Online identity: How search engines present our identity

(part of my reflections on week 4 #el30 The E-Learning 3.0 MOOC from Stephen Downes)

How are we perceived by the search engines? No matter who i “really (think i) am”, search engines’ efforts -doing their “best” to find us out on the Internet- will have an output: they will form one or more presentations of us. Especially since the advent of web2.0, with a clear trend of representing oneself with real names and actual selfies, search engines are hard at work accumulating as much information as they can and building their graph of who we are. The output of that work is a multi-faceted representation of our participation on the Internet.

We can find one when we search for our own names while being logged with our user, we might find another with an “incognito” window open, our friends might get another series of answers… and then there’s language: searching in different languages might very well show varying results. Search engines, therefore, produce a kaleidoscope-style representation of who we are and make it available to anyone willing to conduct a perfunctory search.

And then, of course, if we’ve made it far enough into the limelight, people might find other people’s opinions’ of us. Most of the time, when i’m searching for a person/product/service (which i’ll call “brand” from here on), i tend to look up the official accounts of said brand. But some of the time, i’m looking for opinions on that brand. And those opinions will play a role in my perception and my decisions regarding that brand.

And then, if you’re famous enough, or have been designated an enemy of whichever organized group, you might be faced+bombarded with malicious intents of distorting your representation. This is not just critique, the intent is to create a negative perception among an audience. This is, of course, not an online exclusive issue: slander, backbiting, and so on have been human activities that have been in use for probably as long as humankind has had a language.

Discussing online identity with students

Now, when i talk to students, i like to tell them about their future job searches. And i like to help them carry out a thought experiment (or the actual experiment if the conditions allow) about what their would-be employer will find when they search for their names. For many students, this is a sobering experience. They realize that posting party pictures, artistic shots of the imported beers they’ve acquired a taste for and so on might not necessarily be the best path to conveying the gravitas of the knowledge and competencies they have been developing during their college years.

I use this exercise to help them think about what a deliberate online brand strategy would look like for them, as aspiring professionals: How do you want to be perceived by potential employers? What does that mean for your various online profiles? What should you be talking about? Of course, as a Wikipedia volunteer, i usually also bring up the point that contributing to Wikipedia might be a solid way to position themselves as experts on the topics of their choice.


E-learning 3.0: Identity (Vahid in a concept map)

(part of my reflections on week 4 #el30 The E-Learning 3.0 MOOC from Stephen Downes)

My identity

Vahid Masrour’s concept map
Higher resolution version

I’ve tried my best to reflect my identity on the previous graph. Over the past couple of decades, i’ve made a few mindmaps, (google “Vahid Masrour mindmap”), one particular series of mindmaps even earning me a mention on Cathy Davidson’s book. However, Stephen Downes’s instructions that we shouldn’t appear at the center of the graph challenged me to go for a concept map instead of a regular mindmap.

The difference between a mindmap and a concept map is that a mindmap usually extends branches from a central concept, whereas a concept map allows for the exploration of different concepts in a map, with no need for a central concept.

Alrighty then, i dropped MindManager (which is great for mindmaps) for CMAP tools (which does concept maps very well). It had been a while since i had downloaded and booted up CMAP, and… they’ve had no update since 2017. But it still works quite well (and is still freeware!). 

Based on the conditions of the task, i then went on reflecting on the key topics that stimulate my intellectual -not necessarily academic- activity, identifying 4 key themes: 

World Citizen

One key concept that comes straight from my life’s experiences and that is perhaps more personal than the others is the notion of “world citizenship”. Nourished by the “The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” slogan, this is something i’ve discussed and presented about (example 1, and more recently 2). This part of my identity also comes from the amalgamation of experiences that “life” has given me: a mixed racial+cultural heritage, opportunities to live in different countries, and the hunger for more experiences like these. 


At our home, we got our first computer in the very early 80s. I became an “enthusiast” immediately. When connecting to the Internet in the mid-90s in Chile, i (thought i) realized its potential as a mechanism for worldwide communication. (Its’ value as a spying mechanism would take a few more years, but that’s another discussion, i think). I still read pc hardware reviews like they really mean something, and i went as far as taking a course on how to build a pc (i might be wrong, but i think that was even before Youtube got started). In a previous job, i sold and managed projects that delivered supply chain automation systems (you know warehouses management systems, complete with barcode readers and so on). 

So yeah, i’m a tech pusher.

I’m less innocent now about what tech choices mean for humanity’s life, but i still think that tech, as a practical application of science, does play a role in the present and future of civilization. It’s just that private interests (including government interests) should take a step back to the well-being of all, and that progress should include ethical and ecological consequences in the equations that define our choices.

Social development

I believe that my engagement with this area of my life is due to my exposure to and engagement with different segments of society in South America, from the wealthy to the indigenous people, and the accompanying variations of economic conditions that define aspects of their material lives. It is also connected to the key concept of service to mankind, which comes from my religious convictions: We (humanity) are clearly at a stage where our collective actions and choices have a determining effect on the social and ecological environment we live in. One way to direct my capabilities and sphere of influence that articulates this is taking action in the field of education. It probably also doesn’t hurt that i’m the son of an educator.

As you can see in the bottom of the graphic, one way i’ve found to fusion my enthusiasm for tech and passion for education has been to invest my time and developing my capabilities in the field of edtech. The idea that edtech can influence the future of education (increasing availability, increasing opportunities for the “bottom of the pyramid”, increasing quality, updating contents, developing capabilities, improving impact, and so many more ways) is a proposition which i find highly valuable.


The 3 concepts (world citizenship, social development, and tech) are all derived from a key concept in my identity: my religious affiliation to the Bahá’í Faith

World citizenship is presented in the Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings in phrases such as “Let your vision be world embracing…“, and the already mentioned “The Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens“.

Social development can be found in statements such as “All human beings, have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”. (see 1)

Tech might seem remote from religion, except that, in the Bahá’í Faith, Science and Religion are seen as two forces that propel humanity’s progress. Both are seen as necessary (and compared to the wings of a bird). While tech is a quite limited scope for science, it’s one i’ve held fast to, and enjoy learning about.

[I realize that some readers would very much want to see a discussion on the definition of “religion” here, but this is not the goal of this post.]

These parts of my identity has lead me to choices in term of countries where i’ve gone to and live in (and my relative rootlessness, or at least my alternative experience with roots), spouse choice, on how to raise my son, and so on. These concepts have also modulated my job searches, my volunteer activities, and the use of my free time. 

So there you have it, a short concept map to my identity.

Staring into the maelstrom: E-Learning 3.0 course

Maelstrom: Found on

If you’ve been reading this blog and following me on other social media, you might have figured out by now that i’m interested in all things that relate to the new modalities and affordances that ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) grant the human species in terms of new possibilities for facilitating learning.

Among the people i have a lot of respect for in this field, is one Stephen Downes. Along with George Siemens, they developed the “connectivist” approach to learning, which can be one-lined as “a learning theory for the 21st century”. This theory considers the particular aspects of a learning environment where contents are widely available, and making connections to others learners is fairly painless, so that working through the content, instead of spending untold hours to access them, is the key challenge. Older authors had not accounted for this game-changing scenario, which makes a significant difference, in my opinion.

So, @Downes is getting this course started, with the hashtag #el30. According to connectivist MOOC standards and etiquette, Stephen will provide the topics and a few pointers, and then will let the participants make the most of the time devoted to the topic to bring ideas, share resources, create contents, discuss, explore, and enjoy each others’ perspectives. Yes, it might look a little bit like a farmers’ market, and even share some similitudes to the chaos of a tavern brawl, and this is where the fun is found. It’s not all neat, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a very real thing. But to me it’s one of the purest forms of learning: having a knowledgeable curator, exploring together, sharing what we reflect on, and truly respecting peers’ work might just be the right recipe for this century’s entire outlook on learning.

Anyways, the skeletal touchpoint for the course can be found here:

And if you’ve never stared into the maelstrom of a connectivist course, this description outlines its key aspects:

Me, i’m buckling up and getting ready for some thrills and the enjoyment of learning with others.




OpenEdMOOC Week 5

This is my mindmap summary of the contents of week 5:

OpenEdMOOC Week 5 Research on OER Impact and Effectiveness

You can see the full-sized map here

If you don’t consider the linked articles, it was a short week. Actually, if you don’t want to dive into the details, i’d recommend David Wiley’s video from week 3 as the summary you need to look at (if you’re faculty, a university admin or a concerned student that wants to stop pouring in money into the publishers’ pockets).

I’m still waiting for the Open Education bit. Right now, the course is more about OER, which is interesting, which i can honestly say i’ve learned a lot of interesting things about now, thank you.





OpenEdMOOC Week 4

It seemed that this week was significantly simpler than week 3.

Here is my mindmap of the bare contents (excluding the recommended readings) of the contents:

OpenEdMOOC Week #4 Creating, Finding and Using OERs

The full-sized mindmap can be found here.


Learning by engaging in this very distributed network

I valued the most how George Siemens’ described how he was learning, and how he described that in connectivism. This idea that we can now do things that were unthinkable, undreamed of before the 80s (i’m dating it back to the 80s because of this interview with Isaac Asimov) and that -even in 2017- many educators have not experienced, as George Siemens mentions, is very important.


The possibility of picking a topic, any topic, and going about searching for relevant information that you can organize for yourself is something that is fundamentally new. It was possible to do to some extent in public libraries, and i see most of the advocacy for them coming from that perspective. But of course, the multimedia that is the Internet is so much greater than any physical library can ever be. It’s so huge (especially in English) that, once you have found enough channels, you will feel a phenomenon that is aptly described as “drinking from the firehose”. At some point, you capitulate and hope that what you are paying attention to is the best and brightest. There’s no point in pretending to know everything there is to know, and that’s good for your humility.

This form of learning cannot yet pretend to train engineers or scientists that conduct research, but it enables the laymen to partake in the creation of his own learning and to become a practitioner of any field he feels motivated to approach and dedicate time to. It diminishes significantly the need for someone to be there physically supporting the training. It enables everyone that is connected to the network to become a learner, a practitioner, and from there make decisions regarding their more advanced needs for learning. This breaks down barriers and transforms lives.

The “100 people in the room” knowledge theory also caught my eye: The idea is that we can solve many problems if we can engage in practical, well managed, conversations. Diversity will be a resource. Problem-solving as a derivative of social capital: the more people are engaged in the network, the more probable it becomes that we will find the right “human resource”, or will be able to collectively find solutions to issues we face together. Now, in a traditional educational setting, at 100 “students” you start feeling anguish regarding how your vocal cords will take the pain, or abandon all hopes for representative participation. Online, 100 actually works. It’s a different kind of participation, one which, as George Siemens points out needs some kind of facilitation, giving “powers” to the participants: vote up, threaded conversations, and other tools.

Finding OERs

The part of the discussion on Finding OERs that interested me the most was the discussion of “Artifacts”: This “document”/”picture”/”video”/”resource” that is super useful for what you need to do (give a talk, express an idea, share a concept with colleagues). I learned the notion of artifact when “Knowledge Management” was still in vogue, and using in the field of teaching/learning also makes sense.

The re-usability paradox, this thing where the larger the artifact the harder it is to reuse, made perfect sense to me. The OER culture, and the open education culture, more generally, do think about textbooks a lot, and i realize that in higher contexts, that makes sense, but i think that 21st-century educational resources will look less like a textbook and more like a kit of resources. There might be a very well thought sequence through the kit, or you (as an educator) might want to open the kit and let the students experiment and discuss their findings. There might be merits in both approaches.

I also enjoyed the wink at “learning object”, and “granularity” which were topics of choice a decade or more ago … good times!

Where did the education revolution go?

Thinking about this week’s conversation between David Wiley and George Siemens, it felt really tame to be replacing regular over-priced textbooks with free textbooks. So it was interesting that David Wiley would point out that the changes in educators’ practices came about gradually, and that the replacement was just step one. This is probably an accurate observation, even though it’s less spectacular than what i would like to see. Stephen Downes reminder of the Aggregation+Remix+Repurpose+Feed Forward aspiration of an educational model seems much more radical. Looking at the education systems’ inbuilt immunity to change, a slow and steady approach is probably more transforming (?).


Open Education MOOC, Week 3

Week 3 focused almost exclusively on OERs (Open Education Resources).

Mindmap of Week 3 contents

OpenEdMOOC week 3

You can access the full sized mindmap at this link

Discussion of contents of week 3

The video titled “The 5R’s, CC, and Open Licensing (part 2)” is very explicit about how higher education educators make their choices regarding the textbooks they use. It’s so simple, it’s infuriating. If you have 7 minutes and want to understand the whole mechanics of the faculty-publisher industrial complex, all you need to learn is here. Publishers have effectively hijacked faculty into forcing students to buy books.

I found the video titled “The 5R’s, CC, and Open Licensing (part 3)“, to be extremely explicit about why OER is such an important issue in North America. (As i mentioned in my Week 1 post, in South America, the scenario is very different). If you can use textbook purchase as a prediction tool for success, it would seem that educators and educational institutions that are truly engaged with their students’ success would take measures to mitigate or eliminate that risk… unless someone is benefitting from the current situation and will take action to prevent the status quo from changing. Pretty awful and a shame if you ask me.


I’d be remiss if i didn’t comment on the Wikipedia mention that David Wiley does: OERs cannot work exactly like Wikipedia does. On Wikipedia, when you edit an article, you change the content for everyone. For classroom materials, the requirement is slightly different: instead of trying to write an authoritative content (the best description of knowledge at the current time), you might need to adapt it to your classroom’s needs.

On Wikipedia (and more generally the Wikimedia platform), you are always welcome to take the contents and edit them for the world to see, or you can take them and ReUse them for your own needs, so the possibility is there, but you can’t save the version you’ve created for your own needs on the platform.

On Wikipedia’s more OER-like sister projects, such as Wikiversity and Wikibooks, the expectation still is that a consensus can be arrived to, finalized in the present state of the contents. I don’t think this disqualifies the capabilities of those projects, but it does underline a different set of requirements. Interesting.


OER and the educational revolution

On David Wiley’s 50 minutes video, he makes a soft intro to OERs, and then fires away with impact studies on OER implementation. I was really impressed with the presentation, and the idea that OER can immediately benefit students, but also educators, and even the institutions (that’s right higher education institutions: you get fewer dropouts, and students can reinvest that saved money into more credits). It’s a win-win-win that cannot be rationally rejected.

It was interesting to learn that there is a research group on the topic of OER: I’m guessing everyone’s invited if you care about student outcomes and improving educational systems.

Also of interest for faculty workers: @normanbier‘s reflection on how Creative Commons makes contents more simple to manage for Universities, faculty, as well as students.

While it’s somewhat shy in this week’s contents, it’s interesting that the educational revolution is slowly hinted at. In his talk, David Wiley describes how OERs enable new forms of teaching+Learning (“participation in the educational space”, if you will). He seems thrilled at the reaction of students as they engage in meaningful activities that they partake in and share for the world to benefit from, such as (this links counts as an additional free bonus for educators that are serious about their work).

I really really recommend you take the 50 minutes and watch that video if you need to understand Open Educational Resources.


The Lumen Platform

The plugs for the Lumen platform were intriguing enough that i need to do more research on it. In summary, it would seem to be a platform for professors to collaborate together on creating OERs, together with an LMS (open source, of course).


More from David Wiley

Here are a couple of David Wiley’s presentations (if you’ve made it this far in the post, you probably want to follow him on Slideshare):



Open Education MOOC Week 1

On October 1st, the Open Education MOOC, created by George Siemens and David Wiley started. I’d qualify it as an introductory week, with a gentle look at the history of what fits within the “open education” narrative. Given David Wiley’s presence, it’s not surprising that most of the contents are focusing on OER (Open Educational Contents) rather than on pedagogy (i’m really waiting for that discussion: what can “open pedagogy” mean?)

Week 1 (partial) mindmap

This is my partial week 1 mindmap. It’s partial because it doesn’t include the suggested readings that were linked in the course.

Open Education Week 1

(the full-sized file can be found here)

One thing struck me in this week 1: the OER discussion seems very North American centric.

While David and George acknowledge this in their conversation, it makes me realize that in Latin America (where i’ve resided for 3 decades), “OER is not even an issue here”. This is because in L-A we have photocopy machines, and we’re not afraid to use them. Every student you meet, no matter how expensive the education institution he attends, will have a bunch of photocopies in his backpack, no questions asked. In Ecuador, i actually learned that the copyright law is specifically tailored to accommodate this arrangement: As long as it’s for classroom work, copyrights are excused, thank you very much.

Should we change the value proposition of OERs?

Does this explain (part of) the difficulties that David Wiley mentions regarding OER adoption? (he says that once he managed to convince people to share their contents, he had to work on getting people to actually use those contents). In L-A there’s little incentive to adopt OER textbooks if access to the “originals” is inexpensive. It’s understood by those in the know that access to ready-to-use contents is only half the value proposition, but even in this week’s content, it really comes down to that: OERs are free (as in free beer) contents you can learn from. Should we be trying to change the narrative? Would most educators value the modify and re-mix aspects of OERs enough to make them attractive?

OER doesn’t have to be just textbooks

It was interesting to notice that OERs were mostly described as textbooks. There’s no doubt that textbooks are valuable tools for educational settings.  However, it might be interesting to consider other intervention entry points: lesson plans, in particular, are highly valued by educators (especially in K-12). They’ve proven to be so valuable that marketplaces have been created and work quite effectively (Amazon deciding to make an entry in the market recently).

An example worth studying is Klascement a site started by an educator in the late 90s, where educator freely share classroom content (including lesson plans, tests sheets, and any other resource they’ve successfully used with their students).

The restrictions under which Mass Education systems were created

Back in the second half of the 19th century, it was becoming quite clear that society was evolving and transforming itself rather quickly. As part of that evolution, the need for evolution, also seen as the right to education, for the unwashed masses was impossible to miss. It could be described as the need for skilled labor, or the necessary next step fater the Enlightenment. In any case, just as organizations were growing, and state institutions were maturing, something new needed to be invented: a machinery to deliver education.

Now, we have to look at what was available in that context: Electricity was barely showing to be practical beyond the lab, with the notable exception of the telegraph. Universities were there, with their professors and training capabilities. There was an increasingly clear sense of where industrialization would be taking us, and this translated into abandoning more and more the craftsman’s practices, and giving space to mass production. Undoubtedly, this was the bright future to hold on to. Something that was quite well established was the printing press. Book creation and distribution systems were in place.

If you were thinking about creating a mass education system in that age, you would certainly usestate-of-the-art technology (for that context):

  • train teachers with a standardized set of concepts
  • make available contents, ie. books, within the constrains of budget
  • equip classroom with visual tools such as posters (recording voice was an eccentricity at best)
  • make sure knowledge transmission would use cutting edge tools such as paper and ink

The key innovation was being able to count on robust printed -instead of hand copied- books’ distribution systems, of course, as the rest had been in use since the days of the renaissance, and even before, as described by Peter Norvig (at 0:39).

One considerable limitation of the 19th century context is that of content transmission. There were strictly 2 ways to massify knowledge distribution:

  1. Inserting knowledge into the teacher, and making him repeat it
  2. Distributing books

But, you see, books were expensive to make. And you need to teach people to read in the first place to really use them anyways.

That’s why one of the main confusions was created in the mass education systems, a confusion that has remained true to this day: The teacher as a content emitter. His mission is to deliver content to the class. Once he has emitted it, he has to make sure that content was received and can be reproduced.

This is true of the way we train teachers, and it is true in most every classroom.

It’s not the only way, Montessori and the Flipped Classroom have shown there are other ways, but almost every classroom you visit responds to that model: the teacher’s job is to emit knowledge, in the hope that the students will catch it and reproduce it flawlessly. [repoducing it is different from making it theirs, by the way]

Of course, if we think of a school that is far from an urban center, where the library was a collection of 20 books, cramming as much knowledge as possible into the teacher, and then having him repeat it was a clever strategy. It was cost-effective. And it did get us where we are.

But is it suitable to remain attached to the limitations of the 19th century to define educational processes for the 21st century? Is that what the creators of the mass education system themselves would do if they had the resources we currently have? In which field of human activity do we ignore (abhor?) innovation to the point that bringing a practitioner from 200 years ago to do his job would work? (i can easily imagine re-training a teacher from the 1800s to teach in a current day classroom in 2 weeks time)

Mass education Systems’s achievement and limitations

I’ve have been dedicating quite some time to thinking about #edtech (Educational Technology), participating in online discussions on the topic and trying to learn as much as i could about it. I am convinced that technology (computing capabilities, ie. computers, smartphones and such, plus the network of networks aka. the Internet) has the power needed to transform educational practices.

I am also convinced that said educational practices -from the way we design the learning interaction to what the student carries in her backpack- in their current iteration do not respond to the opportunities that are present, to the potentialities of those opportunities. They merely are a rote repetition of patterns that were created in the 19th century. The fact that they are rote repetition is -unfortunately- quite appropriate, considering that rote repetition was a pillar of that system.

I feel like i must start by acknowledging that Mass Education Systems, as represented by the Education Ministries of Education of most of the world, achieved something unique in the history of the world: They managed to bring reading to the masses, inverting the amount of literate people to 85%. The following graph shows eloquently the magnitude of this transformation:


(the graph was taken from: )

We owe so much to that achievement. We can build so much of humanity’s future thanks to this achievement. The scientific and technological marvels that are constantly being built and reported day after day are the result of this massive effort that was achieved in just the last 200 years.

While every citizen of the Earth should be thankful to their teachers, education administrators and knowledge providers, we are appreciative of the result more than we are attached to the methods that were used to achieve this. The mass education systems that were rolled out in the early 20th century responded -necessarily- to the restrictions and the needs of that time. It also made the best of the technological possibilities that were available. In my next post, i will describe what i perceive were those restrictions, needs, and technological possibilities, trying to explain how they framed the design of the mass education systems.

To finish this first post, a few questions i like to ask of educators:

  • Does it make sense to do things the way they were done 200 years ago?
  • In which contexts would we be want to be caught saying “This is how we’ve been doing this for one hundred years, so there’s no need to change”?
  • How could it be acceptable to say “Well, the context might have changed quite a bit (you know those pesky computers and all), but the founders of mass education systems had already foreseen all those changes, so we’re good here.”?