Exploring Complexity

The Complexity Explorer course is a free course offered by the Santa Fe institute, providing a thorough presentation of the concept of Complexity. I just finished this course and thought I would post a link to my notes here. I also have two quick thoughts about the course.

  • I think it is interesting to note how I participated in this course, I engaged with the course content (readings, videos, tutorials) over 2 or 3 offerings of the course. This is an example of maybe one of the less talked about, but very useful attributes of Open Online Course. Learning about complexity and game theory is a hobby of mine – I’ve read several books, participated in several courses, however I simply don’t have enough time in my life, nor is the subject matter directly relevant to my work enough to make it a higher priority. (In the long-run, I feel that learning about complexity is important). Open-courses like these are invaluable to me. Without the open nature of this course, I wouldn’t really have the option to learn from this fantastic resource. Flexibility of access is a characteristic of open learning that doesn’t get much mention in critiques (at least not as much as the topic of drop-out rates, which I probably would have skewed).
  • Melanie (the course’s host) asks each of the guest speakers (Guest Speakers for each unit are one of the best features of Complexity Explorer) a series of set questions about their work with Complexity. One of the last questions is always What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved in the field of Complexity? Several times (if not most of the time?) the guest speaker included in their answer the advice that such a person should specialize and base them self in a separate field first, before applying and researching concepts of complexity to that field. I thought this was great advice (like I would know…but seems like great advice) and I actually think this is useful advice for the field of educational technology, as well. To me, it just makes more sense that someone have an area of application before applying edtech practices- since, much like complexity, the questions and answers of application are so heavily reliant on subject matter.

Why I Opted Out of the Participation Marks

Last week students in the AU 622 partition of the Openness in Education course were presented with the option of opting out of the participation assessment portion of the course. There was some mix up with the grading scheme, or something, I really didn’t notice about that. I am going to take advantage of the opportunity, though, to opt out. It’s not a big deal, but I thought it might be worthwhile to state the few reasons why.

First, I’ve never been a fan of assessing dialog or giving grades to forum participation. Some sort of allocation of marks has been present in all my courses in the MDE so far (except for one or two) and my feeling is that measurement changes the nature of interaction. Measured interaction is less authentic than non-measured interaction. It’s kind of like a social Uncertainty Principle that I’ve developed (and by ‘developed’ I mean made up based my own passing observations, but still…). I’d rather not write or read responses that have been constructed just to meet some required minimum amount of interaction, nor ones that read like long answers to formal essay questions. I’d rather just state answers in the formal style (which may even result in more specific professor feedback on any given issue), and then interact at will to suit my own comfort.

Second, I don’t think that opting out will affect my participation levels. I believe in the participatory style of learning (perhaps more so with each passing month, these days, although still only to a certain degree…not all socializing is inherently good) and it’s positive effects on learning. Especially for a course like this. There have been some issues with the amount of participation not being detailed enough, or the heavy weight of the participation marks – these aren’t such big issues for me, as I suspect any discrepancy could be easily clarified.

Finally, and I think this is the main reason, I see this course designed with two distinct sections of interaction. One is closed within the AU limits, the other is outside. So far, I enjoy the outside interactions and in the long run I think they’ll be more useful. Both are advantageous, however, time is limited and I wouldn’t want to cut down my outside, more natural interaction in favor of the AU gated interaction. The issue of defining interaction might be raised here, though, on the outside, as cruising through the #oped12 content often leads to digressions on people blogs, etc. Would this be counted as interaction? would it not? Does it depend on the content? Does it depend on the place? I’d rather not bother with these types of discussions of definitions when engaged with a professor.

Basically, opting out gives me more flexibility, which is important as it is, and could become a major factor if things in life get hectic, which they often do these days. Why risk it? It’s unfortunate, because I think my interaction will be plentiful this course, and I hope it means feedback on my interaction will also be. I’d hate to be ignored simply because I chose not to be measured.

A Culmination of Openness Elements

My assignment 1 for the the Openness in Education 622 course…

The dictionary.com entry for the adjective form of the word open includes more than forty definitions, making it understandable why there are many elements to the term openness in education. The literature on the subject reflects these wide and varied elements, however three aspects of openness stand out: open cost, open license and open access.

Like most endeavors on a mass scale, educational resources are often subject to economic pressures. If cost is one of the obvious ways in which an educational resource can be open, then it also provides some of the most basic challenges. Cost raises question of sustainability, since with free resources there is the temptation to infuse cash from an outside source, potentially compromising other elements of openness (Mackie, 2008). Additionally, ownership and copyright are important issues that can limit the ability for no-cost educational resources to exist. The abundance of non-rivalrous goods are forcing the legal world to re-examine the idea of copyright as property, and to consider the implications between what is considered copying compared to use of the loaded word piracy. Publishers, financially invested in educational content, have the ability to advocate over decades and generations for stronger copyright laws and restrictions. As well, they also have the benefit of 300 years of legal precedence since the Statue of Anne was passed (see The Surprising History of Copyright in references).

Licensing, already illustrated as directly impacting the issue of cost, is another major element of openness that stands out. In reaction to the strict laws and restrictions as mentioned above, open licensing has gained momentum with the Creative Commons licenses and tools (see Creative Commons in references). Open licensing seeks to put more control into the hands of the creator, going over the head of copyright restrictions, and potentially severely reducing the need for middlemen such as distributors and lawyers to broker the deal between creation and use. The involvement of institutions can make openness more difficult to obtain than when the individual makes decisions (Mackie, 2008).

Although there are many elements involved in open access, the individual is at the heart of this concept. The history of the Open University shows how a large number of individuals have been affected by successful open education that focuses on open accessibility. Open access is also a concern across time, as distributed content, now more than ever, will enable individuals in future generations to access discourse, potentially increasing productivity (David, 1990). Open Source is an additional form of access that has been shown to be a successful model for production, powered by individual access to and interaction with the construction of programs and other learning resources. The individual, when granted open source access, blurs the boundary between producer and consumer generating a more motivated interest, and resulting in a product that caters more specifically to individual needs (Mackie, 2008). In educational terms, this can be compared to the blurring of the boundary between educator and learner. The Right to Education is also another consequence of open access, driven by the ideal that all individuals around the world deserve access to education. However, this raises the issue of culturally specific educational resources (Hatakka, 2009), and how methods are embedded in the resource itself (Siemens, 2008).

The word education can be perhaps as varied as the word open, creating immediate problems whenever The Right to Education is discussed. For myself and my context, I try to consider education with a wide lens: to educate is individual intentional learning. Regardless of how blanketed a course is, the decision to take part in that course, to choose to develop in a certain way, resides in the individual. My main teaching context is situated in an Asian country, with learners choosing to increase their own language skill. Thus, the major implications in my context are regarding open access, and especially the embedded view that comes with all language learning resources and authentic interaction. Open Educational Resources need to consider method in cross-culture contexts, an aspect of openness that is often difficult to examine, but can be the difference between access to education or not.

Not only do individuals learn a language for its own sake, but they learn it as a means for accessing other information and activities. Openness has another dimension that I think is important to consider, and this is the Opening of Potential. To paraphrase Alexander Hamilton in debating governmental structure: necessities will grow to fit resources. In open educational contexts, the growing of needs, in individual potentials, is one of the major implications of openness in education, and this idea is an underlying theme throughout the literature. For example, in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Raymond (1998) describes an environment of needs that is created for the individual user, and how this propels his project and the open source movement. Open Potential also underlies the idea that strict copyright reduces the potential for creativity and a culturally robust society. As well, Mackie (2008) challenges the reader to compare Open Educational Content (OEC) with Open and Community Source Software, and in doing so I link the openness to the top end of OEC use, in opening up our our needs rather than fulfilling our choices. Just as much as language learners study language in itself, they generally learn a new language to access information, to access people and situations or, as many students have told me, they learn English to think in a way that they cannot in their native language.

The definition of Open Educational Resources is difficult to pin down because of the fluctuating elements that make up the various meanings of the words educational and open (Geser, 2007). I suggest that it is this Opening of Potential that is the ongoing culmination of the various dynamic elements encompassed in the concept of Openness in Education. As resources grow in an open world, so does our potential.

Defining Openess – quick, random thoughts

I’m still away from home with not very much internet access, but I did want to post some initial, probably very thin, thoughts on the first week of readings for the Openess in Education course.

The Cathedral and Bazaar article was the most interesting, mainly because of its context of programming. I always love learning from across disciplines, for me this is where so much insight lies much like the technique of metaphor can explain ideas beyond the limits of mere language alone. There’s a lot of interesting points in this article. The idea of need, that users find these glitches in the process based on need. In an education perspective, to me, this implies the condition to set up an environment of needs that pertain directly to the learners.

I also thought of how this type of openess can lead to the elimination (well, reduction) of a managerial class that seems to have been growing like bureaucracy in this modern age. I read a book once that stated this expansive managerial class as a major problem in today’s society. With openess, the line between managers (organizers) and workers and users are blurred; In open Education, I suppose, the line between educators and learners is ideally blurred.

One of the best ideas in the article is that with a good attitude interesting problems will gravitate towards you. This idea is something I seem to be learning more and better in recent weeks.

Another Idea I think is quite new and has room for discussion is the ability to recognize as a skill in itself. I wouldn’t argue against this, but when compared to evolving skills in the educational and information worlds, how do we understand the skill of Curation? At what point is it a skill, and at what point is it just a mass rehashing of anything and everything. Those who do indeed treat it in a skilled way, as a way to add value in arrangement, hopefully will gain more influence than others who are less discerning.

I’ve commented often on the topic in the Build it and They will Come article, cross-border education and methods are a major topic for anyone involved in other countries. I would say it is not only developing countries, but even rich countries simply have different educational ideas that may be lost with OERs made with certain values in mind. What hit me in the article is that the statement “Right to Education” maybe, more than any implementation barrier, has a problem with the word “education” as it crosses cultures.

The other article seems to blend into week 2, so I’ll leave that one for now. Defining ‘openess” is quite subject to situation, anyways.

Reflecting on MOOCs and Retention

In starting a new MOOC this week, I was reflecting on the Change11 one that I participated in last year. I never really continued with it, and thought I would document a bit about why.

One reason is that I never felt the need to officially “drop out”. I figured there was no point to do something as such because maybe one day I would wake up and want to make a comment or post or something about some topic involved in the change11. There was no benefit to declaring any such thing.

Another point was that I found the weekly change in topic pace too fast for me. I’ve commented on this before (also here) so I’ll leave it at that. I also commented about the socialness of it, which probably had something to do with it.

Thinking back to when I was trying to make time to keep up with topics in the change11 MOOC, I remember feeling that involvement there was pushing aside some of my own, or better said, other learning that I wanted to undergo. Stacks of books that I’ve been meaning to read, topics that I’ve been meaning to dive into and articles that I’ve found and saved – these all seemed to have priority over the topics that were coming at me through the change11.

This isn’t to say that the change11 topics weren’t interesting, they were, but maybe at a lower priority than the other topics that I wanted to spend some time on. I read somewhere a while ago, I forget where, that the reason why drop-out rate for this open style of learning is so high is because people aren’t used to this style of learning and prefer to be spoon-fed information. I wonder if this is the prevailing thought on the subject, as my experience was very opposite. My involvement in the change11 dropped mainly because I didn’t want to be spoon-fed topics that were of less importance compared to ones I preferred.

Since then, I’ve been reluctant to join any MOOCs (the change11 was my third one, I think) that weren’t high on my priority list of topics to study, or covering a single, tight topic of study. Which brings me to the #oped12 course that started this week. I would say that open education is a high priority on my list right now, more of an encapsulated topic, and important in the sense that credits for my MA program are involved…so I imagine it will more conducive for motivation to participation. The course actually looks fantastic, and the material is well suited to this type of course design, being a relatively new distinction. As I mentioned on the course homepage at AU, this is a great class to end my MA on.

One question I am considering, and will try to think about during the course, is about the difference between participating in such a course while paying a tuition fee and while not. It’s an important question I think because, well, it’s a lot of money. Was it the right decision to take this course when it’s available for free? I could have done it, and chose another one for credits. What’s the advantage that AU students have that are paying for it? And, please don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting a slant either way and would even think there’s a strong case to be made for credits as being the only advantage, if that were so. It’s a useful question to consider, if anyone has some insight?

Open Language Support – AUGSC presentation notes

These are some supplementary note on a presentation for later this week. The topic is Open Language Learning, and it is based on several papers I have written over the course of my MA and on a blog post from 2011. The slides and some useful references are posted at the bottom.

The basic idea is an open language learning system that is simple, minimal cost to learners and can be adapted for support to existing courses. Here, the idea of Open pertains strongly to access in that language students who live in countries where the target language is not spoken can have access to effective ways of improving their second language skills. One of the purposes of the program is to help students learn autonomous learning strategies, that not uniformly cultivated in cultures across the globe. In my own context of Japan, it is common to find students that are not comfortable with being challenged to learn autonomously.

In my presentation I won’t spend very much time in describing how the system works, so I want to spend most of my post here to expand on this. From the learners perspective, they would decide to sign up or join the course and initially take three 1 week, high instruction based units. The first unit explains the course to learners, many of whom may have never used distance learning methods before, and walks them through (in target language) setting up various educational media (blogs, twitters, facebooks, etc) that they will use throughout the course. The idea isn’t for everyone to sign up for everything, but to give learners some information so that they can make an informed choice on which media might suit their own interaction style.

The second and third intro units guide students through things like searching in target language (from now on, English), CMC interaction basics, and some basics and encouragement for taking control of their own initiative. Other topics, such as assessment (or lack of), web etiquette, privacy, and continuity (or lack of) maybe tackled, as well. These initial units also get students motivated and accomplished in simple tasks in an environment that may be new to many of them. For those where learning online is old news, the units can be completed easily or even skipped.

Next, and continually after this, learners will choose a 2 week “topic” to participate in. The topicss themselves can be designed by anyone. Ideally, facilitators or language teachers from anywhere will take the time to set up the small suggested requirements for the topic (which are listed on the slide). Over time, learners should set up their own topics based on their own interests and add them to the available list for other learners to participate in. Examples of topics, or strings of topics, could be various cities around the world (each city lasting for a different 2 week period), types of recipes or restaurants, current world events, anything. People study language as a means to connect to information just as much as they study it for it’s own sake.

The purpose of the suggested requirements is to provide some sound and researched instructional techniques into the program as a whole, and to give people a place to start from. Structure, here, is a starting point, and where it goes from the start depends on what the learners do and what the facilitators suggest. Each person who creates a topic them becomes facilitator of that topic. Their role, while ultimately is up to them, is to support the learners in language and autonomous learning: if they are in a position to do so they should provide English language feedback directly and indirectly, and if they are in a position to give autonomous learning advice or help, they should do so. As well, facilitators should actively connect learners to each other, to past participants in a topic, to others in different topics, to other facilitators and to content. Interaction is not restricted by topic and time; people in any topic, now or past, or even just out there, can benefit from language interaction and practice.

So, in this sense, it doesn’t really sound like much. It’s an agreement between people (learners and facilitators…often the line between the two blurred) to search out language use, interact using target language, and to build content through this interaction. It gives learners a starting structure, a non-essential structure that doesn’t limit interaction between topics, but promotes it.  The structure can be dialed down or up, and altered to suit their own style. It also gives educators and institutions a way to support second language students comprehensively, before problems arise, using the power of peers and distributed content. The main goals of the program are increased language feedback and increased learner autonomy, and this can be adapted to almost any type of language learning situation.

Useful References

Chaos, Complexity and Language Learning

(Re)Conceptualizing Design Approaches for Mobile Language Learning

Rethinking Learner Support in Distance Education (chapters by Phillips, Mizoue, Mills, Kenworthy, Aylward)

Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace

A Model for Effectively Supporting e-Learning

Reflection as a Means of Understanding: Ways in which Confucian heritage students learn and understand organisational behavior

Open Language Support – Glen Cochrane

Open Language Support Glen Cochrane Sept 15 AUGSC

Background Independence in Education

I wrote this article earlier this year. It is a bit long, so below are just some excerpts. If you would like to read the full article, download a word document of it with this link.


Borrowing an idea from the field of physics, Background Independence can help to clarify the recent past, current and potential future states of education. Education today is dealing with an influx of dynamic approaches to the field from all directions. This wave of change within education is similar to what happened in Physics at the turn of the 20th century. Prior to 100 years ago, Newtonian laws of physics suggested that such physical concepts as position and movement were seen to be dependent for their meaning on the unchanging background of space and time. With the ideas of Einstein the fixed background was removed from theory and replaced with relationships. Space and time were no longer constants, and now thought to change along with and among everything else in the universe. The result is a view of the physical universe that is situational. The objects that used to be thought of as constants are now known to change, influencing and being influenced by all other objects in a Background Independent system. A similar idea currently resonates throughout education literature.

Structure and the Past

Just as the geometric shape of the universe was once considered to be static, so was the general form of Educational Structure. For the purposes of this paper, I have defined Educational Structure as the purely intentional side of Education; that which is prepared by design to maximize learning and that which supports this preparation. For a few hundred years until recently, transmission style training and classroom study was the generally accepted form of Educational Structure under which Learning in an Educational System took place. Here, Educational System can be understood as Educational Structure combined with Learning, or Educational Structure put into practice. Learning is defined as “a persisting change in human performance or performance potential…[which] must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world”. (Driscol, 2005, p.9) What changed in the field of physics when space and time were realized to be dynamic is that space and time were seen to emerge from the Laws of Physics, rather than providing a background for them. Space and time were now understood not as fixed measurements, but as a result of the relationships in the physical universe. Similarly, over time we have seen how Learning, Educational Structures, and thus Educational Systems, are dynamic, emerging from the relationships in the learning universe rather than providing a background for them.

Learner and Environment

Important aspects from which meaning and shape emerge in a Background Independent Physical Universe are particular points of reference. Any particular point of reference and their situation (position and movement) creates relationships that gives value to structural things like space and time. In the physical world, this structure is different for different points of references depending on where they are and where they are going. In Background Independent Educational Systems these points of reference can be understood as Learner Environments. Educational Structure is different depending on relationships of Learner Environments. Learner Environments include such things as prior knowledge, physical surrounding, choice of study, access to technology, culture, personality, mood or anything directly but not exclusively related to the learner.

What is important to note at this point is that the Laws of Physics do not dictate what exists in our Physical Universe, but only what can possibly exist. The Laws of Physics attempt to state how physical things interact, not which physical things actually interact with others. The Laws of Learning (a term I will come back to later) would state the ways in which learning is possible. How learners learn in our actual world is as varied as the number of speeds you can possibly drive under the speed limit. And so are Learning Theories.

Symmetries and Learning

Learning Theories such as Behaviorism, Cognition, Constructivism all emerged gradually as a result of linking observed changes in individual learners with what was thought to bring about those changes. (Driscol, 2005) They, too, are a result of the situational nature of Background Independence, taking shape from actual world observation.Clusters of symmetries that collect and form broader Learning Theories can only supply Educational Structure with concepts and strategies to effectively blanket the types of relationships and situations from which they grow. For other situations, we need other theories. Symmetries of the past have been breaking because of that gradual change that has become rapid. All of the new relationships and situations that are facing us today have been created by dynamic, mutually inclusive Learning Theories, Educational Structure, Learning, Educational Systems and all other subsidiary objects in Background Independent Educational Systems. Consciously approaching education independent of any fixed background educators can ensure they are using strategies and tools situationally, with what little consistency a Social Science will allow.


Many of the concrete concepts of the past have turned out to be much more dynamic than previously thought. Despite tendencies these days to be enchanted with the future of education, we need to rethink many of our established practices to ensure that our path from the past leading into the rapidly changing future is a worthwhile one. One example of this is the role of the educator. To continue to treat teacher roles “as a single role, to be performed by a single person, increasingly defies the reality that is today’s educational system.” (Downes, 2010) No longer are “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” the only two options; there is everything in between. Teacher roles have started filling in the gaps on the new spectrum of what it means to be a teacher. And these points on the spectrum are best plotted by situation alone.

The environment of Intent mentioned earlier is certainly another important way in which education is different from Physics; there is no surrounding Intent (that we know of) outside of our physical universe. With this Intent in education comes a certain amount of choice and control. More than ever, learners have the ability to control their own learning, and to decide which aspects of their chosen education that they want to control and which they prefer to defer.

In education, all systems should be willing to shift as much intent as possible into realm of the learner itself. This tension between the Structure and the Learner is a defining aspect of today’s education, bringing us back to the point of not only how to define teacher roles, but also how we can define an underlying purpose in all Education Systems. 

Connectivism is an approach to education that has the potential to fulfill aFundamental Law role in the Structure of Education. As Structure becomes more and more Background Independent, a reliance on relationship tendencies (Laws may be too strong of a word for Social Science) can guide the path for educators and learners. Education Structure that reacts to the connections of individuals will allow for intent to permeate, learning symmetries to collect, learning theories to operate and for effective Education Systems to emerge from situation.

Background Independence is a suggestion about how to approach education, so that we can make better theories that do not merely blanket, but rather let education evolve under the situation of relationships.