Ground Zero Approaches to Open #YearofOpen

Whilst I was at the OER17 Conference, via Twitter I became aware of a minor controversy around a post by David Wiley, How Is Open Pedagogy Different? published on April 4, just before OER17. Jim Groom’s response I don’t need permission to be open attracted a lot of comments (30 at time of writing). I commented at Jim’s post, read Suzan Koseoglu’s Open Pedagogy: A Response to David Wiley,  and commented at Tannis Morgan’s Reflections on #OER17 – From Beyond Content to Open Pedagogy

The week before OER17, I had responded to a request from #101openstories (still time for you to add yours too). In writing my open story, I realised that I became open, in the sense that it is generally meant within OER/Open Access/ Open Education Practice/ Open Pedagogy, by accident.

Open by Accident

Writing my story, reading posts and commenting all added to my personal reflections on what open meant for me in my own practice as an educator and as a learner. I am not really interested in getting into a definition war about open – I am more interested in the relationship between the theory  and practice of openness, and for me that predates my use of the Internet in education.  One OER17 presentation that was particularly relevant to this issue for me was this one by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewycz. Putting critical pragmatism in a reflexive relationship with advocacy is a powerful contribution, and leaves space for us to explore broader and older ideas. Viv Rolfe gave a presentation entitled Open but not for criticism at Opened16, and Dave Kernohan stressed the need to a community of practice to operate in part as a shared history of that practice (in order to combat ahistoricity) in his Opened15 presentation.

Eventually, I realised that #101openstories, David Wiley’s blog post were focused around #YearofOpen so I explored that site, interested to see that more active education was a claim for open pedagogy.

Open Pedagogy provides teachers with an extended set of didactical approaches to make their education more active. ” Robert Schuwer in

Around the same time Maha Bali, who also has a post at the Year of Open site, invited me to a hangout to discuss What is Open Pedagogy?. I was honoured to be invited but I am not a huge fan of Google Hangouts, and I think Maha understands that. The question of how we explore the meaning and practice of open in education is an interesting one and fortunately won’t be answered in the next two days 🙂

So distilled from my reflection and recent reading and thinking, here is my contribution to the #YearofOpen in the area of open in practice.

Image of Ground Zero definition from Oxford Dictionaries definition

When I was commenting on on Tannis Morgan’s post I referred to the problematic nature of what I called Ground Zero approaches to Open. Afterwards, I was slightly worried that the use of the term Ground Zero might have been offensive in the light of its use in the context of the destruction of the World Trade Centre so I was relieved to find that it had a pre-existing meaning, as I had thought. I was very pleased to see the exemplar given for meaning 2 , a starting point or base for an activity ‘if you’re starting at ground zero in terms of knowledge, go to the library’. 

Some writers like Tannis do look back in the literature to explore meanings of open in education prior to the Internet age. Because my own educational practice pre-dates the Internet, I thought it would be interesting to look back to see if I could find some of the sources that influenced my own HE philosophy/pedagogy in the late 1980s/ early 1990s .  Apparently a journal changed its name to ‘Open Learning’ in 1986 and there was argument over the misuse of terminology in 1990 so not much has changed. I realised that an important concern for me was the activity of the student, and I was able to incorporate new activities as opportunities for open web learning emerged.

As well as looking back, it’s good to look around too . I have worked with many colleagues who would be reluctant to openly share their resources according to 5 or even 6…. 25  Rs but would be open practitioners according to a less stringent orthodoxy. In terms of the scholarly literature, an example of something that fails the 5Rs but is hugely valuable source for theorising and practicing openness is the excellent Learning, Media & Technology Special Issue edited by Sian Bayne, Jen Ross and Jeremy Knox . Only one of articles is ‘open access’ but several of the others are available as pre-prints or by ingenuity via one’s network. Does that mean that the wealth of knowledge available by reading and discussing the articles should be excluded from consideration of OER and open educational practice. I don’t think so. I have been very pleased to some of the work cited in the OER community, notably in Catherine Cronin’s OER16 keynote but I always hope to see more crossover.

So I am recommending a healthy suspicion of Ground Zero approaches to Open (Pedagogy). For me they tend to suggest that we ignore what has gone before, and require signing up to tightly defined rules (that may change in future). Why should we be suspicious of these approaches? Firstly, the unenlightened who refuse, for example, to sign up to a particular version of a CC license may have a good reason for their decision, and why should it be imposed upon them? If we exclude people and their rich, lived educational practices, we may fail to learn from them as well as them learning from us.  Can we afford to exclude valuable knowledge that falls outside the parameters of our particular ground zero?

We may need to look beyond what we see as our community, and go the the library.

I’ll be watching this at 9 p.m. BST today and on #YearofOpen hash tag on Twitter – maybe see you there?

Curation of Relevant Posts by Maha Bali

Relevant posts that I had read but not directly linked to

Thinking about open pedagogy



Digital Trespass and Critical Literacy #OER17

Peter Riley explains the Kinder Scout Trespass that took place in 1932 as a protest against the permanent closure of all the wild uplands of Derbyshire for about 12 days of grouse shooting in the year. It has been described as “the most successful direct action in British history” Lord Roy Hattersley, 2007.

Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout
Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout

The other day I read a review by Billy Mills of the narrative poem The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley. What Billy said made me think about the relevance of the Kinder Scout Trespass for us today and how the poem can help us understand more about the purpose and experience of education then and now. The pamphlet arrived in the post today to my joy.

Extract from Billy Mills’ review

These radicals, both working class activists and middle-class poets, had lived through one World War and its aftermath and were about to see a second. As the first generation to benefit from the 1918 Education Act, they had the tools needed to engage in a process of learning about power and its implications. As Riley writes early in this work, ‘The foundation of the state is not violence but education.’ This statement, apparently straightforward on first reading, gains in complexity as Riley questions the role and value of the state a few paragraphs later, concluding that it ‘makes everything possible, and makes strangers of us all.’

He also calls into question the value of education, specifically literacy:

They taught us to read and we thought we were so grand as to join heaven and earth. But all we did was wallpaper over the crack between myth and science and lose our homes. The farmer’s wife sang a truer song, told a sweeter story, of hope and despair hand in hand walking back into society.

This last word forming an integrative counterbalance to the divisive state. It is no coincidence that the verse excursus, which echoes the song Goodnight Irene, follows on immediately after the prose paragraph from which I have just quoted. This interlude sits in the twin shadows of war and emigration, of ‘promise betrayed’ and ‘all the bathos of the modern state’.

I know that comparisons with the 1930s are a little overblown at present but I found that the poem and review are very thought-provoking in my ongoing consideration of critical and digital literacy in public and open education.  I submitted an abstract recently for #OER17, a conference with the theme Politics of Open. My abstract looks at the role of criticality in Open Educational Practice, and how paying attention to the sociomaterial, as Fenwick(2014) encourages students and educators, can focus on the political as well as the instrumental nature of education, and critique the digital tools and platforms through which it is increasingly mediated.

So here is my proposal:

What if the critical and digital literacies that educators and students practice and share could help focus attention on the wider implications of using proprietary social networking systems and other platforms in learning, and activism and education?

What if these literacies helped bring about a digital trespass that was more like the Kinder Scout Trespass than a concern of cyber-security?

I’ll leave you with the words of the late Ewan McColl in one of my Favourite songs The Manchester Rambler.

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wageslave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday

Fenwick, T., 2014. Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(March 2015), pp.1–14. Available at:\n .

Note: I should have said that there is no guarantee that the abstract will be accepted 🙂 I have plans to write a longer piece, maybe with a.n.other so this is definitely an ongoing writing project.

Note 2: Just heard that abstract has been accepted – Yay! So I can prepare my presentation to include added Kinder Scout goodness – abstract here – hope to see some of you there to hear your ideas.


Intentionality, Cliques and Agency

Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers
Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I read two posts about in/exclusion recently : one from sava singh about cliquenomics; and one from Maha Bali on Intentionality, Community, and When Open Isn’t Open. I really like the way that sava captures an observational view of community and how it can include and exclude. She identifies that although people can have malicious intent, cliques can be a byproduct of our zeal for belonging

“clique economies” – exclusive clubs for the special few, the practice of which I will call cliqueonomics. sava singh

Maha has signalled her intent to focus on intentionality in her forthcoming OER17 keynote and seems to flag up cliques as having a power dynamic that intentionally denies access. She gives a comparison within  VConnecting of the close-knit communities that form on Slack and the public Twitter and Google Hangouts. That caught my attention because I have done a lot of wondering about the relationships between behind the scenes and public interactions in general, and specifically relating to some current work on network-building.  I think that a qualitative study from in-community and ex-community perspectives of this would be interesting and could contribute to critical perspectives on openness.

All of this made me think about some research that Jenny Mackness, Mariana Funes and I did that looked at qualitative contributions/survey data and quantitative activity data across different tech platforms on one MOOC. We found that community could be a confusing idea for participants who espoused heterogeneity and that platform design could also have an impact. We can think of intentionality as relating to the agency of individuals or as an emergent property of groups but if we take a post-human perspective on intentionality then intentionality and agency can be shared between humans and non-humans such as the platforms. I think this view could be helpful.

I am not really sure that participants who felt excluded by the lash up of individuals, groups and tech would feel reassured that this did not meet a particular definition of a clique. Like community, clique is a term that I use fairly sparingly now after some mixed experiences. Both terms seem to me to provoke strong emotions, and can get in the way of sustaining difference without exclusion. It would be good to look at cliques as something that we can all contribute to despite our best intentions and working on understanding what’s going on is a worthwhile enterprise.

Language, Politics and #OER17

1984, Politics and the English Language, vintage Orwell reissues from Random Penguin, Foyles, St Pancras, Camden, London, UK
Vintage Orwell

This blog post started life as a comment on Martin Weller’s post about language and how it affects behaviour and thoughts in Edtech. The comment mysteriously disappeared as I posted it so I thought that I would repost it here and link from Martin’s post. The title of the post “Let’s think inside the box“ made me think about Blackboxing .
Whilst I agreed with many of the ideas in the post, Martin’s statement “But this post isn’t about politics” stopped me short.  I wondered what those of us thinking of making a submission to OER17  would make of this. I have been puzzling for a few weeks about what politics can mean in the context of  “The Politics of Open” theme for OER17, and I guess that others may be doing so too. I think that the concept of politics being broad and interpreted in different contexts will make for a great conference that enriches our understanding of Open Educational Practices and Resources.
So I would like to encourage Martin to think about how his post could be about politics and ‘fit’  OER17 – maybe even rework it as a submission 🙂 I was grateful to him for getting me to think about politics and language and my Scholar Google search turned up 2 corking resources.

  1. Orwell, G., 2005. Politics and the English Language. English, (December 1945), pp.1–9. Available at:
  2. Chomsky, N., 1984. Politics and Language. In Language and Politics. Available at: (search for 471)

My subject discipline was Information Systems (that bears some parallels to Edtech) and in our teaching, we included social and organisational aspects as well the technological ones. Ethics, gender and power were definitely on the curriculum. When we think about education and/or technology without considering the politics – global, national, organisational, personal, interpersonal – we are filtering our understanding and it’s no wonder that our noble aspirations don’t always work out as we would hope. This is why I think the OER17 theme is so exciting – it can help us expand our thinking and our practice.

So it’s back to writing my submission.

The Digital Library of the Unaffiliated: Workaround practices

Ask me about Open Access by Molly
Ask me about Open Access by Molly CC BY-NC 2.0

The practical bit of this post is about my workarounds to get articles online that are behind paywalls. Scroll down a bit if you want to cut to the chase.

For about 30 years off and on I was affiliated to a university, and appreciated the access to books, journals and other resources that accompanied that affiliation. I used it daily in my teaching and research work.  As a Masters programme leader in the early 2000s, I was tasked with interviewing a student who had been found razoring out an article from a print journal. I tried to convince her that her action was against a commons where many could share the same resource. I remember reflecting that this wouldn’t have happened if we had a digital subscription to that journal. But of course the library card or login that go with affiliation are the gate through which we pass for access to the institution’s digital library.

Since retiring in 2013, I have had to become much more inventive about gaining access to resources as I realised more sharply what I already ‘knew’. There is no single digital library: our personal digital library is shaped by our access and our practices. When affiliated, I found articles that I wanted to read that were in journals for which my university had no subscription. This is when I turned to friends affiliated to wealthier universities who might have access to the journal and be willing to share a copy. I also realised that Scholar Google and Google could also be my friends, turning up links to self-archived articles, dodgy uploads for class resources and links to institutional repositories. I learned much about the vagaries of copyright and licensing in my service as co-editor of ALT’s Research in Learning Technology, particularly during the process of transition to becoming an Open Access journal to fulfil ALT’s commitment to scholarly publishing. In my research for the editorial of the first Open Access issue, I learned that instead of digital libraries bringing cost savings that could be used to expand access and/or reduce institutional costs, expenditure on serials subscriptions increased.

Recently, archives such as and researchgate provide spaces for authors to self-publish data or papers, and to self-archive their papers published elsewhere. My retirement has given me more time for reading and writing (and craft and gardening) but lack of affiliation has increased the challenge of access to articles locked behind paywalls. Over the last few years, I have moved to publishing in Open Access journals (where that also suits my co-authors), and most of my reviewing work is for OA journals or conferences.

This morning, Mariana Funes tweeted to me about a new app that might help me find Open Access articles but as she said, it didn’t really add that much to my existing practices.

Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes
Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes

Talking to Mariana encouraged me to blog how I engage with my unaffiliated digital library.

Apps, tools and buttons

There are quite a few of these – I have the Google Scholar button, Openaccess button (not currently working), and but I haven’t found that any of these add much to my usual approaches.  For example, when I plugged in the DOI for Langdon Winner’s  article “Do artifacts have politics?” here is what the app returned:

Search for Langdon Winner article
Search for Langdon Winner article

It’s true that the article is behind a paywall, but when I was looking for it a couple of weeks ago, I tried my Plan A, and it came up trumps.

Plan A

I searched Scholar Google for the title, and here’s what came up. All 3 link to the paywalled version at JStor. The first and third also have a link to downloads of the JStor version. When I find an unofficial version such as these, I download the pdf and add it to my Mendeley library on my hard disk. The second link is to Google books which will persist but rarely has the full source.

Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?
Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?

If Plan A doesn’t work, then I try :

Plan B

Google search for article title plus .pdf. This is the search for the Langdon Winner article. It turns up one of the articles from Plan A plus a scanned version. Sometimes Plan A or Plan B turn up links to institutional repositories. If the full paper isn’t there, many repositories offer the chance to request a copy from the author. I have other plans too.

Plan C

If I have had no luck I search and researchgate for the title. For the Winner article, there was nothing on but Langdon Winner had uploaded it to Researchgate.

Plan D

If I know the author, I will contact them directly by email, otherwise I ask a friend if it’s possible for them to share a copy with me. I wouldn’t then pass on this copy to others, as it often contains clues to who might have downloaded it.

Plan E

There is also the Twitter hashtag #icanhazpdf that works by people sharing their request for an article and the Twitterverse responding. I have used this once.

Practices and Networks

My plans and friends serve me fairly well while we wait for universal Open Access. My personal unaffiliated digital library is distributed across the Mendeley on my hard disk, networks of open access publications and my friends who are willing to share articles from behind paywalls – I give thanks for all of those.

If you have any more ideas or comments please share them.


I should have mentioned that Caroline Kuhn reminded me of the Langdon Winner article in her comment here.  It was really good to read it again.

It depends – Contexts for copyright, patents and licensing #OER17

Patent Suction - Image taken from page 119 of 'Beeton's Christmas Annual, British Library
Patent Suction – Image taken from page 119 of ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual, British Library

Reading posts on variations of Creative Commons licensing by Alan Levine, Doug Belshaw ,  and  Maha Bali really made me think about our practices of licensing, copyrighting and attributing creative works, particularly of what we share as ‘knowledge’. Alan describes the various CC licenses he has used for his photos on Flickr, and the trials and tribulations he encounters in trying to apply CC0 to all of his images on Flickr. I had to check what CC0 was:

Once the creator or a subsequent owner of a work applies CC0 to a work, the work is no longer his or hers in any meaningful sense under copyright law. Anyone can then use the work in any way and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, subject to other laws and the rights others may have in the work or how the work is used. Think of CC0 as the “no rights reserved” option.Creative Commons FAQ

Doug Belshaw explains why he has applied CC0 to all of his work (including his doctoral thesis) that is under his control. Maha Bali, whilst acknowledging that CC licenses can be ignored, reveals how her approach to licence choice is contextual.

Thinking about my own practice, I publish this blog as CC BY-NC  and try to publish my research writing in Open Access journals. Having said that, the last two articles I wrote with colleagues as I was retiring were published in closed journals, since those were the most beneficial for my co-authors still subject, unlike myself, to the Research Excellence Framework. So my approach to copyright and licensing is also contextual. If asked do you publish openly? my answer would have to be – Yes, but it depends.

I am always interested in looking at historical accounts to try to understand innovation. Bijker(1995) was one of my teaching resources, with the story of the emergence of the popular style of the bicycle being a good classroom story to explore. Audrey Watters has argued powerfully that 21st Century ‘innovators’ in Educational Technology ignore/distort history in an attempt to big up their products and services.

Then I remembered reading about 19th century industrial innovations that relied on sharing rather than protection and secrecy. In looking for this, I didn’t find my original reading but instead found a very interesting article about the Cornish Pumping Engine (Nuvolari 2004). Nuvolari contrasts the ‘heroic narrative’ where individuals are credited with inventions with ‘collective invention’, an incremental approach where the contributions of individuals can remain anonymous.  For example, we all ‘know’ that James Watt invented the ‘modern’ steam engine  that helped to bring about the Industrial Revolution. Nuvolari’s case study examines what happened in Cornwall, a remote area of England, in the 19th century mining industry which had memories of a bad experience in the last quarter of the 18th century with the more fuel-efficient patented Watt steam engines, needed to address flooding in their mines. The business model that Boulton & Watt established with Cornish mine adventurers was royalties based on hypothetical fuel efficencies of the Watt engine as compared with the earlier Newcomen engine. This model was unsatisfactory to the mine adventurers not only for business and economic reasons but also because Boulton and Watt’s refusal to license the design prevented Cornish engineers from improving the engines to suit local circumstances. Watt’s patent hampered engine innovation in Cornwall (and elsewhere) and the 19th century started with a dearth of progress.

This situation lasted until 1811, when a group of mine “captains” (mine managers) decided to begin the publication of a monthly journal reporting the salient technical characteristics, the operating procedures and the performance of each engine. The explicit intention was twofold. First the publication would permit the rapid individuation and diffusion of best-practice techniques.
Secondly, it would create a climate of competition among the engineers entrusted with the different pumping engines, with favourable effects on the rate of technical progress.

Lean’s Engine Reporter continued until 1904 and was accompanied by a steady improvement in the thermodynamic efficency of Cornish engines. Cornish adventurers were driven by pragmatism rather than an ideological attachment to open knowledge. I can recommend reading Nuvolari’s case study as it questions the standard historical account of the ‘golden boys’ role in the Industrial Revolution and the role of patents in stimulating innovation, and draws attention instead to innovation’s incremental, anonymous reality that occurred in a variety of social, geographical, legal and economic circumstances.

 Monument to Boulton, Watt and Murdoch Outside the Birmingham House of Sport (formerly the Register Office) on Broad Street stands the statue of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch, nicknamed 'The Golden Boys' or 'The Carpet Salesmen'. It is the work of William Bloye, formerly head of sculpture at Birmingham School of Art and was unveiled in 1956, although preliminary designs were drawn up in 1938. The three men pioneered the industrial revolution in late 18th century England. James Watt's improvements to the steam engine and William Murdoch's invention of gas lighting have made them famous throughout the world. Matthew Boulton, entrepreneur and industrialist, harnessed their talents in a company that made everything from tableware and copper coinage to steam engines.
Fathers of Technology – monument to Boulton, Watt and Murdoch by Francesco Falciani CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nuvolari also hints at the central nature of patents with frequency increasing with proximity to the Patents Office.

So what have I learned?

I have already started to think about the personal is political in relation to Open Educational Practice, and have long observed (from my gendered lens) restricted narratives and dialogues even within open educational communities , see this post from 2011. Cornish mine adventurers had pragmatic reasons for challenging patents and promoting competition between engineers, and will no doubt have operated within class structures. If we want to promote Open Education that challenges structural inequalities of class, gender and race, we need to acknowledge these inequalities and be alert to where heroic narratives obscure structure inequalities in the cause of ‘innovation’ and profit.


Bijker, W. (1995) Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change, Inside Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, MIT Press, [online] Available from:

Nuvolari, A. (2004) ‘Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 28(3), pp. 347–363, [online] Available from:  .

Watters, A. (2015) ‘The Invented History of “The Factory Model of Education”’,, [online] Available from: (Accessed 19 October 2016).

Is Education Technology a Discipline? and does it matter?


Discipline by Brendan Lynch CC BY-NC 2.0

I noticed the recent discussion on whether or not Education Technology is a discipline at Martin Weller’s blog post.

When I read the article that prompted the whole EdTech as discipline discussion, I wondered what was behind the claim that a discipline was emerging.

As Georgetown University prepares to launch a master’s degree program in Learning and Design, a new academic discipline built around the study of education technology, learning analytics and instructional design is starting to take shape.


Martin gave us a discipline check list –  journals, conferences, professional accreditation, professional (I would say scholarly) society and degree programmes. As he pointed out, in the UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT) provide all except the last.

At this point, I pondered the parallels in my own home discipline Information Systems that started up in the 1970s and spent the next twenty years doing good work and engaging in identity struggles around method, epistemology and ontology between North American and European flavours of Information Systems,as it matured as a discipline.

Definition of Information Systems

Information systems are the means by which people and organisations, utilising technologies, gather, process, store, use and disseminate information.

The flavour  of IS I came to know and love, although it was applied, recognised that social and organisational aspects are important, as well as the technology. Critical approaches found a home here, and within my group of colleagues, undergraduate and postgraduate students were exposed to theories and engaged in practical critique, as well as learning about technology. We were confident that they left us as more informed and questioning practitioners.

My personal interest in education or learning technology was sparked by an opportunity I had in the mid 90s to share resources and support student discussion on a Lotus Notes server. I was hooked by the ease of publishing via Notes to the extent that I even learned HTML when deprived of the Notes server by one of many university reorganisations. When the LMS arrived at our university, my initial optimism waned as I saw the worst features of package software prevail. On the plus side, Blackboard was a great teaching case for student critique as they experienced it, likewise Turnitin.

In my last 5-10 years as an academic, numbers on Information Systems programmes generally declined and research had to fit in with changing organisational structures (publishing in the ‘right’ journals). Being assimilated into a Business School or Computer Science or other departments was common. Perhaps, as information technologies were absorbed into business sectors and other academic disciplines the Information Systems discipline has become disciplined by others.

So my reflections lead me to wonder if the question of Ed Tech as a discipline is the right one to ask. There seems little consensus in the current debate about what a discipline is but if we think about issues of power and economics that help make some disciplines sustainable in universities then research and teaching income are important, as well contribution to the university’s identity. That Edtech has few courses, and many staff who identify as learning technologists are on professional or academic-related contracts (in the UK at least) puts it at a disadvantage in claiming to be a discipline in the current Higher Education (HE) environment. Of course, learning technologists are doing great work in HE but trying to establish themselves as a discipline in their current contexts may be like beating your head against a brick wall, a not unfamiliar feeling.

For me, a far more important issue is the role of criticality in ed/learning technology, acknowledged by Martin and several of his commenters, and very powerfully by Audrey Watters in her recent keynote, a brilliant read . Audrey urges us to put criticism at the centre of our work.

I have a theory about why criticality may not come easily to those who include learning technology in their job descriptions (like me who was dubbed Learning Technology Fellow or learning champion at different times) or mainstream learning technologists. I suspect that when advocacy for learning technologies is part of your job, it can be difficult to reconcile that with engaging in critique of those technologies. And of course, many of us like the shiny stuff.

How many, like me, in the noughties flew under the radar of the ‘official’ LMS into the arms of the fun Web 2.0 apps to support learning activities? What began by seeming like harmless experiments either inconveniently disappeared  or morphed into ubiquitous platforms that eat our data (even when we delete it) and use it to sell advertising services. Here’s my full rant on that subject if you are interested.

One of things that troubles me about focussing on Edtech as a discipline is that it may reinforce some silos that already exist. Some of the great critical voices are already known in Edtech (for example Audrey Watters and Laura Czerniewycz) but there are others, sometimes in Education Departments or Institutes e.g.  Richard Edwards, Lesley Gourlay and Sian Bayne who are mentioned less often. Surely educational researchers talking sensibly and knowledgeably about technologies are good people to talk to.

Let’s open the door and risk the discipline.

Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum?


Prueba 001 by Magdalena Lagaleriade CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our third and final paper from research in the context of the Rhizo14 MOOC has been published in the open access journal of the Association for Learning Technology:

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes (2016) Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, vol. 24 .

As the title suggests, we explored ‘community is the curriculum’ in a MOOC: how community formed and was perceived; how curriculum emerged; and how both of these happened in the context of an absence of explicit community and learning goals.  We also looked at the impact of the choice of Social Networking Sites (SNS) on community formation and on the curriculum.  SNS are being used in and around education and our research can contribute to inquiry into how they can be used, or not.

Our previous two papers were both published in Open Access journals:

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38
Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 32(1), p.78-91 .

I can’t speak for Jenny or Mariana but I know I am experiencing a mixture of pride, in the body of work that we have produced, and relief, that I can take forward the ideas explored in the 3 papers and surrounding interactions on blogs and other social media into broader contexts than a single MOOC. I really hope that practitioners and researchers can benefit from this work, and I would be delighted by their constructive engagement with us, here or in other spaces. Many of us are learning and researching in online spaces. We can work together to find out how to organise our learning better, and choose and use SNS. And all of this is dynamic as we and SNS change.

So I’d love to hear your ideas, objections, reflections that can help us all engage with our research and that of others in this important area of open learning.  What I have learned from this work is that we can and must do that in our own ways, and that kindness is important.

Possible futures for innovation and technology in Higher Education

The actual gap between European/ N American tectonic plates or a photo opportunity
The actual gap between European/ N American tectonic plates or a photo opportunity at Pingvellir Visitor Centre?

Kate Bowles wrote an interesting post about how she responded to students’ enthusiasm to use Slack and how it worked out well for her and a group of students in thinking about critical narrative professionalism. I’ve never used Slack but I have heard many good reports of it. Her lovely story of “the everyday nature of artisanal change in universities”  reminded me of my earlier educational experiments with Web 2.0 services such as (now much changed), (apparently in transition), (an old favourite and still available as Open Source Software) and of course Twitter, a favourite of many academics but whose use of algorithms is now starting to put off some people. I loved those experiments but a more cynical view from the distance of retirement is of a graveyard of dead or moribund services where some of the undertakers have made off with pockets full of cash or services have morphed into something quite different.

Ben Werdmuller, co-founder of elgg and and not one of those greedy undertakers, has written a powerful essay on how to build an Open Source business. It raised hope for me that there might be possibility for inventive developers and service providers to make a living without fleecing  relying on investors and exploiting users via their personal and activity data.

In particular, I wonder about how software and services that might really help education realise benefits of the Internet in future can come into being as supported services for students and staff. How can the benefits available in artisanal pedagogic change be scaled with technical support across universities?  I already wrote about how building technology is more than a heroic tale of invention and is a messy process of appropriation and working around. Higher Education’s investments in technology have been in infrastructure like networks, computer labs, email services, digital libraries, administrative systems, etc. and of course the ubiquitous Learning Management System / Virtual Learning Environment. When I was working in HE, it was my dissatisfaction with aspects of Blackboard that drove me to try out alternatives such as student blogging, offering Twitter updates as alternative to Blackboard announcements, sharing bookmarks on Delicious, linked within a Blackboard course. A module team I was leading managed to get a Buddypress installation going to provide an Open Source Social Networking Service (SNS) for use in supporting first year students on our module.  After IT support was completely centralised that year, this became possible no longer but we still managed to draw on student personal experiences of proprietary SNS to help them critique their use in business. Each year, students became more aware that there were ‘costs’ of the free service and they applied workarounds but hadn’t thought too much about the broader implications and alternatives until we raised questions with them.

I was interested to see what the business model was for Slack, since it benefited from a huge new funding round in 2015 . In March 2016 Slack proclaimed their goal “One day, Slack hopes to replace email as the main form of electronic communication for businesses.”   Slack’s pricing model is currently ‘freemium’ with 1 free and 2 levels charged per user, with an enterprise version in the pipeline. Less than 1/3 of 2.3 million users pay for service and I would guess that currently most of those are on the Standard or Plus pricing plans.

Something that Web 2.0 services can be good at (certainly in their golden funded early stages) is user experience, and Ben Werdmuller identified that as a weakness of Open Source systems.

It’s difficult for software companies to break into the enterprise market but that’s Slack’s aim. Even ventures like Microsoft Sharepoint who have had some success at the Enterprise level have found to difficult to engage with the complex organisational structures of HE institutions, to move from projects, based in IT Services, to enterprise-wide staff and student applications.

The business models for some SNS like Facebook make member data the product that generates advertising revenue that can have consequences for members.   Stewart Butterfield speaks warmly of Etsy’s business model, having been an early investor, after selling on Flickr to Yahoo.   The reference to Etsy interested me since Gordon Fletcher and I did some research on Etsy in 2012, presented at AoIR in October 2012. We found that there were listings that didn’t comply with ‘handmade’  and that some members were selling goods where their labour was valued little or not at all. Sure enough, the following year, Etsy redefined ‘handmade’ to be not necessarily handmade.  Etsy’s handmade policy is what my dear late mother would have called mealy-mouthed.  On a bit of a puff piece, Etsy sellers make some interesting comments there about flagrant reselling that they apparently couldn’t make at Etsy itself, suggestive of Etsy’s approach to diluting dissent. For me the concept of Etsy (though I am attracted to buying there) seems a bit of a sham. The community and handmade feelgood factor that has helped them to acquire investment and sell shares is more apparent than real – in effect community became a part of the product to be sold as the company was launched.

So are there alternatives to monolithic LMS like Blackboard, ‘member is the product’ SNS like Facebook and chimera like Etsy?

I can think of two examples that are different but that have two things in common: they are grounded in educational practice, based on clear educational philosophies; and they make use of the Open Source blogging software WordPress.

Student as Producer
Joss Winn and Mike Neary have developed the concept of Student as Producer as part of the project questioning What is a University?

The point of this re-arrangement would be to reconstruct the student as producer: undergraduate students working in collaboration with academics to create work of social importance that is full of academic content and value, while at the same time reinvigorating the university beyond the logic of market economics.

Lincoln’s Buddypress site is active and open and Student as Producer is integral to the University of Lincoln’s plans and operation.

Student as Producer is central to the learning and teaching philosophy at the University of Lincoln, and is embedded within the Teaching and Learning Plan and in all module planning. It is fundamental to everything we do at the University of Lincoln, and is one of the key selling points to potential students.

Domain of One’s Own
Jim Groom outlined the history of DoOO at OER16, that I blogged, and Mark Sample gave his perspective as an educator working with Reclaim Hosting. Jim has moved from within HE to a business setting where Reclaim Hosting offer a fairly-priced service for individuals and universities.

Possible Futures
I can’t lay out a neat plan of how Higher Education can offer technology support for innovation in the future but I do think that the ideas and practices put forward by Ben Werdmuller, Joss Winn, Jim Groom, Tim Owens and Lauren Blumfield can inform a richer possible future than one that relies on Silicon Valley to provide outsourced services or neat packaged solutions.

Where will HE institutions turn for technology services in future?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned MOOCs and their providers but that’s another story.