DAVID WILEY: So we've said some things about the relationship between open and pedagogy, and how open may enable different ways of doing things than we do typically in the classroom. I think part of what you're trying to accomplish with what ended up being called the first MOOC back in 2008-- I think pedagogically you're trying to do some different interesting things that are based on what you felt like the network enabled in terms of learning that we can't take advantage of in other ways. And I wondered if you'd just take a couple minutes and talk about that, how open played into that, what you're trying to accomplish.
GEORGE SIEMENS: Sure. It's probably worth emphasizing what you do on remembering ascribes different motivations than what you did at the time.
DAVID WILEY: Fair enough.
GEORGE SIEMENS: But I think broadly speaking, there were two significant intentions behind the first MOOC. By the way, I have a little bit of background. Steven Downs and I were in the Land of Elvis at a conference, and we met in the lobby just to talk about the state of the world and other random things. And we ended up discussing why are there-- well, there's two things that ended up coming out of that conversation.
One was I had erroneously named an article from 2004-2005 on connectivism. I said it was a learning theory for the digital age. Apparently, when you call something a learning theory, everybody focuses on, is it a learning theory? When I was really trying to be much more pragmatic and say, you know what? This is how I'm learning. I'm learning in bits and pieces. I'm not absorbing a coherent narrative created by a single individual, whether that's a faculty member lecturing or the textbook author.
Instead, I'm learning by engaging in this very distributed network conversation. But the response in the critiques-- and there were numerous really good critiques of that article-- seemed to focus on the fact that I called it a learning theory. And I found fascinating I would do a talk at a conference-- sometimes on connectivism, sometimes on something else-- and inevitably, there would be the faculty member that had never touched a blog, had never experienced social media. Keep in mind this is pre-Facebook--
DAVID WILEY: --couldn't spell RSS.
GEORGE SIEMENS: --couldn't spell RSS. Very difficult word to spell. But certain individuals who had no experience of existing in networks, they came from the plunk statement that you made previously about, science advances one funeral at a time. That's exactly what the experience was.
So the faculty would say, no, no, it's not a learning theory for this perspective. And then I'd meet with, say, a doctoral student, or I'd meet with somebody who was more in the technology ed tech domain, and they'd say, yeah, that's exactly what I do. I collect my knowledge in my friends. My network is my brain, so to speak. And it was less about, what do you know right now? And more about, how are you connected to what other people know?
So that was the primary intent was to say, the best way to communicate it, rather than trying to lecture people at what it is, was to have a lived experience of being in a network. So that course was Connectivism and Connective Knowledge at University of Manitoba, and CCK 08 was the shortened version of it. So that was the one intent was to say, just experience a network. See how knowledge is developed, and how it's processed, and how it's engaged, and when it's a network attribute.
The second conversation, or the second point that came in the conversation with Steven, was the argument that MIT, and a lot of curriculum, and a lot of content in what we now call open education resources were available through systems that had disconnected the teaching process from it. So there was this sense that, well, you can easily duplicate content without additional expenditure for each additional resource being created, but there's something so beautiful and magical about the teaching process that that is sort of sacred ground.
And I remember that narrative early on when MIT first went with their OpenCourseWare initiative. People were saying, this is the end of the university as we know it. I mean, universities have died more deaths than any organization in society. Drucker has declared them dead, and yet here we are. And many others have talked about how universities are obsolete and irrelevant, and yet we're still going there. And the top producing economic regions, the strongest nations economically in the world have a high number of top university systems. So their death has been a bit prematurely declared.
By the same account, that experience, though, of, is there something that if we just make our content available, like MIT did with OCW-- I remember specifically talking-- Steven and I, we were saying, maybe we should do for teaching what MIT did for content. So we started thinking, can we make our pedagogical practices open and avail them to the altering processes of networks? And that's what we did.
And the altering process of networks, I specifically mean that you're moving from what used to be a hierarchical system-- you know, George is the prof. He teaches students to respond. Or another way to look as I'm the central hub. Everything centers around me.
You move it into a network structure, and then all of the sudden, students come into class-- now, there's issues with it, because it also means they acquire some erroneous beliefs. But they come into class having read the actual article, having watched a video on YouTube from a keynote speech from the person that we're studying in class that week, or we're discussing her work in class and they just watched her keynote speech at a recent conference, and so on.
So the experience became that I still remained a node in their knowledge network, or their learning network, but I wasn't the exclusive node. And in many cases, I wasn't even the primary node. Instead, they found peers from around the world. They found other faculty. They watched videos. They had students in different courses that they could interact with.
And that was essentially the effect that we were trying to duplicate with the MOOC. We were saying, can we scale teaching practices the way that we can scale content?
DAVID WILEY: It's always been fascinating to me-- I think one of the questions that drove part of my work for a while was this idea of wondering, are there teaching and learning practices-- we know there are teaching and learning practices that work very well with small numbers of students but that scale very poorly when you grow to 100 people in a class, or 300 people in a class.
I've always wondered, are there teaching and learning practices that only work well with very large numbers of students, but that would essentially fail among a small group of students? And it seems like that's part of what you guys were exploring. Unless you have a sufficiently large number of nodes in the network, there won't always be somebody who knows the answer to your question, who happens to be online right now, who can post in the forum to get you over that hump within a 60 minute window, or something like that.
It seems like there's something really important about the scale of the network supporting learning in ways that you couldn't walk into a classroom of 25 students and use the same pedagogy to the same effect. Is that true?
GEORGE SIEMENS: I would think that it's largely an accurate statement. I'll call this my 100 people in a room theory of knowledge. It's very elegantly named.
Basically, it's this idea. If there's 100 of us in a room, we all have a different knowledge profile. I know you have a background in music, and actually you're quite a talented musician. You'll meet other people in that room that perhaps did their undergrad in statistics and decided, because it was such a fascinating topic, they still read the latest stats journals and the latest advances. Someone else in the room will have a focus on injustices in society and views on how those inequities can be addressed, and the list goes on.
So when you have 100 people in a room, you have this knowledge profile that means essentially we can teach one another almost everything that's known today, because we all have different profiles. Obviously, sampling would be one criteria of it, so you want a bit of a diverse population. But it's this idea that there is latent knowledge that all of us possess. And when given an opportunity, when given a mechanism to declare what we know, we can teach one another almost everything that is known by humanity today.
That effectiveness reduces when you have five people in a room, or even 10 people in a room. Now, the model that we have in our traditional classroom-- which was created in a pre-internet era-- place the faculty member at the center, which is why we have 15, 20, maybe 30 students in most classrooms, certainly in K to 12, and even in many universities, because it allows the faculty member to comment, error, correct, and so on with each of the students.
But this was a fascinating output, and I heard Anant Agarwal-- who is the CEO of edX-- that when he first taught a course on edX-- at that time, it was the first course launched through the initiative with Harvard and MIT-- he found it fascinating that students were teaching one another in discussion forums and discussion threads. And it was the same experience any teacher I've worked with, or educator that has worked in threaded discussions in the past, but the number makes a difference. If you have a class of 15 students in discussions, you're going to have limited capability for that latent knowledge to cover the breadth of what's known.
But there's been so many successful examples of this. Some folks may recall the days of Slashdot at its prominent. What a fascinatingly simple social experiment. People spend their days correcting people who are wrong on the internet. And Slashdot was a mechanism for learning, for teaching, and for just being a troll.
Today, we would say some of the tools more prominently are reddit, which is still one of the top websites in the world. And there's a tremendous amount of activism, a tremendous amount of negative activity as well that comes out of it, but there's this idea that when groups of people have a mechanism and an infrastructure for being connected, and that infrastructure has a series of corrective actions attached to it-- namely up vote, down vote, [INAUDIBLE] someone-- that you can start to bubble up important and consequential ideas very quickly.
By the same account, as we've known with the current political cycle that we're in-- and this video will age extremely well. Future generations will refer to this. But the general approach that you see now with some of the political conversations happening in sub-reddits, or some of the use of social media for terrorists and other individuals that have less than ideal aims for society, it cuts both ways. There is an element that says, yes, we can do amazing things that we can't do in groups of 15. By the same account, we can do some pretty horrendous things that we can't do in groups of 15 as well.