So Many Posts; So Little … Posting

I have about 50 posts started, but none finished — or at least none worthy to post. As usual, I’ve been prattling (though only in my head, so far) about change in higher education; about the importance of leaders-as-learners and teachers; about technology, learning, assessment, teaching; about heutagogy; about access; etc. etc. etc.

So many posts; so little posting.

While not posting, I have been contemplating the lessons in two poems by Marge Piercy: The Seven of Pentacles and To Be of Use.

And I did take this picture of a lovely spring flower while out on a bike ride with my kid:

Meditation on a spring flower in the forest.

Meditation on a spring flower in the forest.

So there’s that.

Instead of posting my own ramblings right now, I’ll share a few links to others’ pieces that have really inspired my nog as of late.  I’ll also share a few quotes from each that I mentally highlighted – may they inspire you to inquire and reflect, too.

How Disruptive Is Information Technology Really? by Judith Ramaley – EDUCAUSE Review

The act of teaching is becoming more about designing the educational context and engaging students as they learn to approach material in more insightful and demanding ways. We are not transmitters of knowledge very often today, although an occasional superb lecture by a remarkably perceptive and even prescient speaker or a carefully crafted blog contribution can open up new ways of thinking about things.

We all know these simple things about how the educational experience is changing, but how recently have we paused to think about how truly wonderful it is to be able to use our smartphones to answer a question right immediately? My real concern is that not all questions have a quick, well-researched, and easy-to-find answer. Many, perhaps most, questions in today’s world are hard to formulate, are seen in very different ways by different people, or simply do not have good answers at all. That is why we still need real people who interact with each other in real time in order to frame questions that matter, to explore the ideas that come from those questions, and to work together to find solutions. No longer, however, are those people confined to the knowledge and experience that they carry in their own minds or that they can bring along with them on paper. They can tap into a true universe of material whenever they wish.

Good Teachers Become Less Important by Bernard Bull – Etale – Life in the Digital World.

When I think about the role of what we traditionally think of as teacher, one of the most important roles of teachers is to work hard at making themselves as unimportant as possible, not unimportant in the sense of lacking value, but unimportant in the sense that they are eventually no longer needed.  In other words, the goal of the teacher is to aid the learners in becoming self-directed learners.

Notes on social learning in business by Harold Jarche

Training and instruction are all about control, with curricula, sanctioned learning objectives, and performance criteria. This works when the field of study is knowable. But fewer fields remain completely knowable, if they ever were. Many institutions and professions have been built on the premise that knowledge can be transferred in some kind of controlled process. If you question that premise, you threaten people’s jobs, status, and sense of worth. This is why you see some violent reactions to the notion of informal and social learning having validity within organizations.

A major difference between communities of practice and work teams is that the former are voluntary. People want to join communities of practice. People feel affinity for their communities of practice. You know you are in a community of practice when it changes your practice.

And finally, a post from the Heutagogy Community of Practice: The PAH Continuum: Pedagogy, Andragogy, & Heutagogy, by Fred Garnett

When we collaboratively developed the ideas of the open context model of learning, Wilma Clark had pointed out that in Russia the word ‘obuchenie’ means both teaching and learning, and the PAH Continuum might be seen as a way of scaffolding ‘obuchenie’ as a move from teacher’s control to learner’s control. I would see it as axiomatic, as I did when I was ‘brokering’ learning, that teachers, whilst delivering their subject expertise, should be enabling learners to better understand the process of learning for themselves.

So many posts; so much learning. With great appreciation for all my teachers out there. As Bernard Bull wrote:

In one sense, a teacher is anyone or anything that contributes to our learning.

The Sky Is The Limit: MOOCs For Credit Or Learning?

Pam Tate from CAEL recently published this editorial in InsideHigherEd: The right path to MOOC credit?

Here are some essential questions she posed:

Are course evaluations and testing really the best or only way to deal with this new era of learning? What about experiential learning? If someone has college-level learning from their life experience is it invalid unless they take a course?

Tate proposes that  course-by-course  assessment may not be the best way to go, and that individual learning assessment via a portfolio may be a better approach. I couldn’t agree more, but I suspect our reasons are slightly different. My reason is about learning.

In the Heutagogy Community of Practice right now, we’re having a great conversation about the differences between learning, and between knowledge and skills acquisition. I think this is key to consider in the MOOC conversation, too. What kinds of learning are we interested in promoting in higher education? Surface, strategic, or deep? And then how do we design learning experiences to support the kinds of learning we really want?

Personally, I think the sky is the limit when we are talking about opening up access, in the way that MOOCs might, to learning. So why wouldn’t we go all the way?

The Sky is the Limit, photo by Harriet L. Schwartz with permission

The Sky is the Limit, photo by Harriet L. Schwartz with permission

MOOCs (specifically xMOOCs ) still seem to be all about delivering knowledge and skills acquisition; furthermore, now the hot topic is finding ways to “measure and credit” that learning (surface and strategic learning, but probably not deep learning), and ACE is doing it with the good old 20th century final exam. (Twelve steps forward for learning; 20 steps backwards for assessment!)

There’s a place for all three kinds of learning in our lives, of course, but if we leave deep learning development out of higher education, I think we miss a great collective opportunity, one that’s actually necessary for our modern global and technological society. As I often hear my colleague saying, I’m in higher education because ultimately I want to promote world peace. We can get closer to that via deep learning approaches. And deep learning approaches call for a different kind of assessment to support them.

This is why I’d much rather see a PLA portfolio-type process (reflect and integrate; learn and unlearn and relearn; articulate; clarify; analyze; identify significance; identify dissonance; MAKE MEANING!!! — these are key PLA verbs) for MOOC learning assessments than a final exam. A PLA-type process can deepen students’ learning  — can help learners construct knowledge and apply it to new situations, versus take it in and spit it out. In this way, assessment of learning  (prior or new, regardless of source) can serve to both measure and credit learning (assessment OF learning), but more importantly, to deepen learning and promote ongoing learning (assessment AS and FOR learning).

The sky is the limit when we are talking about opening up access to learning via MOOCs and other open resources. Why would we even think of stopping at the bottom rung?

Convergence Zone: Heutagogy

I was a pop-in-and-out participant in last week’s MOOC MOOC, during which time I wrote this reflection about MOOCs, Prior Learning Assessment, and College-Level Learning. I read several tweets and posts from folks participating along the way that shaped and changed my thinking, and I gleaned a few interesting ideas and a whole lot of thoughtful questions about MOOCs, and even more thoughtful questions about teaching, learning, assessment, higher education, prior learning and assessment, pedagogy, technology, accreditation, adult learning, and the intersections of all of these topics.

Thanks to fabonthemoon on Flickr for making this image available for use!

This busy intersection is where I spend a lot of my time professionally and theoretically – smack dab in the middle of several noisy streets, trying to determine what way I might want to travel next before I get hit by oncoming traffic. It’s really not as terrifying as it might sound; in fact, the metaphor, for me, represents the complexity of higher education in a good way: its systems, its people, its opportunities and challenges. Traffic is moving here, and quickly, but then again, slowly. (It is higher education, after all.) 

One post that caught my attention was written by Dave Cormier titled Rhizomatic Learning and MOOCs – Assessment. Here’s a key point he made that’s been rattling in my nog since I read it:


What we are learning is contextualized by each individual differently, according to their experiences, their understanding and purposes,


The things that are learned are not definite, but flexible and complex


Assessing what someone ‘knows’ is an act of enforcement of a given point of view, not a(n apolotical) [sic] helpful guideline to learning

I want assessment to be a helpful guideline to learning (as reflected, for example, in my concerns with learning analytics). Period. With or without MOOCs, my personal vision of assessment’s main value is as a key part of an individual’s and group’s learning processes and cycles (assessment as an act of learning — for and as learning — versus of someone’s learning by someone else). I also think there is great value in assessment as and for learning for organizations. Otherwise, how would we know how we’re doing and how to improve?

Yet here’s where it gets messy:

When someone (presumably a person we call a “student”) wants to have their learning “certified” in some way and wants the currency of higher education — credits and degrees and whatnot — attached to that learning to “verify” that they have it, then these ideals of learning/assessment get messy and murky. (The same might be said of organizations: verification for higher educational organizations is just called “accountability” and is often conflated with “assessment” and “accreditation.”) For a student, passing a course somehow represents that he or she has learned something from it; adding up these courses to a degree presumes that he or she is qualified in particular ways. Somehow we have to “validate” all of this, for all sorts of reasons.

Prior Learning Assessment has been a way for students — typically adults with several years of life and professional experience under their belts — to have their learning “validated,” to earn credit for their prior college-level learning that they have obtained through non-college learning opportunities. By critically reflecting on their learning experiences, making meaning from these experiences, and connecting and integrating their own knowledge with that of the “academic experts,” students can demonstrate that they’ve met course learning outcomes through different sources other than the course. (GASP!) But perhaps the most meaningful aspect of PLA, in addition to acknowledging that people can learn all sorts of things in all sorts of ways from all sorts of sources, is that the process helps develop reflective thinking, awareness, problem-solving, and mindfulness about learning. In other words:

PLA helps learners be better learners!

So if PLA were to become a way to assess MOOC-based learning (which it could be) — if it were to be “re-branded,” as one person in my PLA LinkedIn group discussion forum suggested, to focus less on assessing prior, experiential learning for adults and to focus more on assessing college-level learning for all, then by all means, it could legitimately serve an assessment-of-MOOC-learning function (and frankly, it likely will).

But I keep coming back to what might be lost by using PLA in this way, for this purpose, and it comes down to my fear of losing the other 2 aspects of PLA: assessment for and as learning. Furthermore, I fear that there would be additional aspects to PLA that might be sacrificed or forgotten about. Here’s my quick and dirty laundry list:

  • The focus on the adult-as-learner specifically
  • Development of the critically reflective process required for turning experience into learning
  • The transformative (life-changing) outcomes of PLA as a learning process
  • The kind of thinking and problem-solving skills that folks develop when engage in PLA
  • The great sense of accomplishment that students feel and confidence that students gain when their learning is awarded college credit.

(See this PLA Bibliography for literature that reflects all of the above theoretically and in practice.)

I really don’t know much about MOOCs, or about rhizomatic learning, but I do know a few things about learning to learn, and I know a lot about PLA. I really would want to retain the kind of PLA that supports this metacognitive development in addition to validating someone’s experiential learning.

Now, this busy intersection is beginning to reveal a convergence zone for me: a focus on learning to learn, on developing capability as a learner — regardless of the topic or content area, the role or methods of assessment, who is teaching, or how or where one gains learning. This zone is called heutagogy, and I am working on creating a curation of resources and a community of practitioners to think together about its usefulness in this 21st century learning and higher educational landscape. I openly invite participation and perspectives: stayed tuned for more about Heutagogy In Action.


Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from:

Bhoyrub, J., Hurley, J., Neilson, G.R., Ramsay, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Heutagogy: An alternative practice based learning approachNurse Education in Practice19(6), 322-326.

Canning, N. &  Callan, S. (2010). Heutagogy: Spirals of reflection to empower learners in higher education. Reflective Practice, 11(1), pp. 71–82.

Canning, N. (2010). Playing with heutagogy: Exploring strategies to empower mature learners in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34(1), pp. 59–71.

Chapnick, S. & Meloy, J. (2005).  Renaissance eLearning: creating dramatic and unconventional learning experiences. Essential resources for training and HR professionals. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA. (See “From Andragogy to Heutagogy,” pp. 36–39.)

Hase, S, and Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase, RMIT

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2007). Heutagogy: a child of complexity theory. Complicity: an International Journal of Complexity and Education, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 111-118. “Heutagogy: A Child of Complexity Theory”

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2001). Moving from Andragogy to Heutagogy in Vocational Education. Retrieved from: 

Prattle Your Nog For A Good Cause

Friends of PrattleNog –

I know you all want to get your nogs prattling – here’s a good opportunity for a great cause!

Close enough...Thanks for J from the UK on Flickr for making this image available.

My Marylhurst colleague Jesse Stommel is seeking feedback on his ideas for our new online English degree program. As he writes in Hybrid Pedagogy,

I’ve been thinking about my audience for this series of posts. Initially, I had thought to bring digital humanities, literary studies, and educational technology experts into conversation, allowing my ideas for the program to be considered and influenced by a much larger network. I’m realizing, though, that there’s another group of experts from whom I particularly want feedback and suggestions: students. Ideally, this would include input from prospective students for the program, but since the program is only just barely beginning to germinate, what I’d like to do here is askboth students and teachers in existing programs to think about how the English degree is being transformed by digital technologies and about how online learning can be re-imagined through the use of new (and increasingly social) media.

I am super excited about this program in part because I will aways be an English major in heart and by degree (ok, by two degrees), and I love Jesse’s approach and ideas for getting this program off the ground. (We’re also going to do some nogging about innovative and meaningful ways to assess this program and students’ learning – good times to come!)

So – go HERE and help him out! It’s for a good cause, and I guarantee it will get your nog prattling!

So How, Exactly, Will Learning Be Assessed?

It is true that I flunked out of Girl Scouts long before I could get a vest like this.

I am trying to understand badges. Given my background with Prior Learning Assessment programs and other forms of experiential learning, I totally get the idea conceptually. (Hey – I know a few boy and girl scouts too! They’ve earned badges for things they learned and could do too, right?)

Apparently, with a badge:

You can get credit for learning outside of school, on the web, or from work and life experience.

So it sounds like some sort of technologically-mediated PLA, except the credit you earn is is not college credit. There is some other currency here, though what value it will hold remains to be seen.  It seems to me that there’s great potential here, as this article explains. What with the rising costs of higher education and access issues, and the learning opportunities presented with new technologies, combined with learning one can obtain through experience (hopefully with some expert guidance and reflection), this might be something quite worthwhile.  I can see it now: Post a few badges onto your robust ePortfolio and your avatar may actually scream: Hire Me!

But here’s what I don’t get — where is the “quality control?” (Ack – I hate that term applied to learning, but I think it’s a legitimate question).  My burning question with all of this is:

So, how, exactly, will learning be assessed?

Of course I ask this question of my faculty colleagues in higher education too — it’s certainly not a question specific to badges. I am honestly trying to figure it out!

Here is some information about assessment and badges, according to the Badge FAQs (a wiki, so what I’ve copied in blue will likely change soon):

Who can issue badges?
Badges can be created, defined and issued by a number of sources, including:

  • Traditional educational institutions (e.g., x, y or z)
  • Professional bodies (e.g. doctors, engineers, accountants)
  • International credential assessment agencies
  • Non formal, community learning organizations (e.g. Adult Basic Education, Literacy, Employability)
  • Communities of practice (e.g., open education projects, peer learners, or the individual learners themselves)
  • After-school programs and learning networks.
  • Online courses and open courseware initiatives.
  • Companies/organizations that employ people

How will the value of the badges be authenticated? In this system, a digital badge is more than just an image – it is essentially a collection of metadata that fully explains the badge and includes information such as the issuer, issue date, criteria for earning the badge, expiration if needed, the learner work or evidence behind the badge, etc. So the badge acts as a gateway or conversation starter, but the bulk of the information is in that metadata and it can act as an informal validation system itself.

And this is what the Mozilla and P2PU badge pilot project will address regarding assessment specifically (also from the FAQs):


The pilot will explore a range of assessment types, including:

  • peer assessment
  • self-assessment
  • portfolio assessment
  • stealth assessment
  • The Javascript badge assessment, for example, will require learners to submit work that demonstrates competency. Peers will then rate the work against a predefined rubric and set of criteria. Once the rating reaches a particular threshold, the badge will be issued.
  • The Accessibility badge will require experience designing or developing for challenged users or accessibility technologies, plus a blog post with reflection and analysis of the experience. A group of accessibility gurus within the community will then assess the work and issue badges accordingly.
  • Other badges may be aligned directly with courses, with course organizers able to assess work and issue badges.

And more:

How does assessment work?

  • For badges to hold real value and carry the weight of more traditional grades or degrees, assessment and quality is critical.
  • Badges can contain multiple levels of assessment, depending on the use case, community or intended audience
    • some will require distinct pre-defined assessment exercises and success criteria
    • others may be loosely defined and require learner reflection or peer recommendations.
  • Hard skills may require standard or more rigid rubrics to compare learner work against.
  • Softer skills can be more fluid and require more open and social assessments like peer reviews or endorsements.
  • For certification badges, intended for audiences like hiring managers, admission boards, more rigorous assessments can be required
  • For badges intended to simply build community or reward behaviors, simple assessments may be enough

How can badges provide greater flexibility and innovation in assessment?
Badges can help:

  • drive innovation around new types of assessments (e.g., x or y)
  • provide more personalized assessments for learners (e.g., x or y)
  • move beyond out of date or irrelevant testing practices (e.g., x or y)

For example:

  • Asynchronous assessment. Instead of being required to take an exam at a pre-determined time, for example, learners can seek out the assessment on their own time.
  • “Stealth assessment.” Assessment and awarding badges can happen automatically and provide immediate feedback. [Need a half sentence summary of what “stealth assessment is.]
  • Portfolio assessment. Work samples, projects and other artifacts the learner has produced or been involved in can demonstrate skills and competencies.
  • Multiple assessors or group assessment. In traditional classrooms, an individual instructor generally does most of the assessing. An open badge system can support assessment from multiple contexts, including course organizers, peers, or learners themselves. This flexible and networked nature could mean that there are multiple paths or assessment options for earning a badge, making the system more flexible, ensuring that the needs of each learner are met and limiting the learning path constraints.

I  think this is all very exciting. But I’ll need to keep learning about this badge idea and seeing where and how it goes because my jury is still out. But hey – maybe I can earn a badge for learning about badges. Then I can get an outfit for my avatar that looks something like this:

Just like I say about earning a college degree, maybe it’s never to late to earn a badge!

To Learn, Unlearn, & Relearn

I recently found the list below of 21st Century Literacies, posted by Cathy Davidson. As I prepared to launch myself and my students into Fall term today, I re-read the list, paused, and thought that even though I am not teaching any content specific to these literacies (I teach in the PLA program), at some level, in some way, I’d like to address them for my students because they seem pretty darn relevant to me. The list is from a course description for a course Davidson is teaching. Here they are, as she has defined them, along with key questions we might ask for each:

  • Attention: What are the new ways that we pay attention in a digital era? How do we need to change our concepts and practices of attention for a new era? How do we learn and practice new forms of attention in a digital age?
  • Participation: How do we encourage meaningful interaction and participation in a digital age? How can the internet be useful on a cultural, social, or civic level?
  • Collaboration: Collaboration can simply reconfirm consensus, acting more as peer pressure than a lever to truly original thinking. HASTAC has cultivated the methodology of collaboration by difference to inspire meaningful ways of working together.
  • Network awareness: How can we both thrive as creative individuals and understand our contribution within a network of others? How do you gain a sense of what that extended network is and what it can do?
  • Global Consciousness: How does the World Wide Web change our responsibilities in and to the world we live in?
  • Design: How is information conveyed differently, effectively, and beautifully in diverse digital forms? Aesthetics form a key part of digital communication. How do we understand and practice the elements of good design as part of our communication and interactive practices?
  • Narrative, Storytelling: How do narrative elements shape the information we wish to convey, helping it to have force in a world of competing information?
  • Procedural (Game) Literacy: What are the new tactics and strategies of interactive games, where the multimedia narrative forms changes because of our success or failure? How can we use game mechanics for learning and for motivation in our lives?
  • Critical consumption of information: Without a filter (editors, experts, and professionals), much information on the internet can be inaccurate, deceptive, or inadequate. How do we learn to be critical? What are the standards of credibility?
  • Digital Divides, Digital Participation: What divisions still remain in digital culture? Who is included and who excluded? How do basic aspects of economics and culture dictate not only who participates in the digital age but how they participate?
  • Ethics: What are the new moral imperatives of our interconnected age?
  • Assessment: What are the best, most fluid, most adaptive and helpful ways to measure progress and productivity, not as fixed goals, but as a part of a productive process that also requires innovation and creativity?
  • Preservation: What are the requirements for preserving the digital world we are creating? Paper lasts. Platforms change.
  • Sustainability: What are the metrics for sustainability in a world where we live on more kilowatts than ever before? How do we protect the environment in a plugged-in era?
  • Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning: Alvin Toffler has said that, in the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century, the most important skill anyone can have is the ability to stop in ones tracks, see what isn’t working, and then find ways to unlearn old patterns and relearn how to learn. How is this process especially important in our rapidly changing digital world?

It is perhaps the last one that applies to our PLA work the most, as the critical reflection process in PLA causes us to ask what do we need to unlearn / relearn / learn?

Thanks to Jonas B. on Flickr for making this image available for reuse.

I believe that in my teaching I address other literacies represented on this list as well though, namely participation, collaboration, narrative, critical consumption of information, and of course, the heart of it all,  assessment. Though I do not necessarily view them in the way that Davidson is proposing — from a “digital world” point of view — I contend that they represent qualities of mind, an ethos, if you will, that transcends delivery / platform / media.

I like the list a lot, and I plan to use it as a map for the critically reflective journey I am about to embark on with my students. And, in the spirit of the list and in the spirit of being a co-learner, I will try to be clear with myself about my own areas to learn, unlearn and relearn as  well.

Who Knew?

I learn something new everyday.

Thanks to "psd" on Flickr for making this image available!

So yesterday I wrote a blog post.

And then I received this email:

Congrats! Your post ( ) has been promoted to Freshly Pressed on Keep up the good work!

Editorial Czar | Automattic

I chuckled at Joy’s title. “Czar.” Why not “queen?” I thought.

And then, I received several emails notifying me of comments on my post, and I logged in and checked my dashboard.

WOWZA! You people were reading my blog! Amazing! Who knew?

And THEN I saw this post from WordPress: Five Ways to Get Featured on Freshly Pressed

Who knew? This was a total accident on my part, but what a cool thing.

And, I learned that apparently you all want to talk about why you blog (as do I).  Who knew? So let’s do it!

My great thanks to all of you who have read and commented on my post. Each of you has added to my own reflections about my blogging practice, and I have learned a lot. I look forward to continuing the conversation; it’s a great one!