Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Learning and Certification - thoughts inspired by CC Cert


Over the few weeks and interesting discussion has been taking place over the Creative Commons Open Platform mailing list. The Creative Commons group has created, and is now offering, CC certification.  The certification consists of a 10-week online course with a traditional number of students in the cohort (around 20), and there is a cost associated with it ($500). I'll be honest, when I saw the cost I did an eyeroll (at no one in particular).  My initial reaction was that I too shared the sentiment that some people on the mailing list reacted to: I've been in the realm of CC for more than five years.  I have (or think I have) a solid understanding of CC.  Why does this thing cost $500.  The fact that Maha speaks highly of her experiences in the course did serve as a  means to get over my original reaction to it - which got me thinking...and which brought me back to another point that friends, colleagues, and I have discussed for a while:  the difference between learning and certification.

It is true that the price may be a bit prohibitive for some educators that need access to this training, however, as was pointed out in the discussion, the materials for the workshop are all available, for free, under CC (see here). So then, what is the issue? Since the material is free, there is nothing preventing me, or anyone else for that matter, to learn on our own, or form study groups around this particular topic and progress through at our own pace.  This isn't any different compared to how I actually learned about CC to begin with. So why the my eyeroll? I suspect that my own reaction was what Downes articulated in one of his emails, which basically is summarized like this: If there is now an official certificate, does this invalidate my own learning and expertise in the field if I don't have this certificate? Which for me basically boils down to an academic version of FOMO (at least for me, your mileage may vary).

Over the past 20 years of professional work I've come across a number of certifications that I felt like I needed to be taken seriously as a professional. There are many examples of this. When I was working in A/V I was actually a CTS. When I was in management I felt like PMP and Six Sigma certification was needed.  When I was working day-to-day in Instructional Design, I briefly courted the ideas of CPTCPLP, and CMALT.  And over the years I've come across training, similar in nature to the CC Certs, but for other topics.  Over the years I've also kept an eye out on job posting and the requirements for those posted jobs.  With a few exceptions, I didn't see any certifications required.  There were some notable exceptions - for example project management jobs either required or strongly preferred holders of the PMP cert, but by and large certifications were noticeably absent form job requirements.

This leads me to the conclusion that certification, while desirable as an acknowledgment of completion and and acknowledgement from some higher authority that you've mastered the content isn't necessarily required.  That FOMO experienced by not having a certificate is (as most FOMO is) misplaced.

What do you think?






Friday, January 18, 2019

2019: The year MOOC platforms start to die? Adieu Open2Study

Closure screen on Open2Study

Last night, while browsing through my Reddit subscriptions, I noticed on one of the EdTech Reddits that Open2Study is now closed, and that the site redirects to Open Universities Australia (which was the parent entity).  I was a little in disbelief, but since I had not visited O2S in a while I thought I'd check it out with my own two eyes.  Lo and behold, the site was closed (see screencap above) and it was directing people to OU Australia.

On the one hand this wasn't surprising.  I had completed most of the courses that I was interested in within the first year of operation (2013?).  I did check back periodically to see if they had added anything new, but the course offerings seemed to stagnate. I don't think that the platform added any new courses past that initial batch in 2013.  With this stagnation it does seem normal that the platform would close.  However, it does seem a little weird that no announcement was made. Even as late as December 2018 their Facebook page sent kind reminders for students to finish up work before the next iteration of the course started, and a number of facebook posters indicated that they had signed up for the new round of courses starting in early January (this month). So the question is, what gives?

Homescreen of O2S when it ran

The platform itself seemed interesting.  The courses that I took all seemed a little cookie cutter in their design: They were 4 weeks in length, there were videos (coursera-style) to view, quizzes to take, and some discussion forums for interaction, but not necessarily required as part of a course.  There were forums, that were outside of the scope of the course, where people could interact, and the learning process, at a meta-level, was gamified.  Learners could earn badges for completing courses, for getting perfect scores, and for a few other things.  There were some nice ideas on the platform, but it seemed like a rushed response to the MOOC phenomenon, without much follow-through.

I think this is the second MOOC platform to die.  The first one that I can remember was a homebrew experiment that Stanford had (Stanford Open Courses?) which they killed off after a offering a couple of courses; and opted to run an instance of OpenEdX instead. I don't particularly count this first instance of MOOC-platform death as an actual thing since Stanford went on to use OpenEdx, but to my mind the closure (and quite silent one at that) of Open2Study seems quite significant.  I do wonder how many other MOOC platforms will close in 2019 and 2020.

Sample certificate (I need to find my own!)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

EL30 - Agency (Week 9)


The last week of EL30 was on the topic of Agency.  The video chat was quite interesting to watch but the topic of agency wasn't as big as I thought it would be (maybe time to rewatch? It's been a few weeks since I watched it).  The conversation started off with some interesting examples of community agency, but it seems to have gone beyond that. I have taken some snippets of the conversation and reflected a bit on them.

Just to situate this blog post, here is the information about this week from the course page: "Each of the major developments in the internet - from the client-server model to platform-based interoperability to web3-based consensus networks - has been accompanied by a shift in agency. The relative standing of the individual with respect to community, institutions, and governments was shifted, for better or worse."

One of the things that jumped out at me was an issue with analytics, an issue brought up by the discussants of the week: the data that we collect for analysis is data that is necessarily and by definition historical.  By trying to replicate the best practice of the past, you are also replicating potential structural inequalities. Furthermore by basing your decisions and actions on historical data (without a critical eye on the conditions - both stated and unstated conditions) you could exclude inadvertently exclude the same populations that were historically excluded populations, and these are the same populations that you need to include going forward.  Need to be critical about your data use.  The key take-away here is that no matter what data you end up using to make decisions, data isn't value-free.

Another comment, this one made by Jutta also gave me pause to ponder: supporting learner agency means supporting learner generated goals.  This is quite interesting, and it sort of flies in the face of how Instructional Design is taught, and how courses are generally designed ;-).   While the beginning of any good instructional design plan includes a learner analysis, the learning, or even performance, goals that the learner isn't really in the driver's seat with regard to goal setting.  The goals are usually institutionally set.  "By the end of this course you will..." - that's how most learning objectives begin, and none of them really consider a learner's individual goals.  As I was sitting here, reading my notes on this session, and thinking about this point, I was thinking about my own learner experiences.  When I first went to college I did have instructors who actually asked us learners "what do you want to get out of this course?" (or something along those lines).  This was a bit of an odd question for me at the time (and a little bit now) because of two things:

1. Some courses were required courses for my major, or for some sort of distribution requirement as an undergraduate.  I sort of feel like the institution is punking me a bit. On the one hand they are telling me that I need to be there; for reasons that aren't necessarily explicit to learners at the time, other than "well this is a required course in your plan of study"; while at the same time they are asking me what I want out of it now that they have a captive audience.  Agency is lost when something is compulsory, so asking "what do you want out of this course" seems disingenuous for compulsory courses. 

However, here is another example:  I almost minored in German†.  To earn a minor in German I needed to take some elective courses, and one elective that looked interesting was a history course on Weimar Germany. In having electives there was learner agency, and it prompts the learner to think about what topics are of interest to them from a wide (or constrained) array of choices.  This probably made the course more interesting (or rather, I was interested in the topic, so I was more self-motivated?). In that class I don't think anyone asked me what I wanted to get out of it, but I probably would have had a better answer :-)

2. I do wonder how much learners are sabotaged by being provided with learning objectives for the course prior to being asked what they want to get out of it?  Is someone's thinking constrained if you present them with what the course is about (specifically) and then ask them what they want to get out of it?  What if you ask them before you share your learning objectives?

Now, as an instructor I do (try to) ask students what they want to get out of the courses I teach.  In some cases what they want is totally incompatible with the course - and since I work in an institutional setting my 'bosses' expect certain things from a course.  That said, I do actively keep an eye out for things that might interest my learners as we cover topics that might be adjacent to their interests.  I see this as a form of mentorship.

I'll wrap up this post, and maybe even #el30 with something Silvia said: We shouldn't wait for our desired future to happen.  We need to create the future we desire.


Marginalia:
† I was actually 1 course short! All I needed was a literature course, but what it basically boiled down to was stay 1 more semester for the minor, or graduate now.  I chose graduation.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

El30 - Experience (Week 8)


Well, the penultimate topic for EL30 is on the subject of experience.  I wasn't quite sure, when I started watching that week's recorded chat, what I would get from the week, but unsurprisngly I had a few "AHA!!!" moments.

From the course page: "It is a truism that we learn from experience, and yet creating a role for experience in learning has been one of the most difficult problems in education. And so much of education continues to rely on indirect methods depending on knowledge transfer - reading, lectures, videos - rather than hands-on practice and knowledge creation."

One of the first connections that came to mind was a connection to an overall curriculum.  When someone attends your school, or even your program, should there be  a requirement to go out in the field and do something?  Let's say for my department (we educate applied linguists who aim to be language teachers), should everyone be required to do a practicum as part of their degree? Right now a practicum is technically required but it can be waived if  a student has teaching experience already. Anecdotally I can say that about 90% of students waive that requirement.  However, even if they are experienced teachers, what would happen if we asked them to go to someone else's classroom instead? What can they gain by experiencing something outside of they "regular" way they do things as teachers? What if they step out of their own boundaries to experience something new?

Another connection that came to mind comes from my own teaching experience. As some might know, I also teach part time in a graduate instructional design program. Over the past six or so years I've been in conversations with fellow ID professionals about instructional design and our own learning experiences.  Invariably a topic comes up where an IDer says "we didn't learn X in class" or "they don't teach you Y in school".   Substitute "X" with some software and substitute "Y" with some soft skill.

This really connected for me when Stephen asked Amy: "Transitioning from A to B; how to you do that?" and  Amy responds: "by doing it!"  It is a little surprising to me, as someone who works in higher education, that we don't prepare our learners (mentally) for the fact that a plan of study (an MA or MEd degree for example) is a finite period of time in a student's life. It is not possible to teach everything that everyone needs to know to be a respectable professional in such a finite time. This mindset also assumes that knowledge is finite and that what we teach today is valid forever and always.  We should be encouraging students to go out there and just do it if there is something in particular that they want to learn. We should be designing into our courses space for experimentation and self-learning (not just guided learning). For example, if someone wants to learn Adobe Captivate or Articulate, they should hit up some tutorial on youtube, lynda (in the US this might be free with a public library subscription), or the help pages of the relevant software.  Assuming that you will learn Adobe Captivate (or other such eLearning authoring tool) in a graduate course, and by extension you will master certain eLearning authoring packages through a graduate course is a waste of a graduate course in my opinion :-). This kind of knowledge gets outdated quickly.

Some other ideas that bubbled up throughout the chat:

A hashtag for every book chapter or recipe for activity.
Amy's created a hashtag for each of her chapters in her book.  This way people can report back when they try something in a learning activity book, or engage in a discussion around the content of a given chapter.  This way you make the book a living book enriched by the thoughts, ideas, and mods of others who are part of that community of reading that book or chapter.

Amy: creativity is best achieved when there are constraints
I agree wholeheartedly!  I remember a time, before mLearning took off in the US, that I was trying to convince my fellow instructional designers that we should be looking at mLearning.  How can we provide learning through non-smartphones?  That was exciting to me. One of my colleague looked at me straight in the eye and quite seriously said that they wouldn't invest in learning about mLearning until Flash was available on the iPad. An entry level model for an iPad 2 at the time cost $500 (and Flash never came to the iPad 😏). This was incredibly short sighted of my colleague, but really telling. This person had no constraints - elearning authoring packages were provided to them, obviously iPads and smartphones were provided to them, so they designed in abundance.  When you design in abundance you can't necessarily think creatively!


I like Amy's approach of doing things in small chunks.
The rationale to do this is that it increases motivation and decreases stress of getting started.  It' sort of how I composed this post (over 4-5 days if you include the viewing time).  I will be the first though to acknowledge that  I am also pretty bad at going with this advice ;-) I'll do it, but I always feel that I should be doing more.  I guess I should get comfortable with going "at the right pace".


Amy: Propose a project for students in the next semester
I love the idea. I liked it since I first came across it in DS106!  I need to start looking for ways to make it happen in the courses that I teach :)


Amy: it's ridiculous that we silo things in education. 
I agree.  One of the things that I have noticed in academia, from my own back yard, is that there are neither good collaborative relationships between academic departments (mixed degrees, cross-functional learning, joint offerings), nor good collaboration with instructional designers and faculty. At the moment the relationship between entities feels the different parties involved feel like it's all a zero sum game.  We need to break down the silos both between academic units, and between academics and support of various sorts.



OK, that's my take from this week.  Thoughts?





Friday, January 4, 2019

El30 - Community (Week 7)


Continuing on with my quest to experience the remainder of el30 before work begins again, today I'll write a bit about my thoughts about the topic of Week 7 which was community.

From the course page for the week:
"The traditional concept of community was built on sameness, on collections of people from the same family, speaking the same language, living in the same place, believing the same things. The fundamental challenge to community is to make decisions on matters affecting everybody while leaving to individuals, companies and institutions those matters not effectively managed by consensus."

The interesting thing for me with this topic is that I sort of had an "AHAAAA!" moment (didn't quite scream it though...the all-caps was more for effect 😜).  My aha moment revolved around my dissertation proposal and the concept of collaboration in MOOCs and what came to mind is that there needs to be a certain amount or type of community to exist in order for working together to happen...well...maybe... I guess I can't go too far with this line of thought until I look at the literature because I might be told I am biased 😉. In any case, it is something that I need to dive a little deeper into in the coming weeks.

So, in the community video chat of the week (link; the Peter Forsyth video isn't loading) there were a number of a questions that came up about community.  I don't  think that many were answered since it seemed like an open brainstorming session (which is fine), but I thought that my take on this week would be continue the open brainstorming session and maybe attempt to answer these questions from my own learning perspectives.

What is a minimal viable community?
I suppose the first question I have is: what type of a community is this? I think a community can be successful, at least initially, with only a handful of members.  If pressed for a number I'd call it 4-5 members.  The example I can think of here closely-knit cohort members, or a small group of students who progress through a program of study in similar pace even though they might not be in a cohort.  In my case one such example is the cohort I am in for my doctoral work. Out of a cohort of about 13 members (I've lost count since we've added and subtracted to our cool group over the years) we have 7-8 who are quite engaged in our cohort community, and the rest participate from time to time as life ebbs and flows.

What are markers of community?  
You know, I have a hard time defining such markers.  In the discussion the hashtags was brought up as an example. Another example was a shared space such as google docs, a facebook group, or even something like an IRC channel.  While these certainly can be markers of community, I think that community is more than a space (even the hashtag is a space marker IMO).  A space is certainly required as an incubator for the community, and if we go by Actor-Network Theory, the space can influence how the human actors act within that space, but for me the hallmark of a community is activity of some sort.  The space can be a base to jump off from when the community is active, and it can be an archaeological space for the time the community disbands or dies. An example of such archaeology is diving into the Usenet archives to see what communities did back when they used Usenet. Hence the marker of community for me is (1) more ephemeral and (2) more qualitative in nature, things such as relationships, feelings, learning, and entertainment


What is a community?  Who is a member?
I suspect that this is quite difficult to answer.  Some communities (like #el30) are open and anyone can conceivably be a member.  Other communities, like those of professional associations are closed by requiring members to pay dues.  Even when someone pays dues and is able to access a community, does that make them a member though?  Or are there other pre-requisites to membership?  For example does there need to be some sort or hard declaration of membership from the person being inducted into the community?  In #el30's case, registering for the Daily? or posting a blog?  or retweeting something?  If a tangible aspect exists, what does this mean for lurkers?   I guess the question is this:  is community membership something that is provided from outside of a person (membership conferred) or something that is from within (membership declared or claimed)? A good example came from the discussion and that is the example of person reading a book that others are reading concurrently, but one person who is reading is not contributing to the discussion of the book (IRL lurker) - is he a member of that community?

How do you meet each other to form a community?
This is something that might come from my own dissertation work. I suspect that there are many ways in which community can be formed.  I think part of it is serendipity (e.g., my own chance encounters with people from MOOCs over the last 8 years), and part of it might be through our own social networks (person A introduces person B to person C to some sort of community). This is definitely something that requires a deeper probe though.

What are the core elements of a community? What brings people together?  
In the discussion the example of the EU was brought up, more specifically the EU being a solution to avoid the horrors experienced by various European nations in WWII; however this is more ideological and not everyone is on-board with ideology first; so the initial steps were at first tangible elements and they were practical - namely an economic union.  Downes posited that in some communities there is some sort of attractor.  In the original MOOC (CCK) that attractor was George Siemens (according to Downes), and for some (the 'core' group?) it was the fact that the course was a 3-credit course at the University of Manitoba.  I would say that the attractor is probably a lot of different things to different people. Depending on what you want to get out of the community, your attractor will vary.

Finally, there were two things that caught my attention. There was a discussion around the distributed web after the obligatory discussion of platforms (such as facebook) and the control we cede over to them. The question came up as to whether community formation is made more difficult if there aren't any centralized areas like facebook?   What is the role of a platform in community creation?  I would go back to my previous answer and say that this can be analyzed a bit through ANT, but also the platform is that starter space, or incubator (if you will).  People can, and do, move onto other spaces once initial connections between human elements are formed.  An example of this is CCK where people met on Moodle but they formed together in other spaces during and after the MOOC.

As far as distributed networks go, IMO distributed works well for the techies like some of us with an initial starter pack of connections.  It's harder for people, like my family in Greece, to be on a distributed platform.  They may lack the know-how to set something up for themselves, and even if some of them do have this know-how, discoverability is an issue. Hence iMessage, Fb messenger, and facebook being 'important' in those communities if you want to be connected.

Last but not neast: Downes called EL30 "not a course, but a massive social event" - I wonder what the attributes of a course are.

So, that's it for me this week.  What do you think?