Innovation in Higher Education…and other blasts from the past

I had the pleasure to be a keynote at CNIE 2017 in Banff last week, 14 years after first attending the very first iteration of this conference in the exact same location. This year’s theme was Exploring our past, present and future, which could not have been a more perfect theme to talk about a topic I’ve become quite interested in over the past year.  Last year I began looking into the past of concepts like open pedagogy/pédagogie ouverte  and delving into this past has really helped me gain some perspective on how we are currently talking about open.  Preparing for the CNIE keynote gave me a great opportunity to delve  more deeply into the past of other concepts such as innovation, ed tech, and open in particular.

The point of this presentation was to take a journey to the past, the 1960s and 70s for the most part, and talk about current day open, ed tech, and  innovation in relation to the past.

We started with the Then or Now game. I put up 4 slides of different quotes from 1960-present and you had to guess whether the quote was from the past or present.  As expected, this wasn’t an easy one to guess, the point being that a lot of the past rhetoric on open, ed tech, or innovation sounds very familiar to those of us who’ve been in the field for a while.  You can see the quotes in the slide deck, but the references for those slides follow:

  1.  The Erosion of Innovation in Higher Education, 1970. ( A dissertation written by the future president of Buffalo State College, or was it really written by Gail, his wife?). note: you need access to pro quest to access this one, full citation here:JOHNSTONE, DONALD BRUCEUniversity of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969. 7001794.

2.  The automated university: bots and drones amid the dreaming spires, 2017

3.  Technology and Education: who controls?, 1970


And my personal favourite:

4.  Radical Innovation in a Conventional Framework: Problems and Prospects, 1977

The point of the Then or Now game is that there are many recognizable tropes in those quotes, and what I learned in looking at 1960-1980 is that for every gushing Chronicle or Ed Surge article you can find a 1960s or 70s equivalent.  Of course, there is both great comfort and room for critique in that observation.

“The crisis facing higher education in our nation has been mentioned so often that I fear we may tend to consider it an old story. It is not.“

In 1963, where this quote is from, it turns out there actually was a crisis in higher education in the 60s and 70s. What we learn from reading about this time period is that the drivers for the crisis, perceived or real, are not dissimilar to today.

For example, there is a pressure of numbers- in an OECD report in 1968 Change and innovation in higher education pointed to the pressure of numbers (changing demographics) as a result of growth in population and demand for greater equality – for example, I was surprised to learn that in UK between 1961 and 1968 24 new universities were created.

Also noted is the driver of scientific and tech progress: “new disciplines must be introduced; boundaries between the old ones become artificial; the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies has to be taken into account”.  Those same drivers appear in this Huffington post article from 2015.

I then continue with more echoes from the past including:

  1.  Disruption 1960s style: “ there is a chorus of exhortations – articles beginning ‘Higher Education should’ or ‘must’”. From 1967 – Innovation: Processes, Practice and Research p.38.
  2. No shortage of buzzwords and technology solutionism: “technological revolution” is a term “used with great abandon and little definition”. From 1968 Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities.
  3. And no shortage of skepticism – the newest trend becomes embraced or critiqued:  “in spite of or because of its obscure meaning, individualized instruction is held up as a panacea for the ills of education”– 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities
  4. And of course, the obligatory tech as distraction reference: “Kids who are used to having blaring transistor radios around hem every waking moment have trained themselves to ignore anything coming into their ears, and therefore hear very little of what comes out the the earphones they we are in the language lab” : 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities

One of the greatest higher education innovations was the Open University. I find it curious that during the MOOC mania, there was little discussion about how open universities were a real solution to a demographic/accessibility/education massification problem, AND they actually provided students with real credits in a meaningful education “currency”. The OU UK was established in 1968, and many other open universities followed. Here in Canada, as a result of the Quiet Revolution, there was the establishment of a new higher ed system called CEGEPs in Quebec in 1968, resulting in 46 new 2-3 year colleges that were accessible and largely free.  The scale of higher ed expansion at this point in time is mind-boggling.  In a period of 10 years, 28 other open universities were established around the world.

In 1979 John Daniel writes somewhat retrospectively on this phenomenon in Opening Open Universities:  “They are designed to serve working adults, usually without any academic prerequisites for entry, and they involve the delivery of instruction at a distance. Best known of these new institutions is the Open University of the UK, which has identified some 29 other universities around the world which implementthe open university concept in various ways. For most of these universities, adult off campus students constitute the sole or primary clientele”.

Here in Canada, in 1972 a task force on the Télé-Université reported that the establishment of TELUQ should address these challenges.

— Lifelong learning

— Real accessibility for all.

— Social development.

— Needs of working population.

— Greater mobility of knowledge.

— Wide use of new media and techniques.

— Rethinking the learning situation.

— Taking account of people’s prior life experiences.

— Reduction of unit costs

What is striking is how incredibly ambitious this list is.

In comparing our current day solutions to changing demographics, population, tech change, accessibility, to those of the 60s and 70s, where there drivers were very similar, it is notable that in the 60s and 70s the open universities had very ambitious agendas.  Today, it appears, we lean on MOOCs and OERs to address our higher ed problems, and we are certainly asked to buy into a rhetoric of disruption.

What is interesting, however, is that in the 60s, disruption meant actual student protests and disruption on college and university campuses around the world.  Today, it means the creation of new tech products, that will somehow solve higher education problems.  This is the innovation conversation of today that many of us in the ed tech field are familiar with. As this graphic from 2015 shows, the sample of the ‘ed tech players’ are for the most part LMS or MOOC platforms. 

And we are breathlessly reminded that this is a growth industry.

Keep in mind there has always been an education market.  In 1966-67 it was estimated to be worth 48 billion dollars in the US, second only to defense. Today the ed market, however defined, is second only to heath care in the US.

The question is, how much of what we are doing is recreating the past.  To this, we can look at Open Pedagogy as a possible example.

When I began looking into the origins of open pedagogy, I didn’t find many references in the English literature, but found a body of work in the French literature that dates from the early 70s, associated with Claude Paquette, a professor at UQAM.

Open pedagogy in its current day form has been argued to be the pedagogy that results when open education resources (as defined by the 5R permissions) are used. Along with this definition are the 5Rs as articulated by David Wiley.

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways

Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new

Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

As a result, this is a content focussed definition, and  Wiley has since reframed his definition of open pedagogy as OER enabled pedagogy.

What becomes interesting is when we contrast the current day open pedagogy, centred on the permissions surrounding content, with open pedagogy of the 1960s where learner emancipation, not the use of OERs, was the goal of open pedagogy. Claude Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation. For me, this is a much more ambitious definition of open pedagogy, focussed less on the how and more on the actual goal.

So what happened?  We can perhaps look to the 80s for some clues, although I spend less time in this era of the literature and there is more work to be done here.

The first hint I found is from Patricia Cross, speaking about community colleges in 1981:  “the message seems to say that the old ideals of the 1960s that used to excite and inspire, albeit midst frequent controversy, are gone, and new ones have not yet emerged”. She describes the emergence of a plateau “between 2 periods of high energy and a sense of mission in the community colleges” and notes that the early ideals have receded. In this article, she compares ‘should be’ goals at a 10 year interval and notes particularly the decline in the should be goal of accessibility, a significant decline in esprit de corps…mutual trust and respect among faculty students and administrators.

We also can see the emergence of corporate-speak applied to higher education as exemplified in this quote from 1982:“institutions of higher education lag behind most other sectors of the economy in their capacity to improve productivity”.  This article, which was published in Journal of Higher Education – is entitled The Impact of Organizational and Innovator Variables on Instructional innovation in Higher Education .

There are some interesting examples from the graveyard of dreams that also demand us to pause and ask how we came so close to getting it right.

Consider, for example, the case of the Earth Sciences department at St. Lawrence University. In 1977 Bill Romey (same author of the blobs of jello quote) writes: “An opportunity arose to implement a new program in a conventional academic department of geology and geography at St. Lawrence University. Would it be possible to bring about extensive change from within a conventional department in an old-line, conventionally oriented liberal-arts school? ”

The change Romey describes includes 10 or so characteristics of the new program that would have considerable appeal by current day standards.  These include:

  • Independent project work at all levels, for all students and faculty, would replace all standard courses.
  • Students would evaluate their own work.
  • Students would keep portfolios of their own work as an alternative means of showing what they had accomplished. There would be no more examinations of conventional types.
  • Students and faculty would participate fully and equally in the governance of the department.
  • The department was to run as an open organism with free access for everyone in the university, whether or not they were formally enrolled for credit.
  • Each person would function both as a teacher and as a learner.
  • The faculty accepted responsibility, in cooperation with the students, to create and maintain a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all.

Romey describes the evolution over a few years, and notes that conventional thinking is starting to creep back in but for the most part the department is operating as described above.

If you go to the department page today you will see there appears to be no essence of this spirit left and the now Geology department adopts a structure not unlike many other universities.  In fact, the only hint of this former time can be found on the academics page, where some amount of program customization is referenced, but this comes across more as academic strategy-speak than real.

It’s important to underline that there were lots of these types of idealistic experiments happening on campuses across North America (see the chapter on Recent Developments, p.10, for a good description of this) –St. Lawrence not the only one and it would take some work for somebody to dig in and explore how they look today.  Also notable is that there were several threads of open across concepts such as individualized learning, open enrolment, and open classrooms, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are also some examples of things that have only gotten better with time – in 1970, MacManaway writes what can only be described as flipped learning 1970s style – provide students with the lectures scripts for private reading and use the classroom time for small group discussion and assignments.

What the past and present version of ourselves shared was a common desire for teaching, learning, and student success. And this is where I think current day higher education can innovate with openness.  Of course, openness is often associated with Creative Commons licensing.  But increasingly I’m less interested in potential of CC licensing and more in the question of Open as a means to what? I feel like our 60s and 70s counterparts were much more clear and explicit about this question.

In this section of the presentation I describe some examples where I think we can clearly answer the question, Open as a means to what?  These include:

  1. BCcampus as providing the higher education sector in BC as a means to collaborate.
  2. The BC Open Ed Tech Collaborative
  3. The beginnings of a WordPress Cooperative as a new model for doing things together
  4. Some JIBC examples of open for the public good:  eg. Fentanyl Safety , which was recently written up in the Atlantic
  5. An international collaboration between JIBC and University of Guadalajara where early discussions and contract language included a CC BY NC license.
  6. JIBC’s work in developing an open textbook Zed Cred/Zee Degree in Law Enforcement Studies
  7. Virtually Connecting

If I can note anything about this journey to the past, it’s that the 60s and 70s literature is not dull reading…many of the articles linked above are written with incredible candour and passion, and there are plenty of LOL moments.




Translation of Paquette 1979 article on open pedagogy (first half)

Some Foundations of Open Pedagogy

(First half of the translation of Claude Paquette’s 1979 article on open pedagogy:  Claude Paquette “Quelques fondements d’une pédagogie ouverte.” Québec français 36 (1979): 20–21.)

Note:  a later article (2005) is over here, and if you run it through Google Translate it actually does a really good job of translation from French to English.  The 2005 article understandably has a much more academically grounded and situated description of open pedagogy.

For more than 10 years now, teachers in Quebec are trying to integrate an open pedagogy into their daily practices. This pedagogical approach has been the object of several publications which have underlined both the foundations of this approach and its practices. It is important to underline that this pedagogy is in constant evolution and that the diversity of attempts of educators allow for further articulations, de look at the nuances, the resources and the limits of this pedagogy.

Open pedagogy is not a collection of pedagogical procedures applied in class that then result in the same outcomes of any other pedagogy. It is actually a way of thinking and a way of acting. It consists of an innovative way to view the educational act/endeavor. Evidently, there are procedures and proposed tools. However they have no value if they aren’t used in conjunction with the foundations that shape the tenants of an open pedagogy.

Open pedagogy is centered on the class interaction between the student and the educational environment that is proposed. From this interaction, significant connections will be revealed for the student that will allow him/her to begin a learning process. The educator therefore has the primary role of contributing to the creation of this educational environment. For the champions of open pedagogy, creating the educational environment has three levels: the creation of a physical class environment, learning activities, and instructor intervention. These three dimensions are obviously interrelated.

Some basic principles

  1. Open pedagogy is based on the respect for individual differences

 Students are all different and they learn in different ways. Too often these differences are only perceived as being about different speeds of learning. In my view, the differences can be found at various levels and it is essential that the educator be aware of that. Students are different from one another in terms of: their interests, their concerns, their speed of learning, their cognitive style, their talents, their previous experiences, etc…It will therefore be important for the educator to encourage learning situations that are broad enough to allow for respecting these differences and to call on them.

  1. Open pedagogy is based on individual development

 The goal of the learning is to arrive at an individual development. Every person is unique and it is necessary that they find themselves in an environment that will allow them to develop according to their own individuality. Individulising learning development is not synonymous with individualism. Individualising learning development implies much more of a global and personalized development. Both can be performed in close relationship with the other. Seen under this light, classroom learning can’t limit itself to the accumulation of information contained within a program. Learning should be situated at several levels of consciousness:

  • Information necessary to understand the world
  • The development of skills to realize their own potential
  • The relationship between themselves and others
  • The relationship between themselves and the social context/social world
  • Etc…

Open pedagogy practices tries to promote learning situations that integrate these different levels rather than separate them.

  1. Open pedagogy is based on an indirect influence of the educator

Educating is an act of influence. In open pedagogy, this perspective is accepted. At that moment the educator plays an important role. Despite this, we believe that the influence of the educator should be indirect. There is an influence, and therefore an intervention, but one that is adapted to the conditions and the to the evolution of the student. The educator doesn’t intervene in order to cram the student with content but rather to help them find their way according to their differences and potential.

  1. Open pedagogy is based on a natural learning process derived from the internal strength/dynamism of the student

If we are talking about a natural learning process we are also talking about a complex phenomenon.   It’s not sufficient to tell the student to go develop his/herself and expect them to do it. Respecting a natural learning process implies that we create a sufficiently rich and diversified environment so that the student can respond and undertake their learning.






Openness and Teaching, Learning, and Student Success

I’m speaking at this year’s CICAN conference in a couple of weeks, and was asked to do an additional session for the Teaching, Learning, and Student Success stream.  This year’s conference theme aims to “showcase the contribution of colleges and institutes in transforming communities and building a more prosperous and equitable Canada which embraces diversity and inclusion, openness and a strong sense of pride” and since I’m fresh from my fabulous #OER17 experience, I thought I’d do a session called Teaching, Learning, and Student Success in the Context of Open.  

That title doesn’t really say much, so I’m framing it around these questions:

  1. What do we gain as institutions when we care about open?

Greater opportunities to collaborate with others – I think BCcampus and the BC higher ed sector are a good example of this in action. And of course I’ll point to our Open Ed Tech Collaborative and BC WordPress Co-Op.

Greater institutional visibility – JIBC has some measurable examples of this, but it would be nice to have stories from others.

A shift towards a different concern for students – does caring about open at an institutional level result in a different type of caring about our students? I feel  like it does, but can’t put forward an example at this point.

More control over resources such as technologies, textbook publication cycles and specialized subject matter – Again, JIBC has some concrete examples of this, but it would be nice to know whether this has also been the experiences and a ‘win’ for others.

2.  How does open contribute to student success? 

Open textbooks do reduce costs for students and do result in equal or better outcomes –  I can dive a bit into articles that address the question of better outcomes such as this one by John Hilton III  and this one by Feldstein but would love some other examples, even narratives, about how it does or doesn’t contribute to student success.

Open as an ethos that students can take with them into the “real world” aka. their professional lives – this was something that I heard Clint Lalonde and Amanda Coolidge mention in a recent interview and it really resonated with me as something that could be talked about a bit more in a broader social context.

3.  How are teaching and learning improved or how do they benefit from openness?

The opportunity for open pedagogy and open practices – The obvious work to point to here is Robin DeRosa’s thinking about open pedagogy, as well Robin’s and other’s examples where students create open textbooks.  I’m not sure there’s any research out there that says teaching and learning is improved as a result of open but I think it could be postulated that it opens up new possibilities, which in itself is a good thing and an important step.

I can also point to this study by Jhangiani et al ,  in which faculty perceived “that the use of OER in the classroom benefited their students and had a positive impact on their teaching practice”.


I’d love to be able to point to other examples, so if you have any from your own institutions I’d appreciate it if you could add a comment or send a quick tweet to @tanbob.  I PROMISE I’ll compile all the info into a neat and tidy post that can be made available to everybody.  Or if somebody has already done this somewhere else, I hope somebody will point me to that*. Pretty please.

*I will be pointing to the OER Knowledge Cloud  and the OER Hub


Reflections on #OER17 – From Beyond Content to Open Pedagogy

By @choconancy Nancy White

In 2012 I attended the Open Ed conference in Vancouver , provocatively titled Beyond Content.  This was the same conference where Gardner Campbell captured our hearts with his infamous quote “this is not what I meant at all” , mirroring a sentiment that open was being co-opted by corporate interests and heading down a slippery slope of open-washing and dubious learner benefit.  But what also struck me about this particular Open Ed conference was that  the sessions weren’t really about Beyond Content in the way I had anticipated…the session archive shows that we were still very much talking about OERs, open courseware, and beginning to explore open textbooks. In other words, content was still how we framed open at this point in time.

Flash forward 5 years and I’m still buzzing from #OER17, a well timed conference framed around the Politics of Open. This particular event, with tightly and masterfully curated keynotes and sessions, was able to demonstrate without a doubt that we are beyond content.  The keynotes and sessions I attended fearlessly tackled a range of topics around open that I’m not even sure I heard the word OER once over the course of the two days.  There are already so many great summaries written up and collected over here, but it was the first time I felt that we were truly moving our conversations beyond content.

I, along with my colleagues who travelled from Mexico presented on an evaluation of a faculty development program – lovingly known as the Agora – designed around open pedagogy and it was fortuitous to catch a blog post by David Wiley and subsequent tweet storm prior to our last day, last session time slot.  David’s post outlines a number of good provocations about How is Open Pedagogy Different? but ultimately niggled me in a way I found difficult to articulate.  The crux of the argument was that the open pedagogy needs to be defined by the 5Rs, because if not, how was open pedagogy different from just plain old pedagogy.

Let me begin by saying that my own institution has benefitted greatly from OERs.   We participate in developing and reusing open textbooks and are three years into developing a Zed Cred/Zee Degree, we have adapted two CC BY courses provided to us from Athabasca University, and we have without a doubt been able to innovate because others have been willing to share their open content.  And we have to acknowledge that the 5Rs – which in my reading are framed around content but is something that is contested in in the tweet storm – provide good clarification for what open is in the context of OERs.

But I had to ponder whether OERs and the 5Rs have anything to do with open pedagogy.   In other words:

  • Is content essential to open?
  • Can you have open pedagogy without OERs?
  • Is content what defines pedagogy?

And if we do assume that OERs are essential to open pedagogy, can we ever really move Beyond Content?

Back to our open pedagogy presentation.  The Agora design process was focussed on what an open design would actually be a means to which can be summarized as:

  1. Open as a means to facilitate a faculty culture of collaboration across the university and across disciplines
  2. Open as a means to connect with a broader, global community
  3. Open as means to challenge and expand existing understandings of student centre learning
  4. Open as means to challenge ways of doing, in this case,  the options and possibilities of digital technology and mobile learning
  5. Open as a means to make the lives of faculty easier in their pursuit of better teaching and learning
  6. Open as a means to create a sustainable approach to faculty development

Ultimately we did create content that fits quite nicely with the 5Rs, but the goal of our open pedagogy design process was not to create OERs as a means towards or even as an essential component of open pedagogy. The Agora was alternatively all of the ‘isms –  behaviourism, connectivism, constructivism, constructionism – but the ism doesn’t really matter.  Importantly, the open pedagogy design was at times technology-enabled and at times it didn’t use technology or the internet at all.  OERs didn’t allow us to practice a different pedagogy, rather the open pedagogy of the Agora was a bricolage of activities and practices that at times resulted in OERs and at times didn’t.

If OERS and open content is a way for us to open the door a little bit more, then great. But it’s not the only way to open, and is not even a requirement in my view.  And if I took anything away from #OER17, it’s that there are so many directions to explore, critique, challenge when we talk about open.





Hello my name is…at #OER17

I’m travelling to #OER17 today for the first time, and I’ve got a lot to be excited about.  Aside from occasional stopovers in Heathrow, it’ll be my first time back in the UK in about thirty (!) years, the conference organizers have put together an all female keynote lineup (!!), and the sessions around the theme of the Politics of Open look amazing and are right up my alley (!!!).

As a pretty regular attendee of open events here in Canada and beyond, I look forward to seeing many familiar faces and people I consider colleagues.  But there are so many more that I see on Twitter but have never met, or see on Twitter and never get a chance to connect with at other events. And I suspect that there are so many I’ve never seen but should meet.  I’d like to take a step towards changing that at OER17.

I’m pretty introverted (as a I suspect many ed tech people tend to be) and I’ve been told that I don’t always give off a come chat with me vibe.  But here’s the thing…if we haven’t met, I’d really like to meet you. If you are interested in critical conversations about open, I’d like to meet you. If you are working with open in an non-English language context, I’d like to meet you.  If your non English open activities have been adapted or translated into English contexts, I’d like to meet you.

See you soon!


Open pedagogy and a very brief history of the concept

The good folks at #OER17 have accepted my conference proposal on our University of Guadalajara faculty development program, which I positioned in the proposal as an example of an open pedagogy approach to faculty development.  However the proposal acceptance is contingent on one thing:  it was noted that I don’t define or link to any scholarly resources on open pedagogy, a very fair point and very useful feedback. And a bit sloppy on my part, if I’m quite honest.

This lead me down a rabbit hole this week, digging around for scholarly work on open pedagogy.  The big surprise – although probably not to Vivian Rolfe who did a masterful job of a presentation at OpenEd16 this year digging into some history of open  – is that the term open pedagogy dates back to the early 1970s, where it was actually quite a thing in Quebec and France.  But does it mean what we think it means?

One of the oldest references comes from Canada’s own Claude Paquette, who in this article from 1979 states that open pedagogy has already been in place for almost 10 years, and lays out some foundational principles in his paper as well as this one from 2005.  His 1995 paper talks about open pedagogy with a historical distance that can only be appreciated if you’ve embraced a novel idea and watched it succeed and fail simultaneously. Consider this passage for example:

La nécessité d’une rupture avec la pédagogie encyclopédique charmait les plus progressistes et les plus innovateurs d’entre nous, alors que les tenants de la rénovation pédagogique ne cherchaient que quelques nouveaux trucs pour enjoliver la pédagogie de la bonne réponse sans en questionner les fondements et les pratiques.

The necessary rupture with textbook pedagogy charmed the  most progressive and most innovative of us, while those for pedagogical renewal were only looking for new techniques to liven things up without questioning the foundation and practices.    (my translation)

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.  He goes into some detail about these, but us ed tech folks will recognize some of the themes – individualized learning, learner choice, self-direction, – to name a few.  He even talks about “open activities” as the big innovation in open pedagogy, whereby students simultaneously use  their multiple talents in learning situations, and this process of learning is “interactional” (aka social and connected).  For Paquette, open is very much about learner choice, (albeit for him this is really about creating a classroom environment where this can be optimized).  Good stuff right?

Of course, this becomes much more fascinating if you consider the sociopolitical context in which these ideas were playing out.  Quebec had just experienced a cultural revolution which lead to a rupture of the stronghold of the Catholic church on pretty much all of Quebec society, and from which emerged, among other things, an educational reform and establishment of a CEGEP system in Quebec (tuition free post secondary colleges).  This is significant in that prior to this rupture, post secondary  education was largely accessible only to the (English) elite, and public education pretty much ended at age 14.

Meanwhile in Europe, there were similar educational reform ambitions and the language education world had embraced ideas of autonomy and self-direction in reaction to a number of sociocultural currents, which are nicely wrapped up for us in this 1995 article by Gremmo and Riley.  There are quite a few gems to consider in here in the context of how we talk about open and open pedagogy currently.  For example, the abstract starts us off with a bang in situating autonomy and self direction against a backdrop of:

minority rights movements, shifts in educational philosophy, reactions against behaviourism, linguistic pragmatism,wider access to education, increased internationalism, the commercialization of language provision and easier availability of educational technology (p.151)

Plus ca change…

Another gem discusses the role of technology in facilitating autonomy:

(4) Developments in technology have made an undeniable contribution to the spread of autonomy and self-success. The tape-recorder, the fast-copier, TV and the video-recorder, the computer, the photocopier, magazines, newspapers, fax and e-mail, all provide a rich variety of tools and techniques for the implementation of self-directed learning. In institutional terms, the facilities have been gathered together to form the resource centres (mediatheques, sound libraries, etc.) which will be discussed below. However, experience shows that the price of autonomy is eternal vigilance: there is a strong and repeated tendency for the introduction of some new technology by enthusiastic “technicians” to be accompanied by a retrograde and unreflecting pedagogy. A grammar drill on a computer is still a grammar drill and if learners are given little choice (or no training, which comes to the same thing) then it is a travesty to call their programmes “self-directed”. (p. 153)

Again, some familiar themes are discussed in this article:  flexible learning, vast increases in university population, wider access to education, internationalism, commercialization.


So how does this compare to the foundational principles on which the current open pedagogy movement rests?  At the moment, the current strand of open pedagogy seems to be defined by its use and creation of open materials. Consider for example this description from the OE consortium.

Or this poster for an event at CUNY.

Or this blog post from David Wiley, where he discusses the disposable assignment.

In other words, open pedagogy is currently a sort of proxy for the use and creation of open educational resources as opposed to being tied to a broader pedagogical objective.  Of course, this isn’t to say that the OER movement lacks foundational values and broader objectives – if anything, so much of the 1970s open pedagogy and autonomy world seems to resonate.   In fact, I find it quite fascinating that the authors of this post on the 8 qualities of open pedagogy seem to arrive at a similar place as our 1970s counterparts.  But it does raise the question as to whether we are being ambitious enough in our articulations and aspirations for open pedagogy.  And to Vivian Rolfe’s point made at OpenEd 16, are we are paying enough attention to voices of the past?




Quiet learning

This year I felt like I stopped reading anything of significance that required more than 60 seconds of my time. It’s something that I’ve vowed to fix in 2017 , along with pulling back on some social media time.  But while it’s pretty easy to vilify social media for the source of a lot of negativity-namely Twitter and the US elections-I have to be reflective of the positive learning that social made gave me this year.  I’ve started calling this quiet learning. Quiet learning is a result of following feeds based on interest and not work aka not #edtech.  Quiet learning satisfies my 60 seconds or less attention span, but sticks because it flows regularly into my stream.  It’s about the accumulation and constructing of little bits of information over time, in a lovely visual package.  Here are a few of my favourites.

  1.  During #idlenomore, I started to expand my twitter feed with interesting indigenous perspectives. There are two accounts that really stand out for me:   @paulseesequa and @indigenousxca . Paul’s account is unlike anything else that I follow, and was really the inspiration for the idea of quiet learning.  Paul posts photos of indigenous people in North America – these photos are often historic, usually identify the people in the photos, and aren’t accompanied with lengthy captions.  Over the past 2 years I’ve rarely seen the same photo posted more than once, and following this stream of photos over time provides a picture of Canada that has sadly never found it’s way into the textbooks and history lessons of Canadian schools.

Indigenousxca is anything but quiet, and I find the weekly host format is so effective in providing a broad range of perspective on so many different issues. You can read more about it here.

2.  Paint mixing videos on instagram is apparently a bit of a thing for it’s “digital therapy” effect, but I like them because they actually taught me how to mix paint, what kinds of tools to use, and the effects of various colours in mixing.  This is one of my favourite paint mixing artists to watch, mainly because she uses wax with her pigments which makes the mixing part a bit more fun to watch.

3.  Remember when cookbooks didn’t have photos for each recipe?  Then came cookbooks that had photos for EVERY recipe and it was pretty good for a while?  Then came recipe blogs where bloggers rambled us through their process of a recipe, all while taking Gourmet magazine quality food shots.  I’ve come to love watching food videos on instagram, because in 60 seconds or less I get the gist of the ingredients and the process, and everything is pretty much magic.  Plus veganfoodvideos could pretty much convince me to become vegan, and if you knew how much I love cheese, you’d know that’s saying a lot.

4.  A bit outside of the 60 seconds or less quiet learning category, but like many people I rediscovered podcasts this year, and consider them a different sort of quiet learning.  I’m just beginning to dabble in all that is out there, but I consider the Art for Your Ear podcasts by the Jealous Curator podcasts to fall into the category of quiet learning.  Listening to interviews with emerging artists has provided me with a lot of learning about perseverance, struggle, balancing of life challenges and commitments, and since I follow so many of these artists on instagram, it puts a real face on the lives behind the art and the seemingly unproblematic and perfect worlds.

Brushing off the tumbleweeds

A few months ago I got a real domain and transferred this blog – which has been sitting on since about 2005 –  to Reclaim Hosting.  This was a fantastically easy and gratifying experience, and I was so pleased that I actually put my very first sticker on my laptop, evidently something I’ve resisted for a very long time.

The second thing I did was set up an RSS reader again, with the intention of going back to some real reading.  Starting fresh, I committed to populating my feed with a diversity of voices and unusual suspects…this was actually not an easy thing to do since a) where have all the blogs gone and b) who’s blogging?.  But you all know this already.  And I’ve since forgotten what reader I was using and now I can’t find it.

The third thing I did was commit to less Twitter and more blogging.  I’m definitely less Twitter, but so far zero blogging.  And there’s this new thing called Mastodon…

And then the US election happened and I committed to spending less time reading Smart Bitches Trashy Books and more time reading smart non-fiction and introducing my kids to important history about dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and teaching them prepper skills.

So I’ve committed to many things and done very little, but fortunately New Years is just around the corner.



The gem of a conference that was ICICTE 2016

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Image by Gorg Malia, cartoonist, instructional technologist, and one of the incredibly interesting ICICTE organizers and attendees.

A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of being the keynote speaker at #ICICTE 2016 in Rhodes, Greece.  I’ve got a couple of posts planned about the keynote and what I learned from the great presenters there, but first want to share some thoughts on what I thought made this conference a really fantastic 4 days.

I’ll admit to having had a fair bit of conference fatigue for the past few years.  In the past 15 years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of ed tech-related conferences and the topics, the format, the discussions are starting to make me feel like somebody who has lived long enough to see fashion cycles come around the second time.  Being at ICICTE allowed me to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of conferences and their relevance to our professional development as educators.

Good conferences are about the people: I tweeted that ICICTE was a lot like an international ETUG…friendly, small, and full of interesting people.  ICICTE is a small conference where people keep coming back year after year and as a first timer I felt like it did a great job of a couple of important things. First, it was very good at embracing new people and making them feel part of the community.  This is easier to do at small conferences, but it is also easier to do when there is a community ethos where egos and self-promotion (yes, edtech, we are guilty of that) are buried and every participant is treated as a really interesting contributor.  Second, ICICTE recognized that socializing together is as important as the actual conference presentations, and both activities seemed to be attended by almost everybody. This is especially extraordinary given that the conference was held at a beautiful resort on a beautiful Greek island where there were no shortage of interesting distractions.  There were almost as many socializing together opportunities as typical conference opportunities, and since they were so well attended it allowed new people to feel like they weren’t being left out of any of the alt-conf-socializing that is inevitable at larger conferences.

Good conferences create space for families: Location helps, and obviously Greece was a nice location for a family holiday.  But as somebody who has dragged one of my young children to a conference on at least 2 occasions (and considered it for at least 3 others), I can tell you that there is a difference between a conference that assumes that families will be there and conferences where that isn’t considered.  The conference organizer – the fabulous @npyrini, – has brought her 9 year old daughter to every single ICICTE and she is a familiar and well loved part  of the conference to the people who attend every year and have watched her grow up with the event.  It was suggested to me that I should bring my entire family of 5 to next year’s conference, which is the first time an event organizer has done that.  And of course there were families with kids there, attending the Greek night banquet in old Rhodes City, and milling about the pool and the breakfast buffets at the hotel.

Good conferences have long lunches and good food:  ICICTE provided two hour lunch breaks where we were able to sit together and learn from each other over lunch.  It meant less presentations could be crammed into the day but provided a different kind of space for creating community and connections. I also think it made us listen more – instead of focussing on tweeting every sound bite and showing up but not really paying attention, the non presentation time spaces were really about extending the conversation over lunch or drinks.

Good conferences don’t necessarily have busy Twitter streams: Related to the above point, I really appreciate a good conference hashtag when I’m NOT at the conference.  But I’ve really started to dislike the attention given to tweeting and sharing at the expense of conversing or listening.  ICICTE was one of the only conferences I’ve been at where there was consistently more questions than time after every presentation.  I interpreted this as a  good level of engagement and interest in everybody as a presenter.

ICICTE certainly stood out among other memorable conferences I’ve attended, including the recent  SKIP conference , many ETUG conferences, a few OpenEds and a very memorable CALICO conference.



Considerations for ed tech and innovation

This is a continuation of a series of posts on innovation, and is my attempt to get a bit more pragmatic about the topic, namely because I was asked to frame some of my thinking into a workshop on innovation in higher education. There’s a number of ways to go with the topic, so I’m starting with some thoughts on considerations for innovation, which in this post I’m using somewhat interchangeably with educational technology. So if you are uncomfortable with the word innovation, you can swap in educational technology and arrive at a similar place.

For starters, it’s important to highlight Tony Bates’ well-established SECTIONS model for selecting educational technologies or media.  It’s a great place to start if you are an instructional designer trying to make decisions about educational technology in course and program design.  But when talking about innovation and ed tech at an institutional strategic level, I think it can be a good idea to take a step back and ask some bigger questions of your institution.

In considering considerations, I think it’s important to begin with a thinking (or erasing?) exercise that asks you to forget everything you know or think you know about ed tech and start over.  At many of our institutions ed tech thinking starts with the LMS, and whether we like it our not the LMS’s institutionally friendly attributes have an important role in shaping our thinking about teaching and learning.

Once you’ve erased your ed tech slate, you are ready to embark on some considerations:

  • Consideration #1:  What is the learning trajectory of students who interface with your institution? What data do you have about your students and does it tell an accurate story about the trajectory?
  • Consideration #2: What is the key driver of educational technology decisions at your institution (eg. access, best possible learning environment, institutional profile, institutional differentiation). You have to pick one, but you can acknowledge that others come into play.
  • Consideration #3: What does innovation mean at your institution by the various stakeholders? Does it line up with #1 and #2?
  • Consideration #4: What are the problems that need to be solved that could be solved by ed tech?  Is your current ed tech environment solving or hindering these problems?
  • Consideration #5:  Can you afford to not be/go open in some areas of your activities?
  • Consideration #6: What can be done to get at 4 and 5?  This is innovation.

If I was to go back in time six years when I started my role at JIBC, I would try to systematically engage in a process to get at some of these questions. In reality, the questions emerged over time and in a different order – #2, 3, 4, 6, 1, 5.  This is how it played out for us:

 Consideration #2:  It was pretty consistently stated that JIBC’s driver for ed tech came from a provincial mandate, meaning we have to deliver our programs across a very large geographic area, including rural and remote communities.  So for us, educational technology was primarily about access – making it possible for rural and remote communities to avoid expensive travel to Vancouver, and to give greater opportunity for BC communities to access our programs.

 Consideration #3:  Given #2, there was a very strong collective desire to innovate on how to do this.  We had an LMS, and had a web conferencing tool, but there was a sense that this wasn’t enough and was producing satisfactory but not good enough results.  So innovation meant finding new models of delivery, new formats for our courses and programs, and better tools.  There was also a common theme in that JIBC felt like it had been a leader in educational technology in the past (which they truly were, but that’s a subject of another post), but hadn’t evolved or kept up enough to maintain that status.  Anecdote:  In my first month at JIBC I was asked by the President in front of a JIBC -wide forum to comment on our ed tech status. I responded that I felt that they already had many of the tools to do what they needed to do  (LMS, video streaming, video production, web conferencing). This was clearly the wrong answer and was definitely a TSN turning point in my appreciation and underestimation of JIBC.  

 Consideration #4:  JIBC had a huge appetite and appreciation for educational technology, and unlike other institutions I’d worked at previously, there wasn’t a need to sell the importance at the institution, as illustrated by the above anecdote.  There was a greater need to push the envelope, but it took a while to get at the problems that needed to be solved. For example, it took some innovative people in some of our programs to turn me onto mobile (Consideration #6) by putting it into a real professional context (and that’s where the ball really dropped).  As the anecdote hints, the President, and JIBC generally, didn’t feel like the ed tech environment that existed was solving the problems that needed to be solved. But being able to translate this collective dissatisfaction into an articulation of a future direction emerged over time.  This is partly because we hadn’t really unpacked #1.

Consideration #1:  We arrived at a clear articulation of the JIBC learner trajectory through a number of data points.  Institutional data showed that a significant percentage of our students come back to do additional programs and credentials, many of which are very niche, unique kinds of course and programs not offered elsewhere. In other words, we are truly a lifelong learning institution for many of our students, partly because of the kinds of programs we offer.   And because of the kinds of professions and communities that we work with, we know that our students often have a relationship with JIBC before enrolling in our programs. Additionally, one of our research surveys showed data that most of our students are working full time while attending our institution, and age group distribution is fairly equal between 18 and 60+.

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The different data points about our students lead us to the following description of a JIBC student trajectory, where we tried to articulate the student relationship with the JIBC before, during, and after taking a course or a program. This, of course, had important implications for educational technology decisions and innovations, namely, that things that we create or implement should be things that students not only use while they are at JIBC but have direct application and use in the professions or communities in which they work. This is also how we ended up at # 5.

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Consideration #5: In BC we are fortunate to be part of a higher education sector that encourages and supports open, facilitated by BCcampus. Once we had an understanding of #1, the rationale to go open in some areas of our activities was clear. This is really the subject of another post, but using WordPress to make courses and parts of courses available to students at any phase of their learning trajectory ended up being a win for both students and the communities with whom we work.

Our current ed tech/innovation formula:

In some my posts on innovation, I talked about how we didn’t go the flagship innovation initiative route, but instead focused on a few smaller initiatives that have converged. Our new innovation formula -for lack of a better word – ended up being mobile + wordpress + open = innovation*. However it has to be underlined that the context for this is a combination and result of considerations 1-6, which obviously will be variable depending on the institution. This is why I think it’s important to scrutinize both current ed tech environments and the latest innovation flavours of the month, be they e-portfolios, mobile, augmented reality, etc., since it’s quite possible that it doesn’t make sense in a particular institutional context.

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*we also do a lot of scenario-based experiential learning and simulations, but this was already well established at JIBC.