Monday, July 25, 2011

The Great Big MOOC Book!

This past week I was talking to local folks at the University about eduMOOC, and MOOCs in general seeing as I am thinking of implementing a MOOC for language learning for my PhD thesis. OK, I am not in a PhD program yet, but it helps to start thinking about these things in advance so you're not stuck in Dissertation Purgatory.

In any case, people don't know what a MOOC is; how is a MOOC different from an online course? How is it different from OpenCourseWare? How is it different from the Open Learning Initiative? I do my best to describe MOOCs, but it seems to me that this is a good opportunity for us, active MOOC participants and MOOC facilitators, to put together a Book on MOOCs. I know that there is the MOOC model for Digital Practice but it doesn't really address many areas of MOOCs that people traditionally think of when they think of classes, such as learner engament, learner assessment, learner profiles from previous MOOCs (that might give you an idea of who might be coming to your MOOC) and so on.

I was thinking of enlisting the help of many MOOC regulars and MOOC originators like George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Ignatia deWaard and other to create The Great Big MOOC Book.  Yes, perhaps the title conjures up images of children's books, but it's catchy. And heck, it's a collaborative book, so if other collaborators want, the name can change to something else.

The idea behind this book came from reading the Theory and Practice of Online Learning by Athabasca Press. The book is written by many authors and published by a university press. You can get the book for Free as an eBook, or if you really want a paper copy you can buy it on Amazon. I was thinking that the MOOC Book can be the same - freely available as an eBook, but if people really wanted a paper version they could get it on Amazon (or other booksellers).

Click here for the organizing document.  I've added in a lot of chapters that I thought would be good to have, and there are many blank chapters for ideas that people can add their own. Someone suggested that we do a call for chapters, just have a blank document out there, but I decided to keep the chapters I had brainstormed anyway because, in a sense, it is a response to a call for chapters.  If people don't like these chapters, as a collaborative book, they can change them.

If you're interested, go to the planning document, see what chapters are there and if you like a certain chapter just add you name (don't forget to go to the botton of the document and put a mini biography as well so we know who you are and how to get a hold of you).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mobile Development day 3: Android

OK, so today was the penultimate day for  "getting started" types of mobile development workshops. Today's topic, as you might surmise from the title, was Android development.  Today's development environment was Eclipse with the Android SDK.  The nice thing about Android development is that it is all XML and Java, which is pretty nice. I am familiar with XML and I did do Java as part of my computer science BA way back when.  Today the Computer Science curriculum at UMass Boston does use Eclipse as the IDE (integrated development environment), but back when I was in intro to computer science we used TELNET over a 56k modem (eeeek!) to connect to a terminal, use EMACS and compile something with javac which ran in the terminal; thus text-only, no GUI.

Having seen XCode and Visual Studio 2010 in earlier "getting started" workshops, I have to say that both Xcode and Visual Studio win over Eclipse.  They both seemed snappier, compared to eclipse; they both also came with MUCH better simulators of the iOS and Windows Phone 7 environment respectively. Getting the simulator to run in Eclipse was a major pain - not because it was hard, but because it was so slow!  It felt like I was trying to run Windows 7, under Virtual PC on my PowerBook G4- slow as molasses, even before you added in the app that you wanted to debug!  The other sticky issue with Android is fragmentation. While there are some guidelines to work on, as far as screen resolution goes, the various skins that manufacturers put on their android devices, like MotoBlur, HTC's SenseUI and SonyEricsson's whateverYouCallIt, make it not that easy to design an interface that will be consistent throughout the android experience.  Even when you download the specific phone definitions for the simulator you don't get a realistic feel because the phone definitions don't include those skins.

A buddy of mine (@rjzii) mentioned that when you get used to Eclipse and an IDE it's not bad, but from a 30,000 ft. view, XCode and Visual Studio seem more time saving for the developer.  Hmmm....time to think about which OS I will devote some of my spare time to get back to the programming wagon...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mobile app development day 2: Windows Phone 7

OK, now some of my fellow Apple people, and some of you Android fanbois will scoff at me for going to a Windows Phone 7 development workshop, sponsored by Microsoft, but I'll tell you it was fun!  I think that as much as I like the iOS, Windows Phone 7, with the MetroUI  seems interesting as platform and with the backing of Nokia I think we'll see it rise up and be viable competition to Android and iPhone (if apps come out that is...)

In any case, the workshop was pretty interesting and it gave me an opportunity to mess around with Visual Studio, something I haven't done in three or four years, since I was a student in the MSIT program.  I have to say that  developing for WinPhone7 seems to be quite comparable to designing iPhone apps. From the top level, and from the quite limited exposure I've had to them, the IDEs (Visual Studio and XCode) seem pretty comparable at this point.

The one thing I noticed is that both Microsoft peeps (hey, I actually met Edwin Guerin today!) has Samsung Focus phones and we got a little hands on with the devices.  The screen feel was more along the lines of android phones. Unlike my iPhone 3Gs, where I barely touch the screen and it registers the touch and and the action, the Samsung Focus needed a much heftier press on the screen to make something happen. It felt like the screen was closer to a non-capacitive touch screen.

All things considered, I think it would be interesting to mess around with WinPhone7, however with only 4GB of RAM on my work mac, I don't think I'll be able to run Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010 on Parallels.  My work PC is a geriatric Dell GX280, so while Visual Studio will probably run it will be sluggish. I guess I'll wait and see what happens at tomorrow's workshop to form a final opinion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

iPhone app dev workshop

Well, the first workshop was today and it was quite interesting.  As I suspected there were quite a few K-12 teachers there interested in getting started with iOS app development so this can trickle down into the high school computer science curriculum; there were some higher education folks there as well.

Even though the workshop was all day, you can't really get that deep into app development in eight hours.  Most of the workshop consisted in getting us oriented toward the apple developer accounts and with getting around xcode.  We messed around with interface builder and xcode and learned how to connect the UI elements to the code - but there was little (almost no) coding involved.  Considering I haven't programmed in close to ten years now, this wasn't bad.  Now I just need to get started with the Stanford iTunesU podcasts on iOS development...and perhaps come up with some interesting idea for mLearning (or something m-related) to develop a sample application.

The one frustrating thing about today was trying to sign up for a iOS Developer University Program membership.  I had to specify the name of someone that can vouch for me (easy - that would be my boss), but I also had to provide information about a course and a professor that would get notified that I have joined?  What if I am any Joe Schmoe student that wants to experiment, why require a professor to be notified?  Small potatoes though, considering that I have yet to develop an app so I won't need to provision a device for testing.

Looking forward to tomorrow's workshop on Windows Phone 7 development. Looking forward to playing with the MetroUI.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mobile Development week

Last week a colleague of mine alerted me to some free local workshops for educators.  Initially I saw the first week's workshops and thought that they might be too basic for me, but luckily another co-worker pointed out that Week 2 had some mobile development workshops - I guess the lesson here is to never judge a set of workshops by the first week!

In any case, since mobiMOOC was a recent occurrence and since our department has pointed to mobile as something we ought to have now (not five years from now), I thought it would be time well spent.  So Tuesday is a day dedicated to iPhone app development; Wednesday is Windows Phone 7 development and Thursday is Android day. Next week is mobile browser app development.  It's been a number of years (I count close to 10) since I last coded anything but HTML (and possibly SQL) and I honestly didn't think I'd be coding again given the jobs I've had, but I am really looking forward to getting a primer on developing for these three mobile platforms and then following up with something like the Stanford course on iPhone app development.

The one bummer, I recently discovered, was that Xcode is now a paid product.  I remember getting MacOS X and Xcode was included with it, now you either need a developer license ($99 per year) or you buy xcode from the app store.  Sure, it's only $5, but it is a small barrier to entry. It seems like Stanford is using Eclipse as their development platform - personally I think I'll spending the $5 for Xcode :-)

Let's see how this week progresses.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

eduMOOC - halfway point thoughts

Well, this week we are reaching the half-way point of eduMOOC and I am not sure what to make of it. In previous MOOCs, thinking back to CCK11 and MobiMOOC11 I thought that I had more engagement in the main discussion space. Even though CCK11 was aggregated through gRSShopper I still felt like the discussion was centralized.  CCK11 felt more like a lecture hall filled with orators that stepped up on the soap-box, said their thing, and others could react to it, or provide their own views; based of course on the weekly topics of discussion.

In contrast eduMOOC seems to run on the concept of a conference where there is one central space for a keynote speech (this space seems to be Google Groups), where there was a big bang of activity in the first week and then the discussion quieted as most people went to break-out sessions and few stayed in the main hall to discuss a topic or two of interest. Even though I am involved in eduMOOC, being part of a niche group (or what may feel like a niche group) seems to be less of a "course" (the "c" in MOOC) and more of a confederation of special research groups (SRGs) under one the banner of eduMOOC.

What do you think? How does this MOOC work as compared to other MOOCs you've been part of?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On learning management systems

For those in the know, you know that what used to be WebCT (Vista and Campus Edition as far as I know) has been scheduled for product end-of-life sometime in 2013. Because of this our campus, along with many other schools that have WebCT installations, have been looking for other platforms to migrate to. Having spent the last few months testing systems I've come up with a candidate that I'd like to see my campus adopt. I feel like a required disclaimer should be here before I proceed: the views expressed in this blog post are my own and not of my institution, I am only one member of a much larger team that did testing so my views also don't reflect the views of my team and don't constitute any official product endorsement on the part of my employer.

OK, now that that's out of the way, here are my views on systems that I have tested. I gave some systems more hands-on time than others since I was informally assigned to those, but I did make an effort to try all of them, and I did go to the vendor presentations. The total time I spent on each system is denoted with an asterisk next to the name of the product (5 = max)

Instructure Canvas (*****)
The clear winner for me in this testing phase was Canvas.  Canvas is essentially the new kid on the block and they've changed the paradigm of the LMS.  The interface is nice and clean and it appears that you can't really get lost in it. It's just intuitive.  Because it is the new kid on the block it may not have all the features that one is used to in a traditional LMS, however the team seems to be nimble, their code seems to be modular, and they seem to be able to turn on a dime!  Their philosophy seems to be similar to Google's, that is they will pilot new features, listen to the community and release often! Their vendor demo and Q&A was quite open and they weren't afraid to admit dropping the ball on any feature that they didn't implement because they didn't think it would be useful to their customers. Any feature requests that we brought to them as part of the Q&A was something that went on their work queue. On the mobile side of things, the LMS looks great on an iPad (as is) and a dedicated client for the iphone is coming along. Quite simply amazing!

Desire2Learn (****)
Desire2Learn is my runner up choice for a new LMS. D2L is the former new kid on the block; it's been around for ten years or so and it's Blackboard's main competition it seems.  The energy that came from the presenters during the demo and Q&A session was great! I truly felt that this company has customer service as its top priority. The LMS is great too! It's extensible, the company is active working toward implementing additional features, and as a designer it's great because you can wireframe courses and have instructors go in and add materials. It's a bit weak on the web 2.0 integration (canvas' strong-suit) but I am sure that will be remedied. The one ding in D2L's armor is that it may come off as too complex, the UI isn't as clean as Canvas' UI, incoming newbies may feel inundated. On the plus side, the mobile safari page of the LMS is awesome! You could really do homework on your mobile device with this LMS!

BlackBoard Learn (****)
OK, so blackboard is the 9000 pound gorilla in the room. It's been around the longest, it's got it's own product in addition to buying up other learning management systems like Prometheus, WebCT and Angel, as well as buying both Elluminate and WIMBA synchronous conference tools. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on whose view it is), it appears that blackboard may be up for sale, so its future instability may be  an issue.  As far as the product itself goes, Learn 9.1 did not impress me. It seems like a step backward from WebCT Vista and as far as additional functionality goes (the Web 2.0 kind that is available in Canvas for example) - it's just not there. It seems like an LMS built for yesterday, not for today and tomorrow.
The underlying philosophy of functionality additions seems problematic as well.  Blackboard, instead of making features part of it's core, they have a community building plug-ins for the LMS. I think that it's nice to have APIs to allow the community to make extensions that they really need, but some of this functionality is not peripheral - it's core functionality that the company itself should address (like instructure and desire2learn do). If the core Bb learn product gets updated some of these plug-ins may not work for a while and people who use them, for class, could be SOL.  Blackboard mobile also failed to impress in that the UI was inconsistent, with some elements using iOS visuals, and some just opening up a mobile safari page which showed the desktop version of the LMS. To add to that, you can only access Blackboard mobile if you are on WiFi - major fail!
As far as the vendor demo goes, I felt like there was goo, or sleaze, coming off the sale's people's pores.  I felt like they were unnecessarily dodgy.  I am sure that they are all fine folks, but I just don't think that they were honest about their product, and I don't know if they've got their customer's needs at heart.  The cynic in me thinks that they will try to maintain as many customers as they currently have by any means necessary.  This, plus their accumulated intellectual property should make the company worth a pretty penny when it comes up for sale.

Pearson eCollege (*****)
eCollege, in my opinion, was a bit of a disappointment. The usability was an issue, as was the functionality.  I felt like it was something from the late 90s, as far as usability and features go; something that accompanies a textbook rather than something that is out there in the cloud waiting to be used by faculty and students alike. To be fair, pearson does have a new product coming out soon, so perhaps eCollege is end-of-lifed, but they didn't have something better to show us.

Sakai (**)
Sakai is something I played with by going through a couple of free rSmart webinars and getting my own sandbox. We also had a peer institution do a Q&A and demo session for us to show us what they had done with Sakai.  What really impressed me with Sakai was the ability to do your thing, including library functionality! The bibliography function is pretty cool in this LMS.  Sadly, in order to make it really work for our institution we'd need staff to contribute to the effort (staff which we don't have), and we'd need to have an open source philosophy - anything we make goes back to the collective, and anything the collective makes comes to us. This too we don't have. I think Sakai would be a good product five years down the road, if we could get started next year with rolling our own and testing.

Moodle (***)
Moodle, Moodle, Moodle... You know, moodle isn't a bad LMS, it's just too linear. It works great for smaller workshops and as a course repository, but I think that it would fail miserably in a purely online environment, for classes that are 12-15 weeks long. I think the philosophy of the LMS says it all: it's simple enough to be installed on a machine and used by a classroom teacher. It's good for Mr. Tom's K-12 classes, but perhaps not as functional or powerful for  university with online students in all corners of the globe.

Your thoughts on these and other LMSs?

Update: Apparently Blackboard has been sold