Learning how to cooperate in a web-environment. What about Virtual Reality?

Howard Rheingold’s online course about Cooperation started last week, using BigBlueButton and not in some fancy Virtual Reality environment. BigBlueButton is our synchronous communication system (let’s say ‘videoconferencing’), but a lot of work happens asynchronously using a wiki, blogs, social bookmarks, and – very important – forums. These asynchronous systems are bundled in a proprietary system called the socialmediaclassroom.

I watched a recorded videoconferencing session, as usual in these courses the about 12 participants got jobs to do while Howard presented this week’s material: searchers, lexicon-builders, bloggers, summarizers, mindmappers…

The idea is to show how people can engage into online collaboration and to experience how rich the results can be.

I participated in this course for the first time  in January 2013 and at that time I wrote a rather detailed post about the content of this first lesson: Exploring the biology of cooperation.

Why no VR-meeting?

In 2007-2008 I participated in many meetings in the virtual world Second Life. We’re in 2018 now and the idea of organizing online courses in virtual worlds seems even more exotic than it was in 2007. We have Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and smaller, closed online courses – but all these are based on video (streaming and archived), texts with interactive elements and forums.

How comes? Since even videoconferencing inevitably starts with technical problems – people struggling with the user interface, connectivity and audio issues, it seems even more problematic to organize this in a virtual space where the learning curve is even steeper and the equipment needed is even more high-end.

In the meantime we have environments which are enabled for real VR such as Sansar and High Fidelity. 

VR-enabled environments have some big advantages. They make it possible to show objects in 3D and to let participants manipulate these objects using touch controllers for instance. Very important is the sense of sharing the same space, something which lacks in videoconferencing.

The disadvantages: people need the right equipment, which is often not the case. The learning curve is often steep, and you can’t see the ‘real’ persons (even though avatars these days can reflect the facial expressions of the people behind them).

It would be interesting to check how easy or how difficult it would be to organize realtime annotation, link exchanging or mindmapping in a virtual environment.How much hassle would it take to make recordings? Stuff like 3D mindmapping would be fascinating but extra training would be needed.

Maybe we’ll give it a try during this six-week course. If so, you’ll read it here.

Upcoming: Howard Rheingold course about Cooperation

A new, possibly last edition of the famous Cooperation course by Howard Rheingold, the man who gave us the term “virtual community”, launches today. It’s not too late to participate, but be warned: this is not a Massive Online Open Course, but a Small, Intensive Online Course which is reasonably priced.

What is it about? I quote Howard:

“a six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.”

We’ll have a small group of participants which are involved in fascinating projects and learning activities. For more information click here.

Mixed Realities Musings on Facebook

I launched a page on Facebook about the same subjects I cover here on this blog: virtual worlds, virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality.

On MixedRealitiesMusings I’ll post links to this blog but also to posts and videos on other blogs and sites.

The very first visitor to post on the new page was Howard Rheingold:

MixedRealities lives also on Twitter.

What I learned after all those online courses

Listening to Stephen Downes discussing Massive Open Online Courses (see previous post) I felt the need to make an overview of the online courses I participated in during these last few years. Downes inspires me a lot and I fundamentally agree with the discintions he makes between connectivist MOOCs which are more community-driven and so-called xMOOCs which are more institutional.

However, this won’t stop me from participating in all kinds of online learning, whether the teaching is in a top-down institutional style or rather in a more freewheeling learner-centered style.

Here is am incomplete list of what I tried out since 2008:
– CCK08 as mentioned in the previous post. This first experience in 2008 was the most impressive one and determined my attitude toward online learning.  The course was very learner-centered but also overwhelming and completely different from traditional education.
These days I’m attending on an irregular basis ConnectedCourses which is another connectivist course.
– Awakening the Digital Imagination (2011): A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech. This was a great experience, I participated as a member of a small cohort in Second Life. We used the MIT textbook The New Media Reader and read texts such as the famous “As We May Think“ by Vannevar Bush. This course was not massive but very open with a small group of highly motivated and kind people. Just learning to know these folks in itself was very enriching.

– Coursera-courses: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University recently taught History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, while being very critical about xMOOC-like features such as multiple choice questions. She also incited the students to reflect in a free way and to share their insights also outside the boundaries of the Coursera universe. I paid for a certificate. It was a way to motivate myself to complete the course – and yes I finished the course. You can read my final assignment here on MixedRealities.

Other more ‘typical’, institutional courses at Coursera I completed were Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and a Computer Science 101 course by Professor Nick Parlante of Stanford. Stuff I looked into seriously were Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright of Princeton University and Understanding Media by Understanding Google by Professor Owen R. Youngman of Northwestern University.

On the Canvas Network I tried another approach. Various experts taught in a more classical xMOOC style about Doing Journalism with Data, but I gathered a small group of fellow journalists to have weekly discussions about the course (at my newspaper, during lunch hour). I blended online learning with meetings in the physical space (I don’t see much difference).  I guess I invested more time and effort in the course than I would have done without the meetings, but I can’t say I really completed it.

–  Introduction to computer science and programming: this is an MIT open courseware which I started in 2011 but I never got very far. Why did I fail? Maybe because I was trying to do it alone, or because I was trying out too many courses at once. The abundance of free courses of high quality makes me feel like a child in a candy store, and I underestimate systematically the real cost of these courses, which is time.

– Howard Rheingold courses: Howard is the guy who invented the notion “virtual community”, a writer about digital culture and digital literacies, an artist, a community builder and a teacher. I learned about him in Second Life – I guess it must have been in 2008 – and I participated in various courses of his Rheingold U community. The courses included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I finished almost all those courses (I even took several courses more than once). The Rheingold-courses are very interesting: they are community-driven and try to emancipate the learners while at the same time Howard is being much more than ‘just a facilitator’.

– Project based learning: contributing to an actual digital artefact is a great way to learn. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer).

– Miscellaneous online courses: I’ve quite a history of learning how to code online. I tried Codecademy dabbling in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and PHP. I like Codecademy, but it’s very different from the other courses I mentioned here – what seems to lack is a real sense of connection to other participants (even though there are learner forums which are very active). Treehouse is another great, video-based and interactive place to learn coding, but again not much of a community.

The more expensive and intense option was the O’Reilly School of Technology where you get feedback by a tutor (again not really community driven). Even though I’ve a good insight now in the very basics of web design, I cannot consider myself as being a web designer or developer. In order to achieve that, I would have to actively build something of my own – and I lack time and motivation to do so.

So, what did I learn?

I’m 55 now and I’ve a more than fulltime job. I also was deeply influenced by the connectivist MOOC in 2008. So what I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.

 

Learning is tinkering and narrating it

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Why should you blog? Own a domain name? Because learning is so tremendously enjoyable and the web teaches us so much about what learning is. The web is not just a tool for learning, it’s an experience which allows one to experience, to live learning. In this video Jim Groom (Edupunk, ds106), Alan Levine (cogdogblog), and Howard Rheingold (social media, virtual communities) talk about the how and why of setting up your blog – in this case for Connected Courses – but what they say is valid far beyond this particular course.

My very short summary of there arguments: the web and learning are both about tinkering. There is something more though: one should narrate the tinkering. Narrating it makes you reach out to others and leads to conversation and connections. RSS-feeds, hyperlinks, blogs, social networks, forums, social bookmark services, video and audio platforms – it’s all about narrating, connecting and tinkering.

Inventing a New University

One of the courses I really enjoyed these last few months was History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, by professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on the Coursera platform. The final assignment was the invention of a new institution of higher education. This was my answer, and yes, I did mention virtual environments… I called the thing Peeragogy University, named after a project facilitated by Howard Rheingold, peeragogy.org.

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It’s a pleasure and an honor to present our Peeragogy University. We firmly believe that we live in an epoch of exponential change. The old industrial ways of thinking do no longer apply for learning and teaching (see our Duke U course). We want to help our students to become Change Masters, or rather, we want them to help each other (peer-to-peer) to become Change Masters. 

What is our Mission Statement? There are three crucial skills we want our graduates to acquire:
1) The deep understanding of the fact that this education is not about them. It’s about what they can do for humanity.
2) The deep understanding and the skill of connecting to others in order to realize our dreams. During the program students will discover how connected the big issues of our time are, and how necessary it is to break out of academic silos to work together, to celebrate diversity in our teams. “Diversity” also means that we involve people from outside the institution and from outside academia. We use the wisdom and creativity of artists to facilitate this (see Duke U course).
3) The deep understanding and the skill of learning how to learn and adapt to emerging technologies in the broadest sense of the word ‘technologies’. So the crucial skill and value here is the eagerness to learn, and to learn how to learn throughout their lives (content vs. learning, Duke U course). 

What is the structure of our institution? 
Every student gets a preliminary course during about ten weeks. Leading experts will present major breakthroughs in information technologies, biotech, management (including new ways to launch a project or a business), healthcare, robotics, nanotechnology, energy systems and the makers industries (3D printing, DIY drones etc). These are the competence clusters which form the basic structure of Peeragogy University. 

The students will actually experiment (learning by  making, see Duke U course) with bio-hacking, programming, robotics, genetic engineering, management principles… These weeks will be inspired by what the Singularity University is already doing in California. What we add: we’ll help the students to explicitly build a personal learning environment, making use of their social connections online and/or on campus and of the affordances of the internet (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, forums, crap detection and information dashboards). See also the Digital Literacies as discussed in the Duke U course. 

After these ten weeks students will have to decide what their Major Project will be for the next years (we have a 4 year program in place). This project must make a difference for humanity (see Mission statement). Maybe something which can affect the lives of millions of people? Typically,this project will make it necessary to acquire an advanced knowledge and skill-level in several subjects. 

However, not everybody who has some healthcare project as his Major Project will need to become a surgeon. Maybe it’s more interesting to become a robotics-specialist in order to contribute to a breakthrough (think exoskeletons for paraplegics). Becoming a robotics specialist probably implies great skill in programming and algorithms. Someone else in the team will become an expert in capital markets in order to find ways to get financing and to develop a financial plan. A third person can contribute because of special knowledge regarding patient psychology and sociology (see Mission Statement aboutconnecting). For each special skill the faculty experts will not teach as Sages on a Stage, but as facilitators of project based peer-to-peer learning. 

As these students try to change the world, they will have to reflect on what they’re doing (Mission statement: meta-learning). They will discuss on an academic level, using the resources of philosophy, logical thinking and using art as a way to mobilize more people for their projects and diversify their teams. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who are the teachers? All students are also teachers. They work in project teams, and we’ll also organize contacts between the teams. We do havefaculty: there are recognized experts in their fields, from academia but also from outside academia. They will be facilitators of the learning. 
Who are the students? We do not require specific diplomas. We do run an Introductory MOOC (3 months), and achievements during that MOOC will be an important element for admission on the online or physical campus for the full four year program. 

Where do we meet? Our Campus is situated in Portland, Oregon, right next to some famous beer micro-breweries. However, we run an international Introductory MOOC (three months) and a Companion MOOC which runs on a permanent basis. We make heavily use of virtual environments to create an interesting online alternative for the physical campus. 

Who pays and how much? 
Peeragogy University found some generous sponsors, but nevertheless we have to ask a fee for the physical campus experience: $80,000 for one year, housing, tuition and food included. There is a considerable discount for tuition-only students. 
The Companion MOOC-version is free, except for those students who want a formal assessment of their work ($5,000 on a yearly basis). The Introductory MOOC is free, except for those who want an assessment in order to gain access to the 4 year program ($100). 
Students who have financial difficulties can apply for special sponsoring. Students will learn during the Introductory MOOC how to finance their studies (alternative financing techniques). 

Peeragogy University organizes short term programs for companies and government institutions, These programs help financing the Peeragogy University. 

Assessments and Certificates: the assessments are based on the performance during the year – compare it to assessments for company and government workers. Important elements are creativity, how people collaborate, how they learn, how impressive their skills are. We have a completion diploma, but more important even are the Peeragogy Badges (see Duke U course) which reflect the skills of the student. Important to realize: the Major Projects can become companies or institutions outside of Peeragogy University. Students learn to inform venture capitalists, government and social profit players about their Major Projects…

A new year, a new edition of the Peeragogy Handbook!

Good news to start the new year: the revised, second edition of the Peeragogy Handbook (“Version 2″) is available now. The Handbook is the world’s first book to present Peeragogy, a synthesis of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work. Itself the result of the techniques it presents, this version features a new Foreword from the internet pioneer and collaboration thinker, Stanford University educator, and founding editor of the Handbook, Howard Rheingold. What is it really about? I’ll let Howard explain it:
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The Peeragogy Handbook project started in January 2012. Howard describes in his Foreword the process:

In the Peeragogy project, we started with a wiki and then we decided that we needed to have a mechanism for people who were self-electing to write articles on the wiki to say, OK, this is ready for editing, and then for an editor to come in and say, this is ready for WordPress, and then for someone to say, this has been moved to WordPress. We used a forum to hash out these issues and met often via Elluminate, which enabled us to all use audio and video, to share screens, to text-chat, and to simultaneously draw on a whiteboard. We tried Piratepad for a while. Eventually we settled on WordPress as our publication platform and moved our most of our discussions to Google+. It was a messy process, learning to work together while deciding what, exactly it was we were doing and how we were going to go about it. In the end we ended up evolving methods and settled on tools that worked pretty well.

It’s a remarkable project, involving volunteers from various continents. They’re working on the third edition now, and if you feel you could help, have a close look on the project and join us. I participated myself for the first edition, unfortunately I lacked time and energy to contribute to this second edition, but I hope I’ll be able to join in again (maybe for a translation in Dutch). Participating in such a project is in itself a very valuable lesson in peeragogy.

A learning & facilitation challenge

A dear friend has an interesting question for me:

A group of about 30 adults want to explore various themes on the intersections between social care, web skills, various other professional occupations and social media. Possible topics are cyberbullying, safety on the web, collaboration practices. These people have various backgrounds, they are no academics, but they participate in the same course in “real world” – they meet on a weekly basis in a physical classroom. The course starts now and they’ll wrap it up at year-end. How can these people, working in groups of about 5 people, learn to put social themes on the agenda and engage in a collaboration to tackle these issues, using social media?

First thoughts I have about this challenge, based on my own learning at Rheingold U:

– Organize the physical classroom for group discussions (put the desks in such a way that the group members can interact in a natural way).

– For the facilitator: maybe it’s unavoidable to give a slide-presentation, but also try to use a mind map to present the project. The mindmap can be digital and online (I like using Mindjet and MindMeister) but one can use PostIts on the wall or blackboard as well (maybe even better, in a physical context). Make it physically interactive! The learners can use the mind mapping techniques later on for their own group discussions.

– Once the groups are formed and topics are decided, give every group member a role. Someone will be in charge of storing relevant links into a social bookmarking service such as Diigo (one can organize a closed or open group in Diigo, so all group members have access to a central place where they can find their stuff). There’s an instructive video on the Diigo homepage.

Another person will be a searcher, and look for relevant links (the facilitator can give tips about using Google or other engines for advanced search).

Yet another participant can look for central concepts and explain them in a document.

Maybe someone will be a mind map master (all participants can collaborate in drawing the map, and one person could make a ‘clean’ version of it later on), and ultimately someone could write a text/post about the session proceedings.

IMPORTANT: as there are a number of sessions, people should switch roles, so ideally everyone in the group would at least once have done the job of bookmarker, searcher, explainer, mind map master or blogger.

I’m not aware about the specific classroom conditions. Do they have wifi, does every participant has her own laptop? Maybe the facilitator will have to be very flexible…

– Where do these people meet outside the classroom? My friend suggested a Facebook group, and even though I’m in general more in favor of Google+, this might be a good idea because the participants are far more familiar with Facebook (also, in Diigo people can leave comments on links and react on those comments).

– How do the participants reach out to others? As they explore web resources, they can try to find interesting experts/authors on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ and ask them questions using those networks. They could use the Facebook-group to keep each other informed about these conversations.

– What is the objective? The objective could be to make a web document about their collaborative work. This could be a text about how to deal with cyberbullying, for instance. The text could be written in a collaborative way on Google Drive and share it (for certain others or publicly). Or it could be a video of course, posted on YouTube or Vimeo. Or it could be a series of pictures, posted with texts, sounds and videos on Tumblr. Or it could be a Pinterest collection.

– Will others react on those documents? Will they succeed in having an online conversation? That’ll be one of the challenges.

Anyway, these are first thoughts… maybe you, dear reader, have suggestions to make, and I’ll ask around in our Google+ Peeragogy in Action community…

 

 

Strange things happen…

I did something strange today. I registered for a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, the Think-Know Tools, you’ll find more about this on the wiki of Rheingold U (I even think you can still register, but hurry up – also, this course is not free).

The strange thing is that I participate in this course for the second time. In fact it’s about the fifth time I participate in one of Howard’s courses, not counting my participation in real life in a master class he gave in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Here you find his keynote he gave on that occasion:
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So, why taking a course for a second time (even taking into account the discount Rheingold U alumni get)? Because, even though it’s important to have a great facilitator such as Howard, the students ultimately learn from each other. New contacts mean new discoveries. And because people change – the questions I have today are different from the questions I had the first time I took this course.

For instance, I read a great article by John Reynols in the Guardian about Google X. One quote from the article:

Teller said he believed that a likely innovation within the next 20 to 30 years will be the creation of “factories for ideas”, virtual factories which will produce “new ideas in every domain”. (RL: Astro Teller is the top executive of Google X)

I’ve no idea what he really means by these “factories for ideas”. Maybe these virtual factories are beyond humans, as they will be populated by intelligent computers? But in my presentation we can make virtual factories for ideas today already, using Think-Know tools helping us to collaborate, to detect crap, to filter information and build knowledge radars. That’s at least something I want to explore in this course.

Are our attention spans becoming longer again?

There has been an eerie silence on this blog for the past weeks. I was immersed in various learning projects. I had to focus for longer times, and this made me switch my attention away from social media streams, unless I could focus on certain topics via Twitter lists for instance.

howard rheingoldSo what is the learning about? I’m still absorbing stuff I learned at the various courses facilitated by Howard Rheingold (there’s a new one coming up about Mind Amplifiers). Also, I attended a real life class featuring Howard in the Netherlands (more about this in a later post, but that’s where I took the picture), where he discussed the major findings of his book Net Smart (which can be considered as a long and deep study of attention practices). In this part of the learning it’s all about forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat and Twitter.

– The other part of my learning is about tools for digital stortytelling and data journalism. I made a good start on Codeacademy, but somehow I need the intervention of real tutors to continue the learning process. So I decided to take courses at the O’Reilly School of Technology. They even deliver certificates for professional developments. I do realize it are not the certificates which are that important, but it’s a kind of an interesting gamification element. The ‘school’ offers a nice interactive coding environment and tutors evaluate the homework and give feedback.

Crucial technologies I want to master: the components of HTML5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), jQuery, and for stuff such as web scraping I need a language such as Python.

Data Journalism is something we’re learning at our media company, and our teacher is Peter Verweij (who was so kind as to include the very basics of using spreadsheets in his program).

– Finally there is a big experiment of helping a newsroom to adapt to the age of never-ending social media streams, community interaction and digital storytelling.

Frankly, all this is pretty exhausting – but at least it forces me to focus for longer periods of time on the same subjects. In this sense it’s immersive – when one is trying to meet some Python course objective, times passes very fast – it’s like playing in some 3D environment.

Is something changing?

These last few years I got the impression we were evolving from longer, immersive experiences to sequences of fast dipping in and out of media streams (status updates, tweets etc). In that context I was not surprised an immersive envrionment such as Second Life was stagnating. It quite simply takes too much time and our attention spans were getting too short for this.

But think again. Maybe we once again want something more. People start complaining about the ‘Facebook-experience’. They start reading books such as Net Smart or meditate about mindfulness. But there’s also something going on at the technology-side of things.

Philip Rosedale, Chairman of Linden LabPhilip Rosedale (archive picture), the founding father of Second Life, has a new company, High Fidelity, to create a new kind of virtual reality platform. True Ventures invested in the company. It’s about a new virtual world enabling rich avatar interactions driven by sensor-equipped hardware, simulated and served by devices (phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) contributed by end-users. Virtual worlds watcher Wagner James Au on New World Notes says that Rosedale is not alone: others are working hard to create new virtual reality platforms: “Overall, this feels like a real trend, made possible by continued leaps in computer power, especially related to 3D graphics, and their continued drop in price.”

But maybe this new trend is also driven by the need of balancing the short attention bursts by longer periods of mindful attention…

Read also: 

True Ventures about the investment in High Fidelity.