Wednesday, August 7, 2013

AC/DC Snakes & Week Two of the MoMA MOOC

For our week 2 assignment, we have been asked to "Browse through MoMA's online Collection and choose an image that inspires you in some way. Research some information about the work of art using and/or other online sources. Please upload a thumbnail image of your selected artwork by using the "Attach an Image" option. [Snip] respond to these questions: What drew you to this work of art? What information were you able to find out about this work? If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students? "
Parreno, 2010: AC/DC Snake
[personal sketch]

I chose 'AC/DC Snakes by Philippe Parreno. Since I probably don't have the appropriate permission to post MoMA's image of this work here, I'm posting instead my own drawing of the piece so you can see what I'm talking about.

What drew you to this work of art?

Simply, its appearance, the visual impact it had on me. This work establishes bonds to my personal experience in several ways. First is its composition of familiar objects in a familiar setting. Second is the way the artist has used found objects to create a complex and meaningful form, reminiscent to me of pre-industrial art like the inukshuk produced by Inuit. And finally I am compelled by the artist’s recognition that some of these digital-age artifacts have anthropoid characteristics, with electrical sockets forming immediately recognizable faces. This perception has enabled the artist to construct a post-industrial art form that is strongly reminiscent of the pre-industrial totem poles of native americans of western North America.

What information were you able to find out about this work?
From the MoMA website:

"Philippe Parreno (French, born 1964)
AC/DC Snake 2010
Date:  2010
Medium:  Multiple of electronic adapters
Dimensions:  overall (irreg.): 16 5/8 x 5 1/4 x 6 5/8" (42.3 x 13.4 x 16.8 cm)"

From The Serpentine Gallery:
"On the occasion of the first solo exhibition of Philippe Parreno in a public gallery in the UK, the Serpentine Gallery is delighted to present two limited edition works by the artist.

"Philippe Parreno (born Algeria 1964) is an internationally acclaimed French artist known for creating works that question the boundaries between reality and fiction, working in a diverse range of media including drawing, sculpture and film.

“AC/DC Snakes likewise give tangible form to a phenomenon that would otherwise be invisible. A group of electrical plugs and connectors from different parts of the world are linked together making manifest the hidden currents of electricity that enable global communication and exchange.”

"AC/DC Snakes, 1995-2010
Electrical plugs and adapters
Edition of 20
£2,100 excl. VAT (£2,520 incl. VAT)"
“Philippe Parreno is a French artist and filmmaker who lives and works in Paris, France. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Grenoble from 1983 until 1988 and at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en arts plastiques at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris from 1988 until 1989.”

The Wikipedia article goes on to demonstrate the extremely wide range of media that Parreno has used to express his creativity. His series of AC/DC Snakes, produced between 1995 and 2010 is interesting in that the final works appear to consist both of the original structural assemblages as well as a series of prints (possibly giclée) created by photographing the original constructions. The MoMA piece appears to be on of the 3-dimensional originals rather than one of the prints.

If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students?
  • -artist’s materials
  • -artist’s apparent intentions
  • -artist’s apparent sources of inspiration
  • -students’ perceptions
  • -students’ associations
  • -students’ emotions (feelings)
  • -colors & tonality
  • -3-dimensionality
  • -relationship to unseen forces (electron flow)
  • -what would students do with same materials
  • -what similar kinds of assemblages have they seen
  • -what similar kinds of similar assemblages would they create

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Looking At Art, The MoMA Way

I've just this week started a MOOC given by the education staff at MoMA. It's called Art & Inquiry and the instructor is Lisa Mazzola. I'm already finding lots of good resources to improve my skills at inquiry- and object-based learning.

One of the resources made available to participants is a MoMA worksheet with the heading 'Questions About Art.' It's a list of 5 questions you can apply to any work of art, and perhaps to any museum object. So I thought I'd try it out, with the results you see here below:

MoMA Worksheet: Questions About Art - Glass paperweight

1. Describe the object. Think about line, color, texture, pattern, and shape. Can you figure out what it is made of, or how it was made?

This is a rounded, largely transparent object that contains an opaque magenta structure internally. It’s about 3 inches (7-8 cm) tall. Also seen internally are several elongate, club-shaped, transparent structures with what appear to be thick transparent walls. These look like air bubbles.

The general shape is an elongate oval or ovoid, with the wider end flattened so that it sits without rolling on a flat surface. The surface of the object is very shiny and feels hard; it is also heavy and cool to the touch, meaning it is probably made of glass.

The texture of the opaque, central, colored mass appears flat (matte), not shiny, but the internal bubbles appear shiny. The colored shape is irregular but roughly cylindrical with a wider base and a rounded top. It appears to be translucent internally so that the color is seen to be a thin external shell which swirls around the central part, with several gaps allowing one to see inside.

Since it is made of glass, it had to be made with high-heat process such that all of the parts were molten. It is easy to see how the large external globe could have been made by twirling a lump of molten glass until it assumed an elongate spherical shape, but not at all clear how the colored mass and the bubbles were embedded internally.

2. What do you know about this object? What is familiar? What is unfamiliar?

This was sold as a glass paperweight and the spherical shape and flattened bottom surface are familiar and similar to other glass paperweights. The elongate, oval shape of this one, however, is unfamiliar, as most of the other glass paperweights I have seen are almost perfectly spherical. The internal inclusions in this one are unfamiliar - I’ve never seen anything like this in a paperweight before.

3. List words or ideas that come to mind when you look at this object. Why does this object make you think about those words?

Hard, crystal, shiny, depth, swirl, heavy, mass, solid - largely because of its physical composition.

Egg, egg yolk, alien - because of its form.

Mysterious - what is that magenta mass inside doing? Is this an explosion stopped in mid-expansion by a process of crystalization? Why is it giving off bubbles? Is it getting ready to hatch?

4. What associations can you make from it? Why?

Association with all glass paperweights, going back through the history of glass-making (assumed function).

Association with papers, desks, writing (assumed function).

Association with eggs, hatching, unfamiliar life-forms (form + imagination).

5. What questions would you like to ask about this object? Can you guess at the answers to any of them?

Exactly how was the magenta mass inserted into the crystal ovoid; how were the bubbles created? (No clue)

Why did the artist create this particular form? Did she intend any of the associations with eggs that I imagine? (Probably the form arose as a pure outcome of process. Although artistic choices probably guided steps in making the work along the way, the artist may not have known exactly what it was going to look like until it was finished.)

6. In one sentence, describe the most interesting thing about this object.
Because of its mass, transparency and perfect ovoid form, this object is so unlike any everyday physical object that I want to hold it, just to savour the strangeness of its physical presence.

[Paperweight by Heather Konschuh, from The Gallery Shop at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery]

Monday, April 22, 2013

Literacies for Open Learners

Open learning takes place on the world wide web. So in order to develop the following list of necessary or desirable literacies for online learners, I have gone back to basics. Open learners will never be effective learners until the basics of existence in the online
environment become second nature. Each literacy suggested here consists of a set of sub-skills, each of which forms a necessary component of the larger literacy.
  • Basics of cloud computing: server/client network concept, using secure passwords, keeping track of passwords, backing up server hosted data, keeping track of downloaded materials
  • Effective browser use: especially opening new material in a new tab, bookmarking, use of browser plug-ins
  • Effective search engine use: predictive searching, boolean searching, search filters, chain or radiative searching, criteria for critical analysis (discernment)
  • Online notetaking: Google Drive/Docs, Diigo, Pearltrees, Dig, Evernote, etc.
  • Understanding online environments: recognizing navigation bars, using the cursor to find hyperlinks on the page, exploratory strategies, understanding redundancy, you can't break it! - learn by touching
  • Visual communication: image/film/sound interpretation, image/film/sound re-use & re-mixing, embedding media, using online media/communication tools
  • Comfort with social networking tools: blogs, Twitter, forums, social media sites
  • Collaborative skills: contributing, sharing, constructive criticism, courtesy, negotiation, summarizing, editing
  • Ability to filter & focus: scanning abundance, selecting & prioritizing critical items, blocking chaotic noise to focus on one task at a time
This list has been devised to include only those literacies that are directly related to the open aspect of open learning. Some, of course, are useful with other forms of learning as well. A couple of aspects of this list were added after reading the list offered by Jenkins et al. (2009), but those usually fit as a sub-skill under one of my more general literacy categories.

Developing these literacies for open learners would best be accomplished by offering a cMOOC (or perhaps several cMOOCs) that allowed exploring and mastering each of these areas in turn.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. and Weigel, M. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Chicago, IL, The MacArthur Foundation. Also available online at (Accessed 22-April-2013).

[This posting is for Activity 24 (Week 6) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text and illustration are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The earth photo is in the public domain.]

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Contribution of Wikis to Open Education

 According to Wikipedia, "A wiki is a website which allows its users to add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser usually using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor. Wikis are powered by wiki software. Most are created collaboratively." And they should know.

The first wiki was created prior to 2000 and utilized Perl software, writing files directly to a web server using the common gateway interface (CGI). Many later versions have been developed using various combinations of server-side software and database backends. One website ( lists 140 different versions. The majority of them are open-source software and many have been created in collaborative communities.

At first sight the fact that one wiki user can edit the contribution of another may seem to be a problem. The better wikis, however, get around this by versioning, that is maintaining a historical record of every version of a page, throughout all the edits that have taken place since the page was created. Thus any earlier version of a page can be examined as well as (usually) an indication of who supplied contributions or modifications, and when.

Wikis can be created and operated in many ways, but there are two characteristics that can make any wiki valuable for open learning:
  1. publically available on the world wide web
  2. configured to allow anyone to allow anyone to edit the pages
The result is a collaborative platform for writing and exchanging resources and resource links that is open to anyone. Clearly this type of platform is fundamental both to openness in education and to collectivist learning processes.

Many contemporary LMEs incorporate a wiki as a medium of learner exchange. And many open-source software development projects rely on wikis for collaborative compilation of user manuals as well as answering user queries. Perhaps the largest and most successful open-learning wiki is

The single weakness that most wikis have had in the past was the requirement for using a simple, but often unfamiliar, mark-up language. Learning how to use yet another kind of system to post material on the web has been a barrier for some. Fortunately, of late many wikis are starting to incorporate standard WYSIWYG editors of the type used by blogging software.

Wikipedia entry: (Accessed 19-April-2013)

[This posting is for Activity 22 (Week 6) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The cartoon is by Michel Kichka]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

R-Learning - Rhizomatous?

The video below is of Dave Cormier explaining rhizomatic learning. It's well worth watching and I think rhizomatic learning is an important concept. The worst thing
about it for me is its name. In botany there are many terms derived from the Greek word 'rhiza' for root, but the majority of them do not even refer to true roots but identify instead a variety of different 'root-like' structures. When one attempts to derive a metaphor from the existing confusion of botanical terminology, further mystification and misunderstanding are almost inevitable, especially if the learning process being discussed is challenging to explain. Thus, I would prefer to use a more neutral and connotion-free term like R-Learning.

To respond to some questions on this topic posed for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the course Open Education (H817Open, #h817open):

1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?
Yes, I think it's an important concept to have been recognized and an important learning approach to be conscious of. But it seems to me that r-learning is the appropriate approach  only in very special situations. Because the learning outcomes are not known beforehand, and are in fact created by the group during the process, the majority of prospective learners will not be able to handle it. Like some aspects of theoretical physics, r-learning is just way too far outside our normal intuitive experience of the world to have any universal appeal.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
Yes, but not in any conventional educational system. It would work best with a group of people that share a common understanding of the process and a common objective in solving a complex problem.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
R-learning can give rise to radically new concepts, insights and intellectual break-throughs, all things that are rare in current approaches. It will have no syllabus and can not produce measurable results (apart from simply monitoring the activities of participants). In the absence of traditional learning, implementing r-learning might lead to creating a lot of largely ignorant geniuses - students with brilliant insights that are new and innovative for them, but of little use because they are not grounded in any depth of understanding of real-world issues and circumstances.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?
  • dealing with participants' fear of uncertainty
  • adequate background in traditional education of participants
  • competition and refusing to share by lurkers, along for the ride
  • knee-jerk right or wrong expectations
  • still must establish what this 'has to do with'
R-learning probably characterizes effective personal learning networks, but not any kind of formal education. It's not really part of the task of education. It's part of the toolset for exploring the totally new and the unknown. It should be great for think tanks, leading edge research organizations and all other groups dealing with complex domains.

[This posting is for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text and illustration (but not the video) are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grokking Museums

For #h817open, activity 19 of week 5, we have been asked to create a hypothetical connectivist course. Here's mine. Only Section 1 is elaborated in any detail...

Museum Studies 501: Grokking Museums

Section 0: Introduction to MS501
  • process; seeding the learning; digital literacy; connecting; building shared knowledge

Section 1: What is a museum?
Concept 1.1: Where did museums come from? Have they evolved?
  • -suggested resources: URL1, URL2
  • -suggested group activities:
  1. build a collaborative introduction to the history of museums on the course wiki; this can be in either prose or list format, but if the latter, add comments or explanations at the bottom of the list
  2. build a collaborative tree of online references to the history of museums on
  • your personal contributions: blog about what you think is the single most important historical event contributing to the rise of museums
Concept 1.2: What are the key elements in defining a contemporary museum?
  • suggested resources: URL1, URL2, URL3
  • suggested group activities: make a collaborative comprehensive list of defining elements of the contemporary museum on the course wiki; add an explanatory for each element of the list
  • your personal contributions: blog about what you think is the single most important element in the definition of a museum and why
Concept 1.3: Stretching the definition of museum
  • suggested resources: URL1, URL2
  • suggested group activities: make a collaborative list of new types of museums that have recently emerged on the course wiki; add comments or explanations at the bottom of the list
  • your personal contributions: blog about your choice of the single most important contemporary change in the definition of museums and why
Section 2: What Goes On in Museums?
Concept 2.1: what are the basic museum activities
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 2.2: museum jobs
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 2.3: considering a museum career
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 3: museum collections
Concept 3.1: the benefits of museum collections
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 3.2: collections & information management
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 3.3: museum research
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 4: engaging the museum's publics
Concept 4.1: museum exhibition
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 4.2: museum education
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 4.3: museum programs
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 5: museum management
Concept 5.1: strategic & business planning
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions

Concept 5.2: marketing
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 5.3: fundraising
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 5.4: human resources
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 6: Museums in the 21st Century
Concept 6.1: environmental scan
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions

Concept 6.2: museum future trends
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Note to self: Blogger is not a very good place to try hierarchical lists
[This posting is for Activity 19 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The photo is by JamesF, CC License.]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Equipping Learners for an Abundance of Knowledge

Weller (2011) claims that the deveopment of the internet has made knowledge
abundant. Certainly if you look at the results of a Google search on any particular topic, it is clear that there is an awful lot of information out there. But I am inclined to wonder if truly useful knowledge is really all that abundant. If it's anything like the OER we studied earlier in the course (#h817open), it may be 1) hard to find, 2) of uneven quality.

In trying to develop a pedagogy of abundance, one of the questions Weller asks is how do we equip learners to cope with abundant free knowledge.

My own view is that the most immediate student need is not primarily one of critical analysis. Critical analysis of web materials is both labour-intensive and subjective, and it is a competency that is also very difficult and time consuming to teach.

When students need knowledge they need it fast. Normal critical faculties help in separating the nuggets from the gravel in the pan, as does the fact the good search engines already have a certain degree of critical analysis built in - those knowledge items found to be most useful by the most web surfers tend to appear near the top of the list of search results. The more immediate question for the majority of students is, how do we find a pan of gravel that is likely to contain nuggets in the first place?

I suspect that the answer to satisfying this need is instead of teaching facts, teach practical competencies and provide guidance:
  1. Teach effective internet search techniques (Does anyone remember in the old days how we had to be trained to use the university card catalogue?); with serious, in-depth search competency, each individual can activate their own professional support or 'just-in-time' learning system.
  2. Teach the use of social networks for problem solving; use social networks as the basis for a mutual learning network; the peer members of learning networks can assist in critical analysis of search results to pick out the nuggets.
  3. Instead of acting as a content expert, the teacher should learn to act as a filter guide; that is, don't find the stuff for them, but help them find it themselves; suggest what search strategies, even what search terms are likely to be most productive in any given situation.
It seems to me that the best way for anyone to cope with bewildering quantities of information is to learn the two basic competencies of filtering and harnessing peer assessment.

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. Also available online at (Accessed 10-April-2013).
[This posting is for Activity 17 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The photo is in the public domain.]