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Tag: reflection

Body Combat: Metaphor for Open Ed Practice & Critical Advocacy #OER17 #101openstories

Just wondering what’s body combat? Click here

I’m really looking forward to attending #OER17 next week and participating in the conversation about openness in education, particularly as there’s an emphasis on critical perspectives. The conference theme is ‘The Politics of Open’.

This couldn’t be better for me, as I’ve recently set my cap at doing a PhD study that takes a critical look at aspects of open educational practice (OEP). Although I’ve followed the event over the last few years, it’ll be the first time that I’ve attended in person. However, I don’t think I’ll feel like a total ‘newbie’ because to some extent I already feel part of the ‘open community’. Notwithstanding the fact that I’m based in IET in The Open University and four fellow PhD colleagues will be presenting, plus the entire OER Hub team, also based in IET, it’s because, as an open learner, I’ve already blogged, Tweeted and hung out with a number of individuals who are attending the conference. Plus, there’s so much pre-conference interactive engagement on social media that I’ve been introduced to even more like minded ‘open peeps’. There’s a creative media challenge, questions and hashtags and, get this, the keynote speaker, Maha Bali, has been preparing her keynote in the open through a series of blog posts, which she tantalizing pulled together in an #OpenEdSig webinar earlier this week. I strongly urge anyone to watch it as it serves as a REALLY powerful example of what it means for someone to be open ‘as a way of being’, and to engage in open, networked and participatory scholarship.

Which kind of brings me to my research interest, as well as nicely setting up this post as a contribution to the #101openstories project that launched this week. The project invites personal stories about openness, the aim of which is to

help us all get to know each other, share ideas and engage in conversations and identify opportunities to support each other and collaborate. These stories will help us learn with and from each other and grow individually AND collectively.

My open story is that I was hooked through participation in the whole cMOOC phenomenon, to which this blog stands testament. I’m wholeheartedly a product of innovative open educators who dreamed, and dared, to open up learning for all on the web, well, all like me any way 🙂 As such, I feel indebted to these educators and to the network that formed part of this experience, such that I’m interested to learn more about the Open Education and the OER movement and to advocate on its behalf. However, I must essentially be something of a skeptic because I always need to examine things critically, that is, to consider matters of power and to look for hidden assumptions. I know open education is contested, with it increasingly being seen as a response to pressures of neoliberal economics and austerity (Jones 2015). MOOcs being a case in point. Like Martin Weller (2014) says, there’s a ‘Battle for Open‘. Indeed, OER17 is a response to this.

The idea of openness as ‘a way of being’ is very appealing to me. I mean, there’s just so many people out there who seem to approach teaching and learning in this way – sharing openly and transparently as a means of democratizing knowledge. So when I recently discovered the concept of self_OER put forward by Maha Bali and Suzan Koseoglu at OER16, and its references to openness as a ‘way of being’, I was immediately intrigued, especially as they posed the question: how might the processes and products of open scholarship align/intersect with the goals of open education? It’s exactly this that I hope to take up. However, baring in mind that openness is contested, which is evident in the battle metaphor, and which, to be honest, seems to imply institutions, corporations and generally all things big and organized, I was wondering if a metaphor that specifically speaks to the individual open practitioner might be more helpful, body combat!! That’s right, a martial arts inspired mind set.

I recently started going to body combat fitness classes (no, that’s not me in the video) and I can’t help thinking that as open educators and researchers we might benefit from developing our practice, metaphorically, along these lines. Release the inner warrior to fight off the co-option of open, or ‘open washing’.

As Stephen Brookfield (1998) says, critically reflective practice

makes us more aware of those submerged and unacknowledged power dynamics that infuse all practice settings. It also helps to detect hegemonic assumptions – assumptions that we think are in our own best interests but that actually work against us in the long term (p. 197).

Open education has been critiqued for not engaging critically with aspects of power (Bayne et al., 2015; Knox, 2013), and where it has engaged, it has tended to focus on hegemonic aspects of sovereign power, and failed to take account of disciplinary aspects, or ‘technologies of the self’, whereby individuals constitute themselves within and through systems of power, which might seem natural but are either enabled or constrained by the techniques available in the associated discourse (Foucault, 1998). You can see why I’m intrigued by the the concept of the self as OER. The research I’m formulating is not to intended  to expose contradictions and pull the rug from under the feet of those engaged in open education, far from it, rather it’s to suggest something akin to collective self-examination, or a SWOT analysis, one that takes account of all aspects of power. I’m interested to become a better informed open practitioner and to advance the ‘true’ goals of open education. Therefore, extending the martial arts metaphor, I see critical investigation and a body combat mindset as presenting a way of becoming a ‘black belt’ advocate for open education. What do you think?

I look forward to participating in the conversation at OER17 next week and to developing my research ideas further.


  • Bayne, S., Knox, J. and Ross, J. (2015) ‘Open education: the need for a critical approach’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 247–250.
  • Brookfield, S. (1998) ‘Critically reflective practice’, Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 197–205.
  • Foucault, Michel, et al. (1988) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Univ of Massachusetts Press.
  • Jones, C. (2015) ‘Openness, technologies, business models and austerity’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 328–349.
  • Knox, J. (2013) ‘Five critiques of the open educational resources movement’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 8, pp. 821–832.
  • Koseoglu, S. and Bali, M. (2016) ‘The Self as an Open Educational Resource [1091]’, #OER16 [Online]. Available at
  • Weller, M. (2014) Battle for Open, Ubiquity Press [Online]. Available at

Rhizomatic me, a learning nomad.

This blog post has been a long time coming, and it’s still only likely to be a waif of a thing after all that, but here goes any way.

Back in June, I gave a presentation at CELT entitled “beyond the walled garden – the story of how one learner used social media for professional learning and development” (that learner being me, of course). The aim was to make concepts regarding change within Higher Education real by bringing something of the lived experience to the discussion. As such, I related the story of how I discovered social tools for professional networking and development and how I subsequently went on to discover open education, take advantage of the new ways of learning online and to develop as a digitally literate and networked learner/practitioner. Whilst reflecting on and narrating this experience, I acknowledged a number of new ways in which the web facilitates learning and a number of new learning theories pertinent to the digital age, that is to say, learning in communities, social networks and in MOOCs giving reference to connectivism, rhizomatic learning, heutagogy and CoPs. Thinking back over it all, I found the concept of rhizomatic learning to really resonate with me, and to intrigue me equally as well. As such, rhizomatic learning is a topic that I want to understand more deeply, and to understand why it accords so greatly. Well, I’ve made a start.

I’d come across the term, or terms, “rhizome” and “rhizomatic learning” some time ago but what it signified didn’t really interest me, until I discovered, back in January, through quadblogging in #edcmooc, that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is the nomad. Thank you Ary Aranguiz. Now, the mention of the word nomad certainly had me interested; why, hadn’t I already got my summer vacation booked to Mongolia and China, part of which, …I kid you not, includes a home-stay with nomadic families (the adventure starts next week, by the way). The choice of destination, Mongolia in particular, seems like a natural choice to me as I generally spend my vacations roaming around and sleeping under canvas. I like to walk long distance paths and I love camping, especially wild camping. Besides, I’m a hopeless idealist who dreams of freedom and travel. Spanning time and space, I’ve read heaps of travel books and accounts from various explorers: ‘Into the Wild’; ‘South’; ‘Touching the Void’; ‘As I Walked Out One Mid-summer’s Afternoon’; ”Ghost Riders – Travels with American Nomads’; ‘In the Empire of Genghis Khan’; ‘Red Dust’… the list goes on.

The nomad in me.
The nomad in me.

Any way, enough of that. Why should it be that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is that of the nomad? Dave Cormier, originator of Rhizomatic Learning Theory, explains the thinking.

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

Hence, the learning nomad can be thought of as ‘being the thing itself’. It’s like the difference between playing a succession of notes, one after the other, and playing music, or it’s like parallel parking, if you prefer, if you think of the steps and perform them one at a time, invariably you mount the pavement. Either way, there’ s a point where you stop thinking of facts or steps and understand the act.

To me, and to probably a lot of others, a nomad more easily conjures up images of wandering across open spaces. So far though, this aspect has not come through in my reading. However, the notion of freedom and transcending boundaries seems to fit nicely with the idea of play as a habit of learning that I was thinking about in my last blog post, play as exploration that is.

Gwen Gordon, in asking “What is Play?” says that “freedom is a hallmark of play” as it softens boundaries and allows individuals to become adaptive and spontaneous. She continues, playfulness is “the freedom of the total self to move as a whole in relationship to the total environment”( p.8). Now that sounds like a nomad. What’s more, through such play, with its interactions across boundaries and it’s impulse towards both freedom and connection, transformations are made possible.

According to Dave Cormier, nomads (or those with a disposition for play as exploration) “have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts”. So, what does “to learn rhizomatically” actually mean? And, where does the term come from? Well, rhizome refers to a way in which certain plants spread. Often understood as a creeping root stalks, rhizomes go out horizontally and interact with their environment. Certainly, they’re messy, disorderly and difficult to control, but at the same time they’re resilient and have a lot of important qualities, which allows them to adapt within their ecosystem. As such, rhizomes have come to represent a model for learning for uncertainty and, like the learning process of life itself, they’ve no beginning or end either.

By the way, if you have an hour to spare, I heartily recommend that you listen to the Introduction to Rhizomatic Learning that Dave Cormier did on the topic in the #etmooc archive. It’s class.

If you think about it, uncertainty is always part of the learning process. How do we know what things you’re going to need in the future; what problems you’re going to have to solve? Thus, learning, now more than ever, ought to help prepare people for, and be comfortable with, uncertainty; help them to adapt to new situations and help them to make the best decisions they can when the answer is unknown. Therefore, for a learning nomad to develop it’s no good having prescribed learning outcome as this thwarts the ability to explore, make connections, be creative and to solve problems. Besides, the point at which any new idea takes shape, and what it means, will be different for each and every learning nomad.

“Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path”.

Incidentally, a nomadic nature is something that Harold Jarche equates with the new “knowledge artisans” of the network era. Connected and knowledgeable individuals with their own learning networks and their own ways of working, individuals who are often more independent and more contractual or shorter-term than previous information age employees, all-in-all, probably more comfortable with uncertainty. Well, I can certainly live with that.

This all sounds wonderful, learning and living nirvana probably, but so far I’ve only thought of rhizomatic learning from my own point of view as a learner and not from the point of view of a facilitator of learning, so now the question becomes how can I, and other educators, help learners to develop their learning nomad abilities and be comfortable dealing with uncertainty? To defuse those predetermined outcomes, rhizomatic learning theory proposes that community becomes the curriculum… and I propose that I save that for another blog post.


Cormier, Dave (2011) Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system? Available at:

Cormier, Dave (2011) Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach? Available at:

Gordon, Gwen (2007) What is Play? In Search of a Universal Definition. Available at:

POT Cert Week 24: looking back at my learning #potcert

This week is the final week of the POT Cert course and in order to be awarded the Program for Online Teaching Certificate, yah, I need to create a post that links to all my posts for the year, and make a brief statement about what each shows about my learning. So, here it is, a look back at my learning.

Looking back.
Looking back.

Week 23: I decided to make a short screencast presentation on the topic of personal learning networks (PLNs). In developing this presentation, I learned that although I thought I knew something about personal learning networks, it’s very difficult to actually demonstrate how one works. I also learned that it takes way more time and skill to execute a screencast presentation than I’d previously imagined.

Week 22: No surprise, I really enjoyed the topic this week, personal learning networks. The suggested readings really pulled together a lot of things for me. I was particularly glad to have learned more about Alec Couros and his approach to networked practice. I enjoyed writing my blog post too because I was able to connect it to activities in my own personal learning network.

Week 21: This week’s topic of learning theory was really tricky to post about. Not that I don’t understand learning theories by and large, just that it’s such an enormous topic. I was unable to watch Jenny Mackness’s video because I didn’t realise that my browser had fallen out with YouTube, so I decided to write a reply to Larry Sanger’s article, “Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age” instead. In truth, I just wanted to get the post out of the way; it wasn’t a great post, but I was glad that I posted something and that Jenny was interested enough to make comment because a very interesting discussion ensued.

Week 20: I called this post “the “golden triangle” of pedagogy, ed tech and instructional design”. Although the topic of the week was instructional design, I was interested to think about how all three of these disciplines fit together in the learning process. I had noted that I prefer to use the term learning design instead of instructional design, and Jim Julius enlightened me in the comments as to why there’s a variance in the terminology.

Week 19: Although web-enhanced, hybrid and open classes was the topic of the week, I took a slight detour from the text book to think about self-directed and self-determined learning, namely andragogy and heutagogy.

Week 18: The course, or learning management system is a topic that I seem to have been thinking about almost every week throughout the POT Cert course.  What’s best, the institutional LMS, a self-hosted platform, or an assemblage of web tools cobbled together? Although I very much agree that “it’s time to think of the Internet, not the LMS, as our platform”, I still can’t fathom this question, and it appears that I’m not alone. See Lisa’s recent post on the subject.

Week 17: A bit of fun this week. Starring Lisa and Jim, I created an animation, which highlights Lisa M Lane’s tips for online course management.

Week 16: This week was all about preparing students for online learning”, so taking Ko and Rossen’s advice, and adhering to the course brief, I started to make an FAQ file of potential sticking points within my envisaged course. A very useful exercise that I must return to.

Week 15: Screencasting and multi media – I embedded a poll into my post and practised making a screencast.

Week 14: Audio and video – I tried out audioboo, soundgecko and eyejot. I was impressed with the possibilities that audio tools offer in the online classroom.

Week 13: Images and screenshots – I learned how to annotate images. However, I also learned that I’m a real novice when it comes to the using the photo sharing site Flickr and making the most of images in my work. This is definitely an area that I need to improve.

Week 12: Mid-term reflection.

Week 11: Class resources and intellectual property, this was a tough topic, but there were lots of good resources provided. The upshot being that I learned about Creative Commons and I now use a Creative Commons license on my blog posts and other work that I put out on the web. I also got to understand the reasoning behind remix culture. A good week’s work.

Week 10: With regards to the topic of open platforms for teaching and learning, I chose to investigate blogs, and how best to engage and develop students as bloggers. I also considered using blogs as ePortfolios.

Week 9: Student activities was this week’s topic, and the textbook chapter was very good in providing solid advice for organising, supervising and assessing group activities. I was particularly interested to learn how to facilitate effective group activities that prove to be satisfying for all concerned because in my experience of group work, there’s usually some element that doesn’t sit right for someone. I recalled an article about how to design effective online group work activities, which explained that the key to successful group work is to “design tasks that are truly collaborative, meaning the students will benefit more from doing the activity as a group than doing it alone”. The course textbook also provided a long list of student activities.

Week 8: Following on from week 7, this week’s topic was about creating community, and it considered the use of technology in such an endeavour. Technologies considered included not only the LMS, but a range of synchronous and audio technologies. I read “Envisioning the post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network“, and considered the role that Twitter might play in all of this.

Week 7: I was “absent without leave” for this week’s topic of building community in the online classroom, so instead of posting anything of substance on the topic, I spent my time instead looking over the discussions that were already under way and offered comments where I felt I could add something of value or interest. I related my experience of using Twitter and consolidated my learning in my next blog post.

Week 6: This week was fun, as under the theme of internet skills and tools, I managed to demonstrate my fledgling knowledge of HTML code and understanding of the three different kinds of algorithms used for handling information: technological, personalised and social.

Week 5: Within the topic of the online syllabus, I found the recording of “The Interactive Syllabus” to be very useful. It highlighted the importance of taking account of the amount of clicking that a learner will have to do in order to arrive at the required location and gave practical instruction on how how to design this in. Rachele DeMeo’s presentation in Week 23 also demonstrated the importance of visual design in an online syllabus.

Week 4: Pedagogy and Course Design II – I entitled my post “designing authentic learning with ‘real’ people – a portfolio approach” as these are the key elements that I want to be present in the course that I have in mind.

Week 3: Pedagogy and Course Design I – I entitled my post “a ‘clean’ approach to course design” as I wanted to make the point that I was not converting an existing face-to-face course to an online format.

Week 2: In this introductory stage questions like “where the hell do I start?” were very real, and thanks to Lisa and the a whole bunch of people in the POT Cert community, I managed to make a start. I identified a textbook as my guiding force and was given lots of help and support in thinking about a platform for delivering an online course.

Week 1: Introduction and start blogging. Looking back, I’m struck by the imperative in the first week’s session to “start blogging”, and quite right too. I’d like to shout “start blogging” to everyone, because learning the discipline of blogging and forming a blogging habit has, for me, been one of the real gains from this course. I’ve not just learned about the course content, but I’ve developed my style as a blogger and in doing so, I’ve found my voice. By blogging, you not only reflect on and consolidate your learning but through the comments of others your learning continues to grow as you continue the conversation and make connections.

Looking back over all, I can say that I’ve achieved my goals for the POT Cert course. I’ve developed my knowledge and skills in relation to teaching online and I’ve put together the broad outline of a course that aims to deliver a practical introduction to digital literacies. To check my progress, I completed a self-assessment for online teaching, which proved to be a useful recap exercise. Notwithstanding the pedagogical aspects, it underlined that in order to deliver effective online programs rigorous planning, attention to detail and effective time management are at the heart of what’s required.

Finally, in all honesty, I joined up to the POT Cert course with no real idea what it would involve, but the experience has exceeded any expectations that I could have imagined, not only have I learned valuable stuff, but I’ve met lots of wonderful, open and generous people who’ve welcomed me into their community and helped me discover a new way of working. It’ll be a pleasure to pay my gratitude forward and help out with the next POT Cert course. I can definitely recommend it.

Thank you.

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