An end to the beginning: Open Learning ’17

Oh You Moon by Alan Levine

Photo by Alan Levine

Open Learning ’17‘s last official event was yesterday, as Susan Albertine, Beverly Covington, Steve Greenlaw, Amy Nelson, and I reflected on the experience from multiple perspectives. Today’s the last day of the Open Learning ’17 “week,” however, and I offer one more thought while class is still (barely) in session.

I always imagined the Open Learning ’17 experience as a course of study. To me it was an opportunity for a community to form around a series of readings, videoconferences, blog posts, tweets, and the like. Each week would take up a new topic, but all along the way there would be a crescendo, a building, learnings that would be more than a mere accumulation. We would get to something like “all the opens, connected,” or at least a first approximation thereof.

This goal could have been built into the design more conspicuously and much more effectively. My bad. Looking back, I think we should have used each Friday’s Twitter chat to connect the current week with the preceding weeks. It’s entirely possible that not enough people were plugged in to every week, consistently, to make such a chat work, On the other hand, it’s possible that such a Twitter chat would have sent a strong signal that the course of study should connect, and not simply be an occasion for a la carte involvement when one’s favorite topic was scheduled.

All of that said, each week was full of individual excellences, and I am grateful to all the directors-of-the-week (and sometimes weekS) for their imagination and dedication: Bryan Alexander, Stephanie Blackmon, Sue Erickson and Maha Bali, Amy Nelson and Shelli Fowler, Steve Greenlaw, and Laura Gogia . I deeply appreciate the time and energy contributed by everyone who took part in the videoconferences, especially Bret Eynon and Randy Bass. I’m grateful to the steering committee for their support and their wise counsel throughout the experience. And while it is no doubt a little dangerous to single anyone out, I feel I must in this instance give the MVP Award to Amy Nelson, who was all-in throughout the experience, and who represented most fully the kind of learning and participation I had imagined at the outset.

Thanks as well to AAC&U’s Susan Albertine for trusting us and cheering us on, despite or perhaps because of our persistently idiosyncratic approach. Thanks also to Beverly Covington for her patient and enthusiastic support on the state level as SCHEV’s liaison to the Faculty Collaboratives project.

And of course, a huge thank you to all the participants in Open Learning ’17, who blogged, tweeted, and gave of their time, expertise, and hearts. Your contributions convinced me the idea could work, and did work, and might work again. I’m grateful.

I don’t know where we’ll go from here. I know we plan to curate the resources generated during the semester so folks can consult specific elements very readily. We have a number of extraordinary videoconferences and interviews recorded. We have some truly inspiring and occasionally even jaw-dropping blog posts that stand as beautiful essays in our anthology of learning. We have some great Twitter chats Storified. We have several connected learning infographics and other coaching materials from our connected learning coach, Laura Gogia. These resources will live on, connected to the hub site, as long as the hub site exists.

I hope the site will continue to buzz and whir over the summer. And I hope that one day this course of study, or something akin to it, will bring us together again.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I continue to reflect on the experience. I should probably write a post to explain, if only from my perspective, the design of the learning experience. I should also write more about what I think was most successful and what I found most disappointing, and why.

For now, though, I’ll leave the week with another quotation from Lichtenberg’s Waste Books. My previous blog post featured a quotation from this astonishing work, a quotation that I think is one of the most urgent and important things I’ve ever posted to Gardner Writes. Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in. Be that as it may, this quotation is no less urgent and important. The words speak powerfully, if perhaps a little obliquely, to the journey of Open Learning ’17, and to at least some of what I hope this first voyage will carry into the future.

The peasant who believes the moon is no bigger than a plough wheel never reflects that at a distance of a few miles a whole church appears only as a white speck but the moon on the contrary seems always to be the same size: what prevents him from connecting these ideas, which are all presented to him distinctly? In his ordinary life he does in fact connect ideas and perhaps does so by more artificial connections than these. This reflection should make the philosopher pay heed: perhaps in some of the connections he makes he is still a peasant. We think early in life but we do not know we are thinking, any more than we know we are growing or digesting; many ordinary people never do discover it. Close observations of external things easily leads back to the point of observations, ourselves, and conversely he who is for once wholly aware of himself easily proceeds from that to observing the things around him. Be attentive, feel nothing in vain, measure and compare: this is the whole law of philosophy.

Notebook A, entry 35, in Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, ed. R. J. Hollingdale. Penguin Books, 1990, rpt. New York Review Books, 2000, p. 12.

One thought on “An end to the beginning: Open Learning ’17

  1. Thank you for this preliminary write-up, Gardner. I share your sense that it’s still too early for me to reflect on the #openlearning17 experience as a whole. Some of the nodes of friction and discovery are obvious to me. But I will need time to digest and develop some perspective on the experience. (This reminds me of a concern I also routinely raise about assessment. We focus so much effort on “measuring” change/ gains at the end of the semester, when the longer term and continuing learning is more significant (IMO anyway)). I found a sentence from your Lichtenberg quote from the previous post especially resonant here: “What we have to discover for ourselves leaves behind in our mind a pathway that can also be used on another occasion.”

    And speaking of Lichtenberg. Thank you for introducing me to him! Must add the scrap books to my reading list. Also, reading these last two posts reminded me to put in a plug for Andrea Wulf’s biography of Humboldt: (https://www.amazon.com/Invention-Nature-Alexander-Humboldts-World/dp/0345806298/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=X8DF7FFWC6NHBM29CN7K). Humboldt’s passion for discovery and recognition of how interconnected humans are with nature — his vision of ecology and networks — is really thrilling. He was certainly an Open Learner in every sense of the word.
    Finally, I do look forward to reading more about your design vision for our cMOOC. When it’s time. Thanks again for being such a fabulous hub creator and director!

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