Connected Courses

Preamble:  Connected Courses ran in 2014 (when I was still working for Coventry University) at the Digital Media Lab UC Irvine and lots of my thinking is continuing to inform current projects, particularly around privacy, trust and this idea of vulnerability. In particular following Audrey Watters’ contribution to the and her idea that trust and vulnerability are core components of the learning “transaction”.  This seems fine as consenting adults, but she asked if we allow our children the same autonomy to choose to be vulnerable or is it a pre-requisite for participation?  Compound this with the digital learning experience and I realise now that I never earned or deserved the trust I was demanding. I still don’t know what the obfuscated feedback loop of learning and living with the digital will mean for my students, my children or for me and this is where my thinking is at. The best I can do for now is front-end all my classes with this caveat and position myself as a co-learner who must learn in and of the digital together. ( Feb 2015)


Mike Wesch gave a great opening talk for the Connected Courses workshop and in that he asked us to think about our “Why?” , why we teach. This kind of framed the thinking for the design of the course from there on in and it made me re-write my talk completely. In fact the reason I am look more than a little disheveled is because I didn’t finish this until 3am that morning. Anyway, its my “Why?” and I’m grateful to Mike for pushing us out there.



Unit 2: Trust and Network Fluency Preparatory session.


Although we often think of trust, privacy/anonymity and security in concert, perhaps even as synonymous, they’re each discreet concepts. Even a cast iron guarantee of one doesn’t mean we can rely unequivocally on any of the others.

In thinking about networks and network fluency for our connected course we will be assuming that we cannot guarantee technological security (there is a whole, forever out-of- date course in that subject alone) and we will be transparent about this at the outset. We will instead seek to build our networks with the security and trust afforded by being consistent and so to some degree predictable.

Networks and societies as a whole cannot function without this omnipresent low-level trust and security. I have to trust other drivers to abide by traffic laws when I take my children to school. I have to trust that the teachers at their school will teach and care for them during the day. This enables me to go to work and specialise as a photography teacher of still other people’s kids. I trust that my employer will in turn pay me for doing so and if they don’t, then I have to trust that the law will serve to force them. This trust and predictability provides a degree of “security”. Without it I cannot drive as efficiently on the roads, my children must be home schooled and I cannot make time to specialise in teaching photography because I will be too busy farming behind secure walls. Lack of trust inhibits civic engagement.

 “Trust makes social life more predictable, it creates a sense of community and it makes it easier for people to work together.”

Barbara Misztal

At the DML conference in 2013 when I proudly presented on my open courses, Nishant Shah asked me at the end about his right as a fictional 16yr old “to be forgotten”. What followed was the dawning realisation that in breaking this new ground with the forty students in my class and the thousands at large online, we had trustingly packed our data like messages into bottles and cast them out into the sea, ignorant of where that data will wash up in the future and of the consequences.

I reflected on my own 16 year old self and how I am no longer held accountable for the questionable views I held in 1988, nor for my embarrassing actions. Apart from some school reports in my parent’s attic, that data just doesn’t exist.  RFID chips did not record the times I went to my high school library and universities didn’t analyse that data to assess my likelihood of completing their degree courses. No one was storing my correspondence or analysing its contents, I wrote letters that were sealed and postcards that said nothing. I didn’t have a mobile phone to triangulate my locations, movements, modes of travel, to record my conversations and map my relationships. My buying habits weren’t analysed by insurance companies and no prospective employer was able to drill into the soap opera of my social media profile for the backstory on my resume.

In technologically connected societies we habitually share this seemingly inconsequential data by default. We share our own, we share that of others by association and others share ours. Mobile devices, pacemakers, hearing aids, library books, store cards, twitter lists, Facebook friends and photographs all store and haemorrhage data that can be harvested, algorithmically cross referenced and interpreted. Data that is “of us”, by us, but not for us, which is bought and sold by data brokers (download a list of companies who you can reclaim your data from and opt out of), the sums of which are fed back to us via an obfuscated feedback loop.

A single forty year old female who stops buying birth control from her supermarket and who’s sister has a history of pre-eclampsia probably won’t draw a direct connection between her store card, Facebook friends and a denial of her mortgage application due to the statistical potential of a fall in income. Just as her partner may not connect their regular route to work or Instagram tagged images with the store offers they receive via Twitter or in the mail.

As each of these connections reveal themselves they breed a new low-level mistrust and threaten the distributed digital intimacies that the web might of afforded. The sister no longer shares the trauma of pre-eclampsia with her Facebook family. Disaggregated friends can’t learn of her experiences and support her with theirs. Support groups can’t form for fear of the consequences of some blurry algorithmic association and in that instant, our privacy and trust flips from being an asset into a threat.

With no established norms or protocols for dealing with “our” big inconsequential data, we’re just going to have to make this up as we go along. But as instructors and mentors in and of these digital spaces, if we don’t develop strategies and processes with our learners for mitigating possible consequences, then who will?



Audio only:

Ben interview transcript

Make #1 (prior to session) :

Watch/listen to the interview with “Ben” the Security-Specialist and then choose one of the following people to create a Threat and Risk Assessment Matrix (TRAM) for them prior to participation in your open and connected class. Look at each Risk as a product of Consequence, Likelihood, and Vulnerability, rated from negligible to critical. The aim then becomes to mitigate the risks to an acceptable level (e.g. you can have a risk that is very likely and you are very vulnerable to, but mitigated to minimal consequence; in contrast high consequences need the likelihood and vulnerability surface minimised). This is a BIG ask and a more appropriate “Make” for most of us will be to think this through and begin conversations with our students.

  • A non-dominant female participant living at home or abroad who’s local culture (societal or familial) denies her access to an education.
  • A student in your onsite class who, now released from their strict home-life is partying hard and publicly.
  • An academic researcher.

Feel free to adapt those examples or make alternatives HERE is a TRAM example made by Ben for CCourses, this is however a context specific exercise and everyone’s risks, likelihoods and vulnerabilities will be different.

Bonus Task :)

Using the concepts described by Ben,  locate where the interview took place.

Deeper-dive materials:

“Ars tests internet surveillance – by spying on an NPR reporter”
Malte Spitz “Your Phone Company is watching you”
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Information security CPJ
Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?
TOR Beginner’s Guide Guardian
NSA and GCHQ agents ‘leak Tor bugs’, alleges developer (good 6min overview)
Police adopt facial recognition for CCTV’s
Facebook facial recognition
Bruce Schneier
Julia Angwin

Background reading (to engage a youth audience, although I set this as prep for my undergraduates):

“Little Brother” Cory Doctorow
“Homeland” Cory Doctorow

Resources / Tools:

Privacy Tools by Julia Angwin
Security in a Box
Tactical Technology Collective
“How does the Internet Work?” flash-card download from
Threat Modelling and security planning by Jonathan Stray
TrueCrypt   (Discontinued 2014 – here are a list of alternatives)
Terms of Service I did not read (a browser plug-in)

Bonus task spoiler.


9/29-10/12 Unit 2: Trust and Network Fluency (Leveraging your “Why”)

Leveraging our “Why”

If you didn’t already you might want to back-up and at least look over the pre-req task because we’re about to conflate our public and private selves and for some of us that might mean, well, who knows what that might mean?


Network fluency in this case is about leveraging  the same networked, quantum and interest-driven learning reality that our students experience and bringing it to bear on our teaching. This session is a starting point, more pidgin than taxonomy, it’ll date quickly but hopefully the principals won’t.

Our network relationships are built on trust, both the low-level implicit kind that being consistent affords and the explicit personal endorsement kind. Just as in offline social environments we’ll tune-out the people who are inconsistent, or with dubious motivations. In class I’ll use a cafe/bar analogy: imagine you’re enjoying libation on Monday and someone walks in, introduces herself, is pleasant and then leaves. Tuesday she comes in, you go to say hello and she ignores you. Wednesday she says hello but Thursday she’s back to ignoring you. Friday comes around, you’re chatting with your old friend and she barges into your conversation only to start asking favours. Nobody wants to know that person onsite, and nobody likes them online either. Their inconsistency breeds mistrust.

If your all consuming interest is your subject matter then it’s going to be really easy to establish a picture of relevant sources to connect your teaching/class to. If like most of us, your interests are wide and varied then it provides an opportunity to fine-tune your unique approach to your subject and begin to leverage the power of interest driven teaching, but you have to be honest. You just can’t fake interests, nor can we switch them on and off like a faucet so the connections we build with other nerds (embrace your nerd-self) have to be real. They are relationships like any other that have to be nurtured, grown and attended to, if it feels like work then its not working. Chances are, there are no extrinsic rewards for this, we’re looking to draw on and exploit our intrinsic motivators (love your nerd).

This session makes use of the Open Educator Map and focusses on two moments: “Building a Fire-Exit” and “Tuning for reception”. Investigating how to build a fire-exit (or TRAM)  was the pre-requisite for the class.

We need to begin by thinking of our class as a hub, a waypoint in the networks where systems,disciplines and individuals converge – like a really good coffee house. For this coffee house we need both good coffee and a friendly environment, we also need to choose a location where the right people are likely to find us easily (making a home for the class on the map).

The OpenEducatorMap sketches out building a hub, then a platform and finally somewhere that people can build atop of and add value to, but for now we’re just making a good cuppa Joe. Or  “Tuning for reception”, which will serve as the foundation of our identity and our house blend, but before we get to that you’ll need a Twitter account.

Twitter  – the skinny c/o Kin Lane aka the API Evangelist

Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called tweets. Users may subscribe to other users’ tweets – this is known as following and subscribers are known as followers. Twitter has a website you can visit, or can be used via mobile applications for iPhone or Android devices. Twitter also has an Application Programming Interface (API), which developers, and even non-developers can use to build custom applications, and integrations—the API provides the ability to execute any feature available in the website, by making requests, and receiving responses from the Twitter API.


Twitter was started in 2006, simply as a website where you send and read the short 140-character Tweets, and follow other users. Then six months later Twitter launched their API, which allowed the community to build the desktop, web, and social data analysis tools we know today. In 2014, With a large international user base, and simple SMS like messaging format Twitter has become a force for change from breaking news to political upheaval around the globe.

Nuts & Bolts

As a public, social messaging platform, Twitter provides some basic features have become the base operating features of the platform, available to all users.
•    Users – Provides you with the ability to create account, with profile image, description, and your location.
•    Friends & Followers – Each Twitter user can follow, unfollow, and be friends with any user on Twitter.
•    Tweets – Gives you simple, short 140 character message window for publishing Tweets to timeline.
•    Timelines – Displays a full list of Tweets for all user accounts, providing user account, timestamp, and 140 character message.
•    Search – A keyword search, allowing you to find other users, as well as Tweets on specific topics and trends.
•    Direct Messages – In addition to a public timeline, Twitter provides private direct messaging between users.
•    Favorites – Each message can be favorited by users, allowing for sending of social signals around each Tweet.
•    Lists – In addition to following users, each user can build public and private lists which they can add other users to.
•    Places & Geo – Each user has the ability to add primary location to their account, as well as apply location to each Tweet.
•    Trends – Twitter tracks trending topics across all users, and their timelines on the social platform.
Every feature available via the web and mobile interfaces for Twitter is also available via the API, allowing for anyone to interact with Twitter in custom ways.

Key Links:
•    Logo:
•    Website:
•    API:
•    Twitter:

You might be comfortable using your existing online accounts, email addresses etc or you may wish to set up alternatives. Participants in an open class may need to retain their anonymity or pseudonymity and in so doing retain the rights to their own “delete” key. Certainly taking some steps to separate your public views from that of your institution might be sensible here (depending on your institution) ie.”Views my own not those of my employer” seem pretty ubiquitous on social media biographies.

NB. If you already have a Twitter account then you could create a new “Twitter List” . If you’re happy with your Twitter account and use thereof, then Sini Weibo and Tencent Weibo are Chinese Twitter-equivalents with large English speaking populations. I’ve so far been unsuccessful there but I have friends with thriving and vibrant communities from that side of the world, it’d be great if you’re able to share experiences of applying some of the ideas here, over there so to speak.

More signal less noise


Make #2- Network Audit:

Who are your influencers/audience? Make a representation of this.

Step 1> MAP OUT YOUR INFLUENCERS AND INSPIRATIONS You may already have Facebook or LinkedIn accounts reflecting people you perhaps went to school with, are related to, or work with.  Make an assessment of these people and write down everyone whom you look to as inspirations and who inform your day to day practice.

Step 2>  LIST THE PEOPLE YOU WISHED YOU’D GONE TO SCHOOL WITH List other people who inspire and inform you and your practice. You might want to think of these as the people you wished you went to school with, were related to and worked amongst.

Step 3> OPEN A TWITTER ACCOUNT and look for these “other” people. If you listed people who are no longer living or are not on twitter then look for conversations that contain their names and try to collect people you think constitute experts or authorities on them. As your list of these people grows so your twitter stream should start to populate.

Online spaces are chaotic and noisy, like a radio playing static they need tuning if we’re going to get a clear signal. Internet “tuners” come in a variety of forms and you’re going to find that what you use will evolve into a portfolio of search, aggregation and curation tools, the main thing is to get the internet working for you.

The three primary reception platforms on the map are:

  • realtime and streaming with some degree of serendipity (Twitter)
  • aggregated and bespoke,  your own personal channel which only shows new and updated stories (RSS)
  • and thirdly, a crawling search for particular information gathered together and delivered in bundled package – like an email for example (Google Alerts).

Your network audit wish list is the beginnings of your influencers and credible sources, as they start to populate your feed some will be more useful than others – edit anything/one disappointing or inappropriate out. The list will soon fill up and before you know it there’s too much signal. Dedicated softwares like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite are really useful for managing this information flow as are “lists” within twitter itself. Mashable offers a great “Twitter How2

It’s important to establish a robust stream of credible and trusted sources so when we move from listening, to engaging and broadcast, we’re sending out a clear, consistent and reliable signal. Trust is transitive and being rigorous at this point affords us a tacit degree of conferred credibility. You assembled these people together and built this conversation, it’s your particular house-blend and if you choose, then you and your connected class will become synonymous with it.


Twitter is a fantastic collaborative classroom tool. It’s ‘of the moment’ nature lends itself to live topic and real-time engagement. In my open classes everyone tweets their notes, usually this is whilst listening independently to an interview or lecture. I’ll then aggregate, edit and augment those tweeted notes using a platform like Storify. It’s a great opportunity to promote non-dominant learners, maybe by editing-in their comment or pointing out that others echoed her sentiment etc.  It means everyone gets the benefit of everyone else’s notes, their differing points of view and provides the basis for further empathetic reflection and discussion.

Add into this mix the meta-class of students and the notes go global  (in 2013 several of our classes trended on UK Twitter). This opens out an opportunity to discuss online behaviour and practices with a live global and very public reach: is this an appropriate place for back of the class humour? Etc. Often times the subjects of our discussions will see their names cropping up on twitter (most people will receive notifications if their name is used) and join the conversation which is a fantastic “light-bulb” moment and a great example of the added value and enriched opportunities that open and connected classes bring. For our institutional management it’s the turning of the institution’s greatest asset (the learning experience) into an outward-facing “touch-point” and we’ve done it by repurposing existing resources, not building new and expensive ones.


Just to round off our “tuning for reception section” the other two methods mentioned and worth setting up are:


Lots of the sites and people who come to populate our twitter feed will also have longer form blogs and websites of their own, RSS removes the need to manually visit each site to check if they’ve been updated and there are lots of choices , for now I’m pretty happy with Feedly.

and Google Alerts

Google alerts enables you to create an ongoing search and be notified of updates on a regular basis. You might want to set up a search on your class name or hashtag, your name or particular people who didn’t come up in your twitter search. It provides opportunities to locate people independently and intrinsically motivated by your interests (when they talk about your stuff) , reaching out to these people is a very effective way of organically growing the networked conversation.

Make continued..

Step 3a> DIG A LITTLE DEEPER and click on individual profiles, select their tweets so that you can see all of their conversations (this enables you to see conversations they’re having with people not in your stream). Follow these new threads and see who they are talking to , are these conversations of interest to you? Perhaps the other protagonists should also be in your tweet stream, if so add them too.

Step 4> LISTEN CLOSER Affirm some of the sentiments in these conversations by “RT-ing” Retweeting or Quoting (depending on your software) what they say. At this point this is little more than symbolic as you probably don’t have any followers but walking into a party, spotting the famous guest and walking over to barge into their conversation is not cool so don’t be that person. RT-ing is the equivalent of nodding in support as you join the group quietly, and as you’ve had to use their identity to RT you will have appeared in their stream.

Step 5> JOIN THE CONVERSATION. This might not be this week or month, you really do have to feel your way here but DONT FALL INTO THE TRAP OF USING  TWITTER FOR CORRESPONDENCE – IT ISN’T EMAIL. It’s a place for “of the moment” conversation. Its a chance to see the same “events” (be them articles or real world happenings) as our influencers and see them through their eyes. For me this was a fast-track to finding their influencers and their influencers influencers, like going to an article’s sources.

Home time.

>Webinar with Kira Baker Doyle “Social Capital”
>Webinar with Martin Hawksey