On the Twelfth Day of Christmas – My 12 Favourite Gifts from OLDaily

‘Tis the season, eh? I’m feeling so grateful, that in addition to this year’s Nessie’s, I thought I would give thanks for the bounty that is OLDaily and Stephen Downes.

Stephen pretty much does not need an introduction in our field; OLDaily is, by my reckoning, still pretty much the “paper of record” in the edu-blogosphere and I have a hard time thinking of any other individual who has had such an impact on the direction and thinking of educational technology as him over the past decade. I know I am sounding like a bit of a fanboy, and heck, I am, but don’t think it’s all been smooth sailing. I regular challenge Stephen in his comment area and elsewhere, and some of my struggles to understand what he is saying have lasted almost as long as I’ve known him. And this is one of the things I am most grateful for, because that is how I learn, by challenging, by contesting, by not getting it and pushing until I do. And so far, through it all, I have felt respected, heard and considered. I don’t think Stephen is *right* about *everything,* but I’m not looking for him to be “right about everything,” to give me THE answers. Those I need to figure out for myself. But I consider it an honour and pleasure to count him as one of the people I constantly learn from and with.

Which got me reflecting today on which of his posts, articles and presentations have had the biggest impact on my learning over the past almost decade I’ve been reading him (a tall order, considering that on his article page alone he lists 1134 items!) Below, in no particular order, is my selection of “OLDaily’s Greatest Hits”:

elearning 2.0

I would guess this is possibly one of Stephen’s best known and most cited articles. It is an early effort and for a pretty general audience/magazine, and so does not, for me, represent his best writing on the subject, but it pulled together as well as anyone had the trends we were all starting to see (which, also somewhat following Stephen, I took to calling “network learning” instead of this 2.0 moniker.)

“Role of educator in network learning”

A more recent talk, and one which put more flesh to the earlier shorthand instruction to “model” for learners that had been the response for a few years on how instructors should behave in this new world of ubiquitous content, participatory culture, peer to peer support and networks.

Things you really need to learn

As I wrote in a comment recently when Stephen re-posted this 2006 article, the thing I’ve always admired most about this piece is that, alongside the more conventional “academic” skills Stephen also lists “empathy” and “self care” as important things to learn. What I especially like is that these don’t feel like nice liberal values added on; in my understanding, these are actually key pieces of what it means to know.

Groups vs. Networks

I am still not convinced we have this completely right; there is definitely an important distinction, but I have a feeling that by focusing on these as “entities” (groups and networks) we are missing other ways of looking at this that don’t result in polarizing binaries; that perhaps looking at it from the perspective of participation and belonging-ness might ultimately evolve a more nuanced understanding. But I am not sure. All I know is that this distinction has resonated with many and served as a useful opening to explain the difference that could be had in networks from learning in pre-constrained cohorts and classrooms. See also “Communities and Networks” for additional exploration of this.

RSS for Educators

I had forgotten this one but luckily Alan Levine reminded me in response to my twitter shoutout about this absolutely critical essay from Stephen. I think it would be safe to position Stephen as the first, or certainly one of the first, to start promoting RSS as a simple and effective means of syndicating content, especially learning content. The Three Amigos deserve a lot of credit for raising awareness about RSS in 2003, but this article preceeded that talk by almost a year, and I think they all recall it as a seminal piece that inspired that work (work I will forever kick myself for not getting, or getting on board with, at the time I was invited – El Guapo forever shall I be.) Indeed, in the annals of ed tech guides, this deserves a spot up there with @cogdog’s own Writing HTML, high praise in my books.

Models of Sustainable OER

I’m interested to hear where Stephen stands on this paper now. It was written in 2006 and for its time was absolutely the most comprehensive write up I know of looking at the sustainability of OER (conceived in the sense formal institutional publishing efforts.) And I don’t know that much of the thinking, from that perspective, has changed much. This year’s Open Ed 2010 took as its theme “Impact and Sustainability” as I believe did 2008 (and maybe even 2007?) No, what’s changed is realizing (and I don’t think this is new, for many including Stephen) that this sustainability issue rears its head when you try to institutionalize sharing or share stuff after the fact; that if instead you simply start from a posture of openness, and don’t coerce people to share who aren’t actually interested in sharing, that it just happens. Like OLDaily. Like the MOOCs. Which is why I’m interested in Stephen’s take now; because I don’t think this paper is “wrong,” I just think he, and others, have moved on from forcing the round peg into this square hole.

An Introduction to Connective Knowledge

I would warrant this is the article that Stephen should be best known for, and ultimately may become so, but that likely fewest people have read. Because it is not an easy read. Not because it is not well written. But because it really pushes you to think beyond simplistic notions of knowledge and knowing. And while Stephen seems to have made peace with George Siemen’s Conectivism, I have always looked to this piece for the much deeper version of that slogan. It is also, in my recollection, the first place where Stephen started talking about the key network properties of “diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity,” a set of heuristics anyone would do well to memorize for looking at how effective one’s network interventions are likely to be.

No, Really, This is What We Want

I know there’s a few people who love this talk for what it didn’t do – it was a keynote for an IMS Standards meeting, and instead of pandering to the mechanistic vision of learning that has always lain beneath that agenda, Stephen got up there and blew it out of the water. I only got to see it on video (if I recollect correctly) as I came down with chicken pox the day before I was to attend that meeting in Vancouver. But it is still legendary in some circles. See also “One Standard for All: Why we don’t want it and why we don’t need it” for another brilliant challenge to the metadata orthodoxy.

Community Blogging (NV ’05)

For me, this talk was significant because it was my first (and one of the only) occasions to hear Stephen speak live. I want to say this was the first Northern Voice (I think, I’m getting old.) The one piece that really stuck with me in this entire talk was Stephen’s distinction of “groups of proximity” to “groups of affinity” (which I take as an early phrasing of the “groups vs. networks” distinction.) I can remember already viscerally wrestling with this as the talk was still going on, wanting to burst out of my seat to engage with him on it. Not that it was wrong, just that it was a distinction that got me thinking (and feeling) overtime.

Open Content, Enclosure and Conversion

I don’t know for sure if this was the start, but certainly this piece was an early foray into the ongoing discussion between another friend and mentor of mine, David Wiley, and Stephen on the merits of Non-commercial licensing of Open resources. This piece also represents for me the clearest example of where, over time, I have come about face and now agree with something that at first I didn’t get at all. From a purely theoretical point of view, which is how I first approached this issue, the fears of the potential of commercialization seem not well founded, as the free and open version should always be there. But I have come to see that in the actual world, the ability of commercial entities to enclose and obscure access to free and open versions of content they have exploited is not only very real but a natural extension of their existing business practices. The tricky part, of course, is the argument about not-for-profits and other educational organizations needing to resell improved content to cover costs, something I expect many in the free and open world don’t want to prohibit. I do not know the answer for sure; I do know that on a personal level I deal with this on an ad hoc basis, which in some ways runs completely against the entire purpose of the CC licensing scheme…

How to attend a conference

Simply put, good advice from a veteran conference attendee and another great example of the network teacher as model

Speaking in LOLCats

This is another real hidden gem; it is easy to mis-understand the depth of the argument here, couched as it is with the introductory piece about “lolcats.” I hope Stephen will consider re-riffing on this again, and indeed will keep experimenting with “form” as he explore this and other messages, because I have the sense that from the perspective of radically contextualizing technology and knowing, this talk and approach offers one of the best avenues.

What not to Build

We need more posts like this, especially from people inside institutions stnading up to the next big project that comes along which sure sounds like a good idea at the time, but doesn’t understand that the network doesn’t stop at your doorway. That sounds harsh, I’m sure, and I know there are many good reasons why we end up building yet another system. Indeed, as my understanding of the role of “users” in regards to educational technology changes, I am less and less offended by the notion of local systems; it is more understanding the kinds we need to build (or help/encourage faculty and students to build) instead of continuing to impose monolithic, centralized approaches that neither encourage autonomy nor engage well with the net as a whole.

So, Stephen, for all you do, this posts for you. Have a great Christmas and a fantastic 2011. Cheers, Scott

13 thoughts on “On the Twelfth Day of Christmas – My 12 Favourite Gifts from OLDaily”

  1. A fine post on true inspiration in the field. A correction, however… you saw Stephen speak before NV in 2005. I was with you at his memorable and combative IMS Keynote (“No, this is what we really want”) in Vancouver in February 2003.

    Besides offering up a devastating critique, I remember that talk for a compelling vision of syndication and distributed toolsets driven by standards that “enable, not require”…

  2. See, I’m glad I have you around to remind me, my memory is not what it used to be. Ah, “enable, not require” – it is slowly coming back to me, a great catchphrase to add to the list of technology aphorisms and heuristics.

  3. This is quite a gift indeed, and there are a few article on here I haven;t read. And I remember when I first entered this field sitting around the Casa Lamb Mcphee table hearing almost mythical tales about Downes—as D’Arcy pointed out “He’s like the Gandalph of edtech.”

    I’ll actually throw another one in here that I had meant to blog, and it is easy to take Downes for granted cause he is so established and ubiquitous in this field, but I think his Huffington post articles are some of his very best, in particular his first article “A world to change” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/a-world-to-change_b_762738.html) lays out one of the clearest and most succinct vision of what the future of education can and should be, and the other is “Deinstitutionalizing Education” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/deinstitutionalizing-educ_b_777132.html) —that last article as a resource is simply amazing. The amount of research and links is unparalleled as far as I’ve seen about this topic.

    Fact is, Downes is a force of nature, I had my questions when he decided to blog for the Huffington Post given it’s high profile nature—but at the same time he certainly deserves the attention and I figured he’s not really gonna tone down too much. And it turns out it almost made him up his game all the more, if that is even possible.

    So, this is a perfect post, cause it articulates brilliantly in the form of an homage, what Downes does for so many in this field on an almost daily basis.

    Bravo Scott, and Stephen!

  4. Thanks, Scott (and of course, Stephen) for combing the archives for this great list. I think I’m going to use this as a jumping off and jumping in spot with my grad students. Excellent discussion starters on so many levels!

  5. I only knows the work from Stephen Downes since about half a year before I was a participant in CCK08, April 08. Not so long thus. But he has meant very much for my growing knowledge and has given me a lot of inspiring moments. Thanks for this fine tribute to this master for me.

  6. Thanks Scott – there were a number of Stephen’s pieces in this post I had yet to read. As always – you make fab mixtapes.

  7. Jim, sorry your comment got stuck in moderation. I must admit I haven’t really been following the Huffington Post writing that Stephen has been doing, so that is another benefit of writing this, getting these two references to go back to.

  8. It’s interesting to see how many of the faculty I work with have been passing those HuffPo articles of his around to other faculty members. The HP exposure has certainly made him more visible, at least with the people I work with on a daily basis.

  9. Great post Scott – we should do more of these now that blogging has reached a certain level of maturity. Possibly even more than you, I don’t always think that Stephen is right (particularly when he disagrees with me 😉 but he is one of the best. Annoyingly he does not one, but two things really well: the collective activity of OLDaily provides a really good overview (and I think the difficulty of doing this is underestimated), and he writes really well.
    I would also offer up The Monkeysphere Ideology as a contender (http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/03/monkeysphere-ideology.html) as an example of his longer pieces.
    I think we have become habituated to Stephen’s presence online, to the point where we no longer appreciate it for what it is. This is a timely reminder of his value. Next to Celine Dion he is surely your best contender for National Treasure award.

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