Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why I am an Open Educator – it’s because you all matter!

Why I am an Open Educator

After teaching online courses to Chinese students, from Calgary, AB Canada – it soon became apparent to me that the “content” in my course was not going to get me new students. The fact that all of my course content was getting copied was not lost on me. It just took me awhile to realize that how I taught and the relationships that I built with the students, was going to get me more students the next year. Copyright was non-existent.

I had an amazing moodle course for online students in China. However, due to the way it was created I was unable to edit, or “tinker” with the course in anyway. The course was designed for students to complete at their own time in their way. However – it was a language course – and I believe that to learn a language, you have to talk, clarify and connect with other human beings in some way. So even though I had an amazing moodle course, I created an Edmodo course in order to communicate with my students and create a digital community . I created a schedule where they knew we would meet in a virtual room each week and chat in a group. I created videos and posted them in Edmodo to explain what we were going to learn each week, because the Flipped learning trend seemed to be a great idea. And it worked. The students connected and engaged, met with me online and learned a new language. Special thanks to Corrie Macdonald, Shannon Poulsen, Jamie Wright and Dean Coder for collaborating with me to create an awesome interactive online program.

At the end of the school year, I was “forced” to consider competency based rubric style assessment when some of my students missed parts of an exam. Competency based assessment “made” me look at the course outcomes and clearly identify what my students were able to demonstrate and what they had yet to master. Another paradigm shift – you can focus on mastery of learning over exams and standardized tests? It’s possible?

Working for a “business” rather than an educational institution also encouraged me to look for alternative, cheap or free options for professional development. Classroom 2.0 under the guidance of Steve Hargadon offers free weekly PD for educators. Steve also facilitates online conferences and I presented my first conference presentation online as a result of Steve – through Learning 2.0. As a result of Classroom 2.0, I learned about EdCamps and ConnectedCA.  I will never forget the hard work of Erin Coulliard and Neil Stephenson, oh and George Couros’ voice insisting that we use twitter. It was at the ConnectedCA conference, and through George’s consistent nagging that I thought I had better “try” this twitter thing – I mean really look at what he means – and I have never been the same. I also met Valerie Irvine and countless other twitter greats like Brian Harrison and Rodd Lucier and I began to see that there were others like me “out there” who spoke my language.

While looking for alternative online programs for China, I discovered MOOCs and joined #change11 late in the game. I was fascinated at the anti-hierarchy, encouragement of chaos and connecting with others to form networks of learners. This “open” environment encouraged everyone and anyone to connect, engage and learn.  Through the help of Alec Couros and Steve Hargadon, I worked on creating #Digifoot12. A “mini-MOOC” designed for k12 Educators and their kids. While #digifoot12 soon became more of course for educators, it opened my eyes to alternative forms of online learning. I was not an expert in MOOCs or open learning, but because I took the risk to create an opportunity to learn in a different way, I learned more than I have ever learned in my life through others. The course helped me develop a PLN of dedicated online colleagues who are all tirelessly working to create new opportunities for learners around the world. I only”personally” knew one of the facilitators for #Digifoot12, Tracy Poelzer.  The other facilitators, Kim Gill, Scott Monahan, #stuvoice, David Preston, his students Ian and Trevor, Imtiaz Maheed and Bill Belsey – were all people I met through twitter or the “new” unconferences like ConnectedCa. Through #Digifoot12 I also created a PLN made up of educators who stepped up to help others including David Truss, Peggy George, Paula Naugle, Sue Wyatt, Jose Alvarez Cornett and many others, this is the #Digifoot12 twitter list

In July I participated in the k12 online summit for leaders in online learning – and I was offered a job working with ADLC to create MOOCs for k12.  We switched from the name MOOCs to “Open Classrooms” – and  soon created the TheOC@ADLC. I completed my summer by participating in #moocmooc which was a “MOOC” about MOOCs. For the first time I realized that MOOCS are just a name for an opportunity to learn. The #moocmooc community is still important to me today, and the PLN that I developed through the course and subsequent google hangout #moocmoocbars has pushed me to think about open learning in a million different ways. A big thanks to Pete Rorabough and Jess Stommel

Another amazing educator, Karen Fasimpaur contacted me about an article she was writing so i could add some k12 MOOC content. I asked her what k12 conferences she would attend if she could go to anything she wanted. She said that her biggest learning was not a conference, but sending in proposals to present then preparing, presenting and engaging in conversation with others. It is the ability to connect with others and express your ideas and learn with others that really offers her the most professional development.

So, I set my sights on pushing my comfort levels and “presenting” about breaking down classroom walls through open learning. With the support of my Research and Innovation Team from ADLC, I sent proposals all over the place. After attending and “pitching” The OC@ADLC to the Beyond Content Conference in Vancouver, David Wiley came over and said that I was his hero. David Wiley is known to have done some incredible work in OER (Open Educational Resources) CC (Creative Content) and alternative forms of education to offer the opportunities to the masses. His comment meant the world to me.

What I think he meant by his comment though -was that open learning was finally getting through to the soccer moms, and the regular “folk”. If I was able to create a course and have people participate, then others could do the same. The opportunities are endless – and I validated all the hard work he had been doing to get through to the “average” person.  At #Beyond Content I also met Audrey Watters author of the hackededucation blog. Although intimidating online, she is really very kind, passionate and full of common sense. Connecting with “online superstars” and realizing that they are humans too is a HUGE part of open learning.

After Beyond Content, I presented at a few other conferences and each time I presented – I began to really understand what OER and the impact of open learning could be.  I have also taken more open courses through BC Open Campus on “badges” as an alternative form of assessment and “Open Content Licensing 4 Educators” through wiki educators and UNESCO. The combination of conferences and open online learning opportunities have pushed my learning to new heights.

Developing and creating #BEFA12 in November, an open course for high school students, was a highlight to my year because the ideas that had been percolating in my head actually came through. The students naturally “connected, collaborated and created” new learning together. I am looking forward to Version 2 in 2013. It proved that open learning is possible and doable in k12 learning environments.

When I received a twitter Christmas ornament from @mrnichol – it made this whole year – real! The learning wasn’t all in my mind…it really happened! This learning is about human beings, connections and relationships.

So – as I work on creating questions for a social media strategy for ADLC, I think back to my year and reflect on how being a teacher is an amazing job. Technology offers opportunities that I couldn’t have ever imagined and sharing my love of learning with others is my passion.

So – why am I an open educator? Because I am a lifelong learner and nothing has offered me more opportunities than sharing with others and learning from and with others. That is what open learning is all about. Oh – and finally accepting that if you are doing more “work” than your students, you are doing something wrong- Great advice from my friend Lynn Somers. Being a guide on the side, means following and learning with others. Equal effort and a collaborative effort. That’s what open learning is truly about…

Have a great 2013 and after learning more than I have ever learned since April 2012 – I don’t know what 2013 will offer. But if you take anything from this post realize that you all make a difference, people are listening and as Angela Maiers says, #youmatter. So thank you to my PLN for making such a difference in my life. Being an open educator means being open to opportunities in education and always innovating and pushing for new alternatives for learning. Ultimately, it is about being open to being vulnerable, accepting that we are all human, we all make mistakes – but we all want to learn. If I can help others learn – then this is where I want to be – in the open.

What about you – where do you want to learn in 2013?

Moocifying High School Learning Environments


MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses and have been called the Innovative Disruption and Top Tech Trend of the year. (Watters, 2012) The primary reason behind the “disruption” is the break in the traditional hierarchal system of Higher Educational Institutions.  Instead of offering elite education to a selected few, education is being offered to the masses.  By offering “open” online courses by professors from around the world, any learner can learn from and with the “elite”.  The MOOC model is student focused, in that it offers a cost effective solution to education.  However, MOOCs have been offered in Higher Education.  This paper will focus on the best practices of MOOCs and the opportunity to take these best practices into a K12 learning environment.
MOOC Barriers

Hill (2012) wrote about Four Barriers That MOOCs Must Overcome To Build a Sustainable Model.  These include: revenue models; credentialing badges or accreditation; course completion rate; and, student authentication.  In K12, if MOOC like options were integrated into learning environments they would be economically viable because they are a part of a course and students would be awarded credit. The high school student completion rate could be examined for statistical change and the authentication issues will still need to be examined.

MOOCs: equality of learning and opportunities for all
Educational MOOC advocates suggest that the MOOC debate is not about the money or instructional design, it is about the importance of the equality of learning for all.

“That’s because the fight over MOOCs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it’s for, how it’s delivered, who delivers it….MOOCs simply ignore a lot of those questions. The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system…” (Shirky, 2012)

Types of MOOCs

The focus away from the “teacher” or professor as the expert in every part of a student’s learning is perhaps the biggest disruption to Higher Education.  Once the “MOOC” success was proven by Stanford’s AI Course in 2011, there has been a strong desire to try and define MOOCs.  Although they have been defined into three groups, “Network Based, Task -Based and Content Based” (Stevens, 2012) and “Connectivist, Entrepreneurial/Organizational and Special Interest” (Venable, 2012) the most common differentiation is; cMOOCs and xMOOCs.  cMOOCs are connectivist MOOCs based on the connectivist theory created by George Siemens and Steven Downes as opposed to xMOOCs which include all the other MOOC providers including Udacity, Coursera, EdX, Udemy).  As Siemens suggests, “Cousera, EdX – formal (traditional) course structure and flow, whereas in DS106, EC1831/CCK – Content as starting point, learners expected to create/extend” (2012) Connectivism is founded on the principles of social networked learning and encourage students to be autonomous learners by finding the learning for themselves through human and digital networks known as “nodes” of learning.  (Siemens, 2010).  cMOOCs have minimal content and are designed to initiate students to create their own content and ideas based on the course topics. As such, cMOOCs promote Bloom’s Higher Level of Taxonomy (2001 version) based on teacher learning objectives.


Retrieved from


xMOOCs promote creativity, analyzing and evaluation and alternatively cMOOCs offer remembering and understanding.  Both types of MOOCs offer application of knowledge. The debate seems to stem over the choice of learning objectives and the focus on teacher directed content and videos, versus student created content and autonomous learning.  This debate can also be compared to arguments in K12 learning environments over standardized tests and testing based on content as opposed to encouraging creative, innovative thinkers.
Research on MOOCs

Most recently, there has been a focus on researching MOOCs. MOOCs are being defined as “Direct-To-Student” education by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. (Eaton, 2012)  When considering accreditation and quality control, Eaton suggests that the “Traditional” Higher Education lens is not the one that should be used. She considers facilitator considerations, rethinking the expectations of teaching and learning, alternative approaches to teaching and alternative evaluation of learning.  In the summary, she states that, “MOOCs offer an unusual direct-to-student opportunity for expansion of learning, apart from the traditional structure of programs and degrees.  Whether ultimately apart from or connected to the environment of currently accepted teaching and learning, judgment about quality will be essential.”  The changes to terms of accreditation give some validity to MOOCs.  Like Eaton, bloggers like Graham Atwell (2012) agree with the unique attributes to online learning that MOOCs offer all learners. MOOC characteristics were documented by DeWaard et al in the journal article, “Using mLearning and MOOCs to Understand Chaos, Emergence, and Complexity in Education” (2011) The journal article suggests that MOOCs are “self-organizing, connected and open” which led to emerging phenomena like, “ internal diversity, internal redundancy, neighbour interactions and decentralized control”. Overall, the research and qualitative MOOC feedback is suggesting that MOOCs offer alternatives to learning, assessment, instructional design and student focused approach to learning. These are all characteristics that can be implemented in K12 learning environments as well.

K12 Innovative Disruption

The K12 educational environment is also open to disruptive innovation and there are best practices that could be used in cMOOC opportunities.  For example, Ken Robinson advocates for creativity in schools, Mimi Ito and danah boyd suggest looking to the social media learning already transparent among teens today, Will Richardson questions assessment strategies specifically standardized tests, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach promotes connected educators and Tony Wagner supports looking to outside networks and industry to support innovative learning opportunities.  Like xMOOCs, these K12 educational change leaders promote rethinking the instructional design and criticize the system for promoting mediocre over innovation.  Specifically, these educational disruptors offer alternatives for creativity in schools, peeragogy digital literacy, networking, connected learning, competency based assessment, bridging industry into education and promoting the knowledge economy.

Open Learning

To understand how to integrate best practices of MOOCs in K12, it needs to be clear that MOOCs are one form of open learning from within the open movement.  The open movement is based on the open source success and Linux creation. Programmers proved that creativity and innovation was a result of collaborating, remixing and building on ideas and codes already created, international often in synchronous projects.  This idea that more meaningful and more useful learning could be created “together” is the foundation of the open learning movement.  Open learning is focused on four guiding principles Redistribute, Remix, Revise, Reuse. (David Wiley, 2009) These principles encourage the use of open educational resources (OER) and reinforce the open content movement.  Alternatively, Don Tapscott (2012) highlights collaboration, transparency, sharing and empowerment as the principles for the open world.  The Wiley and Tapscott integrate a foundation for open opportunities and alternative learning potential.

Open Learning has been apparent in the rise of the Khan Academy and its videos based on educational content.  However, the Khan Academy has been criticized for not considering the pedagogy or “teaching” in its mandate and the same can be said of many MOOCs (especially xMOOCs).  The “free” content that can be altered copied and changed is called OER. Open Educational Resources (OER) can offer deeper and more meaningful learning opportunities because they encourage change and editing., However, it is the open pedagogy that can offer the way to MOOCify K12 learning environments.

As stated above, MOOCs are one aspect of the open learning movement.  In my opinion, there are three branches of open learning – open leadership, OER (open educational resources) and open pedagogy. This is a chart that describes the characteristics of open learning and the three open branches based on research on open learning.

Within open pedagogy, there are four different open learning options in current practice:

Option 1: “xMOOClike” option which is based on the work of Siemens, Downes and Cormier.  Offer massive open online course focused on connectivism, networking and interaction and collaboration among networks which would be synchronous and cohort based.

 Option 2: Closed “course” for credit through an institution with open content and open connections and networks which is based on work of Alec Couros (EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education.) and the  Kaleidoscope Project which  is synchronous and in a cohort.

 Option 3: Open content in an open platform for autonomous learners which is based on the work of Alan Levine (#DS106) and would be asynchronous and autonomous.

Option 4:  Open content in a closed online course which is based on the work of David Christian and similar to Flat Classrooms which can be asynchronous or synchronous and is cohort based.

Framework of Teaching and Learning in a cMOOC

There are a variety of suggestions on how to integrate MOOC like and open learning ideas into learning institutions.  Beginner learners in MOOCs and open learning need scaffolding and some kind of platform to start from.  As David Cormier commented (based on Verhagen, 2006), “Connectivism is a Theory of Knowledge and not a Theory of Instruction”. He was alluding to the fact that “connectivism” is a construct to see learning not an instructional design model. However,   Cormier has also suggested strategies for learners to succeed in MOOCs, “ 1) Orient  2) Declare 3) Network 4) Cluster 5) Focus”. (Creelman, 2012).  According to Siemens (2012), these are the instructional principles to MOOCs:

  1. Aggregation. The whole point of a connectivist MOOC is to provide a starting point for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.
  2. The second principle is remixing, that is, associating materials created within the course with each other and with materials elsewhere.
  3. Re-purposing of aggregated and remixed materials to suit the goals of each participant.
  4. Feeding forward, sharing of re-purposed ideas and content with other participants and the rest of the world.

Moocifying K12 Learning Environments

In order to “moocify” learning environments in K12, there must be a desire to develop relationships among learners, develop a learning community and encourage the empowerment of autonomous learners. Garrison et al (2000) suggest that there are elements of to create a learning community.  Open learning opportunities are a way to integrate technologies into face to face and online learning environments – a way to promote the idea that “learning is learning” regardless of “where” and “how” it is done.


Garrison et al (2000)

Connected Learning and Digital Humanism:

Beginner learners in MOOCs and open learning need scaffolding and some kind of platform to start from in order to learn how to build relationships and learning communities.  For example, Lucier, Branigan-Pope and Tolisano (2012) suggest the Seven Degrees of Connectedness:

Retrieved from:

In the introduction to any open online course, learners are introduced to the “stages” in order to ensure that they aware of the relationships being formed in online learning.  Connectivist learning is about “finding” the nodes of learning and the nodes are found through media which include digital and human interactions.  The stages foster the idea that to connect and learn, we use tools to connect with other humans and interact with digital content created by humans.  The importance of human interaction and engagement create authentic learning experiences.  Digital humanists suggest:

 The computer has value only as it enhances that which makes us human.  Most likely this is our ability to learn, or rather to learn how to learn ­ the knack to order, manage and reconfigure that which we know.  Our humanity lies in our ability to transmit from one another, allowing others to gain access to successful formulations and articulations that further our notion of being. (Traub and Lipkin, 2001)

Future Considerations:

By integrating the foundations of connectivism, defining the different types of MOOCs , analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs, investigating MOOCs as one aspect of Open Learning and considering open learning research in K12 and adding in personal experience as a MOOC learner and facilitator, I have taken the experiences and research and combined some alternatives for MOOC integration for High School students.  From personal experience as a MOOC learner and facilitator, I have noticed strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas.  Based on my experiences, these are the characteristics to create a basic framework for any open online course in K12:

Characteristics for Open Learning in K12

    • Stages of Learning
    • Scaffolding
    • Open Access
    • Collaboration
    • Open Platforms
    • Social Media Integration
    • Transparent Communication
    • Credit to Sources
    • Feedback Loop
    • Facilitators are Approachable
    • Focus on learning for all
    • (Interdisciplinary, Intergenerational, International)

Another essential aspect of integrating MOOCs into K12 learning environments is identifying the learners and their abilities.  Up to this point, MOOCs have been offered to adults.  The research has proven that the best practices of MOOCs and open learning in general can offer personalized learning to autonomous learners.  The K12 audience is a different group of learners because they are developing digital/social media skills, digital identity, digital citizenship and learning how to become connected learners while learning in a different medium and different “way”.  While some adults may have to develop all of these skills as well, most adults have some experience in one or some of the competencies although the MOOC experience and open learning is new.

While Higher Education struggles with sustainability and economic factors influencing MOOCs, open learning and MOOC like opportunities should be integrated into K12 learning environments from the very beginning.  Like literacy and numeracy, open learning is an essential part of every child’s education.  As such, economic factors are not a consideration when educators facilitate and learn with their students.

Continuum of Open Learning:

I suggest that educators consider a continuum of open learning to integrate MOOCs and open learning from kindergarten to grade 12 based on stages.  (Just like the levels of learning based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Degrees of Connectednes.)  The continuum would be split into three areas, Stage 1: Kindergarten to grade 6 (For example using, Stage 2:  Grades 6-8 (For example creating class blogs and wikis) and Stage 3:  Grades 9-12 (open LMS options like canvas invastructure).  In Phase 1, students experience MOOC like courses and open learning in “walled gardens” where they can make mistakes and it is guided directly by teachers.  Phase 2 offers a transition from a “walled garden” into more open autonomous experiences and Phase 3 could be authentic open learning.  As the students master skills and demonstrate competencies, they are given more and more freedom and will have the opportunity to experience authentic open learning.  Part of the continuum is demonstrating an awareness of their learning through self-assessment and peer assessment.

Finally, a method to measure the “openness” and level of learning based on Bloom’s taxonomy for example, could be, “The Open Classroom Model”.  Every activity, opportunity and experience could be based on three stages: Connect – Collaborate – Create.  To ensure that students reach the highest level of learning, they go through the stages of learning and demonstrate their learning as they go.  For example, when the activity is to create a group blog, the students are expected to “connect” with each other, “collaborate” on their ideas and directions and “create” a group blog using a variety of tools.  By going through the three stages, the students have demonstrated “connectivist” learning principles and successfully identified how a “learning theory” can be put into practice in K2.

This paper examined the definition of MOOCs, the types of MOOCS, the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs and well as current research from a Higher Education perspective.  Consequently, comparative innovative disruptions in the K12 environment were also examined.  Open Learning, and the many opportunities within the open learning were also described where MOOCs can be used as an example of open pedagogy.  Up to this point, only open educational resources and open leadership have been apparent in specific areas of K12 learning.  After defining, exploring research and searching for current examples, there is an opportunity for open pedagogical implementation in k12 learning environments.   To, “moocify” k12, the connectivist opportunities need to come out in stages and be student centered with a humanistic focus.  Based on this information, I have suggested a, Continuum of Open Learning and an instructional design model, called the Open Classroom Model, for future consideration.  The next steps are demonstrating how K12 learning environments can be “MOOCified” by connecting, collaborating and creating.


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Moocifying HS Learning Environments by Verena Roberts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.