champagne anyone?

Maddie reminded us today that it’s 6 months since the first email from EDC mooc teaching team 🙂

Have just started reading through all the other papers in eLearning Papers issue 33 on Moocdom, and really enjoyed David Boven’s paper… made me think of William Rankin’s Youtube video on mobile learning…

I love that kind of historical view, having started my own studies with a focus on medieval literature and manuscript culture, and ending up focused on the teaching of academic writing, and a critique of the whole concept of literacy, theories of learning, and ‘what’s digital got to do with it’.. it does seem a very special moment in history now, with our cultural past more readily accessible than ever, so that lots of people can explore it, and consider in a much more informed way what has and hasn’t changed, and what it is the technological developments we’re living with now that changes educational practice.

I tend to agree with the view that classroom or face to face, mentoring type educational relationships will become more, rather than less, important with the rise of the MOOC and the Internet. It’s certainly working that way in my context, where students really need the intensive conversation around the mass of information we have access to – and I’m certainly enjoying teaching more and more as I reshape courses to take advantage of ed techs…


the story continues….

hot off the press – noticed this morning that a couple of short articles we’ve written about EDCmooc have now appeared

Unfortunately the very first line of the editorial has something of a clanger in it, saying that in 2009 Coursera had a million students…. it should of course have read, August 9, 2012…. hopefully that will be corrected before you even have time to go the url and see it, but if not, please ignore that and continue reading the issue!

So we put these together very hastily when Wayne Barry mentioned the call for papers… we hadn’t actually heard of the journal to be honest, but it seemed reputable and a good opportunity to formally reflect….

What I’m very very interested to know now though is how it goes down with you, so please let me know, if you read, whether this represents your experience of EDCmooc ok, or if it horribly misrepresents it! I mean we were just speaking for ourselves here, but I would like to know if it resonates ok.

I’ve only just started reading, but the other articles in this issue seem very interesting – so anyway, hope you’ll share your thoughts with us 🙂

– E



on dis-connection & e-education

Hey presto, finally back online after an exile enforced by having used my quota and everything having slowed down and ground to a halt. Reading all the talk about ‘connectivity’, then being thrown into the land of the disconnected ‘other’ was interesting…. good to have an enforced holiday from moocy distraction (I got a lot of other writing done), but I’m glad to be back online.

During my period of exile at home I was able to dip in a bit from my workplace computer, and had a ‘hangout’ session in team ‘quad 3’…  Laurie couldn’t get on, so it ended up just three of us.. here’s Desi and Elizabeth hanging out in my office…


photo copy
now we know how it works, we’ll do it again after week one – which omg, is this week!

So coming back to look at the mooc, what do I like, and what worries me?




  • Transparent inter-connection with a larger story – I love how this short mooc is embedded within a larger more complex course, so our tribal conversation is being studied as part of the wider phenomenon of eLearning and digital cultures, and we’re welcome to browse the other course if we want to
  • Balanced focus on topics and learning technologies process – I love how the means of experiencing, developing and demonstrating learning here is explicitly part of what we’re here to learn…. because they’re assumed ‘new’ to most participants, the technologies and practices of peer learning and visual artifact construction are paid as much attention to as the science fiction and academic discourse on the themes of digital culture, networked communication, online education and the utopian/dystopian fantasies of human-machine relationships and futures… I like seeing this from a student perspective, because it’s the sort of balance I work to achieve through curriculum design at my institution, so students who are entering authentic academic English for the first time have opportunity to get their heads around what are for them quite new literacy demands
  • The opportunity to observe language and learning process – I love how writing and recording online means that how we engage with and learn from one another in this environment is recorded and reviewable.  Universities often make it hard for students to share what they know about the technologies and genres of the literacy demanded of the learning environments they find themselves in, and I’m always looking for curriculum design ways to get that balance right and to include plenty of examples of how the texts expected are actually constructed and developed.
  • The task to create a visual artifact – I love that for the assessment of our learning, we aren’t asked to (yawn) write an essay or some such… The given task here is really well aligned with the learning objectives, design and topic. I see all too often how woefully that can all get out of kilter in tertiary education, and lead to confusion and predictably poor learning ‘outcomes’ for students, so I appreciate seeing good alignment of a course’s stated learning objectives with the modes of assessment and the teaching practices (which in this case, are distributed to a large extent).
  • The focus on storytelling. I love this. I started making the move from academic writing to academic storytelling a few years ago, and enjoy getting students doing digital storytelling projects, as a way of developing their English language repertoire and proficiency. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and the outcomes are so much better, in terms of learning and confidence, than any other approach I’ve tried. I still show students how to develop the academic writing they have to do in their disciplines, of course, and am thoroughly immersed in traditional practices of logical argumentation, source searching, diverse voice gathering, evidence incorporating, cohesion and coherence developing etc (just compiled a list to prove it), but I don’t engage in ‘generic’ teaching activities whereby some mythical construct of a ‘skill’ is taught apart from an authentic disciplinary or professional context… I think storytelling can be a very engaging and intellectually productive way to develop ‘knowledge and understanding’ of a topic.. and I know from experience how much more rapidly students expand their capacity to make meaning with ‘English’ when their learning challenges are approached in a storytelling rather than ‘rationalist’, positivist manner. .

In my last post I mentioned a paper that another blogger drew my attention to (link Ellsworth 1989, HER 59:3). Ellsworth had reported in the late 80s her shift in thinking and practice “from critical rationalism to the politics of partial narratives”, and it interested me to read a writing teacher’s shift in thinking. She came to realise that ‘liberationist’ goals probably wont’ be achieved by insisting that students only speak in ways that teachers of critical analysis (academic writing and debate) deem rational and appropriate, as they/we preside over student discourse from a position of relative power… and however much we might want to ‘empower’ others, the way to achieve it probably isn’t anarchic free for all speech (given that most of us most of the time have limited capacity to recognize where ‘our’ discourse is coming from and what it might mean to others).

Ellsworth was questioning the assumptions (inherited from educational discourse) that she’d been working with, which though they sounded good, in fact undermined the very goals she was being led to want to achieve… In attempting to help students speak in their voice, be heard and have influence, she was requiring classroom interaction to conform to modes of argumentation and abstraction that prevented most participants from achieving the very goals she thought she’d be helping them achieve (because they deny lived social context and personal political agendas). Ah, the eternal ironies of education!

It was apparently a short sharp dose of genuine diversity in her classroom that shifted her thinking and practice as an educator. We’re not experiencing any radical diversity in this mooc classroom at this point in time (seems like all participants speaking so far are a pretty homogenous tribe, however widely distributed globally), but it shouldn’t be too long ‘til these learning environments do represent great diversity, and not everyone speaking will have similar educational experiences behind them, be fluent in the language of instruction, professionally employed in an area closely related to the topic, and very hip to the ideology and practice of ‘peeragogy’. What then? Well watch this space I guess, but I’m thinking it’ll be interesting to see whether moocs do get used in very empowering ways, by people, who, finding unprecedented ‘access’ to ways of making meaning and knowing, will start connecting on much larger scale, voicing their immediate and real concerns in their social and political contexts in ways that will change the ways things are thought and played out… meanwhile, I don’t suppose we’re being ‘liberated’ from anything but the mild occasional boredom of our day jobs…

Laurie and Desi raised questions in their comments to that previous post that are so worth discussing in our mooc here – about the role of technology in learning, about how different conversations get connected, about the nature of knowing and learning, and the extent to which changing the means of production and distribution of ‘knowledge’ could undo the institutionalized ways by which we’ve come to know and measure and validate all knowledge… I crave engaging and intelligent discussion of what we mean by ‘learning’ and ‘knowing’, and escape from the endless nonsense that gets spoken in so much educational discourse (especially in governance of higher education, where the focus is relentless on really questionable construct of ‘skills’)…

I’m fascinated by the literacy being played out in the networked digital environments we find ourselves in these days… the greater visibility of more of the language we’re using to conduct our daily interactions and professional lives is an ethnographer’s dream, and may lead to much greater general interest in theories of writing, thinking, learning and ‘mind’ and wow maybe even ‘language’… (is there something ‘else’ constituting most communications?)… but at this stage, the state of the discourse in education and computer studies, and flow-on discourse in this mooc, worries me… Some of the concerns I have are:


  • Failure to define key terms – like ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’. Though I’m new to reading academic literature on computer studies and ‘artificial intelligence’, I’m certainly not new to reading ac lit on ‘learning’ and I’m really sick and tired of all the assumptions and lack of proper argument based on logic and evidence. While better understanding of such words is an objective, rather than a start point, in a course like this, I wonder how many will grab that bull by the horns and really think about it… or whether most will just carry on imagining that we somehow all just know and agree on what these words refer to and how they might be defined.
  • Lack of theory and philosophical debate. Given that teaching and learning are linguistic activities, it seems to me that any exploration of how we learn (or how machines may or may not) that doesn’t seriously consider how language works is going nowhere fast… But most of the discourse I’m reading about learning (in education) or ‘machine learning’ (in computer studies) surprises me for its lack of any reference to linguistic or semiotic theory (and I don’t mean what came out of MIT in the 1950s and 60s!)
  • Fetishization of technology. Of course the question of which technologies we’re using ‘to know’ is fundamental (what we do, who we do it with, and how quickly and flexibly we do it, changes with the different possibilities of different technologies), but when people start imagining disembodied brains and ‘intelligent’ machines ruling the world … oh please! Look, I’m totally amazed and mightily impressed by the work done in developing computer technologies, but I cringe when electrical engineers and computer geeks start fantasizing that they’re doing something other than playing with and refining electronic machines…. when they seem to really believe (and worse, when hoards of followers believe) that they’re saying and doing something ‘deep’ with respect to ‘mind’… lordy, go read some semiotics, deconstruction, functional linguistics, and philosophy of language, and think about it properly…

Well whatever, that’s what jumps out at me this lovely rainy day in Wollongong, as I rejoin the mooc and prepare my head for the launch later today 🙂

I’m looking forward to thinking about questions of representation in this space.. how the mode of performing and demonstrating what’s ‘learned’ (what we want to ‘know’) shapes our conception of what learning and knowing are… (as McLuhan might have said) – and whether we’re seeking to attain and ‘have’ some ‘thing’, or seeking to engage in a somewhat expanded or altered way of doing and being with others (as a systemic-functional linguist might have said).

Right now, as the countdown starts, I’m thinking human life is just a cacophony of past, shared and emerging narratives that we all move in and out of, making  more or less sense of, and participating in, through modes and manners largely prescribed by tradition but also quite malleable once you’re experienced with them and can see past the constraints and the belief that they ‘refer’ to anything beyond the discourse itself… I wonder whether I’ll end up thinking pretty much the same as I begin, or quite differently….. safe travels everyone.


Good night and good luck.

reviewing scale & strategy – or, how to remain sane while in a mooc

focus time folks – the sudden upsurge in numbers online in the course this week has been a bit… omg.. from a sort of manageable hundred or so using the social media, to…?? I know we have been expecting this all along, but it still feels like a tsunami when it hits!  I’m not even going to try keeping up with reading discussions now…. Dirk’s cartoon that I quoted yesterday said it all..

So, a different strategy seems called for… which is pretty good timing for me as it happens, because I’ve been feeling guilty spending so much time here the past couple of weeks anyway, and now I have a good reason to change my roaming ways…

speaking of net surfing I just went to find an image and saw that, today’s google image is in honour of snugglepot and cuddlepie (favourite storybook for little Australians, about gum nut fairies in the bush) – how cute is that?

google snugglepot and cuddlepie 2013-01-17

Anyway, I know I’ve been spending quite a bit of time each day browsing around, following links, reading blogs, reading articles, watching videos, because my connection has slowed right down, meaning I guess that I’ve used my download quota for the month –  and it’s only half way through the month!

It’s been great though – I’ve learned a lot from all the reading, and been stimulated to think about some new topics, and I’ve enjoyed it… and whenever I find something of relevance to the thesis I’m writing I can tell myself I’m doing research rather than wasting my time – yay…

As I’ve been thinking about the course objectives and expected outcomes more carefully, I’ve reorganised this blog (again) this morning …. now I think I’ve settled on a structure and a simple routine, that should see me through the five weeks of the course delivery and interaction, and the production of the assessment task. So I guess I’m ‘focused’ now…

I remind myself that the course leaders reckon we should only be spending 3-5 hours per week on this course! So my preparation for the course has far exceeded the time I’m going to spend on actually doing the course…. hmmm

So, no more browsing and contributing to such a range of discussions in Facebook and G+ for me, just a really quick browse of them every other day, grab anything that seems to fit into the story I’m constructing here in this blog, limit my browsing to half an hour max each day, and post a quick message or two to one of the social media to share only the most interesting stuff I’ve found – I don’t have time to check, but I’m going to assume that if I inter-link social media, my one message will appear in all of them automatically…

Anyway, what have I learned so far in these prep weeks? I think this blog represents it pretty much, in its page organisation and their contents, but in short…

toolbox tiny tools for online communication & multimedia text production

I thought I already was tech savvy and had a good collection bookmarked in my personal ‘toolbox’, but I’ve learned a heap from conversations in the social fora of this mooc… and I’m really developing greater proficiency in using media I had accounts with but wasn’t actually bothering to use well…. particularly the inter-linking of social media is becoming an eye opener, now I’m beginning to really see the point of it – it saves time and connects you with masses more people, fast. They may or may not want to connect with me of course, but at least I’m able to give them the choice, and I’ve started following heaps of people on twitter and have started using RSS feeds too – I never really understood what that was all about, but now I’ve started using Google Reader and I get it – it really does save time, and I need that right now.

And that’s the point – you learn at the point of need
(amazing how many educators don’t get that, and construe their students as deficient and unmotivated, when the problem is more likely a lack of discussion and good task design)

I’m becoming a better blogger thanks to this course – I’ve been using blogs for years, but not in a particularly sophisticated way, just as private journals for my teaching and research, or semi-privately to talk with a small number of colleagues.. going ‘public’ with a blog has been something else…

crowd tiny managing conversation in a crowd

trying to participate in conversation with a very large group, in the FaceBook group, has made me feel a bit like I’m back in high school really…. the sense of crowd and competition to have your voice heard… not what one has become used to in professionally organised life… both quite fun at times and quite devastating at others – as when noone listens or talks back to you, and you keep trying to say something that’s intensely meaningful and important to you and it’s either ignored or trodden on, like so many jack boots on a flower…. and then suddenly someone ‘likes’ something you put out there and it makes your day… and then you’re just ignored again…. and then someone disagrees with you in a way that makes you feel things you’re not used to feeling…. and then you have to reconsider how you have worded your own messages and worry about whether you’ve offended anyone and that’s why noone is talking to you… and then you start imagining that everyone else is more ‘liked’ than you are… this can be exhausting!… and then you think, what the hell am I thinking? I’m not a teenager, why am I having all these existential angst moments? and then you take an academic interest in the phenomenon as a coping strategy, and then you accept that this is just an upscaled and fast forwarded version of normal everyday conversational life, and  you empathise with your teenage child’s transition from primary to secondary school coz that’s exactly what it’s been like for them… and then you reflect on how they were friends with everyone in first year, and how second year brought tears and traumas and realignments as people simply had to focus on smaller groupings and make some tough stances to work out who the hell they were and what they really wanted to be talking about, because it’s in the stories we spend our lives constructing that we find the friends who help us ‘get it all together’…

So yeah, streamlined management of the tools of trade is one of the most valuable things I’m learning in this course, because I’m feeling the need to learn that right now…


but the big take home message is the fact that nobody had to ‘teach’ me any of it – just throw resources out there and let me find my own way to the stuff I need when I need it…. relevance of all this to my teaching and research seems clear to me, in that I’ve been thinking for years that design is everything, and this experience confirms it for me – I wanted to do this course in the first place in order to feel what it’s like to be a student again, to better understand my own students… now I’m convinced that this ‘go help yourselves and feed each other’ approach to teaching works well, when the task and conversation are designed and articulated well, which I think they are in this course.

Should I ‘do something’ to up my readership? I really am not good with that kind of thing. I find it excruciatingly  awkward and uncomfortable to be honest – the whole business of going public as a blogger has been a VERY big step and it verges on the traumatic sometimes – but this is very much one of the themes of the course, so I have simply taken an academic interest in the phenomenon and am considering the whole experience as a mini participant ethnography of my own – sort of doing an empire strikes back on the course organisers, and using their course as they are using us who would participate in it… I think their design is brilliant actually, and I am learning from it.. and have now started writing about it in chapter 6 of my emerging thesis…. I have been doing similar things with my students for some years, but not of course on this kind of scale.. but the experiment they’re engaging in, because it’s so open, is very instructive (well that’s what I would think isn’t it? It’s been designed that way…. perhaps I am in the Matrix after all)…

pop sci-fi

I’ve always been keen on science fact, but I’ve never been a fan of science fiction (notable exceptions being Dr Who, Life on Mars and the wonderfully fantastically bad and therefore brilliant Lost in Space) , and so I’ve missed most of the ‘classics’ that everyone else seems to know inside out… so I am now getting familiar with movies I’ve only known the names of in the past, and look forward to learning more

discourses from AI & ‘post-humanism’

I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of communications theory over the years in my work with electrical engineers, and of theories of ‘culture’ in my word with students of business, and always found it interesting how differently technicians and scientists and business folk often view key themes of interest to me (such as culture, communication and language)  which due to my main education I see from a humanities / linguistics perspective…. I grew up in a social-functional theory of language (radically different from the traditions in linguistics that have been dominant in the US), and always find it very easy, shall we say, to critique discussions of communication, ‘mind’ and learning that are based on other, (to me less sophisticated and robust) theories of language (or based on no theory of language or semiotics at all, which is more often the case it seems to me)…. so as I read much of the discourse in the fields of artificial intelligence, I do tend to find myself laughing out loud sometimes…. I really can’t take it seriously… but I read on, hoping to learn and find something that might challenge me and make me really think hard about my own assumptions and beliefs…. haven’t yet, but I am striving to be open minded!… meanwhile, I find that Kress’ writing resonates with me still very much, all these years later…

the mooc debate

I started reading about the mooc phenomenon in earnest about 6 months ago, and it’s from that  general interest that I found my way into this course… and I really like the way having an assignment to do is helping me shape (tame?) my thinking into an exchangeable form of some kind… some kind other than the standard academic paper that is… it’s really rather fun thinking about it I’m finding 🙂

reading the lives of others

just quickly browsing through some of the many, various blogs that colleagues in edcmooc are putting out there, I stopped for a moment to ponder on this one of Chris Swift’s, and of Nigel‘s that it responds to – to wonder about ‘worrying’ about new technologies of literacy…

Apart from all the usual worries about ‘what is who going to do with my identity details and data’ (and what if I lose the address book that has all my fifty thousand passwords in it), like Nigel, I’d also felt a serious twinge of embarrassment in creating a ‘twitter’ account… from the outside, you can easily get the impression (from mainstream media I suppose) that the twittershere is a young person’s thing, so older people getting into it might look sadly ridiculous… like they were wearing baggy pants half way down the bum and riding a long board around their workplace thinking they could be cool… and the names of these online social media are pretty poxxy – twitter doesn’t make me think ‘sweet little birdies chatting’, it makes me think twit – as in moron, air head, plastic person… and why does technology need ‘disney’ logos? I hate having to grin and bear all the irritating mass marketing silly speak in order to explore the software…

BUT, of course, once you’re actually into it, you realise you can just  ignore the idiotic names and logos, it’s about the easy and interesting conversations these tools give you access to, and which help you do what you want to be doing… with twitter you can quite easily and quickly find people who want to talk about the things that matter to you too – theoretical, political, social, serious, silly – you name it – pick a conversation and join in. amazing – and unlike a conference, you don’t have to get on a plane for 30 hours to get there, and it costs you NOTHING! bloody brilliant (and as a language educator, I’m thinking it looks like a good way to develop fluency in the tweeted language, by simply engaging in lots of authentic, meaningful exchange – so I’ll be incorporating it into my teaching this year I think).

As I learn how to use it, I’m thinking twitter’s a great technology for open and inclusive conversation – so thanks to all those nameless people who have been working on its conceptual and material development for countless years and not getting the credit (which is always taken by the person at the end of the process)…

Nigel’s sister may or may not really think that twitter is the work of the devil (!), but media are often reacted to that way when they’re new – TV… the printed book… one person’s salvation and freedom is another’s subversion of semiotic capital and trusted text production and distribution processes…. and another’s business opportunity..

reminds me of when secular workshops took over manuscript production in the 14th century (replacing monastic scriptoria) and the church lost its control of what was written and who was reading it (and how)… and when printing enabled ‘mass’ production and cheaper distribution to the general public… and then, egads, public education brought literacy to the great unwashed – and all hell could have broken loose… (except that schools were more about factory fodder training than enlightenment).

Well you don’t wait to be given power, you have to take it, and this story in the guardian’s poverty matters blog caught my eye the other day, because it’s a good example of how twitter can be used for socially significant purposes. I tend to think it’s fabulously good, for the most part – if new communication tools accelerate the potential for people living in economically oppressive and politically repressive environments to reshape their own circumstances into something livable. But like a sharp knife – I don’t imagine it’s the technology that will be doing good or harm, but the people using it. I guess the point I’d want to make is that ‘twitter’ is a tool, not an activity. We don’t need the tool in order to do the activity, but if we have a good tool, we can do it differently, or better or just much faster and more inclusively.

This pre-course phase of edcmooc is a real exercise in exploration of tools, to work out how they work, and how they compare, and which might suit our individual and variable purposes best. The name of the game isn’t Twitter, it’s conversation – exchange of language.. and it seems to me there are days I learn more via twitter than I do in conversation with work colleagues in a year!

So getting back to the theme of the course that Chris reminds us of… we’re here in edcmooc to learn the tools of trade in digitised education, and to explore common perceptions in our culture of promise and peril with the advent of new technologies – the stories we tell about the use of technology, as either normal and integral part of our development, or as challenge to our understanding of what it means to be human… and to think about how popular ‘cyber cultures’ relate to formal educational practices, and what difference digital makes to the presentation of academic knowledge…

That common perception of conversational tools like twitter (created by marketing and mainstream media) – that it’s ‘light’, silly, intellectually vacuous, frivolous fluff stuff – reminds me how easy it is to focus on a tool rather than what users are doing with it, and how or whether the tool helps… it also has me thinking about how often language is invisible to those who are fluent in it, and how educational talk about ‘learning’ often fails to focus on the nitty gritty of how learners can actually expand their awareness of lexico-grammatical choices to better make sense of information and extend their capacity to make meaningful exchanges in diverse and shifting contexts….

So in line with the course theme, my thought of the day, or plan for the month, is to think very seriously about how I can use Twitter, for example, this year to help my students, in at least one of the subjects I teach, to notice, reflect on and develop English. I work with several groups in different disciplines who have one thing in common – they’re post-graduate students using English as an additional language. I have been using blogs for a few years for introductory and reflective tasks, and to make a suite of online language development tools part of their daily learning environment, but the limitation of 140 characters could be a very appealing thing to those who feel daunted by an expectation to write blog entries, and it could facilitate much more frequent commentary, questioning and language learning, so I want to explore it, along with daily photos of their experience as students – the trail left providing material for reflection later… I just started exploring 140 character fiction as a stimulus – maybe they’ll want to compose their own too, for a lark (there are many sites for this kind of thing), but I’m also thinking they could choose a site a day from the range of resources I put on my teaching blog and tweet about why they find it useful or not…  maybe they could tweet each week about the main thing that was a linguistic challenge to them – that could help me identify patterns and focus my attention where it’s most needed. just thinking – very open to suggestions 🙂

But wait – there was something else in Chris’ post that made me stop and ponder today… the notion that changing the media of communication could somehow do away with ‘mis’-understandings…. that in some future version of communication technology, we might be able to do away with language altogether, so that ‘thoughts’ could be conveyed without ‘error’, and ideas could be exchanged without the muddied waters middlespace of inarticulate you and me imperfect humans… hmmm. I struggle with that basic notion of ‘thoughts’ existing apart from social semiotic, material communicational practices. It seems to be the dominant thinking in our culture (it has a very long history), and it makes education very difficult sometimes, is the way I see it. I dunno – I just feel the world is horribly dominated by Pinker-type discourse and I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of us ‘having thoughts’ and then translating them ‘into’ language, as though there were two separable realms. Unlike the Chomskys and Pinkers of this world, I don’t accept the argument (however venerably old) that ‘thoughts’ and ‘mind’ exist apart from any particular medium of communication. I think language most certainly IS how we ‘have thoughts’ in the first place and that language is all we have to bind us through exchange (‘have thoughts’ being in inverted commas, because we don’t ‘have’ anything – we continually make meaning, and its just the effect of academic writing that abstractions and relational verbs construe experience in static and possessive terms). I don’t see how any two people could ever have the ‘same’ understanding of anything – seems to me we cannot BUT make different interpretations of the same material, because meaning is not ‘in’ what we observe, it’s an effect of our interpretative activity…. interpret that as you will !

disruption as storytelling device

I was just listing to the radio briefly as I passed between rooms and heard a novelist in interview saying how she (and all creative writers) needs to construct a disruption in a situation in order to be able to go on to tell a story, and of course this rings true – we all know narrative technique well enough to know the importance of the initial ‘crisis’… but what interested me was how that obvious truism suddenly struck me as just as true of the sort of creative writing we are engaging in as students in this course, and how the course itself is an emerging narrative enabled by an initial discourse on how ‘disruptive’ the mooc is to everything and anything in higher education: it’s irrelevant whether we take it as ‘true’ or not, we simply need to suspend disbelief in order to engage in the joys of the storytelling… it’s like we need to construct that disruption or ‘crisis’ in our situation so that we can proceed to join in the telling of a big story – which is nothing other than the doing of this course (‘learning’ as it were)…


I don’t even see that as an ‘are we in our out of the matrix?’ scenario, because in my old age I have come to see less and less difference between fiction and non fiction, between story and history (or hers), between creative and ‘academic’ writing… it’s all just language, in varying genres and registers…. I’m in the middle of writing a thesis and have taught both creative and academic writing for two decades, to a wide range of students, for various purposes (including to ‘learn English’ and to ‘learn Australian Studies’ and to learn some ‘Science’ or ‘Health’ or ‘Engineering’ discipline they’ve chosen to study) and I believe less and less in there actually being any real difference at all… and to see more and more the cross-over relevance of analytic techniques and developmental strategies I’ve used in one area for others…

just thought I’d share that one 🙂

all we see and seem, is but a dream within a dream, as Mr Poe once so eloquently penned…

either that or I’ve just been thinking about language philosophy for too long….

this is my story:


changing nature of literacy

Before disappearing from this space for the christmas break, I was just reading a few of the other course participants’ blog posts and this one by Chris made me smile… and then I found myself rethinking what I’ve been thinking for a very long time (well who ever stops thinking what they already know, right? we just add to the mix, we never ‘move on’ – everything important we already learned by the age of 5…), but anyway, ‘literacy’ has been my pet theme since I did a research project on it in an earlier life, and I was taken, back then when I first got deeply into higher ed, with two fields at once – medieval book culture and Halliday’s sophisticated and fascinating theory of language (that just made ‘language’ per se so much more interesting than anything we were ever told about it in school)…. and I’ve remained interested in both ever since.

What I wrote my thesis about way back then was an amusing and extraordinary phenomenon in early 14th English manuscripts, such as the splendiferous Luttrell Psalter….


imgres-1   imgres-2

where the marginal imagery started to really take off and occupy more and more of the page ‘real estate’… and where that imagery became hilariously bawdy and bizarre (from a 20th century perspective on reading medieval illuminated manuscripts, as filtered by a century of construing book painting in terms of a particular set of ‘fine arts’ discourses)…

anyways, I’m finding now that whatever I see here in our shared MOOCdom, I can’t help but interpret through the filters already implanted in my mind from those earlier educational explorations, which left far more than a trace – they’re my framework. So when I read Chris’ post, thoughts about the pertinent analogy there were quickly overtaken by my usual set of thoughts, stemming from Halliday‘s lovely way of describing three simultaneous operations of language development – how the individual’s language repertoire grows and changes through their life, how a language as a whole, in the collective mind, changes over the centuries, and how any particular text unfolds and its context and meaning changes with each new word and sentence.

I guess I’ve just been ‘trained’ to (well, I like to) take a very long term view of change – I’m just not caught up in the current wave of hype about how the digital environment ‘changes everything’ or forces us to ‘rethink everything’… it modifies things very significantly, sure, but I don’t see a technology (or suite of new technological developments) completely changing the whole game.

I just find it more interesting I guess to look a long way back, and forward, to make sense of what’s happening here and now… what’s fantastic about this digital environment from my point of view is that we can so quickly and easily observe so much of what is going on in all three dimensions or ‘scales’ of operation – the production of each new text being contributed and read; personal development as new media are experimented with and mastered; and collective cultural development as this digital literacy phenomenon emerges and grows rapidly…

I’m just seeing what’s going on in terms of changing opportunities and media for literacy, and literacy (digital or otherwise) as usual, as just part of what we do with language – a major part of what we learn to do in this lovely little bit of life we enjoy for such a brief moment 🙂

pacem et concordiam ad omnes

viral trade in tools

Obviously in a course that is being conducted entirely online and that’s focused on the topic of eLearning and digital cultures there is going to be heavy use and discussion of technologies that were designed for (or can be used for) educational purposes…. that much is to be expected – but perhaps not quite expected by me and other participants, naive little things that we are, was the degree to which, and the speed at which, they’d proliferate!

Writing here in the week before Christmas – a good month before the course even begins – we are compiling an ever growing list of tools that we’re all madly trying out for the first time (or picking up and actually using like never before), in order to prepare ourselves for the learning ahead… well this prep time is itself a significant learning curve – imagine how intense things might become once the course takes off!

Or maybe not – maybe all this orientation stuff is the more time consuming part, and we’ll now just sail smoothly through the learning journey…. huh! somehow I think the recommendation that we spend ’3′ hours a week on this course looks like deliberate marketing fraud :)

Anyways, I’m sure the list will continue to grow as we go, but so far here is the list of ‘essential’ tools that will be in use as we do the course (some for daily communications, maybe others more for comparative and evaluative purposes)…

So far, what’s been new and particularly of interest to me (in relation to the teaching I do) are:

twitter lists (IF I can figure out how to send messages to just one list and not everyone, I can see myself having separate lists for different groups of students, and colleagues, and using twitter for reminders and questions – much more likely to be read quickly than anything that requires them to login to the course website or institutional email)

pinterest (some of these I’ve seen have been interesting to browse, but I haven’t used this tool yet, and so not sure yet whether I’d use it with students – the best application for it I can imagine in my current teaching scenarios might be to share with the class things about academic English in their other classes that I have tasked them to pay attention to and report back about – this noticeboard effect might work well for that, as the posting could then be done on the go and before we meet, and then be looked at in class as the start up for discussion & learning)

scoopit (I’ve certainly seen these, but haven’t made one before this week, and I can see how it could be an appealing and effective way – sometimes – for students to receive new readings of high relevance to something we’re doing that week – as opposed to set readings that I can plan before class begins – would be good for sharing stuff with colleagues too, although most of mine actually prefer reading emails…. ahhh)

storify (have heard of this one in the past couple of years but haven’t yet explored – but as I do like to get students making digital stories of their language learning experience in their first year doing academic work in this language and country, this may be a quick and easy tool for them to use for that purpose? not sure yet)

vimeo (not new to me, but I haven’t been using it for teaching purposes because I am a Mac person and one’s dotmac account – whatever they are calling it this month – has had terrific website and video sharing software as part of the package – but I like Kyle’s movie here and I need to learn more technologies that my students are most likely to know because they are often not mac people and they don’t waste their limited finances on shiny groovy things from apple and I have to speak their language in order to communicate!)

G+ hangouts (have just today had a look at some examples, and the Sara Lipka one that Eric posted in the G+ community for us –  it seems sort of like skype on steroids – up to 10 people can video chat live at once, AND this software has a broadcast option, ie you can save your conversation to your YouTube channel… as soon as I started watching these I thought, wow, what a quick, easy, hassle free way to get mid and end of course feedback from students! and then have it all on record…. there is the question of permissions when it comes to reporting as research of course, but just meanwhile, the immediate use potential in teaching is obvious and terrific to me! – so much better than the rigmarole of getting formal evaluations done… this could be much more spontaneous and authentic for the ongoing quality improvement feedback loop)

mindmomo and mindmeister (I actually prefer cmaptools for online concept mapping, and have various other tools for visualising processes – but I really liked the mindmap Mr Chips I think posted for us – though now I can’t find it! – and I might make my students aware of this software too, if it’s quick and simple and free to use. Cmaptools is my favourite because it forces you to compose a sentence that articulates the relationship between elements in the map, rather than just to connect keywords, and for all sorts of reasons that is what I prefer my students to do in planning their writing – but hey, all visualisation tools are cool with me, I like to explore them all!)

google reader (oddly I haven’t been using this on my desktop, though I have used it a bit on my ipad… must explore further whether this is a good adjunct to my web-based Endnote, or Mendeley or whatever I or my students are using – got to think about not only quick and easy, but also integration with projects and other online systems, like databases…)

evernote (haven’t tried this yet, just noting recommendations by other students in this course – will have to check it out, though, I may not need yet another tool, I think I really just need to browse and then select according the criteria that matter most in my current work, then just stick with a very small number of really effective tools and focus…. I agree with that video about how to succeed in a MOOC!)

the countdown has begun…. mephistopheles awake!

our leaders have just tweeted that the course site is now officially open… but surreally, the message seems to be directed at another virtual group not exactly us but including or surrounding or infiltrating us…. the site is for the Edinburgh U course of the same name, for a small group of students enrolled in a masters degree program, and they are tasked to monitor and guide the coursera MOOC group behaviour it seems, as part of their, rather longer, course…. interesting design and use of the mooc for broader (and sound) educational purposes… I like the cross-course referencing, it is something I like to do in language education – get students in my class to monitor, document and reflect on the language in play in their other subjects so we have the most relevant material to focus on in paying close attention to and learning more about academic English… but at the same time, it is a strange dance to be in, and hopefully not with the devil in the data analytics detail of the great googley digital behemoth!

EDC home

to blog, to quad, perchance to deeply learn…

I’ve overspent my time allocation today already and am now getting anxious about my mind being away from my day job as I try and persuade myself that what I do here is all helpful to that, but stop I must – in just a moment, after I’ve had a brief meditation on what’s been going on!

there’s been some discussion today on the course FB page about quadblogging and why we want to give it a go, and how – and terrific contributions to the collective think aloud / write it down…. what I’m wanting to reflect on here now though, in my own blog space rather than the shared FB page, is what I’m learning and what I’m finding it difficult to learn.

I’ve already gleaned a plethora of new edtech tools – more than I can possibly keep up with the documentation of let alone the experimentation with – helpfully, Eric started an edtech Google doc so we can collectively keep the record straightish! (do we give daily thanks for the mighty hyper-link? don’t you just LOVE them?!)

but anyway, all of my explorations and comments in FB and G+ and twitter and whatever the hell else is going on has created problems as it solves others (such is life) in that while I do want to know what the different functions of the various platforms and tool types might be, I also find it extremely irritating when you can’t just find a quick answer to a simple question – like can I (or why can’t I) send a tweet to a list rather than to the entire universe? I am amazed at how quickly this environment with all its wonderful participants informs me of some things, and how difficult it can be to get information of that nature via Google…

What I seem to have learned today (though I am never quite sure really, because I simply don’t have time to read down beyond the first few items that google has engineered it to appear at the top of list when I search for something, and I am always left with a horrible anxiety that the answer I seek really is there but just beyond my reach or my capacity in the moment to think of an intelligent enough search term, and here I am feeling what it is to be a student in the 21st century… which is exactly what I joined the course in order to experience, so what am I complaining about? I got what I paid for… wait, I didn’t pay anything! well that doesn’t mean I got nothing in this case (though who knows, it may well mean I will later when Mephistopheles comes to call…

anyway, it is a good question that has been being asked the pst couple of days in our social network – what are we blogging FOR? and if we’re going to blog on the quad, what should we be writing ABOUT? and as Chris’ mind map shapes our thinking about this, I find myself putting in my ten cents’ worth about modeling literacy practices and the processes of development because that’s what I really want to blog about myself, but what I also really want to read about in others’ blogs – and that’s because it’s my research interest… and I hope I don’t bore others to death with it! but this is what i want my blog readers to read and comment on from their perspective, so that I can develop how I am writing about the things that matter to me most as an educator.

the day job for me is language education across the institution – academic literacy, English language proficiency, communications – call it what you will, I work in an institution that, like pretty well most universities in the Anglosphere these days, has a high and growing proportion of students coming into the system from backgrounds that have not quite prepared them for it, linguistically and culturally, and in which they will inevitably encounter some pretty big fat obstacles along the way, in expected and unexpected places, that they will struggle to name, let alone overcome without trauma….

And where once upon a time (apparently) people thought it would be a good idea to teach students ‘how to write an essay’ for example (or a report, or a blog for that matter) in some random optional class outside the curriculum, or behind a closed door somewhere down  a dark corridor, the trend now is (thankfully) to at least semi-recognise that it makes a lot more sense to pay attention to how literacy develops in the very contexts and moments in which it most needs to… so that ‘language education’ becomes an institutional approach to curricular and pedagogical development by and for all teaching academics across the disciplines – a matter of task and assessment design, and a matter of appropriate support just in time – ie modeling, discussing, demonstrating, engineering social interaction., and paying attention to the language in play and how repertoire might be expanded along the way in order to enable learners to complete challenging and engaging tasks…

anyway back to work for now – and if anyone can tell me how to tweet to my quad list I’m all ears!

provoking comment

and while I learn more about twitter (which my research assistant this morning also very kindly taught me a thing or two about today, and introduced me to TweetDeck… which I’ll get back to some day when I need to avoid my day job some more, but right now I’m wanting to get back into some actual work – but just before I do I just have to note that the e-learning provocateur’s post that I read today (as I was munching on my lunch after my fruitful meeting with said research assistant this morning with whom I was actually doing some work, before we got onto the frivolous topic of tweeting, she being the expert and I the utter novice) has stuck in my mind and my mind being what it is these days I figure best strike while proverbial iron’s hot or the thoughts will be thinner than air by the time I get home tonight so here I am posting again – I was planning for just one a day, I feel now like I am binging, like I’m eating the whole packet of timtams in one go… a reference all Australians will immediately understand but others may need explained) well anyway, I just want to comment on one of the many points Ryan makes in his post because it echoes something I was saying to my twitter expert friend and assistant in crime this very day, in qualified defence of moocdom, namely… about the cMOOC.

We are clearly in what George Siemens refers to as a cMOOC, not an xMOOC – or at least, some of us are. That is, one where the focus is on connected, collaborative learning rather than broadcast. I mean, as I was thinking aloud this morning, it is a month before lift off and I have already learned stuff because we’re talking to each other, and I fully expect now that this has set the scene for the whole course – most of the learning we experience will be generated by our own interactions. This interests and pleases me, because the learning experience is the very aspect I joined to investigate. I am thinking of other points raised in Ryan’s post, such as the anticipation within and around the higher ed sector that moocdom will be rapidly occupied by those who have for so long been excluded from higher education, or who have found it absurdly inaccessible (remote, expensive, linguistically challenging), even as the empire repositions itself to remain the font of all knowledge for the foreseeable future – I expect there will be interesting comebacks ahead!

What I’m really keen to observe in this mooc experience we’re about to fly off into is its linguistic nature, the degree of multi-modality, and the potential of the medium to help or hinder those attempting to engage in what is for them a second, or still quite foreign language… there is so much potential for this moocy medium to be brilliant in multi-lingual contexts, and so much likliehood that it won’t be! I wonder when the first multi-lingual mooc delivery will be… there are already moocs playing out with study groupings conducted in languages other than English, but given that the big gun providers are US and UK based, the delivery will be in the firm grip of English for quite some time to come I guess.

there is a lot of commentary about moocs of course (and I’ve just got a grabbag snippet on my moocdom page on this blog, excerpts from a much larger set of bookmarks I’ve been gathering the past few months) – but surprisingly little about the language (or have I missed a ginormous discussion somewhere? – there is this interesting post about the geography of moodcom, but what really seriously is there about the linguistics?) One person I’m aware of who’s discussing the implications is Paul Prinsloo, but the topic will be on my mind throughout this course – be warned!

the best way forward?

I’m trying to work out what works for me and the limited time I have to schedule for paying attention to this course and its growing tribe of participants – who I want to read, but I just can’t be everywhere all the time, right? I have a half hour or so a day to dip in here, that’s it. So what to do? I’ve experimented here with quickly browsing the course’s Google+ page and gleaning a few blog URLs and adding them to my blog. I have linked all the course sites to this blog for my own convenience, so that I can just bookmark my own blog and link everything else for this course there… now I note someone has posted about ‘triberr’ (thanks Eric!) and am exploring that as a perhaps better way, given that the number of blogs I might want to dip into will continue growing and I don’t want a blogroll on my site that is a million miles long…. but I’ll explore more tomorrow and make a decision – I have to get my daughter down to the beach right now – she is a rookie surf life guard, and is on water safety for the wave warriors carnival. Unfortunately she can’t compete this year because she broke a toe two weeks ago 😦 but nothing will stop here being there and helping out in the water – go girl!

one day this will all be history…

So here we are, about to be launched into a 5 week journey into who knows quite where… like most of us in this course I guess, I signed up for it months ago, and wait here patiently for take off… now just a few weeks away… everyone’s starting to be a twit and blogger about it in anticipation, so I’ve joined the ranks. May the force be with us (if that’s a good thing – I’ve never actually seen Star Wars, so I’ve no idea what that reference means… not really into Star Trek either – I’m more of a Dr Who and Life on Mars kind of girl…).

Anyway, so far the genre here seems clear. Ground control has posted some basic instructions, no detailed map yet, but some general directions:

This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice

The ‘about the course’ blurb says (cut, paste, abbreviate):

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is about how popular narratives shape our ideas of online education. We’ll look at how learning and literacy is represented in popular digital-, (or cyber-) culture…. you create your own pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of themes encountered during the course, using digital spaces in new ways…”.

I went to a bit of an overview and debrief meeting yesterday at my workplace university, where a few people reported their experience doing MOOCs, and there are some clear pattern to these experiences, in terms of duration, design, delivery, collaborative assessment, joys & benefits, overwhelms & disgruntlements… so I know a bit of what to expect.

The first expectation on us is to create a blog (check), and to say hello on the course’s Google Plus page (check), and then create a semi coherent social media habitus, comprising Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc… (to do)… thankfully I already have all those accounts, and this is hopefully a good reason to use them. So, off I go to do all that and complete task one…

Meanwhile, back to the beginning thought – that one day, this will all be history…. how better to begin a learning journey story than with a brief meditation on language?

In the beginning was the word…. I’m thinking here in terms of Halliday‘s conception of language history in 3 dimensions: how the language system evolves, how the language repertoire of an individual develops, and how specific instances of language unfold –  logogenesis – the semiotic dynamics of text and context changing together as we go with the flow…. to set the scene….

Throughout this journey into MOOCspace, I want to consider these three dimensions of language, as we endeavour to make sense of course materials and engage in conversation with one another… I’m interested to see how the course and the various blogs unfold, how my personal knowledge of the topic expands as I start saying new things, and how doing a course online with a squillion other people does or doesn’t change our sense of what it is to learn, and whether the technology is making significant changes to our collective capacity to interact and make meaning – or whether it’s not just a different mode of literate behaviour rather than a new form of life…