Thinking about course design

I have been thinking about designing University courses in an age of open educational resources.

My particular interest at the moment is the combination of data science and sport analytics.

I keep returning to the idea of a ‘pedagogical technologist‘ able to offer ‘structured exposure’ to learners who might not otherwise choose to attend university. I see structured exposure as the key here if we are to offer a service to students in an institutional setting.

My inspiration is Alan Levine.

In 2014, Howard Rheingold described Alan as a pedagogical technologist “an architect of open, connected learning systems that enable students to take power over and responsibility for (and joy in!) their own learning”.

Howard added “Many people have something to say about what to do with the educational opportunities afforded by digital media. Fewer can persuasively articulate a case for specific pedagogies that digital media enable”.

I think Alan does this profoundly well.

Howard observed “while schools no longer have a monopoly on learning because free digital media can be used to learn anything, knowing what to learn, how to learn, what questions to ask, isn’t a given, even with the savvy online self-learner. The role of the instructor has not gone away, but it has shifted …”

This shift came to mind this morning when I read Bharath Raj’s How to play Quidditch using the TensorFlow Object Detection API.

I wondered how I might engage students like Bharath should he want to extend his domain knowledge to sports other than Quidditch as he guided his readers “through creating your own custom object detection program, using a fun example of Quidditch from the Harry Potter universe! (For all you Star Wars fans, here’s a similar blog post that you might like)”.

In his post he noted:

My motive was pretty straightforward. I wanted to build a Quidditch Seeker using TensorFlow. Specifically, I wanted to write a program to locate the snitch at every frame.

But then, I decided to up the stakes. How about trying to identify all the moving pieces of equipment used in Quidditch?

I though any design for learning I might propose would need to be profoundly personal. In this case, I wondered how prospective students might be introduced to object detection in sport using Bharat’s blog post as a problem finding start to a learning journey that encompassed first principles and granular detail.

I thought I might extract some provocations from the post and suggest students go back to some early work by Janez Pers and his colleagues (2002) and on to some of the more recent ‘ghosting’ studies of basketball and football.

This could become a spontaneous hackathon. At the University of Canberra, for example, I imagine this being facilitated by Roland Goecke in ways that underscored the power of structured exposure.

I hope students and teachers would have personal and shared learning journals that make transparent the emerging understanding about big things and small things. In doing so, we would all be moving toward a world that will be rather than a world that was.

I sense that pedagogical technologists are at home in this world of emerging performances of understanding. It is a fallible environment that demands institutions themselves become much more agile and much more imaginative in ways that courses are designed and assessed.

Photo Credits

Music abducted me (Carlos Romo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alan Levine on/of the web (Kristina Hoeppner, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A model Fenway Day (Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Creating our own spaces


It has been a fascinating week for reading and reflecting on shared links.

It started with Kurt Lindley’s exploration of social capital. In his post he discusses the sharing of stories and the emergence of trust. I think it is a great contribution to how we might connect and co-operate in learning environments. Kurt encouraged me to reflect on how prosocial learning environments can be enabled so that “social capital inheres in the structure of relations between actors and among actors” (James Coleman, 1988, p.98).

The following day an alert from Stephen Downes introduced me to Heather Ross and her discussion of open educational practices. Her literature review (2015) discusses:

  • What open education means in current contexts.
  • What problems the integration of open educational materials may help negate
  • What barriers may be impeding the adoption of such materials
  • Who the stakeholders are and what their roles are in the integration of open materials and practices.

Heather’s paper proposed a embedded case study of open educational resources (OER) in a Canadian University in order to “better understand why some instructors are adopting open educational practices while others are not at the university as the institution is facing pressure from student leaders and the provincial government to move forward on an OER initiative” (2015, 22).

A day after meeting Heather, another link from Stephen took me off to an Alan Levine post. Alan was discussing connected courses.

Alan suggests:

the ideal kind of connected course should work- just like the way the internet works, a distributed network of connections, a place that no entity owns outright, and where individuals create and own their small nodes within.

These courses can be enriched by students being physically together with teachers: “There is interaction, body language, conversations that I suggest have value. And they get the added benefit of the input of those open participants”.

Elsewhere on Clyde Street, I have referred to Alan’s use of ‘structured exposure‘. In this exposure teachers and students work together in a classroom that morphs into a studio in which students work creatively supported by teachers in shared and personal endeavour. In the process everyone is engaged in a craft environment.

Kurt, Heather and Alan had positioned me in a very good place to enjoy Maciej Cegłowski’s discussion of deep-fried data. In his wistful conclusion, Maciej shares his dream for the web “to feel like a big city”:

A place where you rub elbows with people who are not like you. Somewhere a little bit scary, a little chaotic, full of everything you can imagine and a lot of things that you can’t. A place where there’s room for chain stores, room for entertainment conglomerates, but also room for people to be themselves, to create their own spaces, and to learn from one another.

I think his article is a remarkable tour de force but the ending connected me with a week of reading and a decade of thinking about how we might work together openly to support each others as learners … entangled.

Photo Credit

Connections (Ricardo Torres Kompen, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Presence, Structured Exposure and Desire



Two years ago, Clay Shirky wrote about asking students in his class to put their laptops away. A recent Medium alert brought my attention to the post.

I had not seen it before the alert.

I have had the post open in a browser tab for two days … disappointed to have missed the original post and provoked by the content.

I am fortunate that I have had lots of driving to do at the moment to give me time to think about Clay’s points.


Clay notes:

  • The practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time.
  • The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, taught to a group of students selected using roughly the same criteria every year.
  • The change seemed to correlate more with the rising ubiquity and utility of the devices themselves, rather than any change in me, the students, or the rest of the classroom encounter.

This led to Clay moving from recommending students set aside laptops and phones to requiring it.

His blog post shares evidence about attention and focus. He writes:

I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction.

He makes a powerful point with this observation:

screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.

In his classrooms:

It’s me and them (the students) working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.


Structured Exposure

Clay’s post disturbed me in the best possible way. It encouraged me to reflect on the importance I attach to bring your own device classrooms.

I have flipped most of my content for many years and have used classroom environments to explore how students can become produsers of this content.

My experience has been that my classes are negotiable inductions to digital scholarship and learning to deal with the perturbations that information and communications technology bring.

I took a lead from Alan Levine to change my pedagogy to address structured exposure. He defined this as “meeting in a physical space in synchronous time”.

I thought this exposure gave opportunities to deal with the presence and distraction of the devices. It seemed to me to resonate with ways we all have continuous partial attention.

My rationale for devices in my classroom has been informed by the objectives for Alan and his colleagues’ ds106 course:

    • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression.
    • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking.
    • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres.



I am hopeful that my approach to digital scholarship enables students to make choices about attention and the management of distraction.

I am always relieved when students arrive at my classes. My invitational approach offers them a choice about remote connection and structured exposure.

Kate Bowles helped me think about the space for desire to learn in my classrooms. A few months before Clay’s post, she wrote that the essence of a successful desire path

is that it represents shared decision-making between separate users who don’t formally cooperate. So a desire path is both a coherent expression of collective effort, and completely unplanned — in fact, it’s the opposite of planning. Simply, each one puts her or his foot where it feels most sensible, and the result is a useful informal path that’s sensitive to gradient, destination, weather, terrain, and built through unspoken collaboration among strangers.


It has taken me almost 500 miles of driving to compile my thoughts about Clay’s post.

It has made me acutely aware of the role I play as a meddler in students’ learning experiences.

Ultimately, I hope to be a good enough teacher to engage students in qualitative experiences that encourage them, perhaps even compel them, to engage with the ideas and resources shared openly in digital habitats.

The process has brought me closer to reflecting on a recent observation from Michael Wesch:

You can’t just think your way into a new way of living; you have to live your way into a new way of thinking.

Thank you for reading this post amidst all the distractions you face.

Photo Credits

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Times They Are A’Changing (Brett Jordan, CC BY 2.0)

It is always a miracle (Ib Aarmo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)