All posts by Benjamin Stewart

Benjamin Stewart holds a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction: technology and is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership. He is an EFL teacher educator and researcher and is interested in how PLNs impact teaching practices and belief systems. Benjamin is founder of EduQuiki where he contributes to open educational resources, open courseware, and open research. His work in Edukwest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Educators as Discerning and Creative Consumers of Content

This post was inspired by a recent chat with Kirsten Winkler (uncut version) regarding some of the web tools she is currently using.

See her talk on Tools to Handle Information:

Kirsten addressed a variety of topics during her talk, but the one slide that drew a few questions from the audience was where she distinguishes between consume, create, and curate.  This subsequently sparked a few questions in the backchannel (e.g., Hotseat) regarding the distinction between curation and aggregation.  So let’s unpack these terms, shall we?  And how do you relate to these terms as you become a more engaging, effective, and efficient educator and learner?


Aggregation refers to directing information to the individual.  Web tools that currently do this quite well are RSS aggregators,, iGoogle, NetVibes, among many others.  Aggregators can also provide filters that pull information based on certain criteria…Yahoo Pipes comes to mind.  Using aggregators saves a lot time when searching the web for information of interest.


Curation more typically refers to those individuals who manage museums. “Curators oversee collections, such as artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits” (OOH, 2012).  In education however, the role of the educator can be seen as taking on a curator role – as in Curatorial Teaching. is one of many excellent curating web tools that allows the user to not only aggregate content, but curate it as well.  Curation speaks of the intentionality of the teaching process by purposefully selecting content for a particular group of people.

Consumption and Creation

Consuming content relates to using information for one’s own benefit as well as sharing content for the benefit of others.  Blogs, wikis, facebook, Google+, and Twitter are just a few web tools being used to consume and share content with others.  When it comes to content creation, Creative Commons licenses now provide educators the means for gaining recognition for your innovative pursuits.

In order for educators to be creative consumers of content, they first must be able to weed through the vast amounts of information found on the web in order to find the most salient content for a particular educative experience.  Creative Commons licenses now permit educators to legally reuse, recopy, remix, and redistribute content for particular purposes – taking the notion of content consumers and content creators to new levels (refer to each CC license for details).  Today, educators as discerning and creative consumers of content are those who have the will to share with others what they know and can do, dare to take risks regardless of the outcome, and care enough to help others succeed while realizing they are helping themselves in the process.

In what ways are you a discerning and creative consumer of content?

What’s the Problem with TED Ed not being an Epic?

To borrow and tweak the phrase, software is not an epic (Certainties & Serendipities; Scott Berkun) a tool and an open educational resource (OER) are not epics.  Scott Berkun defines a tool (i.e., material, object, technology, etc.) as something you make so someone else can make something.  An OER, which in a sense acts as a tool, can be defined as follows (OERs infoKit):

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.

To the degree that an OER is made “freely available” might also depend on whether one can retweak, remix, redistribute, and add to the OER itself and whether or not the OER may be used for commercial or non-commercial purposes (for further considerations, see Creative Commons).

So why define tools and OERs?  There seems to be a Problem with TED Ed as of late: The problem with TED Ed is the problem of what we define in traditional education as a ‘lesson’. But what is the problem, really?  Is the problem with TED Ed specifically, or how other educators might use TED Ed?  This is why defining tools and OERs (like class lessons) become key.  Regardless of one’s interpretation as to how “freely available” content is in TED Ed, there is certainly the potential to retweak, remix, and further develop the lesson or OER itself that warrants further educative experiences when it comes to learning. Framing a problem around TED Ed, is like framing a problem specifically around a textbook, computer, pencil, Internet, or any other material, object, technology, or tool;  avoiding any real context that may be useful in finding a solution.  Problems cannot be set based on people, concepts, and materials alone; they must be set at the point where problems, people, concepts, and materials meet.  The misconception with Problem with TED Ed, is that the term ‘lesson’ is viewed as some fixed learning experience that TED Ed designed and one that substitutes for good teaching (a notion that TED Ed clearly rejects in their introductory video).

TED Ed is not epic, nor are any web tools educators use to teach and learn.  But TED Ed, like other materials (e.g., OERS) do offer affordances in various degrees; that is, degrees of action potential.  The value of an OER or web tool stems from not only its direct potentiality, but subsequent potentialities that emerge from complex associations that occur over time and in multiple spaces between a web of human and non-human devices.  The potentialities are threefold: the potential to take risks through creative pursuits, the potential to share experiences and opinions with others, and the potential to not only benefit the learner but those who come in contact with the learner (not to mention contacts that extend out two, three, or more degrees of separation).  Setting a problem around a particular OER or tool alone (absent of context) does little to extend the dialog necessary for reaching viable and situational solutions.

Picture: by Velo Steve

What Makes for a Valuable Blended Learning Course?

About six months ago I completed a blended learning course from a recognized publisher who is interested in offering such a course to individuals and institutions who would like to incorporate technologies into their own teaching and learning environments.   Just yesterday I completed a course feedback form regarding delivery, materials, and assessment from the perspective of both a course for consultants as well as a course for teachers and institutions.  During my reflection I began thinking about how others might feel about what a course in blended learning might look like.

The basis for any blended learning course really boils down to people, conceptualizations, and technologies (i.e., materials).  Addressing any one of these three aspects of blended learning (i.e., people, conceptualizations, and technologies) in isolation does little to provide the necessary context needed to better understand behaviors and points of view – the term technologies is meant to include any materials, web tools, or objects that practitioners interact with on a daily basis.  Conceptualizations might include ideas, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, perspectives, or frameworks that become the basis for social interaction.  I would argue that the complexity involved within this dynamic triad underpins the notion that we cannot remove individuals from the tools they use and that for all practical purposes, everything we do can be classified as being social.

When professional learning pursuits in the area of blended learning are needed, institutions typically have two options: internal professional development (PD) and external PD.  This is one of the key decisions that stakeholders make early on that are usually based on economics, logistics, and the perceived value that each type of PD may bring.  But regardless of the type, institutions may frame PD as training whereby educators leave the course being “trained”, or they may consider PD as more ongoing, open, and facilitative.  Courses may come “prepackaged” with fixed objectives or courses may be adaptable to what both the individual and organization needs or wants.  Depending on the readiness of those participating, the objectives of the course might be expressive or based on specific behavioral goals which both may be predetermined or which may emerge over time (i.e., rhizomatic education).

Another consideration when deciding on the most appropriate blended learning course relates to accreditation.  For instance, diplomas, accreditation badges, and certificates are just some of the options that recognize a person’s level of understanding and skill set.  Other forms of accreditation might be the recognition of a particular product such as an e-portfolio or open educational resources.  Depending on the type of accreditation, accreditors might either award participants for simply completing the work or may provide some indication of a level of completion based on pre-established criteria or certain standards (i.e., summative assessment).  Determining the most effective way to accredit or assess one’s competency will depend a lot on how participants communicate throughout the course.

Two types of communication are possible during a (blended learning) course: synchronous and asynchronous.  People who converse in real time, whether they are having discussions face to face or whether they are participating in a Google+ Hangout or webinar communicate synchronously whereas people who communicate via blogs, wikis, forums, Twitter, and social bookmarking communicate asynchronously.  Both synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication can reside in open or closed spaces which can either create credit-seeking participants with non-credit-seeking participants (e.g., MOOCs) or can restrict communication to only those credit-seeking participants.

Determining the right type of blended course for an institution depends on a variety of factors.  The learning theory or theories used will depend a lot on how people, conceptualizations, and technologies mesh. The way a blended learning course is delivered will depend on the technologies available and which are likely to be used and to what degree consultants from outside the institution are involved, if at all.  Finally, a blended learning course will depend on how participants communicate synchronously and asynchronously and to the degree that both types of communication are accessible to the general public (open vs. closed education).  These factors collectively must be taken into consideration based on the profiles of the educator and institution and the degree that course objectives can be adapted to the needs, interests, and learning preferences of the practitioner as a life-long learner.

Based on your experience and within your own context (people, materials, and conceptualizations), what type of blended learning course has or would work?  Or which blended learning courses have not worked for you in the past?

Image attribution:

Facebook is Dead!

 the culmination of a term long cross-curricular arts project at Thomas Tallis School.
Seven-year-olds display their identity

I just read Skype is Dead, and the first thing that came to mind was Facebook (FB).

When I thought about that past events that lead up to the death of FB, I immediately looked around to see if I was the only one with this opinion. Sure enough, there are others who are at least considering the notion: Facebook is dead, Facebook is dead, Is Facebook dead? I also realize that you don’t have to look far to find those who still think FB is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Regardless, here’s but one more opinion to consider.

I find myself asking, “Why I am?” Besides looking for an excuse to link to a cool song, I ask the question to make a point: we all have purpose. We demonstrate purpose through our identity; the different roles we play depend on a particular situation (e.g., mother, son, wife, professor, friend, etc.).  FB creates a space for us to be a friend, family member, professor, etc., but what FB does not do well is to provide a space for our entire self.

Most of the FB pages that I’ve seen have been based on some topic of interest, say a course, business, etc. that are separated into different pages. If conversations are not spread out over different pages, they occur within profiles where only friends can see what is being posted. In my FB page, I have friends, family, colleagues, and students who all have access to what I post. But when I’m a friend, father, son, husband, colleague, teacher, etc., I take on a different role, and as a result, what I end up doing when I’m in FB is limiting myself, or posting to FB information that I won’t mind everyone seeing.  For instance, there are comments that I won’t share with a close friend if I know that in doing so could cause a problem with a student, family member, or colleague. In other words, I’m not being myself.

I feel I grow (i.e., learn) through relationships that contribute to my overall identity.  I can’t build relationships by having the same conversation from a sample of everyone I know. As if I were to gather everyone I know (i.e., friends, colleagues, students, family members, and acquaintances) into a conference room and attempt to talk about one particular topic…can you imagine? Most would be running for the door, never to return! FB is like trying to build relationships by having the same conversation with virtually everyone you are connected with.

What are your thoughts? Is FB dead?

#Edumooc 2011 and Blended Learning

Image via Flickr and Creative Commons license


The Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois, Springfield is offering a MOOC for anyone interested in teaching and learning online. This week I’ve been enjoying edumooc 2011: Online Learning Today…and TomorrowWhat the Research Tells Us which lists a variety of publications related to on line teaching and learning, offering a variety of different perspectives related to curriculum, assessment, and instruction within an open and on line delivery format.

I found it interesting that although this week’s focus in on (MOOC) research, (as of today) there was not one tweet using the hashtag #edresearch. But research is being conducted – to name a few: OER University (study group), No Significant Difference, and obviously the University of Illinois is carefully gathering data as the course unfolds. One thing that I would like to pass along is the survey that the OERu is drafting. With a little modification, this instrument could certainly be used at the beginning of any blended course in order to get an idea of student ICT readiness and preferences.

If you are interested in on line journals that cover on line teaching and learning, I found the following useful: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT), The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), and the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN). Certainly there are others and you are encouraged to check the rest of them out if you get a chance.

Finally, if you would like a further description as to what a MOOC is, you might start by reading The MOOC Model for Digital Practice. This will give you some background, but what I’m finding is that as I participate in more MOOCs over time, there really is little consensus as to what a MOOC is exactly.  There are many aspects of a MOOC to consider and much will depend on your own educational context as both a teacher and learner.

Blended Learning

Most of us are familiar with some form of either blended learning (some combination of offline/online delivery, synchronous/asynchronous types of communication, and learning theory/theories) or online blended learning (basically blended learning with no face-to-face contact) since I suspect there are few teachers these days that shy away completely from using technology in some form or fashion. I know there are some, but I have to believe the numbers continue to dwindle down.

Anyway, for EduMOOC 2011, participants are interacting in a variety of ways: (a) Google Groups, (b) Wikispaces, (c) Moodle Forums, (d) Twitter hashtag – #edumooc, (e) edumooc blog, (f) personal blogs like this one, (g) Twitter list, (h) online newspaper, (i) Diigo, (j) Delicious, (k) Facebook, and (l) OERu study groupaggregators, among others. A MOOCast went out on Tuesday as well which appears that it will continue for the duration of the course. Clusters are forming throughout the web as each participant decides the way in which to engage with others.

So, you may be asking yourself,

How in the world do I keep up with the large amounts of information passing through so many different types of social media?

The answer is you don’t.  It’s virtually (no pun intended) impossible to keep up with all of the different conversations going on in a MOOC at any given time.  The trick is to find the technologies that you are used to and use them in such a way that information gets filtered back to you; for example, here is one simple way to participate in a MOOC that currently works for me.  For others, sticking to one or two forum group discussions may be the answer. Indeed, there is no one right way to participate in a MOOC, only that individuals interact with each other and with the course content so to maximize meaningful and relevant experiences.

To find examples of other MOOCs, refer to this list: CCK08CCK09PLENK2010, and Change MOOC starting this Fall.  Certainly there are others but these are MOOCs that I’ve been involved with over the last few years.

So, as an educator, teacher, trainer, mentor, facilitator, etc. and considering the different elements that make up an online blended learning experience, what attributes normally associated with the term MOOC do you take advantage of in your current teaching practice?  What are some aspects of a MOOC that you find challenging or not particularly conducive to the learning process?

Whether you call it a MOOC or not, it’s really about the way in which participants interact with each other and with the content, forming the connections that help the learner gain the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind needed in order to advance the learning process over one’s lifetime.