“We are, when we are at our best, meant to unsettle assumptions, to reorganize our ideas of agency, and to push the boundaries of what is possible in a connected learning environment.” (Morris, Rorabough, & Stommel, 2013).
In the sections that follow, we present multiple models of professional development of educators that we feel partially address our aspirational values. While there are other models, we attempted to present a spectrum of possibilities within connected and connectivist approaches here, ones that, to different extents, promote some degree of heutagogy and transformative learning, and ones that address equity to varying degrees and from different lenses. Models we share include some that are institutional versus ones that are mostly extra-institutional; models that are fully online versus ones that are hybrid, and models showing a range of learner agency, time flexibility, and equity emphasis. None of these models alone achieves all we aspire towards, but offers a starting point to imagining what a future of educator development could be.
The models we share offer alternatives to the status quo, recognizing that
“even when knowledge may appear to be the solution, it can be partial and disempowering to all but the dominant groups. [There is a] need to contest such knowledge claims and to learn to transgress, rather than to conform... transformative spaces need to be found and... these should be about the creation of new opportunities, ways of knowing and ways of being”. (Jackson, 2018, p. i, emphasis ours).
We recognize that some commonly existing practices achieve some of our aspirations. Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs, see Cox, 2004) build community and often involve critical dialogue, but are not guaranteed to be flexible enough for institution faculty members’ time or interest or needs. Cox (2004) recognizes this, saying that about one third of faculty at his institution do not participate, whether out of disinterest or lack of time/priority. Some institutions such as University of Cape Town’s Center for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, offer online courses, which afford flexibility of time and space but usually have pre-set content, or self-paced online modules which again afford flexibility but would not include critical dialogue. We feel the models we are sharing, while not exhaustive of all innovative approaches to educator professional development that afford agency, equity and transformative potential in a participatory environment, are diverse examples of what we are striving towards. We are able to offer more detail on DigPINS and Virtually Connecting because of our own involvement in them.
#DigPINS is a fully online and networked educational development experience. The hashtag and acronym refers to the content of the course which covers Digital Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship as major topics. However, the content of the experience is not what is highlighted. Rather, the experience is focused on participants negotiating multiple online contexts through various online tools that span open and more private spaces to create a networked learning experience and an ongoing institutionally based online community. Cronin (2014), states that
“Open online spaces offer multiple opportunities for networked learning. Learners can establish new connections, within and beyond the classroom, based on their interests as well as the curriculum, and connect, share and work with others across the boundaries of institution, education sector, geography, time zone, culture and power level.”
But how are faculty ever to create networked learning experiences in open online spaces for students if they have never experienced learning for themselves in these spaces? #DigPINS attempts to create a transformational and heutagogical learning opportunities for faculty and (at some institutions) staff through modeling Connectivist and Connected Learning practices.
Each of the major topics are covered over a specific time period, most often one week each, through online content with a greater focus on conversation and online community building. The experience is intended to be delivered with a cohort of participants who are all affiliated with an institution. These participants work in open environments that can be viewed by the public but also in a backchannel where they are only in communication with one another. Other cohorts from other institutions may be working through #DigPINS at the same time and there is, at times, opportunity for inter-institutional collaboration in the open environments.
The experience was originally conceived of, designed, and delivered in 2016 by Sundi Richard and Daniel Lynds at St. Norbert College (SNC), USA. as a project affiliated with the college’s Full Spectrum Learning strategic initiative. Since its inception, a template of the #DigPINS curriculum has been released under Creative Commons license and it has also been run at Davidson College, USA by Richard and at Kenyon College, USA by Joe Murphy. Additionally, Caines (co-author of this article) has continued to run the #DigPINS experience at SNC since 2017.
A focus on ownership and agency is inherent in #DigPINS as a foundational aspect of the course is digital identity and digital networks. Identity work lends itself directly to the highly autonomous and self-directed nature of heutagogy. Whereas instruction and other top-down pedagogies can provide content that discusses identity it is only through critical self-reflection and self-expression that one’s identity is given room to grow. Participants are asked to analyze their current digital identity and relate differences between how they present themselves online as a professional, faculty member, scholar, and teacher as well as more personal aspects of their digital identity such as a mother, father, friend, etc. and how different tools enable or hinder this expression. Through the circulation and communication of this analysis, in dialogue with others who are similarly evaluating themselves, participants are given a space to learn about themselves and one another.
As the experience progresses, facilitator(s) distribute content and continue to engage participants in an ongoing conversation around the major topics through a heutagogical approach that promotes agency in those participating. Content is provided as a way to give structure and fuel conversation but by putting the emphasis on open dialog the facilitator(s) enable a space for participants to engage in self-directed learning. The template of the curriculum at digpins.org describes the facilitator’s role as follows:
“Facilitators of #DigPINS act as guides more so than instructors. They are not there to dictate right or wrong answers but rather to encourage each participant to consider their own digital identity, how they network through digital spaces to connect for positive change, and how that can impact their pedagogy and scholarship.” (DigPINS Course Structure, 2018)
While there are structured readings and activities every week, much of the experience takes place as an ongoing conversation toward the making of meaning between the participants, between the participants and the facilitator(s), and between the entire community and the public. Public interactions are promoted by the facilitator often with the facilitator engaging their own network to converse in community with the cohort. Additionally, as time has progressed past participants of #DigPINS have remained in the open spaces as well as in shared backchannel spaces and, at times, contribute to the community dialog.
#DigPINS does not prescribe any particular digital technologies for delivering the experience; as part of the design process facilitators need to decide which digital technologies will be used. The tools chosen, together, need to enable channels of communication ranging from one to one, one to many within the cohort, and one to many in public. The experience calls for participants to critically examine expression and dialog in a range of public/private environments, and the participatory decision-making promotes agency and ownership. The design of the experience calls for this critical consideration to be part of the readings and content but it is enabled and enacted through the ongoing conversation which is shaped by the boundaries allowed in the technology. Participants reflect on how they choose what gets said in the public and what stays in-group in the backchannel. Grappling with this distinction, making decisions based on it, and figuring out how to use the technology to enact that decision enables faculty and professionals to not just become more fluent in their digital skills but to become more critical in their use of technology considering multiple contexts and power dynamics.
Many of the models that will be discussed in this paper are dependent on intrinsic motivation from individuals to be successful but we know that not everyone is inspired by purely intrinsic motivators. Furthermore, we recognize that even among faculty a commitment to personal lifelong learning in practice is not always valued or even practical. Because #DigPINS is an institutional model there is much to be learned about the details of how it is implemented.
All of the institutions that have run #DigPINS have implemented some kind of stipend program for at least some participants. Initial stipends at SNC were limited to faculty but in later years were opened, in part, to staff. The most recent iteration of institutional support of #DigPINS at SNC is its alignment with a two part stipend program called the Full Spectrum Learning Stipend. The stipend is divided into two parts: Level One - which focuses on exploration and Level Two - which focuses on implementation. Level Two is dependent on Level One but is not a requirement of the award as a whole. This simply means that someone has to complete Level One before they can apply for Level Two but that applying for Level Two is an option not a requirement. It is also important to note that both levels are awarded at equal amounts.
The Level One exploration level is awarded simply by active participation in the #DigPINS experience which is defined as:
“Active participation includes online discussion in text chat, blogging, twitter chat, video calls and other digital means around common readings, videos, and other content. #DigPINS is designed to create a safe-to-fail (rather than fail-safe) environment in which participants can explore human-centered approaches to working with technology to create community and learning experiences.” (Full Spectrum Learning Stipend, 2018)
Level One of the stipend was opened to staff in 2018 with the intention that the larger outcome of the experience was to lay a foundation for a broader institutionally based online community with more voices from various levels of experience. For the weeks that discuss pedagogy and scholarship staff are asked to consider how they teach, perhaps in informal ways, in their work and for scholarship how they contribute to and influence their larger fields. For staff, ‘pedagogy’ often is not classroom teaching but informal teaching with students or even co-workers. Scholarship, for staff, could be presenting at a professional conference, hosting a webinar with a professional organization, or even starting a professional blog.
Level Two of the stipend focuses on implementation and is only available to those who teach and were first awarded a Level One stipend. The implementation stage is project based and has requirements of planning, enacting, and disseminating a reflection - “in their pedagogy or scholarship that includes an aspect of digital pedagogy, open education, hybrid and online learning, developing digital literacies/competencies/citizenship in students, and/or other creative approaches to teaching and learning.” (Full Spectrum Learning Stipend, 2018). By making the project based implementation stage dependent on an explorative, networked, and connected experience, a foundation is laid for transformative and heutagogical learning through self-reflection and dialog. #DigPINS is still very young as a model but it is hoped that networked communities within and between institutions can be born from this initiative.
Virtually Connecting (sometimes shortened to VConnecting or VC) “is a living enactment of connectivist/connected learning theory applied to hybrid conferencing in community.” (Bali, Caines, DeWaard and Hogue, p. 227). VC’s about page explains:
“The purpose of Virtually Connecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience for those who cannot be physically present at conferences. We are a community of volunteers and it is always free to participate.” (Virtually Connecting, n. d.).
It is a “grassroots” volunteer movement which, in its finished product, uses web-based video conferencing to allow spontaneous hallway-type conversations between speakers and participants at a conference and those who cannot attend but would like to chat with those who do. A pair of onsite buddy/volunteer and a virtual buddy/volunteer (and often a larger team of volunteers) plan and implement this meeting with conference participants and put an open call to invite virtual participants to join the video conversations.
This becomes important for all constituents bringing an outside perspective to the conference participants, giving those who do not have the means to travel a glimpse of the conference, and providing the conference organizers with a boost to online attention and participation with the conference. Vconnecting was co-founded by an Egyptian (Bali, co-author of this article) and a Canadian living in the US (Rebecca J. Hogue) who were joined in co-directing VConnecting by 3 others from US (Caines, co-author of this article), Canada (Helen DeWaard) and Germany (Christian Friedrich).
Equity is central to the concept of Virtually Connecting as it was initiated in order to provide access to networking and opportunities of social capital to educators who could not attend conferences. These are people who are often marginalized by this lack of access due to financial, social, logistical, health or other reasons including: academics who are geographically far from most edtech conferences in North America and Western Europe, contingent academics and graduate students who lack funding for travel, parents of young children, people with health issues that prevent travel, or people who cannot travel because of visa issues or travel bans. VConnecting breaks down hierarchies by bringing established conference speakers in conversation with early career individuals (virtually or in person) who may not normally have a chance to speak to them, even if they had attended the conference in person - as Rebecca Hogue has said, VConnecting boosts the social capital of both the onsite buddy/volunteer and the virtual buddies/volunteers and participants (in Bali & Hogue, 2015). Moreover, VConnecting sometimes intentionally brings in lesser known guests from marginalized groups in order to highlight their work.
In a previous paper (Bali, Caines, DeWaard, & Hogue, 2016), we explored how the informal conversations in VC mapped to connected and connectivist learning, and we reported survey results showing that, for the most part, VC met its values (written in the manifesto, Virtually Connecting n.d.) of improving the virtual conference experience by providing access to spontaneous conference conversations, and aiming towards inclusion.
The educational development that happens in Virtually Connecting is varied and layered depending on the level of involvement which will vary from individual to individual (Beckingham, 2018). For this article we will focus on the level of involvement of two groups: the group of volunteers versus the guests and participants. The main difference being that the volunteers spend more time coordinating and organizing prior to the streamed session while the guests and participants are only active in the moment of their streamed session. There are therefore two layers of dialogue.
The group of volunteer buddies are made up of educators, academics, and other interested parties from around the globe who are interested in advancing conversations around educational technology, instructional design, and open education across boundaries and especially towards creating greater equity around conferences. VConnecting events are planned beforehand by the volunteers in the community. Being part of the volunteer group is an educational development opportunity that builds digital literacies and online collaboration skills. Additionally, besides planning, logistics, and digital support volunteers also participate in the conversations which provide a space for critical self-reflection around the conference experience.
Guests and virtual participants are most often only active during the streamed session for this critical self-reflection. Onsite guests who are presenting or attending the conference are invited to come and reflect about their experience at the conference or relate some of what they are presenting about. Critical self-reflection is an essential part of transformative learning and often those who are attending conferences in person or from afar do not take the time to so. By providing a space for critical reflection on the experience of the conference Virtually Connecting provides an opportunity for transformative learning in the moment.
An unintentional but welcome dimension of VConnecting is that the actual conversations that occur are often critical due to the general disposition the community takes. Therefore, VConnecting offers participants opportunities to critique corporatization in some conferences, certain technopositivist directions seen as harmful by participants, and also to constantly be aware of who is not present at conferences and to get their point of view:
“the possibility to include their [virtual participants’] views on conference themes and trends is an enrichment of the overall conference experience...VC is pushing boundaries... VC made the invisible online lurkers of a conference like this a bit more visible to the organizers.” (Friederich, 2016).
Shy participants found that eventually joining a conversation was enriching:
“I felt a bit shy and uneasy about being present “out in the open.” But I joined the hangout, asked my questions to Dr. C… and it was great. I just can’t describe the experience here. My experience in Turkish schools taught me to follow hierarchy and build it, even if doesn’t impose any structures on me. But here I was talking to somebody influential in the field, asking some basic questions and getting answers.” (Koseoglu, 2015, a graduate student at the time).
Another graduate student, Lisa Hammershaimb, wrote:
“As someone with very limited income, being part of Virtually Connecting has given me access to events that I otherwise would have no chance to attend. With this access comes pretty amazing content but even more comes invaluable exposure to the “human creator” that is behind behind every idea...One of my favorite parts of Virtually Connecting is its casual immediacy and spontaneous insight. Seeing the kind of “unplugged” version of people I’ve previously only encountered in highly polished + edited perfection is so refreshing”. (Hammershaimb, 2016)
Participation in VConnecting involves a high degree of agency. Onsite and virtual buddies volunteer to work on a conference out of personal interest and are supported by other volunteers to do so. Participation virtually is also a choice: people are welcome to sign up and join the conversation, or to watch live, or to watch a recording. People who watch live may leave questions on Twitter which speakers may be able to respond to. Since every participant in vconnecting does so by choice, choosing which conference and time and conversation to participate in, and whether to join the video or watch the livestream or recording online, it is a good example of self-determination in that the learner decides their own path: which learning to prioritize, which format to do it in, and when to do it. The facilitators only offer dates and times and opportunity to access a conversation many people would never have had the chance to have.
Virtually Connecting is also built on recognizing the power of conversation not presentations in adult learning. Most conferences give more time for presentations and little room for conversations. Moreover, it is difficult to have spontaneous hallway conversations without knowing someone beforehand. Virtually Connecting creates a hospitable space to hold such conversations and facilitates them for people who wouldn’t normally have access. It also creates space for reflection at conferences which usually does not happen while everyone is busy experiencing the actual conference. As Berman (2015) wrote, it “virtualizes the right part of the conference...the personal interaction”.
Critiques of Virtually Connecting mentioned in Bali et al. (2016) and presented in Bali et al. (2017) include the fact that the supposedly open and hospitable community may appear cliquish to those outside the community, that it may reproduce some of the power dynamic of conferences by re-centering those already in power(e.g. keynote speakers), and that it may meet some people’s needs but be intimidating or uncomfortable for people who are shy or do not like appearing on video, or even do not really have access to technical infrastructure or digital literacy thresholds required to participate. Even though VConnecting uses freely available technology (Google hangouts on Air that livestreams and records to YouTube), some countries ban Google and/or YouTube, and some individuals prefer not to deal with Google. Overall, however, VConnecting is considered a form of open educational practice that provides a partial solution to the problem of limited access to social capital at conferences. While it has no direct institutional reward, occasionally conferences will offer complimentary registration to one or more Vconnecting volunteers, and the connections made during these events enhance the professional standing of participants. Additionally, participants may be able to make their learning via Vconnecting visible by highlighting the connections in their tenure/renewal portfolios and how they influenced them. For institutions that reward service, volunteering for Vconnecting would be considered as service to the profession and also a form of scholarship similar to moderating a panel at an in-person event.
Collaborative reading: Twitter Journal Club and open web annotation with Marginal Syllabus
Both Twitter Journal Club and Marginal Syllabus offer non-traditional approaches to online collaborative reading of texts, each of them addressing equity from different angles. Both of them naturally gain traction from a synchronous event which can continue asynchronously. By focusing on conversations around texts, rather than the texts themselves, they promote transformative learning as dialogue over affirming and clarifying participants’ thoughts and experiences, rather than submitting to traditional authority of the text. Both approaches also do not require “pre-reading”: participants are welcome to start reading the text for the first time during the event.
Twitter Journal Club (TJC15), founded by Laura Gogia is “an open, unstructured, academic reading group found on Twitter, [and] provides meaningful learning experiences while embracing the holistic and messy nature of learning” (Gogia & Warren, 2015, n.p.). It challenges traditional face-to-face reading groups in that participants meet synchronously to start reading an article live (with no expectations of pre-reading, no shame in not having read) and each person is free to live-tweet aspects of the article that resonates with them or connect it to their own life experiences, and to reflect with others (including sometimes the author). These conversations start synchronously but often continue asynchronously beyond their starting point.
Gogia and Warren mention how TJC15 offers:
“opportunities to care, in terms of emotional and intellectual engrossment, relational and personal interest, and kindness and mutual respect. As such, we find this alternative, digital approach to academic reading one that engages its participants in uniquely creative, playful, and human ways of learning even as it augments and challenges traditional academic practice” (Gogia & Warren, 2015, n.p.).
Gogia (Gogia & Warren, 2015, n.p.) writes about how her previous experiences of faculty reading clubs had “no place for the connection of ideas to emotion or life experience” and was missing the “relational, human dimensions to Nodding’s care that motivates me to learn more”. The “culture of permissiveness” in TJC15 encourages reflection and agency of participants who previously may have felt excluded from expert-focused academic conversations, and TJC15 conversations were often enriched by participation from the article authors (Gogia & Warren, 2015).
Marginal Syllabus is a faculty development project which uses Hypothes.is to collectively annotate socio-political texts. Those who lead the project believe that open web annotation promotes educator agency and has the ability to foster equity-centric dialogue. This approach is inspired by the transformative potential of openness in education, while recognizing that the use of technology for connection still carries implications for politics and equity (Kalir & Perez, 2019). Texts which tackle equity issues are chosen (sometimes by the leaders, sometimes crowdsourced) and scheduled for annotation and promoted openly on Twitter. In the past, these “annotatathons” were done over a short period of time (usually an hour) but were later expanded to multiple days in order to facilitate inclusion of more participants from different timezones and with less flexible schedules (Kalir, in press).
Collaborative digital annotation of readings allows geographically dispersed individuals to share the act of reading, and facilitates their reflection together, using tools such as Hypothes.is https://hypothes.is which allows sentence-level commenting on any internet-based text using multimedia annotations (Zamora & Bali, in press).
As mentioned earlier (Kalir, in press) this project was designed with equity in mind. The use open source software for social and technical accessibility, the involvement of multiple stakeholders in decision-making (working flexibly within conflict), the use of open content and the emphasis on relevance to professionals’ practice and context. The approach reframes annotation of texts as conversation, thus fostering critical dialogue among participants which can support transformative learning.
It is difficult to find any glaring limitations with either the approach of #TJC15 or Marginal Syllabus. While both these approaches offer learning benefits, it would also be expected that some learners prefer to read alone and not be distracted by other people’s comments on an article. It is also possible that a participant may wish to read something different. However, participants always have these choices.
cMOOCs and dual pathway MOOCs
The philosophical constructs of Connected Learning and Connectivism that we highlighted above can be seen in practice in Connectivist MOOCs or cMOOCs. Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (cMOOCs) are open online learning experiences that are different from xMOOCs. xMOOCs are often offered by institutions on known platforms such as Coursera, EdX and FutureLearn, and are usually structured in particular ways set by instructors or course designers. Whereas cMOOCs are more loosely structured, with a framework provided by course instructors, and a large proportion of learning occurring distributed across participants’ social media presence on spaces like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, who connect and collaborate to extend knowledge in the course (Bali, Crawford, Jessen, Signorelli, & Zamora, 2015). cMOOCs are “based on connection rather than content, which looks more like an online community than a course, and doesn’t have a defined curriculum or formal assignments” (Downes, 2015). Crosslin (2018, p.132) emphasizes how in cMOOCs,“control of power has shifted from a centralised instructor to a network of connections, and where content acquisition has shifted from a centralised expert to a nebulous connection of shifting elements and participants”.
There are MOOCs that neither fit the xMOOC nor the cMOOC end of the spectrum but still fit into the example of Connectivism and Connected Learning that we are identifying here. One example is such as Ross, Sinclair, Knox, Bayne, and Macleod’s (2014) eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC (#edcmooc), which was offered on Coursera via the University of Edinburgh, but which gave learners lots of choice over which material to engage with, and whether to engage on social media or Coursera discussion forum, and which did away with quizzes entirely and instead had assessment via final artifact which learners had agency to choose (see Ross et al., 2014). Dual pathway MOOCs, which have been run several times and will be described below, offer both a structured and an unstructured pathway, and encourage participants to switch pathways as they see convenient at any point during a MOOC.
Connectivism and Connected Learning also of course occur outside of a MOOC framework, in digital networks. Relationships and connections between participants of a social network occur, potentially forming Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), communities of practice or affinity spaces. A community of practice, online or offline, “entails a shared domain as a source of identification” among community members (Zamora & Bali, in press), and is differentiated from affinity spaces which are “geographically distributed, technologically mediated, and fluidly populated social groupings” Gee & Hayes (2012, p. 135) and being based on interests which may not be professional in nature. (Gee & Hayes, 2012, p. 137) assert that “human learning becomes deep, and often life changing, when it is connected to a nurturing affinity space”.
On the other hand, the PLN (Personal Learning Network) is “a vibrant, ever-evolving and flexible group of connections” (Zamora & Bali, in press) that each individual develops, which may or may not intersect with communities of practice or affinity spaces the person belongs to. As such, the PLN offers the most agency and heutagogy within any model for learning, because it is centered on each individual building and leveraging their own connections. However, such networking and connections are not equally accessible to all who try to form them, and as such, more structured and organized learning experiences can help someone begin to build a PLN.
The majority of participants in any type of MOOC is often adults, participating for their personal reasons such as their ongoing professional development, and only a few are seeking formal certification (Hew & Cheung, 2014, cited in Crosslin, 2018). The idea and practice of a dual pathway (sometimes called dual-layer) MOOC is one that is built on heutagogy and an interest in equity. Participants are offered two parallel pathways to the MOOC, one structured by following an instructor-designed path, and one more connectivist, following the learner’s desired path and involving connection with other participants. Each participant is encouraged to switch between these paths throughout the MOOC as they see fit. This is a heutagogical model that gives ownership and agency to the learner and respects their preferred approach to learning. It is equitable because it does not assume that each learner is independent and digitally literate enough to cover each topic in a connectivist manner, so the support of the instructor-centric structured model is available when needed, and at the same time, the opportunity to learn differently is offered to those who prefer it.
In practice, while many learners find the choice in the learning experience of a dual pathway MOOC positive, there are sometimes barriers caused by technical limitations, such as learners’ inability to consistently see what is happening in the pathway they are not currently following (Crosslin, 2018). The first MOOCs run using this dual pathway approach was the edX Data, Analytics and Learning course (DALMOOC), run by the University of Texas at Arlington.
Untethered faculty development (Jill Leafstedt and Michelle Pacansky-Brock)
“Faculty development is in dire need of transformation to reflect the realities of teaching in digital, online environments.” (Leafstedt & Pacansky-Brock, 2016a).
The model proposed by Leafstedt and Pacansky-Brock (2016a, 2016b) reflects the importance of faculty learning in online and blended formats, while developing digital literacy and respecting faculty’s needs for “multiple points of access and multiple modes of interaction”, including asynchronously accessible online resources, synchronously joining face-to-face sessions via video conference, watching recorded sessions, and facilitating dialogue among and with faculty before, during and after professional development experiences (Leafstedt & Pacansky-Brock, 2016a). This offers equity such that faculty whose time is more limited or who are geographically more distant from campus are able to participate in professional development activities more easily.
Importantly, this approach provides ongoing rather than one-off support. This model was implemented at California State University, Channel Islands, which has several geographically dispersed campuses, and as such, attempts to equitably address the needs of faculty across these campuses. This approach is explicitly built on principles of open and connected learning, and intended to influence the daily practices of faculty, and aims to overcome barriers of time and space while promoting lifelong learning in community (Leafstedt & Pacansky-Brock, 2016b).