Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: the year of the MOOC

With 2011 almost gone, I thought I would write a bit about the major educational venture of 2011 (at least for me), the Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC).  Last year, at this time of year, if you told me that I would be spending a lot of time in MOOCs I would call you crazy.  While I had heard of MOOCs in 2009 and 2010, I was too busy with a capstone project (for my Instructional Design degree) and my comprehensive exams (for Applied Linguistics) to pay too much attention to PLENK and CCK09.

With formal schooling done (at least for now) and with no courses to take at the university I decided to experiment with MOOCs.   In January a friend and colleague, @cdetorres, recommended LAK11 - Learning Analytics. This was to be my first MOOC. It was quite interesting, I did learn quite a lot, and it just highlighted that I was interested in a topic, learning analytics, that I hadn't spent a lot of time pondering. The course was quite fast paced; a lot of things to do, in what seemed like a little time.

Then came CCK11 (connectivism and connected knowledge). I came into CCK not so much convinced of the first "C", connectivism, but I was all for "CK."  CCK11 felt more like a traditional course in that it was 13 weeks long (like a regular semester), and it contained mostly topics that I didn't know much about. It was also a natural extension of my psycholinguistics course that I had taken the previous semester. I am still not convinced of connectivism as a learning theory by itself, but  in conjunction with other things (like social constructionism) I think it works.

Then came MobiMOOC. MobiMOOC was a six week spring course. It was a great course, lead by experts in the field of mobile learning. This MOOC was not only informational but also introduced me to a lot of interesting people, some of them in the MobiMOOC Research Team with which I've worked on a couple of papers.  I think out of all the MOOCs this one was "just about right" both in terms of duration and in terms of content.  CCK was great but near the end I felt a bit of "senioritis" setting in and I didn't feel like going along with the course as much as I did in the beginning.

In the summer we had EduMOOC.  This one had the greatest promise but it ended up being a disappointment.  I had heard a lot of positive things about Ray Schroeder, the topic was interesting (education today and tomorrow) and I had three positive experiences in MOOCs coming into it...but this particular MOOC was all over the place, it lacked focus, and it just seemed like it wasn't designed (at all).  Oh well. Perhaps EduMOOC12 will be better :-)

Finally, there is Change MOOC (dubbed the mother of all MOOCs), which is still going on. I think that Change is what EduMOOC tried to be (at least from the eduMOOC descriptions available).  Change isn't bad, but it also isn't that well designed it seems.  Change seems more like a conference, and less like a "course", something that a number of bloggers have written about in the past four months. In the initial weeks there seemed to be a lot of "new" topics, but as time has gone on, it seems like things are being repeated.  The dip-in, jump-out also isn't helping since I see topics from the 3rd week of the MOOC come up again as new people join.  It's great, but for those that are keeping up it feels a but like clutter in the daily mail.  Oh well :-)  Something to be worked out in the form-factor of the MOOC, it's still young!

This year has been full of educational experiences, many new and interesting people on the internet (including but not limited to: Inge, Rebecca, Osvaldo, Sean, Michael, Nilgun, Serena, Jaap, John, Rita and brainysmurf) and a renewed potential for future open educational experiences.  Looking forward to 2012!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ho Ho Ho!

Merry Christmas to all! A little holiday fun from PhD comics 😊

- Posted using BlogPress from my Newton 3000 (iPad)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No consensus on what engagement is?

I am taking a break from #change11 to continue some work on a paper that's been in my mind for a while but I haven't had much time to work on just yet.  The overall topic is a proposal for a foursquare type of service for academic environments. Location Based Services fall a bit short because GPS doesn't figure out what rooms you are in, so the article is going to propose a hybrid of Location Based Services (LBS) with Event Based Services (EBS) with a variety of outcomes including incidental learning opportunities, increase in school spirit and student engagement. The idea is still nascent, but I am getting there.

As part of my literature review I came across Vicki Trowler's Student Engagement Literature Review (hey, what better place to get an overview of the field than a recent literature review?).  It was an interesting read and it pointed me to some sources that I want to explore in greater depth. The thing that stood out to me was that there is no universal accepted definition of what engagement is. Considering that my proposed LBS/EBS is meant to engage students, this is a bit problematic.  I suppose this is where I have to define what I mean by the term engagement.

When thinking of engagement, I tend to think, in part, of the old instructional design motto of what's in it for me (which is what learners supposedly ask themselves before they undertake any learning activity). So for me, something is engaging when it piques someone's interest in order to have them act in a certain way. So, something that is engaging is something that doesn't coerce a user to do something, but offers incentives to do something. Of course, one might say that this overlaps with motivation and I think that this is certainly true, but motivation and engament are two different things.  Engagement implies some sort of mental stimulation or mental process that goes beyond that initial hurdle to participate.  Motivation might get you over that initial hurdle, but engagement is what makes you continue.  At least this is what I've come to the conclusion from my initial pondering about the topic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

MITx - MIT innovates again?

This morning in the local news there was a story about MITx, an set of courses that are designed to be done through the Web, with no face to face component that people can take for free.  While the course will have an assessment component, if people want the credential of having  taken and passed that course there will be a nominal fee for logging into a secure environment to take additional exams to certify their mastery of the subject.

While this isn's really a MOOC, it is an interesting experiment in education.  The resources for these courses will need to be out in the public domain or under a creative commons license in order to make things work in free environment.  Additionally, unlike OCW which I view more as a repository of "things" that a course contains (which you could roll into a full fledged course by yourself), MITx courses will be designed courses for this environment.

Not many details are available yet, but I know that I don't do as well in a solitary learning environment - I like having other people around (even virtual peers).  It will be interesting to see if virtual cohorts spring up around MITx courses.

Use your medium appropriately

I was reading an article on tablet computing that @rjhogue had emailed me and it brought to mind (again) the need to be able to rethink your processes and your affordances when working with a new medium. For example, looking at eBooks, most eBooks are just text - which is fine, but it doesn't utilize the medium (iPad) very well.  Now take a look at Operation Ajax, a graphic novel on the iPad, based on real life events, that really takes advantage of the medium.  The graphics aren't static (so no plain page turns), it incorporates actual film reel footage from the time period, and it includes images and recently declassified files, which allow you to jump out of the narrative to get additional info on the characters, the back story and other facts important to the story.

This is a good example not just for comics and books, but also for eLearning!

CIA : Operation Ajax for the iPad from Cognito Comics on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Digital Natives: Ten Years Later

Woohoo! A paper I wrote earlier this year (that has been bumping around in my head for a while) has made it to (virtual) paper :-) My Digital Natives paper has been published in the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (a journal I've been reading for the past few years, at least since I got into instructional design)

A lot has been written about the digital native since the coining of the term about ten years ago. A lot of what has been originally written by the digital native has been taken as common sense and has been repeated many times in many educational contexts, but until recently the true nature of the digital native has not been explored. Because the myth of the digital native is still alive and well, this article aims to examine the findings that have come out of recent research with regard to digital natives and their true nature, as well as turn a critical gaze onto the assumptions, taken as common sense knowledge, of what the characteristics of digital natives are.

Keywords: Digital Natives, Research, Characteristics, Technology, Availability, Usage

Article link: click here for article

Friday, December 16, 2011

Causation, meet correlation

The other day I was thinking of the research methods class that I may be teaching in the spring (as of yet there are only two students signed up) and I was reading a research article for the literature review for the MobiMOOC paper that the MRT is working on.  In this article quite a few things correlated, but I they didn't necessarily cause each other. To be fair, the researchers did not claim that there was causation, but I thought that this article would be a good one to analyze, especially for people new to critical review of research literature.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

WTF?! Journal gone wild!

Yesterday I got a note, presumably for an editor, to ask me to submit any manuscripts I have to the Journal of Strategies & Governance. The first thing that raised the "WTF" flag was that it wasn't just an email, but an email that contained a lot of quoted "Re:" text.  Well, I thought, it may have been an undergraduate student who was asked to send this out and didn't know that they had to delete the other text.

Then I went to the, googled it just in case it was a phishing scam, to see this:

I felt like a character at the end of a Lab Rats episode (I loved that series...I wish it would come back!) where someone goes "What the f..." (queue music). This is a journal on its fourth volume?  What? It's got flashing logos from the series "the event" (another great series that was cancelled).  Was the journal's website something that was contracted to a high school student using microsoft word?  I don't know if I should laugh, or be embarrassed for them :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Job: Graduate Student

I was reading this most recent PhD comic last night and I found it quite funny, partly because I think it's true.  There are quite a few times when I get the same, or similar, reaction when I tell people that I work in academia, or that I am still pursuing my education.  Most Greeks (and any other ethnicity I've come across for that matter) seems to view education as something that should be done by a certain age. My own experiences are that people think that maybe around 28 you are really pushing it.  Time to reform our views of education and the "you-are-too-old-for-school" mentality ;-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Need a break

It's been an interesting run for Change11, and we are now at Week 15 with the topic of Authentic learning.   Next week, and the week after next, are break weeks, so no new content, at least from a subject matter expert perspective.  I wonder if the daily mailer will still be coming to our inboxes, or whether that will take a break as well.

I think I've reached my natural saturation point with course materials for this course. Readings, both this week's seed post, and other participants' blog posts, have accumulated in my ReadItLater account which I have little (mental) energy to read.  Perhaps I will that this opportunity to go out an play in the cold, yet sunny, weather and re-energize my creative batteries :-)

By the way...I thought that this week's topic was authentic learning.  I just checked the seed post (just to see how long it was) and it seems like another mLearning topic.   I've added the free eBook on mLearning to my to-read list but perhaps I will sit this one out.  I have a couple of active research papers on mLearning on the front burners so I think I will skip this mLearning topic this week.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Call for Participants - Language mMOOC research paper

In a previous post I wrote about a call for paper from Language Learning & Technology for their special issue on Mobile Language Learning.  I've been thinking about mLearning, MOOCs and Language Learning for a while as a potential dissertation topic (when I get started with PhD program anyways).  I was thinking that this would be a good place to start building a frameworks for mMOOCs (mobile massive online open courses) that have a specific focus on teaching language. Here is an initial title and abstract:

The intersection of mLearning, MOOCs and Language Learning: A Framework for SLA using mMOOCs


In recent years Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), based on connectivist, and some times connectivist and constructivist, principles, have been the center of attention for educational researchers. At the same time the idea of mobile learning (mLearning), activities that allow individuals to learn through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries with them on a regular basis, has been continuously refined. Recent research has shown that the MOOC format is a possible pedagogical approach to mLearning based on synergies between these two approaches. This paper aims to examine MOOCs and mLearning, through the context of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), and provide a framework for designing language learning MOOCs that are exclusively mobile.

More of a description of the project for  interested research participants:

The above is a draft of what the team that works on this needs to submit as an abstract. Here is more of the logic behind it:

In Exploring the MOOC format as a pedagogical approach for mLearning (de Waard et al, 2011) it was determined that MOOCs and mLearning have synergies that enable them to work well together. Most MOOCs have been around the educational arena (learning about learning). What if we examined (among other things):

  • MOOCs (through a literature review, and through our own personal experiences with MOOCs this year)
  • Affordances of mLearning (JIT learning, multimedia, text etc.)
  • Second Language Acquisition Theory

Then, we could create a theoretical framework for mMOOCs (mobile MOOCs) for the purpose of learning a language.

I think that concepts/theories/tools (just to name a few) such as the following can fit in:

  • Slow-learning (Quinn, Change MOOC week 13 )
  • Authentic Learning (Jan Herringon, Change MOOC week 14; various Second Language Acquisition Theorists)
  • Peer Scaffolding (Vygotsky, Donato)
  • Gamification (using services like foursquare for example)
  • Mobile multimedia
  • Rhizomatic Learning (Cormier)
  • Connectivism (Siemens, Downes)
  • Social Constructivism (Vygotsky)
  • Learner empowerment/anti-banking model (Freire)

If you are interested in participating in this project just leave a comment :-)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

NERCOMP conference proposal accepted - woohoo!!!

A month (or more?) ago @cdetorres tweets me (or was it IM? I don't remember) about submitting proposal for the 2012 NERCOMP conference. I had gotten a notice about this, but I had completely forgotten about it, and I was working on a MobiMOOC related paper. In any case, the deadline was that evening and my brain was sufficiently tired to not want to do work. Despite this I ended up putting a proposal together, with @cdetorres as co-presenter and he did the same.

Well, great news!  Both of our proposals got accepted.  Of course we both goofed. I wanted mine to be a presentation session, not a poster session, and he wanted his to be something else, not a lightining round. We must have clicked on the wrong things (see? when you're tired you make mistakes, lol). In any case  things however worked out since neither of us has done a poster session nor a lightning round, so it will be a dual learning experience.

@cdetorres's Lightning Round Title & Abstract:

Taking Social Reading Online: GoodReads in the Classroom
Social reading networks like Goodreads provide a special place for people to connect via books and open up their libraries. We'll talk about Goodreads as a bridge between public, private and classroom reading, and show you how our students found themselves sharing reviews and comments with each other, agreeing or disagreeing with complete strangers, and even having a dialogue with an author. By the end of the session you'll be using Goodreads to share book recommendations with your fellow NERCOMP attendees, and will have a set of tips for applying online social reading to any class in any subject, face to face or online.

My Poster Session Title & Abstract:

End to end mobile research: using tablet computing to facilitate an untethered and paperless research process
Tablets, especially Appe's iPad, are up and coming in higher education and are gaining much acceptance among both faculty and students. The research process however can still be described as being tethered to a desk, either in an office or at the library. In this session we aim to explore ways in which research, from inception to final journal submission can be undertaken on a mobile device like an iPad to untether the researcher from the current desktop-based time and location constraints that current research processes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Instructional Design - more of an Artist, less of an Architect

This week's Change11 topic on Slow Learning reminds me of discussions I've had with friends and colleagues about Instructional Design in general.  When I started my instructional design career officially and went to school to learn about ID, my university taught the Dick and Carey model. As part of the course my instructor, Mary Hopper, has us examining other models as well for our group projects and ADDIE, ASSURE, ARCS* and HPT models came up and we discussed them by themselves (and maybe in relation to Dick & Carey, I don't remember).

What I do remember, is that subsequently there had been discussions about which model is "better" (among students and graduates) and since Dick & Carey is what the program taught and what we had most exposure to, it is the model that was deemed "better" by those discussing it.  Me...not so much.  It's not that I think that there is one model that is better than the other, and I don't think that these models are "dead"‡. I think that these are process models that direct a designer to think about certain aspects of designing instruction, but they are not the end-all-be-all of learning design.  As Clark writes in his seed post, and in his re-thinking e-learning article on Learning Solutions Magazine we tend to approach learning as an event, and in our case that event is a course.  Of course not all learning interventions are distinct events, but they may be part of your regular day. Blindly following an ID model, any ID model, isn't good for the designer†, for the instructor/SME or for the learners.

Thus, I think that just as Steve Jobs saw our computing needs as the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, so too we instructional designers need to think of our jobs as the intersection of the Artist and the Architect.  Too much of either yields a poor result, and from what I've seen (at least on my corner of the internet and f2f  life) it seems like the Architect is winning out over the artist. Time to get back to a balance, so that learning outcomes can improve :-)

* this website is the official site of the ARCS model, and it has an annoying jingle playing as soon as the page loads...what is this? 1996?

‡ seems like many people are fond of having the "is ADDIE dead" discussion every now and again on the internet.

† I tend to think of people following a model blindly as dull knives. If you follow the model blindly it's like you don't take the opportunity to sharpen the blade in-between uses.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Slow Learning & thoughts on competency based education

This week on Change11 our host facilitator is Clark Quinn author of Designing mLearning and of Mobile Academy. It's interesting. My initial exposure to Clark has been through twitter and through these two books.  I read Designing of mLearning as a potential text for a college level mLearning course (I like it for what it's worth) and I currently have the Mobile Academy on to to-read list on GoodReads*.  In any case the topic for this week is Slow Learning, read his seed post for the week here.

Even though Clark writes about corporate training (or so it seems from the blog post) I think that the ideas are good for both K-12 an Higher Education. There seems to be a race to cram as much information as possible in as little time as possible. In higher education there have been calls for a 3 year Bachelors degree, which is achievable, but it could be done poorly (i.e. through a banking model of education) or it might be done in an good way where knowledge and skills stick and don't get forgotten as soon as the exam is taken. Perhaps a cohort model that borrows from the Army's live-on-base basic training where you go to college for 3 years and that's all you do is train (hey, maybe we can include physical education as a requirement in those 3 years so we can fight America's "battle of the bulge").

I like the idea of slow, authentic learning, but it seems like our system is geared toward standardized testing, GPAs and grades. I think the system needs to change in order for it to become feasible to change education. We need to stop thinking like the quarterly profit CEOs that ruined (and continue to wreak havoc on our economy) and to start taking the long term approach to learning (among other things). An "A" today may be great, but not if you can't use the stuff you learned in class three (or more) semesters down the road.

An interesting example, local example, was at my university. We have a college (the college of public and community service or CPCS) that, when I was an undergraduate, had competencies in lieu of grades. Each course had a competency related to it. You could pass the competency, or you fail it and you could try again later on to demonstrate you competency. As far as I know there was no need to take the class again (and pay tuition again) if you failed the competency, you could work on it on your own and demonstrate your competency in a later semester (perhaps through a portfolio item?). In order to graduate students needed to show that they had passed all those competencies.

In any case, back then I was in the College of Art & Sciences and completing my computer science degree. We were "serious" and had grades. If you failed a class you had to take it over - period. No 'soft stuff' for us. My attitude was shaped by my previous education where we had grades, and grades measured your worth, class rank and what people thought of you.  This fuzzy stuff with competencies was for non-achievers that couldn't cut it in "the real world." This wasn't just my own thought (based on an indoctrination of a grade based system), it was something that others in the university also thought and either said outright or under their breath.

Years later, I have come to appreciate a competency system.  The grade is really irrelevant, it is a competency that matters! You either know how to do something, or you don't. The problem is, now that I've come to appreciate this system, and advocate for it, CPCS has given it up and has opted to go with a more traditional grade-based system.  Perhaps they succumbed to external pressures, who knows. They could have been a great model for slow and authentic learning for the rest of the university, if it weren't for the metrics-based pressure of the external world.

* I keep adding books to read there, but it seems that September-May are "journal article reading months"... I wonder if I can get some quality time with books in January lol :-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Αργή Μάθηση:...ή πάω αργά για να φτάσω γρήγορα;

Αυτή την εβδομάδα στο Change MOOC, ο προσκεκλημένος εμπειρογνώμων είναι ο Clark Quinn, o συγγραφέας του Designing mLearning και του Mobile Academy και το θέμα της εβδομάδος είναι η Αργή Μάθηση.

Ο Clark έρχεται από τον εταιρικό κόσμο και βλέπει την μάθηση από το κάτοπτρο της επέκτασης και της βελτίωσης του ανθρώπινου δυναμικού, αλλά πιστεύω πως οι απόψεις τους έχουν κύρος στην παιδεία (τουλάχιστον στην ανώτατη παιδεία οπού βρίσκομαι). Κατά την άποψή του (τουλάχιστο απ' ότι καταλαβαίνω από το δημοσίευμά του) ο τρόπος με τον οποίον σκεφτόμαστε την μάθηση είναι λάθος. Την σκεφτόμαστε ως ένα γεγονός, μια ειδική εκδήλωση, που ίσως να είναι ξεκάρφωτη από την καθημερινότητα μας.

Τα μοντέλα ανάπτυξης μάθησης (instructional design models) είναι επίσης ελλιπείς για διαφόρους λόγος (δείτε το δημοσίευμά του). Για παράδειγμα το μοντέλο ADDIE (και το μοντέλο Dick & Carey το οποίο διδάχτηκε στο δικό μου πρόγραμμα) αντιμετωπίζει την διδασκαλία ως μάθημα και δεν λαμβάνει υπ’ όψιν τον μαθητή και τα ενδιαφέροντα του - το τι θα τον πιάσει και θα τον κρατήσει ενδιαφερόμενο στο θέμα που πρέπει να μάθει.

Αν παρακολουθήσει κανείς την διαδικτυακή σκηνή που συζητιούνται αυτά τα μοντέλα ανάπτυξης μάθησης, θα δεις τίτλους συζητήσεων που λένε “is ADDIE Dead?” ή κάτι παρόμοιο. Πιστεύω πως είναι αρκετοί που βλέπουν αυτά τα μοντέλα ως κανόνες, και δεν σκέφτονται τις λεπτομέρειες (που είναι πολύ απαραίτητες!) Εγώ προσωπικά τα βλέπω αυτά τα μοντέλα ως μια λίστα από πράγματα που δεν πρέπει να ξεχάσω, αλλά η λίστα είναι κατηγορίες υψηλού επιπέδου και όχι συγκεκριμένα πράγματα που πρέπει να κανείς πάντα.

Τέλος πάντων, επιστροφή στα γραπτά του clark, ο οποίος βλέπει την ανάγκη για Αργή Μάθηση, Η κύρια ιδέα πίσω από την αργή μάθηση, είναι να κόψουμε λίγο την ταχύτητα, να μην προσπαθούμε να σφηνώσουμε όσο πιο πολύ “γνώση” στον χρόνο που έχουμε και να μαθαίνουμε λίγα λίγα αλλά τακτικά, παρά να έχουμε στιγμές “λαιμαργίας” που καταβροχθίζουμε πολλές πληροφορίες (που μπορεί να μας είναι άχρηστες εκείνη την στιγμή οπότε τις ξεχνάμε).

Αρκετά ενδιαφέρων η ιδέα...τώρα πως την υλοποιείς;

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Designing Sim(ulation)s

Life and Death Screenshot
This week is gaming and simulation week (if you haven't guessed from the posts that I've been posting and responding to) on Change11 with guest Clark Aldrich. As usual, I've skipped the live session since there is more than enough content on the blogs and what's been provided by the guest facilitators. The reading matter for this week is a short book by Clark titled Designing Sims the Clark Aldrich way.

The book was quite succinct and on the small side, perhaps an abbreviated version of  The Complete guide to Simulations and Serious Games, in other words a good quick read to get you situated in what one needs to do in order to get simulations off the ground for instructional purposes.  This book, for me, was quite interesting because it bridged my computer science and UI design backgrounds, with my management background, and my instructional design background - it was pretty cool to see all of these converge in an area (simulations) that I don't have a ton of experience in.

In the last couple of Sloan-C conference there was a vendor there whose company sold a simulation building engine. It was interesting and it reminded me of a game that I used to play on my old Mac Performa 635 running System 7.5. The game was called Life and Death where you'd play a doctor making the rounds in the hospital, checking up on patients, diagnosing them, prescribing medications and when needed perform surgery.  It was an interesting game, a simulation of a hospital. Maybe it wasn't fully realistic, but I consider it to be an interesting paradigm for learning simulation games. What if you did want to use this in nursing or medical education, how could you build upon this model? Interesting thing to think about.

By the way, I am sure you can download this game for free now. There were Mac and DOS versions, so with DOSbox you could probably run it without any issues :-)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Come get your badges!

Rhizomatic Week Achievement in Change11
An interesting brainstorm item on gaming, motivation and achievement came up while reading and commenting on Jaap's blog. This particular blog is about badges (or achievements) in MOOCs. Interestingly enough I also saw Dave Cormier's tweet about having a badge on his blog (seemed like a tongue in cheek post). Serious, or not, I've included the image in this post.

In any case, if you scroll down Jaap commented:
In my opinion badges are not fit for MOOCs. Mobimooc did give a certificate for students that finished the MOOC and published, etc. (Ignatia, if you read this, thanks)
Maybe, a badge would destroy the fun of paricipating.

which was followed by Jenny's comment:
Sometimes formal recognition stifles growth. Sounds counter intuitive but how often does fame smother new talent? Can a badge become an end in itself and diminish the creativity within the person? For that matter, does an artist seek a badge when moved to paint, a poet to write a poem or a child to build an even higher tower in the block corner?
This got me thinking.  I was typing out a response, when I thought I ought to elaborate more.

I can certainly see what people mean when they mention formal recognitions stifling growth in a MOOC. I can see situations where people who are happy to dip in & jump out not participating at all because they won't get a badge for that (or can they?). This of course means that people aren't going after the knowledge, but rather they are in it for the recognition or the badge. Perhaps this is true, but those looking for achievements are a different demographic than those who dip in & jump out as they need to, so I am not sure that such a comment can be generalizable. I would say that achievements/badges have the potential to stifle growth, but the caveat is that they might stifle growth if they are done poorly.

So my next line of thought was that a parallel exists between this and video games where some people (not all) go through the motions of the game just to get all of the achievement badges. What if there were formal recognitions in a MOOC, but they were not advertised, think of them as an easter egg. These achievement badges could be developed and locked behind a vault and the criteria were only revealed after the MOOC was completed.   Then you could have multiple badges for a MOOC indicating things like the following:

  1. Participation in ¼ of the weeks (whichever way you measure that)
  2. Participation in ½ of the weeks
  3. Participation in ¾ of the weeks
  4. Participation in 100% of the weeks
  5. Completed a project relating to the MOOC during the time of the MOOC and getting it peer or evaluator evaluated (examples ds106 and mobimooc)
  6. You participated in #MOOCHashTag on Twitter
  7. You @replied to someone in the MOOC (and used the #MOOCHashTag)
  8. Your tweets were re-tweeted at least x-times
  9. You posted at least x-blog posts during the MOOC
  10. You commented at in at least x-different-blogs during the MOOC
  11. You contributed something to the diigo/delicious bookmark sharing of the MOOC
  12. You participated in x-discussion on the MOOC discussion board (if you are using LMS or Google Groups for example)
  13. You facilitated a week in the MOOC
  14. You completed the insert-Theme week of MOOC by passing some criterion (I guess this is an example for Cormier's "Rhizomagic" badge)
  15. Your posts were given more than 3 stars (assuming you are using and LMS, with post-rating-stars or "likes" enabled, and fellow participants can like or rate your posts)

The list can go on and on and on and on... There can be few, or many badges for a MOOC.  The idea is that MOOCs can "retire" their old badges after they've been given out and the MOOC is over so that people who take future MOOCs (like Change12 if there is a Change12 for example) don't take advantage of the system and game it to just get badges.  Think of foursquare and badges that were only available during certain events (like 140conf). This can be done with MOOCs as well :-)

I know that not everyone likes the idea of badges and achievements - but not all achievements detract from the activity, and not all achievements create an environment where the activity is secondary. It's all about how you plan and execute things - implementation is key.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mobile Language Learning - Call for papers

While looking up the most recent issue of Language Learning and Technology I came across their most recent call for papers. This time around the topic is mobile language learning, both topics I am interested in!  I was wondering if there are any change MOOC participants out there who are interested in mLearning, and Language Learning to work as part of a collaborative research team on the theme :-)

Here's the actual call for papers:
There has been increased interest in portable technologies which allow learners to access tools for learning languages in virtually any time or place that suits them. The quickly developing functionalities of mobile phones, MP3 players, laptop and tablet computers, and other hand-held devices with touch screen technology mean that the range of possibilities for language learning has greatly diversified. GodwinJones (2011), for example, points out that iPhone and Android phones have ushered in a phenomenal expansion in the development of Apps for just about every topic under the sun, and educators have been exploring the value of Apps for learning specific skills (e.g., math, geometry) and language since 2009. The interest in such mobile technologies for learning languages has also been reflected in recent literature, with the appearance of studies using mobile technologies, such as podcasts (e.g., RosellAguilar, 2006), short message service (SMS) (e.g., Levy & Kennedy, 2008; Sotillo, 2010; Thurlow, 2003,2009), and mobile phones (Stockwell, 2010), to name a few. This special issue of Language Learning & Technology seeks to provide a variety of perspectives on learning through mobile technologies, with a particular focus on corpus-based or empirical studies investigating how the use of these technologies affect and are affected by the language learning environment, or discussions of theoretical issues associated with learning through mobile technologies.

Please consult the LLT Website for general guidelines on submission ( and
research ( and note that articles containing only descriptions of
software or pedagogical procedures without presenting in-depth empirical data and analysis on
language learning processes or outcomes will not be considered.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Practical issues of mobile language learning
  • Theories applicable to mobile language learning
  • Autonomy and/or self-directed learning through mobile technologies
  • Teacher education for mobile language learning
  • Development of Apps and software for mobile language learning
  • Using mobile technologies for specialized language learning
  • Teaching second language pragmatics through mobile technologies

Please send letter of intent and 250-word abstract by February 1, 2012 to

Publication timeline:
  • February 1, 2012: Submission deadline for abstracts
  • February 15, 2011: Invitation to authors to submit a manuscript
  • July 1, 2012: Submission deadline for manuscripts
  • October 1, 2013: Publication of special issue

Actual call for papers here:

Gamification, simulation, empowerment, motivation, difficulty :: Level Up!

The other day, while I was on the train and on my way home I was reading the most recent Change11 blog posts. I was going to comment on each one of these blog posts individually, but I realized that there as a thread developing in each one that made them fit together pretty nicely.

First, I read brainysmurf's "if you don't like messy learning don't play in the snow" post.  Brainysmurf comments on Jon Dron's comment that MOOCs are "not easy, this [therefore] will be demotivating and inefficient." Brainy says the following:

Wow, that scares me because I think he’s right! If learning (in a mooc or elsewhere) is not easy, it seems that a number of learners will lose motivation. What does that say about the willingness of an individual or group to risk, to fail, to learn from failure, to get up and try again? Does *everything* in our world have to be faster, more efficient and require less effort now? To what degree do we actually learn from anything that is totally streamlined and easy?

Here I think the are some caveats and addenda to the difficulty level argument.  Sure, if something is difficult, it might detract people from doing it; however it's not just about the difficulty level of the task. Other factors go into whether or not people  want to participate.  For example, it the task itself difficult, or are there ancillary tasks, pre-requisite tasks that are difficult and not the main task?  I think that MOOCs (at least from a theme/content perspective are not difficult (then again I am in the field of education so this stuff is fun for me), however I can see how blogs, twitter, commenting and RSS (and other technologies that MOOCs use) can be difficult if people haven't figured out a workflow for all this ancillary and pre-requisite knowledge that they need to have in order to participate in MOOCs. If the content is challenging but the mechanism is not then people, in my view, are more apt to participate.  After all, if things are too easy they easily become boring and people don't do those either!

This brings me to Paul's post, on bowties and MOOCs. Paul writes about learner empowerment (I read Paul's post last evening, and today on the train ride to work I was reading a journal article on learner empowerment and intrinsic motivation - serendipity) and MOOCs:

MOOCs have potential to empower and to expose participants to a relatively low structure, high volume of content and individualised learning experience. But, like bow ties – it may not be for everyone. Its potential most probably depend on the way it is structured, how that structure “fits” with the expectations of participants, the expertise of those facilitating the courses, the efficiency of technologies and links as well as whether the course theme is relevant to those who registered.

I think that MOOCs do have the potential to appeal to most learners, but unless we address those ancillary and pre-requisite skills (both technological and meta-cognitive) we can't get to the "meat" of the course. I think that low-structure, high-volume and the ILE (individualized learning experience) can work if learners are prepared for this however too little structure and the course falls apart.  My favorite "punching bag" for a MOOC of that type is eduMOOC. I was really interested in the topic, I was ready and willing to participate, but there was a clear and distinct lack of structure which made it not that interesting to participate in it; as a matter of fact it made the experience frustrating because I was interested but I was not enabled to take away something from the course since the seed-material was essentially non-existant.

This brings me to Irene and her post "who can be served by bridges no nowhere?"

About gaming and simulation. I’m interested to learn about this topic this week. I had to play in a warlike game once for a course and that was even worse than Twitter and Fb! Never again! Already taking an avatar was against me…….then the playing of the war game, disgusting……People said you could learn leadership and strategic planning and what not from it, but I found it downright sad…….What are your opinions on those war games? Do you allow your children to play them? Do you play them yourself? Why are so many people playing these games? What is the educational value, if any, of those games? I can see better results from simulation, I hope to see some examples this week…….

I do play games, and some of them are shooting games (military, tactical, espionage). Here I think my gaming experience comes in handy with motivation, difficulty, and playing games.  When I start playing a game, I tend to go for normal difficulty if I have an option.  Turning the difficulty all the way to 11 is not that much fun, you die mere seconds into the game. This is where frustration rises and the affective filter is raised*, this creates a downward spiral that is the exact opposite of the virtuous circle. It's been proven† that positive begets positive, so if you do well you tend to continue to improve.

Now, just because I do well in a normal difficulty game doesn't mean that my character doesn't die.  Quite the opposite, in the game I am playing now, Alone in the Dark, I've died countless times while attempting to stop demonic beings from taking over the earth, but I keep going back.  Why?  There are several reasons: I am interested in knowing what happens in the end of the game. Also, the game empowers me to skip a scene/stage if I so choose‡ so I can keep going on with the story.  The xbox games also have achievements (badges) that players can get for completing certain tasks in the game. Some are "simple" in that you get them for completing a stage, and some are a bit esoteric in that you get them for doing specific tasks that you may, or may not, do while playing the game (like killing a demon in a specific way with a specific weapon).

When a friend gave me his old xbox 360 and I started playing, I didn't think that achievements would be a big draw for games that I was already interested in playing. However, achievements are an additional push to get the job done and complete the game.  What I find is that if I enjoy the game, I am more apt to go after those obscure achievement badges; however if the game isn't engaging and I am not motivated, those badges will not get me to play a game. They are good for additive reasons, but they don't work by themselves in a vacuum.

* by the way, I know that I am using educational jargon.  If you don't know what I am taking about, please leave me a comment and I can point you to resources :-)

† in research that I read in the past six months but I don't have a handy citation for

‡ I can't always skip forward, I must have a minimum qualification to be able to skip forward.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Κούκου! Είσαι εκεί;

Χτες το απόγευμα, κατά το απογευματινό ταξιδάκι προς το σπίτι, διάβαζα τα δημοσιεύματα του Jon, της Jenny, του Matthias και του John (αν θέλετε να τα διαβάσετε, διαβάστε τα σε αυτή την σειρά). Το γενικό θέμα σε όλα αυτά τα δημοσιεύματα είναι το πως (και πόσοι) συμμετέχουν σε ένα MOOC.

Αν παρατηρήσει κανείς τον ημερήσιο εγκύκλιο του MOOC θα δεις πως σε γενικές γραμμές τα ίδια δέκα άτομα συμμετέχουν συχνά, και που και που θα δεις κανένα καινούργιο πρόσωπο. Αυτό δεν σημαίνει πως δεν υπάρχουν άλλοι στο MOOC που διαβάζουν και επεξεργάζονται καθημερινά τα δημοσιεύματα άλλων· απλός δεν γνωρίζουμε πόσα άτομα υπάρχουν που παρακολουθούν και πόσα ήρθαν την πρώτη εβδομάδα φερ' ειπείν, είδαν κάτι και έφυγαν.

Η αλήθεια είναι το κάθε MOOC είναι διαφορετικό (όπως και το κάθε μάθημα που δεν είναι MOOC) και το πως μετριέται αυτός που είναι παρόν θα αλλάζει αναλόγως με το μάθημα και την θεματολογία. Για παράδειγμα, ένα άλλο MOOC, το ds106 (ψηφιακή διήγηση), ο κάθε συμμετέχων έπρεπε να παραδώσει κάτι στο τέλος κάθε εβδομάδας. Σε γενικές γραμμές σκέφτομαι να δημιουργήσω και εγώ ένα MOOC· ένα MOOC για την διδασκαλία της Νέας Ελληνικής για ξένους, με θεματολογία το ταξίδι. Η αλήθεια είναι πως αυτό το σκεπτικό του «έλα όποτε θες» δεν μου αρέσει και τόσο πολύ στα MOOC, οπότε σκέφτομαι να πάω με το παράδειγμα του ds106. Αναρωτιέμαι πόση ζήτηση να υπάρχει για ένα δωρεάν μάθημα ελληνικών στο διαδίκτυο...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

College Degrees and Relevance

Over the holiday, at some point I came across this blog post asking how much longer will (college) degrees mean something. It was a short, but interesting post, and something that I've thought about in the past; not in reference to how much longer will college degrees have a monopoly on accreditation of individuals, but rather I've been pondering what does a college degree mean.

The impetus for this post seem's to be Stanford's AI MOOC, which apparently will give out certificates of completion to those who participate and do the work.  Jeff, the author of the other blog posses the following questions which I wanted to tackle a bit:

When do we start hiring for the knowledge you have rather than the degree you hold?
We used to do that, and we ought to be doing that now. One of my concentrations while an MBA student was Human Resources Management, and as a student one of the key things is that the piece of paper doesn't matter, but rather it's the skills that do.  The problem is that there is a disconnect between HR and the department that's hiring.  The department writes the job description, which is ultimately what HR posts and they collect resumes/CVs for. The degree becomes one more check mark in the automation process, and your perfectly good candidate can be denied because they don't have a specific degree. This is done in the name of efficiency, but this type of efficiency overlooks qualified candidates.

When will a certificate of this open course or that open course mean as much as actually taking the college course?
Never - OK, maybe I shouldn't say never - so let's say "I wouldn't hold my breath."  In a good and thought out curriculum, there are competencies that students need to demonstrate before being allowed to graduate. Coursework is part and parcel of honing those skills so that you can qualify for those competencies.  Doing one course and getting a certificate is not the same as going through a thought-out program, with a set of competencies, that you can easily demonstrate.  Even if you strung together a number of open courses (MOOCs) each giving you a certificate, since the certificates are all issued by different authorities, with different standards and measures, it's still not the same as a college degree.

What happens when a college degree really doesn't mean anything other than you spent x amount of hours with your butt in a seat somewhere for four five six years?
You know, a college degree is more than the sum of the courses you took and how much time you spent in class. A college degree, especially today, should set you up to be a critical, reflective, life-long learner who can cope with anything that life or work throws at them. Content is important so far as  it gets you your first job. You can't be a java programmer unless you've spent so many hours programming and learning the language and learning its kinks.  You can do this as part of a degree program...or you can do it on your own.  Time on task however does not change.
What happens when you're hired for what you know not what courses you took?
I've never had anyone hire me for the courses I took; and I honestly don't know anyone who does hire people based on courses they took. Hiring managers are looking for people who can synthesize knowledge from their entire curriculum.
What happens when the skills you have become more important than the content you know?
Again, in practice it is the skills that matter, not content - this is reality today, but it's not seen as key based on our hiring practices. Employers do want  individuals who can look things up as needed.  Some content is important: you can't hire a biologist of physicist if that person has little exposure and hands-on time with the actual subject matter. Would YOU want your surgeon to look things up during surgery?  Medical students, before they become doctors have both content area knowledge and skills developed through simulations and practice - hey, nice tie-in to the topic of this week: simulations, lol - not all professions are like this, but some are. In any case, you need both content area knowledge and skills. One is not interchangeable for the other, but as you grow up as a professional, skills are more important because content gets stale and needs updating.

What happens when a college degree no longer means anything?
I think we will cross that bridge when we get to it, but it's still a long long way down the road. Colleges are accredited institutions (now how far that accreditation goes is up for debate, as I and others have written in the past), but there is a measure of some sort.  Even with Mozilla's open badge initiative it will be a while before any self-reliant, self-motivated individual can put together a cohesive set of courses (if we are measuring in terms of courses!) to qualify as a college degree alternative.

What I think is amiss here is the questioning of what a college degree signifies - and that is "Expertise" in something that someone else with expertise is willing to vouch for someone else.  People have, and do, get street cred for their work and expertise through alternate means (example: portfolios of their work), but those individuals are also people who don't get their jobs through "normal" means (i.e. through the HR department). When alternatives to showing off one's expertise become more relevant and used by hiring managers and HR departments, then the college degree will be dethroned as the measurement by which people are hired.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Using mLearning and MOOCs to understand chaos, emergence, and complexity in education

This paper seems to have made the rounds while I was away from blogging last week, but I thought it would be worthwhile  posting it on my blog just the same :-)

The second paper of the MRT (mobiMOOC research team) is now available through the  International Review of Research in Online and Distance Learning (IRRODL) and is titled "Using mLearning and MOOCs to understand chaos, emergence, and complexity in education."  Here's the abstract:

In this paper, we look at how the massive open online course (MOOC) format developed by connectivist researchers and enthusiasts can help analyze the complexity, emergence, and chaos at work in the field of education today. We do this through the prism of a MobiMOOC, a six-week course focusing on mLearning that ran from April to May 2011. MobiMOOC embraced the core MOOC components of self-organization, connectedness, openness, complexity, and the resulting chaos, and, as such, serves as an interesting paradigm for new educational orders that are currently emerging in the field. We discuss the nature of participation in MobiMOOC, the use of mobile technology and social media, and how these factors contributed to a chaotic learning environment with emerging phenomena. These emerging phenomena resulted in a transformative educational paradigm.

Our first paper is in the Proceedings of mLearn 2011 (but you may actually see it in a journal as well). The MRT is now working on another paper (which we hope to have done before the end of the year) looking at affective language use in MOOCs as a predictor of participation. One thing that we keep coming across is the issue of lurkers and drop-outs (and how to distinguish between the two).

The other papers in the current edition of IRRODL also look interesting, but I thought I would highlight the paper titled "A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support human beings? Participant support on massive open online courses"since it is co-authored by fellow Change11 and Research_MOOC participants Rita Kop and John Sui Fai Mak (Hélène Fournier may also be here, but I don't remember seeing her)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Publishing,copyright, and pay walls...

The MobiMOOC research team has been working on our third paper, further analyzing aspects of MOOCs, and MobiMOOC in specific.  Our forthcoming paper tackles the topic of emotive language usage in MOOC discussions as a predictor of continued, or future, participation in the course. We are currently in the process of going over and refining the paper, but I don't want to give away the punchline before it's done in its totality :-)

In any case, I've taken the lead on this project to see which journal we can publish our findings in.and I have found a journal whose theme is online learning and asynchronous networks, which fits in with MOOCs and MOOC pedagogy (although, to be honest I don't know how much MOOC pedagogy there is out there...perhaps something to put our heads together about). Anyway, I was looking over the author submission guidelines to see what sort of format they wish to have us submit our paper in terms of citations, footnotes* and text formatting; and here is where I noticed that we, the authors, have to (explicitly) hand over copyright to the journal in order to have it published. The journal is also behind a pay-wall which is another consideration.  My previously published work required neither transfer of copyright, nor were there paywalls.

This gave me pause for thought.  I am interested (as is the MobiMOOC research team) in having this paper published, but I am not sure if I want my work to be behind paywalls and not retain copyright.  I get the feeling that this is the norm in academic publishing, but it doesn't really sit right.  What do fellow academics think?  I am relatively new to this, I just have a couple of articles published, and I don't have a PhD yet, so I'd like to hear back from more experienced people out there who've been in the game longer. Is the lure of a big name journal justification to put aside your philosophical stance on open publishing?  With the exception of IRRODL and JOLT, are there open access journals that you'd recommend?

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Issues?

* note to journal editors: please bring back the footnote...informational (and other) footnotes are awesome, no need to get rid of them because we're online! :-)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lurkers, Lurking, Learners, Learning, what is learning?

I tried making that rhyme, to come up with a catchy title, but it didn't really work out... Oh well, maybe next time ;-)

In any case, in the Research_MOOC Mailing list Alan Selig had an interesting question which I thought I would poke at for a while until I came to an answer (or at least something to add to the discussion)

Alan Selig
One final "wonderment" from my limited understanding of Connectivist Learning theory:  If the reflecting and remixing never leaves the head of the lurker, except perhaps in their own behavior, is it still learning? If the wider community never receives a benefit does that disqualify the experience as being learning?

Well...I think that there are different levels of looking at this. First of all, is it learning if it never leaves the brain/mind of the lurker? Strictly speaking, if the "learning" never manifests itself outside of the mind, I don't think it's learning. This manifestation doesn't have to involve other people, but there needs to be some externalization of the learning.  For instance. Let's say that I am learning to program databases in SQL.  I pick up a book and I read all about it. Let's also say, that I have convinced myself that I have learned SQL.  Is this learning?  Well, if placed in front of a computer with SQL, can I create and manage databases that run on SQL? If yes, then I have learned SQL (and no one else knows) and if no, then I haven't learned SQL.

My father is a good example of this - he reads a lot, in a variety of subjects, mind you he only finished middle school as far as I know and completed a technical degree back in his day (I guess the closest equivalent would be an Associate's degree, but only focusing on his trade and not the general education courses). He goes through phrases, reading classical fiction, history, biology, chemistry, and theology texts, just to mention a few topics and he synthesizes this information.  He brings up stuff he's learned when he is out with friends and colleagues - so in his case there are others around, but then again it would be a bit weird to speak to yourself about the things you've learned.

Getting back to connectivism, MOOCs, and dip-in and jump-out, MOOCs simply don't work if people are lurkers. Let's say that everyone in this MOOC were lurkers, what would you have? You'd have weekly seeding posts from the facilitators and that's it.  This in essence is the modern equivalent of mail-away education. Every week you'd get a care package of readings and activities that you do alone.  You aren't connecting with others, you aren't even connecting (that much) with the facilitators because lurking means one-way communication.  I don't know what the stats are for Change, but I would guess that there is a small core group of participants (who blog in several languages! yay!) that expand on the seed materials and spark additional learning conversations where everyone benefits.

So is there learning if people are lurking? Yes there is! But without some people to spark conversation and learning in MOOCs, you'd have much less to think about, and potentially much less to learn. The learning, when people participate, is thus much more than the sum of all participant's contributions :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Soft & Hard Technologies...

This week in Change11 our host is Jon Dron (rhymes with Tron ;-) )and to topic is Soft technologies, hard technologies and everything in between. While reading the seed post I got a distinct mental image of Steve Job's voice reading Jon's initial post - it had a jobsian feel to it.

The article is an interesting epistemological view of technology; technology being very broad by definition since pedagogy is also taken to be a technology. I honestly don't know what to make of this week, just yet anyway. It was an interesting read, it did engage me mentally, but where to go from here?  I suppose the activity itself might be a good starting point...

So Jon asks us to ...

Provide at least one possible educational use for an unenhanced standard email client such as Thunderbird or Outlook Express that requires nothing more than that email client and its usual supporting infrastructure (network connection, operating system etc are fine, but no other distinct applications like web browsers, word processors, shared storage, listservs, schedulers or calendars). Provide this in a form that may be aggregated with grsshopper and shared with others on the MOOC.

The intention here is to focus on what phenomena are being orchestrated to what purpose in each case and (most importantly) how that orchestration occurs. The more complex, bizarre, interesting and ingenious the ways of using these better.
Honestly, it's been quite a while since I've used an email client (on the desktop) and even longer when I've used a web client that has been un-enhanced by rich text formatting, images, and HTML..., without putting way to much thought into this I will draw from my own past (and snail mail!)  Back in the good ol' days of slow interner (remember those?) I used to actually write to friends via snail mail (aaahhh, those were the days! the excitement of getting a letter in the mail!). In any case, when corresponding with a friend from England, we started a story by mail. No pre-conceived plot (I guess sort of like a never ending story), and each time we wrote, along with any news that accumulated we'd work on our epic masterpiece.

Wikis and Google Docs these days have taken over this collaborative creative writing exercise, but a plain text email client could be used in an English class to write a collaborative fiction. The idea is that you couldn't go back and edit other people's work, but you'd have to build on it.  I can see this in psychology or organizational behavior classes as well...

I do wonder how many people these days would go for this though, considering the "send this to 10 people and back to me if you really care about our friendship" BS type of emails that we get, would people really respond to such an exercise?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Adjuncts, accreditation and academic quality

The other day I posted some thoughts based on Leahgrrl's original post on adjuncts and technology. Tony Bates also posted thoughts on the issue around the topic of accreditation. Between these blog posts, and comments to all three of them, the mental gears started to slowly turn and think of additional thoughts around the issue.  The first one being accreditation.

Tony writes that through his experiences being part of an accreditation agency, adjunct labor is something that they pay attention to when new programs apply to become accredited, but then there is no follow up.  I know our campus had a recent AQUAD review* for all programs on our campus, and  both internal and external reviewers viewed departmental submissions of the resumes of these departments (history of department, course offerings, student information, course reviews, faculty reviews, student evaluations of courses and instructors,  etc.), in short everything an accreditor would need to see in order to approve or disapprove a program.

It's great that scrutiny is placed on new programs as far as adjuncts go, but I would like to see more information about adjunct use for re-accreditation purposes.  If I were an accreditor here are some questions I would ask and things that I would be looking for (in no particular order):

  • What is the ratio of tenured/tenure track to adjunct instructors and lecturers?†
  • What percentage of courses are taught by adjuncts?
  • What percentage of core courses are taught by adjuncts?
  • What is the longevity of your department's adjuncts?
    • both in aggregate, and per-adjunct, so I want to see how long, on average do your adjuncts stay with you, and then I want to see how long each adjunct has been with the department.  for me, a 1 year hiatus from teaching would be acceptable (scenario: you teach 1 specialist course every summer)
  • Do you adjuncts teach only for you, or do they teach elsewhere?
  • Do your adjuncts only teach, or do they also work in industry?
  • What is the conversion rate for
    • adjunct-to-lecturer
    • adjunct-to-tenure
    • lecturer-to-tenure
  • What other duties do you require of your lecturers and adjuncts (i.e. service requirements to the institution, advising and so on)
  • How do adjunct and tenured faculty reviews and grades compare?

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a start. If institutions were required to maintain a 70-30, 80-20, or 90-10 ratio of tenured/tenure track to adjunct ratio, and were required to have all core courses taught by tenured or tenure track faculty I think that we would see some changes.

Sarah, did bring up the point that not all adjuncts are sub-par.  And I agree. I happen to know many adjuncts who are awesome and put in a lot of love, care, and time in preparation. They really want to help their students.  Sarah brings up the point that money isn't always an issue since adjuncts may have other jobs or may be retired so they are doing it for the love of teaching.  Perhaps this was true at one point when adjuncts were employed to bring industry expertise into the classroom, and the payment was more of a stipend than a salary, a "thank you." Things are different now however.  I believe that most adjuncts are out-of-work academics that are willing to patch together many teaching gigs to make ends meet. They may still be dedicated and put in a lot of hours, and pull feats of herculean proportions, but just because you can pay them peanuts, doesn't mean that you ought to.

As Barry wrote, it's a dignity issue.  Money may not be the issue for some people, but it is an issue for others◊ . Even if money weren't the issue, money is an indicator of your perception of worth and appreciation for someone in this case, and paying them peanuts indicates that you don't perceive them to be worth much because you aren't paying them much. Ethically, too, even if people are willing to settle for what little they can get, should you as an organization pay them that little? Should you string them along with a carrot of tenuretrackdom even if you know that you are probably not going to hire someone on tenure track if they've been adjuncting•?

If adjuncts have longevity at your institution, if they've been with you for a number of years, pay increases and other perks should come their way.  Why, if you've hired someone for the past six semesters consecutively would you not want to give them a 3-5 year contract with increased salary?  You obviously value them and their work enough to keep hiring them back semester after semester, why not make it official and give them a longer stint, with job protection and better pay?  Why not have a career ladder of
adjunct --> lecturer (3 year contract) --> senior lecturer (5 year contract) --> tenure track --> tenure?

* Academic Quality and something something something...
† At my campus a lecturer is someone with a 3 year contract, a senior-lecturer someone with a 5 year contract. The pay still doesn't compare to tenure track/tenured faculty but it's a start.
◊ Tapping into contemporary sentiment, money may not be an issue for the 1% of adjuncts who have other jobs to sustain them, but it is an issue for the 99%
• I've read elsewhere that being an adjunct signals to employers that they shouldn't hire you for a tenured position. Sort of similar to the concept of if you are already employed you can get a job, but if you aren't you are out of silly, waste of good talent!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Abundance: A tale of student usage

I was reading the blog posts that were posted yesterday on Change MOOC on the topic of Learning in times of Abundance and it suddenly hit me*, this learning in times of abundance reminds me a lot of the research I did on digital natives (article forthcoming). Yes technology (seems to be) ubiquitous, and so is information, but as  Eric Duval admitted in his intro post:
Really big caveat: of course, all of this abundance talk is only relevant to us who are the privileged few, who do not need to worry about where we will sleep this evening, or how we will feed our children…

I thought of a few more caveats, one of which I mentioned before, that of literacy. Abundance is almost useless without the literacy to use it...sort of like the old saying: so much sea and yet I am thirsty (OK, I paraphrased a bit right there). The other thing that I was reminded of is actual usage of this abundance.  In a lot of the good digital native research† that I came across looked at factors such as how technologies are used (social versus academic and the chasm between), and whether students bring those devices to the classroom.

Research has shown that there is a chasm between social use and academic use, and that students can't necessarily bridge this on their own. So abundance isn't really helpful when you can't use those devices, services, information providers to your advantage without being instructed to do so.  Other research‡ also shows that students were unwilling to mix their social lives with their academic lives, so in order to use this type of abundance one would need a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde approach to social media (abundance) in the classroom. I think that we Change MOOCers are probably an exception to this.

Finally, I was reminded of a recent Educause annual survey of incoming freshmen that indicated that about 80% of them had a laptop.  Now the question is do these students bring these devices to school?  If they do, how often and for what purpose.  My personal feeling◊ is that a "laptop" is semioticaly the same as a desktop computer for these students. When laptops became portable, they didn't just allow people to take them from one place to another but this also allowed for home users to take up much less space on their desks for the computer. A desktop, monitor, keyboard and mouse take up way more space than a laptop that has everything all in one place.  Thus, students living in dorms or  apartments shared with other people would be more likely to buy a laptop because it can fit in smaller spaces, it can move around the apartment when it gets noisy, and if needed, it can be locked in a drawer when you have parties or get-togethers. The semiotics of a laptop in this case aren't the same as the semiotics of a portable machine that you take everywhere, but rather of a machine that take up less space and if needed can be moved to another place of study• .

Why do I mention this?  Earlier this semester a colleague of mine and a former professor wanted to use Google Moderator for a large class.  Moderator works well on computers but in reality it sucks big time for mobile devices. The experiment, as I understand it, was not so encouraging. Why?  Well, people didn't bring their computers, or just didn't participate. While laptop ownership was abundant in the class, and pretty much everyone had a smartphone or tablet, it was hard to use such a service because of the semiotics of the laptop and the non-usability of mobile devices on this service.  The one thing that wasn't abundant in this case: tabletop real-estate!  Technology was available, but if a computer or tablet were to be placed on the desk, that would be all that could go on there. No books, notebooks or any other type of writing or reading implement (or beverage for that matter) could be placed on the desk, which made learning feel cramped and not that comfortable• . Learning can't take place when a learner is uncomfortable - so, guess what, people didn't use back-channel tools, because they didn't fit in with the overal environment! Abundance is great, but it can't be an island in and of itself - it needs to connect with the other aspects of student learning (in this case the spatial configuration of the classroom).

* idea for iOS developers: develop connections between ReadItLater and blogging software so I can just send links to my blogging software from ReadItLater to be able to cite things...
† good research being actual research, not "fluff research" that just mindlessly repeats "common wisdom"
‡ Apologies for my laziness in not providing citations...I promise to post my paper on digital natives once done :)
◊ I have no way of proving this, but it would make for an interesting study (if not done already)
• I should say that these are my interpretations of the situation

Learning in times of abundance...for quite some time now!

This week's topic, as I mentioned in my initial post, is learning in times of abundance. Eric Duval, in his definition of abundance, goes for the digital element, but I wanted to focus on something  a little more mundane - the "disconnected" world of the library.  The fact of the matter is that our abundance of information is no new thing. Some may go back as far back as the invention of the printing press, but I won't since buying books still costs money to the individual and thus, while there is an abundance in materials, it's not abundant to you because you've got limited money.  Instead I want to focus on something quaint - the library.

The library has provided us with a lot of abundant information, for both learning and pleasure.  Through various consortia, if your own town library (or libraries) don't carry the item you want, they can get it for you, usually for no extra charge, so you can have access to whatever material you need. In high school I almost never used the library; except to borrow the original Star Trek movies and to do some required summer reading*...both of these activities happened at the same time. As a college undergraduate I used the library as a free place to get internet - again missing out on the wonders that the library could offer.  It wasn't until graduate school when I really started using the library a lot.

Why such a lag in using such abundant information sources? Very few courses I took required trips to the library to research (I was a computer science major as an undergraduate) and I really lacked the information savvyness to use the library, and to use it well!  Our focus now, as is evident from Eric's initial post, is the internet - what can the internet for us and our classes?  Well, the answer is nothing; unless of course people really learn how to use it; how to find resources relevant to them, to weigh them, evaluate them, and put them to use.  The problem with the internet is the same problem as the library: they are both abundant information sources but they do require some user training for them to use. Just as you can't walk into a library and immediately (and without training) find the information source that's right for your query, in the same manner you can't just hop onto Google and find an answer to your question without critical  reasoning and questioning skills.

The benefit of this connected world, is that we get a chance for a do-over. We get an opportunity to teach learners how to find information, both in digital form and in physical form in a library, how to evaluate it, how to be critical of it, how to cite it and create and defend arguments based on this information.  Technology is just a tool, the hard work is all mental ;-)

* well, I also got some books on programming Apple ][gs machines using ProDOS, but that was limited in scope

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adjunct Technology...or pay your adjuncts better :)

I was reading a post by Leahgrrl the other day titled Adjunct Technology, or why I can't figure out Blackboard. It was quite an interesting post, and not something completely foreign to me - I've read my fair share of adjunct posts on the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and Inside Higher Ed, as well as having known many adjuncts personally. This past week, while attending the Sloan-C annual conference (virtually) I saw a session on developing faculty, and one of the institutions (the name escapes me now) had faculty take an 8 week long training seminar which focused on pedagogy, but the final "product" of the course was a full course on Blackboard (or whatever LMS the institution used). The faculty were not paid for the workshop, but they were paid a stipend for creating the course on Blackboard (so I guess they were sort of reimbursed for the time they spend on this project in some fashion).

What should be pointed out was that not all institutions do this - I think only a minority of institutions do! And, it seems like the  institutions that do only do so for online courses, not courses that are face to face and use technology to enhance the course; so if you are an adjunct, who is tasked with creating a course from scratch, you are putting in countless hours in course development (that your institution may retain copyright over!) for no pay.  On top of that you are paid only for the hours you spend in the if you pro-rate everything you are getting poverty wages at best - after all, you do want to give your students good feedback and opportunities to excel don't you? This stuff takes time!

Adjuncts in the US get paid pretty poorly and institutions many times also don't provide for basic things like an office to conduct student consults, a computer or a printer for student handouts. It's a situation where you're getting paid poorly and it's BYOT (bring your own technology). From a management perspective, if you're just looking at the dollars and cents, it makes sense! Dirt cheap labor with no overhead!  But, in my opinion, this is what has brought down wall street - focusing on just the short term gain, and not keeping in mind long term benefits.  How do you retain great, qualified, instructors if you don't provide better wages and some job perks? Yes, there is always someone else to replace them, but at what cost to the students and the reputation of the institution?  If you don't pay well, adjunct faculty won't go the extra mile, because they either have another job and this is their hobby, or they string along several (low paying) teaching gigs and do the bare minimum.

I'd like to know which Higher Education Administration genius thought of this cockamamy scheme :-)  Education isn't about opening up a student's brain and pouring in information - it's about educating people to fend for themselves and this requires mentorship and educational innovation. Both of these require time, and if you're paying your educators very little, they aren't going to put in the time.  It's all is this not visible?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Campus vs. Online: fighting in the family

Last week I was a virtual attendee at the annual Sloan-C conference. It was fun and educational enough to spend 3 days watching live streamed sessions, and a saturday catching up on some recorded ones. The recorded ones are not as fun since you don't have the twitter stream going :-)  In any case, I was watching the session on State Perspectives on Online Education and it seemed to me that there still is tension between the online side of the house and the face-to-face education side; namely that the f2f side doesn't want online to be "poaching"  "their" students, and in some cases refusing to share resources.  This was a major #facepalm moment for me because it's essentially two sides of the same organization fighting each other - which is really counter I tweeted:
Competition between online&f2f jeez!Can we get over it already &recognize that OL or f2f doesnt matter.Its just one campus! #aln2011
Which lead to a brief exchange online (read from bottom to top):

At that point it seemed a bit silly to try to elaborate on twitter, something that seems so long to elaborate.

The first thing that I should clarify (if my second tweet wasn't clear enough) was that this war between the f2f and the online sides of the campus doesn't matter from an administrative side.  Faculty and instructional designers should not be hired only to help with online or face to face - this seems like un-necessary duplication. It also seems like unnecessary duplication to have two cost centers for the two different units with two sets of managers - that's just a waste of money and resources.  Sure, pedagogy will be different in an online environment versus a face to face environment however the managerial structure should not have an affect on the pedagogy.  

As such, universities should not have this type of infighting and consider some students online and other students face to face and the two shall never mix. What universities should be doing is to realize synergies* between the online and the face to face and go forth together; thus supporting and complementing each other rather than having this silly little fight over online versus face to face. It should be online and face to face.

* by the way, I have come to dislike such business jargon, but it is the only word that comes to mind!

Friday, November 11, 2011

L'âge de l'abondance

Je sais que cette semaine n'est pas fini, mais je ne sais pas si j'ai autres choses à dire pour ce sujet. Alors, maintenant je pense à le sujet de change MOOC de la semaine prochaine. Le thème de la semaine prochaine est l'apprentissage dans le temps d'abondance. Vraiment je ne sais pas que veut dire Éric Duval (notre facilitateur pour cette semaine) mais je me demande: ce qui est en abondance?
L'information? Non, ça ne pourrait être correct parce que nos bibliothèques ont eu beaucoup des livres et information pour beaucoup de temps! Vrai, une bibliothèque n'as pas toutes les livres du monde, mais quelqu'un que veut quelque chose que son bibliothèque n'as pas, cette personne peux demander une livre d'une autre bibliothèque utilisant le "ILL" (interlibrary loan). Je pense que nous avons eu l'abondance en information depuis Gutenberg et l'invention de l'imprimerie; et bien sûr l'existence de la système des bibliothèques.
Peut cette abondance être l'abondance en accès? Peut être non, parce que l'accès à l'Internet coût. Je sais que aujourd'hui beaucoup des gens ont plus d'accès sur le net, mais les niveaux d'accès, selon moi, ne justifient pas la caractérisation d'abondance. Par exemple, j'ai payé $300 pour mon iPhone, et chaque moins ça coût $70 pour accès à l'Internet et pour SMS. Je crois que je peux payer pour ça, mais je doute que un quantité substantielle des gens peuvent (prise en compte le monde totale) payer pour cette type d'accès.
Cette semaine à venir devrait être intéressante.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Change the PhD: PhD by Publication

The other day I was writing about changing the PhD and Jenny wrote an informative reply to my post informing me that in the UK there are actually three types of PhD programs, the ones that I had experience with (though my researching of PhD programs): the "enter with a dissertation topic;" those that have required course components and a dissertation (what I would term "North American style"); and finally a type of PhD program called PhD by Publication.

Being curious, I spent some time looking into what is meant by this type of PhD program and it added to my readitlater reading list (along with the Change11 posts that I wanted to read that day).  I have to say that  I was sufficiently intrigued by this method of getting a PhD. As Jenny alluded it, it is hard to get into this type of program since it seems like it's either reserved for staff members of the university (so perhaps as a way of getting required credentials for career advancement having already proved your knowledge, know-how and capabilities by working at that institution and having already published.  The other way of getting in (if the institution has this type of program for non-staffers) seems to be to come in with a portfolio of publications already and provide justification as to why these collected works are worthy of a PhD.

It seems to me, that if you haven't already published in peer-reviewed journals, a traditional PhD may be the route to go (since that would be shorter), but if you have already published in peer-reviewed journals that body of work can speak to your skills. It seems like there isn't much standardization in PhD by Publication programs, but it seems like your publications (which are peer reviewed, defended in writing by the candidate, and reviewed by the faculty of the institutions) are a substitute for the dissertation. Perhaps there is additional coursework required for some more observation by faculty and other SMEs who are tasked with certifying your competency.

Personally I have no problem with this, I actually think it is an interesting idea.  Some of the comments I saw online however, from traditional PhD holders seems negative, talking about people who get PhDs this way as people who couldn't compete and couldn't hack a "real" PhD. From an educational perspective I think that people are too wedded to the Dissertation without thinking about what a dissertation is meant to show - and that is your capability, as a PhD candidate, to conduct some original research.  If 5-7-10-15 research articles accomplish the same goal, who care if you did a dissertation or published original research?  After all, not all PhD dissertations are publishable, but all of your published research is....well, peer-reviewed and published!

I don't know how old this concept of PhD by Publication is, but it seems like an way to think out of the box and change PhD education :-)