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Posts tagged ‘connectedcourses’

Embracing Open 20 Jan







These are all words that, for me, are synonymous with aspects of good teaching and learning. I didn’t always use all of these in the context of ‘open’ the way I do now. Why the change? I was never against the idea, and I think I always practiced both connected learning and co-learning, but at some point I was introduced to different technological tools, techniques, and then I was encouraged. I’m a student too – always learning to teach better, differently, and part of that for me involves reaching out. I hope to be an encourager for others and perhaps to introduce a few new things…

On January 20th I have the privilege of running a workshop on ‘Embracing Open‘ at the University of Chichester for the Higher Education Academy. It is a day long event that is free to attend for anyone who is a Fellow of the HEA, and there will be points in the day where we invite anyone from around the globe to join in. We’ll be exploring aspects of blogging, Tweets, Google Hangouts, Open Source Learning and CC content, collaborative activities and how all these can be used in different everyday teaching situations across disciplines. There will be opportunities to ‘have a go’ at using all of these, and the day will be dotted with real-time connections with teachers and learners across the globe. Students will be involved too. We’ll be Tweeting with the hashtag #HEAOpen and you are more than welcome to join in! Read more

Beyond the box

We’ve all heard about thinking outside the box. How about thinking outside the bucket? What about thinking outside…

Outside the discipline?

Outside the medium?

How about opening your mind beyond the box?

In couple of recent classes I asked my students to show me music. I did’t want an essay – did’t want to have words. I want them to experience music in another way, and then to be able to recognise and communicate this to others.


Because we are all unique. I will never really know you, I cannot be a spectator inside your experience, your mind. For me that means that as a teacher I will never really know my students or as a performer, my audience, but if I can learn to communicate and experience in different ways, then perhaps I will have more of a chance of connecting. –or at least of gaining and giving a window into that communication.

I suppose it stems from a constructivist approach to learning, that we do and the more different ways you do something, the more likely it is to stick and sink in:

Write it. Read it. Speak it. Hear it. Feel it. Touch it. Taste it

(ok that is going too far for most academic subjects. We would all prefer not to eat our words… unless written on rice paper and then that is a totally fun exercise).

The idea of doing those things gives a holistic experience and often opens our minds to seeing whatever ‘it’ is in a new light. Read more

It has begun. #Musiquality

The project that has become Musiquality is actually hitting the road. I jump on the plane in two days, followed two days later by the other 5 in the group. When this started back in September – as a fleck of excitement in a skype call – we had no idea where it would go and I think the best bit is that we actually had no idea. Nobody involved has put limits on this venture. If there are rules or criteria, often people work to them which can be good, but they can also turn into limits. For this, there was never any doubt that people were committed and so there was no need to put some sort of basic requirement on it, and instead it has truly blossomed beyond what any of us could individually imagine.

I have approached the whole project as a collaboration. I am not the ‘teacher’ and in fact my colleagues are as much teachers in this as I am. It is slightly unusual in that the other 5 in the group are actually completing their third year at University, so technically they are students, but I class myself as a student too, and I have learned so much – and been fully supported by the others so we as a group could create and learn together.

For anyone who has followed the few updates I’ve posted you’ll know that this has been a roller coaster of a venture where we all tested our edges and pushed boundaries. I initially funded the students’ plane tickets and they paid me back within 3 weeks – fundraising their socks off! None of us knew each other very well before we started this – we were in the same lecture (me on one side of the fence and they on the other! -and the ‘students’ didn’t know one another either.) So, as a group we have continued to work at it, because the learning and collaboration is something that we really really believe in. Going out to make connections and bring quality and smiles through music is in itself a worthy cause. Over the course of the month leading up to the actual trip, people have begun to come out of the woodwork and say- can I join in too? YES! The plan is not for us to produce the most perfect or innovative music that ever was, but to create music with others and for them to genuinely feel a part of it.

We had our first outing on Wednesday evening at the end of year BBQ at Uni, and it was great. I am not saying we were note-perfect- but it was a great coming together. Two of the players came running from an orchestra rehearsal (they had a concert later that night) and I had my challenge of singing a song – first time in public like that since I was 14 (!) and we were playing to the head of department, the other staff, and the students. We have the most supportive environment and community. We still have lots to learn, and every time we play it will be different – as new people will join in and add something new to the mix.

Here’s a snippet of what we performed the other night:

Our first stop on the Don’t You Quit world tour (well, California tour) is LA, where we we are looking forward to having one of the Asst. Deans join us on the stage to perform at UCLA- (it might be on the racquet ball court, or on the beach – we’re not sure yet, and we’re not picky!). Next stop is Yosemite, where we will be joined by 20+ High School students, 2 of their teachers, a prof from CalPoly, a few extraordinary alumni from Righetti HS, and a handful of parents and children. For four days we will live and learn together, making and playing music, and exploring the wonderful setting. (For me that is going to be a very special drive up north, as it is the land that my grandfather helped to map back in the 1940’s and it will be my first visit to Yosemite.) One of the High School students has sent us the beginnings of a song he has written that we’ll collaboratively finish and perform. We hope to have a supply of extra instruments to share with people, to give that magical experience of creating music as an orchestra. Finally we have a house concert in Santa Maria. We’ll see how it all pans out. There will be challenges and opportunities for everyone. I’ll be posting updates and tagging them #Musiquality. Hope you follow along and chime in along the way.

This week I learned to stop.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 07.46.47(1 min read)

It’s sort of that time of year- lots going on, lots of activity, lots of lots. We went away. Not away from the people, in fact we’ve been a sea of people, but away from the routine, away from the habit, away from mountain of lots to do, and

I learned to stop.

There is always something on the go, and sometimes I wake up before I go to sleep, or dream solutions to problems, and throughout the year one of the things I have been learning is to meet myself and that has enriched the meetings with others. There is time and that is now. So that’s where I’m at, sitting in a little bit of paradise, overlooking misty mountains on the morning before I go back to my world.

The question for me now is will I be able to blend it all. How do the learners I teach do it? I want to make it so the learning is also their now and not in a separate world. When we find a bit of that magical peace where there is time to think and finally get enough sleep, and wake up to fresh bread (because there is nothing like that- especially if you don’t have to get up three hours earlier to bake it), and there is time to notice shadows and find wild ponies on walks – and bring that home without slipping into what can easily become that mountain of things to do – because it really is not a different world after all, or is it?Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 07.44.35

Ask me again after the flight lands tonight, or maybe next week after I finish my grading – but I think because of learning to stop that I’ll be bringing that mountain air with me this time instead of leaving it behind. At some point in the many Connected Courses webinars, Gardner and Howard spoke of the ebb and flow of a website, or a course- and as with most fundamentals, there is transference. I think the reality of that threshold concept has sunk in for me, and I am glad to have had the time and space to reflect.

Peace and many connections for the New Year: with people, with ourselves, and with our dreams.



Mind the (Learning) Gap !

Yesterday I found myself running.

running from a lecture to the train

running from the train to the tube

running to another meeting

running to reply to the emails


and running

and running

and then I stopped.

I have a weekly meeting that, at the moment, keeps me grounded in hope, friendship, and a shared vision.

I had one of those moments when the person I was talking with held up a metaphorical mirror and I stopped.

I stopped and saw that sometimes in a semester learning is like running, and we (I) think there is a finish line, we (I) think we can see that finish line, and if we (or the students) fall off the track – sometimes we haven’t really fallen off  but we are just running in a different way – in slow motion for a moment, in reflection for a moment. Breathing for a moment.

I have had a few of those ‘mirror’ moments in the past few weeks, and they have made a huge difference to my learning. I am so glad someone stopped me so I could see that gap, and the learning that happens there.

Now I need to learn to give my students the space to have their time, and to sometimes stop running.

Mind the (learning) Gap !

Where’s your edge?

Photo CC licensed here: (3 min read)

Last night’s #ccourses webinar had some really inspiring moments, and several people picked up on Howard Rheingold saying “if you’re not falling off it, you’re really not exploring the edge.” (the full quote is below, and timestamps are from within the webinar for reference)

This really resonated with me. I believe it is very important to continually learn and to share this with my students and anyone I connect with. Sharing is new, new is daunting, daunting can be exposing if we are not sure how to recover from a stumble.

Gardner Campbell hit it spot on when he described students’ faux understanding of learning in the context of term papers of days gone saying:

“Imitating a spurious authority that they didn’t really believe people had…” (51:43) 

Oh my goodness, this is exactly why we need to allow students to see us on that edge, and yes, falling off the edge sometimes too. We need to show them that we learn, and how we do it.

Kim Jaxon raised a good point though about how “It doesn’t all have to be shared.” and there are limits. Laura Hilliger went on to explain that she keeps personal aspects of life separate, and that’s ok. Nobody would suggest that a window into learning, showing yourself walking that tightrope, should include everything. 

My question to all of us is where is your professional learning edge?

When something is new, we make a judgement about our capabilities, and this informs the course of action we choose, perseverance, the way we react in difficulty or failure – everything. This self-efficacy belief is important, and for our learners, they need to develop self-efficacy for the things they do – whether learning or performing. There have been various comments throughout these first few weeks of connected courses about learning how to … learn, trust, be, blog, … and yes, there are many learning how to aspects of what we do, and it is important to have models, and experience. Experience is the most informative teacher, but without the skill and belief – someone could easily dive headlong and end up doing a proverbial belly-flop, whereas if they see someone else (us perhaps?) teeter on the edge and sometimes wobbling, sometimes aceing it, sometimes falling a bit. As Harold said:

“I just want to reinforce that I am happy when I fail technically in front of my students, It gives me an opportunity to, first, say IF YOU’RE NOT FALLING OFF IT, YOU’RE REALLY NOT EXPLORING THE EDGE, and also to model what you do when you fail, which it – you try stuff – and I’d 95% of the time I can figure out what went wrong and how to fix it while they’re watching.” (32:13) 

This is learning how to learn for us, and teaching how to learn for our students.

What about connecting it up? I turn to Howard again:

“If you’re a bright person, a self-motivated person, and you don’t have access to great schools, or maybe don’t have access to schools at all, but you have access to the web- then you have access to great lectures, and access to other learners and to engage in an essentially social activity that learning has become” (48:00)

So how are you doing it? It could be small things or big things…

In the past I have put myself out there, in the student’s shoes in different ways – some private and some public. The most public was when I played a concerto a few years ago with the orchestra and having the students and the audience assess me just as the students are in their final performances… same assessment forms, same marking scheme. That was fun, but scary! and they were honest and it was a way in to assessment and the process for many of them.

The edge I am on now involves taking a singing exam at the end of the term. That may not sound scary, especially for a musician, but there are two reasons it is a big edge for me. 1. I had that dreaded experience where people told me ‘you can’t sing’ when I was a teenager. and 2. It isn’t just a singing exam, it is pop music. So this classically trained cellist is singing Joni Mitchell, Debbie Harry, and Mandy Moore, and the first reaction of people when I told them was to laugh. (!) I will be singing for my students as a stepping stone, and I it makes me nervous even to think of it, my edge. -but I love the challenge.

As for why we don’t share, I talked about that in my post yesterday for my own course MUS654 (scroll to the baby photo). It is important for me to show my students that they can explore what they like, that I will respect it, and that I will help them to learn as best as I can.

“It is important to impart the skill and thirst for learning. …they need to be equipped to learn on their own.” -Howard


Photo CC licensed here:

Writing with greats and randomness: reflections on the #dailyconnect

I loved the Daily Connect suggested by @dogtrax where we were invited to write something and various long-established writers would also contribute. It took me back to childhood days of playing on our Texas Instruments computer with a programme called Eliza. As far as I was concerned it was a great game where you had to outthink the questions and predicted direction of the auto-generation programme that worked hard to get the person at the end of the keyboard to avoid closed answers to questions. My goal was always to stump Eliza, and it was fun. There is a version of Eliza here that you can play with.

The daily connects are also fun. That’s what makes connection so great- I am not coming at it with a plan or an agenda – but just with an explore and to genuinely see what it is like to experience something of another person’s idea or something from their discipline or even from their teaching.

That random generator… apparently it uses something called Markov Chains and it has been used in more complex ways with surprising results. There are programmixn5es that compose randomly generated comments that we all see as spam on blogs (and our students get excited at the first one that almost makes sense, thinking it might be a real comment), but then there is also the random essay generator. Actually there are lots of these sites – I like the Postmodern Essay Generator. I just got this gem:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 08.27.02

What I love about these generators, is that people believe them! They have not only successfully generated whole essays, but this one from MIT’s SCIGen was accepted, yes actually accepted, as a conference paper. (the full paper is available here)

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 08.31.03


As a doctor friend of mine likes to say – the mind boggles. (and I giggle)

I love codes, Easter eggs, and hidden things and meanings in general, but it can be a great tool when actually there is no meaning in it – randomness. I use the example to debunk the fears, assumptions, and expectations that my undergraduates have toward essay writing. Fancy words put next to one another don’t necessarily equal meaning. Sometimes fancy words are called for, but there is a time for simplicity too.


An appreciative word: Thank you.

This is a story of a connection that spans time, continents, and generations.

It started with a glance at my ‘others’ message box on facebook. You know, if you aren’t friends with someone (and yes, my security settings are that way inclined) then if they message you it stays hidden in this ‘other’ box without notification unless you happen to look. There was a very cryptic message in there. I am well versed in the issues raised by @jonathan_worth in this week’s #ccourses topic of Trust, and a message that seemed personal, but was from someone I didn’t know should ring alarm bells. But this was intriguing, because it had information in it that I hadn’t mentioned or even thought about in at least 20 years. It said:

I came across a copy of “Hope for the Flowers” with your autograph and was wondering if you remembered the book.

The comment was so specific that it had to be written by either someone who knew me, or someone who was extremely curious and picked up the book at a garage sale. At this point I wasn’t sure.

Screen shot 2014-09-30 at 08.26.49What is the book? It is a story of a pair of caterpillars who are basically running in the rat race of life, and they end up climbing on the hog-pile (caterpillar-pile) to get higher into the sky… and this involves stepping on others, losing any sense of vision, camaraderie, and openness to learning and becoming. In the end one of the caterpillars decides that he’s had enough and goes off. I don’t really remember the details, but I am sure it wasn’t easy to leave the pile and the routine, and it did involve courage and even loneliness, but then (you guessed it) he turns into a beautiful butterfly and is able to soar – and see above that rat race and actually be free.

So what the heck was my name doing in the book??? It was something my family used to give all of my teachers as presents – you know instead of a box of chocolates – and I would sometimes write something in the cover.


I was curiouser and curiouser. WHO WAS THIS??

I replied with something truthful, yet tentative:

…of course I do. glad it made it into someone else’s hands. That would have been from about 1983. We used to give it to my school teachers as presents…

It turns out I did write something and I was neither expecting nor ready for what came next:

Well I wanted you to know I have kept it all these years. I have shared the story with many others including my own kids. It meant a lot to me when I first received it. Still does. Trust all is well by you. I suspect you are still inspiring those lucky enough to know you.

…FYI, I kept the book because of the kind words you wrote. As perhaps the first written words of appreciation it has made an impression on me. Among other things, you taught me the value of showing appreciation. I contacted you to extend a belated thank you.


Yes I was sitting down. Yes I had tears on my face. No I am not good at receiving praise, and am guilty of preparing myself for people’s comments – armoured for criticism. This time I was completely unguarded, and it humbled me beyond words.

With more written exchange, I found out that this was from one of the people who came in to school to help with a club, and of course I remembered who it was. This particular teacher (yes, even though he didn’t run a class, he was my teacher) made an impact on me – coming to school to work with the individuals in the speech team, and in my case it was reading poetry. As a visitor to the school, he came without the judgements associated with how I did in other classes, or what friends circles I did or did not have, and he treated me as a valid person with my own potential. He wasn’t gregarious, and he didn’t lavish compliments, but acknowledged and encouraged. For me that was so liberating.

I remember writing in that book back in 1990. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I remember that I meant it – and wanted to really convey something, as much as an awkward teenager can, of what it meant to be allowed to be me.

So why am I sharing this soppy sentimental story?

I have been a part of Connected Courses over the past month and have started to meet people involved in different aspects of education across the world, and we are being encouraged to build networks, and part of that is commenting. There has been encouragement from facilitators to get talking to each other, and I see the same encouragement mirrored within courses like ds106 and #phonar where there are healthy communities of conversation and connection.

For many people this is daunting in practice – for example sometimes I feel that I don’t have the expertise to comment on these well established, flash-bang people’s writing – that it might show me as thick, or inexperienced… or I just wonder if I have anything of value to say.

The truth is we don’t know the impact of our comments, now or in the future. I certainly would not have thought that my comments could possibly have meaning for my teacher, but they did.

…As perhaps the first written words of appreciation it has made an impression on me. Among other things, you taught me the value of showing appreciation…

So to that teacher- you taught me to glimpse myself, to not hide, and to be free to speak. Who would have thought that of the many teachers, the one who helped at the after school club would have an impact so great. In my life speaking to people through teaching is a large part of what I do, and few people are actually trained in how to do this. I am very thankful that you were and are my teacher.

and for old times sake… I recorded one of the poems you helped me learn.

The Box, by Kendrew Lascelles

I still have them all.



Session 2 is here: #MUS654

1 min read

Just up!

What makes a melody? 

It’s week two of MUS654 in Chichester (England), and the second session is here! … well on the link above (or via the dropdown menu), and it starts like this:

Pitch is everywhere…

How are pitch and melody related?


Last week you we explored the experience of sound, soundscapes, analysing and describing it. Was that also about music? The sounds around us everyday can have musical qualities, but are they actually music? What about, for example, birdsong…

The session goes on to be practical, and comes with various tasks intended to inform and amuse. I am so pleased that jazz violinist Duane Padilla, in Hawaii, made a tutorial for this week. (more from Duane later in the course) and it is fantastic that a couple of my students have started to post on –

Most musicians are pretty new to both the idea of doing the technology stuff by themselves and of sharing different aspects of learning and music making before there is some ‘final’ edited product.

I admit to doing a little happy dance and speaking in ALL CAPS for a little when I saw those first posts. MUS654 is all about learning and I’ll be doing it too. …can’t be a cook if you won’t eat your own food.

So hop on and join us!

It’s fire.

(in response to the #ccourses question Why do you teach?) 1 min read

This is me:photo-3

I have always been hungry – hungry to learn, hungry to know and connect to people, and hungry for homemade chocolate chip cookies (I completely blame my sugar-coated childhood for that one).

As for the question why? Why is one of those questions that applies to something – why this or why that, certainly begging an answer. ‘Teach’ is a loaded word that is in common, with, and, but, although, and despite its many connotations.

Liora Bresler spoke at the 40th SEMPRE conference and gave me a new way of thinking about it when she said that all research is really ‘ME’-search. That resonated, and made me think – that is what learning is about as well – a sort of ‘we’-search. Yes there are skills and facts too, but who does it? Not the teacher. The learner, the student, the me. So I don’t think of teaching or learning as a book, or a directive, and I don’t have a start or an end to it, but it is my fire: consuming, life-giving, and something that can radiate between people.

Back in the olden days… teachers often ‘taught’ in a very different way. I have an essay one of my relatives wrote in gradeschool in the 1950s, after being pulled up for talking. It starts like this:


and ends…



As you can see in my photo above, I couldn’t follow that advice. I’d rather sing out and reach someone, even if for a fleeting moment. I believe in people and in people believing in themselves. Self-efficacy is my bag really. Each of us has a voice and you never know who you might connect with next, where they will go, and how those connections will spread. If as a ‘teacher’ I give/show/foster/allow something that connects once with a single person… that just grows the fire.