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Tag: open badges

A funny thing happened on the way to the museum, and other musings prompted by my travels to China and Mongolia.

I just got back from a month long trip where I spent a couple of weeks exploring both China and Mongolia, well exploring bits of them at least because they’re massive, and I thought I’d put together a bit of a blog post to share some of the things that the trip made me reflect on, things loosely to do with learning that is.

It’s true, a funny thing did happen on the way to the museum. In Xi’an, my husband, Steve, and I wanted to gen up on Chinese history and the Terracotta Army but we’d read that the queues for the museum were gargantuan and that early arrival was advised. So one morning, armed only with the number of the bus that passed by the museum and a city map splattered in Chinese writing, we set out sharp. Believing we were somewhere in the vicinity, we got off the bus and began to walk in what we thought was the general direction of the museum. Happy days, almost immediately we found a large modern building with a ginormous queue snaking its way around.

Xi'an: the queue for the library.
Xi’an: the queue.

Naturally enough, we tagged on the end and joined the queue. After a while, I told Steve to wait in line whilst I checked out the front of the queue – to see if I could glean any info about entry to the museum. I scoured the front of the building for clues, anything written in English. There wasn’t much to go on, but eventually, above the main door, I spied the words ‘Xi’an library’. All these people were waiting for the library to open!! I couldn’t believe it. The queue was enormous. On closer inspection though, everyone in the queue had books under their arm. They were indeed going to study. When I got back to Steve, I said “this isn’t the museum; you’ll never guess what all these people are queuing for; they’re queuing to get into the library!”, to which he replied “if you told people back home, they’d never believe you.” It’s true. Here you just don’t associate libraries with queues, or with that much ‘pulling power’, I guess.

Anyhow, the incident got me thinking about the difference between studying and learning. Those in the queue were obviously going to the library to study (obvious once you allow the notion of queues and libraries to hang together that is). To me, studying seems to imply formal learning with motivation largely influenced by extrinsic factors, whereas learning seems to be something more ‘natural’ and somehow more intrinsic. However, when I looked at the definitions I got

  • to learn = to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practising, being taught, or experiencing something
  • to study = to read, memorize facts, attend school, etc., in order to learn about a subject

So, regardless of the motivation, a fraught topic in itself, it seems that studying is the action required to reach the learning goal.

The incident also made me reflect upon the role that libraries have played in my life. Certainly, I remember going to the library as a child and picking out my ‘reading books’, but the incident particularly made me think back to the time when I was nineteen and when, having returned home from a working holiday in Norway eager to know more about Polar exploration and the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, I received from the British Library, via an inter-library loan, a first edition copy of Amundsen’s account of his 1912 South Pole expedition. Well, at least I think it was a first edition copy; certainly, it was old and certainly, it was a thrill to get my hands on it. Also, I’ve long said that the thing I miss most about no longer living in a city is the library, the hours I spent in Nottingham City Library, all those free books and Ordnance Survey maps!!

So, although libraries aren’t exactly synonymous with eager queues, they’re a valuable, often unsung, public resource that, as we hurtle into the digital and online era, hopefully won’t be sidelined or diminished or, more worryingly given the current economic climate, won’t be axed as cuts in public spending are more keenly sought.

That was in China, but with my propensity for wandering around and my particular affinity for nomadism the other part of the trip was to Mongolia, and notably a “Ger to Ger” homestay with Mongolian families. This part of the trip was fabulous as we stayed in the guest ger (yurt/tent) of four different families and were able to interact and observe their daily life, which totally revolved around herding and milking their livestock. Getting an insight into the macro world of domestic life that takes place in a ger was a real privilege, and the ger itself is a real triumph of human ingenuity: not only simple, easy to erect, dismantle and move but cool in summer and warm in winter (temperatures on the Mongolian Steppe range from plus 30 degrees to minus 30). Though what I really would’ve liked to have discovered was where could they move to, who owned the land and what was the system for allocating it and/or enforcing the land rights. However, with just a phrase book that tellingly gave more space to the vocabulary of animal husbandry than eating and drinking (ooh, the food’s very basic, and at best might only be described as is “sustaining”), I wasn’t able to get to the bottom of this. It’s an important question, and one that transfers directly to matters of the Internet and digital technology. Where can I go and who says so; what affordances and constraints do our new technologies sanction? It’s questions like these, as a matter of critical technology literacy, that I always try to keep to the forefront of my mind.

Just where can a nomad pitch their ger?
Just where can nomads go?

In “gerlife”, technology is pretty much limited to a light bulb and a TV (powered by a solar panel) plus a mobile phone, with the mobile phone being a really valued piece of kit. In fact, if you’ll pardon the antediluvian metaphor, in every ger we stayed the mobile phone was “ringing off the hook” as families and neighbours chatted away the day and, ha ha might I suggest, “narrated their work” (Harold Jarche just jumped into my head there). Without all the other tech and the myriad of distractions that we’ve got in our lives, it was just plain obvious that at heart people are social beings who need to be connected. Our new digital and social technologies just amplify or scale this.

One final thing that my trip to Mongolia made me think about was open/digital badges. On the very first day we arrived, gathered in the main square to take wedding photographs or photographs to mark a special day out, were groups of Mongolians all finely dressed in traditional outfits. What struck me though was that a lot of them had medals, not military medals but civic/community medals, pinned to their outfits and that these medals were clearly a source of great pride. Back in the ger these medals were also proudly displayed. I don’t know how the “credibility” of open/digital badges will play out, but I’m certainly interested to follow the discussion in the MOOC that starts next week, Badges – New Currency for Professional Credentials. I can definitely see the appeal for the learner, being able to digitally display with pride the learning achievements that mean something to them.

Display your achievements with pride.
Display your achievements with pride.

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A review, or two, giving the heads up for social learning designs #oldsmooc

Well, #OLDSMOOC draws to a close this week with time being given over to look back and learn something of participants’ learning narratives or design narratives and to review the course itself. Over all, for me, the course has been a great success, but that’s not to say it’s not been without its trials and tribulations, most of which seem to stem from the constraints of the Cloudworks platform, used by the course as a central hub and repository for content, and the challenge of designing for collaboration and the successful establishment of social contacts on which this collaboration might be built. So, in order to throw some light on these aspects, I’m going to use this plenary session to look back and review the “social” design of the course and take a closer look at Sheila MacNeill’s prototype, which addresses the problem of visualizing networks and content within Cloudworks.

In week 5, the concept of prototyping for teaching and learning was explained as being part of the iterative process within “design science”, that is “the need to build on what others have done and learned, to experiment and test, and then use this to improve the design” (Laurillard, 2012). Well, that’s certainly what Sheila did.

Seeking a better way “to make Cloudworks more friendly and show how some of the social data there could be used to give users a different view of what they’re doing, and maybe help them to make more connections and maybe use Cloudworks a bit more”, Sheila used Balsamiq to prototype her envisaged Cloudworks make over.

[vimeo w=500&h=299]


I think Sheila has done a terrific job here. The prototype, and her demonstration, clearly shows the advantages of making these modifications. It shows how the platform might be used to provide alternative views highlighting the relationships amongst networks and amongst content. Used in this way, like Sheila, I can really see how Cloudworks has the potential to be used more widely, not just as a content repository, but as an individual’s portfolio/personal working space across a range of learning events, and so support their lifelong learning. Clearly, like Richard Site says in his article, “working with prototypes can point out deficiencies and reveal unseen opportunities”. Sheila’s design modification, and rationale for doing so, has been warmly received. Indeed, one of the original Cloudworks developers has responded positively in the discussion forum, adding “what would be most useful for me is to know the exact navigation issues that folk are having difficulty with: what exactly are you having problems finding and how are you trying to look for it at the moment?”

It’s here that comments from learners, or end users, can be illuminating. Kelly Edmonds says, “I don’t find Cloudworks intuitive and it has hindered my ability to jump into the social aspect of this MOOC”, and Paige Cuffe‘s response also seems particularly illuminating when she says, “I really like your idea of organising around people to whom you are connected through interaction – it would greatly facilitate conversation within this environment rather than driving discussions out of Cloudworks into a plethora of spaces (twitter, FB, google closed groups…)”.

So what participants are having problems with, apart from visualisation of the platform, is finding how to develop conversations within Cloudworks and nurture relationships in order to help facilitate meaningful collaboration.

By switching perspective, it appears much as Diana Laurillard says, “the closer teachers learners are to the specification of digital learning designs, the more these programs are likely to achieve useful learning goals. The detail of the design must not be left to programmers!”

It seems to me that the same sentiment might well be applied to course designers as well. I wonder whose opinions the OLDSMOOC designers solicited. Who did they envisage would be their MOOC participants and what learning proclivities did they envisage them having? I wonder if they used the Ecology of Resources (EoR) Design Framework in the inquiry stage because, if I understand this correctly, the EoR framework seeks to include the views of course participants into the process.

I know the course designers did survey participants upon registration, but I wonder if instead of just paying attention to the course materials, individual learning goals and to the course website and tools, if sufficient acknowledgement was given to the “social” dimension pertinent to MOOCs and to the extent to which participants were willing and able to engage in social and networked participation in order to support their learning. I’ve looked over some templates provided within the course, but I can’t detect anything noteworthy that relates to this aspect.

To be fair, attempts were made within the course design to encourage collaboration, but this proved to be too much of a challenge in the short space of time available. Particularly as the course bizarrely advocated that participants assemble themselves not just into a collaborative project group but also into a study group as well. This is puzzling, indeed possibly plain wrong, and I can’t figure out the reason behind it. It seems to me that one encourages learning by doing whilst the other encourages learning about, and adds up to a lot of effort. Mysterious.

Despite all that, it seems that the design challenge for such courses in the future is how to “jump start” conversations so that people can make connections, build trust and go on to develop working relationships. My own learning narrative demonstrates that finding commonalities with other participants is vitally important. Additionally, Penny Bentley showed how by disclosing small snippets of personal information you can reach out and invite contact. During the first OLDSMOOC convergence session she provided a link on Twitter to pictures of her recent camping trip, such a simple act that helped spawn the development of a supportive learning network. What’s more, looking to strengthen the “social glue” within the MOOC, Penny went on to initiate the OLDSMOOC Facebook group. To me, the social underpinning of a course such as this appears to be just as important as its content, structure and facilitation.

Talking of which brings me back to the course itself. Over all, the course was very good. The content provided was both expansive and of a very high standard, and facilitation of the course was excellent too. It’s amazing that a “rookie” like me was provided with access to so many experts in the field of learning design. The course was highly structured, possibly over structured, but I’m not sure if that was a bad thing for me. I didn’t know anything about learning design before I started the course, so I probably benefited from being “micro-managed” within such a tight structure, even if the timings for some activities seemed highly fanciful at the beginning. However, I definitely found the project based premise of the course to be very useful, and I’m coming to think that with all this talk of MOOCs and their ideological prefixes – whether it’s a cMOOC or an xMOOC – that the real gem might just be the pMOOC. After all, if done well, participants have the opportunity to come away with not only tangible skills and competencies but also an enhanced personal learning network too.

Finally, I’d like to add that incorporating a badge strategy into the MOOC has proved interesting. Some participants have reported that they’ve found it strangely motivating, whilst others have found it a source of irritation as it seems to introduce an element of competition. I don’t know what to make of the effect it’s had on my participation. I know that in week 7 I was tired, and because I didn’t need to participate for it to count towards a badge, I largely ducked out, and I know, like you might already have suspected, that this “review” is a blatant attempt to bag another badge.

Anyway, to end, I’d like to thank not only the OLDSMOOC design team but also all the facilitators on the course as well. It can’t have been easy designing for what’s pretty much unknown territory, but your efforts are sincerely appreciated. I’ve lots to take away with me, not just in terms of learning design but also in terms of new buddies for future laughs and learning.



Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. Routledge. New York

Site, R. (2013) Prototypes Are Essential to e-Learning Design. Available at:

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Sites 2013