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Some ideas on community building for #whyopen

There’s a post over here asking how we can create communities that function well in educational contexts.

It’s a huge question, and one I’ve considered a lot.

Here’s , mainly for me, a summary of what I think might help.

It’s coloured by Communities of Inquiry, and Communities of Practice, the work of Rita Kop,, Bandura, Cognitivism (particularly Sweller, Mayer, Kirschner and Clark) and my own semi sophisticated ideas of what makes us tick.

The instructor.

The instructor provides several key things. Diane Laurillard says that instructors have the greatest influence on the learning landscape in which students will participate. They have a huge shaping impact on the learner’s experience. It may not be ideal, perfect, or the best way to do it, but that’s the world we live in. We have limited resources, and a lot to do with them, so, instructors remain central.

Instructors are engines of value

Instructors provide value. When students get feedback from someone they feel has status, expertise, insight and gives a damn, they tend to value the course a lot more, and work harder. So, give feedback. And take care with how you are seen. More of this below.

Instructors as psychological architects

Students impart value to educational experiences that feel as if they are teaching. And teaching something worthwhile. People will work harder and more if they are within a community that feels well designed.

And that feedback the instructor gives? Modelling the type of interaction you want to happen in your community as an instructor makes it hugely more likely that participants will engage with each other in that way. Give good, insightful, and respectful feedback fairly quickly, and have mods do the same, and watch the number of critical engagements rise. It;ls not surefire, cast iron, failsafed guaranteed, but it does up the num,ber of critical engagements, and their quality.

Utility, worth and why the hell am I doing this.

Adults typically need to know what, how, why, and what the benefit is. If you want adults to engage in a community based learning process, then you have to tell them that they are going to engage in a community based learning process. You have to tell them what that looks like. And you have to tell them how it works. And you have to tell them how it will enable them, empower them, and let them achieve their goals.

We are motivated to do things which give us control over our world. Telling people, explicitly, how the community process they are engaged in will facilitate that expression of control is a huge motivator. Showing them examples that they are involved in is key. Make this an actual seminar, right at the beginning.

Be clear about the utility and worth of the course – this is what it will cover, this is what it will enable you to do – tie the pedagogy in to that – we’ll be using networked learning, so sharing resources over social media, posting blogs and commenting, and making learning visible – as this will help you develop the technical and knowledge shifting skills, and digital literacies that will help you take control of your own learning during the course, and afterwards as well. The community engagement will help you find, sift, sort and critically select from the huge volume of information that;s out there. and provide you with strategies to pick out what you need to push your own learning, ideas, projects and skills forward, as well as techniques that will help you to push our own learning forward, and learn more efficiently.

I once was lost and now am found

It’s easy to get lost. And, once lost, the pace of a course’s progress can seem like a ships funnel disappearing more and more rapidly over a distant horizon. Support your novices – give them easy to use, carefully designed resources to get to grips with the tools they need. Choose a simple, easy to use set of interfaces, and help people who don’t know their way around them.

Provide easy to access centralised experiences that draw everything together. So a daily or weekly seminar or seminars that covers everything in reasonable chunks. When resources are everywhere a central location is key, and helps anchor people to each other, and the experience. Seminars give that location, and they make it flexible – it can reflect things as they evolve, it can include and highlight individual participants, it has a q and a option, and people can ask for help. And it adds to the sense that this is a designed educational endeavour with feedback and instructor access – key to maintaining motivation in online endeavours.

Good moderators a massively open and enjoyable experience make

Hugely key. Cheerleading, commenting, demonstrating by example, picking up the people who are falling through the net, aggregating and sharing, helping people who are stuck in development hell for their blog post or idea – here’s the resource you need to help with that, talk to x about y for a quick answer, try this tech not that, here’s a howto on mysql. Whatever. Good mods are key, and visible.

Good mods, and instructors will come across as knowledgeable – not perfectly so, but competently so – passionate and engaged, ideally have status, or something that marks them out as prestigious, are encouraging, set demanding but achievable goals, give good, targeted accurate recognition, and give feedback. And they are hugely encouraging if they focus on community building with these characteristics in play.

Take merciless advantage of the early optimism

That optimistic lift at the beginning of the course? That’s when you wheel out your big guns. A carefully crafted and put together experience for your learners of how community and networked learning can benefit them an be a huge fillip to community building. This is where you get them The bums are on the seats, the eyes are open, and there is expectation on the virtual room. Tell them how to do it, show them how to do it, be enthusiastic, and be very together, planned, and precise. And provide a tangible experience that gives your participants a real experience of how e community engagement you want from them will enable them to empower themselves.


My take on the #whyopen community concept of open

I put together a presentation based on the #whyopen survey responses. It’s a mindmap of the different ideas, with some embedded youtube videos, and clickable links to additional resources on the various ideas that people came up with. Click on the small icons to the right of the graph nodes, or bubbles, to open the resources in a new window.

Any suggestions are welcome, and if anyone wants editing privileges, just ask.


It’s also incomplete. But if open is one thing, it;s probably unfinished…



Openess and the Oddessey of Knowledge

Openness means quite a number of things to me.

It means openness to, and availabilitiy for dissent, argument, proof and disproof.

It means open dissemination.

It means freely adaptable.

It means accessible to, and changeable by, influence.

It means available to, and changeable by new ideas, information, experiences or contexts.

It means in the process of decision, and not yet decided.

It means not charged for, and without cost.

It means someone else might be paying.

It means different things, at different times, in different contexts.

But it is always, I think, the openness of Interfaces

The crossroads of cultures

Courtesy of Flickr User Reading Tom http://www.flickr.com/photos/16801915@N06/

Courtesy of Flickr User Reading Tom http://www.flickr.com/photos/16801915@N06/

In Medici Florence, it meant receptivity. Receptivity to the new emigres from the Fall of Byzantium, and the old and new knowledges that travelled with them. The knowledge of Greek, the new translations of old texts, handed down from Greece. The new knowledge of Arabic science that also travelled with them. And that such receptivity meant that Della Mirandolla’s new concept of the human, as overleaping the angels in the hierarchy of things by the force and power of our reason, could sit cheek by jowl at the same dining table with DaVinci, Michaelangelo, and Brunelleschi.

From such openess, and the wealth to indulge it, from the library of Cosimo deMedici, from the seat of Greek he paid for, from the Bishop of Byzantium, and his bags of books and scholarly tongue, from his dining table and those he was patron to, came some of the new knowledge that would infuse a sense of ourselves into a Europe about to be irretrievably altered by the experience. Paid for by the money of merchants and bankers.

Or, in the building of Venice, and the importation of engineers, ideas, art and experience, again from Byzantium, to build domes, and manufacture artefacts whose crafting had been lost for five centuries. This new crossroads created opportunity, curiosity, and interfaces for the spread of new and old ideas. Again, paid for by merchants.

Here then, is the openness of the interface, where world’s that are separate, distinct, though not unrelated, collide, collapse, and ideas exchange across the permeable filters to crosspollinate, take root, and perhaps thrive in new soils more ready to bear the fruit of revolutions.

The enthusiasts, and the culture of enthusiasm.

Courtesy of the Royal Society

Courtesy of the Royal Society

The gentlemen enthusiasts of the Enlightenment, paid for by patrons, or by Royal charter, or by their own moneyed position, and their competition with each other, as individuals, as nations, as imperial competitors, or as inheritors of history, who published and argued back and forth, in a culture where dissent had become more a currency than had been customary. The communal and individual elevation of reason, of experiment, of the availability of truth, of the driving sense of ourselves as capable masters of the world’s mechanics. Here, knowledge becomes open to dissent, enquiry, investigation. Argument becomes the order of things. Necessity and desire, not orthodoxy, become the drivers of the knowledge machine. The world becomes available for description. Dissent, and not dogma, openness, and not orthodoxy, curiosity, and not closedmindedness are the new arbitrers. Here then is the openness of culture, and of methodology.

These enthusiasts, pursuers of the mechanics of things, reframed the conceptualisation of knowledge. Again, paid for by merchants, bankers, and the landed gentry.  Knowledge itself was not always shared, but the world was open to disquisition and experiment in a way that had not been quite so characteristic.

Here, I would argue, enquiry as openness, and dogma and ideology are it’s enemy. To be open to the evidence is to be open to truth. This might indicate that clarity, falsifiability, reason and transparency are the characteristics of openness, and that their opposites are it’s enemies.

Openness as communication.

The library at Alexandria, the printing press, the internet, the postal system, the photocopier and the telephone are all mediums which make knowledge transmissible, reproduceable, capable of dissemination, reproduction and sharing. The exchanged letters of the Enlightenment, across borders and over time are no less a medium for the open exchange of ideas than is the internet. As our capacity to communicate evolves and changes, the pace and abundance might change, but not the basic mechanics. Where, in the 1600’s, I might need to use a cypher to prevent the contents of my letter being intercepted, I now might rely on TOR. The same people, for the same reasons produce the same effects on different technologies. Elizabethan spies intercepting post are not so different from NSA contractors archiving Internet traffic.

The enemies of open communication have always been the same. Thomas More’s interception of letters from seditious religious reformers are, in many ways, not dissimilar from todays omni-interception of data. Treason, sedition, conspiracy, and the threat to securoty played as much a [part in the past as they do today. And the excesses we experience are none so different either, perhaps.

Communication is the medium through which openness expresses itself. The abundance of communication we currently experience is novel, miraculous and a pristine human experience. That said, although communication is the medium for openness, I do not think it is a prime cause. That a medium exists is not sufficient for openness to occur.

Openness as adaptability and distribution

The Open Software movement, commons licensing, peer to peer filesharing, Open education, are all examples of a type of openness, that has a distributed aspect to it. It is to do with the distribution of development and artefact creation, or to do with the distributon of already created artefacts. We work together to make something new, and distribute to whoever wants it. The process, or the product, or both are now open.  Here the enemy may be closed development systems, or proprietary platforms, or a lack of freedom to riff on existing ideas. Anyone can take Linux and fork off with it. Anyone can develop for Android. More or less. Anyone can use a cc licenced image. An Open Education Resource is there to be distributed, and, perhaps, adapted, changed, and redistributed.

We work together to distribute something that already exists, and is actually owned by someone else. So we don’t have to pay for it.

Openness is, always, an experience of something else.

What all these share in common is an interface of curious individuals, across a medium where this curiosity is expressed. The motivations differ – financial gain, imperial advantage, selfish desire for achievement, status or prestige, necessity, opportunity or enthusiastic interest. But that interface, the medium and the motivation of curiosity seem unchanging, and characteristic of all types of openness. People must meet, in some form or another, meaningfully, and form an understanding which is communicated, and which informs and shapes what follows, when that experience is then crystallised into a thought, a word, a deed or a thing. And I think this is the heart of openness. It is an experience, always, of something else.

The price of Openness, picking up the tab.

The development of the internet is, now, characterised by this type of openness. The TCP/IP Protocols that run things are non-proprietary. They are open to adaptation. The infrastructure, now that it’s declassified, is universally open. People are free to implement and adapt. This openess is less straightforward than it might seem.

Where openness had been bankrolled by ,merchants and aristocrats, now, in part, it’s bankrolled by users. Google has right on your content and mines your online existence for data. It trawls youir email and markets at you on the basis of what it reads. Facebook can reproduce your content for it’s own purposes. Globally. For eternity. In whatever way it sees fit. And so can any future partners. Apple track your physical movements and store them. Who we are, where we are, when we are, and what we do is archived, cross referenced, and utilised. Sometimes that is transparent, and we willingly, or from willful igornace, enter into the bargain. And at times we are unaware of the silent partners (hello NSA).

The moral here is that openess must always be paid for, as it requires a medium. Currently, we are the product. The price of the current openess on the internet is our data, our privacy, and our ownership of the things we say, and the things we digitally do. It;s a devils bargain, as what we say and do constitute the majority of who we are. But why worry about that when we have Facebook. The apex of human expression.

And it is always subject to the needs of the authorities who administer it. Tudor spies will open your mail if you are suspected of sedition. GCHQ will open your email, browser history, and chat logs if you are suspected of sedition. Or if the NSA pay them to. (This is not new by the way. The UK’s RIP act has been on the books since the 90’s, and gives all sorts of organistaions access to your data. The pensions regulator, the department of transport, the health and safety executive, the phrmaceutical council, amonst many others can access data…)


This is a quick hello.


I’m late to the party, as always. My name is Keith, I am an eLearning professional, and student, and I’m looking forward to the next 2 weeks.