A conversation with Ben Werdmüller

I watched a video today for our eLearning 3.0 class – an interview between Stephen Downes (course facilitator) and Ben Werdmüller, cofounder of ELGG and Known.

This was an interesting conversation for myself because I am very interested in the Indie Web and wrestling what we can of the internet away from the corporations. In the spirit of this, I went with Reclaim Hosting (Hippie Hosting back in the day) to host my website, geoffcain.com, and I am also using WordPress. I would like to build out something here to help my family migrate into a post-Facebook world and get control back of their data. And by data, I mean their identities, stories, photos, etc. past, present, and future. I loved a few of the reasons Ben gave for the creation of the distributed web:

  • Ownership
  • Control
  • Audience
  • Career

These are all the reasons I am in this space. I want to own my data and identity, control my own data and internet space, develop my audience based on something besides ad revenue, and promote my professional life. I would also add how important privacy is now. I think it is obvious to everyone now that Zuckerberg and company are not our friends.

I find it hysterical when people freak out about the “dark web,” distributed web, or IPFS because criminals are using it. I think the internet now is a criminal enterprise with people buying and selling our privacy and our politics.

I like the attention to ethics that seems to be happening in this course. I think it helps that Downes has a background in philosophy. That is one of the biggest problems in tech (and many other sectors in our society) is that over-specialization leaves out ethics and thinking about the long-term consequences (and unintended consequences) of the choices that we make when building internet tools and platforms.

I found this video very inspirational and I am looking forward to learning more about distributed web spaces and how we can use them not only for education but to get my family to create our own social network!


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Some Thoughts on OER-Enabled Pedagogy

“It is the essence of certainty to be established only with reservations.”  
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Definitions matter. In the September issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning vol. 19, no. 4, David Wiley and John Hilton published a paper “Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy.” As a humble practitioner of education, I do not find the term or the definition useful or accurate. It is a narrow definition that only further commodifies education.

The term “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” is not useful because we already have a term “open pedagogy.” For myself, it is not a vague term. There are years of research on open pedagogy. Yes, the term is used in many ways but so is the word “open” and the word “pedagogy.” As discussed in the Open Pedagogy Notebook ““Open Pedagogy” as a named approach to teaching is nothing new. Scholars such as Catherine Cronin, Katy Jordan, Vivien Rolfe,  and Tannis Morgan have traced the term back to early etymologies. Morgan cites a 1979 article by the Canadian Claude Paquette: “Paquette outlines three sets of foundational values of Open Pedagogy, namely: autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.” I think it is important that the term “Open Pedagogy’ remains broad because it can then account for a wide variety of practices. David Wiley himself has contributed significantly to the discussion of Open Pedagogy in the past – I particularly appreciate his discussions contra the “disposable assignment.”

OER-Enabled Pedagogy implies that there is a “Commercial Textbook-Enabled Pedagogy” and no matter what Cengage or any other publisher tells you, there is no such thing. A textbook is not a course. Education, real education, is not a commodity. The term “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” focuses on the object: “OER,” not teaching and learning, which is pedagogy. There are OER-enabled practices, just as there are face-to-face classroom practices or online teaching practices. Of course, my definition of teaching or learning has a lot in common with Grotowski’s definition of theater in “Towards a Theater of the Poor”: theater starts with two people in chairs facing one another; everything else is window dressing. Basically theater occurs where ever two or more are gathered. Things like sets in the end are extraneous. Theatre, like the teaching and learning process, is a series of choices about authenticity, communication, and expression.

I can practice Open Education without an OER and without discussing permissions. There are many educational practices that do not rely on copyright or OER, and yet, I would define them as part of Open Pedagogy. This is why I say the definition is too narrow. My students and I have a discussion about the impact of tariffs, they go out and scour the newspapers and journals and come back with their thoughts and reactions. They then write letters to congressmen. They do something about what they are thinking about. I am oversimplifying my assignments but I long ago learned that if you want to keep the curriculum fresh, don’t rely on a two to five year old textbook to keep your students abreast of what is happening in the world. Why would I limit my definition of Open Pedagogy to how I relate to a commodity or an object? I would be happy to discuss how OER can enable my teaching practices but OER is not a pedagogy, not even the permissions that OER allows is a pedagogy. Someone can use OER, realize the full potential of the permissions in their course, and still serve up a bad course.

One of the ironies of this is that I participated in a MOOC that had as one of its outcomes to come up with some examples of student work that was enabled by OER in order to come up with a definition of OER-Enabled Pedagogy. Even back then I was not really impressed with the idea because the work did not include discussions of engagement or interactivity, which from research in online teaching and learning, we know are some of the factors in student success in face-to-face or online learning. It is funny that the world of instructional design and OER is so small that I might have contributed in a tiny way to this.  

The fact that “Open Pedagogy” has a complicated and multifarious definition and a past is a good thing. It means that as educators we are on to something. The defining and redefining hone the thoughts about what Open Pedagogy is or could be. That is what academics are supposed to do. I don’t object to neologisms per se or “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” itself – I just find it odd when someone has to invent a word to describe something that people have already been doing while using a term that seemed adequate to describe the practice: “Open Pedagogy.”

I don’t see how this term actually clarifies anything. If you see it in any other way than an attempt to further control the narrative around OER and rewrite history, or if you feel that education should be transformative and not a transaction, please feel free to comment below. 

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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks

Image of the cover of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks

The Rebus Community has come out with their guide to publishing OER called “The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (so far).” I like the model of the Rebus Community: they are a foundation which means their survival as a business does not depend on the adoption of their methods, platforms, etc. ( or whatever currently passes for “sustainability”). Also, as a foundation, their work won’t be sold to another corporation who will inevitably engage in further “open washing.” I especially appreciate their notes about contributors and participants in open textbook projects: 

“In our experience, teams around open textbook or OER projects often also include:

  • Project leaders
  • Contributors at all scales, be it a person writing five chapters, or someone proofreading just one
  • Students (graduate and undergraduate)
  • Advisors or some form of wise counsel
  • OER champions or advocates
  • Institutional supporters, such as instructional designers, OER librarians, CLT staff, etc.
  • Interested observers
  • Potential adopters
  • Community members”

You can read more about this great work from their press release“The Guide represents an important moment in the evolution of the Rebus Community, a culmination of two years of great, collaborative work. Moving forward, it will serve as a living repository of collective knowledge, equipping those who want to publish open textbooks with the resources they need. Just as the forum and Projects platform provide the tools that can make the community more self-sustaining, the Guide will help build long-term capacity. In turn, we can dedicate more time to refining and extending this infrastructure, and enabling more project teams, anywhere in the world, to create and share OER.”

This is a truly sustainable model: make OER part of the academic practice of the institution. Definitely worth a look for your post-Halloween reading!

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Week 0.5 – eLearning 3.0

I just finished watching Stephen Downes’ talk on Web3 technologies and their implications for learning. I am very interested in what Stephen had to say about technologies being used to build consensus and decision making. I think a shared, distributed web can facilitate that. We will need to do more I think than just “build it and they will come.” I know that Stephen knows this – he had enough in this one presentation to spark a dozen other presentations which is what this post is. I am hoping that new technologies will help change how we think of teaching and learning as well as problem-solving and decision making. 

I am teaching Social Studies for Adult Basic Education at Green River College here in Washington. My previous work in teaching English composition had me assigning a lot of position papers and debate type assignments – very traditional stuff. In this political climate, I am not interested in that, and the more I look at how we worked before in English departments the more I see that it is a part of the problem. Most of those kinds of assignments (writing papers on gun control, the death penalty, etc.) seem to promote a binary view of problems: one can be right or wrong. I wanted to move away from that and there are ways of thinking and learning that go beyond that, the Toulmin Method for instance focuses on whether an argument is warranted or not – what support is there for the argument that can be a helpful stepping stone away from arguments solely driven by person beliefs. I was still unsatisfied with this, but then I started reading about deliberation versus debate.

Values and Public Policy is a good example of this. They are a great resource for curricula that starts with the news and current events. I start the students off talking about values and Maslow’s hierarchy. We then talk about world problems attempting to get to the bottom of why people are making the decisions they are making and where could we help discover common ground. We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between deliberation and debate. 

Lets connect!

Basically what I am looking for in this class is to figure out how these new technologies are going to change the way we think about teaching and learning or how they will shape future pedagogy. How do you think Web 3.0 will change the way we teach? I have already seen a lot happen with open pedagogy. So if any instructional designer or teacher would like to connect sometime on this topic, let me know – maybe we can set up a Google Hangout.

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Week 0: Seimens and Downes on AI

It was good to see Stephen Downes and George Siemens sitting down together and talking again for our Education 3.0 MOOC. It felt just like old times (CCK08, CCK11, etc.). I can’t really say what they do for one another exactly, they seem to play off one another well – but listening to them together has always brought about great moments of catalyst. I read something in Quintilian the other day that seemed to capture something of the experience for me: “…learning does take something away – as a file takes something from a rough surface, or a whetstone from a blunt edge, or age from wine – but it takes away faults, and the work that has been polished by literary skills is diminished only in so far as it is improved.” Both of them have challenged me. Their ideas have asked me to sharpen my own and to refine my own thinking about knowledge, pedagogy, learning and thinking. Their recent discussion on AI was no exception.

Image of a brain with a digital half and a fluid half
Does knowledge need a knower?

I have been thinking about AI almost all of my life. Back in the late 80’s I was at Berkeley as an undergrad and took Hubert Dreyfus’ class on Existentialism. It was a profound experience. I did not like the course delivery at all but Dreyfus’ lectures had me on the edge of my seat and everything we did in the class felt immediate and very personal. For myself, that is the nature of exploring philosophy. I find nothing abstract about it at all. There are abstract philosophers and philosophies but I have never had much time for them. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and, later, Wittgenstein and semiotics; all had a deeper resonance with my experience than formalistic philosophers. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, at least what I know of them through Gia-fu Feng’s translations, are also at the core of my experience. I would say “thinking” here but I have to admit – I am not really an academic by profession, at least by any traditional definition of the term. My “experience” includes thinking but it also includes what I do, how I engage with others and the world, and my creative expression of that whether it is writing, drawing, making music, having a damn good conversation over a coffee, or implementing shenanigans on the internet.

In the course of hanging out at Berkeley, I also managed to read some of Dreyfus’ work on computers and Artificial Intelligence. I found the work profound – profoundly annoying. My take-away from his positions were that one is not intelligent unless one is “embodied.” Computers are not embodied; therefore, they can’t be intelligent. I agree with a many of his premises – I consider myself an AI skeptic: the mind is not a machine with a series of on/off switches; intelligence is not a set of formal rules; all knowledge cannot be formalized. I don’t think that what we call thinking, knowledge, or knowing can be contained in a formal set of rules or an algorithm. But later, Dreyfus went on to attempt to apply this thinking to online learning. Online learning, according to Dreyfus, is an oxymoron because learning requires “embodiment” and the physical presence of a “master” (fully tenured).  

We can avoid a lot of philosophical hand-wringing by all of us admitting that essentially we do not know what human thought is much less have a good working definition of intelligence that would allow us to replicate it.

Before I ran into the ideas around Connectivism, I described my understanding of pedagogy as Constructivist rather than Behaviorist. Connectivism, in the end, is going to account for more of what is happening in the world than just about any other approach, but Constructivism was a part of just about every education program I have been a part of – that doesn’t make it “right” but it informs a lot of work including my own: Constructivism says that all knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions not the neutral discovery of an objective truth. At the heart of my problems with Behaviorist thought and pedagogy is Objectivism. Objectivism is concerned with the “object of our knowledge,” while constructivism emphasizes how we construct knowledge. Constructivism proposes definitions for knowledge and truth based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity we find in behaviorist approaches. Constructivism is based on viability instead of “The Truth.”  Where I politely disagree with Constructivism is in its belief (and that is what it is) in objectivity—that constructs that can be validated through experimentation. And here is where I see Connectivism to be the evolution of thinking about Constructivism – the compilation process of knowledge is more important than the knowledge – or at least as important. The “human-made constructions” rely on our connections with others, with ideas experience, and knowledge in other networks. There are some ideas within Connectivism that I find troubling or at least annoying: “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” for instance. For myself, information resides in non-human appliances but learning is a kind of knowledge and knowledge requires a knower. But that is just me.

So what is AI then? AI like most tools are extensions of human abilities. It can be a very good extension. A computer can beat a human at chess because, unlike the human mind, chess is a set of rules and algorithms. I have yet to meet a computer that wanted to play chess. I have yet to meet a computer that invented an interesting game. This is something that AI should be able to do because after all, a game is just a set of rules and algorithms. When a grandmaster plays chess it is interesting. The grandmaster is not just drawing on experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of chess openings, but is fighting emotions, memories, distractions, pressure, and history. That is interesting. To say that a computer can play chess is a bit of an absurdity. It is even more absurd to claim that it is therefore an advance in artificial intelligence – it is an advance in accessing and processing data, nothing more. That is a good thing – processing data in new and powerful ways can help us do things. George pointed out that the computer is better at diagnosing some cancers than a doctor  – we want this. This doesn’t mean someone should quit medicine. We need doctors to help define the challenges we want our tools to solve.

We have a lot to learn from the field of AI. There are going to be great advances in many fields, including education, from this work. I welcome that. But we risk something when we call AI “intelligence” – we risk having someone in authority say “well, the computer knows best, after all, who am I to argue with a super-intelligence that can calculate 200 petaflops per second and has access to all the world’s data? I guess we push the button after all.” My fear is that our faith, and that is what it is, that AI is intelligence rather than a tool, an extension of the human, absolves us from making ethical decisions that computers are incapable of making.

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Week 1: Data – Web 3.0

Yet Analytics LogoThis is a brief note on what I watched today in our MOOC, eLearning 3.0. This week we are addressing two conceptual challenges: “first, the shift in our understanding of content from documents to data; and second, the shift in our understanding of data from centralized to decentralized.” To that end, we not quite entirely begin our course with Shelly Blake-Plock, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Yet Analytics in conversation with Stephen Downes. Yet Analytics says it will allow you to “Visualize all your learning and performance data in real time with the Yet xAPI LRS [Learning Record Store]. Use the analytics dashboard to measure learning activity, resource use, and engagement showing the impact of your learning investment, evaluate the effectiveness of learning resources, and connect your learning initiatives directly to performance outcomes.”

I am still figuring most of this out – I think it is important that we talk early and often about privacy and ethics as this business kicks into high gear. It does seem something that Learning Analytics companies are doing (that is until one of them doesn’t). Just weeks after Zuckerberg sold our country out the Russians, he announced that he had some privacy education initiatives he was going to roll out.

Great question from @MCorbettWilson: “Any philosophers or ethicists involved in the #IEEE xAPI report? What were the demographics of the group creating the report?” #el30

Vahid Masrour @vahidm “The conversation with @BlakePlock indicates that educators and education admins will have to become increasingly familiar with #datagovernance and #privacy.”

A copy of the report is here with a list of the contributors: https://www.tagxapi.org/ieee-technical-report/

“Immutable data” somewhat like Blockchain.

I will have more to write about this over the week-end. It is ironic that I just presented on some of my privacy concerns here on this blog while I was at the NW eLearning Conference.

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Digital Citizenship

This presentation attempts to discuss “Traditional” digital citizenship which I feel needs to include more about data security and ownership. Digital Citizenship should be more than just knowledge of the rules but should include an introduction to tools that will help students protect their data and privacy, and promote student agency (sharing, publishing, and creating).

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NW eLearn Concept Map Presentation

This was the presentation for the NW eLearning Conference.: “Class assignments that utilize concept maps are an opportunity for instructors to provide high level, interactive assignments that take full advantage of their students’ visual intelligence. This workshop will explore the relationship of visual thinking and concept maps through historical and modern examples. The history of concept maps will be explored with demonstrations of the simplest to the latest technology including dynamic, online collaborative
concept maps. A range of concept mapping technologies will be demonstrated, from paper and pencil to the latest online tools.” It was such a pleasure to present here at this conference. The folks that came had good questions and were there to share! I respect and appreciate the scientifically, researched based examinations of this topic but this if from the perspective of a student of the humanities who sees the roots of concept maps in our earliest visual expressions and interactions with the world.

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Technology and Ethics

Ethics should be a part of any curriculum.
Ethics should be a part of any curriculum.

As educators, administrators, and consultants, we have ethical responsibilities. I have watched with some alarm at all the technology and software that comes out of universities and other institutions that have no consideration for privacy, accessibility, sustainability, or basic security. Consider Facebook: they have no idea how secure or insecure their platform is; they are less than transparent about what happens with our data, and yet, Facebook is going to somehow transform education. Some of the worst ethical conundrums I have seen come out of data analytics programs and edu start-ups where the programmers are so anxious to get something to market that they forget basic ethical standards (think FERPA). Fast-tracking projects, ala the typical start-up, does not leave a lot of room for taking a deep-dive ethical analysis into what the possible consequences are to a given technology. I have seen that myself, first hand, in my work with others on an education AI project. There are education apps that track student behavior and locations. Really basic questions around education technology go unasked: How is student data being gathered and how is it stored? How much control do the students have over their own data? Is the data sold? Who else has access to the data? How long is the data held? What over-sight is in place to protect the data?

Casey Fiesler recently posted an interesting spread sheet on colleges that are offering ethics to their tech folk. It is a collection of syllabi from over 50 courses across a number of colleges. But it is not enough to have these courses available – some states require doctors and lawyers to take ethics courses. The stakes are too high to not require the same from all STEM fields. 

I have been working on a “digital citizenship” curriculum this last quarter that will include discussions of tech ethics. Students need to not just have control over their data, they need to be made aware of how corporations and institutions use their data, and how they should be help accountable. 

If your tech programs have a required ethics course, I would love to hear about it in the comments below or feel free to email me a link.

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White Privilege: Getting in on the Conversations

These are my notes for the morning workshop on Weds., July 24 at the Guided Pathways: Designing for Equity – Rendezvous 2018 conference with Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Nicole Rios-Gunn.

White Privilege 101: Getting in on the Conversations
From the schedule: Participants will engage in activities, large and small group discussions and goal setting activities to enhance their understanding of white privilege and how they can work to dismantle it in their institution. 

This is the catalyst – why he keeps reiterating that there has to be some kind of written plan. We would have a plan for debt, why can’t we have a plan for the equality deficit.  Everyone has work to do. Do your “doggone work.” Good people do jacked up stuff all the time. It is not enough to be a good person – we have to address the structure of our institutions. Our institutions are designed to reproduce inequality. The first 50 years of our institutions shaped how those institutions worked. You can’t change a structure if you do not understand its design.

We The People Exercise
We are looking at the community college as if it were America. We start with a mission/vision. All organizations have a starting point. We then measure it over time – is it doing what it said it would do? He then polled the room about how much we have met the goals of the constitution. Sometimes we have to conceal how we really feel in our institutions. He asked us to give a percentage about how we are doing with the mission.

Skills: Understanding, respecting, connecting

Can we constructively be in disagreement?

I thought we were at 50%, I used the fact that we no longer hang Quakers, but most in the room had the perspective that if there is one person in America being oppressed that we are at 0%. Dr. Moore said that we should not be rewarded for doing the things we should do. My question is “Where did your expectations of what we SHOULD be doing come from?”

We could put some of this online as workshops.

White supremacy dominates the culture and perpetuates inequality.
We are talking about diversity but we are producing white supremacy gaps. Our behaviors produce white supremacy even if we do not identify ourselves as white supremacists.

We saw the video “The way you see the world.”  When white people saw a white teen stealing a bike they did not call the police. When they saw a black teen taking the bike, they confronted the teen and called the police.

How does white supremacy and white male cultural dominance impact our:

  • Behavior and attitudes
  • Social Spaces/Places
  • Learning/Teaching/Parenting/ Coaching Style
  • Leadership Style
  • Decision Making
  • Emotional Responses
  • Relationships/Friendships
  • Awareness & Access
  • Providing Services/Overall Care

If we are stuck in traffic, we can: change our route, stop and think, go somewhere else.

This is not knowledge for the sake of knowledge but knowledge for the sake of action.

Action Planning…

White Supremacy/Whiteness in our Orgs, Univ, and or/Communities:


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