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I have been doing a lot of thinking of late around building communities of practice. Although there has been a lot of discussion around purpose and intent of the community, the question that I have been wondering is how we build trust in a purely online environment so that people are willing to participate. My own experience of a community of practice with Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century started with a face-to-face session, however not every community of practice is afforded such luxury. This led me to reflect upon my involvement with various cMOOCs over the years and consider how each set out to create an environment which fosters sharing and collaboration. So here are my thoughts and reflections:

Rhizo Learning

I am not sure how to explain #Rhizo14, #Rhizo15 or Rhizo anything. I guess it could be considered as a radical attempt to facilitate a course where the community is the curriculum and being the expert is not necessarily the goal. Although each of the iterations has been facilitated by Dave Cormier, he always seems to make every attempt possible to get out of the way. Other than a weekly provocation and Hangout, there were very few explicit formalities. This worked (and failed?) in part because of the strength of the community. I cannot actually recall any explicit trust building activities and I must admit that it got a little unwieldy at times, which I imagine might have put some off.

#CCourses

Connected Courses was a collaborative community designed to develop networked learning in higher education. Each fortnight had a different focus, supported by a team of facilitate, as well as a range of makes, videos and resources. In the lead up, Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine and Jim Groom supported people in organising a space and connecting it to the syndicated blogs. This was done via social media, as well as through a Hangout. Beyond the act of getting going, the first unit involved responding to the provocation #WhyITeach.

#CLMooc

Connected Learning MOOC is a yearly event designed to help people make sense of learning online through the act of making. In the first week of making, participants are invited to introduce themselves however they like, connect with other learners by commenting and reflect on the connections made. To support this creative process, a range of possibilities are listed in a ‘Make Bank’. Beyond the usual weekly challenges, there also daily connectors which allow people to maintain a sense of connection, even if they may have dropped out of the weekly tasks.

#DigiWriMo

Digital Writing Month is an annual 30-day challenge that has been occurring since 2012. Similar to CLMOOC, it encourages people to be creative by providing a number tasks and challenges. This includes a mixture of daily activities and on-going projects. Each year is facilitated by a different team, adding a different twist. In regards to introductions, the 2015 iteration started with an invitation to create an alternative CV (#altcv).

#walkmyworld

Walk My World is an annual social media project in which people are encouraged to share and connect around a hashtag. The intent is to explore open research and open publishing. The weekly assignments are designed to help tell your story. In 2016, the first challenge involved sharing a selfie and reflecting on the story behind it.


What seems to stand out is the sharing of something personal. In order to make this more possible for people to participate, these activities often emphasis choice and creativity in a lighthearted manner.

What about you though? What experiences have you been a part of? Do you have any thoughts, ideas and experiences? As always, comments welcome.


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This is my belated response to the Connected Courses question: Why do you teach? What gets you up in the morning? What’s your core reason for doing what you do? It may not necessarily be a direct answer, but it at least addresses one thing, I don’t teach to the technology.
 
Yesterday in the midst of my battle with Compass and reports, I received a call from the office that someone wanted to speak to me. I took the call only to discover that it was from a technology company making a cold call. The guy on the other end, lets call him Derrick, was ringing to spruik a product that his company was developing around feedback. Sadly, he got the wrong guy. After telling him that I didn’t have time, I then explained to him that +Steve Brophy and I had actually presented at the recent DLTV Conference on dearth of options available surrounding listening to voices in and out of the classroom. We therefore already have all the tools that we needed to make a difference. 
 
The problem though wasn’t the technology, instead it was constraints of system. For example, the Performance and Development Process fosters a fixed mindset, with the focus on passing and failing, rather than lifelong learning. I think that Cathy Davidson captured this problem best recently when, as a part of the Connected Courses course,  she suggested that, “Once you put a failure in education, you skew the whole system to avoiding failure” I think after I’d finished outlining what I thought was the real challenge with feedback, poor Derrick was a little flabbergasted. I don’t think he was expecting me on a Friday afternoon.
 
There is something else going on here though. Having spent quite a bit of time with tools over the last few weeks, attending a range of conferences and courses, what has become more and more apparent is that it isn’t a tool that will magically solve all of educations ills. No, it is people. I was really taken by a comment that +Dean Shareski recently made in regards to Connected Educator month that, “being a connected educator is important but I think being a reflective educator trumps that.” What is significant about this is that more than creating a Twitter handle or developing Diigo community, we need to first and fore-mostly focus on people. Adding technology to anything, no matter how fantastic it may be, will only amplify what is already there. If people don’t share ideas and resources in person they certainly aren’t going to share online. It was so interesting that at the recent Google Teachers Academy in Sydney that for their moonshots many people focused on learning, teaching and people, rather than the actual use of technology. Whether it be about fostering disruptive pedagogies, supporting lone nuts or encouraging curiosity and creativity.  
 
It is easy to look back and say that the Ultranet failed because it was a poor product. However, I still believe that where things went wrong was the focus being on the program, rather than the pedagogy. I think that this all comes back to the why. In the end, we can have all the tools in the world, but if at the heart of it all is not people, connections, communities and relationships, then something is wrong. Although technology may help strengthen and support such things, if we don’t have them prior to adding in technology to the mix, then don’t be surprised if technology flops.
 
Below is a great presentation from Mike Wesch addressing the question of why.
 
 
 

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I’m not exactly sure how it happened or whether it matters, but somehow I’ve found myself in the middle of another online course. I must admit that I’ve had a few failures of late in regards to participation, so it will be interesting to see how I go.
 
Organised by Alan Levine, Howard Rheingold and Jim Groom, Connected Courses is a course revolving around facilitating online learning. I am really interested in this being a part of the TL21C program currently being offered by DEECD, which not only supports teachers in grappling with some of the challenges associated with 21st century learning and teaching, but also what it means to be a connected educator. 
 
One of the challenges that I am really interested in exploring is how to syndicate all of the different posts and activities relating to the program. Although applications like Tagboard or Paper.li allow you to curate hashtags and feeds, they have their limitations, whether it be when they are published or what they show. What I am interested in is a feed which is constantly change, bringing in informatio from a range of spaces, including blogs, tweets, bookmarks and Google+ posts.
 
In addition to this, I am really interested in owning my own space. I have been considering purchasing my own domain for a while, but have come to the realisation that maybe I need to go all the way. Maybe, to borrow the analogy that has been bandied around quite a bit, I have borrowed my parent’s car for long enough and it’s time to buy my own and start maxing it out. 
 
I was always under the impression that creating a space would require a complicated knowledge of coding. However, what Jim Groom has helped with is the simplicity of using CPanel to install open source platforms like WordPress or Known. Although this means that I am more open to some risks and I may need to apply a bit more effort, so what, life was never meant to be easy and if it is then maybe it’s not really learning.
 

 
So it’s time, this little granny who posts once a week or so about this and that is stepping out. I am not exactly sure what is ahead of me and that is what makes it all so exciting.
 
@jimgroom @mrkrndvs it’s a low down model, used by a little old lady just once a week to blog about …
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) September 19, 2014

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In Episode 70 of RU Connected, +Lois Smethurst and +Jenny Ashby discussed the place of blogging in school. Both outlined how they had been setting up blogs in the classroom as a great way to collaborate, but also as a way to connect with the wider community, whether this be parents or other schools and students. What I found most interesting though was when the conversation turned from the student to the teacher. Jenny explained about how she had introduced Quadblogging to her staff. I had always heard of Quadblogging been used as a structured way to make links with other classes and other schools, however I had never heard of quadblogging been used as a means for teachers to connect and collaborate.
This all reminded me about an idea that I posed in a post last year, titled ‘Sharing the Load of Blogging.’ My thought was that in creating a collective school blog, it would ease the stress of time put on staff to maintain their own personal blogs. I envisaged this as a space where those involved within the community could celebrate all that was happening in school. Instead of leaving it up to staff member in the office to chase up people for items for the school newsletter each fortnight, maybe it would be more empowering if teachers actually published something when they had something to publish.
In response to my post, +Jason Markey shared with me a great post from +George Couros titled ‘The #Learn365 Project‘. In this post, Couros discussed how he had created a site to share all the great work that was happening in Parkland School Division. Modified from the #edu180atl initiative, Couros suggested that the basic premise was that, “every day during the school year, one person within our organization posts a blog on something they learned that day.” For many, Couros explained, the collaborative site was a great catalyst for exploring the potential of blogging and led to some teachers creating their personal blogs.
What I didn’t realise when I wrote my original post was that, in addition to Couros’ own, there were actually quite a few schools already running their own blogs, such as Leyton Learn 365 and tslg1440. However, what this got me wondering was whether there was place to share not only within the school community, but also beyond, a site set up for a wider district or even a state. Maybe such a thing does already exist and so again I am simply being naïve, but a part of me thinks that sharing within the school is only half the battle, we also need a means for sharing beyond the school, with those who may also be going through the same experiences, who may benefit from a different perspective.
In some respect, I am assuming that this is what +George Couros was on about with the #learn365 hashtag, where school communities are able to share in a global manner, however I wondered whether there was a place for a #VicPLN site. A place where teachers could cross post ideas and information that mattered to those in Victoria, Australia. If not a site, then maybe there was a place for something like a Flipboard which contained a great collection of celebrations all in one place. At the very least, wouldn’t it be great to have a collection of blogs created teachers all over Victoria celebrating successes, reflecting on failures and just sharing awesome ideas?
If you know of any such blogs, whether it be school based or even region wide, I would love to know. Also, if you are a Victorian teacher interested in adding to list of blogs, please add your blog to the form below:

Here is a link to the results.


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