Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sister Soups - my new e-book - a great learning experience!

I just finishing an e-book for Kindle. It is called Sister Soups: Recipes, Hopes and Prayers for Times of Illness.
Sister Soups is a book of healthy soups, hopes, and prayers for people facing cancer or another serious illness.
Sister Soups offers delicious recipes, beautiful pictures, words of hope, and prayers of encouragement for each month of the year. Sister Soups are full of healthy ingredients and the soups have a mild taste and are easy to eat.

I wrote it for someone very dear to be me who is going through a year of chemo.
This also explains why my assignment 3 was late!

Writing for Kindle is a great learning experience. And I get to try out that "Long Tail" theory we learned about in class.



Friday, 20 April 2012

Assignment 3 CCK12 - My Presentation on the influence of connectivism on my view of learning

Here is the link to my Assignment #3 Presentation for “Connectivism, Networked Learning, and Connective Knowledge”.
You can find my presentation on this Vimeo video at:

My presentation explains the influence of connectivism on my view of learning. I also talk about the depth and diversity of my own learning networks.

And, in closing, here is a picture of George Dawon, who learned to read at 98 years of age. This picture always give me heart and spirt for learning! I hope it inspires you too.

I'm grateful for the awesome, challenging, fun, disturbing, hopeful, and profound learning experience!

It has been a pleasure learning and connecting with you all.



Monday, 9 April 2012

Changing views and systems: we’ve got a long way to go! – Week 12 - CCK12

George Siemen’s article, “New Structures of learning: The systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning” ( made for a fascinating read between Barrie and Kingston this Easter weekend. Between stopping to view various wildflowers (Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Hepatica, Bloodroot and a very early Trillium…), I learned a great deal about connectivism and learning.

Specifically, I learned that while technology has made it possible for massive shifts to be made in how education is delivered, educational institutions have typically been extremely slow at adapting to the exciting possibilities for teaching and learning offered by the digital age. Opportunities include “global classrooms, shared curricula, complex problem solving through collaboration, and new relationships between educational institutions and society” (page 6).
The article overviewed some of the challenges to traditional education, including:
·         A transition from a solid knowledge base of information to a wide and wild array of information and resources which must be assessed and contextualized by an individual.
·         The global campus – where people can easily access learning via non traditional sources of education (informal education via podcasts, online videos, the Khan Academy, GCF Learn Free, etc.  or via universities and colleges without walls such as Athabasca University or Contact North)

The question was then asked “how does change impact institutions”. It would appear that while there are small pockets of innovation brought about by early innovators and champions, that overall, the opportunities offered by digital technologies have not resulted in a transformation of the way we learn. Typically, the traditional classroom model is still the model most valued by educators and the public. New tools, old strategies. New possibilities, old thinking. 
For example, here in Ontario, educators often seem to think that the use of a SmartBoard is an incredible innovation. And, while SmartBoards do indeed provide access to helpful resources and tools, this technology is essentially merely the automation of a blackboard. No changes or new opportunities in classroom learning have in fact been made. Standard classrooms, standard curriculum and hierarchical teaching practices remain in place.

To use another example: this spring comes the time most dreaded by shy children: speeches!  In 2012 in Ontario, my terribly shy Grade 8 son and all of his compatriots are required to write out their speeches on FLASH CARDS, and deliver them verbally in front of the classroom. Can you imagine the alternate possibilities? Even PowerPoint would be a huge innovation here. How about YouTube, podcasts, animations? The learning would be equal or greater than delivering a speech via flash cards (I used that decades ago, as did my parents – I mean, this is stone tablet technology!), and it would meet the learning styles of individual students. Even the teacher (perhaps ESPECIALLY the teacher) would learn a thing or two!
Some other concepts I found interesting in this paper were: open versus closed systems, expertise versus amateur content creation, and open versus closed educational resources.

Let’s hope in the coming years that educational institutions are more open to change and to adapting so that they and their students can benefit from the possibilities offered by digital technologies. Ideas can take time, but if they hold on, even despite the odds, they can grow and flourish. Here is a great illustration of this: look at this beautiful wildflower from my Easter hike (it is a native Canadian plant called Spring Beauty). It is growing in the crevice of a rock. There is almost no soil, but still it persisted and from a tiny seed it germinated and grew into this beautiful plant.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Week 11 – Research and Analytics – Data Maniacs CCK12

The Internet and new technology gives rises to many new ways to research, analyse and evaluate. Many trends can now be analysed via Google analytics, Google blog search, Twitter hash tags, YouTube hits and ranking, Facebook analytics, Amazon rankings and ratings, and other methods. This has lead to many new and exciting possibilities for data gathering, research and evaluation. The fact that much of this data (thanks to technology) now comes to us easily, and at no cost, is of great benefit, particularly to small organizations such as mine.

For example, as my organization moves into creating a social enterprise, we are using Google analytics to select training topics and also pick the best topics to write e-books to sell on Amazon. Knowing what is popular and where gaps are greatly increases our chance of success in building a strong social enterprise. Google analytics is also an incredible tool for our website both to evaluate user trends, but also to build our website with the end user in mind. To use another example, Facebook automatically tells me each week about all of the trends for our organization’s Facebook page. Thanks to this free feature, I can readily understand the trends and adjust the content or the marketing of our Facebook page accordingly.

On a separate topic… this week’s reading started with the intriguing comment of:
“Thus connectivism is perceived as relevant by its practitioners but as lacking in rigour by its critics”. (Frances Bell, Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning.

Immediately my ears perked up! I work in a sector (nonprofit, charitable sector) and a domain (adult literacy) that both endure the ongoing struggle with the fact that we do important, relevant work but we are constantly criticized as lacking in rigour (or sound evaluative data).

Some immediate questions jumped to my mind regarding research and evaluation: Can all services be quantified and sold at a price to satisfy the bureaucrats among us? Does everything fit nicely in a box the way some would like? Is life neat and tidy the way government funders would have it? Can everything worth doing readily be evaluated?  

As noted in the above article, evaluation techniques will vary depending upon the scope and purpose of the evaluation, the funding available for the evaluation, and the skills, experience and philosophies of the evaluators. However, I would add as well, that the evaluation techniques will also vary based the goals of those driving the evaluation and whether the evaluation is for internal purposes (such as for course improvement) or for external purposes such as governments needing random, meaningless data for their own mysterious purposes. 

Here is a library in Haiti. I don’t think its value could be easily evaluated and quantified. But its worth is priceless. 

Week 10 – Role of the Educator – Brave New World! – CCK12

I agree with the week 10 readings that the role of the educator is changing dramatically. In literacy we have long emphasized that while the school system and teachers are important for the education of the children, in fact the family has a profound impact on a child’s success at school. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents” would be one familiar refrain in literacy.

In my forays into high education I have often been miffed at the common mantra of that teachers should not be the “sage on the stage” but rather that they should be the “guide on the side”. This mantra has seemed unassailable but to myself I’ve often thought, “But I don’t know anything about this topic, I’m taking this course to learn from the teacher, not to teach myself or learn from other unknowledgeable students. This teacher has a lot of knowledge to impart – please be the sage on the stage!”.

It was interesting to read Stephen Downes’ article on “The Role of the Educator” ( where educator roles were well fleshed out, instead of glossed over and diminished to just the “guide on the side”.  These new roles are dynamic and interesting – for both the student and the educator!

In adult literacy here in Ontario we have an excellent case study of how technology has indeed created a shift in the role of the educator. The Ontario government funds an online learning program of studies called e-Channel (see the Learning Hub at: Students all across Ontario improve their literacy skills online. There is standard self-study, online course content which learners work through at their own pace. They are assigned an off-site distance education teacher and they often also have a tutor in their home location to support their work as well.  

I agree that the role of the educator has expanded and has become actually richer, rather than being reduced to a mere “guide on the side”. Stephen Downes identifies 23 possible roles that the educator can assume in the new world of education to support online students. These roles include the modeling the learning process, collecting resources and materials to support learning, organizing learning, championing ideas and beliefs, building networks, coordinating and connecting people, critiquing and questioning, providing technical support, mentoring students, and many other roles.

Different teachers might assume the roles that they are most comfortable with, or that their students are in most need of in order to effectively learn. Students as well vary in their needs, some might need mentoring while others might need tech support and still others might need a champion, or a critic, or help connecting with others.
We have a whole new world ahead of us where we can teach and support learners in more effective and authentic ways! I think it is very exciting!

The picture I am posting today is for me a great reminder that the best teachers are the people who take the time to teach you about things they are passionate about. This is a snowdrop, and my old, old friend, who died this week of Alzheimer’s, always took the time when I was a young child to teach me about the important things in life: how to canoe in rough waters, how to identify bird calls, how to navigate by the North Star and how to identify wildflowers.  RIP HT.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Open, closed and the need to just survive! – Week 9 CCK12

The readings this week on openness and transparency were extremely interesting. I believe deeply in the concept of openness in education for the following reasons:
  • It is an extremely helpful way to build up educational resources, curriculum, ideas, AND strategies that result in better teaching and more effective learning experiences
  • It is a powerful tool for building educational communities of learning and peer relationships
  • It develops global linkages and knowledge sharing
  • It is a cost-effective way for small organizations with scarce resources to learn and grow
  • It prevents the constant need to reinvent the wheel and allows educators to build on and adapt existing sources of knowledge
  • It allows for sharing of promising practices and tools across wide and diverse geographic and economic areas 
  • Ordinary people and organizations get to chose what is worth sharing and publishing, not large publishing houses or government. 

The non-profit organization for which I work has in fact as long modeled this sort of open and transparent information sharing. We have freely and openly shared (via the Internet) all of our resources from printed guides to webinars to online self-study websites to podcasts to e-communiqu├ęs and newsletters. Although we are a small organization with just four staff, our resources are extremely well-regarded and thousands upon thousands of resources are downloaded each year from our website – and all for free.

Small as we are, we’ve been inspired by other large organizations to openly share for the benefit of others. We are energized when others write and tell us how much our publications have helped them.

HOWEVER! As much as we value this openness, we’ve become a bit jaded by it and are changing our philosophy. We are really wrestling with this abundance versus scarcity philosophy. Perhaps we are doing something wrong in our free and open approach – advice would be appreciated! Here is the situation:

We find that the sharing often goes one way. From us to others and not back. We find that sometimes because we give things away for free that they aren’t valued as much as resources or webinars that people pay for. Sometimes people think “free” means poorly done and that experts and quality cost money.

Mostly importantly, we receive a very small amount of government funding; in fact, we must raise over 50% of our budget from other sources of income. Soon, we will need to look at cutting back our staff, especially given the poor state of the Ontario economy when government funding may in fact decrease. Therefore, for fiscal reasons, we are planning to start a social enterprise in order to make money from the resources that we have normally given away for free.

Here is a perfect example of why we have to change our strategy. Last year, a colleague and I wrote a resource that we freely posted to our website. This Guide was so popular that it was downloaded over 50,000 times in just two months (with no advertising). On our website, we have a paypal link that said “We are pleased to share this resource with you. However, we are a small nonprofit and we would request that each person or organizational downloading this report make a minimum donation of $2 towards our organization”. And, while 50,000 people downloaded our report, NOT ONE PERSON made a donation to our organization. This led us to think that we are not just open sharers of information as we’d always liked to think, but instead, we are perhaps suckers?

During our 10 years of open information sharing, we always hoped (naively I’m sure) that some philanthropist would notice our excellent and free resources and our generous spirit of sharing and offer to sponsor us. But that never happened either.

We sadly cannot afford to be so generous any more – perhaps larger organizations with deeper pockets can. Instead, we are moving towards a social enterprise and moving our resources over to Our resources will continue to be free for our members, but outside organizations will need to start paying for them.

Do you think there is a better solution than our planned social enterprise? We want to keep being open and generous, but it doesn't seem sustainable. Are there models whereby organizations can share and yet receive some kind of compensation for their generosity and skills and talent? Stephen Downes mentions several helpful funding models in his paper "Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources" ( but those models seem to apply more to the formal world of academia than to the informal world of nonprofits. Your ideas would be most welcome!

We hope our social enterprise will give us the money to continue doing what we do best – helping small literacy organizations to survive and thrive! And, we will find ways to continue some open sharing however, as it is deeply embedded in our culture.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Power, the Long Tail, and e-publishing on Kindle – Week 8 CCK12

Power and authority, always interesting topics! I agree that new medias have allowed for an unprecedented level of communication and collaboration which in turn has resulted in a strong voice for ordinary people. Whether it is politicians who quickly respond to Facebook protests from constituents (for example, Premier Dalton McGuinty changing his policy on the process for licensing young drivers due to a Facebook campaign from young Ontarians), or companies who change products and policies based on Twitter feedback, or nonprofit organization such as Invisible Children who immediately respond via all forms of social media to critics, ordinary people can effectively use new technologies to make their opinions known.
One of this week’s readings “Revisiting Multiliteracies in Collaborative Learning Environments” by Vance Stevens ( discusses the fascinating concept of “the long tail”. Stevens notes that in traditional print media, publishers decide what is worthy of publication, often based on the perceived ability of a book to be marketable to large amounts of people. However, due to new medias, ordinary people who want to share their voice, can easily use new medias to create a blog, develop a website, gain a following on Twitter, or even publish a book.
According to Wikipedia, “The term Long Tail has gained popularity in recent times as describing the retailing strategy of selling a large number of unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each – usually in addition to selling fewer popular items in large quantities .” (
Amazon is an amazing example of the long tail concept. Amazon through its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows authors to publish and market digital books. It is free for authors to use this service (Amazon takes a percentage of sales). Under KDP, E-books are created based on the interests and passions of authors. Few are best sellers, and the Amazon model is based on selling small quantities of many types of diverse books. Amazon makes a HUGE profit either way.
 I am most interested in e-publishing and, in order to learn how to write, format, publish and market e-books, I wrote a book for Kindle this December on something I am personally interested in. Based on my experience with KDP, my non-profit organization is in the process of moving many of our instructional books to Amazon KDP and selling them as a social enterprise. In this time of government cutbacks, we nonprofits must be more innovative than ever!
So “power to the people” I say, and give thanks that new medias exist where we can share our stories, voices, and resources without someone on high saying they aren’t worthy. We can engage stakeholders directly ourselves and use our creativity without someone in power stopping us. Hurrah for the long tail and new medias such as KDP!


p.s. Happy Saint Urho's Day everyone - the day St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland! A time to wear purple and green and celebrate!