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Don’t Let The Openness Door Hit You in the Ass (on the way in or out)

cc licensed flickr photo shared by boskizzi

Disclaimer. I have nothing but utmost respect and admiration for the people who are stretching (literally) the concepts of what is a “course” by experimenting with the form of an “open course”, one with a set of students taking it for traditional credit,. but potentially more, maybe thousands (?) who can participate by the generosity (or interests) of people running the course.

It is so much Dave-like to read Dave Cormier saying why he does it:

I freely contribute my time to some courses, and am paid to teach others. I “˜believe’ that working in the open makes my own work better, gives me broader access to other people’s idea and, well, i find it fun.

It tears at the silo-ed nature of courses, it aims to melt the walls enough to leverage the power of networked learning. The latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review has a fantastic buffet of articles on the Open theme (I am still bellying up to the table to read these).

So it’s all good stuff. I have some quibbles (hence the barking) in some ways people are looking at open courses that seem to fall back on traditionalist views of courses. It’s mainly when people talk about “drop-outs” or “why people don’t stay in open courses” (recently well summarized among other points by Dave Cormier).

I’m one of those people. I’ve signed up for every Connectivism course run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes and a few more… and I am also one who falls off the edge of participation. The notion of “drop out” seems to assume that the measure of success is people doing all the assignments/activities from start to finish, filling the forums and blog space with their activity.

But that negates the possibility that people pick and choose what they want to participate in.

The openness door ought to swing both ways, right?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by yewenyi

I already wrote my thoughts in a comment to Dave’s post:

What is wrong with choosing some minimal or micro level to be in an open course? Is the only way to get something out of such a course is to be an active over-achiever in the forums? Why am I a no good drop out if I choose to pick the parts that interest me and leave the rest? Is it open or not, cause I smell a wee bit of hypocrisy if the assumption is I have to have a high attendance rate in an open course.

Or maybe I really am a loser drop out, someone who does not stick to the pace of the course, a lazy dog if you will.

As previously blogged, the motivation to do what it takes to be a DIY type student is, to me, a place where there is a wide open gap of understanding.

And I am a bit saddened if really the best motivator is the pursuit of credit as Lisa Lane suggests — there is nothing wrong with credit for open courses, in fact, there ought to be more of it to legitimize the concept. Yes, wouldn’t it be sad if that was the only successful motivator?

But I really want to know more about people who end being highly motivated or active in open courses who are not doing it for the carrot of credit. I want to know more of what makes those people tick.

The other thing is that the majority of open courses I have come across (and I do not claim to know them all) are about open education or education technology. I’m not really ready to put the victory dance out on open courses, until we see some examples in say, poetry, history, math.

And frankly, the open courses, marched to the beat of a fixed time length syllabus, might be seen as an incremental step from (I guess they would be called) closed courses? Non open courses? Are there other models than attaching the open network to a fixed course?

Believe me, I’m all over the joy of openness- but it really ought to swing wide open

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I think a lot about openness…

    Open business models (because I still have to feed my kids and pay my rent – so the money has to come from somewhere!)

    Open source software (which I believe has its place – personal use, small organizations, and often to pressure the large companies to provide their products at reduced prices so large organizations can use their enterprise software more economically)

    I’ve also thought much about accreditation, the ways our HR systems still require that accreditation over informal learning/experience, sharing institutional knowledge and societal/global knowledge so that we’re not all trying to invent the wheel… For the better of my children… (and everyone’s children, of course!)

    I’ve signed up for open courses and then “dropped out.”
    I believe in open – there is no doubt about that in my mind.
    I don’t care about credit for these courses – I care about learning.

    But the courses I took weren’t RELEVANT to my life (not saying they weren’t relevant to anyone else – they just weren’t for me).

    I engage and stay engaged when a course is relevant, empowering and socially supportive for me. Otherwise, I graze a little, take the parts that interest me, and meander off…

    Does that make me ADHD? 🙂
    Or does that just mean that I’m creating my own learning because what I want to learn isn’t being taught anywhere? (at least, not all in one package or not in the way that engages me…)

    I have no interest in artificial or contrived learning environments. Do we really need “courses”? Or is that just the way we’re used to delivering (and consuming) learning?

    Thinking of Dave’s NV10 talk re: the tyranny of the book – is this a conversation about the tyranny of the “course”?

    I wonder…

  2. Well the other model is what I do with OLDaily – it has all the elements of one of our open courses, except that there’s no start date and no end date.

    Oh, I suppose I could more explicitly attach a Moodle and a wiki (I used to have a wiki, but I’ve let it lapse). But there’s a ‘course blog’ (Half an Hour’), bloggers that are aggregated, a Twitter channel, and all the rest. I even use the same software (rGSShopper) to manage both.

    OLDaily has an ongoing ‘enrollment’ of 4,000 people (email subscriptions, plus whatever number simply visit the website or read RSS feeds – so, maybe 10K). Some participate almost daily, others only occasionally. It’s completely open. And if I could find a way to give credit for it, I would.

  3. Ditto Edtechtalk (OLDaily).

    What I’ve seen in the five years we’ve been doing edtechtalk is that people come and go, they focus on it, they fall away from it… it’s useful to them and then it isn’t. We have some community members who’ve done hundreds of shows, some who’ve done a couple. We have guests who come to many, many shows, and some who return years later after coming to one. This, i think, mirrors your description. We have a fairly large mailing list that goes out with an excellent newsletter maintained by a community team.

    However. This, I think, only works for those people who are on the heavy end of the involvement pendulum. It is difficult to ‘try out’ edtechtalk. Many people tend to feel like they don’t really belong… because belonging take a long, open amount of commitment.

    Enter ‘eventedness’. Dave White and I came up with the word to describe what the quality (and the effect) of ‘having an event’ had on people’s willingness to invest in something that they weren’t near on the interest continuum.

    Many, many folks would not join a ‘futures of education’ community, but would like to know something about it, and so join an open course. This is the ONLY reason to have courses… people who are deeply invested in futures don’t really need one.

  4. Some points, in the interest of ‘open-wideness’:

    1) Nothing wrong with taking a course for credit — we’ve all done it and probably wouldn’t be where we are (or here) if we hadn’t. I appreciate the honesty and understand the arguments of those who would like to use the open-course format for the purpose of proveable professional development.

    2) Nothing wrong with being an active over-achiever in a not-for-credit open course — I could probably be labeled one of those for Dave & George’s course (and what made me tick there was the fact that the course was organized so that work produced in one section would feed logically into producing work in the next section — step-by-step we put together pieces to build something larger…that and the fact that I like thinking out loud so that I can get peer feedback to test the validity of my ideas).

    3) Nothing wrong with selectively engaging at micro-levels in an open course — that’s what I did for Stephen’s Critical Literacies course, where I only showed up for the live webinars — because it was organized in not-necessarily-related chunks…and again, I had the opportunity to put out ideas and get peer/practitioner responses to them.

    4) Not all subject matter is appropriate for a pick & choose what you wanna do open course — I wouldn’t want to be treated by a doctor who gained her education that way.

    5) Something that irks me in open courses — when peers, rather than participating in discussions in the course environment itself, only blog about it in their own spaces (even when they link to their blog posts).

    For me, this (i) rips me off in terms of peer feedback (both ways), (ii) makes the conversation difficult-er to follow and the ideas difficult-er to flow from each other, and (iii) is a form of proveable ‘accreditation’ in the sense that the ideas get attached to the individual rather than the coming together of the group.


    1. Thanks Asif, and I agree with most of your points. I respect any level of participating in an open course.

      I do find the statements “you would not want to be treated by a doctor / you would not want to fly in a plane piloted” by someone who learned online as a straw person arguments. no one suggests such key tactile and life threatening occupations would be entirely taught in such a manner. I have yet tio hear anyone advocate for it, but it always comes out as an argument against online learning.

      And in the spirit of choice, I support your position in (5) but cant totally agree with it- again its an individual choice. I frankly find following forums weary.

  5. Like Asif I like the peer feedback, it helps me clarify my thinking. But I don’t think peer feedback can be forced or required – it just happens. If forced, is it really of high value?

    I wonder if course is the right word to use to describe these ‘events’. Dave used the term ‘thinking party’ in his blog. Maybe something like that would be more appropriate. Leave the connotations that the word ‘course’ implies where they lie, (let sleeping dogs lie?) and create a whole new entity.

    1. Sure it could be a “Davevent”, thinking party- Brian Lamb has discussed events he calls “learning parties”. Its a problem though because we are conditioned to the course concept.

      Evolution is hard.

  6. I left a comment backing you up on Dave’s original post, but I’ll add to it here. I’ve been thinking lately about loosely-structured engagement contracts. Last spring I surveyed our students mid-course, instead of at the end. I was surprised by some of the results. Several admitted to not putting their best effort into the course. A few commented on the discussions being dominated by people who already knew the content.

    I started thinking about what it would look like if you offered a menu of participatory experiences and allowed the learners to select the ones which seemed most palatable. I would also ask them to commit to a level of engagement, maybe in hours. At the same time, I thought about conducting a prior-learning self-assessment, where learners openly ranked their level of knowledge in the expected course outcomes.

    My thoughts then were that I’d provide suggested participatory experiences based on prior-learning, interest and level of commitment. For example, I would suggest that when learners approach material for which they are unfamiliar, they take an inquiry role in the discussion, connect with an expert, locate a mentor in the course, or spend more time in learning experiences they know have been successful for them in the past.

    If a learner reaches an objective for which they have significant experience, rather than dominating the discussion, I would recommend they serve as mentor, respond to inquiry, share their known resources and help connect learners with experts. This model could be as simple as having a page that says, “If you feel like _______, try __________.”

    I would ask instructors to also participate in the open prior-learning self-assessment. The instructor would then know better what to expect as the course moves on. If she discovered an objective where no leaners had experience, she could bring in additional expertise. If she discovered an objective already known to the learners, she could send them outside the course to share their knowledge with others.

    I ramble! I guess my point is that I’m a learner, not a drop-out. It’s synthetic and counterintuitive to expect the same participation out of every student. I don’t believe parallel expectations lead to balanced learning experiences. I imagine this is how assessment kills a course.

    Maybe rather than tracking enrollment in open courses, we can track actual engagement, interaction, effort compared with a loosely-structured level of initial commitment from the learner. I think I’ve gotten my most interesting revelations in this area from students we’ve advised _not_ to enroll in our courses, but they do it anyway. Sometimes I wish they’d sign something saying, “Look, I don’t want to be here, but the state is giving me money and it will look good on my resume. I don’t intend to put forth any effort, and I plan to recycle papers I’ve written for other classes. Don’t bother looking for my comments in the discussion board, because I don’t have time for that.” That person isn’t a drop-out, they were never in.

  7. I didn’t so much mean to say that credit is the best motivator for sticking with a course, but that credit is being discounted as a motivation for participating or not, and treated badly in discussions of openness.

    And indeed the word “course” is a problem — most people would consider that to be, originally, a learning experienced confined in time and space, and offering formal credit via individual assessment. The internet has helped us mitigate space and time, so it’s natural to treat formal credit dismissively, when in fact it’s the learning experience being treated dismissively by those people and institutions capable of giving formal credit.

    If we’re going to say that the usefulness of a learning experience is best interpreted by the learner, I’d just like to see accreditation factored into that analysis rather than sidelined as something objectionable or in opposition to the goals of openness.

  8. Well my model in Turkey.
    1.- Each university students ideally takes 5
    online courses and 5 f2f courses.
    So it is a beatufiul blend.
    capacity of university doubles, cost to university and students halfed.
    2.- Quality is most important. I have been a quality expert for the last 40 years. I concluded that QUALITY comes with reputation gained through years and centruties. Therefore I get online from Yale, princeton, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon. They all have free fantastic courses free at

    Let us support them. Model is here. We do not need to create new models and waste money.
    academicearth increases their courses every year as well.
    3.- I do not trust everybodies’ opencourses. Course has to have quality. Quality is assured by reputation. So please not everybody should try to create courses.

    4.- Most important open courses should appeal to all world.
    Therefore we should have first a wonderful
    open ONLINE English for foreigners.
    Billion people are waiting for it.

    Vision vision vision. That is what people are lacking. That is the reason we have wars . from Turkey
    Muvaffak Gozaydin

  9. Hey All,

    If ‘course’ = ‘pathway’ — & there’s no single pathway for these comings together — then maybe ‘cluster’ instead.

    As in “welcome to this cluster on PLEs…”

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