Digital Identities — Fashion

As I was reading the various bits around Bonnie Stewart’s MOOC post and running down some of her rabbit holes, two songs came to mind:  David Bowie’s 1980 Fashion and Madonna’s 1990 Vogue.  They make me think of sub-cultural identities, the dance club identities that are not shown during the day, but intended to be seen by a particular public.  These songs evoke the performative self and perhaps the facets of identity that are normally hidden in the everyday community.

My online identities are really extensions of my everyday and I’m not terribly complicated, but I do see some of the elements of performance and branding  in my online identities.   I mostly use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and was a bit late to these platforms.  I use my real name and pictures of myself. My behavior in these spaces is careful and has elements of brand management even in the more personal Facebook space.  I also see variety in my limited uses of social networking tools based on the audience that I perceive.  I think I am generally cognizant of audience  when I post or share.

My Facebook journey began like many boomers as an attempt to reconnect with people that I had lost contact with and as a way to organize a high school reunion.  I did some active searching and outreach.  I have kept a fairly upbeat and positive image on that site, not posting my gripes and keeping my political commentary tame, though my leaning is clear.   There is a brand of sorts, but not so consciously managed.  I do not say or do things I do not want my mother to see.  I post content fairly regularly, share that of others and sometime just look.  I pay a attention to the “likes” and comments on my posts and those of others and watch for news from my friends.  So a bit quantified and fairly participatory and that all goes in phases.  My friend list is a mix of family, friends, and high school classmates, with a few folks from work sprinkled in. It seems that there are more than a few people who do not need to see that part of my life even though it is not really controversial or exciting.

When I added LinkedIn, I un-friended a lot of work folks on Facebook and instead added them onto LinkedIn, which is mostly professional and locked my Facebook account down fairly tightly.  (At the same time, my Facebook account was expanding to include relatives and friends who were not so politically correct.)  My LinkedIn profile on the other hand is very open.  While I stay positive on both sites, their purposes and thus my identity on each is different.  On Facebook I can be Nana, high school social secretary, gardener, kayaker and photographer, and a little foolish.  On LinkedIn, I am a successful senior academic administrator with a few hobbies that wants to see what others like me are doing, so I am in lots of groups and post occasionally.  I would say a less participatory persona on LinkedIn than the others.  I pay attention to the stats that are free, but have not paid extra bucks to see additional detail.

My twitter account is newer and became useful to me because of the MOOC and so I have mostly followed folks in educational technology for learning realm.  It has a sense of discovery for me and a way to broadcast news and links and I guess it gives me a bit of a different brand than I have on LinkedIn.  I am more connected to folks I really only know by reputation and brand Twitter.  Those who follow me are an interesting curiosity and a mix of folks from work and other things I follow.  I think I follow too many people to make sense of the stream sometimes; those tidbits don’t have the personal context that I have with the FB updates.

Blogging is new to me but is focused thus far on education, teaching and learning and officially started with the MOOC.  I have allowed myself to write some half-baked ideas, which is something I have not normally put into the public sphere.

Thanks Bonnie for an interesting post and sharing your work.  This post has helped me start to make sense of the notion of online identity and I don’t have a complicated mix of screen names or avatars.  I will share your post with the folks developing a new master’s degree in emerging technologies for learning and teaching at my college.  Cheers!

More Dissonance: Reconciling Emergent Learning and Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

I am, in part, responsible for implementing outcomes assessment at my institution and I am increasingly convinced that we in higher education should value and encourage emergent learning, that learning that occurs in between the formal spaces. Hussey and Smith noted, “It is one of the ironies of the current context of higher education that monitoring and assurance systems should be generating veritable bureaucracies within institutions at the same time as policy has discovered, and is celebrating learner autonomy, independence and lifelong learning.” Added irony is that my institution is one that has always embraced learner autonomy, independence and lifelong learning and values open education.

Hussey and Smith go on to offer a possible pathway. “Let us be clear, we are not arguing that learning outcomes should be abandoned, only that there are serious faults with current ideas about their use. We hold that learning outcomes can be framed only in general terms and should be used with flexibility so that they can include those that emerge in the practical realities of teaching.”

I see promise in outcomes framed broadly and flexibly and that honor the values and purpose of the college. The work of AAC&U and the LEAP initiative are helpful in thinking broadly. This allows us to define the what – without being overly prescriptive and still value the diversity of approaches to learning and goals of students. It also allows us to support open education by not closing down the curriculum as the outcomes that are defined will indeed define the curriculum.

They go a bit further in saying that we ought to establish as learning outcomes even those things that are difficult to measure. “It follows that the greater the students’ involvement in and with the learning, the greater the possibility of different learning outcomes emerging. …we propose that those who teach should begin to reclaim learning outcomes and begin to frame them more broadly and flexibly, to allow for demonstrations and expressions of appreciation, enjoyment and even pleasure, in the full knowledge that such outcomes pose problems for assessment.” I like it, but as the adage goes, you don’t change what you don’t measure, so we need ideas about how to measure these sorts of things. And yes, I would be looking for valid reliable assessments that are not easy to pull apart.

I certainly have more questions than answers at this point. If emergent learning is valued and something that we cannot really predict, then what should the we say is the goal for our learners? Is it something to do with discovery and creativity in designing their learning? Is about continuous reflection and retrospective analysis of learning both within and outside of the course? What captures this notion so that the goal is blatantly stated and our students know that we value their discoveries and diversions? What about those things that are hard to measure?

Please share your thoughts.

Hussey, T and Smith P (2003) “The Uses of Learning Outcomes” in Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 357–368 retrieved from


Rhizomatic Learning

I may be carrying the biological metaphor too far, but I am hoping to find a way to understand. I feel a little inadequate critiquing because I’m not sure I can offer something more useful, but I’ll try. 

The elements of the rhizome metaphor Dave Cormier presents that are most useful for me are that learning can take its own path, as well as mutuality, egalitarianism and resilience. The validation of multiple paths with each to its own ends is heartening. I agree that it is necessary to have connection and interaction with others and their ideas. The mutuality or symbiosis shared by different organisms make to one another other successful, each contributing its share to the other. It is further enhanced when the node is not privileged. If I only think about the horizontal and somewhat unpredictable nature of adding a new node that has the same capacities as the first node, then I see egalitarianism and perhaps a nonhierarchical system and certainly resilience. The capacity to regenerate a network or grow new connections even if disconnected from the origin provides hope.

When I think about the how rhizomes work in nature, the resilience is not in the system, but in individual capacity.  The individual has everything needed to carry on. The rhizome is a singular organism and propagates itself by branching and creating new centers, each growing away from itself. The value is that once mature, each center is equal, and apart from environmental influences, identical to the center that sent out the horizontal growth. Its serves the ultimate purpose: reproduction.

The ever-outward branching does not account for unsystematic connections between and among nodes of different types and does not readily adapt to change or learn. With the rhizome, evolution is glacial –  and the common conceptualization of evolution is a branching hierarchical tree. I am looking for something more encompassing and interconnected rather than ever-branching, and for something that is anything but homogeneous and self-replicating.

The network model provides the capacity to connect or add something new and reshape the nodes and the storage capacity.  It’s shape and growth are not fixed, though there may be hierarchy, or not.  The changes that occur because of learning are not necessarily hierarchical. I am thinking of a network that has the capacity to change and include new elements from outside.  However, I have difficulty with the idea that machines store more than information or serve as more than sophisticated calculators, sorting devices, bridges and conduits. Even in Harry Potter, the magical stored memories were of no use until Harry experienced them and made them his.  The use of the words “learning,” “knowing” and “remembering” to me signify some sort of embodiment and sentience that I cannot cede to a machine, device or even a magician’s vial. 

In short, I like the organic nature of the rhizome and the sense of mutuality, but seek more than symbiosis, where the both the individual and the collective adapt to and create new things. Diversity makes it interesting and rich.  I keep heading toward the idea of a learning ecology.  It can adapt, change and even be disrupted and something new emerge and it allows for sustainable gardening. 🙂 The syllabus becomes a garden space, a context setting within which learning can happen and the curriculum is the things that grows there.

The real value in the metaphor is that it provides a way for people to think about abstract concepts and try to examine their own assumptions and preconceptions. For me it is an evolution and slow. 


Gnawing on the Bone: Recognizing and Accrediting Emergent Learning

I keep returning to to the connection between prior learning assessment methodologies and abundance of content. Abundant content is insufficient in creating the conditions for learning, but it does significantly change the ecology for learning.

The notion that people design and engage in their own self-directed learning was well documented by Allen Tough in 1971 in his book Adult’s Learning Projects: A Fresh Approach to Theory and Practice in Adult Learning. (The full text is available on his web site, but the url does not appear in the address bar so I couldn’t figure out how to link to it.) The extra-collegiate learning he describes has long been the focus of prior learning assessment for credit towards a degree.

The term prior is a set up for severing connections.  It assumes that extra-collegiate learning occurs prior to and apart from engagement in college. It discounts the connections that learners make to and from formal to informal learning projects, and the self-directed learning that may arises from the confluence of prescriptive learning such as a formal college class and emergent learning that might satisfy a curiosity..

So what about the learning that happens in the spaces in between formal education? in a recent article Karousou and Mackness (2011) describe emergent learning and provide a wonderful example for the higher education context. Their description parallels how those in the field of prior learning assessment describe the learning being assessed through prior learning assessment methods. Since prior learning that is considered for college credit is often not the result of a prescriptive learning plan, the student writes a retrospective reflection and analysis of that learning, making sense of it.

“Since emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable. We can summarize this as follows: Emergent learning is likely to occur when many self-organising agents interact frequently and openly, with considerable degrees of freedom, but within specific constraints; no individual can see the whole picture; agents and system co-evolve.”

Karousou and Mackness go on to say that “Validation and self-correction within emergent learning networks remains an issue. Many academics still dismiss emergent learning and Web 2.0 as peripheral or even irrelevant to “real” formal learning because they see no mechanisms for validation and self-correction.” There are ways to validate and accredit learning that does not occur as a direct result of of formal instruction or even fit the prescribed curriculum. It is incumbent on academe to recognize redefine the recognition and and assessment of prior learning as the recognition and assessment of emergent learning. Trying to come up with a way to use REAL as the acronym that would at least work in English.

I think the example in the article is worth reposting as it make clear the kind of learning that ought be recognized.

“In research conducted for the UK Higher Education Academy’s Learning Observatory programme, learning narratives were gathered to explore how students actually went about their learning (Williams, Karousou, & Gumtau, 2008). One of these narratives, the Learning Journey, illustrates the way in which emergent learning may arise serendipitously, as it were, in the learning of someone enrolled for a prescriptive learning programme.

This narrative concerns the learning that takes place when April, a mature part-time student in an Early Years Childhood Education degree, goes on a visit to a preschool centre of excellence and a related preschool. April is a preschool manager. On her visit to the centre, she notices:

There were certain things that stuck in my mind about their environment that was completely different to my own. For instance, they have glass bottles, glass vases with flowers on the tables. And really, the fact that the children were so well behaved and quiet, made a big impression, thinking: how can I influence my children to be quieter?

April engages with several staff members at the school and the centre and becomes a member of an informal community of practice (CoP). From her interaction within this CoP, she gains enough confidence to embark on a complete change management programme at her own preschool (despite the skepticism of her fellow teachers), incorporating ideas from her visit and from further interaction in this CoP.

April was only required to write up a report on her visit and some lessons learnt. However, her learning journey goes way beyond the requirements of her prescriptive learning programme, particularly at a first-year level, in what might be called emergent learning. April engages in an unpredicted and far more complex task than was prescribed by her course. This learning was retrospectively coherent and influenced by her participation in an implicit and emergent community of practice. Although this community was small and several participants could probably “see the whole picture,” April’s learning within it was not formally managed. April’s case is one of entirely self-organised, small-scale emergent learning with little or no integration into formal, prescriptive learning or the curriculum.”

This example shows emergent learning that is more sophisticated and advanced than the original intended outcomes of the formal course.  If I go back to Siemens and put the assessment of such learning alongside other services that cannot be duplicated including guidance from another human being that can help the learner place such an experience into their formal studies, then there is a possibility of reducing the cost of higher education and time to degree completion by including emergent learning or informal learning as Tough called into the credentialed learning.

Droegkamp, J. and Taylor, K. (1995), Prior learning assessment, critical self-reflection, and reentry women’s development. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1995: 29–36. doi: 10.1002/ace.36719956506 (sorry its not open content, Wiley wants money).

Siemens, G. (2011) “Duplication theory of educational value” in elearnspace. Retrieved at

Tough, A (1971) The Adult’s Learning Projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning Retrieved from

Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent learning and learning ecologies in Web 2.0. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(3), 39-59. Retrieved from


"It Doesn’t Take a Whole Day to Recognise Sunshine"

The sky is not falling on to the ivory tower, but opportunities and responsibilities are filling the halls. Weller describes many of these in chapter 2 of his new book.  How are you thinking about your practice? 

The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice
Martin Weller
Chapter 2: Is the Revolution Justified 


Convergence of Abundant Content and Prior Learning Assessment

As I have been reading various blogs and participating on some discussion boards, some ideas about open learning and higher education credentialing have begun to come together. I see the promise in open learning as reducing significant financial and location barriers and allowing broad access to learning resources, but how such learning could be assessed and credentialed is still fuzzy.

This credentialing will need to be coupled with other services. Siemens recently opined, “What is valuable, however, is that which can’t be duplicated without additional input costs: personal feedback and assessment, contextualized and personalized navigation through complex topics, encouragement, questioning by a faculty member to promote deeper thinking, and a context and infrastructure of learning.” While Siemens’ defines broader services and I still want to track on that idea, for the moment I am just thinking about what is needed to assess learning so that it can count toward a degree.

Carnevale reports that degrees are still important currency in gaining employment and in earnings. Because learners still need credentials, a badge to show for what they know and can do, I want to focus a bit on credentials and assessment of learning. I’m sure I’ll be back around to the mentoring, which I agree is essential. For the moment I want to think about the role of higher education institutions will have a greater role in recognition of learning from its many sources. Learning is acquired outside of formal higher education; it is often equivalent to college learning but doesn’t carry credit. Colleges and institutions are the institutions that can assess validate and credential that learning. As Susan Huggins puts it “People learn outside the traditional classroom – and it should be valued.”

The Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) led the work in the US to create processes to assess learning gained outside of formal higher education and provides a broadly accepted definition of prior learning assessment:

Prior learning is a term used by educators to describe learning that a person acquires outside a traditional academic environment. This learning may have been acquired through work experience, employer training programs, independent study, non-credit courses, volunteer or community service, travel, or non-college courses or seminars.

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a term used to describe the process by which an individual’s experiential learning is assessed and evaluated for purposes of granting college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training. There are four generally accepted approaches to PLA and, when properly conducted, all ensure academic quality: (1) national standardized exams in specified disciplines, e.g., Advanced Placement (AP) exams, College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, Excelsior college exams, Dantes Subject Standardized Texts (DSST); (2) challenge exams for local courses; (3) evaluated noncollege programs, e.g., American Council on Education (ACE) evaluations of corporate training and military training; and (4) individualized assessments, particularly portfolio-based assessments.
Moving the Starting Line Through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA); CAEL August 2011

National standardized tests already reach broad audiences and are accepted by institutions across the US.  Some institution offer their own course challenge exams.  Although exams are efficient and readily scalable, they can’t be used for many emergent fields or for learning that does not fit the predefined boundaries of a specific topic or course. Evaluations of non-collegiate sponsored programs are also reasonably efficient ways to assess learning, but require the sponsoring entity to pay for the evaluation and for updates.  They require some individual work in matching documentation to recommended credit awards, but the evaluations are reliable and cataloged, so efficiencies are possible.

Much of what people learn falls in between and around what is currently assessed through standardized exams what evaluations of non-formal education programs.  Additionally, learners may have non-formal education coupled with finely honed expertise acquired through experience that provides yet another level of learning that should be recognized.  However, only a handful of institutions conduct prior learning assessment on a large scale and, even then, that credit is generally good only at the institution at which it was earned, perhaps born of distrust of PLA or institutional protectionism. Thomas Edison State College, Excelsior College and Charter Oak State College have long provided credit banking services, but need broader access is required.

The Council on Adult and Experiential Learning’ Learning Counts and KNEXT are two new efforts intended to ramp up scalable individualized PLA program that could address the need for individualized assessment. These services manage the individualized assessment and evaluation processes and provide trustworthy credit recommendations. ACE will serve as the “registrar” for CAEL recommendations and KNEXT is managing their own documentation. Both organizations are working on portability of these credit recommendations, forging agreements with higher education institutions. Portability is the next barrier that needs to be broken down.

While  I have argued that using the personal narrative in individualized prior learning assessment supports integration and coherence, I have not yet resolved assessing learning component-by-component, course-by-course or for that matter earning “credit” with my thinking that a college degree ought to be a coherent whole and still need to think about that.  Although I do see the idea of a degree qualifications profile as advanced by the Lumina Foundation (and other countries) as an element of what might be.

As this is just a start on one small piece of the puzzle, for which the edges are not all sorted, I will certainly need to think more about supporting students and granting degrees in the context of open learning and access that I hope will become ubiquitous.  Please share your thoughts and ideas.  


Disruption in Higher Education

I just finished reading Siemens’ blog post “Duplication Theory of Educational Value” and article he and Matheos wrote “Systemic Changes in Higher Education” and his thinking about the future of higher education really resonates with me. While lots of shifts in technology and globalization create a rich environment and are key ingredients, the changes that enable individual control of content is the really disruptive shift and is the big catalyst of the changes. Some of the ingredients can change.  So as long as the individual, rather than the institution, controls content and what s/he does with it, the changes are coming and in many ways upon us.

Siemens says “What is valuable, however, is that which can’t be duplicated without additional input costs: personal feedback and assessment, contextualized and personalized navigation through complex topics, encouragement, questioning by a faculty member to promote deeper thinking, and a context and infrastructure of learning. Basically: human input costs make education valuable.” He goes further and states “The vast majority of universities that will educate humanity in the coming decades will be those that structure their value point on elements that cannot be easily duplicated and scaled, or at minimum, require input costs to do so.” Siemens is right on target and what he proposes requires a huge shift in how institutions conceptualize their business.  It will be a difficult transition and some will tumble.

As individual access and control of content explodes, the higher education institutions that move toward the integration of services such assessing learning, helping students organize what they know into meaningful packages and then credential that learning will get the cheese.  There will be new are the new institutions that build on what is currently happening and some will remake themselves. 

I would like to learn more about this topic, how people are thinking about this.  Please share some other resources on this topic and let me know what you think. 


Linkedin Network Toy

The MOOC also includes considerations about networks and social networks in particular.  I so much get the network concepts, but then I am much better at that kind of thinking.  I have spent a lot of time over the last several years thinking about connections and relationships in the student information systems.  I once drew something that looked like the diagram below, but with fewer connections and nodes and far less organizational structure.  It that depicted the various applications that made up a student information system and I called it spaghetti.

The analysis of these networks through matrices is a bit dense for me to follow, but I surmise that it is that kind analysis that got the really neat application called Linkedin Maps.  It built a network diagram from my Linkedin connections and it amazing in how accurately it clustered the connections.  The big blue blob is nearly all from Empire State College, my current institution; the red on the right are my long standing connections from prior learning assessment; the purple on the left are high school friends; and the rest are from when I lived in Washington DC and was at American University nearly fifteen years ago.  Even the groups from AU are logically organized into admissions, financial aid and school of education.  This is not spaghetti.  I like little gadgets so this was kinda fun.


Reading about connectivity — trying to connect…

I’ve been poking around and finding resources for the course and decided to start by reading George Siemens’ article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Since this is my first foray into the idea and I have not immersed myself in all of what has been shared, I can’t promise to agree with what I am thinking right now and reserve the right to change my mind.

I am struggling with a some elements in the article and wonder if this is truly a learning theory, but rather an analysis of the current landscape, and the pedagogies and literacies needed to support learning.  The article describes the new context for learning, the challenges presented by complexity and chaos, and the implications for learning within that context along with some approaches.  His final line “Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.” is a more accurate description of what is included in the idea of connectivism. I find the idea that connections are necessary and inherent in learning a useful concept.  While I struggle with some of the elements, I’m not condemning the whole idea, far from it.

Another area where I struggled with Siemens’ presentation is more a fundamental difference how I understand the locus of knowledge and thus, where learning occurs. In discussing behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism Siemens states: “These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.” Siemens also asserts “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” I do not see how the article makes the case for “learning” as a process outside of a living being(s), or the case that knowledge or learning exists outside a living being(s). It also does not sort out the human collective from the organization and pairs “organization” with “database,” which is a bit of a stretch for me.

I would argue that the external symbolic representation, whether it be linguistic, mathematical or artistic, of what a person or a collective knows is really no more than information for the next recipients. It may be sophisticated and highly nuanced, and may have been manipulated with software to reshape it, but it is just data that the recipient(s), in order to claim knowledge, must comprehend and/or use. I get “connect with” as a way to know something and as a necessary component of comprehension and use. The communication may be networked and even from multiple sources, but until a person (or a group of people) grapple with it, it is only information.  I guess this puts me more in a constructivist seat, although I am comfortable with Downes notion that learning is “grown anew by each learner” which connotes to me that learning is some sort of internal process.

I agree with Siemens in the the need for new approaches and skills and the implications for the environment in which we now work, communicate and learn, but I struggled with was the idea that the need for new skills was a new theory of learning. Siemens states: “Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. In a networked world, the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins.” This could well be defined as information literacy and in this complex web 2.O world, metaliteracy as defined by Mackey and Jacobson in “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy” may be a more apt term, especially since we are really considering not just acquisition, but active participation in the vast networked environment.

I am fully onboard with the need for skills to engage among the ever-expanding complexities and to deal with the rapid decay in the usefulness of what one knows and the unpredictability of the knowledge that will be needed. One of his conclusions wraps this up well: “Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” The implications of connectivism for how learning is facilitated and who has access are where I see the real potential of connectivism.

So is my newbie understanding and I would appreciate others sharing ideas and reactions. 



I am in pre-course anticipation mode. I have registered for the MOOC and the start is still a few weeks away.  I keep looking at the bit of material available on the course web site.  The facilitators are from all around the world and the topic is intriguing.  In the course we, maybe a thousand of us, will consider future of education and how it is shifting in the face of multiple disruptive forces including technology.  I’m eager to get started.

I’m curious about the tools and so I started in the blog because it is a familiar medium.  I’m still trying to decide if blogging is for me.  I think it probably is and a focused project like this course will help.  I have also begun finding other blogs to follow.

Besides setting up this blog, I started playing with diigo based on a recommendation from a colleague and found that on my college owned computers, I had to use Mozilla to load the toolbar instead of IE.  Apparently, active directory can’t stop me from downloading addons with Mozilla.  With the college’s incredibly restrictive implementation of active directory, small victories, even workarounds make my day.  I decided to try working on a couple of projects using diigo as a way to track and tag online resources.  I immediately started bookmarking resources for other things too.

For now, I’m poking around the edges and playing with a few tools and anticipating a wonderful new experience.  Maybe by the close of the course, I won’t be such a newbie.

A little free association: as I was writing, this song kept running through my head and so it should run through yours too.