“to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect”

One of the most important things I have learned about developing an effective online course is the potential different modes  can have for really transformative learning. I was struck by George Siemen’s Connectivist learning theory, and how it addresses learning in the digital age (2005). From this perspective, Stephen Downes explained “to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect” (2007). Downes succinct, but meaningful definition of roles within Connectivist theory is now one of my new favorite quotes and going forward I am using it as my mantra for making the shift to teaching online.

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For me I have been thinking more and more about how we can use our current situation to improve education. To put it bluntly, I don’t want to go back to the way we taught before. I am excited by the possibilities for accessibility and innovation, teaching online could offer us. Yes, it will be challenging, but to Downes point, I think right now instructors need to be modelling resiliency for students. Many students are facing unprecedented challenges right now and I want to be able to demonstrate adaptability for them. It may have seemed radical at the time he wrote it, but in our current COVID-19 volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, times, “Chaos is the new reality for knowledge workers” (2005). I never would have taken the plunge into teaching online or registered for this course otherwise.  Fortunately I have realized, according to Siemen’s his fourth Connectivist principle, my “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (2005).

My own ePortfolio


ePortfolios are increasingly being used to illustrate personal/professional development and achievements in teaching. I see significant value in creating my own personal teaching ePortfolio.  Here are some of the artifacts I would include:

  1. Course design material
  2. Lecture notes and/or accompanying learning materials for face to face courses
  3. Module overviews and materials for online courses
  4. Assignment instructions and rubrics
  5. Examples of student work (with permission of course)
  6. Informal and formal student feedback
  7. Reflection (what went well, what could be improved, before, during and after course)

As Pelliccione and Dixon explain, the ePortfolio creation process includes multiple levels of reflection:

Selecting the artefact; Describing the contextual characteristics of the artefact; Analysing the choice of selection and how it demonstrates the outcome/standard; Appraising the appropriateness of the artefact in terms of how it relates to knowledge; and Transforming existing practice by identifying how the artefact will influence future practice. (p. 753)

When paired with self-reflection, the very act of curating my own teaching ePortfolio would be important in my professional development.

Pelliccione, L. & Dixon, K. (2008). ePortfolios: Beyond assessment to empowerment in the learning landscape. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008

ePortfolios and Sustainability


The University of New South Wales lists one of the benefits of assessing learning with ePortfolios is they “act as sustainable assessment that enables students to identify their learning, make, judgements about it and prepare themselves for future learning” (2018). They cite David Boud’s work on sustainable assessment as type of assessment that meets “the specific and immediate goals of a course as well as establishing a basis for students to undertake their own assessment activities in the future” (2000, p. 151). This mention of sustainable assessment caught my attention because it is similar to a concept I have been thinking another concept I have been thinking about incorporating into the courses I teach.

Since becoming interested in open educational resources (OER) and open enabled pedagogy (OEP), I have been thinking more about sustainable assignments. These are in contrast to “disposable assignments” like those described by David Wiley.  Wiley has been critical of essays and other inauthentic types of assessment tools that both students and faculty alike dislike for they “add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world.” Traditional forms of essays are typically written only for the instructor to grade, and serve no other purpose as they are quickly discarded.  In contrast the assignments discussed in our panel were renewable – they leveraged students’ energy and efforts to generate materials and resources that could benefit others beyond the limited time and space of the course. Or as Maha Bali advocates, they supported a focus on student work being public in which the purpose is “for students to use their learning in more authentic and meaningful ways, and sometimes interact with others in the world beyond the classroom’s walls.” It was great to see how ePortfolios fit into this category of sustainable assignments I have been already investigating.

Bali, M. (April 24, 2017). What is Open Pedagogy Anyway Open Pedagogy Open Discussion, accessed 20 April 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmPmZEhy3Lc.

Boud, D. (2000) Sustainable assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education 22(2), 151–167.

Wiley, D. (2013). What is Open Pedagogy? Iterating toward openness, accessed 20 April 2020 https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975.

UNSW (2018) Assessing with EPortfolios, Accessed https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/assessing-eportfolios


In a larger sense, e-portfolios also embrace several ideas that have been central to the higher education innovation and reform movement that has taken shape over the past generation: a constructivist epistemology that puts students at the center of building knowledge and meaning, urging instructors off the podium and turning them into intellectual mentors and guides; high-impact practices that take students out of the classroom and into contexts that ask them to transfer and apply knowledge; and active, social pedagogies in which students create, integrate, and apply knowledge together. (Kahn)

I was particularly interested to read Susan Kahn’s description of ePortfolios as grounded in Constructivist learning theory. Having just completed an essay on Connectivist learning theory, I would argue ePortfolios are even more related to George Siemens and Stephen Downes work on how internet technologies have created networks for people to learn and share information.

Pelliccione and Dixon’s work on ePortfolios as tools of assessment and empowerment in the learning landscape was a good reminder that instructors in today’s digital world, we need to be assessing for key skills (critical thinking, information, communication technology, lifelong learning and professional skills) instead of acquisition of knowledge (2008 p. 750).

This reminded me of Siemen’s assertion that today knowledge has an increasingly short half-life, with a shrinking time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete. Furthermore I like how ePortfolios could be considered tools for addressing what Siemen’s considers the chaos that is a new reality for knowledge workers (2005).

EPortfolios are just another node supporting student learning in the increasingly complex network of the digital age.

Downes, Stephen. (2007 February 3). What connectivism is [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Kahn, S. (2014 Winter). ePortfolios: A Look at Where We’ve Been, Where We Are Now, and Where We’re (Possibly) Going. In PeerReview 16 (1) https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/e-portfolios-look-where-weve-been-where-we-are-now-and-where-were

Pelliccione, L. & Dixon, K. (2008). ePortfolios: Beyond assessment to empowerment in the learning landscape. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/pelliccione.pdf

Siemens, George. (2005 January 01). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning (ITDL). Retrieved   http://er.dut.ac.za/bitstream/handle/123456789/69/Siemens_2005_Connectivism_A_learning_theory_for_the_digital_age.pdf?sequence=1

Siemens, George. (2005 August 10). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning (ITDL ). Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/networks.htm.

Connection in the time of Covid-19


In January, with the support of Langara’s Office of Internationalization I enrolled in UBC’s Strategies for Effective Intercultural Communication course. I was hoping to improve my intercultural awareness and communicate better especially with our international student body. Like other faculty my colleagues and I have been struggling with the increased cultural diversity of the student population and I thought by taking this course I could really support our adoption of more inclusive pedagogies.

Over six weeks we explored topics like  “What do we mean by Culture?” “Cultural Values, Behaviors, and Assumptions” and “Context and Communication”. I found the module on “Power and Privilege” particularly fascinating. But it was not just the content that was relevant,  how we learned about theme like “Personal Approaches to Intercultural Communication” mattered. For each unit we did our readings but then we had to write personal responses to prompts, and reflect on how the material connected to our own experience.  Little did I know this course would be invaluable later that semester when due to the COVID-19 pandemic I and other instructors at Langara would be faced with ending the semester online.

On March 13th I made the decision, ahead of the college to deliver the remainder of the two courses I was teaching online. I don’t I would have had the confidence to do this if it had not been for the Effective Intercultural Communication course. It was a powerful learning experience and it gave me a template for how to support my students going forward. I continued to provide them with the same open access resources we had been using earlier in the semester, but substituted our face-to-face class time with online discussion forums, and reflective writing assignments that asked them to make connections between the art historical content and their own lives, even their own experience of the pandemic.

In these uncertain times I am especially interested to explore how this sudden pivot to online learning can help support effective intercultural communication. This summer our department is offering two survey classes of the history of art and one on Asian art. Many of the students enrolled have returned home, to various places around the world. Unintentionally we have created mini-collaborative international learning (COIL) experiences.

As we move forward in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times, I have been thinking about the learning theory Connectivism. Coined by George Siemens in 2005, Connectivism is a theoretical framework for understanding learning in the digital age. Siemens along with Stephen Downes explain how internet technologies have created opportunities for people around the world to learn and share information across nodes and links of the internet. One of the first principles of Connectivism is that “Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinion.” Being sensitive to, aware of, and curious about diversity is of course at the heart of intercultural communication.

In summarizing Connectivist teaching and learning Stephen Downes explains “to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.” After practicing and reflecting in the Strategies of Intercultural Communication course, now it is time for me to model and demonstrate empathetic, authentic, culturally awareness in these challenging times.


Knowledge Networks

In my doctoral dissertation I wrote about the way everyday household objects moved through the networks formed by early modern Dutch trade. I talked about how things like ceramics, textiles, and even paintings formed connections between people as they moved throughout the world. And often these systems were altered by technology – printing presses, navigational systems, and scientific developments.  Knowledge was constructed by the images and objects that circulated through these networks.


Van Schagen’s map of the world (1689)

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to Connectivism learning theory. Although it has only been developed recently to articulate the digital era, it has connections to the early modern epistemology I studied for years. In his famous “imagined communities” Benedict Anderson’s description of Renaissance naturalists’ international connections “might best be conceived as a network; local groups were connected, through one or several of their members to one or more nodes in a wide-flung net” could also describe collaborative online international learning classes (COIL) based in Connectivism learning theory.

Its founder George Siemens draws on chaos theory, the connection of everything to everything, and Gleick’s Butterfly Effect to explain how underlying conditions “profoundly impact what we learn and how we act based on our learning” (Siemens 2005). Cleverly enough in her work on Dutch Trading companies as knowledge networks, art historian Julie Berger Hochstrasser connects The Butterfly Effect, embodied cognition and perceptual knowledge to her work on Anna Maria Sibylla Merian, a German naturalist and scientific illustrator who travelled to the jungles of Suriname. One of the first European naturalists to observe insects directly Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705) made her one of the most significant contributors to the field of entomology.


Maria Sibylla Merian: Gummi Guttae Tree with White Witch, Cocoon and Caterpillar of a Hawk Moth and Drops of Resin,  (1705).

There is also a striking similarity between Stephen Down’s Connectivism cycle of “knowledge informs learning, what we learn informs community; and the community in turn creates knowledge” and the reverse “knowledge builds community, while community defines what is learned, and what is learned becomes knowledge” and Hochstrasser’s analysis of the Dutch West India Company’s role in contributing to the outpouring of seventeenth and eighteenth century publications projects and the advancement of natural knowledge.

Like their twenty-first century counterpart Google and other digital information repositories, the images and objects that moved along the conduits of early modern Dutch trade networks formed a worldwide web. And to quote Hochstrasser:

“the whole complex environment in which a perceiver is embedded has a profound influence on how and what that organism learns; in turn, such interactions change not only that organism, but the total state of the dynamical system of which it is a part” (p. 99).

Connectivism indeed.


At first I just assumed I would continue to identify with Constructivist learning theory.  When I originally started learning about the various theories of Behaviourism, Cognitive, Humanistic, etc., Connectivism had not even been identified yet!

I think what I appreciate most about Connectivism is that it takes in account our increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times (Herlo 331). Ultimately it is a model that reflects our knowledge based society, in which “learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources (Siemens 2004) and our technical reality. According to it’s founder, George Siemens, connectivism demonstrates how knowledge does not exist only in the mind of an individual but is rather distributed across a network that exists on two levels: internally as nodes of connections in our brains and externally as a mesh of our awareness, understanding and adaptations (Siemens 2006 p. 10).

But what made me realize that Connectivism would not only apply to my approach but also what I am teaching and who my students are was Siemen’s recognition that in our current context “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge” (2005). For students studying art history the resources are unlimited. The internet and high definition video technology has made it possible to see the art from the entire world on your device. Images and objects and scholarship is a click of the mouse away. However what Connectivism does is it underscores the importance of discernment in how knowledge is structured. As Siemen’s explains, learning is a process of connecting nodes, but it is also a series of decisions (2005). According to Herlo, “decision-making is itself a learning process” (333). Critical thinking is choosing what to learn and asking questions about the meaning of incoming information. Among the main principles of this learning theory is that our ability to see connections between concepts, ideas, and fields is a skill but one that is contingent on a shifting reality, an information climate that is constantly in flux.

Dorin Herlo (2016). Connectivism, A New Learning Theory? The European Proceedings of Social & Behavioral Science 330-337 . 

George Siemens (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory Pastime of the Self-Amused? elearningspac-everything-elearning . 

George Siemens (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age . 

Early Reflection

I really enjoy online learning. My first week in EDUC 4150 has reminded me how great it feels to get curious and dig into a topic I really know very little about. My only real challenge right now is time. With the girls at home I am limited to working at nap-time and after they go to bed. And to be honest with three or four other high priority projects on the go, this course really should not be top of the list. But the articles and assignments have been a nice distraction from all the other “work” in my life. It also has given me a sense of control that I do not have in other areas, given these turbulent times.  I am however a bit concerned that I will go to in depth on particular topics and get behind. My strategy to combat this is to keep asking myself, “How will I apply this learning? What does this look like in one of my classes?”

And so far one of the most important learnings to date has been around the different roles of effective online teachers. Bernard Bull explains in a June 2, 2013 Faculty Focus post that there are 8 roles to consider when moving from the traditional classroom to online: the tour guide, the cheerleader, the learning coach, the individual and group mirror, the social butterfly, the big brother, the valve control and the co-learner. I was inspired to see co-learner on the list because next semester I will learning right alongside my students!


In The Online Teaching Survival Guide, Judith Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad list 10 (plus 4) best practices for teaching online. I have considered each and here is how I plan to incorporate each one in my upcoming course.

  1. Be present at the course site. One way I am going to be socially present in my upcoming course is to create an introductory post that connects our regular content to the current coronavirus pandemic, and be transparent in describing my own transition to providing the class online.
  2. Create a supportive online course community. In addition to my frequent posts, and short concept videos, one assignment in particular, the Art in Quarantine image recreation project will help create a supportive online course community. Students will be posting these pictures and sharing the process with each other.
  3. Develop a set of explicit expectations for your learners and yourself as to how you will communicate and how much time students should be working on the course each week. This best practice is particularly important during this unprecedented time. Many students will be self-isolating and social distancing. It will help for all of us to have boundaries set by “available times” and expectations around response times. Additionally the next course I teach will be tricky because it is scheduled in a compressed semester over a six-week period. Students and myself will be challenged to spend roughly 20 hours per week on this course.
  4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences. In addition to individual assignments, and small group discussions, I could see Zoom conference calls being helpful for this semester. Many students might be feeling lonely and could use more socialization than in a typical course.
  5. Use synchronous and asynchronous activities. The majority of this course with be asynchronous, but I could see hosting check-ins or office hours synchronously.
  6. Ask for informal feedback early in the term. In the second week of class I will survey the students to see how they are progressing and how I can support their learning. This check-in will be especially important for me as it will be my first time teaching online.
  7. Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions, and reflections. I have some creative discussion questions that will accompany each unit.
  8. Search out and use content resources that are available in digital format. Fortunately for me the course I will be teaching is a first year survey with many open resources available.
  9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning. Similar to what I would do in a face to face course, I am giving students as Choose your own Adventure assignment that enhances the meaningfulness of the learning.
  10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course. I need to really think about this one, but I might ask students to give advice to future students taking the course.
  11. Assess as you go by gathering evidences of learning. In order to do this I am going to have weekly due dates, and scaffolded assignments.
  12. Rigorously connect content to core concepts and learning outcomes. As part of the introductory survey, I have the opportunity to ask students about one of the learning outcomes they most identify with and answer the question “How do I want to be different in my person, in my mind after this course?” (loc 1938).
  13. Develop and use a content frame for your course. I think in some ways the chronological nature of this course helps create a frame, but I think sharing a visual of the units and how they fit together will be helpful.
  14. Design experiences to help learners make progress on their novice-to expert journey. This is a best practice I really need to consider, and think more about how I will incorporate it.