Monday, October 16, 2017

It's the end of the MOOC as we know it, and I feel...

...ambivalent?  I am not sure if ambivalence is the word I am going for because I am getting hints of nostalgia too.  Perhaps though I should take a step back, and start from the beginning.

This past weekend two things happened:

The first thing is that I've completed reading full books as part of my literature review for my dissertation, and I have moved onto academic articles, articles I've been collecting on MOOCs and collaboration in general. While MOOCs aren't really the main focus of my dissertation study, they do form the basis, or rather the campgrounds on which the collaborative activities occurred on, and it's those collaborative activities I want to examine. This review of MOOC articles (while still relatively in the early stages) made me reflect back on  my own MOOC experiences since 2011.

The second thing is that I received a message from FutureLearn which was a little jarring and made me ponder.  Here is a screenshot:



My usual process, when it comes to MOOCs these days, is to go through  the course listings of the usual suspects (coursera, edx, futurelearn) and sign-up for courses that seem interesting.  Then, as time permits I go through these courses.  I usually carve out an hour every other Friday to do some MOOCing these days since most of my "free" time is spent on dissertation-related pursuits.  It would not be an understatement to say that I have quite a few courses that are not completed yet (even though I registered for them about six months ago).  What can I say? I find a ton of things interesting.

If you're new to MOOCs you might say "well, it was a free course, and now it's going back into paid land - you should have done it while it was available". Perhaps you're right, perhaps not.  For a MOOC old-timer, like me (ha!), this type of message is really disheartening, and it really speaks quite well to the co-opting  and transmogrification of the MOOC term (and concept) and making something that is not really recognizable when compared to the original MOOCs of 2008-2012; or perhaps it's a bit even like an erasure - erasing it form the past, but luckily at least articles exist to prove that it existed, and cMOOC is still recognized as a concept.

I am convinced that platforms like coursera and futurelearn can no longer be considered MOOC platforms, and should be referred to  as either a learning management system (which they are), or online learning platform. Over the past few years things that seemed like a given for an open learning platform are starting to not be there.  First the 5Rs started being not applicable.  You couldn't always revise or remix materials that you found on these platforms...but you could download copies of the materials so that you could retain your own copy, and this meant that you could potentially reuse and redistribute.  Redistribution was the next freedom that went,  and after that was reuse.  You could still download materials though (at least on coursera and edx).  Then a coursera redesign made video download not an option... (still an option in edx, not sure if it was an option in futurelearn), and now courses are becoming time-gated... argh.

The certificate of completion was an interesting concept - a nice gift from the people who offered the course if you jumped through their hoops to do the course as they intended, but it was really only valuable when it was free of cost. This freebie has also been lost (not a great loss since it doesn't really mean much - at least not yet).

All of this closing off of designs and materials (closing in a variety of ways) makes me long for the days gone by, day not long ago, and MOOCs only about 10 years in the past.  Although, I suppose in EdTech terms 10 years might as well be centuries.

I do wonder when might be a good time to reclaim the name and offer up connectivist courses again - or perhaps it's time to kill the term (wonder what Dave thinks of this ;-) ), and create something that doesn't have such  commercial interests infused into it right now.

Thoughts?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Instructional Designers, and Research

Yet another post that started as a comment on something that Paul Prinsloo posted on facebook (I guess I should be blaming facebook and Paul for getting me to think of things other than my dissertation :p hahaha).

Anyway,  Paul posted an IHE story about a research study which indicates that instructional designers (IDers) think that they would benefit from conducting research in their field (teaching and learning), but they don't necessarily have the tools to do this.  This got me thinking, and it made me ponder a bit about the demographics of IDers in this research. These IDers were  in higher education.  I do wonder if IDers in corporate settings don't value research as much.

When I was a student and studying for my MEd in instructional design (about 10 years ago), I was interested in the research aspects and the Whys of the theories I was learning. I guess this is why further education in the field of teaching and learning was appealing to me, and why I am ultimately pursuing a doctorate. I digress though - my attitude (inquisitiveness?) stood is in contrast with fellow classmates who were ambivalent or even annoyed that we spent so much time on 'theory'.  They felt that they should be graduating with more 'practical skills' in the wizbang tools of the day.  We had experience using some of these tools - like Captivate, Articulate, Presenter, various LMSs, and so on, but obviously not the 10,000 hours required to master it†. Even though I loved some classmates (and for those with who are reading this, it's not a criticism of you! :-) ), I couldn't help but roll my eyes at them when such sentiments came up during out-of-class meetups where we were imbibing our favorite (hot or cold) beverages.  Even back then I tried to make them see the light.  Tools are fine, but you don't go to graduate school to learn tools - you go to learn methods that can be applied broadly, and to be apprenticed into a critical practice.  As someone who came from IT before adding to my knowledge with ID,  I knew that tools come and go, and to have a degree focus mostly on tools is a waste of money (and not doing good to students....hmmmm...educational fast food!). I know that my classmates weren't alone in their thinking, having responded to a similar story posted on LinkedIn this past summer.

My program had NO research courses (what I learned from research was on my own, and through mentorship of professors in my other masters programs). Things are changing in my former program, but there are programs out there, such as Athabasca University's MEd, which do work better for those who want a research option.

Anyway, I occasionally teach Introduction to Instructional Design for graduate students and I see both theory-averse students (like some former classmates), and people who are keen to know more and go deeper. I think as a profession we (those of us who teach, or run programs in ID) need to do a better job at helping our students become professionals that continually expand their own (and their peer's) knowledge through conscious attempts at learning, and research skills are part of that.  There should be opportunities to learn tools, for the more immediate need of getting a job in the field, but the long term goal should be setting up lifelong learners and researchers in the field.  Even if you are a researcher with a little-r you should be able to have the tools and skills to do this to improve your practice.

As an aside, I think that professional preparation programs are just one side of the equation.  The other side of the equation. The other side is employment and employers, and the expectations that those organization have of instructional design.  This is equally important in helping IDers help the organization. My conception of working with faculty members as an IDer was that we'd have a partnership and we'd jointly work out what was best based on what we had (technology, expertise, faculty time) so that we could come up with course designs that would be good for their students. The reality is that an IDer's job, when I did this on a daily basis, was much more tool focused (argh!).  Faculty would come to us with specific ideas of what they wanted to do and they were looking for tool recommendations and implementation help - but we never really had those fundamental discussions about whether the approach was worth pursuing anyway. We were the technology implementers and troubleshooters - and on occasion we'd be able to "reach" someone and we'd develop those relationships that allowed us to engage in those deeper discussions. When the organization sees the IDer role as yet another IT role, it's hard to make a bigger impact.

On the corporate side, a few of my past students who work(ed) in corporate environments have told me that theory is fine, but in academia "we just don't know what it's like in corporate" and they would have liked less theory, more hands-on for dealing with corporate circumstances. It's clear to me that even in corporate settings the organizational beliefs about what your job as an IDer is impacts what you are allowed to do (and hence how much YOU impact your company). Over drinks, one of my friends recently quipped (works in corporate ID, but formerly on higher education) that the difference between a credentialed (MEd) IDer and one that is not credentialed (someone who just fell into the role), is that the credentialed ID sees what's happening (shoverware) and is saddened by it. The non-credentialed person thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread‡. Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it was definitely food for thought.

At the end of the day I'd like to see IDers more engaged in education research. I see it really as part of a professional that wants to grow and be better at what they do, but educational programs that prepared IDers need to help enable this, and organizations that employ them need to see then as an asset similar to librarians where they expect research to be part of the course to be an IDer.

Your thoughts?


MARGINALIA:
† This is obviously a reference to Gladwell's work, and the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  It's one of those myths (or perhaps something that needs a more nuanced understanding). It's not a magic bullet, but I used it here for effect.
‡ Grossly paraphrasing, of course

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ponderings on predatory journals


I originally posted this as a response in a post that Paul Prinsloo wrote on facebook (in response to this Chronicle Article on Beall's list and why it died), but it seemed lengthy enough to cross-post as a blog post :-)
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So many issues to dissect and analyze is such a (relatively) brief article. It is important to see and analyze predatory journals (and academic publishing) in general systematically with other trends in academia. This includes the fetishization of publish or perish, and the increased research requirements to even get a job in academia (see recent article on daily noos as an example)

One thing that bugged me was this line --"Good journals are not going to come to you and beg you for your articles. That should be your first clue." There are legitimate journals out there that are new, and hence don't have any current readership because they are new, so they can't necessarily rely on the word of mouth to get submissions for review. I am helping a colleague get submissions for for upcoming issues (shameless plug: http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciee/ ), and we certainly solicit submissions from within our social network (and the extended social network). We don't spam people (perhaps that the difference), but the social network is used for such purposes.

I also don't like the idea of categorization of 'high quality' and 'low quality' . Anecdotally I'd say that what passes as high quality tends to (at least) correlate with how long they've been in the market, the readership they've amassed over the years, and the exclusivity they have developed because of this (many submissions, few spots for publication). Exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean high quality, and a high quality journal doesn't necessarily mean that a specific article is high quality (but we tend to view it under that halo effect).

At the end of the day, to me it seems that academics are equally susceptible to corporate interests as other professionals. True freedom to say what you need to say sometimes requires a pseudonym - sort of like the Annoyed Librarian...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Validity...or Trustworhiness?

It's been a crazy few days!  If it weren't for my brother coming down to hangout for a while I probably would have more in common with Nosferatu than a regular human being😹 (having been stuck indoors for most of the weekend).  When I started off this summer I gave myself a deadline to be done with my methods chapter by August 30th (chapter 3 of my proposal).  After reading...and reading...and reading...and re-reading (select articles form EDDE 802), I reached a point of saturation when it comes to methods.  I really wanted to read all of Lincoln & Guba's 1985 book called Naturalistic Inquiry during this round, but it seems like I will just need to focus on specific aspects of the book.

So, in this whirlwind of activity, I went through the preamble to my methods section, my target participant descriptions, my data collection, my data analysis techniques, and any limitations.  I added to these sections, explicated, went more in-depth in each section, I corrected issues that were brought up by Debra in EDDE 805, some outstanding issues and comments from the feedback on the parts I had worked on MDDE 702, and some of the initial comments I got back from my dissertation chair. **phew** That was hard work!  The only parts that I still have left to complete in order to be "done" with my methods section are (1) The ethics section; (2) the validity/reliability/bias section;  (3) a conclusion section for the chapter bringing it all together; (4) an appendix with a sample survey; and (5) an appendix with the participant consent form.  I am considering adding (6) the REB application to an appending as well before I call this section "done".  I am not sure if I will be done by August 30th (as was the original plan) but I think I will be damn close.

That said, there is one thing that is tripping me up, and that has to do with the validity/reliability/bias section.  Bias is actually not that hard.  I think I can write up procedures and things to be on the lookout for in order to avoid bias in both data collection and analysis.  The thing that  is much more concerning is philosophical:  Do I go with Trustworthiness, Credibility, Dependability, and Transferability as what I talk about in this section (coming from the Lincoln and Guba tradition of qualitative research work)?  Or do I choose the more traditional Validity and Reliability and discuss my methods in that frame of reference?  Of course, for qualitative studies the Lincoln & Guba approach makes sense (at least it does to me, and it's references in a variety of other texts I've read on qualitative approaches to research), but at the same time quite a few of the texts that I've read (both on case studies and on qualitative studies in general) still use reliability and validity as terms in qualitative researcher. So, so I "translate" validity and reliability (from the texts) in Lincoln & Guba terms?  Just discuss in the framework of Lincoln & Guba? or try to smash both together?  Perhaps start with Validity & Reliability and transition to L&G terms since they make sense?    I need to re-read Chapter 11 of Naturalistic Inquiry this week to help make up my mind (any thoughts are more than welcome in the comments).

As of this point I am at 23 pages (with 1 paragraph of lorem ipsum text, and quite a few scraps of though patterns for items 1 and 2 above), so I am thinking I should be wrapping this up soon and not getting logorrhea.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The publication emergency


Paul Prinsloo has a wealth of thought provoking posts on his facebook ;-)  I wasn't planning on blogging until tomorrow, but this got my mental gears moving and thinking (not about my dissertation, but it's thinking nevertheless).  This blog started as a continuation of a comment I left on Paul's facebook feed. The article that got me thinking is an article on the Daily Nous titled The Publication Emergency.

In the article a journal editor (in the field of philosophy) opines (although not with his editor hat on) that graduate students (I guess this means doctoral students) should be barred from publishing until they are done with their degree. He says that this is not a barring of people who don't hold a doctorate, but rather of people who are in process of earning their doctorate.  So, in theory, some with an MA, but not pursuing a doctorate would be welcome to publish their stuff.  So, even if an article is good and has merit, if its author is in process of earning a doctorate they'd get an automatic rejection.

It was an interesting read, and a good thought piece - and in all honesty I think that that since the author is a philosopher he is either trolling us or trying to get us to think more deeply about this topic. I certainly hope so at least because I don't think there is a way for me to disagree more with the position expressed (my disagreement has reached 11 😉 ).

The proposal seems to be trying to address the problem of the proliferation of credentials amogst the professoriate, of which I'd argue that publications is one kind of credential.  And, this proliferration of credentials is making it much more competitive for those in the professoriate at a variety of levels.  To deal with this problem the proposal is to arbitrarily eliminate one segment of the population, barring them from publications. It's arbitrary because someone without a doctorate, as mentioned above, is still NOT barred from publication, except if they are in the middle of earning one. So someone like me publishing prior to entering a doctoral program is fine, but if I enter that gray zone it suddenly is not? (not trying to make this about me, I promise 😛 ).

I see the problem as being more systematic, and the credentialing is a symptom of a larger issue (something we see at level beneath the doctoral level as well!)   Doctoral programs have increased and saturated the market.  Doctoral programs have gone from artisanal experiences, where few people applied, fewer were selected, cohorts were smaller and members shared the 'pain' of the experience. Sort of like going through an elite military program, but in academia.  Nowadays doctoral programs have (mostly) morphed to being cash cows for universities. More PhD† students graduating means more competition in the tenure stream job market; that is of course unless your program was thinking ahead and designed doctoral programs whose goals are not just to create new tenure stream faculty, but also work in other facets of society. More programs means more candidates competing for fewer jobs and resources (journals being  one of those resources). Hence, you need additional credentials to make it, such as doing post-docs (which I'd call exploitative labor), other type free work and volunteering, more papers published, etc., in order to get an edge.  It reminds me a lot of high school when people joined as many extracurriculars in order to pad their college application 😒

So, now you have a problem, my friend! You see, more early academics‡ publishing because current professors claim that they don't have the ability to publish as much because the journal market is saturated - with the author of the article citing 500-600 submissions to a journal per year. Add this to the budding market of predatory journals, and you've got a really bad mix.  An invalid argument that was proposed in the article is "well if the argument of a graduate student is good now, imagine how good it will be in the future!"  I don't buy this.  Academia has setup a perverse set of incentives, including keeping track of citations.  If the goal is to write something good and get citations for it, why wait? Ideas don't have a monogenesis, so if you wait someone else will beat you to the punch. Why handicap younger scholars who should actually be apprenticed into this? Another proposal is to not have anything published before you got your current tenure-stream job not count, so that people can see what you can do on the job.  This also made me roll my eyes a bit. 🙄 Why practice selective amnesia? Simply to sour the milk and prevent people from doing something?

I think academia needs to seriously look systematically at the perverse incentives it has provided over the past 40 years♠ and deal with those rather than just dealing with a symptoms in ways that are arbitrary, and at best, a bandaid on a bleeding patient.  Doctoral students should be encouraged to publish, it's good practice for those who want to go into the professoriate.  Why not have the benefit of mentorship while undertaking this?  Furthermore, the publish-or-perish modus operandi for academic units needs to finally be put to rest.  Faculty positions need much more granularity than what the current system allows for.  Faculty hired as lab scientists should be evaluated more on their research and publication performance. Faculty who do mostly teaching should be evaluated more on that.  Tenure and academic freedom should not just the playground of research PhDs, and we shouldn't try to shoehorn everything into a research PhD framework. This to me seems like a vestige of positivism, and our profession needs to think more seriously about a more dynamic, better representative, professoriate.  More holistic means of evaluation will most likely take the pressure of the publication system.



NOTES
† PhDs is just my short term for any sort of doctorate, I don't really want to get into the whole PhD/EdD thing...
‡ By early academic I don't just mean tenure-track folks, but doctoral students
♠ just an estimate on my part, based on my conversations with others in field more time than I