Think-Know tools in a Webbrain…

There is this idea that Facebook is just for entertainment, friends and family contacts. Robert Scoble already demonstrated that in fact Facebook can be used to create great lists, even more so than Twitter. Of course you can find interesting groups about any subject on Facebook, or follow media. I am aware of the privacy discussions and I don’t want to suggest Facebook is the ideal network, far from it. But it’s like a huge city, and while one can object to the policies of the city, huge cities remain places for innovation and creativity.

Anyway, what I really wanted to tell: Howard Rheingold shared via Facebook a Webbrain-version of his upcoming course Think-Know Tools.

Build your own course

I’m looking at Course Builder – as it is explained on https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/ it packages the software and technology used to build the Power Searching with Google online course.

The guys at Google say:

We hope you will use it to create your own online courses, whether they’re for 10 students or 100,000 students. You might want to create anything from an entire high school or university offering to a short how-to course on your favorite topic.

Some familiarity with html and JavaScript is needed, but it seems the wiki is very informative and well-structured.

I plan to give it a try and include my experiences in the peeragogy.org handbook.

Think-Know Tools with Howard Rheingold

I’m pretty excited to learn that Howard Rheingold is offering a new course. I participated in his earlier courses about Introduction to Mind Amplifiers and Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, and of course there is the ongoing Peeragogy Handbook project.

The new course runs for six weeks using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, concept maps, Personal Brain,  and synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

More about the course:

Think-know Tools dives into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. Now that we have access to powerful mind-amplifying devices and self-evolving collective intelligence networks, we can benefit ourselves and improve the commons by learning how knowledge technologies work and how to work them:

Modules on Roots & Visions of Augmentation and The Extended Mind establish a basis for understanding and discussing both the origin and future of tools specifically devised to magnify thinking capabilities and group problem-solving capacity.
Modules on Social Bookmarking, Concept Mapping, and Personal Knowledge Management introduce tools and practices for finding, storing, refining, sharing, exploring knowledge.
Learning activities include group bookmarking as focused collective intelligence, concept map-making for understanding systems, construction of knowledge-plexes with Personal Brain.

I do like mindmapping (I use MindMeister) but I’m not familiar with Personal Brain, which seems to be very promising (‘it may be the closest thing to an extra brain’, PCWorld says). We’ll also use Cmap for concept maps and VUE, which I guess is a ‘a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.’ Other crucial tools are about social bookmarks (Delicious, Diigo…).

However, Howard does not limit the course to some practical tools, but we’ll discuss the first visionaries who initiated the creation of intellect-augmenting technologies (think Engelbart, Licklider, Bush… see also the New Media Reader book) and we’ll look at mind-amplification in a broader and future-looking context.

This course is not free. In contrast to courses at Coursera and Udacity for instance, this kind of course has a limited number of participants, and there’s a lot of direct interaction with the facilitator (Howard). More information about the course (which runs from October 17 till November 30) can be found at the social media classroom.

Here you see Howard during a Massive Open Online Course-session, talking about Net Smart:

Howard Rheingold on 'Net Smart' for Change11 MOOC

We’re back, with learnstreaming!

I recently discovered the blog Learnstreaming where Dennis Callahan demonstrates the practice of learning based lifestreaming.

I find this really interesting as I learn quite a few things these days: I’m still working on the peeragogy.org handbook, I participate on forums at The WELL and brainstorms.rheingold.com, not to mention my Google+, Facebook and Twitter-activities. Oh yes, there are also my social bookmarks at Diigo and Delicious. And of course I learn a lot in my newsroom, experimenting with new media and participating in our newspaper community.

I could also mention Tumblr and Quora, and many other services (some of which I might have forgotten about).

A lot of those services can be considered as part of my personal learning network. I’ve been wondering how to stream at least part of the learning which is going on there. I considered platforms such as Tumblr or Posterous, Google+ and Facebook. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think I prefer good old WordPress.

I somehow trust WordPress more than some commercial company which will inevitably merge, disappear or change essential policies in function of considerations which are not necessarily in the interest of its users. I also want to avoid walled gardens – in fact, I want to publish some of my thoughts and experiences which I discussed previously behind closed virtual doors.

Just to warn you that this blog will become far more active. I’ll post about online education, the interaction between digital and physical environments, games (more specifically gamification and serious games), near-future science fiction and other crazy stuff. Watch this space!

Help us write the Peeragogy Handbook!

Suppose you want to learn everything about medieval sword-fighting. Or about Python programming in some specific context. Or about alternative currencies – maybe there’s nobody to join or help you in your town or village, but somewhere on the web there’ll be others who want to collaborate in your learning-effort.

We call this peer2peer learning, and just as we have pedagogy (how to teach children) and androgogy (how to teach adults) we have peeragogy (how to teach each other). The word has been coined by Howard Rheingold, who also gave us the expression “virtual community”.

Howard also facilitates the project “The Peeragogy Handbook”. A few dozen people contribute in this project and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Most of us never met each other, and yet, from all over the world, people discuss in our forum, contribute on wikis and  social bookmark services, meet up during synchronous sessions and post on a WordPress-blog.

The link to the handbook is http://www.peeragogy.org. Be warned: this project is very much in beta. As it is explained in the introduction:

(…) you want to learn how to fix a pipe, solve a partial differential equation, write software, you are seconds away from know-how via YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines. Access to technology and access to knowledge, however, isn’t enough. Learning is a social, active, and ongoing process. What would a motivated group of self-learners need to know to agree on a subject or skill, find and qualify the best learning resources about that topic, select and use appropriate communication media to co-learn it? Beyond technology, what do they need to know about learning and putting learning programs together? What does a group of people need to know to use today’s digital resources to co-learn a subject? This handbook is intended to answer that last question and provide a toolbox for co-learners.

Do you want to contribute? You’re very welcome to do so! We need people to write and edit articles, to help out with the technicalities of WordPress or to give feedback. On the wiki you find a project description and also how to contribute. New
contributors can use this guide:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy/wiki/for-newcomers-peeragogy-project-how-get-started. You can comment on the draft by asking to join
http://groups.diigo.com/group/peering-into-peeragogy.

MOOCs and their differences

I started the Computer Sciences 101 course taught by professor Nick Parlante (Stanford University) as a massive open online course (MOOC) on the Coursera platform. Nick says there are not enough people on this planet with computer skills, so he hopes that this introductory course will incite some of us to deepen their knowledge and skills.

During 6 weeks we’ll do small coding experiments in the browser (using JavaScript) to play with the nature of computers, “understanding their strengths and limitations.”

My impression is that the course is cleverly designed. The lecture videos are broken into small chunks, sometimes containing quiz questions. There are also standalone quizzes and programming assignments.

The participants meet each other in discussion forums. There are discussions about the format (which seems to be much appreciated – even though some complained this first week was too basic), the assignments, introductions… Students also organize themselves in an impressive variety of study groups along national or language lines.

Coursera provides the platform for the course – it’s a “social entrepreneurship company” that partners with top universities to offer courses online for free. In fact, Coursera has been created by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.

We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundres of thousands of students.

Coursera offers courses in a wide range of topics – not only programming and science but also the humanities. Right now they work with Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and Penn.

It’s interesting to experience the differences with other MOOCs such as the connectivism courses facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In my experience those courses are more distributed – they take place on various platforms even though the blogposts, discussions, social bookmarks and synchronous sessions are being aggregated on a site and a newsletter. They also seem to be more open-ended, every participant picks the stuff she is particularly interested in and connects with people in function of her own objectives and interests. Stephen Downes was interviewed about MOOCs by the independent journalist Kevin Charles Redmon and gives an interesting overview of the MOOC-history and the success massive open courses seem to have today.

The MOOCs organized by Downes and Siemens leave it to the student to define what counts as success. This does not mean that Stephen is not interested in assessment. He explains what the two basic approaches are:

The first is the Big Data approach – instead of using a few dozen data points, which is what the testing regimen does, you track a student’s activities and construct a profile from the full spectrum of his interactions with the material and other learners. This is the work of a field called ‘Learning Analytics’ (which should be ‘discovered’ by the Stanford-MIT nexus any time now). The second, which is my own approach, is a network clustering approach – the idea is that in a network of interactions in a community, expertise constitutes a ‘cluster’ of activity, and a person’s learning can be assessed as a form of proximity to that cluster. The Learning Analytics and Network Analysis approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately it’s about empowerment:

It’s about actually empowering people to develop and create their own learning, their own education. So not only do they not depend on us for learning, but also, their learning is not subject to our value-judgements and prejudices. We (those of working in MOOCs) have also been clear about the influences of people like Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire. And it’s not just about ‘flipping’ courses. It’s about reducing and eventually eliminating the learned dependence on the expert and the elite – not as a celebration of anti-intellectualism, but as a result of widespread and equitable access to expertise.

None of this happens by magic. There isn’t some ‘invisible hand’ creating a fair and equitable education marketplace. The system needs to be built with an understanding that personal empowerment and community networks are the goal and objective.

It could very well be that participants at the Udacity and Coursera-courses discover this along the road. That some of them will return – even after having completed the program – to help out others. This will be more like a process of self-discovery – I’m sure that right now people participating at the CS101 course just want to learn about computers. But maybe they’ll end up realizing it’s actually about teaching yourself and the others.

MOOCs in Space

Over at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour people seem to have a really great time. I’m just lurking at their P2PU site, but go there too and have a look at pictures about the game EVE Online which is a a player-driven, persistent-world Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) set in a science fiction space setting.

Also have a look at the slideshow on Flickr.

Interesting stuff I noted: the MOOC uses Google+ for orientations in Second Life and MMORPGs. Google+ is also being used by the community of co-learners around Howard Rheingold and even though there are limitations (one cannot participate in a Hangout with more than 10 people), it’s really a very interesting collaboration platform, enabling audio, video, screen-sharing, text chat… for free.

Read also: Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

There is a true explosion going on in open online learning. I don’t know whether it’s always “massive” as in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but anyway, there is a lot happening out there.

I don’t have statistics about how many projects there are, nor about the total number of participants and how many “succeed”. One of the issues here is that the definitions are not obvious. When do we say something is “massive”? What does it mean to “succeed”? The other issue is that I don’t care. I just feel that there is so much going on that I cannot find the time to blog about it all. For instance, I did not yet find the time to report about the MOOC  A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour.

You’ll notice that the above link directs you to a site on P2PU, which is The Peer 2 Peer University:

a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The participants conduct virtual world tours and exploration, study and experiment using machinima, World of Warcraft and discuss about the bleeding edge of these technologies.

Of course there is a lot of Second Life in all this, which is normal because it really is a world where about all content is being created by the “residents”, using 3D building and scripting techniques. However, the course also discusses Inworldz and New World Grid – virtual worlds based on the OpenSim software (and as such very familiar for those used to Second Life), the games EVE Online and World of Warcraft (WoW), and I guess other virtual or game environments will be discussed as well (Minecraft).

The course is very distributed, participants work in the virtual environments but also on a number of social media platforms, while the whole things is organized and commented through the P2P U site and a WordPress blog. Also have a look at the social bookmark collection at Diigo.

Lack of time prevented me from participating in this course, but I did read posts on the forums. Subjects being discussed:

– How games such as WoW manage to make missions difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to chase the players away.

– How games incite players to analyze situations and to work together in teams (for raids) and in larger groups (guilds). Leadership skills are being learned and practiced which can be useful in the “real world”.

– How can sophisticated virtual world Intelligent Agents (NPCs or BOTs) be used in learning environments?

– Practical stuff about screen capturing and making video in virtual environments, and about the educational application of these practices. (In general: even for those not participating in the course, you’ll learn a lot just browsing through the posts and bookmarks, watching the videos. One also discovers tools such as Livebinder and in Livebinder this collection of tools about screen capturing and video producing in virtual and gaming environments… )

– Interesting discussions about how educators try to use and promote cutting edge technology in their work, which is not always appreciated by everyone in the institutions.

This MOOC follows on a three-day conference  about best practices for virtual worlds in education (VWBPE).  Here is the video announcing the  VWBPE conference – I like it because it illustrates how original and creative gatherings in a virtual world can be. Which makes me believe that even the further expansion of affordable and free videoconferencing will not make such virtual meetings obsolete.

Open online community of digital storytellers DS106 finances itself through Kickstarter

Last week I attended a Rheingold Youniversity Alumni meeting with Bryan Alexander, who talked about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), and he mentioned DS106, an open online community of digital storytellers. Here is how DS106 describes itself:

DS106 is a digital storytelling course that began as a face-to-face course at the University of Mary Washington. In Spring of 2011, Jim Groom opened the course up to allow open online participants to join and become involved. That semester gave birth to a radio station, a TV station, an assignment bank with over 280 contributions, and an explosion of creativity and fostered community like never before. There are now 7 universities participating in DS106 formally with over 1200 open online participants that have generated over 18,000 posts. What’s more, the community is growing every day.

The world is small, and today I read a post by Stephen Downes, who made me discover the delicious madness of MOOCs way back in 2008:

I’ve been interested to follow the story of Jim Groom and company’s use of Kickstarter to raise money to continue the DS106 experiment. In 24 hours they made their goal of $4200 and will be buying “a grown-up server (in the cloud no less!) which comes with its own grown-up costs to the tune of over $2,800 this year.”

So it seems we have a very interesting situation here. We’ve a project which already has a good reputation and seems to be the kind of MOOC I like (creative, non-hierarchical, meritocratic, fun etc) and which uses a very interesting way to finance itself: Kickstarter, a new way to fund creative projects.

Three observations about perseverance in online learning

The blog has been idle for about two weeks now – because of family emergencies, the launching of a liveblog and a column at my newspaper. Which allows me to reflect on the issue of loyalty toward online projects and communities.

Gameification does not really work for me. I also participated at CodeYear (the course/campaign to learn coding in 2012) but I gave up on that. CodeYear uses gameification elements, and I got a number of badges, but to be honest: I don’t care about badges. And to give full disclosure: I’m notoriously bad in self-discipline, I cannot count the number of online courses I started without ever getting close to finishing them – like the famous MIT-open course stuff. I even managed to sign up for a Stanford open course thing without ever starting it. I also participated in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens – with some more success, even though I’m mostly a lurker there. This being said: CodeYear has developed an interesting social layer, such as a forum where participants help each other and also meet-ups in the physical world.

However, I do care about other participants in a course or a project. I had more success in continuing my efforts during a course about the Digital Awakening (reading a selection of texts from the MIT New Media Reader). We met in Second Life, about each week, for synchronous sessions – and doing so we created this feeling of being together in this project, and I experienced a group pressure to keep up with the course.

I had exactly the same experience participating in Howard Rheingold’s courses about Mind Amplifiers and Cooperation Theory. In addition to using synchronous sessions (using Blackboard Collaborate, the former Elluminate) there was also the opportunity to tell more about personal projects in the forums. All of which creates social bonds and a sense of being part of a project – or even a tribe.

Paying for something helps. There is yet another aspect: the two Rheingold courses I mentioned were not free. I’ve the feeling that paying for a course adds some sense of “well, I paid for it, so I’d better get value for my money”.  So, when organizing some course or even a peer2peer-learning project, this is something to consider: maybe asking others to contribute financially can actually help them to pause and ask themselves “do I really want this?”.

Identity. Of course, there is not only the issue of the format (synchronous, asynchronous… ), the group dynamics and whether or not to contribute financially.  It’s about content and practice as well. Again facilitated by Rheingold we’re working on a Peeragogy-handbook (about peer2peer learning). Also, there are other venues such as the WELL  or the Rheingold U Alumni. The project and venues are not really limited in time, and I do contribute from time to time, feeling some guilt when I don’t for a longer time. Why do I care? Because they are important for my “personal value system” – I think that peer2peer learning in the broadest sense of those words is in many ways crucial for our societies and even the planet.

It’s not just about narrowly defined education (like formal school stuff for young people), it’s about more even than lifelong learning because peer2peer learning can lead to peer2peer production and business. (Maybe that’s the reason I’m not really active in the MOOC-courses as they are heavily oriented toward educators in schools and universities while I’m more interested in much broader applications of the MOOC-principles.) In other words, peer2peer could very well become a pillar of our economies while at the same time I feel it resonates with my very personal anarchist sympathies – I really am deeply suspicious about  authority and hierarchical organization (while recognizing these are necessary in many contexts – but then again, in many other contexts classical authoritarian structures are not efficient at all). So a long rant to point out that loyalty to some online learning project also depends on this feeling that the practice and content is an important core of who you are or want to be. This includes the two other aspects: if it really matters, the personal relationships you develop along the way will make those projects even matter more, and eventually you’ll be ready to invest money and time.