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chapter 9:Making Spaces

How many of us have fond memories of those big red cardboard building blocks from preschool? As teachers we know the infinite number of experiences that exist boil down to a few classroom outcomes. Kids explore goals in their own corners dividing up the blocks. Worse they compete and every creation collapses in tantrums. Yet the truly best creations emerge when kids have a shared goal and a community grows.

In open pedagogy networks provide access to knowledge, offer pathways to leadership, but most importantly inspire the creativity that leads to art of experience. Together we paint a mural of community. In defining networked learning as part of his e-learning 3.0 class Stephen Downes notes how John Dewey's notion of experience relies on both "continuity and interaction." In open pedagogy the stronger a network the more continuous interactions gets reinforced which in turns invites more people into the community.

Those big red blocks from preschool explain the spaces of open pedagogy. First by providing building blocks anyone can join in the fun. Teachers know they must carve out time where people just hack on designs together. At the same time we focus on democracy by design. Communities like preschoolers need guidance. Yet when the shared goals of a network become the teacher allow creativity and knowledge truly flow as build castles and kingdoms of code and content.

Now that you have a blog you can begin to use the building blocks of the web to start making your space for open pedagogy. This begins with a return to your why. Your tribe will have the same why and together you shape the places for learning online.

Privilege, Power, and Prejudice

We must note that we will describe how many educators find value on both the open web and also silos of social media. Yet we come at our understanding as privileged white males. We have never faced rape or death threats online for the most mundane of posts. While social media may provide a safer space for women and people of color it still may often reflect the ugliness of humanity. Audrey Watters, for example, has detailed the harrassment and threats of sexualized violence she recieved being critical of edtech players. This would not happen to us. In fact recent studies show female journalist get attacked every ten seconds on Twitter

Your safety and well-being come first. We will discuss social media silos as scaffolds on to the open web but many of you may choose not to join a network or any online community. Good. Set your goals, know your why and build out your space online. You must feel safe. When looking at online spaces you would like to help shape and make ask yourself, “Do they have a code of conduct that protects all users? Does the space explicitly design for Diversity and Inclusion? Do they account for neurodiversity? If the space exists both digitally and physically do they have a photo policy? Bathroom policy? Calm and off the record spaces for those who self-identify as introverts?

Communities, Networks, and Spaces

Communities and Networks

Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trayner, and Maarten de Laat make an important distinction between communities and networks. Communities represent shared identities, a collective intention. Networks bring members together with tools for learning, knowledge building, and connecting. In most learnign spaces the co-mingle:

A community usually involves a network of relationships. And many networks exist because participants are all committed to some kind of joint enterprise or domain, even if not expressed in collective terms.Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework

In open pedagogy one could never make the distinction between community, networks, and curriculum. They flow together around a set of shared values. In Lave and Wegner's community o practice model, these practices which include common tools and story help to build the shared identity. You see this in open pedagogy play out with inside jokes, openly licensed images, and hashtags.

James Paul Gee attempted to dilineate from Lave and Wegner's model to account for the information networks that emereged and began to augment the human networks we had built over the last few millenia. Gee tried to make a focus omn the interaction rather than labeling people by group or traditional geographic boundaries. In our analysis of case studies we used Gee's affinity spaces in our analysis. As educators though you will encounter communities and nrtworks being refered to as a personal learning network (PLN).

What is a PLN?

As an educator reading this book you have heard the acronym PLN. It flows through the alphabet soup of edtech. Some say personal, some professional, and others stress personalized. In many ways teaches have coalesced around this term to describe the learning spaces the make online.

A professional learning network is not considered a community in the sense that an individual may not know everyone they choose to include in their network. Further, a PLN would cut across different communities. It may include different networks. For example, a community of science teachers could have networks that cut across Twitter and facebook but a new teacher starts to create their network only on one of the platforms. Yet all definitions of Personal Learning Networks have stressed the importance of building networks of blogs usually through RSS.

The term personal learning network is often attributed to Dan Tobin in an article he wrote on 1998 (syndicated copy. While doing some research Clint Linodeengaged Dr. Tobin in an email exchange:

What I was referring to was my informal network of colleagues and professional acquaintances to whom I could turn if I needed information, i.e., people who could help me learn whatever it was that I was seeking. I still have a large personal learning network and am part of many other people’s PLNs as well, although none of us use that term.Personal correspondence between Dan Tobin and Clint Linode

The first noted use of the acronym PLN and referring more to networks in terms of technology came from Dori Digenti:

As technology and change gain momentum, no professionals can claim enough mental bandwidth to maintain learning in all the necessary endeavors they are engaged in. An organization can sustain its collaborative learning only by building interdependence among members. This is where the personal learning network (PLN), born of series of learning collaborations, can be a valuable tool for enhancing and building interdependence

The PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. The currency of the PLN is learning in the form of feedback, insights, documentation, new contacts, or new business opportunities. It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other.

Collaborative Learning: A Core Capability for Organizations in the New Economy

Then educators discovered Twitter, Blogger, and Google Reader. The large driver of the PLN concept came with the launch of the #edchat hashtag. The hashtag began in 2009 and launched a network of teachers and bloggers.

In July 2009, Thomas Whitby, an adjunct professor, was having many discussions with educators worldwide about the state of education and how to transform it. He realized the potential of many more being added to the discussion so he dmed Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) with this idea. Shelly Terrell suggested there should be a hashtag and together they decided on a weekly conversation with the hashtag #Edchat. Tom Whitby suggested they add Steven Anderson, (@Web20classroom), to the collaboration since he was an education technology guru. Steven Anderson suggested the weekly poll so that topics would be a community vote and that poll system is still in use toay.


For many educators Twitter chats represent their first onboarding into what open pedagogy looks and feels like. They learn to build networks of blogs. Curate knowledge and collect followers.

Alec Couros suggests six steps to building a PLN:

  1. Immerse Yourself-Get a blog, get involved in wikis and bookmarking
  2. Learn to Read Social Media-Use tools to aggregate blogs
  3. Strengthen your PLN-Find human connection
  4. Know your connections-There is power here. Use it. Give back.
  5. Networks=Learning-Your goals should drive your activity

Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning

In 2010 the face to face components of edcamps stregthened the networks and also spread the concept of PLN to other educators. EdCamps, which educators in Philadelphia modeled after barcamps have occured over 1,500 times in 35 countries. The edcamp and Twitter educational circles often overlap. . #edchat In 2010 the concept of PLN combined with on the ground events at EdCamps.

In line with survey findings, interview results revealed that teacher collaboration increased following Edcamp participation, particularly collaboration facilitated through technology among members of a professional learning network (PLN). Participants reported using Twitter, Voxer, and Schoology to maintain communication and enable ongoing collaboration following an Edcamp.Educators’ perspectives on the impact of Edcamp unconference professional learning

Though many have noted a lack of perspectives in the edutwitter/PLN/edcamp community. Most notably Rafranz Davis has called out the edtech community for always relying on the same white male bloggers for keynote speakers:

Last year at ISTE, Ruha Benjamin gave a stellar keynote that according to my sources, made a few people uncomfortable. I wasn’t even there but I heard about it all the way in Canada. It’s like people walked away in their feelings and said…”bump this, I’m gonna just ignore all this diversity nonsense and spin the wheel of white tech blogger/speaker folks instead”…because priorities.

Angela Maers speaks “You matter” so loud that people believe it…unless you are us. We know that our voices don’t. Imagine living in a reality where you know that your voice literally doesn’t matter.

Rafranz Davis, Edtech Still Doesn’t Get Diversity and We’re Tired

Many also question the commodification of PLNs and the branding of communities that has occurred. A successful industry has emerged around communities of teachers labeling themselves pirates and rock stars. An entrepreneurial performative nature also permeates the design of many edtech teacher pages (which may also beg us to ask why do so many teachers need a side hustle?) and syndication practices. Yet a large swath, and even swashbuckling or axe carrying educators engage in open pedagogy.

No matter what you call the spaces where you gather with those who have shared goals just remember community is the curriculum. In fact as you start your open pedagogy journal we want you to conisder not the metaphor of community or networks but of making spaces. We need to cultivate both the cmmunity and help to sustain the networks that drive our shared purpose.

We also believe the most effective spaces for open pedagogy combine on the ground events with online events and networks. These spaces have strong local influencers but no real central leadership. Minimal to no time gets spent on government. Yet as you grow out from your own websites and find spaces that share your why you why we hope you find our process helpful

Four Steps to Making Spaces

Educators have so many issues they must address that often finding time to hang out online with people you have never met can feel daunting. When you started a website and blog you put yourself on to the web but now we ask you to conenct with others through open pedagogy. Baically we asked you to post and now we ask you to post and share this conent with other educators addressing the same issues you face. To this end we created an easy four step plan to shaping your open pedagogy spaces

Follow Ideas Not People

No conversation with teachers should start with, "How many followers do you have?" Instead ask about passion, art, and authors. Inquire about pedagogical techniques not peddlining people. Yet the idea of a branded teacher amassing thousands of followers and high paying speaking gigs permeates the darkside of the PLN. Self proclaimed rockstars and pirates hock swag everywhere. Edtech teachers launching their website copy this design and everyone seems to want to sell a name rather than celebrate learning.

You will probably begin to find communities and form networks on Twitter. While the space has drawbacks, and women and minorities need to consider their safety, it still represents the widest network of educators, journalists, academics, and developers. Do not look at your followers. Do not look envious or in awe at the follower counts of others. In educational communties a follow on Twitter represents a hello or a "tip of the hat" (h/t in Twitter shorthand. You really follow hashtags.

Screeshot of Greg's (jgmac1106) Tweetdeck. You can find a list of hashtags he follows on his website

Choose the ideas that align to your why. A community exist for almost every educator. While many of the chats may not be active you can find a list of commonly uised hash tags on this Google Site maintained by some great folks. We also curate a a list of recommended chats. As you explore Twitter chats we ask you to go deeper than the weekly conversations. Blog about the topic before and after and share resources.

Most Twitter chats follow a Q and A session. Meaning during each chat, which has a scheduled time fo usually an hour, will post a Tweet with a Q1,Q2, Q3, etc. Particpants chime back with a A1, A2, A3, respectively altough many, including us, shy away from this format and may riff on one question or thought. The chats need to have more community and less broadcasting. Make sure to reply to others and if you find someone who shares you why then think about following them, but soon you will have over a hundred followers making the concept of a timeline useless. Find ideas and spread joy.


While it makes sense to begin to shape your network using social media we hope you begin to use your website to craft a way to connect to your communities that do not rely on companies that prey on your privacy for profits. In fact we never require any participant in our open pedagogy classes to sign up for social media. We have no right to say you must let others sell your data.

For an example of a following page check out Chris Aldrich's at his following page or Jim Groom's blogroll on his homepage

We will discuss the tools for making your website your own social network but it begins by creating feeds. You follow blogs like you would someone on facebook (truthfully you follow people on facebook like you used to on blogs). You may also want to add a following page or a blogroll to your website. These allow other people to see who you have in your network.

Contribute Knowledge

As you make a space for knowledge make sure to contribute to the communities in your PLN. We are talking learnig here and growth of our students drives what we do. You need to model this type of cognitive work from your own website. As we noted the learn something/teach something approach provides you enough opportunity for reflection that the preseence of your posts feeds a community but many spaces have tools across their networks to document and extend knowledge.

Many communities create networks of knwoledge using sets of shared tools. #DS106 has a massive assignment bank where folks can contribute learning activities. These get added to a database for others and are also served up as the #DailyCreate. The #IndieWeb community, for example has a massive wiki rull of articles. In their chatrooms the bot called Loqi can point users to these articles. Any fandomm community, a place where hardcore fans gathers usually has a wiki a well.

The tools don't really matter. Just develop systems in our spaces to augment the external storage and access of community knowledge. You can do all of this from yoru own website by making static pages on topics. You have specific knowledge and experience share it with the world. This may even be as simple as TV shows you watch like Tantek Çelik. It all dpeneds on the knowledge your spaces for open pedagogy value.

Everyone likes bookmarks. In fact many open pedagogy advocates engage in a practice of social bookmarking as a way to curate and augment the knowledge within communities. Terry Elliot, like many Open Pedagogy advocates use Diigo while others have started to use the open annotation tool Hypothesis as tool to share bookmarks socially.

Numerous commercial tools exist for social bookmarkin. Mozilla recently purchased Pocket. If you use the browswer firfox and have a Pocket account yuo can easily sen webpages, sippets, secreenshotds, etc to Pocket. This also allows you to read articles offline. Other companies like Evernote, Google Keep, etc can be used to collect bookmarks.

We both use our own websites to share bookmarks. We find a site others in the community may find of interest and add hashtags used within our networks. It also helps to create a list of common hashtags you use for bookmarks on your site. As a space for learning you want to contribute to the library we build together.

For examples of bookmarking to build knowledge in open pedagogy checkout Ian's breadcrumb site or Greg's bookmarks.

Have Fun

Most importantly as you begin to make spaces for open pedqgogy find joy. As teachers we have the best job because someone pays us to learn for the rest of your life. You need to have fun with this model of instructional design for it to be successful with your students. If you find yourself too stressed or overwhelemed by the tools, stop and take a breath. As your communities and networks. We want to help, and if open pedagogy does not bring you joy in teaching try other instructional tools.

Tools for Space Building

While launching a website or blog delivers all the conenctivty you need for open pedagogy many users add additional tools. These provide layers of connectivity as you make space for your shared learning.


Every blog has native comments, but too often these go unused or just provide an attack vector for spam. As we discussed in earlier chapters a new W3c standard called webmentions updates how we used to think of replying to a blog. Now when using webmentions if a student in your class wants to enage with your content they can publish a reply on their website. This in turn shows up as a comment on your website.

Post Types

You can also rely on post types as another tool to increase the efficacy of the spaces you design for open pedagogy. This just means a special kind of blog post that indicates the category of topics. Most websites that support post types use that special kind of markup we have talked about called microformats. This allows all the sites to easily talk back and forth. Basically microformats are the telephone line and webmentions the voicemail.

This means you can publish and sort your content by articles, notes, rep,ies, photos, likes, read, watch, and listen. Using post types to allow greater connection across your networks improves your commmunities and thus the space you have designed. This has great utility in the open pedagogy classroom. You can build in social practices of publishing a watch post after the introductory video to a module, a listen post for recommended content, and read posts including posts. You can put partcipants in charge of curating content and have them post podcasts, articles, websites

This also creates powerful dashboards for people who design open pedagogy spaces for learning

Feed Readers

On the Ground

Most educational conferences, even those sponsored by our professional organizations (especially those), provide too little value for too high of a cost. They no longer serrve learning but these behemoths now exist to fill the coffers of the people running the conference. They can not openly license content due to addicition to currency. This creates a scarcity model for learning where knowledge gets withheld from the public to increase tixket sales and push more books.

The best open pedagogy spaces shun these practices. We need to build the commons on an economic model of shared responsibility and not false scarcity. Trust me, no shortage of content of knowledge exist at any level of education. So let's work together and build a better world.

In all three case studies we chose from the book (besides being involved in each which makes reseearch easier and more impactful) all have strong on the ground components. Many wonderful commuinities exist online. Yet these spaces do not often rely on a distributed model and require people to visit a facebook group or discussion board. When open pedagogy spaces rely on a distributed classroom model than those spaces who also have networked events on the ground survive longer and serve learners better.


making_spaces.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/29 13:36 (external edit)