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The #OEP jigsaw pieces are out of the box, or is that #selfOER?

There’s nothing for it! I’m gonna have to blog messy – confused and conflated as I resume my passion for open learning and rejoin the conversation on all things open and education. Well, actually, as I try and firm up a PhD research proposal and, fingers crossed, get down to the business of carrying it out – as an open researcher, possibly.

I’m a full-time research student funded on a 1+3 deal, which means that I had to undertake a Research Master’s before embarking on the PhD proper. The good news is I passed my MRes. I received final confirmation just last week. The thing is, although I gained valuable skills, I think the exercise dealt me something of a curve-ball with regards to my relationship with open learning. No, what I really mean is learning in the open. It served to funnel me into an institutional programme of prescribed assignments and to undertake a dissertation at breakneck speed. There was no time to learn outside of these parameters and, once the programme had commenced, no time to reflect on the implications of decisions made for pragmatic reasons. Any way, I’m now in a position to reflect on my experience and to plan the way ahead – back on the open road 🙂

Originally, I responded to a call for research proposals under the theme of ‘Literacies for Learning in a Digital Age’. I proposed something relating to literacies and professional learning in open networks. However, from the get go (interview) the question was “what professionals?”, “what context?”, to which my non-plussed answer was “professionals, people, in networks, the Internet”. And then the momentum of the MRes programme kicked in and there was no time to unpack my thinking and to take this forward. But now that I can go back, I see where the impasse occurred. There was much that was conflated.

The call itself was conflated. Areas suggested for investigation were conflated across contexts for learning and across the disciplines of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and literacies studies. These are disciplines that I’m conflated over myself as I have a subject specialism in Adult Literacy and a Master’s degree in Technology, Learning, Innovation and Change, which presents equally a source of synergy and challenge. There are different epistemological and methodological approaches associated with each respectively, and the uneasy relationship this causes is well-documented (Goodfellow & Lea, 2013; Gourlay, Hamilton & Lea, 2014; Lea, 2016).

I’m further conflated across contexts. I often fail to distinguish between everyday learning, lifelong learning, personal learning and professional learning, informal learning for continuing professional development and informal workplace learning. I’m also conflated across roles, or identities. Am I a learner, an educator, a researcher, learning support or learning technologist? Furthermore, am I positioned inside the academy or outside? Maybe I’m just me: living and learning, and liking it all the more when I’m participating in open networks.

It’s fair to say that I don’t easily recognise boundaries. There can be little doubt that I’m “a boundary creature [that] inhabits more than one world” (McGinnis, 1999, p.61). I think this is due in part because of my familiarity with network technology and learning in networks. Also, because the ability to adapt across contexts with the requisite change of identity is fundamental for a literacies practitioner so that they can support literacy as situated social practice wherever they’re deployed. Thankfully, the ability to perform work around boundary objects in interdisciplinary teams is an acknowledged imperative relative to TEL (Scanlon and Taylor, 2016), so all is not lost.

Given all this, and in terms of moving forward, I’m mindful of Maxwell’s (2013) advice that a conceptual framework for research is something that you build, not something that exists ready-made, and that the most productive ones often bring in ideas from outside traditionally defined fields and/or integrate different approaches or lines of investigation, or theories that hadn’t been previously connected.

It’s here that Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2005 and Law & Hassard, 1999) speaks to my sensibilities. ANT does not countenance binary concepts and plays down context in favor of contextualization. To counter technological determinism and social determinism, it takes a relational view that sees boundaries between the social and the material as emerging from the strength of  relationships between human and non-human actors. This relationship is manifested, or enacted, in everyday practices.

It seems that Actor Network Theory might be a useful way to investigate Open Educational Practices (OEP). I provide the definition of OEP advanced by Ehlers and Conole (2010), although it must be noted there’s no singularly agreed definition.

‘Open Educational Practices (OEP) are the use of open educational resources with the aim to improve the quality of educational processes and innovate educational environments.’

Actor Network Theory would enable OEP to be framed as sociomaterial practice and to highlight the literacy practices and use of learning technology that OEP embeds.

I mean, how does OEP get done? What does it look like? What components hold it together as a practice – texts, tech, policies etc. etc. How does it hold together to become a recognizable practice? In terms of the relationships that hold it together, what are the relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

O.K, but the question still remains, where is this OEP; where are the open education practices situated that I hope to research? In the network, of course, in the network of practices that pertain to Open Scholarship (Weller, 2011), or Networked Participatory Scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012), and given ANT’s proclivity towards the symmetry of  human and non-human actants, the recent conceptualization of the self as OER (Koseoglu and Bali, 2016), indeed a human OER (Funes, 2014), seems an almost irresistible prospect to research from such a perspective.

“Open educational practices as resources for others to use” (Koseoglu and Bali, 2016).

That is, the informal everyday activities that arise out of the relationships and motivations of individuals participating in open networked activities such as blogging and Tweeting.

So, along with a range of concepts, the OEP jigsaw pieces are out of the box, or maybe the self-OER or human OER jigsaw pieces are out of the box, who knows. And who knows, as I progress my research ideas, how they’ll be assembled and what picture they’ll present.


Ehlers, U. and Conole, G. (2010) ‘Open educational practices: Unleashing the power of OER’, UNESCO Workshop on OER in Namibia [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Funes, M. (2014) ‘A human OER’, doublemirror [Online]. Available at (Accessed 6 February 2017).

Goodfellow, R. and Lea, M.R., 2013. Literacy in the digital university: Critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology. Routledge.

Gourlay, L., Hamilton, M. and Rosalind Lea, M. (2014) ‘Textual practices in the new media digital landscape: messing with digital literacies’, Research in Learning Technology, vol. 21, no. 0 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Koseoglu, S. and Bali, M. (2016) ‘The Self as an Open Educational Resource [1091]’, #OER16 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 6 February 2017).

Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

Law, J. & Hassard, J. (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford, England: Blackwell

Lea, M. R. (2016) ‘Academic literacies: looking back in order to look forward’, Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL), vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 88–101.

Maxwell, J. A. (2013) Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach., 3 edition. Thousand Oaks, Calif, SAGE Publications, Inc.

McGinnis, M.V. (1999) Bioregionalism. Cited in Adams, A., Fitzgerald, E. and Priestnall, G. (2013) ‘Of Catwalk Technologies and Boundary Creatures’, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 1–34.

Scanlon, E. and Taylor, J. (2016) ‘Is technology enhanced learning an interdisciplinary activity?’, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship. International Review of Online & Distributed Learning, 13(4), 166-189.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.

Image: Erdenebayar

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Open, with care… and vulnerability.

My enquiry into what exactly the notion of open and openness entails seems to almost have taken me back to the starting point, the starting point not only of this particular chapter of enquiry but also to the starting point of my own initiation into open online learning and learning in the open. That’s because caring and vulnerability has been the theme taken up this week in Networked Scholars. Although I’ve already highlighted vulnerability as being, for me, a key aspect of being an open learner,

a way to engage in learning that acknowledges the vulnerability and risk that’s inherent and asks the learner to recognize and embrace this,

it was interesting to consider vulnerability yet more closely and an absolute privilege and a delight to have Bonnie Stewart share her thoughts on the topic.

In a powerful and searingly honest ‘live chat‘, Bonnie outlined the deeply personal circumstances in which her blog and was initiated, identifying the move as displaying vulnerability with agency. To me, that phrase, vulnerability with agency, seems to capture what’s at the heart of networks and learning in the open and as such, it begs the question how do educators bring learners to such a position, and by encouraging them to participate in this way what might they be asking them to assert and what might they be asking them to risk? Not easy.

It was interesting therefore to come across an article from ALT’s July newsletter entitled ‘Social media in education: ethical concerns‘ in which HE educators discussed these issues. A primary concern was that of online harassment. Of course I’ve heard of internet trolls and cyber-bullying, and I know that women are not fairly represented or treated in certain fields, but I hadn’t really stopped to consider any of this in great detail, not until now that is. Not until I was confronted as part of this week’s discussion with Kathy Sierra’s recent revelations about the harrowing experiences she’s had to endure online. Horrendous. When you’ve had nothing but positive experiences using a social networking tool such as Twitter, it’s an uncomfortable truth to realize that, for all it’s good, it’s also a hate amplifier.

The purpose of this week’s topic in #scholar14 was to consider that social media and online networks are not neutral and that, for better or worse, social media reflects society. So far, I’ve explored how online social networks function as places where scholars can agencially make themselves vulnerable but where they might also be exposed to the darker side of humanity. Thankfully, online social networks also function as places where scholars may express and experience care: support or mutuality, if you will.

open with care 1
Open with care.

As the saying goes ‘sharing is caring‘, and a culture of sharing it seems is increasingly becoming the norm online. It’s argued that open practices reflect a form of caring, and that such a culture of sharing or giving without expectation of anything in return potentially leads to the development of ‘gift economies‘ or a series of relationships that depend on meaningful collaborations and pay-it-forward interactions. I can certainly vouch for this: people sharing status updates and links, taking the time to comment on blog posts, cooperating in open online courses, collaborating in research projects and, in the case of POTCert, paying it forward. As a case in point, I think POTCert (Programme for Online Teaching) deserves a special mention, not only because it’s where I was initiated into open online learning but because it functions as a type of gift economy and exemplifies the altruistic culture of sharing outlined above. POTCert is a free, open, online class aimed at those who wish to teach online. It was was founded at MiraCosta College, San Diego and is run by run by a volunteer faculty group with its alumni ‘paying it forward’ each semester in the form of mentoring and/or moderating etc. Respect due.

Resources: in order to add more context to Bonnie Stewart’s live chat, here are the links to further resources.

Networks of Care and Vulnerability [blog]

Networked Identity: Networks of Care and Vulnerability

Networked Scholars Expert Chat with Bonnie Stewart [Youtube]

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Personal learning networks: it’s mutual #xplrpln

Week 4 of the open online seminar Exploring Personal Learning Networks gets down to participants pitching to an organizational leader the value (and implications) that PLNs would bring to them. I have to say that over the last few weeks the discussion has been both intensive and extensive as the community discussed the coming together of personal learning networks and the organizational context. Here though, I must point out that it’s the addition of organizational involvement that’s caused me difficulty because, similar to Deborah W Halasz, I’m not directly involved in an organizational context relative to the PLN that I’ve been developing (probably why I was interested to consider PLNs in relation to contractors, adjuncts and the like in my last blog post) and, no surprise here, I’m convinced.

So now what indeed?

Well thanks to suggestions, I’m going to think about others who might benefit from developing a PLN and explore the direction from which they’re best developed. The context I’ve chosen is higher education, as I’d like to think that the sentiments in this blog post might form the basis of a discussion in some kind of teaching and learning forum or committee. Hopefully, this would have representation from both academics and students with discussion/actions being disseminated to administrators and support staff within the institution.

All along within the seminar it’s been suggested that we hone a definition of personal learning networks and consider where this falls between the spectrum of “PLNs are absolutely personal and everyone has their own version of a definition” to “PLNs have clear defining attributes”. I’m squarely in the “personal” camp where each PLN is as unique as a snowflake. And as such, I’m not overly keen on providing a definition. I’d rather describe my PLN and show others how I’ve constructed one and highlight the benefits that it brings. At the moment, I’d describe my PLN something like this:

enhanced by social networking technologies, my PLN is the connections and relationships I develop and nurture in order to pursue my learning goals and to make sense of the things I’m interested in.

In addition, I can offer this screencast, entitled “A Presentation of Networking and Learning” (made for my POTCert class earlier in the year) to show what one might look like. Oh, and I think this #xplrpln tweet nicely captures the nature of my PLN and the dualism that’s at play.

Any way to continue, within the higher ed group that formed it was thought that the development of PLNs might assist members of faculty who wanted to develop their online teaching offer. But, as Rick Bartlett reminds us, it’s not that networking is new to faculty; academics have always had their networks, attended conferences and collaborated with colleagues. It’s just that the technology is changing and with it comes greater opportunity for networking/collaboration, and with a wider audience now too. On this point, it was thought that colleges/universities might encourage PLNs as part of their outreach activities. Virginia Trovato came up with the excellent idea of “campuses as incubators for PLNs” where opportunities for building PLNs would be encouraged and the relevant pedagogies embedded in the curriculum. After all, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that individuals and organizations need to develop a new set of skills and a new mindset to thrive in the new networked era (or possibly just survive even).

The important point in all of this is that personal learning networks are precisely that, and they flourish for mutual benefit when individuals are able to freely persue their interests and their learning goals (or shared learning goals). In which case then, PLNs can’t be mandated by top-down approaches nor, like Jane Hart frequently says, can people be forced to be social either. So it seems to me then that the best way to go is for committed individuals (like me) to model what’s necessary in order to develop and nurture a PLN and to highlight the benefits to be gained from being a connected/networked practitioner. Hopefully, this will encourage others to develop PLNs of their own. Furthermore, seeing as you can’t mandate or force this activity, any organization interested in “incubating” PLNs might best be served by considering the different ways that individuals can be supported to become connected, if and when they choose to, and not have technical issues or policy issues stand in the way.

Hey what do you know, I reckon I could pitch this to an organizational leader after all. In fact, I believe the whole #xplrpln community could do a pretty good job.

Therefore, before I sign off this blog post I’d like to say a great big thank you to Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott for facilitating this seminar and to the community of participants who wrestled with this challenging topic. I hope you don’t mind if my artifact is in fact a hyperlink to an existing one and if my final reflections have largely been a synthesis of the discussion we’ve had. I look forward to continuing the discussion in our ongoing connections… PLNs as language – now what’s that all about?