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--Originally published at EdForward

Stephen Downes (2011) offered a massive open online course (MOOC) to teach–or, rather, to facilitate–learning about connectivism.  (Connectivism is, to put it crudely, the notion that learning takes place when a learner constructs information from a variety of sources and does something with it.)  Without further introduction, I’ll dive right in and start connecting/constructing/etc.

Whether or not you are optimistic about online learning, deepening students’ understandings of content seems to me a pretty non-controversial learning goal.  Downes’ course does a number of novel things to promote deeper learning, which I believe can be transferred to most learning settings–although it certainly has a benefit in massive learning environments.  I’ll focus on two here.


Downes’ MOOC is a network of experts and aspiring experts.  Instead of having any specific, prescribed knowledge that learners must acquire, the course depends on learners bringing problems and learning goals to the table, and working with others to develop an understanding.  Consequently, learners are immersed in meaningful work, which mirrors the culture of a professional community.  As Downes says: “to learn physics, in other words, you join a community of physicists, practice physics, and thereby become like a physicist.”

J. S. Brown, A. Collins, and P. Duguid (1989) use the term “enculturation” for this concept of learning by “becoming.”  They also articulate the type of enculturation that happens in the classroom: “…much of what is learned in school may apply only to the ersatz activity, if it was learned through such activity…  The idea that most school activity exists in a culture of its own is central to understanding many of the difficulties of learning in school” (1989).  Students, then, become excellent at “doing school” but sink in the “real world.”  Downes, along with Brown, Collins and Duguid, all subscribe to the same core principle of instructional design: it needs to be real.

Choosing Your Own Adventure

The second important feature of Downes’ course is the acknowledgement (celebration, even) of everybody participating in different ways.  This, of course, means that learning outcomes are going to be different for every person… but again, that’s the way communities of professionals work, so for the sake of authenticity (see above), a diversity of participation makes total sense.  To quote Downes, “The whole point of offering a course at all is to provide a starting point, to provide a variety of things to read, watch or play with” (2011).

It was hard initially for me to grasp the concept of different learning outcomes for different people.  As a former teacher, my reaction is “how will I find the time to assess each student if learning looks different for each?”  Then I remembered the part of classroom learning that I hated: I didn’t have opportunity to take ownership over what I learned, and so I didn’t want to participate.  And isn’t that why “mastery assessments” were implemented in the first place?  Because we don’t trust students to take the initiative to learn on their own?  The more we let go of standardization–the more we think of “teaching” as providing a set of tools to “read, watch or play with”–we can begin to trust students to create and find meaning in their learning, and assessment becomes secondary.

Justin Reich, in the MOOC spirit, referred to his class at HGSE as a potluck; we all bring a dish to the table.  I’m might also emphasize: we all take a different plate away that best fits our taste, and that’s why it tastes so good.  (Maybe he said that too, and I just too engaged with other course material to listen.)


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--Originally published at AT's T509 Blog

The post is prompted by this reading: Illych, I. (1971) Deschooling society. (New York: Harper & Row). Chapter 6: Learning Webs.

The paragraph in discussion:

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public’s chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational.”

While I sense where the author is coming from, there is a different angle to looking at this statement. In other words, all is true, while its interpretation would depend on the context.

First, the statement is indeed beautiful and somewhat utopian. And it would be wonderful if this is how educational system worked. However, for whom? “For all who want to learn”.  Well, doesn’t it (the statement) imply then that we’re talking about sophisticated educated public in the first place? How about those who don’t want to learn or don’t know that they want to learn? One might say “let that category of people choose their own paths”. Would this free flow of available information just bee ignored by a large mass of population, leading them into a worse off stage, triggering ever larger social disparity? As George Siemens rightfully states: “When knowledge is abundant, the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important”. And “The ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill” (Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.)

As interesting as learning is, it is often hard and requires not just curiosity, but also work (more of the latter). Being optimistic that anybody just grabs the resources and applies them where they need to be is a bit utopian. Facilitators of knowledge transfer are needed (the crafting of the facilitators is a whole different conversation). It is a two way process. Facilitators may create curiosity, triggering learner to go on with his/her desire to continue this journey.

Another point caught my attention is the statement that “learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum”. Learners as a wider applied definition (anybody curious), perhaps. However, if we’re talking about basics of education, a minimum (or average?) knowledge that we think anybody (on average) should poses, there must be a curriculum. A solid curriculum. A unified curriculum. To the extent that there is a strong association of acquiring certain knowledge by certain time frame (age, grade, developmental stage, etc.). This does not apply to learners with special needs, of course. It would be a different conversation. But an average curriculum should be well defined and well understood (and, therefore, expected to be delivered and obtained). To this, basic, solid and well understood curriculum the learners (pupils) should submit in my opinion. This way we avoid deviations and speculations. Let’s just establish the solid average and expect it. How to deliver this knowledge and whether to add the premium to this average – is in hands of the facilitators of knowledge transfer. Such application has been in existence in various parts of the world and proves viable.

In other words, learners first have to be given the tools, with which some will go further, enjoying the three principles of education, Illych spelled out.


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--Originally published at Ed Tech Wannabe

In every single one of my classes, the professors have encouraged us to develop our own personal theory of learning.  They have provided us with information and discussion on numerous theories to help us construct our understanding.  However, I find myself more confused than ever…and it seems I’m not alone.

I think the most important thing to remember is that learning theory is not equivalent to pedagogy, but rather inspires it.  While we want a universal learning theory that can address all types of learning, I believe that’s impossible.  We can’t apply one learning theory to every specific learning situation.  I think the real issue is figuring out which elements of which theories work for learning specific skills and/or knowledge.

With regard to Connectivism, I think it holds significant promise in terms of developing adaptable skills. Problem solving, information sourcing, and analysis are all important skills not always encouraged via theories like Instructionism. For me, it’s important to remember Connectivism does not reject content as the source of learning, but rather emphasizes the use of content as a catalyst.  While this is not applicable to all areas (ex. times tables),it poses great opportunity in the areas it is.

Connectivist emphasis on creating your own perspective through aggregation, remix, and repurposing of content reminds me of Constructivism and building your understanding.  Where it differs (and excites me) is this connection to the world beyond the classroom.  In Connectivism, there are no walls.  Your interactions and knowledge construction are not limited to the class content or your classmates.  It allows for the greater world to participate and share, offering even more perspectives from practitioners.

While these possibilities excite me, I struggle to fully accept Connectivism.  There’s opportunity for social loafing, spread of false information, and minimal concrete content understanding.  I hope over the course of the semester to address these issues with my classmates (and those beyond, as per Connectivism!) in order to find where Connectivism can succeed and where other theories may be better pedagogical inspiration.

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--Originally published at emily grover

novelty.  in the last few weeks, my mind has been blown! i am an ed-tech newbie: i first heard the term MOOC only a couple months ago, i just figured out what # means, and this is my first blogging experience. i’m a late bloomer…

riding the wave.  that said, as i excitedly chatter about the course to non-t509-ers, i am quickly realizing that i now know more about technology-based education than most people in my circles. it’s new, it’s now, it’s here to stay… and i’ll bet it’s going to get even more mind-blowing with time and experience!

new and pervasive perspectives.  from the time i first read the syllabus of this course, the light bulbs began going on in my head about the vast possibilities technology allows. this light bulb effect has grown and i’m looking at everything lately wondering ‘could this be MOOC-ified?’

practical uses.  an important long-term career goal is to help increase access to high-quality medical care (via medical education) to people in resource-limited places, and i’m a believer that this is going to be one way to do it.

social.  connecting with like-minded AND non-like-minded co-learners in the class and beyond the class might actually be the best part!

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--Originally published at Sarah Alvanipour

Since my family was kind enough to help me move to Boston (Cambridge), I thought the least I could do was show them around town. First stop, the Shops at Prudential Center (of course!) and Copley Square…site of the Boston Public Library. How fitting that this is one of the first things I see when I arrive in Boston.

Boston Library 2

Boston Public Library @Copley Square with Prudential Building in the Background

The photo below is close-up of the library. At the top of the building is a phrase that truly resonated with me: “Library of the City of Boston Built by the People and Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning.”

Boston Library 2

How can one not be inspired in this town?




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--Originally published at shamajamal

“At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is notacquired, as though it were a thing. It is nottransmitted, as though it were some type of communication.” - Stephen Downeson Connectivism and Connected Knowledge This idea that knowledge was neither acquired nor transmitted was to a great extent what brought me to Harvard.

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--Originally published at shamajamal

“At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It is not transmitted, as though it were some type of communication.” - Stephen Downes on Connectivism and Connected Knowledge
This idea that knowledge was neither acquired nor transmitted was to a great extent what brought me to Harvard. Almost 10 years ago, I sat in a classroom of 40 other students in a school in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (You should visit)! I could ‘recite’ surreal details of physics, biology, and chemistry in 8th grade, with little to no clue on its implications and applicability to real life. The teacher was the only source of knowledge and this knowledge were not be challenged or questioned. But the same content that I so despised was to some extent a strength in an environment focused thinking differently and being critical. Over the past 10 years, through a range of diverse education systems/pedagogies and in particular, a course I took at Penn on Teaching and Learning, that I have learned how I personally process knowledge and recognized that we all learn differently.
While I realize that I learn best when I join a community of educators to become an educator, as defined by the connectivist learning theory, it might not be the only direction that a educators and governments need to take in transforming education for the next generation of learners. I am forced into an uncomfortable no-solution zone: There is no learning theory that is a one-size fits all and an individual’s learning style is not defined by any one particular learning theory.
Here are some questions/concerns that came to mind:
Is a connectivist course or approach to education more relevant or more effective after a certain base level of content, e.g. elementary, or before entering into a very specific content-oriented field of study, such as medicine? Does sequencing of these learning theories matter?If content is not central than are we moving towards a world with no content experts, and just a whole lot of consultants or problem-solvers?Will too much autonomy to students to learn and grow as they please impact economic outcomes and goals for various countries?
Ps, I am much better with learning through the amazing HGSE network of learners and not the 300 pages of reading I have to do each week #gradschoolproblems! So, let’s get coffee sometime!

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--Originally published at Taking the Risk IS Success

So here’s the class project I’ll be working on for T509:

Creating Self-Paced Online Learning About Technology for Educators

EdTechTeacher is a professional learning consultancy that works with schools and districts to help teachers leverage technology to create student-centered, inquiry-based learning environments. Students, acting as consultants, will propose a strategy for taking latent online assets (videos, slides, etc.) and turn them into a more structured self-paced online learning experience.

Project manager: Beth Holland


I’m supposed to come up with a draft rubric to assess my work.  Argh. However, I looked at EdTechTeacher and found a Rubric resource! Heh heh heh. So I’m going to try RubiStar to create a draft rubric… ok, that didn’t work– the rubrics are for kids… nothing for creating self-paced online learning courses for adults.

I googled and found this thesis…Principles for designing online self-paced corporate training, by David Christopher Braet  I don’t have time to read it now but it could prove helpful at some point.

So back to the Rubric resource… ahh, here’s another one… DigiTales Scoring Guides…Informative/Expository, “How-to Directions”… let’s try that… Home_Digitales_-_2014-09-16_21.58.50

Cool!!  Way too much but I was able to copy and paste it into an excel file.  Download it here:  Rubric Draft

That’s enough for tonight.