Monday, April 7, 2014

Confessions of a MOOC connoisseur

Well, it's the end of the week (or the beginning if you are following Western conventions with the odd behavior of calling "Sunday" the beginning of the week), grading for my course, for this week, is done, and it's time to see what I missed on Rhizo14 while I was tending to other things. 

One of the things that we are putting together (in addition to the long autoethnography for #rhizo14) is this other research, which I would call Delphi based in its methodology, on why we take MOOCs, why we participate in them, and why we stick, or not stick, to them. I thought that this would be something interesting to participate in since I am not sure I've recorded why I've been participating in MOOCs (as you will note, the MOOC tag is the biggest one on this blog).

The other epithets used online, thus far, for those who keep engaging in MOOCs is MOOCaholic.  I don't know if I like that epithet because it doesn't necessarily describe me right at this moment.  I find myself as an accidental MOOC expert and MOOC thought leader, both nouns that someone else assigned to me and that I am uncomfortable using since there is always more to learn and the bar I set for myself is high.  Nevertheless, when I first started thinking about this, I guess my current status in MOOCdom is either that of the MOOC Connoisseur, or the MOOC Socialite (or someone in between).

Depending on when you has asked me why I've participated in MOOCs my answer will, however, have varied.  Right at the beginning, in 2011 for me, when I started LAK11, followed by CCK11, MobiMOOC and EduMOOC, I saw myself as a continuous learner.  I had just completed my last Masters degree in December of 2010, and I was interested in engaging, at the graduate level and beyond, with topics around my subject of interest. This included Education and Educational Technology, which is why these MOOCs tied in really nicely as an extension of my studies.  The high barrier to entry meant that these MOOCs were other people with pre-requisite backgrounds to engage in this discourse and extend it to new levels.  Of course, back then I didn't know this, but I know now that cMOOCs have a high barrier to entry.  In all honesty I would have been bored if I had to switch gears so radically in those early MOOCs that I may not have continued.  They spoke to me at my level, which was important for motivational purposes.  Not too hard, not too easy - just right.  At this stage I would probably (retrospectively) classify myself as a MOOC Explorer.  I was interested in the subject matter, but I wasn't interested in the form factor until I realized the variety and started collaborating with the MobiMOOC Research team.

Then came Coursera.  This phase I would classify as MOOCing in the Final Frontier, while being a MOOC binge consumer.  Initially I was expecting coursera (and other type of xMOOC platforms) to provide content that engaged me at the same level as the cMOOCs I had previously participated in, and that I kept participating in 2012 in.  When I realized what the format was, and how "easy" it was to get a certificate, but also how useless most of the forums were, I started binging on MOOCs in order to see what was out there.  The topic was important, but it was not as important as as it was in 2011 with the cMOOCs.  Some of 2012 was a bit of an aimless year in xMOOC land because I wasn't particularly interested in STEM courses (so I didn't use Udacity) and the social sciences courses in coursera were cool, but they didn't satisfy the hunger.  Binging on fast food?  There were some courses that were better than others, like the aboriginal views on education from the University of Toronto (this was quite a different worldview that it was a joy to explore) and the Gamification MOOC from the University of Pennsylvania, which was actually well done. Other MOOCs were, I felt, like watching an interesting TED talk, and taking some quizzes.  Not the same intellectual stimulation as the cMOOCs of 2011 and 2012.

In 2013, after I detoxed a bit from the xMOOC binge, I saw myself as a MOOC explorer again. This time taking an opportunity to take courses on things that were interesting to me, but also try to explore new things, such as HarvardX's The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. I had not really studied classics, and as someone who is both Greek and American, and has lived in Greece I thought I ought to know something about the topic.  The presentation also mattered.  There were panel discussions, discussions of the readings in the videos, nice a presentation of what was going on and a free eBook which I actually took on vacation and read.  That's how much I enjoyed this MOOC.  It still had the TED + quiz feel, but I was engaged, so it did not feel like a drag.  This made me wonder what sort of other courses and topics I missed out on by being career focused during my Bachelor degree days.  In 2013 I also tried out some pMOOCs, like OLDSMOOC and the OpenBadgesMOOC and I enjoyed getting my hands dirty again.  2013 was really back to 2011 - learning by doing.  Learn the subject, learn about the MOOC format, and continue to research the MOOC format.  This was the year that I really embraced the MOOC Researcher aspect, going beyond the initial papers that we did with the MobiMOOC research team.

Finally we are in 2014.  It's still early in the year, so who knows what this year is going to bring.  I can already see some trends continuing though: (1) I still want to learn more about classics, and that is what attracts me to some edx courses; (2) I want to learn more about other MOOC platforms, which is why I am signed up for Open2Study courses and experimenting with those; (3) I am curious about how Georgia Tech's MOOC MA is going to work, so I might follow along some of their Udacity courses. I think this is the connoisseur part. Of course, I am engaged in cMOOCs because that's where the community is; I guess this is where the socialite comes into the picture.

So, why do I drop or complete MOOCs? For me it comes down to a few things.  First, and most important, is the motivation that is generated by the topic.  If the topic is interesting to me, I will slog through the MOOC, no matter how badly it's done.  If the topic is marginally interesting, or just not that interesting once the first week is compete, my motivation is less to complete it really goes down.

Another reason is assessments.  Now, in most cMOOCs I haven't really had assessments which is fine.  In pMOOCs or xMOOCs you have either projects or quizzes.  If you get some good feedback on your assessments (i.e. why did I get this bloody question wrong?) then I am more likely to stay and continue. If the feedback is poor, I am most likely to abandon the MOOC.  I am there to have fun and learn; not to be told that I failed (and not tell me how to fix it). It's amazing that even though the certificates of completion don't mean much, as soon as you throw up a graded assessment, like Pavlov's dog, we need to do well in them.

For me these two factors have really amplifying effects for one another.  I am willing to sit through a topic of marginal interest, or sometimes no interest, in order to have that serendipitous "aha" moment where I am surprised to learn something cool and unexpected.  However, if assessments are putting me down, then I am more likely to say "eff-this" and drop the MOOC.  Life is too short for this  :)

Finally, I think the community has a big role in keeping people grounded in the MOOC.  If I can connect with one or two people, and sustain a small learning community, I will most likely stick to the MOOC.  Who know, maybe they will be instrumental in getting over the assessment hill ;-).  It also helps to be able to discuss content and concepts, and in the case of xMOOCs heckle when appropriate :). I guess I can't underestimate the community because when I was doing IOE12, I was alone, having come late to the party, and the only reason I completed the MOOC was because I was interested in the content.

To date, since 2011, I've been in over 30 MOOCs.  I've only really dropped out from two.  One was Udacity's Statistics which I dropped a little over half-way through because some of the explanations in the mini-quizzes didn't click with me, and the topic wasn't of immense interest. There was also no community.  The other course was a coursera course called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, which was all about symbolic logic.  I think I dropped this about half-way too.  I was interested in the topic, however I was only getting marginally passing grades on my assessments.  I wanted to know how to improve, but I wasn't getting that, so since the community wasn't there, and the assessments were annoying the heck out of me, I decided to drop the course. This was also during my MOOC binge of 2012 days, so I was looking to see what to cut out to focus on courses that I was really interested in.

One last note, on certificates of completion.  I haven't received a certificate of completion or achievement or whatever for all the xMOOCs I am considering myself to have completed.  There are MOOCs that I really liked and I stuck the course, but I didn't bother with the assessments necessary to get a certificate. The assessments were beyond what I wanted to invest in the course, and since no subject expert would review and comment on my homework/assignments, why bother?  There is the practice aspect of it, sure, however seeing that we are all busy individuals, I would prefer to practice in an arena of my own making, not someone else's arena.  Someone else's arena is fine if they are also doing the work of assessing you as well.

So there you have it, confessions of a MOOC connoisseur. Why do YOU MOOC? :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Walled Gardens badge

Well,  we are in Week 9 (or 13) in the course I am teaching this semester, and the badges experiment is continuing!  This weekend, as I was reading assignment submissions, I saw that some students, in their design documents, have started incorporating Web 2.0 tools (should we just call them "web tools" now?) that encourage the use, formation, or exploration of personal learning environments (PLE).  Thus, this week the penultimate secret badge has been revealed, and it is the No Walled Gardens badge.

The earner of this badge has incorporated at least two Web 2.0 tools and/or services into the design of their LMS-based online course. This design is incorporated in such a way that it should prompt students in that course to start developing their own PLEs.

Now, I understand that not everyone will be able to incorporate this aspect into their courses, especially the students who are working in corporate training or health-care training and have more stringent privacy and security guidelines.  That said, I thought it was still important to give a tip of the hat to those who are using PLEs, or at least encouraging students, by way of tools to start building their own PLEs.  Learning is happening all around us.  The time we spend in classes (or workshops) compared to all the other times we are learning is small by comparison.  By helping learners seek out new knowledge and learning on their own, and network with their peers for this learning, you are (in my opinion) providing more than simple training, but skills for life.  I guess I am channeling a bit of rhizo week 6 here ;-)

What do you think of this badge?  At this point there is only one secret badge left!  I am starting to think that it won't be revealed (i.e. no one will earn it) this semester since it seems like no one likes doing optional readings ;-)

Friday, March 28, 2014

MOOCs as ephemeral entities

So, the other day I was at the NERCOMP annual conference.  I heard a few people speak (cool stuff), and I also got an opportunity to chat with people, and be a nosy eavesdropper on other people's conversations.   One of the things that came up, as has come up elsewhere in the past three or so years, has been the concept of MOOCs as OER and MOOCs as OCW.  We've actually seen this with xMOOCs like Udacity as having their content labeled as open courseware. EdX uses the term "courseware" for their course materials on their MOOCs, whether they are open is an entirely different discussion.  Even my third MOOC ever (mobimooc 2011) had stated that the materials would remain as OER after the end of the MOOC.

Then, I started to think about Dave Cormier's question, or potentially a challenge, on how to introduce newbie to the Rhizo14 MOOC that ended five weeks ago, but we are still active, on facebook at least.  All of this got me thinking about two things:  first, what is the value of material created for MOOCs as OER?  One of my critiques of some OER is that they are created with such distinct needs in mind that it's not always possible or useful to adapt this OER for your own purposes.  The second question that came to mind was the utility of courseware that remains, after the MOOC is done, if there isn't a sufficient community around to rally around the materials. The use case that came to mind was my participation in #ioe12 (David Wiley's Intro to Openness in Education MOOC). I went through the motions, I got something out of it, but I suspect I would have gotten much more out of it if people were there to go through it with me - that shared space and shared experience.

All of this is making me ponder and hypothesize that MOOCs are, in fact, ephemeral entities.  They are here today, and maybe gone tomorrow; at least as far as instructor-sourced content goes.  I wonder if certain MOOCs (speaking of individual classes like Rhizo14)are like Woodstock in a sense.  I don't get woodstock, but people who lived through it and went to it have it etched in their minds because of the experiences they were having and connections they made with other humans while there. Are MOOCs this type of ephemeral experience?  Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Encouraging Independence, part II

I am attending, and presenting, at NERCOMP 2014 today. As I was checking Blackboard over the past couple of days and "grading" feedback pieces submitted by my students, I noticed an interesting trend in the feedback (and some emails sent by students) that reminded me of #Rhizo14 (week 2?): encouraging independence.

We are now in week 8 (of 13) in this course and students are put into groups of three from now until the end of the semester. They are each working on their own, independent, final project - but they are in peer review groups. The question that I got, from a lot of students, was "what are we supposed to do in our groups?" Of course, I am paraphrasing here, but the underlying current was: we've assigned groups, well now what? what do you want us to do?  I should point out here that this is the 3rd round of groups in this course.  The first two were self-selecting groups, so in the third one I stepped in to make sure that people were working with different partners. 

While I have people working on a small project this week, the bulk of the work is really peer review at the end of the semester.  So why pair people up now?  Well,  I honestly wanted to get people to know one another (and the courses they are developing) before the 12th week comes along and they start their peer reviews.  If they get to know one another and their peer's projects, who knows? They might actually develop a peer support network to help them along with the project.  Of course, I didn't articulate this when I assigned groups because I wanted to have people work organically together rather than focus on the work-production aspect of the course. 

This was just an interesting thing to note, and "aha!" light bulb came up when I was reading these comments a few days back and rhizo came to mind.  So. The question then becomes: have we de-skilled our students so much that they need to seek permission to work with one another?  At the beginning of the semester should I make an announcement (or course banner?) that indicates "this is a collaboration zone! Work with one another freely, share ideas, help one another (and no, collaboration isn't cheating)"

Thoughts? comments?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Discussion Kindler Badge - revealed!

Well, it seems one more week has passed by in INSDSG619, and one more badge had been earned by some learners, and therefore revealed to everyone! Last week the Discussion Initiator was revealed, and this week, the Discussion Kinder has come out!

Discussion Kindler
This badge is awarded to students who have made an effort to keep the discussion going by responding to peers and helping to tease out nuances in the discussion.

For at least six weeks (half the semester), a student needs to post at least 5 responses to peer contributed posts per week. These replies to peers' posts need to meet the full rubric criteria for responses

Over the past few years, both teaching and observing online posting behaviors of students, I've noticed that there are some students that go the extra mile and post more than the minimum of required replies to their peers.  Thus, they keep the discussion going, they ask expository questions, they guide the discussion, and they offer help to their peers.  For 619, I have not specifically stated how many responses to peers students need to have each week.  The number is, in reality, arbitrary, so if a student wants to only reply once per week, and they meet the requirements for the rubric, their part is, technically done.  Of course, we don't learn as well by following the minimum path. So, to award those that go beyond the minimum number of postings, I've created this badge.  Why 5 postings per week?  In most classes I've seen, the required number of responses to peers is 2-3.  Thus, I thought that 5 would be a good "break from the pack" indicator.

Your thoughts?