The lid is popped off: Behind the scenes of the open section of #msloc430

The idea of designing an open section of #msloc430 began with a blog post a few months ago during working-out-loud week.

The official launch of activities began on Sunday, Jan. 25 with the Week 1: Exploring technology, networks and community in the service of learning blog post at the site that serves as the organizing center for the course.

I’ll use this space to share design thinking and reflect on whatever surprises arise as we walk through six weeks of exploring innovations in networked learning and work.

Let me start with the course design.

When I began this idea, my intention was to take “open” as literally as possible. Open means open. Including being open about the course design.

But an open course that runs parallel to, and is integrated with, a “traditional” on-site course creates constraints in design. And I am just beginning to appreciate the nuance of trying to navigate through those constraints.

You can see the design document for the open section – a work that is still in progress. Any participant can see it (which is the point). And I have been fortunate to have a few really smart folks volunteering to lend their design thinking and resources to planning  how the six weeks might progress (Maureen Crawford, Ess Garland, Bruno Winck, Helen Blunden and more).

What I am struggling with is: Did I create too much structure, too many constraints in the original design document to make it truly participatory?

In part I can blame this on time. I started this venture too late to really engage collaborators in thinking through some key design choices (for example – which topics might we attempt to cover? what period of time? do we pose a “problem” to be solved?).

I had a class-start deadline to meet so had to get into some detail on how I saw the “open” section working in parallel to my traditional class.

But it is one of the tensions that I find interesting: How do you, as an open course designer, share enough of a structure to invite thoughtful collaboration while at the same time meeting the constraints of whatever institutional role you must play?

I cut a path by defining topics; setting course pacing (“we’ll cover topics in two-week segments”); articulating the big questions (how do we innovate by first understanding models of networked work and learning?); and establishing key points of convergence (a shared Google document template into which learners co-create content that defines key lessons learned). This allowed me to match the pacing and topics of the open section to the pacing and topics of my on-site course.

I think it is a good structure. A design that incorporates a good bit of white space to allow the community to find its own pace and direction.

But I think there could be improvements in how the architecture of the design is first defined. A more participatory process. Much like a charrette in architecture. Or an open design process such as Open IDEO.

photo credit: Erik R. Bishoff via photopin cc


  1. Jeff,

    Your post made me think of Picasso and the appeal ceramics had for him!

    Picasso’s fascination with ceramics was based on his exploration of negative space, i.e. the forms created by the edges and surfaces of what exists with what is open and is not considered to exist in the material world. Negative space is a key consideration in art, architecture and design. Negative space is created by relationship, it is not simply a void. A pitcher is useless without a cavity, but the cavity does not exist without the form that contains it.

    You indicate that time was one of your constraints which forced you to create some definition of the open space for MSLOC430. In the comments I have read from several people time was a major constraint for many if not most participants, myself included. As you designed you were sculpting time, not only your time but also our time. You understandably question whether this detracts from the value of the “openness”. Let me assure you that in my case it added to the value!

    If you had offered me an open universe, I would not have come. Instead you offered me a container that I trusted. You offered something for me to push off from and you carefully and caringly ensured that the space within the container was open. I mentioned about the four flows of process in a comment I wrote on Karen Jeanette’s blog that I think will help explain what I am trying to articulate here. I am coming to the conclusion that designers of open gatherings have an obligation to ensure that the operation and information flows are meticulously delineated AND that the energetic and awareness flows are open and welcoming.

    Your care and skill in designing the operation and information flows of open gatherings has been both incredibly instructive and inspiring. The way in which you issue the invitation and host the gathering in a model for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “A container that I trusted” = That’s a really great phrase. And thank you for all the kind words. Honestly (and you know this well, too) – we’re all really building off of the good work of others. I can name dozens of people (you included) whose insights are embedded in the design of #msloc430 open. I’m just lucky enough to have the professional space to be able to pull things like this together.

      But back to the “container that I trusted.” I wonder – for those of us who have engaged in a few really-good open courses: Could we sense that “trust” in a design, from someone who we did not know?

      Here’s what I mean. I loved the design of Connected Courses. Didn’t the time to fully participate. But it was a great design. Yet – in part, the appeal to me was that I knew of many of the people behind that effort. Clearly I trusted their competence and expertise, and knew their design sensibilities were top-of-the-game.

      I suspect, though, that I might now be able to scan through a course taught by people that I don’t know and get a sense that they “get it.” They know how to design a good open course. Is that the kind of trust we’re talking about? And…what clues are we picking up?

      Oooosh. Thanks for the nudge to go down THAT rabbit hole. 🙂


  2. Jeff and Maureen, you both bring up some VERY good thoughts, ideas and questions about all this. I especially like the summation of “container, trust, open, design, portal”. And the metaphore/story of Picasso. This whole experience is a work of art from my perspective. In this case, the artwork is an orchestra conductor (Jeff) who is “orchestrating” all of this to compose that final work of art. Similar to IDEO, and like many of the open source music collaboration efforts, I see this unfolding.

    To the question of the balance between too much structure and the constraints involved, I believe it depends on the preferences of the individual. Some appreciate knowing what the “edges of the box” are so they can work within it. Other like know the edges so they can “step outside” of it. And still some appreciate knowing the edges so they can “turn and rotate the box” and look at it differnently from a different perspective. The beauty of all of this is seeing the various perspectives, and the ideas generated, unfolding, and building upon, evolve into that final “product”.

    We all have the opportuity to leverage our strengths throughout the process. I’ve seen some very creative results from from very little guidance. I’ve also seen a great deal of stress from the same. The “container/box” can be viewed from many perspectives where our minds take us. The “trust” is determined by personal preferences, filters, and experiences now and in our past. “Open” is the invitation to all of us, via our networks, communications, sharing, and more. And is relative to how each of us define open is how deeply we venture through the “portal” to ultimately “design” whatever we come up with. I’ve encountered great drawings, stories, etc., that begin with one person and evolve into something that just “feels” right when others add to it.

    This is probably a long answer to your questions, Jeff. But we are all individuals with individual needs, approaches, thoughts, and so on. And with this many creative, involved individuals, we will do what we can, must, enjoy, and need to do to meet our goal. Thank you, Jeff, for providing the opportunity and all that comes with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m just loving all the new phrases that are coming out of this discussion…”And still some appreciate knowing the edges so they can ‘turn and rotate the box’ and look at it differnently from a different perspective.”…love that “turn and rotate the box.” That IS exactly the point.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful response and input here. My head is abuzz.


  3. Hello Maureen, Jeff and Jen. This is one of the things I really enjoyed about xplrpln – as I do here: this meta reflection on the course design…and this time, reflecting on the course design as we are actually in it and evolving it (rather than post-experience). I love the openness of it this time around – the co-creating and co-designing right from the outset (…even though I haven’t yet made a tangible contribution to the design doc…but just having an open design doc creates this feel of a more open and participatory experience). I think this changes the dynamic between the instructor (you, Jeff) and participants (us) > it breaks down some of the power dynamic that is inherent in any teacher-student relationship. Through rhizo14 I learnt that this power dynamic exists no matter how ‘open’, structureless and participatory the course design is.

    As to structure – well I concur to the points made above; that providing some level of structure can help cater to the range of participants that might end up here; to provide some scaffolding and a starting point for those unfamiliar with open, connected courses and/or the topics. I think it’s significant though that the structure you have provided is optional, rather than imposed / mandatory. This lowers the barriers for those who are more comfortable with an open course format and/or have some prior knowledge of the topics to participate. For example, I may not necessarily have time to review all (or any, some weeks) of the suggested readings, however, I know that this is not necessarily a barrier to me participating – as I can still contribute to discussions, read and comment on other participant’s blog posts, follow the hashtag, tweet, retweet or reply. These are all still valid and meaningful ways to participate.

    The other thought that I keep coming to as I read the post and your comments around a ‘container of trust’ is that it’s not *just* having a trusted instructor or the course designer that attracts me to an open online learning experience – it’s also – often- the other participants. How I hear about experiences in the first place is often via my PLN. And what motivates me to actively participate is often the participation and involvement of members of my PLN. I come to have conversations with THEM – as much as with the course instructor / designer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another interesting take…So: The trust I put in my PLN also helps lead me to other “events” where I might interact/learn with them. Totally agree. I find myself doing the same.


  4. Interesting that “charrette” made its way into English once again. In IT, we use “scrum” and “sprint” both taken from Rugby. Same idea of being boxed in a time limit. People here are playing Rugby. Only 400 inhabitants but 3rd division team. My neighbours were surprised that I became interested in the game and even more when I told them it was for my work.

    Back to this question “How do you, .., share enough of a structure to invite thoughtful collaboration …”. In software projects we start with modularity in mind very early. That was one of the difficulties I faced (noticed it also in another L&D initiated community namely xAPI). So at the very start someone entitled with the role of architect lay a vision of where the course will happen. This is to be taken very conceptually. So when you organized your first design documents we had already a syllabus, a time frame and a reading list. It would have helped me to have them modularized in different documents and different threads. Like this knowing how much effort I can place I could concentrate on one only. Following a MOOC like this will often be done during breaks small chunks by small chunks. The ability to return quickly to a given point and see what changed is critical to be able to restore the context. The architect doesn’t do much more, just organize the space with hand drawn walls. Such walls are permeable and can be redesigned even as the project is transported on the charrette for delivery.

    I see some connections with the others comments:

    Exactly like the pitcher, such divisions are open containers. They form a shape with an inside, an outside more or less consensual since there is no lid. Those who prefer to operate outside of the box will see such divisions as landmarks you can cross anytime, others who prefer to work in a limited space will like to focus on one document only and ignore how the others are progressing.

    Since we work around online shared and editable documents the web is no more a static place. It must be understood as a network of dynamic, changing elements (comments, blogs, comments, g+, notifications). So in “the four flows of facilitation” mentionned by Maureen it has one foot in 1 and another still in 2. Again divisions are for sake of formalism but should be transgressed anytime. Let’s follow Picasso’s inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bruno – I am going to have to come back to this…but your comment about “modularizing” is really interesting. It got me thinking about – well, re-thinking – the design & planning document for a “course” like #msloc430 open.



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