Friday, October 31, 2014

DALMOOC, episode 1: In the beginning

Alright, I guess it's time to start really committing some braincells (and time) to DALMOOC, the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC that started last week on EdX.  I wasn't going to attend this MOOC, to be honest about it, but seeing that George Siemens was behind this, I knew that there was an experimental aspect to it. Learning analytics is not new to me, my first MOOC (cMOOC) in fact was LAK11 (Learning Analytics and Knowledge) which I jumped into right after I finished my Applied Linguistics studies.

So, now that I have cleared my plate of a number of coursera MOOCs (decided to give myself the "audit" status and just download the videos for later viewing - maybe in January or something), and that most of my assignments are done for EDDE 801, I can devote a little more time to writing in the open web about academic stuff and ponderings about academic stuff.

So, what brought me to DALMOOC? The first thing that brought me to it is this xMOOC/cMOOC structure that I've written about before.  A pure xMOOC, for me, is like TED talks.  I see little incentive to do assignments for xMOOCs (although I must admit that my track record on edx is a little better than on coursera). A cMOOC can be overwhelming for some, but the chaotic structure is appealing to me.  I like getting content from peers.  Videos don't always provoke me to think outside the box, peer's postings sometimes do, and that's where the spark of thought occurs and provokes me to think about things that I haven't thought about before, and to elaborate on things that I have thought about for both my benefit and hopefully other's benefit (the whole "being the teacher helps you make headway in your own learning" theory).

Once I signed up I discovered other great aspects, beyond learning analytics, about this MOOC.  The opportunity to mess around with software like Tableau for example is great, and getting to try out ProSolo. I had tried out and last summer but they seemed lacking that social aspect.  ProSolo (from the 15 minutes I've spent in it thus far) seems like a social network infused with learning.  Maybe I am reading into this, but from the recommendations I get, it reminds me a lot of the Recommender System that I had proposed for MOOCs two summers ago :-).  Anyway, I am looking forward to exploring ProSolo more (and probably reporting back here).

In any case, what's my game plan here? Explore the software for visualization of data, like Tableu, probably view a few videos each week, but I guess the core will be spend on ProSolo and on blogging.  Like other cMOOCs I've been part of I plan on picking up on what others write in their blogs and go from there.  The chaotic nature of cMOOCs does not scare me (I come armed with Pocket for later reading!) I will most likely not be part of the forums because they are usually a time-sink and there is no way to save posts for later reading.  This is one thing I liked about the forums of MobiMOOC, things came in the mail, I read the forum post, and if I had something to say I could respond right from my phone.  Perhaps this is the next user-interface innovation needed in xMOOCs, but I digress.

OK, I'm off to see where the daily digests are going for DALMOOC and watch this space for more sparks of thought on this MOOC.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The medium is the message, so pick your medium well

This semester I am helping out a colleague, and current M.Ed. student on the topic of MOOCs. He is taking a few MOOCs as part of his trying to grasp what it means to take a MOOC in order to create a MOOC.  Unsurprisingly, as is the case with most people, he's having some issues with Connected Courses because cMOOCs require the knowledge, and utilization of, certain literacies that we don't necessarily teach, or practice in school, even as graduate students.

So, in brainstorming with him over the past couple of weeks I've been  thinking a lot about the phrase: The Medium is the Message†.  One of the main pitfalls of instructional designers and instructional technologists, especially those who are currently going through their studies and are novices in the field, is that they tend to think of technology first, and everything else later.  This is true with MOOCs as well, especially people who've been enculturated to think that MOOCs are of the xMOOC variety, that they begun at elite Universities and platforms for such innovations were funded by venture capital firms, so that we may arrive at coursera, udacity and so on. So, the first question on my colleague's mind seemed to be which platform to use. This is the wrong starting point, for a variety of reasons.  First, the medium of an LMS, and coursera and co. are learning management systems, let's not kid ourselves,  comes with certain constraints in mind.  This concept isn't new, Lisa Lane wrote about it back in 2009, and I'm sure others have written about similar and related issues before this.

The pedagogy that was initially conceived for those initial Stanford MOOCs really has informed the design that has gone into coursera and co., and as a consequence to that, this design constrains all future courses "designed" for that platform to fit a specific mold.  I read something today on CogDog's Blog about people liking the LMS because they find the web too complicated‡. I guess this is people and institutions might also flock to MOOC LMS of various sorts and not think outside the box and devise solutions that work for them and their specific educational goals and outcomes for offering a MOOC. It's not like you can co-opt a MOOC LMS to do what you want to do, right?  You can try, and I think that the good folks at E-Learning and Digital Cultures did a good job with their MOOC, but they still needed to work within the confines and requirements of the coursera MOOC platform.

When you play in someone else's sandbox, you need to obey their rules. Disobey and at the best case scenario you will find yourself trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Worst case scenario you might get slapped by the provider and this could take many forms. So, at the end of the day, my advice to future educational technologists and instructional designers is to not start with the technology, start with your goals, aims, and how you'd like to reach them.  Go with technology after you've done part of your planning.  Also, it's worthwhile looking at the Terms of Service for what you are going to use.  You might be surprised at what you can, and cannot, do.  I came across a coursera ToS agreement a while back.  While I didn't read the entire legal document a few things popped out to me as concerning.  If things raise some red-flags, it's important to do something about it (or avoid the software) because you are not only thinking of your class and your learners, but also your university.

So, this was where this post was going to end, but I saw that Paul de Haye (probably known mostly due to #massiveteaching) posted on his blog a few things, including a statement of what happened with #massiveteaching, as well as a blog on the erosion of thick legitimacy by coursera. Both were interesting reads, so if you haven't read them yet they are worth reading and chewing on for a while.  They also seemed to connect to the overall message of this post: the medium is the message, hence a longer-than-usual blog post.

I am not going to summarize Paul's posts (you should read them directly from the source), but two things come to mind when reading them.  First, I agree with coursera, and other venture capital driven MOOC projects as riding on the coat-tails and reputations of established universities. Paul, if I am understanding this correctly, calls this Thick legitimacy.  This is the first time I hear of this concept, so I am interpreting it a bit through my own cultural expressions (like riding the coat-tails of someone).  I think this  thin legitimacy of projects like Coursera is inevitable for any new project, and any entity in that position would look for ways to make themselves look more credible, and hopefully in the future through their own efforts develop their own thick legitimacy.  We see this tag-along mode of being partly by the rhetoric of "take the world's best courses online, for free" (current slogan on  We also see this in the rhetoric from non-profits liked edx ("Take great online courses from the world's best universities" as the current slogan on

I don't think that there is a problem with thin legitimacy to begin with, everyone has to start somewhere.  Even doctoral students, like myself, are basing their own initial thin legitimacy on their institution's thick legitimacy until we can prove ourselves and develop our own brand of thick legitimacy (a positive reputation).  I think the problem, as Paul writes, is that if those with thin legitimacy don't start developing their own, and leech of the legitimacy of their partners, then their partners are not only not gaining a benefit, but they are actively hurt by this thin legitimacy.  I'll give you a personal example from this. I work for a university who has been in online education for quite some time now (I think our first online courses were in 2000).

My home department is now entering our 9th year with a fully online, accredited, and respected program.  I can't claim any of the glory, others set it up before I came, but as an alumn of the program I am proud of what my department has achieved.  Enter the xMOOC with thin legitimacy.  Some learners who have taken xMOOCs are asking me advice about our online program. They equate the work done by coursera as being the archetype for online courses, and they are looking to transfer that understanding on how online learning works to traditional online, accredited, programs like the one I am working for.  This actively hurts us, as an established online program, because we are equated with the impoverished pedagogy of xMOOCs. We are not partners with coursera, but we are still feeling, to some extent the collateral damage from this. I can only imagine what institutions who partner with xMOOC platforms might get in terms of feedback in their traditional online programs. Wait, are there universities on coursera that have traditional online programs?

The second thing that jumped out is Paul's act of civil disobedience (for lack of a better term). Paul saw issues with Coursera's policies, and as we've discussed here, elsewhere, and in real life, MOOC LMS providers don't make deals with individual professors but rather with university administrators and university legal departments. Those legal documents are concerning to many, and there are ways of getting the word out and getting others concerned as well.  Paul's approach was to use the system to try to raise awareness of the system's issues. OK, that's one approach, and it certainly got a lot of notoriety (bad notoriety for Paul, unfortunately), but I am happy that his side is now out and available. I personally would not have chosen to use coursera to make a point about coursera's problems.  There are other ways of achieving this that would not be personally damaging to one's thick legitimacy. To some extent I think there is something European about being in the system to co-opt the system (or maybe I am reading too much into this), but I think that it's easier to have a grassroots campaign, and join up with others of like-mind, to achieve your goals.  The good news is that we now know how things went down.  The bad news is that Paul's name lost currency through all this and that trust takes time to re-develop.

That's all for now.  Thoughts on all this?

† I've been told that Canadians love McLuhan.  Is this an over-generalization, or is it true?
‡ CogDog thinks that this is a crap-filled point of view.  So do I. You are basically partially abdicating your responsibility as an educator to someone else.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ο Ιστός ως πλατφόρμα

Τις περασμένες δύο εβδομάδες είχαμε ως θέμα μας, στην ενότητα του connected courses, το τον ιστό, και συγκεκριμένα τον ιστό ως πλατφόρμα, και ως κουλτούρα. Τα κείμενα που μας έδωσαν ως αρχική ύλη ήταν πολύ βασικά για εμένα.  Πριν από αυτή την ενότητα δεν το είχα σκεφτεί πως είμαι στο ίντερνετ σχεδόν είκοσι χρόνια.  Όταν επέστρεψα στην Αμερική κάποιος φίλος τις οικογενείας, βλέποντας πως είχα αφίσει όλα τα φιλαράκια στην Ελλάδα, μου πρότεινε να τους βρω στο ίντερνετ. Κάπου τότε άρχισα να μαθαίνω τι σημάνει διαδίκτυο, και τα έμαθα χωρίς βιβλίο. Έτσι την κουλτούρα του ιστού, και την τεχνογνωσία που χρειάζεται κάποιος, την έμαθα μέσα σε 20 χρόνια, γνωρίζοντας πολλούς και διάφορους ανθρώπους από όλο τον κόσμο.

Τώρα το θέμα μας είναι πως μπορούμε να διδάξουμε εμείς αυτά τα πράγματα σε λιγότερο χρονικό διάστημα στους φοιτητές μας, έτσι ώστε να μπορούν να χρησιμοποιήσουν αυτές τις γνώσεις, αυτή την τεχνογνωσία, και να μπορούν άνετα να κινηθούν στον χώρο αυτής της νέας κουλτούρας, ειδικά όσον αφορά τα ανοιχτά ακαδημαϊκά μαθήματα. Το Mozilla Foundation είχε ένα ωραίο διάγραμμα για το Web Literacy (Διαδικτυακή Παιδεία) η οποία βλέπει αυτή την τεχνογνωσία από τρεις πλευρές: την πλευρά την εξερεύνησης (exploration) του διαδικτύου, από την πλευρά την κατασκευής (building), και από την πλευρά των συνδέσμων (connecting).   

Όταν άρχισα να σκέφτομαι το πως μπορώ να συνδυάσω εργασίες στο διαδίκτυο στα μαθήματά μου νόμιζα πως αρκετοί φοιτητές, ειδικά στο επίπεδο των μεταπτυχιακών, είχαν την τεχνογνωσία για τα επίπεδα τις εξερεύνησης και κατά κάποιο τρόπο και το επίπεδο της κατασκευής, οπότε κοίταζα να λανσάρω από την κατασκευή και να κάνουμε κάτι στα επίπεδα της κατασκευής (αρχικά) και μετά να συνεχίσουμε και να καταλήξουμε στο επίπεδο των συνδέσμων. Αυτό, επίσης, κολλάει και με τα υψηλότερα επίπεδα της ταξονομίας του Bloom.  Τελικά όμως, αυτό που κατάλαβα είναι πως, ακόμα, οι πιο πολλοί φοιτητές, ακόμα και στα μεταπτυχιακά, δεν έχουν φτάσει ακόμα στο μεσαίο επίπεδο, οπότε πρέπει να αρχίσω λίγο με bootcamp στα βασικά.

Εσείς τι βλέπετε στις αίθουσες σας; Έχουν οι μαθητές ή οι φοιτητές ας τις απαραίτητες τεχνογνωσίες για το διαδίκτυο; Πια η στρατηγική σας ως πως την χρήση διαδικτυακών πόρων στο μάθημά σας;

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!