Thursday, September 29, 2011

My own grand experiment...

Despite the fact that I am technically a digital native (BS and meaningless as this term might be) I still cling to paper - perhaps because it's cheap and (up until recently) freely available.  With a plethora of academic articles piling up, and eBooks to read (granted, most are public domain like the Divine Comedy and The Prince), I thought I would shed my reliance on paper this semester and go paper free as much as possible.

I am working on a couple of papers, one solo and one with the MobiMOOC Research Team, and there are academic articles that I need to read (or re-read) in order to complete the research. Since I can't print out as much as I did before, I thought this is a perfect time (since we are at the beginning of each research project) to see if paperless is the way to go (for me at least). We are producing digital scholarship (my previous articles can be found on my Scribd account), but up to now, for me at least, a component of that research was done on paper...let's see if I can complete the process end-to-end.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Digital Scholarship - Initial thoughts

This of this blog post as a pre-test: my thoughts on Digital Scholarship prior to reading any of the materials (to be fair, I viewed the intro video by Martin Weller last night).  So this week is Digital Scholarship week on Change MOOC (is the "c" in this MOOC for "class" or "conference"? lol :-)  ), and the topic on hand is Digital Scholarship; a topic that's been talked about on one of my favorite educational podcasts: Digital Campus.

Maybe I am just too literal, but isn't scholarship considered scholarship no matter what the medium? Of course the medium can impose constraints, or it can allow the scholar to include or with with things that are unique to that medium and thus scholarship doesn't just become unidimentional (i.e. papers with words, tables and charts in them) but rather multidimentional, including not just words, charts and tables, but also audio, video, 3D worlds (let's not get in Second Life just now - I don't like it much, but I realize that it potentially has places where its useful), still images, and 3D objects. For example isn't a documentary just as scholarly as a peer reviewed paper? There is nothing inherent in the documentary video (or audio) format that prevents it from being scholarly. There are credits to be given (think of credits and bibliography at the end), it can go through a peer review process and add or explain thing that previous cuts of the film didn't address or didn't address adequately, and it can be vetted by being published by the equivalent of a prestigious journal.  It can also be published on YouTube for free and everyone can have access to the knowledge, not just a privileged few.

My main problem with digital scholarship is that the current academic system doesn't give it many (if any) points.  Scholars may be lauded for writing an influential book, or publishing crazy amounts of articles, but they aren't given any credit for regularly posting academic blogs (hey, we NEED public academics and blogs are a good way to get them), maintaining wikipedia articles (who better to maintain wikipedia articles than scholars who specialize in the topic?), creating small "bite sized" scholarly videos for YouTube (perhaps they can be part of a series), and so on.

Now, I am not a faculty member so I am not looking at this from a tenure and promotion lens (well, I aspire to tenure, but that's a long way down the road). I view this from an openness perspective.  My professors (the ones I had throughout my master's level work) were all pretty smart and they published some cool things. The problem is that once those articles take some time to get  into a journal and once they do they are often under lock and key - becoming available to libraries though electronic databases a year or two after they've been published (paper subscribers get first dibs).  That's just a little too late for my tastes.  If academics blogged, maintained wikis, and created scholarly videos on youtube, that pipeline from knowledge creator to consumer would be shorter (and cheaper).

The main problem I see with digital scholarship is archiving - paper archives, digital content is finicky. Who knows if the video formats of today will be viewable in 10-20 years...The same goes for blogs - what if blogger goes bust? We saw what happened with Geocities...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Misconceptions about mLearning

I thought it would be great to start a blog post about misconceptions that you've come across about mLearning that you would like to share.  To kick this off here's what I've heard a lot:

"you can't even begin to look at mLearning until everyone has an iPad (or other tablet)"

You can indeed start to look (and implement!) a load of mLearning options.  Good mLearning is not device  dependent - good mLearning (like all learning) is based on a solid needs analysis, a solid learner analysis, and working with what you have that works in the environmental context that you need it to work in.  Sometimes it will be an iPad, other times it might be a Walkman and a Palm Pilot (yeah I know, I purposely picked "antiquated" technologies just to make a point)

mLearning is not just eLearning on a mobile device.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Answers to some of the questions on Zoraini's SMS use...

I finally had an opportunity to view the presentation by Dr. Zoraini Wati Abas (video below) for Week 2 of Change11. I must admit that having read the blog posts prior to viewing the presentation did influence how I viewed the presentation.  First I read Jaap's blog post, which lead me to Louise's blog. Both Jaap and Louise had some questions, and I viewed the presentation based on these questions.  Here are some thoughts (by the way, great to "see" you again Jaap!)

Do you use SMS for activating student academic behavior because it is cheap or because it is the best way to get results? - by Jaap
My feeling is that SMS it just ubiquitous. Given sufficient mobile phone penetration, and free incoming SMS (something that is NOT the case in the US), SMS was the cheapest and most universal way to get something done.

Do you trust the answers of the students where they tell you they are very pleased with the SMS? Are the students just being polite? - by Jaap
If answers are completely anonymous, I would trust them. If they were not anonymous, I'd have a doubt in the back of my mind.

Is it really m-learning or the use of a new resource to deliver blended-learning?  - by Silvia on Jaap's blog
Well, what is mLearning? If we take mLearning as
"an activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating informations, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket of purse" (eLearning Guild 260 Mobile Learning Research Report 2007)
then does mLearning need to be discreetly its own thing?  It can be an addition to blended learning, online learning, asynchronous learning, informal learning, or situational learning. There are areas where things overlap, and I see mLearning overlapping (or helping with) all of these areas.

My first skepticism regarding the studies remains to be whether there are or will be more objective measures, other than student satisfaction, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the SMS technology. However, does the support system provided by the technology indeed
  • help students to improve their academic performance;
  • increase the amount of discussion board participation;
  • encourage persistence (lower dropout rates);
  • lead to a decrease in late assignments, etc?
- by Louisa
I think we might be getting into the trap of metrics.  Some things we can measure by the numbers, however you need to control certain variables to get believable and accurate figures (and I don't think we can control the variables).  If we could keep all else equal, then yes - a decrease in late assignments, lower drop out rates, increased participation on the discussion board, could all be valid measures - however things happen in the learner's personal lives that affect things like submitting assignments, the retention rate, and their academic performance.  As far as discussions go, unless the discussion board is sparsely utilized, there is a point of diminished returns on a discussion board - you can only really go so far in any given week on any given topic before you reach a point of diminished returns.

I further wonder whether the use of this technology will lose its appeal once the students find out that the messages that they receive are rather centralized and standardized (which are, perhaps, useful for the purpose of the study), the same way that urban legends passed along in email are usually directed to the junk box immediately. - by Louisa
I honestly don't think that students care whether a bot is sending them notifications or a live human being - it sort of like looking on my iPhone and getting a calendar or to-do notification that something is due.  I don't care that there isn't another human being there reminding me, all I care about is that I get a reminder of when a library book is due back, or when an assignment is due so I don't forget (and trust me, I do forget!)

further concern was regarding the nagging effect, though Zoraini commented that perhaps “holding the hands” of the distance learners may be necessary, especially when they are in their first semester, which is reasonable. - by Louisa

I know, people don't like to be nagged, but can people turn off notifications? If they can, it's up to them!  When I was testing out learning management systems to replace our BlackBoard Vista LMS, I came across an awesome LMS called Canvas (by Instructure). Students could setup their emails and phone number and they could get notifications of things happening in the course (assignment gradings, comment feedback, replies in discussions and so on). The learners had complete control with this LMS to get notification how and how often they wanted.  If the learner has control over how he receives (and where he receives) the information, I don't see the "nagging" being a problem :-)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Language Learning MOOC

I am happy to see that the topic of MOOCs as a language learning tool have come up in Change11!

Again, even though I am not a PhD student yet, I am considering topics for a potential dissertation. The idea is that if I have an idea going in, and it's partially developed, I won't be stuck in dissertation purgatory :-)

In any case, I've been participating in, and observing, various MOOCs over the past nine months and what's emerged is that different MOOCs take different approaches to the running of the class.  Some are more loose (see eduMOOC) and some are more controlled (I think LAK11 was more controlled), and of course there are other MOOCs that are somewhere in-between those two spectrums.  In thinking of a language learning MOOC (at least my potential dissertation topic), I am thinking of a MOOC that is more on the controlled side. The MOOC is going to be an introduction to Modern Greek, so there are some standards, some criteria, that students would have to meet in order to consider their participation in the course as a success. Of course, students will have their own goals as well, but I see those as additive to the learning process, not in-lieu of instructor goals. This is where, I think, instructors and participants need to come to an understanding of what is the minimum part of the MOOC.

In my implementation, when designing the MOOC, I was thinking of integrating, among other things, ACTFL's standards, Quality Matters standards, and factoring in what level of ACTFL Spoken Proficiency level I would like students to get out of the course.  One of the areas that I am a bit stuck on is assessment. If this is truly a massive online open course, and massive amounts of people come, how can one assess the learner's attainment of a certain level language proficiency? Do you elect to test everyone? (potentially a massive undertaking) Do you take volunteers? (this means you might skew results because only those confident to take the tests will do so, and might skew results in favor of MOOCs) or do you do a random sample? (and how do you ask someone to take an exam when previous MOOCs don't really have exams?)

I was thinking of the Digital Storytelling MOOC, and how those students had deliverables.  What if I incorporated DS components as deliverables and assess language use there?  What if I assessed discussions? Hmmmm.... So many questions!  I am happy though that there are others out there pondering these things - good opportunities for collaboration!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

mLearning is a fad!

Ha! Got you to look!
OK! OK!, all juvenile attempts to get attention aside, I don't really mean what I wrote in the title! It was a not-so-clever ploy to get you to this post.  As a matter of fact mLearning is not a fad! Well, I guess if you consider Computers in general to be a fad, then mLearning and mobile devices are a fad too, I guess it depends on your world view.  For me, and for the mainstream mLearning is a nice extension to learning that should be explored and taken advantage of.

The main problem with mLearning, at least the main problem I've encountered in my professional life, is that people expect mLearning devices to be just like computers, where you sit down for XX-minutes, you view so many minutes of instructional video or animation, you perform an activity, and you take a test.  This, the mobile device, is not an appropriate modality for this type of learning!  You cannot shoehorn a certain type of pedagogy into the mobile realm....well, I suppose you can, but you are going to create bad, and unusable, mLearning.

mLearning has appropriate methodologies and pedagogues that are appropriate to the medium. Most instruction will not be the "main dish" of instruction, but it will be adjunct instruction, additional instruction and ways of getting to the "main" materials, and it can function as performance support. Also, the modalities of a mobile phone, a tablet, a portable digital media player and a PDA (all of which can constitute elements of mLearning) will be similar and different from one another. A good designer needs to design instruction appropriate to the environment which these devices are used in, and appropriate to the devices themselves.

What are misconceptions about mLearning that you have come across?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Better Outlines - Increase in Learner Success

OK, so it's week two of ChangeMOOC and I am looking at  the Course Outline which points me to a Google Spreadsheet. I see that the topic this week is Mobile Learning (über-cool!) and I am asked to go to another page where supposedly I will have access to some content, activities, and other things that one would expect in a learning module.  Now there are two problems here:

(1) Too many clicks:
Perhaps I am spoiled from CCK11, but CCK11 was much more organized in terms of content.  The Course Outline page for CCK11 gives you links to each weekly module, and each module in turn has recommended readings, viewings, and activities. So, to get from MOOC homepage, to content it's two clicks.  In contrast, Change is three clicks to get to the guest host's blog/webpage/CMS, and then it depends how deeply the content is buried.

(2) Clear content postings per week.
Now, future weeks may fix this problem, but this week the problem is the same as EduMOOC: where's my content?  As soon as one goes to the mobile learning blog, all there is there is the blog page.  You don't have any indication of what is a #change11 blog post, and what is not; there are no seeding questions that I can discern, and there are no readings for Change11.  There are approximately 100 blog posts, but do we read all of them? Just the ones that are interesting? Anything in particular to impart?

I think structure does go a long way toward increasing learner success (don't ask me to cite anything because I don't have anything on hand - I am sure I can find something though ;-)  ) - therefore I think that a more functional course outline is a great first step for ChangeMOOC. The second step is to make sure that weekly facilitators have something tangible for people to do or read before participating in the weekly discussion.  People can elect to go off the beaten path, but only if a beaten path exists.  If there is no path, some people will sit and have a picknick, others will form groups (protection in numbers) and others will wonder around (or wonder off!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Un grand expérimente en l’apprentissage de Français !

Ce semestre j’ai décidé a retourner a la classe pour améliorer mon français.  Le dernière fois que j’ai parle français était en 2005 quant j’ai fait des vacances en France. Let dernière fois que j ‘ai écrit quelque chose en français était en 2001 quand j’ai eu une correspondante. Alors, je crois que ma maitrise de français n’est pas bon et j’ai voulais de faire quelque chose pour le remédier.

Le professeur était super mais désolément je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps pour aller a la classe ; Alors, j’ai décidé de faire le blogging pour améliorer mon français et de voir des films en français ce semestre ; peut-être je peux écrire des critiques de ces films. Je peux aussi lire les livres que j’aurais lu pour cette classe que je suis pas.

Alors, qu’est-que cet expérimente de qui je parle? Je veux voir des film – bon. Je veux écrire des blogs – bon. Ou est l’expérimenté ? Je voudrais que vous, les francophones que lisez ces blogs,  corriger ces blogs. Est-ce-qu’ il y a des erreurs vocabulaires ? des erreurs grammaticales ? des erreurs stylistiques ?  Dites-moi pour que je puisse améliorer :-)  Chaque blog a un Google Doc ou vous pouvez corriger le blog et ou vous pouvez fournir des commentaires a la stylistique (et la grammaire).

Google Doc pour ce blog :

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In defense of badges?

I love MOOCs, because it gives me an opportunity to meet interesting people and read what they have to say.  It's both educational and a discovery tool!  In any case, I read a blog post by Alex Reid today on the aversion to badges (you know, those things that you get for "achieving" stuff in various places and services." (I'd link to the article but my laptop has crashed three times today while trying to link to it :-) - just Google it it's called "welcome to badge world"  )

In any case, I read his article and I actually do not disagree! I think that people have taken credentialing (and badges are a type of credential) to a level that is a bit too far.  They place too much emphasis on the credential rather than what the credential implies. An example of this are academic badges like the degrees one earns. When you look at a human resources job posting you see that emphasis on the degree, rather than the skills implied by attaining such a degree - so even when you have the skills, unless you have the degree (badge) you don't get the job.

Now if I agree, why am I defending badges?  Well, I think that badges are not the issue, rather the issue is what we do with them! No matter what comes to replace a badge system (or degree system) will be fundamentally misinterpreted and abused somewhere down the line.  We can replace degrees and badges with X (let's say X is people giving you ratings online about your expertise), but somewhere down the line that X system will be co-opted. People will just look at how many stars you have (and you will be concerned more about your star rating) than what the star rating implies.  People might rate you for friendliness instead of expertise for example, so even if you are mediocre, if you are friendly you might still get 4/5 stars and that's probably enough for you to get a job that requires at least 3/5 stars.

I think the onus is on people educating themselves and others, and remaining vigilant about keeping in their sights what really matters: not the visible artifact that indicates your expertise, but the expertise itself.  After all, artifacts aren't free, they are subject to "standard measures" and economics, so they can be gamed!  What's really important is real skill. Badges are just one (imperfect) way of gauging that.  As a personal example, I like video games but I am not that great at them.  In the good ol' days of the Game Boy, my friends and I used to sit around each other's screens and see how skilled players of tetris were able to get the different ending sequences of the game.  Then we talked about with our friends and our friends did with their friends, until people knew that Joe Shmoe of PoDunkTown completed tetris on super-duper-uber-hard and got the crazy ending sequence.  This is a type of badge, it's just verbal.  A way to abuse this system was to claim that the spectator achieved the feat, and thus him name was transmitted as the person who did the impossible first, rather than the person who actually did it.

Flash forward to the days of the XboX360 and other consoles and their badge systems.  Now, in a connected world, not only can I achieved certain milestones (badges), I can display them on my xbox profile, and compare them with friends. If I don't know how to get a certain badge, I can ask a more knowledgeable friend, and assuming he mentors me, I can get those badges too. There are ways to game this system of course, but as I said, systems aren't perfect. Just like anything, it seems to me that badges need to be both taken with a grain of salt, and need to be based on some sort of honor system in addition to some sort of issuing authority. This doesn't mean that they won't be gamed, but it also doesn't mean that they are completely useless.  We  ought to control our inner packrat and only pursue badges because we love the activity we are doing, I guess this is why in most games I collect fewer than half the badges - I play for the love of the game, not to collect every coin in the realm so I can collect the Scrooge Badge ;-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Parlez-vous Français?

This semester I was planning on returning to the classroom, the language classroom, to get back into French.  The last time I took a formal french class was my senior year in high school and it was fourth year french (mostly literature from what I remember). In any case, my freshman year in college I frequented Yahoo! Chatrooms to practice my french and I did have a pen-pal for a while. Around 1999 our paths diverged and that was the last time I wrote in french (also the last time I regularly "spoke" it as well).

In any case, I was planning on taking a 300 level french course on composition and stylistics. I attended a few class sessions and the course was challenging, but just at the right level for someone as rusty as I am. Due to work, and the fact that I just can't sit for 90 minutes two times per week I decided to stop auditing the course and attempt a different method.  I figured that there are enough french speakers on the internet to help me out.  I thought I would use this blog (and my club-admiralty blog) to post a series of thematic blog posts, about one per week. At the end of each blog post I will have a link to a Google document with the same content as the blog post where french speakers can correct my errors, make suggestions for alternative wording, and let me know when things just sound off.

I still have the textbooks for the course, which I plan on using, but I would prefer to watch french films, and write blog posts instead of sitting in class :-)  It's a pity too, because the professor for that course was really cool! He insisted on having us speak only in french to him, and he only spoke in french to us. I think that this is the way to go! Next spring there is a course on conversational french, so I think I may attempt to audit that course.  For now, I will rely on the francophone blog community to support me in my learning endeavor (I hope it doesn't fail!)

Sometime this weekend I plan on writing this in French, let's see how far I get (and how off it sounds!)

Ready for Change (yes we can?)

ChangeMOOC has started! Even though it's still an introductory week where people get to know each other (should I bother posting a "hello, my name is..." type of blog post?) it is the start of the MOOC for all intents and purposes.

The one things that is really striking about this MOOC is the name...change what? is what I want to know. Granted if you look at the course schedule it's all about education. I guess the subheading for this MOOC is education, learning and technology, so I guess we are changing them, but eduMOOC just finished a few weeks ago, and that was all about Online Learning Today...and Tomorrow. So I guess ChangeMOOC is a superset of what eduMOOC was about?  Either way, the week by week topics look interesting and interest piquing.

I was planning on taking some Sloan-C workshops this fall, but between research projects and the ChangeMOOC, I think I won't have time.  Perhaps I will revisit the idea of SloanC workshops later on :-)


Monday, September 12, 2011

Where does a MOOC begin life?

Thanks to Rebecca and her "Does a MOOC need a Needs Analysis?" post I was reminded that I needed to subscribe to George Siemens' blog :-)  George has a recent post titled "Who are MOOCs for? Confused Personal Thoughts" in which he admits that previous MOOCs haven't been user needs driven, but rather driven by the facilitators themselves. His description reminded me a little of BarCamps or CoffeeCamps. It also sheds some lights as to why some MOOCs were better than others.  MobiMOOC and CCK were quite good in my mind, but eduMOOC not so much (I am looking forward to the next iteration of eduMOOC though!) Rebecca has some pretty good questions and insights into this, but I wanted to add my own two cents.

I am considering creating a MOOC as part of my PhD dissertation research. Now, it should be said that I am not a PhD student yet, and the PhD program I want to attend hasn't lifted off yet (PhD in Applied Linguistics at UMass Boston - starting probably in Fall 2012), but nevertheless I am thinking about what to do for a dissertation.  Being a program in Applied Linguistics, I am thinking of running a MOOC on introductory Modern Greek which is  classified as lesser commonly taught language (LCTL).

What was my point of departure in thinking about designing about this class? Who are the learners? Who will signup for this MOOC and what are their goals and their aspirations? It is a bit inconceivable to me to start thinking of a course to design and implement without having any sort of concerte idea about who these people are. Why are they going to spend 12-15 weeks with you? What do they want out of it? and How technologically savvy are they, because in order to participate in a MOOC they need to have a certain level of technological savvy. Perhaps this is a conditioned response on my part having completed a degree in instructional design, and having had courses with Donaldo Macedo where he routinely asked about our learners - who were they, why were they in our classrooms and why were we teaching? Were we teaching to feel good about ourselves or to really make a difference in these kids' lives?

I know that tackling a MOOC for my own dissertation is going to be a bit hard, and one of the reasons is that I will probably be grilled as to why I chose such a method of delivery that requires a certain level of cultural capital that learners must have in order to participate.  Is it really an open course when there is potentially such a high barrier to entry, based on the learner's sociocultural background? I actually don't have the answer, but I am interested in exploring the possibilities.

I think in order to come up with with a good course (and a MOOC is course, let's not forget), we, the MOOC designers, developers and facilitators, need to design with a purpose, and design with the learner in mind. It's OK if we don't encompass all types of learners - this is quite normal! After all, it is a great big world out there.  But we really ought to have a baseline level of a learner in order to not only build a better MOOC, but also to notify our potential learners what will be required of them in order to participate in this MOOC and how far this MOOC will get them.