Everyday open learning so unremarkable that it amazes me


Happened to look in on a blog for a course on Philosophy and Pop Culture at TRU. Saw a post that I thought was remarkable for a couple reasons.

A student had just posted some fresh reflections, though the course was over. He wrote: “I know that I no longer need to create new posts, but it seemed like this is the perfect place to post my current thoughts.”

This in itself is remarkable, though not so unusual. I suppose some would find it trite to note that such a thing would never happen in an LMS, even if the student was not locked out of the course environment as a matter of university policy at course’s end. Here, even in a shared course blog on an institutional WordPress install, this student felt a stake in this space, understood that it was a place for continued reflection and growth.

The student was exploring, in part, his ongoing responses to Andrew Wildman’s graphic novel Horizon. Educational bloggers will not be so surprised to see that Wildman offered a comment on the blog in response. Again, would that happen in an LMS? If mediums communicate messages, this exchange illustrates that the student’s thoughts and words have value. The student is not merely engaging in a simulation of intellectual discourse, but taking their thoughts into the world.

I couldn’t resist Tweeting this exchange when I saw it. Which again, not so surprisingly elicited yet another comment from the most thoughtful and engaged commenter I have ever known.

These sorts of things happen all the time over on UMW Blogs, but we are still building out our infrastructure and culture of open online learning here at TRU. I hope these stories become commonplace here soon.

Another common manifestation of open learning went down in my personal network yesterday. That it happened without really seeming all that remarkable at the time is hitting me as amazing right now. (Was there something in those brownies I just ate?)


I’m doing a little bit of preparation for next Monday’s VideoCamp here at TRU. Since I am an utter neophyte at video work (thankfully we have a cohort of other facilitators lined up), the only “teaching” I might do is work through Popcorn Maker with any participants who just want a simple tool for basic augmentation and remixing of online video. I remembered that Clint Lalonde had organized workshops using Popcorn, and then remembered that I am lazy and shameless, so I fired Clint a Twitter DM asking if there were any tutorials he would recommend.

Because Clint is a better open educator than me, he responded publicly in case his pointer would be of use to somebody else.

Then he widened the scope.

An aforementioned open educational hero caught wind of the discussion and interjected with important cautions that probably saved me and the VideoCamp participants some pain…

…and also shared a cool use case.

Chris Lott brought another vital contributor into the discussion, …

…and wasn’t I happy to make Christen’s acquaintance:

Popcorn HTML5 framework? I didn’t even know what that was. Whoa.

Then some more of the people Clint flagged earlier started to chime in:

Among the tutorials these exchanges turned up was this brilliant overview from Miriam Posner. Licensed CC, so I think I will incorporate it into the VideoCamp site. I thought should give Miriam a huzzah and a heads-up on my intention to pilfer (she’s cool with it), and was not entirely surprised to see that CogDog had beat me to the comments field.

Again, these things happen all the time in open online learning circles. But I still get asked “how do you find the time to engage social media”? It repays the time investment so many times over — in this case with great resources, pointers to new experts for me to follow, and a reminder that I am part of a collaborative community full of generous and gifted people. So before I dive into the VideoCamp site to build on all these wonderful contributions, I thought I would take a moment to celebrate just how amazingly unremarkable these sorts of interactions can be.


The usual schtick in more haphazard fashion

I only have five minutes or so, will focus on a few bits related to research and knowledge mobilization.

Yes, blogging. But the process can offer real benefits.

The “Art + Reconciliation” site – many modes of participation

WordPress flavours — Annotum for open online journals (example), PressBooks (example) is platform for BC provincial open textbook initiative. And CommentPress — TRU Strategic Research Plan site.

The wiki. Collaboration space, with ability to syndicate wiki content to pages. Use slick interface to generate PDFs and EPUB ebooks.


Will it blend?


Spaces outside the learning management system. Though a blog can function much like an LMS…

Extending the classroom space, extending the discussion. (Twitter tags)

Connecting beyond… and across communities. (Helping me out on guitar, totally uncharted territory.)

* (I get help this way all the time)

Visualizing the open web

Open up course content, student co-construction (see also ETEC522)

Student research portals

TRU Law Course

Flipped classroom – beyond the buzzword, beyond the lectureConversations…  Screencasts  Video playlists

The podcast + YouTube playlist (or collection of links and media) is a powerful, loosely-coupled combination of media.

What of a community of practice? Activities? Discussions? Support? Online component?

A Day for Learning

[Cross-posted from Abject.]

Pano shot of "A Day for Learning" as we get rolling

Since starting at TRU, I’ve particularly enjoyed collaborating and scheming with our Dean of Students Chris Adam, and Director of Instructional Design Irwin Devries. For some time we’ve been talking about a sort of gathering to reframe and refocus our efforts to enhance the learning environment at our university.

What I love about working with Chris and Irwin is how naturally we seem to lock in on a common approach to problems. We quickly agreed we did not want to go in with rigid formal outcomes in mind. We kept the agenda as loose as we could, while ensuring we at least considered some key themes. But the objectives stayed simple in our minds: gather forty or so committed educators, put them in a nice space, strive to generate real and human conversation. To talk honestly about our dreams for our university.

Love this representation of Estella's wonderful opening story. #myTRU #trulearn

The day began with a blessing by Elder Estella Patrick Moller from Nakazdli First Nations in Fort St. James. She provided our first surprise of the day, as she took up our invitation to follow her prayer with a story of her own sense of place, sharing a rich and poetic account of her own schooling, at home and in formal institutions — balancing the hardships with a sense of a “whole new world” that was opened up to her. She spoke of shadows and of words as if they were living entities that somehow played off of one another…

The group seemed to draw energy from Estella’s inspiration, and we leapt into small-group discussions of how our own origins have shaped us, particularly as learners. (We are indebted to Amy Perreault and kele fleming from UBC for their wonderful ETUG session last month that inspired this exercise.) I certainly felt like the discussion in my own small group both grounded and provoked my thinking about how I approach what I do. This segment of the day was masterfully handled by our guest facilitator Sylvia Currie — just one of her many invaluable contributions to the event as a planner and leader.

Irwin leads student panel

We eventually segued into a session dedicated to the voices of our students, and they delivered in a big way. The diversity of perspectives is difficult to synthesize… we serve adult learners with careers and families (particularly in our open and online distance courses), and they tend to expect that we respect their time with clear and carefully-structured experiences. But we also heard from bright young people who spoke of being transformed (a word that would re-occur throughout the day) by a passionate instructor, of the thrill they experienced when hurtled into the unknown. The discussion that emerged from this segment was so engaging we ignored a planned follow-up exercise and just drove the students mercilessly for additional insights until we broke for lunch.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled with guests we had with us. In addition to Sylvia, we had TRU student Lisa Thiessen doing visual facilitation, and our colleague Clint Lalonde from Royal Roads University paid us a visit as well. After lunch, we brought up Jeff Miller, who delivered a historically-grounded yet forward-looking overview of the many openings and challenges presented by new media. Having worked closely with Jeff for so long, I have come to expect his effortless eloquence and amazing breadth of expertise, but nonetheless it was a kick to look over the room and see how his ideas were provoking connections and generating discussion. We finished up the day with a rare appearance by The Bava himself, who endured a long and nightmarish journey (his return trip still ongoing as this is written) to join us. The Reverend gave a characteristically spirited sermon on what a culture of innovation means in higher education (deploying the DTLT video to fine effect), the importance of a humane open web, and what it means to be an instructional technologist today (we all need a code, after all).

[NOTE: I’m afraid I have not gathered the associated media around the visualizations and presentation recordings as yet — but I was thinking on the weekend about my long-held tendency to put off blog posts until conditions are perfect. Which all too often results in no blogging at all. So hopefully there will be follow-ups that will flesh out the threadbare descriptions above.]

The subsequent weekend contained its own delights. We had Jeff, Irwin and Jim out to the Lake for a Friday night meal of cochinita pibil (just one of the things Keira prepared in the course of her own busy workweek), and a night of laughter and song… some of which found its way to DS106Radio.

Bava does winterized Lake Life The lake does something

Jim stayed a couple more days out at the lake, and I am so grateful he was able to come here. (And so grateful to his wife Antonella for minding Casa Bava back home. We wish the whole Groom brood could have been with us.) After the explosion of energy that was Friday, the weekend was peaceful and sedate, though punctuated by outbursts of spicy food, intense movie and NFL viewing, stories and fits of uncontrollable giggling. As I always do after time with Jim, I feel both exhausted and energized, full of dreams and hopes and ideas. And I feel freshly resolved to make some art dammit, especially in all those areas where people think art can’t or shouldn’t be happening.

On creating spaces…

I was asked to talk at a “Town Hall” of people here in the Open Learning division. I was asked to speak for fifteen minutes, unsurprisingly I blabbed for about twice that long. Apologies to all for that.

I spoke about some of my struggles with the concept of innovation (the image above sums those up somehow), my dreams for the Innovation Lab, and of course I had to talk about blogging — trying to share some of the amazing potential for WordPress in Higher Ed.

Notes and links are here.

Wikipedia Authoring Basics

Below are notes for a visit to a classroom, they are considering authoring in Wikipedia as one of their assignments.

Wikipedia - T-shirt

Murder, Madness, and Mayhem

The Wikipedia Education Program

North American Environmental History – UBC’s participation in the WEP

Wikipedia - Musician

The structure of the WEP is fairly tightly defined. A more ad hoc participation is possible, but do keep in mind:

The five pillars of Wikipedia

Getting started

An online community is a bit like traveling to a foreign country.

  • Look around first.
  • Be humble, be prepared to make mistakes.
  • Use the “discussion” tab to float changes to significant articles.


The helpful hints on the WEP page is worth a look, especially…


Slightly longer take on wikis (one trick pony)

I am doing a lunch and learn session on wikis today, so slightly expanding the scope of my show-and-tell at yesterday’s meeting. But mostly, just taking the time to cover the material at a less frantic pace, and allow for more discussion…


Why an open TRU Wiki?

I have been fortunate to be part of two Consejo Asesor processes for the Spanish-language Horizon Report. English language report here.

Advisory councils of various reports worked together to identify “metatrends” for the Report’s 10th Anniversary. Among them:

“The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.”

“People expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to.”

Openness — concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information — is moving from a trend to a value for much of the world.

Public higher education is facing a sustained threat from economic, political, social and cultural shifts.

Part of that is a disruption that may be driven by developments in technology. (Or maybe not.) “Essentially, this is the Internet happening to education”, says George Siemens.


I would add that it is impossible to overstate the importance of participation, perhaps best illustrated by this AP photo of Barack Obama from the summer of 2008.


The UBC Wiki:

Main Space

Documentation Space

  • The efficiencies in having our guides openly available and easily editable probably justifies investment in the wiki

Course Space

Embed code, multiple context reuse:

Why is this my favorite project of all time?
  • fast, cheap, and out of control…
  • augments traditional literacy with new media literacy
  • results in genuinely useful public knowledge resources (perhaps the essence of open education resources)
  • students will respond to tasks that are authentic

Wiki Education Program



Rather  than ask, “how is the web changing higher education?”, let’s think about how higher education can shape the web.