infrequent observer of the dlMOOC activities (although they’re in my ReadLater collection in Diigo) but happily (on the other hand) I was too busy with a couple of fun and challenging contracts to spend any spare time on MOOCs, TOOCs or even my blogs!

I completed two educational (for me!) ISW sessions for two groups who work for one of the local first nations in Whitehorse (Kwanlin Dun). As always, I learned lots from my participants, but I found some additional challenges in making my content/expertise meaningful to these groups of participants because:

a)  none of them were teachers (in the sense of teaching classes regularly or for an educational institution);

b)  many of them were actually members of KDFN as well as being employees.

What these two sessions highlighted for me was how Eurocentric my teaching resources were; much of my pedagogical insights were based on educational research that had been done on white, middle to upper class, primarily young (18-30) adults. With these new audiences, my quotations, references, topics, and even some activities were meaningless. I did a lot of listening, research and reflection and I believe that all of my participants walked away with a lot to think about and some new skills and confidence in their abilities. I walked away with a long list of learning activities I want to revise and revitalize, and a collection of references to follow-up and read/watch/discuss in the near future.



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Sometimes homemade is best…

Ubongo social enterprise company

Tanzanian e-learning enterprise

Tripped over an interesting social enterprise startup in Tanzania this morning – Ubongo is the name of a town in Tanzania AND of a new edutainment company that is creating digital content for Africa. Using video, audio and interactive learning materials, these talented young people are planning on delivering meaningful learning through TV (analog), radio, web, mobile and local educational programs. Their engaging cartoon stories are told by native Tanzanians, using local language (Swahili) and focused on helping learners understand concepts, not just memorize content.Ubongo Team

Apparently Tanzania has been struggling to improve student performance on national exams (see Motherboard blog article); recently, 60 percent of Tanzanian students failed the national exam they have to take (in English!) when they are 17. International efforts to help resulted in proposals that looked at providing education through MOOCs from high-profile Western universities.

The pushback against a MOOC-solution resulted from the realities that a developing country like Tanzania faces – from a 12 percent penetration rate for Internet and the difficulty of adequate bandwidth and equipment to stream video (from traditional MOOCs) to a recognition that many MOOCs simply reinforce the lecture-memorization cycle that many felt was causing the poor student performance on exams.

Ubongo, led by Nisha Ligon and Tom Ng’atigwa, decided to produce localized, entertaining and meaningful learning through animation, music and creative presentation of concepts and knowledge. Not only are they using simple, colorful and thoughtful stories, available in Kiswahili and English, they are producing content that can be delivered through channels that are available to the majority of Tanzanians. For example, their pilot series, Bunga Bongo, launching on January 18th, 2014, will be broadcast on Tanzania’s national television network. They’ve found a way to make the show interactive, allowing students to participate using basic mobile phones as they answer questions and score points to win prizes.

Check out their videos on Youtube – UBONGO: chekesha. elewesha. (English subtitles available). Follow them on Twitter https://twitter.com/ubongo and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ubongotz.

I’ll be watching with great interest as this is the kind of education we are trying to develop in the North – focusing on meaningful content delivered through relevant channels that incorporates recognizable language, environmental issues, characters, etc. What others are trying with “indigienization” of learning. I wish them great success.

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Not really a new idea…

Sebastian ThrunI was curious about the flurry of media reports on the change in Sebastian Thrun’s decision to charge for tutoring and certification for his free online courses in Udacity. Why is this news?

Udacity logoMany years before his supposedly audacious goal to create Udacity as a platform that provided free learning to the masses, open education initiatives in countries like New Zealand would provide “value-added” options that required you to pay so that you could receive certification. Europe’s just completed a two year feasibility test of whether open educational resources courses could be assessed and certified by higher education institutions (see OERtest site) It is not a new topic.

“Free education” has never been totally free; either you had to be able to find a potential employer you could demonstrate your learning for or you had to pay someone to assess your learning and provide you with a certificate.

It seems a logical move for Thrun since his vision never included reaching out to those who couldn’t pay anything…so I’m not sure why this change merits media coverage. Seems as though this isn’t a story really so how come he gets free advertising? He must have a savvy communication manager.

Well, when I started actually reading each story that floated across my screen, I realized that the reporting seemed to be from three sources: Betsy Corcoran, Max Chafkin and Rebecca Schuman. The majority of the coverage, and the most venomous, is from Rebecca Schuman, who seems to have taken on the mantle of the protector of misunderstood students. It’s not their fault that they couldn’t complete Udacity courses; it is the fault of the MOOC-structure of online learning. While I don’t think she’s entirely wrong, I think the reasons that students fail these large, online courses is more complex than that.

I wrote about the debacle of the much-hyped partnership between San Jose University and Udacity to provide three first year courses to under-served student populations – see https://edusyl.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/learning-from-…urse-offerings/

It seems as though the big educational institutions are playing with the MOOC model to see what can make it successful. Some target students who can’t afford to attend big name universities; others seem to use MOOCs to draw in the elite students.  The multiplicity of underlying objectives and agendas makes it even harder to get a clear picture of the potential future value of MOOCs for learning.

Media coverage:

The King of MOOCs Abdicates the Throne, Rebecca Schuman, Slate, November 19, 2013

A founder of online learning changes course, Rebecca Schuman, Miami Herald, November 19, 2013

Back to the Blackboard for Online Courses, Rebecca Schuman, Winnipeg Free Press, November 20, 2013

A founder of online learning changes course, Rebecca Schuman, Bradenton Herald, November 20, 2013

Udacity’s UTurn, Betsy Corcoran, EdSurge News, November 14, 2013

Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course, Max Chafkin, Fast Company, November 14, 2013

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Mission Accomplished….ISWo winds down

logo of ISWo course in SCOPESCOPE’s offering of
RRU’s Instructional Skills Workshop Online

Oct 7 – Nov 8, 2013



Introductions were posted and the community began to form….five weeks ago!  Hard to believe we’re all done. SCOPE’s offering of the online instructional skills workshop model developed by Royal Roads University was a success from so many perspectives and on a number of levels.

The course was designed, similarly to the original, face-to-face ISW model, on a participatory and learner-centred way. We all joined together in an online classroom (a Moodle environment), began to form into a community and tried to support each other’s learning. Our team of excellent facilitators, led by Tracy Kelly and BJ Eib of RRU,  assisted by Sylvia Currie of BCCampus and the occasional injections of thought-provoking questions from Doug Kerr, encouraged us to take risks, to try new ways of working in small groups and facilitating mini-sessions. At the end, we were 12 enthusiastic, somewhat worn-out educators who had gained some important insights into the student experience online and into our own constantly improving and evolving online teaching and facilitation skills. Our reflective journaling helped us crystallize the value of each week’s activities and the shared nuggets in the community forum “Weekly Journal Share” extended and deepened the experience as we learned from each others “aha” moments and thoughtful commentary on readings, activities and other participant’s creative endeavours.

Week 1:  Getting Started

Posting introductions, getting the “lay of the land” as we navigated the richness of the Moodle course site, reviewing proposed schedules and team facilitation assignments, and completing the week’s posted readings and viewings (videos) and sharing our thoughts and learning moments on the week’s topic – online learning communities.

Week 2:  Theory into Practice

This week was all about retrieving everything we believed, valued and practiced about adult learning and then expanding, questioning and sharing new insights gleaned from the weekly notes, readings and resources.  Week 2 was packed with activities; two mini-sessions occurred nearly simultaneously – the Course Review Task Force and a Wiki activity about Adult Learners. Whewwww! That week just blew by (and after a long weekend as well). We didn’t get finished on time but we (the mini-session facilitators) got to know each other much better – very quickly!

Week 3: Choosing Your Tools

A fun and thought-provoking exploration of a selected group of Web2.0 and online tools that we can all add to our personal toolboxes for the next classes we teach. The readings this week were focused on online learning tools and how to divide synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. It’s an evolving field – there isn’t always an easy answer to how to utilize the tools to improve student experiences and learning rather than over-complicating the situation.

Week 4:  Facilitating Online Teams

We took a really close look at team learning and discussed different ways to approach collaborative learning projects. The mini-session this week was all about helping a online learning team who had run into troubles.

Week 5:  Looking Back, Looking Forward…

Reflective practice – the value is evident but there are still new ways to approach analyzing and learning from your own experience and others. I hope we all have a chance to work / learn together again sometime in the future. We had a great group of thoughtful, enthusiastic and experienced instructors. It would be great to hear what everyone did in the 6 months following this experience.

Thanks to BCCampus, SCOPE and RRU for making this ISWo available. Thanks to my cohort and facilitators for such a positive online learning experience.


NoteRRURoyal Roads University is a supporter of open learning and open educational resources. They offer the ISWo model and resources to others at:  http://oer.royalroads.ca/moodle/course/view.php?id=3

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Duels at dusk, dawn, whenever there`s internet…

Reflecting on Week 3:  Choosing Your Tools

Week 3 Choosing Your ToolsI was really looking forward to the week’s activity – choosing your technology tools and building a more comprehensive and well-thought out “toolbox” to use in different teaching situations. I have to say I was disappointed in the experience; probably the disappointment was mostly due to my inability to participate as much as I would have liked as I was traveling north (nearly 3,000 km in less than a week) with a 9 week old puppy and dealing with varied early winter weather conditions in the mountain passes we had to travel in northern B.C./southern Yukon.

While the mini-session facilitators seem to address the learning outcomes that dealt with how to facilitate and work with the community, I didn’t feel that enough information was provided at the start about WHY we were exploring the tools (despite the scenario). As one of the participants pointed out, as B.C. educators, social media or Web2.0 tools couldn’t be used within educational institutions because the data would reside on a non-Canadian server. This opens up all kinds of additional questions for educators in how to explore the functionality of these tools while recognizing the concerns of conducting student learning in a potentially vulnerable learning environment.

Perhaps some of this was dealt with in the final group session on Sunday night but I missed it – too bad.

I do think that we need to deal with these concerns about using non-Canadian web services or apps or whatever. I’m not sure what the answer is cuz I vacillate between feeling as though engaging students in authentic learning experiences means I should be teaching some of what we’re pursuing using Internet, mobile devices, etc. On the other hand, the Internet is an increasingly controlled and negative environment. Should I be taking students into this world before they have learned about the hazards of participating in “free” environments, using “free” tools, and sharing without boundaries?

“Free” has never really been free, despite all the marketing hype. To some extent, students have been safe in formal education because there are laws about their privacy and how their information can be shared or viewed. The power of the massive open online courses (MOOCs) is starting to break down this privileged and protected learning place because the big educational institutions are modifying their practice in terms of your rights in their online learning environments. In an online writing course I am presently engaged in at University of B.C., I am forced to sign away my right to privacy to participate in the course. What amazed me is that there was no chance for me to reflect on the implications of signing away my rights; what happened to “informed consent”?

So, back to the point of the week – exploring tools. I may have missed where there was an explanation of why the facilitators chose GoogleDocs, WordPress and Blackboard Collaborate. I enjoyed the structure of the exploration:

  • review help documents and play,
  • document technical features and potential pedagogical impacts,
  • apply what you learn by creating a learning activity using the tool, and
  • prepare a presentation to share your activity, design considerations and findings.

Very straightforward, effective approach to a broad topic and it resulted in a lot of learning and the ability to express some creativity. Nicely done in terms of demonstrating a sound approach to learning and exploring a new tool. Good facilitation in terms of keeping the community connected and on track too. Kudos!

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What a week! I started writing this reflective post Sunday morning but with traveling and visiting, I just couldn’t get it finished until today. It’s been that kind of a week.

Week 2 of SCOPE’s ISWo online facilitation course is now officially over and I’m still playing catch-up. This week was my turn to co-facilitate a mini-session, in a 4 day week that started from a long weekend focused on eating (Thanksgiving), working with two educators who had busy, busy schedules, as we tried to elicit analysis and creativity from a group of online participants who also have busy, busy lives and who also had two mini-sessions and readings to conquer. Whew!


All I can say is I’m glad I was on holidays and only had some family obligations and one day of meetings to deal with. I’m not sure how everyone else managed but most of them did.I’m proud to say that my group was stellar and posted a creative Prezi on top of last minute insightful analysis of the course case study we had presented to them.

So..my reflections on the week. I love facilitating with such enthusiastic instructors and I love trying to think of ways to help learners see a problem clearly. What I am finding most challenging about the ISWo is finding the time to think critically about the readings and find a way to bring some of my readings and experiences into play to contribute to the community. Oh, well, I still have a few weeks to get better at this.

So, how do I think I did – my rubric report card:

Timeliness & Qty – 4  (did well on my own mini-session; not so well on the wiki session)

Relevance – 3 (didn’t actually cite the readings very often and didn’t bring in outside resources except in wiki activity)

Community – 5 (had a great time getting to know my Amigos and my WonderWomen team. Helped out a couple of times in the 2 other groups so I’m feeling like I did my part in the community this week!)

Overall participation – 5  (kept up fairly well although I didn’t participate as much as I would have liked in the wiki activity)

Exploring Learning Technologies – used a couple of new tools – Creately (for creating illustrations) Simple Minds (don’t laugh that’s what it is called) for mind maps. Also tried to use Google Docs (drive nowadays I guess) to produce a collaborative spreadsheet to create visual pie charts but had to go back to desktop version cuz of a flaw in the cloud-based tool that wouldn’t let me edit the labels on the pie charts – too bad.

Finding a nugget for the group from this week’s readings/videos…

I’d already read several of the readings for Week 2 and I find it hard to engage too much with the tools to identify which learning style(s) I might be.  When I was at university, I was involved in endless debates about the issues that learning styles raise for many educators, starting from the lack of adequate research to support many of the popular models (see comprehensive study from the former Learning & Skills Research Centre report: Learning Styles and Pedagogy in post-16 Learning if you’re curious) to the almost evangelical belief that some educators have about them.

One of my facilitators for my FDW workshop had a very pragmatic approach to them and I tend towards a similar perspective. I talk about them when I facilitate workshops (and encourage people to also explore the Teaching Perspective Inventory that Dan Pratt developed while at UBC, but I also emphasize that the important thing to take away is to try and present ideas, concepts and learning in different ways, using different media, and varying the activities and tools you use. Lately I’ve gone to suggesting that people think more broadly and consider the whole gamut of ways to support learning for their increasingly diversified groups of learners. I point people to the revised Universal Design for Learning Guidelines 2.0 cuz they are a target to aim for, not necessarily achievable, but valuable to pursue.

So, that’s my main nugget for this week. Week 3 looks even more interesting – I peeked !


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Reflections on learning with ISW leaders…

logo of ISWo course in SCOPEI’m participating in the ISWo (Instructional Skills Workshop online) that SCOPE is hosting for the month of October. I’ll be collecting my weekly reflections here.

Well, I think it speaks to my experience, learning within the online model of ISW, that I’m posting my end-of-the-week reflection on the first day of Week 2! Not that I’m usually overly anal about “punching the clock” in a course, but the online environment is touchier I find. My experiences online have led me to believe that “you snooze, you lose”. If you get behind in posting to a forum or responding to a thought-provoking idea a fellow participant or student posts, you lose the momentum, the impact, the meaning. Those “learning moments” or “teachable moments”, that face-to-face teaching often talks about, are even more crucial and fragile in the virtual learning environment.

A required reading for the first week was a two-page paper by Richard Schwier on virtual learning communities. I found lots to agree and disagree with in his article but the “nugget” I found was the idea of “ringers” being a critical element in building communities online. “Ringers are the surprise events, the small rocks tossed into the glassy surface of smoothly operating community discourse. (Schwier, 2002). Although I know that incorporating new ways of learning into a course is a good thing, I hadn’t thought about that from the perspective of building community.

An unexpected realization this week was that I’ve become too tentative in challenging learners to try new technologies. I hesitated to ask my fellow mini-session facilitators to work in a shared Google document (a service I’ve used with other colleagues for more than 8 years!) because I thought it would add to the stress of trying to determine the best way to work together on the Week 2 mini-session. My colleagues didn’t appear to have Skype or GoogleHangouts in their repertoire yet and I avoided suggesting more technology in the interests of “getting it done”. The downside is that I missed a potentially valuable learning for both of them, in an environment that is explicitly meant to provide a safe place to challenge yourself.

I could go on but I think I won’t…the final activity I need to complete is to self-assess my participation this week in terms of the rubric I’ve adapted from one that was provided by the ISWo facilitators. I’ve rated myself as “Good” overall but here’s the detailed breakdown – best score would be 6 points:

Timeliness & Qty   – 4 points (didn’t achieve “6” cuz I only posted once in each thread of the Online Community Building discussion)

Relevance – 5 points

Community – 5 points 

Overall Participation – 4 points

Exploring Learning Technologies – 5 points (I rediscovered Authorstream, struggled with recording audio on PowerPoint without Adobe Presenter, tested Skydrive as a method of broadcasting audible PowerPoints, rediscovered Voki and created a new avatar, sucked it up and paid the $4.99 for the SimpleMinds mindmapping app and built a few mind maps, refreshed my memory of how to invite people to a GoogleHangout (although we didn’t actually do one)…

Enough said for this week. Stay tuned…



Schwier, Richard A. (2002). Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments (pdf). University of Saskatchewan, Paper presented to the International Symposium on Educational Conferencing. The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, June 1, 2002. 8 pages.


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