Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In defense of multi-author papers (and research)

Over the past few months I've been working with a dedicated group of people (whom I met at MobiMOOC this past April and May) on doing some collaborative research and publishing on the topics of mLearning and MOOCs (massive online open courses).  Our efforts have produced two papers (accepted) and we're working on several ideas which are on the table now [after a well deserved break!]

This has me revising the single author versus the multi-author papers. On campuses all over we seem to pay lip service to collaborative and interdisciplinary research, but in actual practice the reward mechanisms seem to reward single author contributions.  On the one hand I get it, in a multi-author paper how can one tell which is your voice and which is not; and what ideas you brought to the table versus riding on the coat-tails of others. There are valid reasons for single authored papers, a good one being you're the only one interested in some topic and it would take more time to get others onboard compared to working on it by yourself.

By and large I think that the majority of work of an academic should be collaborative. It's only through collaborative research that we can see what our colleagues in different (or different-ish) fields are doing and how our contributions can benefit them, and vice versa.  Through closed, monastic, research, our findings are in danger or being dusty and forgotten, and of use to some people. Through interdisciplinary means, and just plain-ol' multi-party research and inquiry you not only get more people working on it an increasing the quality of the output, you're also getting many more marketers (as wrong as that term may sound) that will make others aware of the research your team completed. So, all things considered, let's do our best to work with others and enhance our research; you may be surprised at the outcomes.  While you're at it, make your research licensed under creative commons  - but that's a blog post for another time :-)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

If you build it...

A famous movie line goes as follows "if you build it they will come." My experience has taught me, as far as educational technology goes anyway, that if you build it they might or might not come. It just depends on their needs. Sometimes the problem is that students, and the faculty that teach them, don't know their needs and quite a lot of times he tools used transform their practices so much that they wouldn't have even known that they needed a tool when in fact they did!

This transformational capability of technology is something that business operations of educational institutions seem to not consider and it came to light in a recent set of emails at work. We just had our Blackboard Vista LMS upgraded to SP5 which enables blackboard mobile. Of course in order use Bb mobile on your device it has to be enabled on the server side and this wasn't done by our provider. The rationale was that there hadn't been a need expresses for mLearming; even though a lot of instructional designers asked bout the mobile capabilities of the LMSs we tested a few months back when we were doing an RFP for our Next LMS.

In subsequent emails it was revealed, or so goes my understanding of these emails, that it was the faculty that teach that hadn't expressed a need, and I'd we were to turn on Bb mobile capabilities it might not need the demands of our users.

This logic is flawed in two ways:
(1) we can't wait for faculty to express the need for a certain technology. Learning is a two wu street and we need to give our students the tools to learn on their own way and time. It's not a top down learning environment Any more. Also, the supply chain isn't a pull-chain as much as it is a "make it available" chain. This is the amazon model of making EdTech available - just put out your wares and let the faculty decide how to use it.

(2) by waiting for someone (or a group of people) to request a tool you are negating the transformational aspect of technology. By operating on the amazon model you are allowing students and teachers to redefine pedagogy in unforeseen and exciting ways. Sure some times things go awry, but happy accidents sure to happen and they benefit all. We need to be less concerned with service level agreements and we need to be concerned with innovation. If you don't have the amount of human resources you need to provide top notch service, just slap on a "beta" label and your users will understand - but for heaven's sake make the tech available.

As a side note, Bb mobile sucks when compared to instructure Canvas' and Desire2Learn's mobile offerings, but it's better than nothing! Besides, if our users think Bb mobile sucks, maybe next time we can go with a better LMS ;-) LOL

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Are tests biased?

I saw this the other day and it was hilarious! Yes, it's the onion (so don't take it seriously!) but there is a smidgeon of truth in the story (if you know what you are looking for) which makes it really really funny :-)

In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

EduMOOC is almost over

Another MOOC is almost in the can (to borrow terminology from TWiT).  I have to say that even though I was really interested in this MOOC, eduMOOC that is, I really have a hard time finding something that really made it stand out. This was my fourth MOOC this year and I can easily say that MobiMOOC and CCK11 were the two top MOOCs.  LAK11 was good, but it was way, way, too compressed for my liking, not enough time to take stock in what was talked about, and what was read.

eduMOOC, in contrast to the other MOOCs this year, was almost like an informal social. There was a google site with information, and a weekly breakdown, but it really didn't feel like a "course," it felt like it was lacking direction. I think that it was a worthwhile experiment, considering that the MOOC format is relatively new and a lot of research is left to be done on this format, but I really didn't consider it much of a course. I wonder if it fails the MOOC litmus test since the C stands for "course" and this didn't feel like a course - lol :-)

There is an eduMOOC survey on the google group out there now. If you participated in the MOOC, even if you just lurked, please take the survey. It will give us a lot of good information about this MOOC from the participant perspective.  The OER university was supposed to develop a survey, but I haven't heard anything yet (maybe people are on vacation?). If you happen to see two separate surveys on google groups take both :-)

This eduMOOC experience actually has me questioning my ChangeMOOC participation which is supposed to start next month. Initially I was really psyched, but now I really need to see how much time I want to spend on it.  I don't like the "dipping in and out" of the MOOC because I feel that I don't have a chance to build a community and expand my PLN.  Perhaps I will lurk and participate every now and again.  Let's see how this one works out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quack! (If it looks like a duck...)

I was just about to give up on eduMOOC when this thread was started (or rather evolved from a previous thread) about what is an isn't a MOOC.  A Similar discussion came up on the Wikieducator list for eduMOOC.  A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course, or so says the acronym. The concept of a MOOC was articulated by Cormier and Siemens (2010) in Educause (free read). The words Massive, Online and Course seem to pose no problem in defining a MOOC, however the word open does.  What is open?

The key points that Cormier and Siemens hit upon are Open Curriculum, Open Educators and Open Learners.  Open educators seems to be about the practice of professional reflection (in open environments) and becoming a better educator through such practice. It also seems to have elements of Freirean (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) philosophy in that the educator and the learner are on the same level and are working toward the same goals.  Open learners as a concept seems to be about empowerment of the learner to work on his own learning outside of the classroom by access to a variety of sources.  Finally (and what seems to be causing turmoil) is the concept of Open Curriculum. The idea here, as articulated by Cormier and Siemens, is is that instead of having a curriculum fully fleshed out at the beginning of the course, it's a byproduct of the educational venture.

So the MOOC that has brought up this discussion is Stanford's Artificial Intelligence MOOC. There are many things that people are picking on, such as the syllabus being fully developed and the class being too structured (personally I find unstructured "courses" like eduMOOC to be more like socials rather than anything else - but that's my opinion), the required textbook costs over $100 so therefore it's not an Open class  because of the barriers imposed, and it's not connectivist.

So let's start with the textbook. The textbook for this course is Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Amazon lists it for $115. As textbooks go, this isn't that bad for a new textbook.  This issue of "closed source", or pay-to-play also came up in MobiMOOC when people posted interesting articles that were in pay-for-play journals. I understand that not everyone can drop $115 on a textbook, or journal articles for that matter, but until we completely change the system we can't just rely on open access journals and we can't expect people to make their own materials from scratch all the time (if you haven't created your own materials from scratch try it sometime, it's time consuming).  Just because you are required to read some pay-for-play journal articles and/or a paid textbook that doesn't make the class not be open.  It's still open, it's just not completely free! These two concepts (free and open) aren't mutually inclusive.

The second thing is connectivism. A MOOC, in my opinion, doesn't need to be connectivist to be a MOOC.  After all the "C" in MOOC does stand for Class, not Connectivism (as Rebecca points out!). This brings me back to my days as a linguistics student (not that far behind me) and the various methods of language teaching that I encountered in my methods courses. The concept of a course encompasses many methodologies and philosophies of teaching. There is no need to predefine what a course is by tell us what the prescribed methodology is.  Connectivism, as far as I am concerned, by itself is not that useful.  Connectivism in concert with other learning theories becomes much more potent.  If all MOOCs were connectivist they would die out as more learning theories come along to explain how we as humans learn. If we think of it as course, without basing it solely on connectivism we can achieve so much more.

Finally you've got the structured versus the unstructured. Personally, courses (MOOCs) that we more structured (LAK, CCK, MobiMOOC) were much more interesting. People actually cared enough to go out and find articles that exemplified that week's topics and provided them to the people who were participating in the MOOC.  On top of that participants also contributed their own bibliographies which was awesome. It felt more like a course. EduMOOC on the other hand feels more like a community of practice. Both have their places, but a community of practice is not a course.  A course can be a community of practice bound by constraints like time and place, but the two aren't mutually inclusive terms.

In the end, for me, a MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course - the actual implementation, underlying philosophy, costs-to-participate and pedagogy may vary.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

CT2011 Sessions attended part II

Here's the final word, at least from me, on sessions that I attended at CT2011 this past week

The first was the Google talk. You know, for all the hype about the limited audience and such, the talk was really about where Google is going; no specifics, and no marketing talk either, so it was all a bunch of ether as far as I am concerned. Google doesn't confirm or deny that they are working on an LMS, and they want to digitize more of the world's knowledge. Cool! Next!

An interesting session on the last day of CT2011 was Learner Analytics via the Cloud: Sophisticated Statistics Made Easy (by the same person who presented Academic Progress Portal: Catching Students Before They Fail)  The idea was that different data provides around campus pooled their data into one central place (data including grades from the LMS) that instructors could run and statistics and see if there is correlation between class attendance and grades, between entrance exams and exit exams, between first years seminars and job placement and so on.  Quite interesting from an analytics perspective, but it was also at the 10,000 foot level.  I'd be interested in seeing some more analytics at the classroom level :-)

Finally, the low light of the conference, at least for me, was the session titled Leading Change: Course Redesign . Reading the description I thought it would be pretty cool! As an instructional designer, our team at work has talked about helping faculty redesign their courses, so this session naturally interested me. The problem wasn't the concept however, it was the delivery. This session was boring, boring beyond tears. I felt like I was at a lecture where I was being talked to. The powerpoint deck was over-crowded, the speaker was monotonous and behind a podium. It was pretty bad.  I wish for these speakers to present this information again, as I think that it is important and useful, but I really want them to rethink (redesign!) their presentation approach.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sessions of Interest, but that I couldn't go to

Part ][ of my reportage back from Campus Technology 2011 - the sessions that I couldn't go to but seemed very interesting.  To say that there was a lot of stuff of interest at Campus Tech would be an understatement. The following are sessions that I would have liked to have gone to but didn't have the opportunity to attend because they conflicted with other sessions I wanted to go to.

Quite a few things on mLearning, on Assessments, ePortfolios and Rubrics, and of course my favorite topic: communities of practice.  I was  actually quite bummed that I couldn't make the communities of practice session, but I was at a limited audience Google presentation.  I do hope that they stream videos from each session since most (if not all) sessions were recorded.

What do you think?  Are mLearning and ePortofolios such big topics these days?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

mLearning at Campus Technology 2011

This past week I spent a few days at the Campus Technology conference and Expo (incidentally it was also collocated with the AAEEBL ePortfolio conference) and it was quite illuminating! I wanted to spend some more time with ePortfolios, but I ended up spending most of my time in eLearning (and oddly enough Rubrics, but more on those on another post).

Three sessions I went to  dealt with mLearning:

  • Engaging Faculty: Observations from the ACU Mobile Learning Initiative (Scott Perkins & George Saltsman, Abilene Christian University)
  • Using iPads to Produce and Publish in an Educational Reporting Class (Wendy Chapman & Bill Cells, USC Annenberg School of Communication)
  • Welcome to Class, please take out your cellphones (Mark Frydenberg, Bentley University)

There were quite a few interesting things to take away from each session!  The ACU Mobile Learning Initiative (MLI) and the session with Mark Frydenberg had quite a few things in common. In the ACU MLI session what we learned that that device penetration is quite important to faculty.  Faculty felt reluctant to assign mobile enabled activities to students if they felt that not all students would have equal access to the devices that were required for the assignment. Another equally important lesson is that WiFi-only doesn't really cut it if you really want users to be familiar with the device and use it in new and innovative ways.  I called this "equality of access" on the twitter stream while I was live blogging the session.

What is meant my equality of access is that when you have a mobile device, you can have access to all of its features no matter where you are.  It also implies that there is an inequality of access if a user doesn't have a device but can still check it out from IT or the library.  The idea is that any barrier is bad for usage and creativity. If you need to check out a device, the affective filter can be raised so that it makes it like the device isn't yours, there are limits to its usage and therefore to your creativity. By the same token, WiFi only devices have a barrier to usage when you have to check into a WiFi space, something mobile users don't have to do.  The key here is to not think about it the device - to be able to just use it.

Frydenbetg's session was sort of like a companion to the ACU MLI session in that Frydenberg talked a lot about tools that educators could be using like PollAnywhere, Qik (and similar services) and so on. I think that the SMS based polling was quite cool, and for a regular sized class (fewer than 30 students) you can get a free PollAnywhere setup! Not bad!

The session on using iPads for content creation was quite interesting and illuminating.  Yes, iPads have been seen mostly as content consumption devices, but add a keyboard and a budding journalist can capture video and edit it on his iPad, and upload it to the net; Capture photos and edit them and upload them; Capture audio and edit it in a multitrack editor...and upload it; And of course type articles and upload them online publications.  The key thing from this session was that content creation was doable on an iPad, with cheap apps, and free (or cheap) online services. The one caveat is that typing on-screen is a major pain in the butt and students who had external keyboards were much more satisfied by the experience.

All things considered, the mLearning sessions at Campus Tech 2011 were pretty good!