Monday, November 11, 2013

#edcmooc: One man's dystopia...

Seems like Week 1 of #edcmooc is now done, and I've read (or in some cases reviewed) the readings and videos that they had posted as resources for Week 1. During the Week 1 live session recap and discussion there was an indication that there were 20,000 registrants for the MOOC.  I'd be interested in seeing how many of those 20,000 follow through and "complete" the MOOC, whatever "completion" means to the organizers of the course. For that matter, I'd like to know what "completion" means since, unlike other Coursera courses, there are no silly quizzes at the end of each week.

I understand that some people want some sort of formative assessment, but I tend to think that multiple choice quizzes are not adequate to indicate whether people "get it" or not.  I suspect that in this course there will be an "aha moment" around week 4 when it suddenly clicks for people.  If you are in #edcmooc, and are reading this blog post, my recommendation would be to go out an read other's blog posts, discussion forum posts, and then write your own blogs (or personal learning journals) to keep track of the thoughts in your mind :) Oh, and don't forget to comment on other's blogs and add your blog to the Edcmooc news feed.

One of the things that came to mind this week was that one person's dystopia is another person's utopia, or at least daily life which makes them neither happy nor unhappy. One of the short videos included in Week 1 was Inbox (see embed) which my colleague and I use when we co-teach a course on Multimedia in Instructional Design. My colleague and I include this video to have students brainstorm about the use of media and what the entire "package" conveys. It serves as a way to begin a discussion around a critical analysis of multimedia.

That said, this video got a lot of responses (as did the other videos for that matter), but there are two things that really stood out for me in the discussions:

  1. the mode of communication in this video is text
  2. there are no auditory utterances throughout this video

This lead to some discussion on how we may have moved from aural/oral communication to written communication being the norm, and I sensed that this may have been said with some sort of lament. On of the fellow participants said that her students at school, once the class period was over, just jumped onto their electronic devices and start texting (or tweeting, or whatever), and this was seen as a negative, at least from what I read.  the silence of the corridors was deafening.  I wish I had kept persistent URLs for those discussions.

In any case, it seems to me that seeing communication as an aural/oral affair is pretty limiting.  There are many instances when communication is anything but aural/oral.  For many deaf the main means of communication, even when two interlocutors are face to face, is sign language.  Sign language is also something used in sports and combat even among those who are not deaf. While a lot of communication is aural/oral, it's not the main mode.  Furthermore, I would argue, that communication these days can be predominantly textual. If you add up all of the hours that we experience oral communication such as chatting with friends and family, water-cooler talk, listening to the radio, or watch television (if we consider the aural element); and if we compare that to us reading books, letters from friends (aren't those nice when you get them in snail mail?), newspapers, reports, essays, blogs, webpages, and, yes, text messages and emails, I would say that we've been predominantly text-based for quite some time.

I don't want to pass judgement on this, for me it just is. Each individual and their individual situations will be affected differently based on a variety of elements.  For some, it's a bit of a dystopia because we are potentially losing that "human element." Then again for others it might be that connection that wouldn't otherwise be there if the technology didn't enable it.  It's hard, for someone outside of the situation at hand, to really be able to gauge whether this is "bad" or "good."  When it comes to technology shaping our lives, at the end of the day, I tend to be a on the technology equivalent of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis: We shape the technology, it then shapes us, and we shape it again in an feedback loop. I guess others, including Winston Churchill and McLuhan have said similar things.

There were quite a few interesting points to all of the articles for week 1, but I really don't want to rehash everything from those articles.  The one article that really stood out for me was the First Monday article on Diploma Mills from 1998. I wasn't really paying attention to the higher education scene at the time because I was busy graduating high school and entering college.  For me, at the time, college was nothing more than compulsory schooling where you chose your career path and were looking for a job at the end of that journey.  It would be a understatement to say that I see schooling differently now, but back then I wasn't concerned with this "technology" thing and the threat of dumbing down higher education.

The thing that surprised me is that, even though this article is now 15 years old, the rhetoric used, and the fears expressed, are the same as those used in the Future of Higher Education working papers that completely go after online education now that MOOCs are the new thing that venture capitalists are looking toward for making some money, and, consequently, MOOCs are conflated with online education in general by those that decided to not play in the online education arena in these past 15 years.

Now, there are some comments made in the Noble (RIP) article that make sense, but seem to miss out on a number of points, even back then.
Experience to date demonstrates clearly that computer–based teaching, with its limitless demands upon instructor time and vastly expanded overhead requirements — equipment, upgrades, maintenance, and technical and administrative support staff
Yes, it's true that technology keeps improving, this equipment needs maintenance, upgrades, and support. However, the same is true of other technologies, including cars. I don't know anyone who would argue that because our roads stink and because we need to maintain them, otherwise potholes form, that's why we shouldn't use cars for day to day transportation.  I know it's a silly example, but a good parallel (in my mind) nonetheless.  That said, technology, and the demands on the faculty member's time, is actually a good thing in my book.  It's important for faculty members to develop succinct policies that they have for communication with their learners to keep the work from creeping into personal life.  That said, the old ways of coming into a lecture hall and talking for a few hours, and then having some office hours per week for student contact time are deader than a dodo (or at least should be).  Just as learners we don't learn from stale recorded lectures, so we don't learn from an instructor that just isn't present.  ICT have made an improvement in that arena as far as I am concerned (remember, one person's dystopia...)

Another interesting positition that has come back to make the rounds through CFHE:
Once faculty put their course material online, moreover, the knowledge and course design skill embodied in that material is taken out of their possession, transferred to the machinery and placed in the hands of the administration.
I've discussed this with fellow faculty members in recent years.  Your syllabus, or the notes you create for your class, are not why students are coming to your course.  People are coming to your course to interact with you, and to learn under your direction.  They aren't coming for the material.  If the material is all that they care for, they could have easily gone to the public library (or college library) and picked up the materials on their own and self-studied.  Your material means very little without you.  Now, that said, I do think that you should be compensated for the time and effort you put into creating an online course.  I know first hand that it is a time intensive endeavor and you should be compensated for it.  As far as copyright on a specific implementation goes...well a course can be implemented in many ways, and your way is just one way. At the end of the day, a collaborative approach to curriculum creation is the best way to go (at least according to me :)  )

As a side note for my fellow teachers: slapping a copyright notice on your materials and syllabus is tacky.  People will share the materials regardless, and won't credit you.  Just publish it under creative commons, non-commercial attribution, and be done with it :). As academics I think we ought to be just putting our material out there anyway and enriching the world. By publishing material under copyright you are making your material inaccessible, and, as far as I am concerned, going against the main mission of academics: to push knowledge boundaries.
Most important, once the faculty converts its courses to courseware, their services are in the long run no longer required. They become redundant, and when they leave, their work remains behind.
I think that this really strikes at the heart of the argument: fear.  Because people fear that they will lose their job, and they will be negotiating from a weaker position, they come up with all of these arguments against change.  Fear is a strong motivator (or demotivator), but at the end of the day they cannot take what's in your head. They cannot rob of your knowledge (unless they invent a "forgetful ray gun" and shoot it at you), so you have an ace up your sleeve.

Finally, a quick commentary on my own #edcmooc  participation in the forum --> I will just go in and up or down vote. forum items that I read  There is too much discussion to have my voice really stand out. I like reading what others read, but at the end of the day the coursera system isn't really setup to find people who you will follow through the duration of the MOOC, so I am limiting my "active" participation on blogs and twitter in true cMOOC style ;-)
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