Sunday, November 16, 2014

A little bird.

I can't help myself, for a reason I can't explain I keep hearing the little bird's trill from Peter and the Wolf. 

Can you hear it?

There it goes again.

No doubt about it, it's that trill again.

I didn't listen to all of Peter and the Wolf, there was just that little bird's refrain.

Strange isn't it?

I digress.

To be frank this is a bit of a messy flock of a post.

I apologise.

It all started with a comment on a blog.

Just a moment I shall go and find the link.

Ah yes here it is... on an Alan Levine Blog.  

"It's all about the Do."

Jon Becker says:
I think it’s time for an honest look at participation in cMOOCs. I have a sneaking suspicion that participation wanes in ways that some wouldn’t want to admit, particularly for “courses” where there’s no *real* incentive (e.g. credit, PD points, etc.).
Also… how big is the group that carries on with #etmooc?
And, honestly, how many people really, truly continue to particpate in #ds106?

This got me to comment the following:

(empty comment box)

Oops; the blog or a dog ate my comment in reply to Jon Becker. That is my excuse anyway.

Now for something completely different.

Well actually, that is a lie.

All of this is connected.

I have a thing about statistics.  I worry about them.

Participation statistics make me want to laugh or cry according to the moment.

A particular bug bear is 'Completion Statistics'.

I don't know about you but the word 'completion' worries me.


You only have to say those words and I am a cowering Wreck.

There is a W.... There is a W... There is a Wolf.?

They remind me of Wagner. 

They remind me of a Woody Allen quote.

“I just can't listen to any more Wagner, you know...I'm starting to get the urge to conquer Poland.”

There goes that little bird again.

Irritating isn't it?

We never get the whole piece that Prokofiev wrote, all the Woody Allen films, all the Wagner Opus, just the damned bird.

I am sorry.

Lies statistics.  

I remember a few years ago, working with what was called by some people e-learning or distance learning.

The computer guys spent hours poring over statistics.

They looked very seriously mathematical to me.

God this was power, this was 'learning management'.

To be honest they spent hours poring over clicks, numbers of clicks.

They presented the clicks at conferences.

The clicks looked marvellous on Powerpoint graphs.

The numbers of participants in the e-learning course were massive.

To be honest, and the computer guys were, the statistics couldn't tell the whole story.

If a 'learner' had clicked to log in and then spent nine hours watching trash on TV, we were lulled into the possible  and erroneous impression that they had spent nine hours working on English grammar.

We all know the limits of the stats, but what the hell, they sure look good at a conference.

Massive numbers speak.

People looking for justification to invest heavily in computer engineers, recording studios, and the whole e-learning kaboosh had all they needed to get financial investment.

So they did, the story clicked with people who were looking for 'learning management', hurrah!!

Massive Open Online Courses

Having followed Stephen Downes and crew since about 2007, I was aware that MOOC's or at least Connectivist courses were going on.

If I remember rightly, I signed onto a first MOOC CCKO8 , a second PLENK10, a third Change11, hovered around ETMOOC, and then landed in Rhizo14, before continuing with CLMOOC, and CCourses.

I logged in, I lurked, I pecked, I picked, I reflected, I lurked, I pecked, I picked and put stuff in my nest for another day.

Darn there goes that little bird again.

All of this brings me to school, Greek Mythology and Jesus Christ!  Jesus Christ?

How many people sailed in the Argonaut, hid in the horse of Troy?

How many people followed Jesus Christ around to all his parable gigs?

How many details of what you learnt at school (which you 'completed') do you remember?

How many people do you need connected to spread a virus?

How do social networks influence behaviour and to what extent are people aware of their connections?

To what extent are people aware of how a piece of a MOOC affects people outside a MOOC?

This is all brings me back to a book of Nicolas Christakis. There is a conference of his here.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives -- How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do

Sorry I digress.

Massive Open Online Courses

It appears that the story of Massive had resonance for some people who envisioned Massive profits or at least Massive investment in their start ups.

You only need to sell a cool story and you get a rush of investor adrenaline.



I love a good X,  it hides forbidden, sexy, fatal, treasure, or a target.


Of course to make MASSIVE profits you need a big CHEST. A Coursera chest will do lovely.

Pesky completion statistics....

I digress.

Where was I? 

I have been learning much over the past few years online even when this is invisible.

What is completion of learning?

Ah yes completion of Learning is like when I get a driving licence - I am recognised as having the ability to drive.  I have to go to a recognised driving school for a set number of lessons before I can go to take a driving test.

It makes L profits for people who are RECOGNISED to be able to give you a CERTIFICATE.

Where am I?

I am in France, I miraculously speak and write and understand French.

I work for the French National Education system. HO HO.

I never took a course. I have no certification in French.

When I first started 'reading' French, I looked at the pictures. I recognised the pictures. If a text was too difficult I found one with pictures. Gradually I was able to see words and expressions and gestures repeated in a variety of different contexts.

The blur, the din became comprehensible to me.

I can clearly hear a little bird singing.

A course would have been completely inefficient for me because in a course they give you one text to concentrate on while the 'teacher' dissects it and gives you lists of words to learn.

That would have been hopeless for me.

I would have perhaps in the eyes of the teacher 'completed the text, the course'.

I have not completed my French learning...or my English learning for that matter.
I have not completed my learning about or in connectivist MOOC's.

Those two learning situations are connected...

I pick different things which interest me I turn them around, I connect them, I stock them for another day.

I speak with people, I map connections, I gradually get a clearer picture of networks in which I am living.

If we go back and read this blog post over, maybe we will get a clearer picture of how it is connected.

Franky writing it at the moment it feels a bit of a jumble.

Brilliant idea. Why didn't I think about it before? I shall run courses to understand this shifting network of nodes to reduce it down to one singular, standard, officially stampted interpretation and make money.

I could even train people to write this crap. (No that is a bad idea.)

Chicken Tikka Massala

Did you know this is the most popular dish in Britain today?

It is an adaptation of Indian cuisine to British tastes. It is in no way authentic Indian cuisine.  The British have picked one dish among thousands to cherish. They have not taken a complete course in Indian cuisine tasting to choose one that they identify with.

Chicken Tikka Massala tells a story about the transformation of British culture.
Maybe the image below tells a different story?

There has been a narrative shift. One little dish says much about the multi-ethnic melting pot that is Britain today.

Thank God that I am er completely English...

There is a X which says so.

A little bird is singing, warning us about a wolf.

Statistics generally nourish someone's story.

Massive movements, odds, heroic deeds.

A chirp, a click, a cross, a slash, a smash, a yell, a shot, a word, a splash of an oar, a mouthful.

How did I write this swarming mess of a story?

A little bird told me to...


  1. "A course would have been completely inefficient for me because in a course they give you one text to concentrate on while the 'teacher' dissects it and gives you lists of words to learn."

    In some, perhaps even many courses this may be the case. I'm not sure such a course would be very effective for any learner. To me, this is an abuse of the idea of a course of study. I understand that many people experience this kind of course.

    I've taught many courses that are not like the one you describe. I think that nearly all the courses I've taught have not been that way. I hope so.

    I also agree, vehemently, that the clickology advocates have missed the point entirely. Perhaps deliberately. I am confident Jon Becker is not a clickologist. "Completion" means something else to him, I believe. I am sure it means something else to me.

    For me, the question of completing a course of study is not the same question as completing one's learning. No course will ever do that. But a course, like a film or a novel or a musical composition, has a shape that can help to make the experience more meaningful. For me, completing a course of study is like finishing the book one is reading. There is no end to reading, thankfully. But books have shapes, and authors use those shapes the way a painter uses a frame. Similarly, a course of study (and a curriculum, which is made up of courses of study--a kind of metacourse, then) is a small coherence in which the boundaries are meaningful but not constraining. Hard to do, but not impossible.

    I think I understand your frustration. It does seem to me, though, that the worst cases of traditional schooling do not necessarily invalidate the possibility of usefulness and meaningfulness of the experience of school itself. School is a technology, and like all the other technologies, it can be used well or very badly.

    More to say on this, but I'll stop here. I do value and savor your continuing explorations.

    1. Hi Gardner thank you for your comment. I agree with much that you write here. I am quite sure that I would get much from attending your courses. The question of course is not really what I am exploring here. It is an exploration of narrative in a complex, dynamic network of potential meanings. It is an exploration of fragments of culture which hold together more or less. It is an exploration of power and the power of dominant stories.

      I have no really idea what Jon Becker would or would not say about interpretation of statistics - he is certainly right to indicate the necessity not to get over excited about participation in what are described as Massive courses.

      However I think that the term course can be more closed than open. That largely depends on how we view learning. I did not really feel frustration writing this.

      I think it would be a mistake to take that narrow interpretation as an indication of what I am exploring.

      I fully believe in this interest of courses of study.

    2. I also think we need some sort of certification. I fully agree with the question of framing as in books as in science. I have no problem with boundaries. They are necessary and unavoidable.

      I can see that this post will lead to a series of related posts.

    3. Actually the real învestigation here is fascism.

  2. I kinda think Gardner focused on the course aspect of things when here i thought the blogpost focused on stats and behaviorist an external measures of learning. I agree w u Simon on the latter and uselessness of measuring learning in those ways (or at all?)

    1. I think the blog post is written like Peter and the Wolf -,there is a Wolf, there are themes of animals, huntsmen, Peter, there are recurrent refrains. There is an underlyîng exploration of dominant narrative and the wolf is fascism.

  3. Thanks for moving the conversation along, Simon.

    I wish to point out, though, that I never used any form of the word "complete." My focus was (and will continue to be) on participation. And, while participation that waxes and wanes in these sorts of "courses" is perfectly fine, I'm wondering out loud more about the waning. My hunch (hypothesis? nah...) is that there are bunches of folks who jump in early with great enthusiasm who then disappear entirely; their participation ends.

    I have the pleasure of working with a doctoral fellow, Laura Gogia, aka @GoogleGuacamole, who is trying to get her head around how we might document (not measure, document) participation and connectedness in order to see how learning happens, unfolds, etc. Stay tuned.

    1. Hi Jon. As I said in my comment to Gardner I didn't say u had used the word 'complete' or ´completion' that is me. However when it comes to Connectivist MOOCs and indeed other learning environments 'participation' is a very tricky thing to measure. What I am saying is that participation (active visible) participation is not necessarily useful and can be dangerous as a frame unless we have a very large and multifaceted set of frames.

    2. I think it would be more important to track people learning in and through networks rather than within a course.

    3. Example - myself the #rhizo14 refrain sinks into the background and then suddenly reappears here.

  4. Fair enough, Simon, but I would re-iterate that I very specifically avoided any form of the word "measure." Documentation need not be measurement.

    Also, I'll add that I come with a very particular lens. While I'm fascinated by how to track/document learning in and through networks rather than courses, I'm in a particular space within a formal institution of higher education where we're trying to advance the principles of connected/networked learning within and between courses. We're not going to get rid of courses (not anytime soon, at least). So, it's hard for me to take off that #highered hat.

    To your last "the #rhizo14 refrain", that's exactly what Gardner Campbell is after by way of integrative thinking. If we could get students making those sorts of connections (within and) between courses, we all win.

  5. Thanks Jon I would be very interested to know how you propose to document. We agree with the course not disappearing any time soon. I have a #highered hat too. I think that "integrative" courses are the way to go. Be interested to know how u guys are going about it. There is much to document and to discover - a wonderful adventure. Thank you for sharing.