The more virtual we become, the more tactile our needs

Talve´ (2011) says, “the more virtual we become, the more we seek tactile, earthy, soft nesting spaces in which to rest our bodies and soothe our overactive minds.”

I think this captures my outlook and interest in learning spaces well. The idea of hybrid space and hybrid learning are proving useful to me at the moment in my research and in my practice at work I am try to conceptualise for myself and others ideas of a (near) future learning space.

First to dissect that quote,

  • the idea of ‘virtual’ is quite problematic. I think in education we know what this refers to as it is commonly used in the term virtual learning environment, and its usage is good enough in this quotation from Talve´ too. It refers to simulated, enhanced or transformed behaviours which are supported and altered to achieve a given outcome e.g. learning.
  • “tactile, earthy, soft nesting spaces” suggests that even though we can achieve real tasks in a digital space, such spaces are essentially alien to our fundamental human needs of wellbeing. We need to ‘be’ grounded in a reality than stimulates our multiple senses. The implication is that the digital space brings temporary convenience so that we can construct, communicate, curate knowledge and connect ourselves with others in ways that would not be possible without the digital. However, this connectivity can only ever be in the form of brief excursions. Like submariners, astronauts, birds or travellers, eventually we need to ground ourselves in reality.
  • We need to, “soothe our overactive minds” reminds us that whilst we might achieve a lot more and do this more quickly than ever before, our minds remain human. There is actually only so much we as real people can actually process. There is a suggestion that if we believe we are keeping pace with what the digital facilitates, we need to take a reality check in terms of the quality of what we are doing, what this means, and in terms of our own health and quality of life.

I came across the quote in a paper by Bilandzic & Johnson (2013). This is a really well written paper about the library as a hybrid learning space. They ask, for example, “If all knowledge and information is perpetually being archived and made accessible online, what is left for the library as a physical place?” (p. 259).

It’s good to see research into Library 2.0 and reflect on the implications and transferability of this body of work to a more holistic view of spaces for learning. How about changing their question a little: “If all knowledge and information is perpetually being archived and made accessible online, what is left for the university as a physical place?” The inference of their original question, which they make explicit, is that the library is understood as a place that not only provides information and knowledge in the form of artefacts and archives, but which provides a sense of place to”facilitate sustained, uninterrupted intellectual work, as well as a sense of creativity, inspiration and scholarship.” (p.260)

It reminds us to look beyond the transactional to the ontological and even spiritual nature of learning. So we can extend this too to say that the university and a space for teaching and learning is not only a place in which learning is enacted through formal and informal study, interaction, action, feedback and the setting of diverse and stretching challenges, it is also imbued with qualities that give us as learners and teachers sustenance. Physical spaces ground us as social beings. This grounding defines the hybrid learning space in which formal and informal, digital and physical, social and independent conditions exist almost as a primordial soup from which learning can emerge.


Bilandzic, M. & Johnson , D.(2013) Hybrid placemaking in the library: designing digital technology to enhance users’ on-site experience, The Australian Library Journal, 62:4, 258-271, DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2013.845073

Talve´, A. (2011). “Libraries as places of invention.” Library Management 32 (8/9): 493– 504.


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Photo elicitation as open learning space


Before dispensing with the short paper myself and Kathrine Jensen presented at #OER16 I wanted to return to an image we used.
The slides we used in our presentation were embedded in the previous post. The title image is reproduced here. Made available under a Creative Commons attribution licence by CC BY 2.0 Mypublic lands on Flickr, the image immediately and powerfully communicated many of the ideas we had planned to explore.
Though we had prepared a series of slides and the presentation addressed points not represented in this picture, it was evident that a discussion around learning spaces using only this photograph as a script, would have produced an equally rewarding discussion. To be clear, the point I am making here does not pertain only to this specific photograph, but to any photograph in which the viewer can search for connections to a question, theme or problem.
Imagine you are in our session and we ask you a question such as, “How does this image represent your ideal learning space?” I think we can see how we could spend 20 to 60 minutes deeply exploring ideas about the qualities of ideal learning spaces.
Let me talk you through what I saw.
Our talk was about ‘Finding the open in the in-between: changing culture and space in higher education’. What do you see?
We are looking at an image rich in saturated colours. It is a large open and unpopulated space. The swirls of layered rock may suggest movement, connection, or fluctuation within the context of something apparently certain, almost concrete.
There is freedom to gaze and contemplate as your eyes follow the picture and its suggestion of continuity or connectivity. There are areas of light and shade, and there’s a sense of dynamism. While light and shadow or openness and containment are binaries, on closer inspection we can see how there are no stark divisions and how surfaces merge and roll into each other.
There are dominant spaces and liminal in-between spaces and the textures of the rocks are rough, abrasive, porous, smooth, worn and eroded.
Each of these thoughts, and more to the point the thoughts of others in the room, provide a way in to think and then talk about the problem question. Using the image a prompt or structure for an informed discussion could have been interesting and could have helped us elicit experience and ideas from those who joined us.
Next time I think!

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‘Openish’ and open education as disruptive innovation

Reflecting now on attending, presenting and networking at #OER16 I thought it would be helpful for me to capture one or two ideas. I hope these are useful to you too.
I went to OER because I had submitted a proposal with Kathrine Jensen titled ‘Finding the open in the in-between: changing culture and space in higher education’

We submitted this as a way to think through a strong sense of an ill-defined, but rich learning space, following up on several conversations we had had. We felt that committing ourselves to presenting would challenge us to connect and resolve our thinking. Those conversations were about ideas like liminality, third space, third place, interstiality for example. We pulled out the metaphor of borderlands following a really useful paper from Hill et al. (2015) who talk about how,

“In borderland spaces the traditional power hierarchies of higher education may be scrutinized and destabilized, enabling students to draw more freely from their own experiences and to work in partnership with each other and with faculty, prompting the construction of new identities (Giroux, 1992; Kazanjian, 2011)… Thus, borderland spaces are unprescribed and remain open to being shaped by the processes of learning experienced by their participants… Borderland spaces are permissive spaces, allowing genuine dialogue to take place and offering opportunities for co-inquiry and reflection between students and faculty (Lodge, 2005). Here, students can be empowered to participate in their learning so that they might actively shape both their learning experiences and those of succeeding cohorts.”

Terese Bird alerted me to the term ‘openish’ during the conference – a pragmatic way of thinking about OERs as I understand it. For her iTunes U is an example of ‘openish’ educational resources. The term seems to be a response to purist positions (which have their value). For me it celebrates ideas of uncertainty and ambiguity. Such ideas were very much in my mind as being very important to the ideas of ‘in-betweeness’ that Kathrine and I explored. Learning is defined by uncertainty (at least in my mind). Learning is not an objective or destination, it is an uncertain and brave commitment to the unknown made by an individual. One enters into the commitment unclear in order to develop a clarity (we may call it knowledge). Our notion of in-betweeness relates to various learning contexts, but it also applies to rethinking knowledge as perpetually emerging and unresolved. When did last enter into a period of learning with a sense of certainty? This ambiguity leads us to thinking about how learning is experienced and facilitated. For me, it is directly providing an important context for thinking about the design of learning spaces; for example, what we might or should mean when we talk about ‘the flexible classroom’ or ‘flexible learning’. In this context this is about designing a social construtionist space – now what does that actually look like?! In my mind one of the responses to that is that the relationship of formal and informal space changes, and in-between these dominant conceptualisations there exists this rich liminal space that is experienced differently by everyone nearly every time they encounter it. How or if this is rendered physically or digitally is a central to my thinking at the moment. An answer could be as simple as “make sure we have plenty of cafe-like casual, conversational spaces within reach of every classroom.” Then you might also map something onto this in relation to Oldenburg’s Third Place and accommodate ideas of habit, observation and contemplation (see the Wikipedia entry for the characteristics of Third Place). Such thinking respects the learner as being innately curious rather than innately devoid.

Kathrine sent me a link to this blog post about ‘Not Yetness’ from Amy Collier yesterday. In the post she makes the connection to ideas about ’emergence’ – this is extremely useful for me. It immediately helps me to understand ‘in-betweeness’ in terms of motivation and curiosity and not just in terms of ambiguous notions of learning between dominant binary spaces (e.g. knowing-not knowing; teaching-learning; formal delivery-informal self-direction, etc., etc.,). In thinking about ’emergence’ as a concept I have come across complexity theory and found Biesta & Osberg (2010) who say, for example,

“opening up’ is [not] necessarily good or educationally desirable or that ‘narrowing down’ is [not] necessarily bad or educationally undesirable. What is far more important is to acknowledge that in education both “opening up” and “narrowing down” involve the exertion of power and in this sense can be said to be political.”

This also echoes thoughts I have had about learning being the continuous process of convergence and divergence and criss-crossing ecologies. Amy Collier’s interest in not-yetness maps onto our own I think. So, there’s a whole new space to explore – albeit one that seems dimly lit and emergent at this stage of course. How can you disagree with this description of learning,

“not-yetness is the space that allows for emergence. Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem… but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve”

Returning to the conference my highlights were, more than ever before, having conversations with people especially my co-presenter, but in the company of Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell. Catherine’s keynote set the conference off. It is not surprising she resounded with my own thinking about openness as I know she has been influential on my thinking already. Take this, for example, from her third slide and it is obvious that ideas of openness still have to be explored more deeply and beyond the relatively more superficial commitment to sharing our work:

Not concealing one’s thoughts or feelings
Not finally settled; still admitting of debate

Frances Bell kept returning in our conversations to the importance of being subversive and I took this to be a useful way of understanding openness as a critical learning. I used the word ‘responsibility’ on several occasions in relation to learning being about the co-construction of dynamic knowledge and also the scholarly responsibility of the learner to develop thinking about openness (or anything) for mutual benefit. So for me learning in the open became more clearly (but not precisely!) defined as being about action, autonomy and rhizomatic uncertainty.
Biesta, G. & Osberg, D. (2010). ‘Complexity, education and politics from the inside-out and the outside-in: An introduction’, in Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta (Eds.),”Complexity Theory and the Politics of Education”, Sense Publishers.
Collier, A. (2015, 9th April). “Not-yetness”. The Red Pincussion blog. Available online at:
Hill, J., Thomas, G., Diaz, A. and Simm, D. (2015) Borderland spaces for learning partnership: Opportunities, benefits and challenges. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. ISSN 0309-8265

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Open Philosophy and Open Community

Tony Coughlan draws our attention to the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration which asserted that “Open education is not limited to just open educational resources.”

He points to Anderson’s (2003) theorem,

Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.”

Yesterday evening, and again this morning, I have had numerous conversations along the lines of: to progress the mainstreaming of open education we may have to shift attention and our own inclinations away from ideas of ‘provided content’ and work more on developing the discourse around the values of an open educational philosophy. It may be that the historical development of OER has got too caught up in the technical learning object, its control and rights. This may feel like a concrete basis to construct a discourse with our academic colleagues and institutions, but the argument for open will only be really appreciated when it is broached philosophically.

Content and the idea of resource is a distraction to progressing the acculturation of openness; one that can result in models open academic practice, which after all have a natural affinity with scholarship.

Content has a role in the learner-generated context. It is an an agent of co-production leading to deeper investigation of ideas amongst students with their teachers.

I think the focus on Culture at OER16 is the perfect opportunity find a new equilibrium for our engagement in a user-centred view of Open Education, but it may take us to shift our focus away from transactional and surface-level engagement with content and rights over it.

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Open Relationships: people and/or networks?

I previously referenced the intention to shift our attention to the connectivist relationships we enjoy in open scholarship. I very am excited by the keynotes at this year’s #OER16.

Jim Groom has been on my radar for a long time and #ds106 was groundbreaking in developing and delivering a real model of connectivist self-directed open learning. So I will definitely be in fan mode. The title of his talk this week promises to reposition our thinking on OERs: “Can we imagine tech Infrastructure as an Open Educational Resource? Or, Clouds, Containers, and APIs, Oh My!”

My immediate response to this is, yes we can and yes we have. For me OERs came out of the discourse on Reuasable Learning Objects at the turn of the century and much of this in the UK was associated with CETIS and the development interoperability standards for learning technologies. For a while I attempted to engage with everything CETIS was doing in this area. It became very technical and my job became less technical… anyway it is good to have experienced the pedigree of the CETIS special interest groups and been inspired by that work in the early to mid 2000s. Lorna Campbell from that time at CETIS is one of the co-chairs at OER16 and is now OER Liaison at the University of Edinburgh and EDINA Digital Education Manager.

For those who ‘get’ learning technology as an open and user-centred learning space it seems odd that the keynote will ask this question, though restating the question and reconsidering the answers is always needed it seems.

Catherine Cronin’s take on education is currently close and intersecting with my own interests. Catherine is another, like Jim Groom, who has pro-actively constructed open online connectivist learning spaces like CT231. Such work, including iCollab, is coherent and thoroughly informed as a learning space, exemplifying thinking about global connectivism and networked learning, communities of practice, learner-generated media, social media for learning and so on. I will be particularly interested to hear her reflections on the relationship of co-operation to collaboration and how she thinks we “might we build knowledge as a collective endeavour.”

Emma Smith and Melissa Highton have connections with the Openspires project at Oxford University. This connects with what I did in response to the potential of technology to connect with my own parallel exploration of the ‘digital voice’ and educational podcasting. I hold onto the ideas discussed in that work about open voices and connection and perhaps I should do more to articulate them in the context of open education.

Open Relationships: people and/or networks?

networkThe premise underpinning my ongoing work on the use of the recorded voice in higher education (e.g. “Reconsidering the role of recorded audio as a rich, flexible and engaging learning space”) is that learning in higher education is about being together. This explains my dual interest in digital media and social media. They offer an inseparable context for rethinking future learning spaces. This interest came from my initial interests around technical interoperability and my attendance at CETIS SIG meetings. The switch for me was that connections and networks were much, much more interesting when you focus on people rather than technology, but that usable technology affords the context as we have seen. So, yes, it is good to reconsider and “…imagine tech Infrastructure as an Open Educational Resource” and renew our understanding of “Clouds, Containers, and APIs” – Oh My!

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Divergent innovation and notions of openness

Kathrine Jensen and myself continue to reflect on David Wiley’s 5Rs of Open Educational Resources and how well suited they are to underpin thinking about the spirit of openness in higher education. The ‘spirit of openness’ is what I observe and feel in connectivist contexts. However, in other respects we will challenge those 5Rs.

We are presenting at OER16 on ‘Finding the open in the in-between :  changing culture and space in higher education’. The slides have been going to-and-fro over the last days and I was encouraged and excited to see Kathrine do two things:

  • Point at Wiley’s 5th R as an important focus for discussion – “Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content”
  • Acknowledge explicitly a list of the people who have been most present and active in our thinking (“Inspired by the work of Catherine Cronin, Frances Bell, Maha Bali, Bonnie Stewart, Martin Weller, Dave Cormier and others whose work include critical perspectives on openness, digital scholarship, networked identities/practices and connected learning”) on those slides where we have been churning round our thoughts (we have used the conference as a context to think differently).

Let me also mention that Kathrine and I are not co-located. Our thinking and interests are for the moment intersecting and I expect our ecological scholarly paths will meander and diverge as is the natural way with scholarship. But we did share a train journey for an hour or so where our attention turned to the 4Rs (Wiley added the 5th, see The Access Compromise and the 5th R, March 2014).

Both of the thoughts in the bullets above converge and the brief train journey between Sheffield and Huddersfield (our respective institutions) stands as some sort of metaphor for the rhyzomatic or ecological idea of scholarship and learning that informs what we are doing.

What follows about ‘expected divergent innovation’, however, is my response to Wiley’s ‘Retain’. Kathrine and I bashed away through Twitter yesterday trying to clarify a response to his statement in readiness for our presentation on Tuesday. I think we are on the same page, though it doesn’t matter either way (that’s the point of ‘expected divergent innovation’ in relation to scholarship as I’ll explain here!). But what we have, I think, is an opportunity for discussion and personal construction within the social context of the conference. So, this mad thinking is my fault and may not represent Kathrine’s position! I’m not sure to be honest! I did say to Kathrine I’d blog to clarify, so perhaps Kathrine will have a chance to respond, develop, contradict, reposition, or whatever.

Retain – the expectation of divergence


Let’s take another look at Wiley’s 5th R in his definition of OER so I can explain the problems I have with it.

“Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content”

Literally retention is about holding onto something. Implicitly it suggests the right to retain ownership of something and Wiley goes on to explain this in his expansion. I don’t want to get distracted by a lengthy critique of this, so my response in bullet point form:

  • “right” – we only have rights to construct our own knowledge and to change our minds when we learn more;
  • “own” – why do we need to own knowledge personally? We must be responsible (i.e. critical) in our thinking, so there is something important about owning and owning up responsibly to what we say and do, but otherwise I do not understand why we assume knowledge should be owned;
  • “control” – control is quite alien to me. I am an anarchistic at heart and pragmatically I value social connection and responsibility. Control is only of interest in ensuring that as scholars we are responsible ethically;
  • “content” – this is a relatively meaningless concept. I am not aware of anyone who who has presented a commonly accepted definition of ‘content’. It is highly subjective in all ways, yet we seem to hold so much store in the concept of ‘content’, as we do in the concept of ‘resource’. What do these things mean to you, to me, to us?
  • “copies” – this is the interesting word here because it presents the dilemna inferred by the need for Wiley’s 5th R. This is not new, we know we cannot actually retain something any more (see other 4Rs in the digital conext). But we never could because actually many understandings of knowledge or content or resources have the pretext that such things are more than representational. No, we have only ever been able to represent knowledges. This does not need to be repeated here, but the idea of commons undoes ideas of rights and ownership as being outmoded and undesirable artefacts of an industrial age. We no longer need to commoditise knowledge in the digital social age in the ways that were necessary before.

Now read back that 5th R. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.

But Kathrine and myself are interested in Wiley’s 5Rs. They have some traction. They have a use to us in a connectivist context, even if that use is not as was intended. We will explore this in our session and update, in our own ways, in our respective blogs later.

Retain – innovation/scholarship through the common expectation of convergence and expected divergence

This is my take on the idea of ‘Retain’ or retention – keeping hold of something. It notes retention as something that is ephemeral. That seems to be a self-contradiction, but actually, at least in my mind, it is quite an important way of thinking about knowledge, scholarship and innovation in a digital social age. Let me unpack it a bit.

‘Keeping hold of something’

There is a time element in this, albeit unspecified. Whether it is grasping or nailing down knowledge representation, there is something fundamental and pragmatic about momentarily anchoring thinking and understanding. But it can be an abstracted notion of pausing long enough to share a ‘good enough’ idea with one or more others. Why share with ‘others’, and why do so in the context of a philosophy of openness? It is about validation, but more than this it is about scholarship and/or innovation within the context of convergence and divergence.

Innovation and/or scholarship

Thinking, learning or making something new (to you, or to or with or for others).


Ecologically, convergence is about coming together, but more in the sense of finding a common, ‘good enough’ intersection of likemindedness that has the potential to generate new thinkings. The idea of thinkings, ideation or conceptualisation acknowledges the importance of multiple legitimate passing/transient understandings. But this idea of convergence acknowledges how the social context is critical to thinking because of the implicit, tacit acknowledgement of others. Even here, in this blog, I am thinking in a social context. Nobody may ever read it, but then others (you?) may read it. I am trying to get it right for you as a way for me to get it ‘right’! It is a self-legitimising or self-validation device because we need to think in a context that may matter to others, otherwise the quality of our thinking lacks authenticity and credibility. It becomes worthless to you, but also worthless and undermining to me.

Expected divergence

We are autonomous, yet we are social. We validate each other and wittingly or unwittingly provide each other with a context for thinking. We serve each other a purpose for scholarship and innovation therefore.

But while I am constructing my momentary understandings, I know I will not stop listening, observing and thinking. The world provides only uncertainty and a dynamic context for anything we know. Therefore fixed ideas of content, as representing knowledge, are only of pragmatic use. Universities, for example, are pragmatic because we agree to suspend reality by representing the world as a relatively abstract and static, rather than dynamic, concept (despite such places being full of scholars and innovators!). (An aside: hence my interest in authentic learning and authentic media).

But we know knowledge is essentially a convenient abstract idea and that tomorrow our contexts will be different and the fit of knowledge will be uneasy.

Ecologically, my path will take what I have known in my directions, and you will take what you have known in your new directions. Our paths may cross again or they may stay aligned for a while, or we may never share a thought together again. They will almost certainly diverge and from our coincidence our respective paths and convictions will hopefully empower us.

Conclusion on rethinking retention of open educational resource

As we will discuss, Kathrine and I will be looking at OER as meaning Open Educational Relationships. It’s a playful activity with a serious point. We will ask colleagues to reassess ideas of OERs in the context of connectivist thinking and use the root words of the 5Rs to do this. (I think we both agree that ‘relationships’ is there because it begins with R, but otherwise a better expression would be needed).

There is something I am unsure of (well, everything of course!), but something that may be helpful. In my notes to Kathrine I have commented, with reference to Wiley,  “that is so masculine!” I’m not well-versed in feminist philosophies (or philosoiphy in general as you may have noticed), but my comment and my thinking in general comes from a lifelong lack of faith in binarist thinking and the oversimplification of ways of being to serve a dominant group (hence my reference anarchism earlier). I have a strong social constructivism rationale that continually situates my thinking as a co-operator. I am clear (in my mind – of course only within my mind!) that co-operative principles are the only approach to worthwhile innovation. This notion of convergent and expected divergent innovation, therefore, is only another representation of that set of personal philosophies, yet it says something about co-operation too (and fundamental emanations of co-operation like collaborative working). It says that co-operation can also only be understood as an ephemeral concept. We can’t assume too much of each other. For the moment then (!), I am very much enjoying co-operating in mind with others about open education and I look forward to OER16 this week.



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If open is the answer…

Catherine Cronin asks “If open is the answer, what is the question?” #oer16

Catherine invites us to answer this question to inform her keynote at #OER16 and a webinar she is doing this week with Viv Rolfe and Lorna Campbell in the lead up to the conference.

My own reply reflects the session I am doing with Kathrine Jensen. My question is “what will characterise the future higher education learner?” In explaining this I have to challenge two meanings for openness (apologies friends!):

  • OER where ‘R’ stands for Resources is problematic. It anchors us in a world of content-centred learning. OER emerged from the era of learning objects, content packages and understandings of learning in which content delivery maintained the simple idea of transactional learning. Such thinking has a tendency to decontextualise learning – though I am not saying that it necessarily does this, only that it suggests learning is first and foremost about the learner’s relationship with content. We need a more sophisticated, multi-faceted understanding of context and situation. Once we have this understanding of situational learning, especially in this connected day and age, I suggest, open is first and foremost about the relationship of the learner to the world, in particular their connection to peers throughout life.
  • OEP where ‘P’ stands for Practice. This is better – it shifts our interest to a human dimension, primarily the practitioner or teacher. To put it simply, OEP is about sharing practice and about practicing across boundaries. (Define practice and boundary for yourself). This is great, but why are we only focusing on practice and the practitioner? Couldn’t we pay attention to the habits of the learner?

The lifelong open learner

The open learner is where higher learning has its future. The learner’s openness is an outcome of higher education. Good learning habits and capabilities, including a healthy approach to self-reflection, are the sign of today’s higher learner. The idea of open learner describes graduate dispositions developed and scaffolded through undergradutae study and exploited increasingly through open learning opportunities including post-graduate CPD and new definitions and models of postgraduate study. Open learning and a culture of open scaffolding ensure that we all have the capability to foster our own self-determined, lifelong learning trajectory.

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