Something has been bothering me the last few days. I have been working on two difficult papers, but aside from that, it’s something more serious. I have been reading a lot about Aaron Swartz. If you haven’t heard about him or the case against him, read up on it here and here.

I have to admit, the tragic news of last week was the first time I had heard of him. I guess the closest I came to his activities was when early last year, I heard about the petition against the SOPA act. But this week, I realised, again, why it is important, not only for me but for all of us. I guess what struck me the most was how prominent this news was on the Internet, but how little the broadcast media were talking about it. Indeed, a confessing Lance Armstrong seems to be more interesting.

These are the reasons why I think we should care a lot about this case:

1. Knowledge is about sharing

We all know that our society is built on knowledge. And we need more knowledge. We hear it everywhere: “we live in a knowledge society”, “we need to innovate”, “companies fail because they don’t change to their new environments”, etc. But what many of us still do not seem to understand is that knowledge and knowledge creation is about sharing. We invest so much private and public money on innovation and creation of knowledge, but we really do not seem to understand the basics of it. No knowledge is ever created in a small room by a lonely person. When a person is reading, she’s communicating: with the person who has written the text.

So, it’s quite simple: if we stop sharing, we stop knowledge creation. Unless all of us understand this, live this, and make the people who govern us understand, I don’t think we will grow in a way that matters.

2. The Internet is a wonderful instrument, and we should keep it that way

As a society, we have invented the Internet and made it grow. The reason the Internet has been so successful, in my opinion, is because of one thing: the sole value it has been built around is connecting – making communication possible. It’s the ultimate instrument for sharing! Just bring it back to the basics: the Internet allows me to connect, communicate and share things with anyone over the whole world. How cool is that! It’s an instrument that has grown out of its own needs, it has created its own norms (not rules, but norms) and always around that central value of connecting.

And we have all seen what connecting and sharing can do. It allows good things to happen, and, unfortunately, bad things too. We are human, and we remain human, even when we communicate over the Internet. But does that mean, we should stop communicating – stop sharing? I think no. 

I’m not saying here that people who use the Internet to do bad things should not be stopped by the law makers we have instated. I’m saying that this law should not make good sharing impossible.

3. We all have a stake in this

As a researcher, I sometimes feel that this is somehow more important for me, and that’s why I care so much about this.  After all, I spend a lot of effort and time mulling over ideas and articulating them to express them in the best way possible. Those articles don’t write themselves. And when I share these ideas, I naturally want some recognition for them too.

But I realised very quickly that this goes far beyond just research or academics. Knowledge creation is at the heart of many professions and many people   spend time and effort on it, and should get recognition for their work. And even outside work, we create all the time, by expressing opinions, by taking photos, making videos, etc. The question is, if curbing or stopping sharing is a solution to guarantee recognition. Again, I think no. 

What I have learnt very well during my research experience so far, is that sharing an idea makes the idea grow and it makes you grow. But I have also learnt that sharing is not all-or-nothing. It’s much more nuanced than that. It depends on what you share, how you share, who you share with, etc. I think this is where we all need to become more thoughtful about sharing. Irrespective of your personal opinion about if and how sharing should be be managed (how open sharing should be), we should all be conscious in our sharing.

Think about what you share, why you share it with others, how you share it with others and what recognition you as the author want for what you share. Demand that others are clear in these issues too.

We have to become “conscious sharers“. I, for one, admit that I often fall short – but I want to change…

Because there are many who believe this is just too hard. It involves changing human behaviour, and therefore, it is always going to be easier to prevent it from happening in the first place – just make laws that shop sharing in the first place.

That is the easy way out, but it comes at a big cost – losing our Internet, and our freedom to share. Try explaining that to the kids.


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Participate in a experiment on Personal Knowledge Management!

Are you a Bachelors, Masters or Doctoral student starting your studies soon? Or have you just started your programme in the last month? Then, this is for you!

As a student, one of the biggest challenges is to manage all the information and knowledge that you collect: on the domain that you are studying, but also on how things work at your college or university, what other people are working on and how you can learn from them.

I am doing a little experiment on how students manage all this information in the first month of joining a new study program. If you are interested in joining in in this experiment, please fill out the form below. It takes about 5 minutes to fill in.

What you would be expected to do during ONE WEEK IN SEPTEMBER 2012 is:

  • fill in a 10-min survey at the beginning of the week
  • do a DAILY 5-min reflective writing activity
  • fill in a 10-min survey at the end of the week

Please sign up by the 31st of August 16.00 CET  5th of September (extended deadline)! Once you sign up, I will contact you with more details about the study on the evening of 31st August (or evening of the 5th of September).

All information submitted for this experiment will handled confidentially by myself. It will not be shared with any third parties. If you have any further questions about the experiment, please contact me on

Thank you for your participation!!!!

If you prefer to go directly to the live form, here is the link.

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Connect The Dots! Pilot

After much sweat (and nearly some tears), the Connect The Dots! tool is finally online! And I already have a place to pilot it, in preparation of the upcoming Networked Learning Conference. I shouldn’t forget to thank all the people who helped me out at the last minute (you know who you are 🙂 )

If you’re interested in joining in, the call is just below, and it includes all the instructions to join in.


As the Networked Learning Conference is fast approaching, we thought this would be the ideal time to study networked learning in practice.

Join Connect The Dots!
A conference is an exciting moment in any research calendar and usually offers lots of opportunities for interaction and reflection. However, it can be a challenge to grasp and keep track of the different perspectives, views and ideas that come up during such an event. If this sounds familiar to you, then this is for you!
We have developed a new tool called Connect The Dots! to support you in gaining more from such events. We are piloting it over the next two weeks and are looking for volunteers to experiment with it. Interested?
We are looking for anyone who is interested in keeping better track of how their ideas and thoughts develop during their participation in the Networked Learning Conference 2012. We will start on Friday 23rd of March and continue till the 6th of April 2012 (Friday after the NLC 2012).

What will you be expected to do?
Every day, you will spend about 10 minutes a day recording and reflecting on what you have done that day: the people you have talked to, the conversations you have had, the presentations you have heard, the things you have read…. anything. For these reflections, you will use the Connect The Dots! tool.
Although this activity is not restricted to any domain, we would like to understand how your understanding of a domain develops. For this reason, we have chosen to focus on one shared topic (the topic of the last NLC2012 Hotseat: online learner identity) and one individual topic (e.g. your own research interests or own practice). There will be a questionnaire asking you about these when you sign up and one questionnaire after the activities, on Friday, the 6th of April.

How to sign up
Here’s how you can join in: Sign up today by filling in this questionnaire and following the instructions at the end of it.

Link to the questionnaire:
Here are the instructions for signing up to the Connect The Dots! Pilot.


As you see, everyone’s welcome to join in! So please spread the word!

If you want to use the tool as part of your own networked learning, on other topics or other events, you are absolutely welcome to. Just get in touch whatever your plans are. Hope to hear from you soon!

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A case for formal education

The last few days many people have been discussing and debating Donald Clark‘s keynote at the Media and Learning Conference last week. Today, he has followed up this keynote with a more elaborated blogpost entitled “21st Century Skills are so last century!”. I have been thinking about his message quite a lot and I do agree with some of his points on formal education.

The thing is: formal education is not only about learning skills. And, reducing formal education to the development of particular skills in learners is restricting formal education quite a lot. He argues that we need fundamental change in the established formal educational system (schools, universities, etc.). But what is this change about? And how should it take shape? It is not only about bringing technology to the classroom.

This past year we have seen a lot of social changes which are partly due to the increased access to communication tools (such as social media). But does this necessarily tell us that we no longer need formal education? Are the people on Tahrir Square in Cairo only there because they had access to and know how to use Facebook?

In my opinion, learning skills is just part of what you do at school. Apart from these, formal education, as it is organised now, encourages:

  • group identification (through classroom / group structure)
  • building of personal social network
  • self discovery
  • organised time and space for self-reflection
  • time and space to build self confidence
  • safe space with a trusted person to make mistakes, get guidance and improve
  • self-discipline: following set rules and guidelines
  • entrepreneurship (or breaking the rules and guidelines if you like 🙂 )
  • ……

These aspects of formal education are often underestimated in our educational research world. However, I think most people who join formal education, as a learner or as a teacher, join for these reasons, and not necessarily to learn/teach skills alone. Formal education is much more than learning skills to function in society, and being accredited for these skills. Those skills are necessary, the accreditation is necessary but they cannot be the only reason you enter school.

I think for this reason, formal education still holds a very important, even essential, place in society, as it always did. And the role of the teachers becomes even more important. They may not be the ones who show you how to use the tools you have at your disposal, but they are the people who will give context to what you see, read, and make. They will make you understand.

Can we really minimise the role of the thousands and thousands of teachers and role models who inspired people in the Middle East to come on to the streets and stand up for what they believe in?

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Some thoughts on PLE_SOU

The past few days have been very interesting. I attended the PLE conference at Southampton (#PLE_SOU) and really had some nice conversations and met some very interesting people.

On Monday I took part in the Workshop on Awareness and Reflection (#arple11) organised by Wolfgang Reinhardt (@wollepb) and Thomas Ullmann (@thomasullmann). The workshop had a simple format, in which we were asked to come up with research topics and challenges for this field of awareness and reflection. One debate that emerged from this workshop was about the role of engaging with different types of media in the process of reflection. This really set me thinking, and I am planning a separate post to explore this in more detail.

My further discussions during the week were very much influenced by this debate. Especially, the role of textual expressions as indications of (digital) identity are relevant for my research work, as I hope to use natural language processing techniques to support learning.

To what extent can and do texts represent my identity and thinking? What role do other types of media play in building my digital identity? And does an automated analysis of snippets of text not just abstract further away from the content of the message in these media?

Other conversations with Peps McCrea (@pepsmccrea), Matt Jenner (@mattjenner)and Mónica Aresta (@maresta) triggered me on thinking about the role of the teacher in this networked way of learning. What is the role of the teacher here? Is it someone who brings in new content to learners, or someone who teaches them how to use tools, or someone who is a role model in this type of learning? Or someone who does all of this and more? And how are these roles translated into a lifelong learning context? Who are my teachers?

What I really learnt at #PLE_SOU is how passionate teachers are about their teaching. These are really amazing people, who are very aware of their responsibilities towards their students and they want to be the best they can be.

And this makes me think: if I am designing technology to help these passionate people, don’t I have a responsibility towards them too? And towards their students? And to all those sophisticated and inexperienced learners who are taking their own learning decisions?

Especially when designing technologies supporting awareness, be it of learners’ personal networks, or some interpretation of learner behaviour or group behaviour such as the ones presented in the #ARPLE11 workshop (see firehouse presentations of papers of the workshop). These technologies can offer learners different (augmented) perspectives on data from their learning activities. The filters and methods that I (and other ed-tech designers) build into this type of technology will affect the view teachers and learners have on their own learning and that of others.  This will consequently affect their learning decisions.

Hmmm….. My question to teachers and learners would then be: What kind of augmented views do you need? What kind of augmented views make sense? And what kind of training would you need to use them?


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