Being a Technologist



I am old enough to have experienced PT … physical training in school.

I was reminded of PT this week when Howard Rheingold described Alan Levine as a Pedagogical Technologist.

Howard discussed Alan’s experiences of stimulating and supporting student learning in a thirty minute Vimeo recording.

This PT is a very long way temporally and conceptually from my first PT experiences.

Technology as Practice

I did listen carefully to the conversation between Howard and Alan. I did not hear the term ‘pedagogical technologist’ mentioned explicitly. I do think it is an excellent description of Alan and his teaching.

The conversation between Harold and Alan covered Alan’s work from 1992 to the present day. I found it fascinating to learn about Alan’s development as a teacher and open access practitioner. I admire Alan’s work immensely and I regard his involvement in the development of ds106 as a model for me to follow as I explore open learning opportunities.

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

There is an important message about creativity in Howard and Alan’s conversation. Alan discussed the significance of students meeting in a physical space in synchronous time. He and Harold agreed about the place of structured exposure to ideas and practices. Alan talked about the classroom morphing into a studio wherein students worked creatively in adjacent spaces. Harold amplified this point with his mention of Chris Bache’s work on collective consciousness and Richard Sennett’s discussion of craft as “doing something well for its own sake”.

I think this is the world of the pedagogical technologist. The craft of this technologist is, I think, to support student’s experimenting within an environment that values (and prioritises) sharing. I agree entirely that this practice is shaped by the spirit and attitude of openness.

There are lessons for all of us in Alan’s practice about how to be creative about assessment. I think the daily create part of ds106 that extends students’ reach with low challenge practice is very powerful in creating a culture of exploration. I admire the opportunities students have to modify their assessment tasks if they can be bold and narrate and explain why they have taken an alternative path.

I sense that pedagogical technologists work with students to move beyond unthinking compliance to a reflective response to learning opportunities. This resonates strongly with Alan’s interest in Jon Udell’s narrating our work.


I enjoyed Alan’s discussion of a blogging voice too. He affirmed how important it is for him to blog and I was reassured by his suggestion that finding his voice took him some considerable time. I share Alan’s interest in blogging as an iterative “conversation with myself” to clarify one’s thinking.


Harold discussed serendipitous opportunities afforded by a spirit of openness. Alan talked about some of his experiences that have emerged from sharing and making connections.

I had my own serendipity at the time of viewing the interview. My Paper.Li aggregator brought me a link from Steve Wheeler to his Changing the learning landscape blog post. In the post, Steve reports that ‘a one day workshop on social media and learning in higher education that will be held at the University of Warwick on April 24’.

Steve is speaking at the workshop and shares some of the flyer for the event:

Social media turns the traditional static web into a participatory and collaborative experience. Social media enables individuals to discuss, share, and learn via different kinds of media, such as text, video, photos. The use of social media is increasing within higher education to teach and support student learning. The range of different social media platforms is ever expanding and it can seem quite daunting trying to navigate through this and find effective methods for learning and teaching. This workshop will discuss a range of social media platforms and provide examples of their use within learning and teaching.

I think the workshop would find Harold and Alan’s conversation extremely pertinent. The attraction of the participatory web for me is that we can connect with practice in a spirit of openness. The workshop ‘will look to inspire leadership of pedagogic development of the use of social media platforms’.

I imagine the same issues will be addressed in terms of open networked participatory scholarship.

Pedagogy and scholarship will flourish in institutions that are able to embrace the spirit of openness for pro-active strategic outcomes rather than re-active operational expediency. The visionary institutions are becoming very different spaces for learning.

A second link, shared with me by Darrell Cobner, took me to this quote ‘the true experts, ultimately, only needed one main specialized skill, storytelling, to thrive in social media’ … and thus back to ds106.

This course will require you to both design and build an online identity (if you don’t have one already) and narrate your process throughout the fifteen week semester. Given this, you will be expected to openly frame this process and interact with one another throughout the course as well as engage and interact with the world beyond as a necessary part of such a development.

In many ways this course will be part storytelling workshop, part technology training, and, most importantly, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape that is ever increasingly mediating how we communicate with one another.

ds106 course objectives are:

    • 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.



It is a long bow to draw to conclude this post, but in the spirit of a personal conversation …

Physical training emphasised order, compliance and whole group participation. Instructors delivered their content in a formal classroom. Pupils attended and sanctions were applied for non-compliance often in the form of ‘punishments’ in front of the whole class.

Pedagogical Technologists are the antitheses of this training model.

Harold and Alan have given me a much clearer sense of how this pedagogy can take place in a structured physical setting as well as in personally driven asynchronous spaces. It is an education model not a training model. It is a facilitation approach rather than an instruction approach. It is profoundly educational in its epistemology and ontology.

It has a lot to share about order and chaos. It is where we will be.

Photo Credit

Frame Grab (Connected Learning Alliance)


Children at physical training in Llanfyllin church school (The National Library of Wales, no known copyright restrictions)

Connecting 131029


I have enjoyed reading a number of posts about open access resources this week.

Some of the links to these posts have come from OLDaily.

Tony Bates has written about the 2013 COHERE Conference. The theme of the Conference was ‘Open Resources, Open Courses: their Impact on Blended and Online Learning’.

Diana has written about the Open Educational Resource university (OERu) to be launched on 31 October. There was further information about OERu on WikiEducator. I followed up on these links and read with interest about Wayne Mackintosh.

JISC’s Open Mirror project sounds interesting. Open Mirror “would provide access for the world to the open access research outputs from UK researchers. It would be an aggregation of all UK Open Access content, based upon the network of institutional repositories in the UK”.

Steve Wheeler has discussed learning episodes in a post from last week. He suggests that:

learning episodes rather than courses could be the way forward for ‘just in time’ and ‘just enough’ learning that is personalised, and delivered at the point of need.  Ultimately, it’s a matter of granularity, and an idea based on making all of the components of a course available separately, in any sequence, and deliverable on any platform. Such flexibility is now both achievable and desirable. But how many organisations have the vision to make it happen?

I sense that access to open resources makes this granularity more possible. I do see an enormous role for mOOLEs (micro open online learning episodes). Like Stephen Downes I think that:

Probably the worst thing about MOOCs is that they’re courses (if they weren’t ‘courses’ nobody would care about
completion rates, there wouldn’t be this emphasis on quizzes and credentials, and they wouldn’t be these long  structured content-dumps).

 Photo Credit

Connected Everywhere (Mauro Fuentes, CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

Making Room for Learning Spaces

Early Summer mornings are great times to catch up on overnight news.

This morning I had a alert to Colin Warren’s Technology and Curriculum Transformation page.

Colin linked to a Steve Wheeler post on Learning Precincts. Steve’s post was written at the New Zealand Tertiary Education Summit. In the post, Steve considers how universities might create learning spaces that are conducive to learning for all.

Steve shared news of Rob Allen’s talk on Auckland University of Technology’s Learning Precinct. The Precinct is due to be completed in 2013 and will increase the campus by 25%. Its features include:

  • a 12-floor tower, a plaza, glass atrium, and a green quad
  • linkages between key buildings on the City Campus and a major gateway to AUT
  • an additional 20,000 square metres of new facilities
  • lobbies and break-out spaces have been designed as collaborative social study areas, with a range of furniture types to cater for multiple ways of learning

I enjoyed reading Steve’s account and learning about AUT’s plans. The post has encouraged me to think again about how learning is supported by moments of concentration of people in spaces and their dispersal into other physical and virtual places. I am keen to find low cost, sustainable options for these interactions. I believe that connected (ubiquitous computing) social spaces are keys to convivial learning.

After a year of working without a fixed office on my University campus I am wondering about the possibilities of transforming all spaces to open spaces. This does involve being relaxed about Cloud based support for mobile learners.

It involves contemplating Betaville too! There was a comment on Steve’s post from Vincent Driscoll. Vincent is working on a Betaville project and points out that:

The emphasis is on self-sufficiency and taking responsibility for our own learning. We are encouraged to find the answers ourselves – we even get roped in to research topics and present our findings back to peers at workshops.  Information moves partly from the tutors to us, as you would expect, but also between the learners peer-to-peer. The programme is designed so that this happens spontaneously. We were told at the intro session that we should think of ourselves as essential parts of a system of learners, a learning organisation even and the Betaville project is just one, though significant, element designed to facilitate it.

I like the Betaville suggestion that:

the future of a street corner, a blank wall, a vacant lot, or an entire city can now be tinkered with on an ongoing basis at negligible cost by the full spectrum of subject matter experts: the people who know what it’s like to live there now, the people who know how to make new things happen… and people with great ideas to share, anywhere in the world, whenever they can and care to.

This kind of approach is helping me move further towards an edgeless university that is people-centric located within the community … organopónicos for learners and teachers.


Shortly after posting in this item I learned about the CAUDIT Study Tour of Learning Spaces and Technology that took place last week. Visits were made to the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University, Victoria University and the University of Melbourne.

The aims of the tour were to:

  • Engage IT leaders in the area of good design for Learning and Teaching so they can appreciate and represent the holistic design concepts in their own institutions;
  • Explore identified exemplars in learning space designs and understand what facilitates good learning and teaching practice;
  • Develop some basic best practice guidelines around technology integration to share with the wider CAUDIT membership;
  • Establish a Community of Practice for Learning Space and Technology across Australia and New Zealand.

My colleague Danny Munnerley was on the tour and has alerted me to his collection of photographs of the tour and to James Sankar’s blog posts about each of the visits.

Photo Credit

AUT’s Brand New Precinct