Monday, October 20, 2014

WWW literacies and the importance of self archiving

Here we are, week 2 of module 3 (so week 6) and half-way through the formal run of connected courses.  I spent most of last week catching up with stuff that was piling up in my Pocket account from previous weeks. In all honesty I wasn't quite sure what to make of this module.  Pretty much all of the things that were readings failed to spark my imagination, given that I had either read similar things in the past, or I had actually lived through them.  The thing that really started to spark my a few things was Mozilla's Web Literacy white paper. Then I was having a conversation with fellow MOOCer Luis, in real life, about literacies and then it hit me.  How do people engage on the web, in a cMOOC? Luis was telling me about issues with engaging with a cMOOC and fellow participants out on the web, and how the other two xMOOCs he is following along with seem much more engaging.  I think that this is because they have a form and format that graduate students know to recognize, whereas cMOOCs do not. In order to engage in a cMOOC you really need to be playing at the Connecting level of Web Literacies, and not everyone is there yet.

This reminds me of the guest lecture we had from George Siemens in my EDDE 801 course earlier this semester. He had mentioned, that at least to his knowledge, most of the effort in the research has been on getting people up to speed with the technology (the mechanics) rather than actually using the technology for educational purposes and analyzing that.  This seems to jive with my, anecdotal, observations of what's happening in the classrooms that I have access to, and the thought processes of fellow faculty members (e.g.: "we'll teach them the tool, not expect them to make something with a tool we provide no instruction on")

The interesting thing with Mozilla's web literacy map, at least for me, is that I started early.  The Exploration literacies were acquired in the mid-to-late 90s, the Building literacies in the late 90s and early aughts, and the connecting skills in the early-to-mid aughts.  These were mostly done through browsing (Netscape 3.0 anyone?), the building through hand-coding HTML, then through WYSIWYG, and through experimentation with javascript and flash, and the Connecting literacies through participation (and later on moderation) of forums, and a Greek blog that I was maintaining at the time. This graphic made me realize three things:

1. It put into words nebulous concepts that I've been thinking about since I've been thinking about designing my own MOOC, and infusing technology into my own traditional online courses.  I expect my graduate students to be at the Connecting Literacies stage, without seeing where they are first.  Now granted, not everyone will reach the coding, scripting, infrastructure stages of Building, however I do believe that everyone can compose, and remix, and design to some level! Those can be leveraged to get learners to share, collaborate and participate in open practices. How one designs assignments for that that go beyond the "here's the tool, now let's learn about it" and get to the "let's make cool stuff with this tool! You'll figure it out!" is the next nut to crack.

2. In thinking of my own journey through the acquisition of these literacies (mostly through trial and error), I realized that I learned and honed these things over the span of 20 years. I've had a certain privilege (and curiosity to pursue it) that others may not have.  The question then, for me, is how can we rapidly on-board people so that they don't take 20 years to reach a certain level with those literacies?

3. Self-archiving is important. I really wish I could show people early versions of my website.  I know that has some versions of my website archived back to 2001 (which isn't bad!) but the public versions of my site were actually on good ol' Geocities initially. Before blogs were the in thing, I used my website's announcement and news page (usually the homepage) to write publicly once (or twice?) a month. This was a way for friends to get a quick snapshot of what was happening with me when I came to college.  It was also an opportunity to pick a new song (in midi format!) to share with anyone who came to the page. The stupid thing would autostart and you either listened to it, or muted your speakers. Talk about bad user experience design :).

Each month I just hit delete on that old content and updated the HTML file with the new news. Once Yahoo bought Geocities I decided to pay the small fee to get rid of the ads and the website became more elaborate.  Not that I have an awesome website today, but it has seen an evolution from 1996 when I started it (offline version) to now.  I think being able to illustrate someone's steps (and missteps) in developing those literacies is important.  If you don't self-archive, no one will :)

So, what thoughts did this module provoke?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A more responsive final exercise for the PhD?

My own doctoral journey may have just started, but it's been a meandering path to even get to the start.  It's not the destination after all that matters but the journey. Eventually all doctoral journeys culminate in a dissertation.  For the longest period of time this type of writing was a bit intimidating.  After all, who's got the energy to sit down and write a document that's 100 pages long and that few people will read. I challenge you to go ahead and look at academic articles that cross your path.  How often do you see people citing someone's dissertation in their citations?  Not that often, eh?

So, this gets me to this blog post.  I was reading Maha's blog post this morning on the way to work about her experience with her dissertation and her defense, and I was prompted by the #digiped questions she reposted.  This really got me thinking about my own path and what it's leading me to.
about a more responsive, and perhaps more accurate, final exercise for a doctoral degree. The recent #remixthediss was also an interesting catalyst for this thought process to kick in.

So, let's start with what is the purpose of the dissertation.  Just for kicks go on, ask Google "what is the purpose of dissertation?" and see what you get.  One of my search results was from Yale (trustworthy source, no?) and they cite Lovitts & Wert (2009) in stating the following:

The purpose of the dissertation is to prepare the student to be a professional in the discipline. Through this preparation the student learns and demonstrates the ability to conduct independent, original, and significant research. The dissertation thus shows that the student is able to:
  • identify/define problems,
  • generate questions and hypotheses,
  • review and summarize the literature,
  • apply appropriate methods,
  • collect data properly,
  • analyze and judge evidence,
  • discuss findings,
  • produce publishable results,
  • engage in a sustained piece of research or argument,
  • think and write critically and coherently. 

OK, this is a good solid way to start thinking about the dissertation as a final exercise for a doctoral program.   So, let's look at the first question of #digiped: "How is the dissertation pedagogical? What are the intrinsic and instrumental values of the form?"

If you are going through a doctoral program, on the surface level, the dissertation as an academic monograph does have a pedagogical purpose.  As stated above by Lovitts & Wert (in the Yale document) the point of the dissertation is to make demonstrate that you know how to do all of the individual and collective parts of research and critical analysis that is expected of people who hold the title "doctor". These include the collection of data, review of previous literature, analysis of data, the curiosity and critical thinking (as embodied by generating questions and hypotheses), and engaging in something in a sustained manner to bring out new knowledge.

The form, however, the one that we have come to know and resembles an academic monograph, is not the only form that brings us to those results and can show to our peers that we have attained that level of knowledge, self-reflection, and have obtained the necessary argumentation to take the training wheels off and be set off into the world on our own.  One thing that I would submit as evidence to this is the following piece of advice that I have received with regard to any dissertation I write: I should write my dissertation so that I can pull out chapters and with minor changes I can send them for publication to journals. It seems to me that if few people are citing your dissertation in their own work, and if your ultimate goal is to get some journal articles out of your dissertation, then why not begin with the goal of having your final exercise be  x-many publishable quality articles?

This brings me to the second question: "What shapes can (or should) a dissertation take? What institutional structures must change in order to make way for a proliferation of unique forms? How can we collectively manage anxieties about the dissertation that often get in the way of the kind of experimentation that pedagogy demands?"

Here I can only speak about the disciplines that I have been most directly involved with (management, IT, education and applied linguistics), but I think that there are a lot of different shapes that final exercises can take.  One example I brought up are  multiple qualifying papers. Does 3 sound OK to everyone? I just picked a number out of my head. It seems to me that publishable quality academic papers as a replacement for the dissertation have many benefits.  One of the benefits is that you, as a student researcher, can demonstrate familiarity with more than one research method by undertaking this as a final exercise. You can also demonstrate that you are not a one-tune fiddle by choosing more than one topic that you are interested in.  One topic per article!  By working on three articles you have an opportunity to be mentored by many different faculty, you can get peer review for your work, just like you'd be getting when you submit to a journal, and once your work passes internal review you can also submit this work to publication (where you can get additional peer review!).  This to me seems like a win-win situation for everyone.  The learner can demonstrate that they know what they know, they get published work out of it (and maybe a conference poster or presentation too?) and they get feedback in many areas.  The institution benefits by having having grads who are more versatile and perhaps more cross-disciplinary, and the profession benefits by having work (a dissertation) that is out there, and open, and not gathering dust in some proquest database...

Now the drawback that I see here is that my proposal is still based on text. Perhaps something similar might be accomplished by having to present research-based talks and presentations at conferences, have those recorded, and then have a Q&A session with a final committee (sort of like a dissertation defense) where you are judged on the quality of your work and how you know what you know. This would rely less on text and more on presentation skills.  I think that we cannot escape text in our line of work, but knowing how to write in a variety of different scenarios is important. This could be something that demonstrates a competency in that aspect of academic life.

For what it's work, my preference would be for many academic articles (and/or book chapters) that are of publishable quality.  I have no interest in writing a book.  I might change my mind, who knows, but at the moment my academic life revolves around academic articles.  I would prefer to have the ability to demonstrate my competency through multiple articles, using many different research methods, in a couple of different topics rather than hyper-focus on one topic to get this dissertation done.

The last thing to tackle in this post is on collaborative dissertations.  "How can we make way for more collaborative dissertations, especially in fields where dissertation-writing is traditionally a very isolated endeavor? What are the benefits of making this work increasingly collaborative?"

I think if we keep the dissertation as the one and only exercise for a doctoral degree it's hard to make it collaborative. The dissertation is the way to show that you have attained those skills (see above) and if you only have one document to showcase those skills, you can't really work collaboratively.  In a well designed article, if you work with others, there is no distinction in voice. It's one, unified, piece that everyone has contributed to, not many smaller pieces stitched together.  This makes it impossible to really evaluate one individual.

However, I would argue, that working well with others, and working collaboratively is an asset in academia. My value the work I've done with my colleagues in the MobiMOOC Research Team.  Even though we've disbanded and are pursuing our own interests, we still keep in contact and I learned a lot from that experience.  I think that this is a competence that people need to have.  If you have a final exercise which consists of many articles instead of one monograph, then one of the articles can be a collaborative article that is researched and written by a team of 3-5 people on any given subject. This not only brings people out of isolation, it provides for a potentially encouraging and nurturing environment for the people working together, and it helps people move along their doctoral path. We've all heard of stories of people who get through their coursework in a PhD only to never complete their dissertation. Multiple articles, one of which should be a collaborative article, could help eliminate that issue.

Alright, enough talk (on my end).  Your thoughts?

side note: 200th MOOC blog post!

Friday, October 10, 2014


Some Friday homework posted here.  I was listening to Audrey Watters's keynote address at CETIS a few weeks ago and I thought this would make some good material for thinking and a critique - so here it is.  Your thoughts?

Watters, A. (2014, June). Un-Fathom-able: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech. Keynote presented at the 2014 Center for Educational Technology, Interoperability and Standards Conference. Bolton, UK. Retrieved from:

This review focuses on Audrey Watters’s keynote address at the CETIS 2014 conference. There are a number of elements that intrigued me enough to make it the focus of my second review.  This keynote is about the history of educational technology, but it artfully weaves together three distinct but related areas: First, Watters talks about prevailing narratives in the US-centric technology industry; secondly, she discusses Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their historical antecedents; and, finally, she makes reference to long-term effects of previous educational technology efforts. For this review I focus mostly on the first two.

The first thing that really grabbed me was Watters’ anecdote of her friend, who was invited to speak about the current state of education to other investors, CEOs, engineers, and entrepreneurs. He was of the opinion that online courses were first developed in 2001 at MIT, something which is factually wrong.  He may have been thinking about OpenCourseWare (OCW), but the fact that he was conflating OCW with online courses speaks volumes as to what passes for education in some circles.  Even though I didn’t know that online, or technology enhanced, courses went back to the 1960s, with efforts such as the University of Illinois’ Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO), I knew that MIT was not the first to delve into some sort of online, or computer-enhanced, teaching since my University had a learning management system (LMS) at least since 1998.

There are a number of fascinating points here to consider.  First, it’s interesting to ponder who is getting invited to these gatherings to discuss the future of education. Noticeably absent from these presentations are people actually involved in education, people in secondary or tertiary education. Investors, Engineers, Entrepreneurs, and CEOs are outsiders in the field of education, but also have a lot to gain from it, namely lucrative contracts. As such they have an incentive to view the past, as Watters describes it, as a “monolithic block of brokeness - unchanged and unchanging until it’s disrupted by technological innovation, or by the promise of technological innovation, by the future itself.

The other interesting aspects here both deal with how the narrative is framed.  First, the educational narrative, as is told these days, is US-centric if we exclude the brief mention of Prussian. These narratives have permeated the discourse of education and have gained a foothold. This exclusionary narrative is not healthy to continued excellence in education, because we don’t take into account information that is potentially valuable and useful as we move forward.  The other aspect that bears noting is a Randian (as in Ayn Rand) aspect that frames entrepreneurs and engineers as saviors of education’s ineptitude, and above all frames the individual as that ingenious person that will save the day.  We see this in Sal Khan’s History of Education the big thing, that his interviewer notes as they skipped over one hundred years of education history,  was the founding of Khan Academy, adding fuel to this Randian narrative of education.

 The second aspect of this keynote are the historical antecedents of the current MOOC phenomenon.  Watters discusses Fathom, a venture spearheaded by Columbia University, and Alliance for LifeLong Learning (AllLearn), a joint venture between Stanford, Oxford, and Yale. AllLearn originally intended to offer courses exclusively for alumni, a move that we see Harvard contemplating with MOOCs today (Kolowich, 2014), before they opened it up to everyone. Fathom, on the other hand, was open to anyone who was interested in paying for the coursework.  Some courses were free, but it appears that the cost was at least $500 per course, for a non-credit course.  Both of these initiatives failed and closed their doors by 2006. There are a few interesting things to note here.  First, it would appear that xMOOCs, like coursera and edx, follow the model and design set forth by AllLearn and Fathom courses both in their “best courses from the best processors” rhetoric, but also from the course design perspective. The thing that should raise some eyebrows here is that when you’re touting a “best courses from the best professors” you are putting learning in the backseat and you are putting something other in the center, something like the institution or the professor.  A name brand, instead of actual learning.

Secondly, it’s interesting to note that the prevailing narrative is that we can do things cheaper and faster these days with the internet; however, as Watters breaks it down, venture capital invested in xMOOC platforms has been more than doubled what was invested in Fathom, AllLearn, and UKeU. Additionally, course development costs for these platforms are about the same as they were a decade ago.  Finally, thinking about how successful such initiatives are, when people who worked at these ventures were interviewed about their eventual failure, the scapegoat was the low levels of broadband internet availability for properly sharing course materials.  This is ironic on multiple levels, including: (1) high-speed (aka broadband) internet penetration levels are marginally better today - 8% higher than the early 2000s, to make it 28% ; (2) those initial ventures offered courses on CD-ROM for people who didn’t have high speed access, so in theory the lack of broadband is moot; and finally (3) some of those same individuals are at the helm of xMOOCs today!

Finally, Watters mentions some unintended consequences of previous educational technology developments, like the LMS, which have permeated the way that we think of things.  For instance, if you look at xMOOC platforms, like coursera, it’s clear to see that their underlying design language is that of the LMS, a siloed environment where there are no connections between courses, or even course resources.  What happens in the LMS stays in the LMS, and once the course is done you, as a learner, lose access to the materials. The question then becomes, when we are talking about an Open course, why are we building silos and walled gardens? Why not focus on actual open practices? The alternatives that we can build on are, are Watters says, a “future of learner agency, of human capacity, of equity, of civic responsibility, of openness.”

Kolowich, S. (2014, February 11).  Harvard U. WIll Offer Exclusive MOOCs to Alumni. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Δικτυακή ευχέρεια και εμπιστοσύνη στο ίντερνετ

Είμαστε λοιπόν κοντά στο τέρμα της δεύτερης μονάδας του Connected Courses, ένα ανοιχτό διαδικτυακό μάθημα (OOC) και η θεματολογία αυτής της μονάδας είναι η εμπιστοσύνη στον χώρο του διαδικτύου και η διαδικτυακή ευχέρεια των μαθητών, αλλά και τον καθηγητών. Το θέμα της εμπιστοσύνης μου θυμίζει κάτι παλιά podcast από Έλληνες, όπως ο vrypan, κατά το 2005-2007 όταν είχαμε αρχίσει να γράφουμε όλοι στο διαδίκτυο με τα μπλογκ μας και να τουιτάρουμε εντός τον γνωστόν μας δικτύων. Θυμάμαι τότε πως ο Παναγιώτης (vrypan) είχε δημιουργήσει έναν aggregator ο οποίος είχε μια γενική λίστα των ελληνικών μπλογκ και αν θυμάμαι καλά έκανε aggregate και ένα μέρος από την ανάρτηση για όσους ενδιαφέρονταν να δουν κάτι περιληπτικό πριν αποφασίσουν να πάνε να διαβάσουν το μπλογκ.

Εμένα αυτή η υπηρεσία μου άρεσε αρκετά επειδή ήθελα να βρω άλλους Έλληνες στο διαδίκτυο και να έχω κάποια επαφή με ελληνικό περιεχόμενο που με ενδιέφερεε και που δεν ήταν από εφημερίδες. Μερικοί όμως είχαν πρόβλημα με το aggregator, και υπήρξε, αν δεν κάνω λάθος ένα μικρο πέρα-δώθε με μερικούς στο ίντερνετ, οπότε τελικά τους έβγαλαν από το aggregator. Αν θυμάμαι καλά το θέμα ήταν θέμα προστασίας του ιδιωτικού περιεχομένου (privacy) αλλά αφού τα μπλογκ ήταν δημόσια το privacy δεν έπαιζε. Αυτό που συνειδητοποίησα αργότερα ήταν ότι δεν ήταν θέμα privacy αλλά θέμα εμπιστοσύνης Όταν έχεις ένα ιστολόγιο, και δημοσιεύει διάφορα, μερικές φορές ξέρεις ποιος τα διαβάζει - σου αφήνουν σχόλια και έτσι δημιουργείτε μια συμπάθεια μεταξύ των αναγνωστών ενός μπλογκ. Αμα βλέπεις στα analytics πως έχεις πολλούς που έρχονται στο ιστολόγιο σου αλλά δεν ξέρεις ποιοι είναι μπορεί να μην σε πειράζει πολύ επειδή είναι ανώνυμοι και μπορεί να ήρθαν τυχαία. Όταν το μπλογκ σου όμως είναι σε ένα aggregator, τότε είναι σαν κάποιος να σου βάζει έναν προβολέα και να σου δημιουργεί ένα τρακ, και προφανώς έναν τρόπο σκέψης που γράφεις όχι το τι σκέφτεσαι, αλλά κάτι που περνάει από φίλτρο έτσι ώστε για να μην εκτεθείς.

Έτσι λοιπόν βρισκόμαστε στην εμπιστοσύνη στο διαδίκτυο. Ακόμα και ανοιχτό να είναι το περιεχόμενό μας, ή στην ιστοσελίδα μας, ή στο ιστολόγιο, ή στο τουιτέρ, ή οπουδήποτε, υπάρχει αυτός ο φόβος το ότι θα πάρει κάποιος αυτό που έχουμε πει ή έχουμε γράψει και θα το διαστρεβλώσει Και αν οι σκέψεις μας είναι προκαταρκτικές, όπως είναι συνηθισμένο εντός μαθήματος, τότε μπορεί κάποιος να έχει την λάθος άποψη για εμάς, ή να μας τρολάρει - κάτι που θέλουμε να αποφύγουμε (γενικός). Οπότε στα ανοιχτά μαθήματα που δημιουργούμε - τα καθεαυτού ανοιχτά μαθήματα, και όχι τα ψεύτάνοιχτα όπως αυτά στο coursera, χρειαζόμαστε να έχουμε μια διαδικτυακή ευχέρεια έτσι ώστε να μπορούμε να έχουμε μια ιδέα για το ποιες πληροφορίες είναι καλές, και ποιες πηγές πληροφοριών είναι γενικά καλές, και μια ευχέρεια ως προς την εμπιστοσύνη. Δεν μπορούμε, σε ένα ανοιχτό περιβάλλον, να είμαστε καχύποπτοι, αλλά από την άλλη, πρέπει επίσης να έχουμε και τα επιτηδειότητα να μεταχειριστούμε μια κατάσταση η οποία έχει πάει κατά διαβόλου χωρίς να ήμαστε έτοιμοι να τα παρατήσουμε.

Εσείς τι λέτε; Ποιες οι σκέψεις σας για την εμπιστοσύνη στο διαδύκτιο;

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Can students opt out if you teach in Open Learning?

Siemens, 2014
It seems like Connected Courses is the cMOOC that keeps on adding while we are in the process of conducting the course.  I think, based on my own personal experience, that this (the addition of "features" as the course is in progress) is a hallmark of cMOOCs ;-).

Anyway, Discussion forums have been added to  Connected Courses, and a discussion cropped up on whether students can opt out of the open course if you are teaching in an open environment.  If they are not comfortable with open, is there an option for them to participate in a closed version, which I guess is similar to an a traditional online course through an LMS.  I am not sure how much I will participate in the forum, so I thought it would be an interesting though exercise to post some initial thoughts on here and have a discussion about the topic on here (or via a network of blog posts) since it connects with what I might be doing as an experiment for my dissertation.

So, really quickly: my idea revolves around "converting" a traditional online course to an open online course. Now whether it reaches Massive dimensions, that's another question. Then teach, collect data, and see where that goes.  This is my 30,000ft view, details still hazy (I have 2 years to come up with a more concrete proposal).

So, the initial sketches and ideas that are going into my ideas-notebook have to do with George Siemens has a dual-layer MOOC proposal. I have a sneaking suspicion that most MEd level students will not be comfortable being thrown off the deep end of a cMOOC.  Some might do fine, especially if they are interacting with people like the #ccourses crowd, but some might require some scaffolding and building up of their network literacies, thus they might need something a little more familiar.  The xMOOC format, at least what one sees in coursera, edx, udacity, novoed, and so on, would be of use to them.  As the learners progress through the MOOC they can switch tracks - cMOOC to xMOOC and vice versa - as they feel that it is fit for them.  However, in conceiving of the xMOOC track I don't foresee a sign-in wall like most xMOOCs, so the question in the forum gave me pause to think.  What if some students don't like the idea that others, who are not signed up and paying for credit, in the course are logged in and are reading their forum posts and blog posts?  Should they have a private little area that acts more like a traditional course?

My initial inclination is this: no.  The course is offered in the format that it is offer (an open format) and since the course is an elective, the learners don't need that sort of an accommodation (an accommodation to use only a closed course).  I do realize that this sounds inflexible on my part, and that I might be throwing some learners into the deep end of Open Learning. It's also not really andragogical in that I am not coming to an understanding and negotiating the course structure with them a bit.  On the other hand, it really makes me think about what learners are really paying for when they are paying for a credit-bearing class.  Are they paying for an evaluation of their capabilities? for mentoring? for instruction? for all of the above?  The idea behind my experiment is that the Open Course could run in defined semesters for people who want to take it for credit through their institution (mine would be an example since I teach this course), and it would be open for anyone to take at any time, or in concert with cohorts taking it for credit. Thus, at any give time you have learners who are both taking the course for credit and those who are doing it for free because they are curious about the content.

If instruction and content are given away for free (in a MOOC anyway), then what's left?  In a free open course one may say that the course was developed to be open to begin, so closed is not an option. Unless, of course, the learners fork to MOOC and go off to play in their own private sandbox - which is perfectly fine with me. However, once you start mixing credit-bearing aspects of a course and MOOCs, things get a little more murky.  What are the expectations of the learners?  What are the expectations of the institution?  Is everyone on the same page as to what each person's role is in the course? I don't have a clear-cut answer at the moment, but my initial gut feeling is to go with Open, unless people want to fork the MOOC.

What are your thoughts? What DO learners pay for when they attend a for-credit course?  What if you made that course free, why would they pay for it if it's a free OOC?