Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sustainability of MOOCs

Just in case you missed it the other day, here is the link for the stream (which was live, but now should be available to stream) for the CIEE and USDLA sponsored event on Sustainability in MOOCs (in which I was a panelist ;-)  ). The event was quite interesting and this was my first panel discussion - where I met quite a few interesting people!

In any case, if you see the stream you will see two keynote presentations before the panel, and both were interesting. In the first presentation what I found interesting were the philosophical foundations of MOOCs which include many elements of the Open movement such as Creative Commons, Open Source and Open Courseware; as well as the ethos of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). While the connection was probably there somewhere in my mind, I really hadn't thought about it that much in depth.

The one thing that I corrected (tactfully, or not-tactfully, you be the judge :-)  ) is the assertion that the Stanford AI course was the first MOOC. This may have been the first xMOOC, but it's not the first MOOC.  The other thing that I disagree with, but I really didn't say much about at the time, is the idea that Open Coureware is  "MOOC 1.0".  I think this is wrong, and I think it misunderstands what a course is (the "C" in MOOC).  If OCW were a course (which it isn't, and MIT OCW says it isn't a course), then there would be more things there that just content.  If a curated content collection is a course, then every public library would have a ton of courses in it - but they don't :-)  Courses are more than just content, and courses are more than a professor lecturing. I think OCW is an important contribution to the field of education, but a course it is not :)

Your thoughts on the discussion?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One more MOOC down - xMOOC experince grows

One more MOOC is done! A coursera xMOOC to be more precise called Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society with Karl Ulrich from UPenn.

For this course I took the "auditor" approach to participating in the course. I did listen or view (or listen and view) all the lectures, and I did poke around the assignments, but never bothered to submit any of them.  I did enjoy Karl Ulrich's presentations, so for me the course was more like a series of related TED videos, and not specifically a course. The assignments, I must admit, were intriguing, but the combination of the level of my interest in the subject matter, coupled with the peer review and (lack of) accreditation accreditation made it not worth my while to go for that certificate of completion.

Now, if I had more spare time, I may have cared a bit more to create some artefact based on this course, but given that I don't have a ton of time, and that the assignments are peer reviewed (and that there seems to be no real mentorship from a subject expert), the certificate of completion doesn't really act as a motivator.  Certificates are nice, but as the fellow participant says bellow "I don't need no stinkin' certificate" ;-)  So, if you don't need the certificate, and you feel that you are getting what you need from viewing the lectures, why participate in this whole production and peer review exercise? The fact that the seemed interesting wasn't reason enough for me to motivate me to invest time in them :-)

I must say, that in addition to the professor, the non-graded end-of-course contest of creating a certificate of completion for the course was pretty interesting.  I wasn't super enthusiastic about some of the design, but this tote bag is pretty cool! It's nice to see people thinking outside the box :-)

Monday, December 3, 2012

LMS, SIS, and empowering the learner

Last week I was reminded of the Canvas Network. Despite the fact that I have a friend and colleague that works for the company there are so many things happening at work that made me forget. In any case, I am glad I stumbled upon the Canvas Network again because it gave me an opportunity to see how another EdTech company, one whose bread-and-butter is the LMS, is approaching MOOCs. Last week I was writing about the innovations that I think are worthwhile exploring further in the Canvas Network, namely letting students know what they are in for if they choose a specific course to take.

This got me thinking about campuses today, and admittedly this goes beyond the LMS. Most students have only a small blurb, that is often outdated, to go by when choosing courses for their next semester. Even if you know what a course is about, you don't necessarily know much about the format of the course, the assessment types, whether there are synchronous, asynchronous, or blended components to the course. What if the LMS, the SIS (student information system), departments and faculty worked together to get course information out, canvas network style, to their learners? Would this not make it easier to students to assess what courses they should sign up for? And, if it's a core course that they need to complete, then the section might make a difference, because two faculty can take radically different approaches of working with the content. I think that this is an interesting direction that Learning Management Systems can go into!

What do you think?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

MOOC Exploration continues, with the Canvas Network

One of my friends and colleague works for Canvas now, and we happened to be at the same NERCOMP workshop when news of the Canvas Network hit the wires.  Honestly, I've been so MOOCed out recently with all the MOOC coverate and punditry that it's not easy to keep up with all MOOCs all the time. And, to be honest, if you want to really assess a MOOC strategy, my feeling is that you need to be a student in that MOOC in order to really gauge what's going on. I have just started saving all MOOC related articles, opinion columns and blogs (that are more than 1 or 2 paragraphs) to PDF so I can go through them more leasurly once I am done with my current research projects (and maybe something can come out of those that is more scholarly than just a "I read them" note on my blog)

That said, one of my twitter connections reminded me of the Canvas Network and i gave it a quick look. There aren't that many courses on it just yet (or it didn't seem so anyway) but I signed up for a couple of interesting courses, Gender through Comic Books, Game Design Concepts, and David Wiley's Intro to Openness Education. Now, as far as I am concerned, I completed (albeit a bit late) #ioe12 which David Wiley offered on a WordPress setup, so I don't plan on being really active in Wiley's course, but I am curious to see what the differences are between the course I took, and the one on the Canvas Network.

Two innovations that I see (and like!) already in Canvas is exemplefied by this course banner:

This course banner gives potential students a lot of information about the format of the course before they actually sign up. This course lets you know in advance of mature content, that a bok is required, that there are lectures, and how students are expected to participate.  Another course I looked at specifically indicated that there is no possibility of obtaining a certificate of completion.

Now, some students will sign up for these courses regardless of this info and how a course is delivered, but some students need this information ahead of time.  I think it's important to provide this ahead of time in order to help students make the right choices for the courses they sign up for.

The other nice innovation is the "keep me posted" button.  For all the courses I signed up for, I used the "keep me posted" button.  Why? Because I am not sure I want to enroll just yet, but I am interested! What I want is more information about the course as it becomes available, and I can register for the course when the course opens up if I still want to.

I think that these two innovations can go a long way to prevent this drop-out-angst that many in Higher Education, especially the people who dislike MOOCs, but don't know much about them, by not forcing people who are just intersted in course information from signing up for the course.  If I sign up for the course, and there is no penalty for not continuing with the course, why would I do extra work to "unenroll" from the course? Then, I look like a person who dropped out, and those massive drop out rates are what scare people.

Well,  as I've said and written before, we need to reframe our discussion around drop-out rates, because MOOCs are not traditional courses and that makes a huge difference. Even when we reframe the discussion, if you provide avenues for people to get information about a course without enrolling in it, you are also getting valuable information about how many people are interested in a course, versus how many actually enrolled.  And, from those enrolled, if they don't complete the course, you can then find out why. This type of data collection and analysis is important if we are going to make cogent decisions on MOOCs, their future, and how to better design for them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's a credit worth?

This week I am starting my 4th coursera course, offered by Duke University called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue. I signed up mostly because I was intersted in the topic, but as a nice side-effect it allows me to continue to be exposed to a variety of MOOC "accreditation" schemes.  This particular MOOC offers statements of accomplishment on two tiers:

  • Statement of Accomplishment
  • Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction.
To get the "with distinction mark" you need to score 85% or better in the course. It seems like the only gradeable items in this course are the quizzes, which I assume at this point are multiple choice.  The caveat here is that you can only take a quiz twice (and not the same quiz) to have it count for credit.

There are exercises in the course, but they are ungraded, so I am wondering how that works for non-self-motivated autodidacts.   While pondering this, I also came across and readthis article on the Chronicle on the Uneven Value of Academic Credit. What happens when Duke students take Duke MOOCs from Duke Professors and ask for those credits to count toward their degree?

This is not a hypothetical at this point, it is something that will happen sooner or later. And as our own universities start offering massive online courses,either as xMOOCs through edX or Coursera, or as cMOOCs through free online tools, the question will invariably come up.

Even if you take the MOOC out of the equation, it's still an interesting question to ask! For instance, prior to arriving to my current role, the department offered an online, 3 week, graduate course in January (in-between semesters). Our normal course offerings are 13 week courses in Fall, Spring and Summer.  On rare occasions we also had 6 week summer courses online.  If a student has the opportunity to knock out 3 graduate credits in 3 weeks, why belabor the whole affair and take that course in spring or fall when it's 13 weeks? I know that students have told me that they love those courses, but are those courses right for students? Are we doing them a disservice for offering those courses†? And, at the end of the day, are the 3 credits I earn in 3 weeks the same as the 3 credits that I busted my behind to earn in that super-hard-course that was 13 weeks, but really should have been 15?

Along with defining "academic rigor" we need to do a better job of what is deserving of 1 credit, 2 credits, or 3 credits. Butts-in-seats is not the underlying measure (or at least it shouldn't be), but I do believe that time spent in a class does have a connection to how well rounded a course is, and how much practice students can get our of a specific topic.  Your thoughts?

† for what it's worth, I have discontinued this course that ran for 3 weeks, and I am lobbying hard to get rid the odd 6 week courses as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

HCI Course done!

Along with CFHE12 ending, this is the last week of the Human Computer Interaction course on Coursera.  This course was mostly a review for me considering that I had already taken an HCI course (grad level) back when I was doing my BA in computer science and I wanted a refresher.

This particular course had 3 levels of participation, and I opted to participate at the lowest level which was to watch videos and take the quizzes, and of course, pass with a satisfactory grade.

I have to say that the course was a nice review.  Initially I wrote that (comparatively) the professor didn't have as much screen presence as the previous coursera MOOC I had taken, but he grew on me. By the end the Lectures weren't bad at all.  Of course, I am seeing this through the lens of someone wanting a review.  If this were my first time around in HCI, that first level of participation would probably not have been enough and I would have to kick it up to the peer reviewed coursework level.

Having done HCI, and having received peer review, I am having issues with the anonymity aspect of the assignments (especially for HCI).  I think anonymity can breed conformity and a sense of not caring.  I think that coursera needs to find a way to do peer review in a way that is not anonymous, and has the ability to match people for language and skill level. Until then, peer review is not going to be an effective means of assessment. Just my 2c.

Monday, November 19, 2012

End of CFHE12

Well, another MOOC is now complete!  I still have a few more readings in Pocket to go through, blogs from fellow bloggers.  I have to say that the materials in this MOOC weren't a revelation for me.  I have encountered these topics before in my professional career, especially more recently when topics like MOOCs and alternative credentialing and badges are hot topics. If I already knew some of these things, why join?  Well, as we've said before, content isn't king.  Content is an important part, but not king.  For me, it's about interacting with other people, and getting to find out other important SMEs and thinkers in the field. To agree, disagree, debate, and write.  In addition to some of the usual suspects, like Serena (which gives me good reasons to practice my Italian :-)  ) and brainysmurf, this time around I met another interesting MOOCer, Rolin Moe (blog here). I don't always agree with what he writes, but his blog was always a good thoughtful read on the subjects.

My apologies to the forum people.  The forums were not very navigable for me, so I decided to keep my participation on blogs and twitter via the daily newsletter.

Just for posterity purposes: the course objectives for this course were:
  • Explore the scope of change pressures that impact higher education systems globally
  • Detail how technology is impacting educational practices within higher education institutions
  • Consider how networks and digital technologies are influencing the balance of power in education and the expectations of the autonomous self-regulated learners driving the power-shift
  • Evaluate the impact of entrepreneurial and commercial activity in all levels of education: curriculum development, teaching, research, and accreditation
  • Detail how “big data” and analytics are impacting teaching, learning, and organizational decision making Analyze and explore the new, distributed, leadership models being utilized by senior administrators
  • Evaluate how faculty and teaching practices are being impacted by new technologies and new teaching practices
  • Detail the impact of current economic conditions and globalization on the academy
  • Describe how the most innovative universities from around the world are responding to change pressures
I think that the MOOC touched upon most of them, some more in-depth than others.  I think, though, for a 5 week course, the above goals are a bit lofty.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Distributed Research: or, can we play nice already?

It's the final week of CHFE12 ( and the topic is something that we've beat to death in the past in MOOCs like #ioe12 (which I completed a bit late this September) and #change11; in which we discussed the topic of Open Research about a year ago. I may have also seen this topic crop up in eduMOOC in 2011 and a MOOC on Open Education (not #ioe12) also running this fall.

In any case, I feel like I am really past the point of talking about Open Research, and I am more in the "doing" phase of things.  I know that academia has a problem with collaboration and co-research and co-publishing.  We are masters of saying one thing (we want collaboration!) but then we are also great at reprimanding people who do collaborate. In hiring committees and tenure decision making, we aren't as comfortable with candidates that don't have as many publications under their name, and their name alone.  A few months ago, I heard some colleagues from another on the elevator discussing merit and how co-published papers, books and chapters should only get 1 point instead of 3 (max) because the people working on it didn't put as much work into it as they would have if they were working on it on their own.

This may perhaps be true, but would the research artefact be compete if they worked on it solo? Would it even have gotten off the ground? We keep talking about how pedagogically we wish that students worked collaboratively, as opposed to carving out the project into pieces, working on these separately and then trying to put them all together in a frankenstein way.  Carving out and frankestenining is easier than truly collaborating, but the end result is far superior! Why would you want your students to collaborate and give each and every one a full mark for their project, but only give partial marks to your faculty? It makes no sense.

I've also previously mentioned that hiding your work until it's published makes no sense. Publishing may take a long time. In my fields what one works on has a definite shelf-life where it's useful. Technology changes, technology dies, technology evolves.  No one wants to read about Jaiku because no one uses Jaiku any longer. Sure, the underlying ideas and behaviors are probably still true, but a study that was done on Jaiku and has yet to be published faces an acceptance hurdle. People need to read some research and they need to be able to go back onto the original platform and experiment. If that platform is no longer available, or the user base isn't there, you can't always replicate or continue on someone else's experiment. Sure, twitter exists, but side factors like User Interface and product features can impact what one does with the service, and underlying human beaviors.

Let's stop talking about collaboration, and let's start doing it already :-)

That said, I am open to working with others on MOOC related research papers :-)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Leadership isn't about "me too"s

Yesterday, while commuting, I had written a longer post about my MOOC-coverage fatigue.  It seems as though MOOC coverage has gotten out of proportion and it's spilled over to other non educational news outlets that I frequent, where I go for non-educational news. In any case, it seems as though the Google Blogger client of my iPhone ate my post.  Maybe for the best, because I feel like I was getting to have a cranky "get off my lawn" slant to it ;-)†

In any case, in thinking about re-writing that post, I was skimming some recent MOOC related news on Inside Higher Education, the Chronicle and the non academia blogs that suddenly have picked up and started reporting on MOOCs since they are the subject of venture capital news. Despite being an MBA, I don't get all excited about VC news, I am more interested about the product than figuring out right away how to make money with it. While going through a day's worth of RSS feeds, I just had this crystallize: Many "leaders" in Higher Education (at least with regard to MOOCs) seem to be taking a "me too!" approach to MOOCs.

Now, I don't think that MOOCs are some sort of "cool kids" club where only a certain group can initiate, attend and /or participate. Anything but this, actually, since the Open "O" in MOOC is, I would say, about the democratization of education.  What strikes me the wrong way is when there is an unthoughtful joining into MOOCs, a "me too!" as opposed to an "intersting, how can I innovate in this sector and feed forward?"

It seems that  these "me too leaders" are not interested in educational innovation first, but rather the notoriety that it will get them and potentially their institutions. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing about fame and notoriety that's bad. I think Sebastian Thrun did us all a favor by bringing this topic to the limelight, but he certainly was no "the" person whose course started it all and the pedagogy behind one course means neither that (1) it was effective on the first go around nor that (2) it is equally applicable to other courses and topics. To be fair, Sebastian probably doesn't think this, but the "me too leaders" in institutions of higher education are adopting this model in some mistaken notion that this is the cool place to be.

When it comes down to it, "me too" leaders, in my opinion, are no leaders at all.  So, who do we have at the helms of our institutions? Are they "me too leaders," and if they are, how do we get them to be innovative and education (not notoriety) focused first? How do we get them to do stuff because it's worth doing stuff, not because Stanford/MIT/Harvard is doing similar stuff? Now answers in this post, just questions. Your thoughts?

† I have since deleted the Blogger app from my iPhone and all of my iOS devices, considering this is not the first or second time this has happened. If anyone knows of a good Blogger client for the iPhone please let me know!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Academic Management, and running a business

I must admit, I had planned on writing a post about how finding college leaders is like dating at times, you can go with the blind date and be pleasantly surprise, or date one of your friends and (hopefully) know most of the information before hand. As I was reading the Washington Post article, however, I was overcome with a severe sense of facepalm, and as I was responding to the article, it got long enough to need a blog post of its own.  I decided to interweaver some of the dating metaphors where applicable ;-) So here we go:

On Hiring:
The article starts by talking about how most educational leaders get their positions in academia, and the usual path tends to be through becoming a tenured faculty member, and then, at some point, becoming an administator. The article goes on...:
The usual way to accomplish [getting tenure] is to develop expertise in a relatively narrow area and publish like mad in it. Bold efforts to open up entirely new fields or draw grand syntheses are extraordinarily risky and therefore rare. What’s more, the qualities most likely to make one a successful young researcher—avoiding conflict with superiors, isolating oneself from distractions and not getting too involved in department or college business—are almost the antithesis of those that make for a successful university president. - source Washington post artcle
Yes, indeed, the usual way of getting tenure is by hyper-specializing and publishing like there is no tomorrow.  Guess what?  The tenure system is not some stone tablet inscribed with the words of God. It is a system put in place and people who are hired into these positions, be they from tenured or non-tenured backgrounds, and they can be changed.  Risk-taking can be rewarded, so long as universities adopt a fail often and recover model to research and publishing and they don't penalize faculty for failing. We need more agility in higher education, and it's not something that we will only get with external applicants.

Over the past 14 years that I've worked in academia (time flies!) I've been torn between the MBA and the Academic. Before going into an MBA program, I thought that the MBA candidate was the way to go. After completing my MBA program, and having my eyes opened to deceptive practices, corruption in order to increase the bottom line, and the "me me me" nature of some CxO or upper level managers, the MBA candidate isn't necessarily the best option•.

Of course, the tenured option doesn't work all the time either. The problem is that PhDs are rarely taught leadership skills in their programs, and any seminar style events that they attend before and after they get tenure are generally pointed toward pedagogy and other teaching related matters.  One could argue for Higher Education Administration/Learnership EdD programs, but in my own inquiries, they only seem to accept people who are already mid-upper tier management. Those people are already lost, in most cases, to the system or their own biases (again in my observations).

On Succession Planning:
So, this educational leader training is a nice tie in to the next section of the article:
While succession planning is a cornerstone of business leadership, it is anathema in academia. It is rare indeed for department heads, deans, provosts or university presidents to groom potential successors. When someone does step down, either expectedly or unexpectedly (I have seen three presidents and four provosts in six years at the University of Arizona), an outside search is usually conducted and it is often at least a year before a permanent successor is in place. No way to run a railroad, much less a university.  - source Washington post artcle
Washington post article claims that leadership training is the bedrock of  virtually every company, and of the military academies. Having had a whole lot of classmates and acquaitances from the public sector in my two Masters programs that dealt with Management, I can say that the company leadership training, for most companies, is a bunch of bull. If it does exist, it doesn't translate down to the lower and mid-tiers of the company.  As far as the military academies go, recent articles (like this chronicle article) would care to differ.

Also, it would take one very progressive organization to keep two people on at the same time so that there is overlap.  In my own experiences in academia, one person gets another another, a job vacancy exists, people apply, one person gets it, they learn by trial and error and by navigating the environment. There is a lot of "relearning the wheel" going on, but training your replacement assumes two things:
  • The person leaving know much in advance, and has let people know (more than the 2 weeks notice), or that they are willing to start their new job later in order to train their replacement;
  • The new person already knows they are taking over and they are already hired.
If there are two things I know, it would be that no one works for free, an positions are only filled after a person has already left. Training your replacement is good practice, for sure, but not necessarily a practical reality.  A better practice to strive for is to empower employees to take care of what needs to be taken care of, so that in your absense (planned or unplanned) university business goes on as planned, and people are empowered to make decisions and plans for the university.

On Curriculum Changes:
This may have been the biggest facepalm yet:
The latter [for profit Universities] simply change their curricula to reflect the new needs. They can do this because their “faculty” members are essentially contract employees who teach what they are told to teach. This has its downside, to be sure, but it does mean the for-profits are light on their feet and able to adjust to changing job-market needs. Traditional universities, on the other hand, are captive of their faculties. At best, curricular changes require great deliberation (“eternal” would be a better adjective). All it takes to derail the discussion is a handful of tenured faculty members deciding that they—not prospective employers—know best what students should be taught.

It seems to me that this author wants to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to leadership. They want leaders groomed, but when it comes to another type of leadership, namely academic self-governance, it's all about sit down, shut up, and do as I say.  Hey, wait! This sounds like a particular type of pedagogy we all know and love rebel against!  Academic self-governance is really important in my view.  Sure, I have personally sat in some very frustrating meetings because stuff just doesn't get acted on quickly, however, I am not a subject expert in everything that those faculty members are! True leaders don't lead by fear and intimidation (i.e. do as I saw, you are a contract employee, otherwise I am going to fire you), but they lead by buy-in, consensus building and by forging alliances.

True, some leaders have created insanely great products♠, but once those temperamental leaders are gone, the companies might implode♥. Sacrificing long term gains for short term ones is what has gotten our economy into trouble. The same is true for "new" programs like Homeland Security Studies that are catching on the recent interest in certain topics, for the long term gains of being a balanced learner who can be a life long learner after graduation, and their degree won't be worthless in five years. This is why it's important to have a harmonious working relatioship with faculty self-governance committees, and to make sure that it's not only faculty, but also non-faculty visionaries and leaders on these things so that there is a balance and a more focused gaze toward the future.

The No Asshole Rule
A number of years ago, I read this fantastic book called the No Asshole Rule. At the time I was working in a place that I genuinely felt was run by incomptent assholes tha would have reprimanded me for a blog post like this†. Reading the following passage reminded me of this book‡.
Midway through my nearly six-year tenure as a dean, I once griped to a friend about the frustrating difficulty of making even small changes. He said, “Duh. You’re in a profession in which you and your colleagues celebrate graduation by putting on the same silly hats and robes that were worn a thousand years ago. What the hell did you expect?”

He had me there. This almost slavish adherence to faculty governance and tradition (“I teach this way because this is the way I was taught”) and the view that universities should be islands unto themselves, free from such mundane concerns as having to meet a budget, make bold leadership almost impossible.
One of the take aways from the No Asshole Rule was that assholes hire other assholes. So, if you don't want your company (university in this case) to hire assholes, make sure that decent people are on hiring committees. The other thing I've noticed, let's call this my extension to this take away, is that even if decent people are hired, if they are allowed to congregate and be mentored by senior assholes, they in term become assholes themselves, so protect the newbies from these assholes to prevent them from repeating the cycle. The person referenced above may have been joking, or may have been an asshole, I don't know, but the other thing I wanted to point out is that some traditions aren't necessarily bad, and just because they are traditions it doesn't mean that they are immutable. For more on this, I refer you to the top of the blog post. Faculty can, and do, respond to external conditions, but it's a case where admins need to work on their relationships with faculty in order to let them know what's doable, and what's not. If a faculty member has a hissy-fit about why they can't get x,y,z resources for their super important research, it's time to pull them aside and have a polite conversation. If they continue (and thus proving to be assholes) there are remedies.

Tenure, Security and Pedagogy:
Finally, we come to this:
We’ll need bold leaders to shift the mix of faculty from predominantly tenured and tenure-track teachers, who specialize in research, to more of those who specialize exclusively in teaching. We’ll need them to close small departments and even colleges so as to invest in stronger ones. We’ll need them to merge traditional means of teaching with web- and perhaps even social media-based teaching methods.
I have a boatload of problems with one:
First, it seems to be assuming a false-dichotomy where tenure seems to imply research, and those who focus mostly on teaching are othered. Tenure is simply job-security.  You can have tenure (well you should) for a teaching-mostly, or teaching-only position.  If your proposition is tenure for researchers, and semester-long, 1-year, 3-year, 5-year lecturer contracts for everyone else, then I reject your proposition.  It is fundamentally unfair and it depriviledges teaching!

Second, I take issue with closing small departments. In the spirit of leadership and entrepreneurship we need small skunkworks departments to do interesting things. We don't need more mega departments for the sake of mega departments and easier administration (which mega departments just add to the administrative costs, or cut admin costs by sacrificing agility). The whole notion of "underperforming" (which seems to be an undercurrent in this loaded section) needs to be critically examined and interrogated.

Finally, why are admins wedging themselved in Pedagogy? Do admins think that they know better than instructional designers and faculty when it comes to teaching and learning? Admins and leaders are there to make obstacles disappear when an initiative needs to start to improve teaching and learning. They are not there to tell teaching and learning professionals how to do their jobs. This isn't leadership, it's micro-managing.

So, that is my uber-long post.  My apologies, I did not mean to make it go on like this, but the Washington Post fired me up ;-)

Notes, footnotes, and sidebars:
• incidentally, some of the best courses I took as an MBA student were in Organizational Development, Labor Relations and in Business Ethics. Really opened my eyes
♠ see Apple and Jobs for example
♥ see recent Apple shakeups
† well, I guess the academic year is still young, lets see if this gets me in any trouble :p
‡ dear colleagues, just to prevent any miscommunication, I am not calling you assholes, and I don't mean to imply that faculty, and others in academia are assholes. It's just a title of the book. It could have easily been called the No Meanie Rule.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Big Data, Evaluations, Adjuncts, Money

Last week was pretty interesting, but between storms, workshops, and work (it's advising and registration time), I only got away with one initial blog post last week.  I did keep up with the discussion, thanks to a large part to the daily newsletter for #cfhe12.

As I was reading the various blog posts, this popped up to me: MOOCs and the Teaching Profession. I was really surpsised (I think my jaw dropped) when Rolin's acquaintance told him that he didn't think teaching was a profession.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised. In my area (as I am sure in others), K-12 is highly regulated, so much paperwork and documentation to be completed, I guess anyone pushing paper effectively was be seen as competent whethey they are or not.  K-12, however, is not my area of expertise, I know something here and there.  Higher Education I am more familiar with.

I guess, in a higher education context, I am still shocked to hear that teaching is not, by some, considered a profession, but I guess it's to be expected? Think about it, what are tenured professors hired to do?  If you said "teach" you're dead wrong†. Most faculty these days (at least in my own experiences in colleges and universities) seem to be research focus first, teaching second. Even at my university, where we are supposed to provide an accesible education (our "urban mission") faculty in my college are moving to officially teach 1 less course per semester in order to focus on research. Of course we won't be admitting fewer students, and we won't be hiring tenured faculty, so who is left? Adjuncts.

On the one hand, adjuncts are economically disadvatanged. Even though our university pays adjuncts well, compared to other institutions, thanks in part to our faculty's collective bargaining agreement, adjuncts are still underpaid. An adjunct is paid  about $4000 per course taught, and does not get medical or dental insurance unless they've been teaching a certain amount of courses over a certain period of time. For long term adjuncts, this may not be bad, but if there is a downturn, and you are hired semester by semester, you may end up losing your coverage for a semester while you rebound.

Our lecturers fare better, they can get 3 or 5 year contracts, and they generally teach 3-4 courses per semester. Their salaries don't reach the entry-level tenure track faculty, but it's closer than being and adjunct, and you get benefits. Generally lecturers do not have the requirements for research and service. Then of course you have tenure track professors with teaching, research and service requirements, but research seems to be the larger "leg: of the bar stool.

Just by luck, I also read Course Evaluations and External Biases on IHE. This brings me back to adjuncts. Course evaluations are our one official rubric for assessing adjuncts, so if students don't like someone, the adjunct can easily be let go. You could ask for adjuncts to provide some evidence of research, but when they are teaching 10-12 courses per year to make ends meet, there is little time for professional development. Using learning and teaching analytics can be another tool to use to evaluate the effectiveness of adjunct teaching, but what then? Will you use it only as a punitive tool to let "bad apples" go? Or will you use it as a carrot? A path toward a future with more equitable pay, job security, and peer recognition. What's interesting is that some academic department don't want adjuncts creating courses, only tenured faculty are allowed to create and revise courses, but it is those same faculty who are now teaching less, so how does this make sense?

This, sadly, brings me back to teaching as something that is now, or is in the process of, being deprofessionalized. If tenured faculty aren't fighting for the adjuncts; if tenured faculty don't treat adjuncts with peer respect by bringing them into the fold and giving them a voice in govenance and in course creation (courses they will be teaching!); then you have the same situation as in K-12, where some bureacrat creates the content, and masses of underpaid minions are asked to teach it as is, no questions asked.  Is this what education is? Is money making where education should be? How do we put this thing in reverse and get back on the right path?

† unless of course you are working in a community college, or a teaching focused school!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Analytics, and usage in Higher Education

It's week 4 of #cfhe12 so it must be time for Big Data and Analytics as the topic of discussion. It's interesting coming back to this topic of discussion because it was the topic of the first MOOC I took part in, LAK11, and it's a topic I've been thinking (or at least keeping on the back burner) since I was in business school. On of th things to keep in mind when talking about Analytics is that there are quite a few definitions out there, so, when talking about learning Analytics it is important to define what we aim to get out of our discussion about Analytics and how we wish to employ the potential insight that we get from this data.

There are two topics that have recently come up in my neck of the woods: knowing what sort of data one can get from the various campus systems, and knowing what it means (and accurately representing what the data tells us). First, it's important to know what sort of data you can get out of your systems, like the LMS. As I've written elsewhere, systems are designed with certain design parameters and certain underlying assumptions in mind. This, of course, affects pedagogy, but it also affects what sort of data the system keeps track of. If the system doesn't currently keep track of certain data you need, don't dwell on it. Put in a request to your system vendor and see what happens, don't say "we don't have this data? Well that stupid? Why not?" The "why not" does not Matt, what matters is how to move on from here. The other thing to keep in mind is not to make assumptions about what systems track and how they do it. This can get you, and your organization, in a pickle. You should ask your vendors what they track and what they don't so you can plan accordingly.

The second thing that needs really careful consideration of what the data actually means! Over the past 10 years I've worked in a variety of departments on campus and one thing seems clear: data collected is with poorly analyzed and understood; or departments are shedding the light they want to shed on their data they've collected in order to make their department the "hero" of this yeqr's annual report, or to get as many resources as they can for their department. This second part is a direct cause (I think) of th siloization and siloed nature of academia.

With more than 4 years of business intelligence and Analytics in my head I am not sure what to add. What do you all think? What would your elevator pitch be for learning Analytics?

Figure from:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coursera mLearning fail

The other day, seeing that there were a couple of videos in the HCI that were available. Since I didn't have time to watch them during lunch, and as established coursera has no offline viewing for their courses, I decided to try my luck with the iPhone while commuting.

Since I do use coursera, and I do watch videos on my iPad when I am at home from time to time (on wifi), it would make sense that I would be able to do the same on my iPhone. Thus with 20 minutes left in my commute, and two 17 minute videos to watch, it seemed like a no-brainer. Well, the image I got was the image on he right, in plain English: video not playable.

What gives? This can't possibly be a technology constraint, so it must be a course design and delivery constraint. It reminds me of the continuing discussion (well, a series of post in actuality) thinking about the constraints that LMS/CMS design place on teaching and learning, based on the assumptions that go into designing an LMS. It seems to me that coursera designers (platform designers) envisioned learners with butts in seats, in front of computers, as if they were in some sort of virtual lecture. The design consideration doesn't seem to be inclusive of other ways of consuming content; and yes, learners consume content ;-) we need to get rid of this negative association that surrounds consumption (more on this on a later post). Learners don't just consume learning content in front of a compute, in the office or on the laptop while sitting on the sofa, but they consume content, even learning content, while commuting or working on something around the house, like gardening. Course content design and delivery needs to evolve in order to keep up with this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

xMOOC: of participation and offline apps

The mobile client ate my post! I will try to reconstitute as much of it as I remember ;-)

In this blog post I am continuing the train of though started by thinking about different levels of participation, and my blog post on MOOC registration.  Since MOOCs are generally not taken for credit, and since they generally don't need to conform to some sort of departmental outcomes standard (i.e. this course addresses Program Level Outcome A, D, and E), it would be easier for a MOOC, than in a traditional course, to design several tracks and have different requirements for those tracks. There might also be options for a create-your-track, depending on the course of course.

When a participant registers for a MOOC they can pick their track(s) and the system can monitor the participant's progress.  I think of this like Nike+'s  goal setting. For example my goal was to do 72 miles in 2 (or 3) months. Sure, for a hard core runner that's probably nothing.  For a desk-bound employee who only walks and runs (just for the sake of walking and running and clearing your head) during lunch, that is a lofty goal.  The little progress bar on my Nike+ account tells me how far I've gone, how much I have left and how long until my time runs out, that's motivating!

Like Nike+, too, participants can elect to post their progress on various social sites, like facebook, to get cheers and attaboys from their friends and family. Of course, this can be part of the course as well in some sort of leaderboard where people can get "likes" from their peers when they get something done. This doesn't really do much for me personally, but it probably does for others, which is probably why it's still a feature in Nike+.

I think the combination of picking your goals, at the beginning of the MOOC (although you are always free to change your goals), and being given some feedback as to how you are doing based on the criteria for those goals, would be helpful in the long run.  Sure I am going to get notes from a variety of self-directed learners. If you are self-directed, please ignore my blog post and don't post a comment about how I am stifling your creativity ;-)  You obviously have motivation, and study skills, to spare. My proposals are geared toward motivating those who are not as self-directed as you are :-)

As a side note, due to hectic work schedules, I have not been able to view some videos from my 2 coursera MOOCs. At home I generally don't MOOC a lot, so when do I prep for MOOCs? During my commute, where I don't have access to (reliable) wireless networks on my iPad.  Why is there no coursera app for tablets that allows you to download new lectures as they become available, allow you to submit assignments, and peer review assignments, and take quizzes, and once you get connected again, it can sync your viewed items, your quizzes and your assignments.  Seems like such a no-brainer.  You could also get push notifications when new quizzes, lectures and peer feedback are available.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is participation? How the LMS determines what you do

It seems like Rebecca and I were on the same wavelength yesterday when we were composing our blog posts and reflecting on various aspects of MOOCs.  Rebecca wonders why there is only one level of participation in xMOOCs, and I have to say, having started my 3rd coursera MOOC yesterday (same one as Rebecca, the Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society on coursera), I can see that (from my limited experience) there is a limit on how participation is counted.  Granted, I've spoken out about participation in the past for cMOOCs, but I've considered participation as being active somehow (twitter, blogs, discussions, etc.).  In xMOOCs, and in particular my two experiences on Coursera for the Gamification course and  now the Design: Creation of Artifacts course, a participant gets a certificate of completion having done all the quizzes satisfactorily and by completing the assignments.

This is one level of participation, and it's one of the valid ways to get participation out of the course.  I have to say that the Gamification course hit the right spot: I was interested, and I had some free time to devote to it to complete the assignments.  I was also gathering some research data for an upcoming MOOC paper that I am thinking about writing, so that too was a motivating factor.  The design course has an equally engaging faculty member (in my mind anyway) and the assignments aren't bad; but I think I am in a bit of a time crunch, and honestly the assignments don't seem to resonate enough with me (i.e. I feel a bit bored).  I could mechanically finish them so I could get a certificate out of them, but why bother? I may tackle an assignment this weekend just to see if I am motivated, but don't hold your breath.

This brings us back to Rebecca's point, and to student motivation. If the lecture is interesting, and the professor is interesting, but the assessments are not, how does one, in MOOCs and in "established" course formats, deal with the issue of student motivation and working with the student to meet the course objectives, but still demonstrate mastery of the subject in a way that makes sense for those students?

Let me draw attention to another coursera course, the Human Computer Interaction Course that I am also following currently.  This course has 3 levels of participation, not just one!  Here is what the HCI course offers:

Apprentice track
Weekly quizzes (100%). Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the apprentice track.

Studio Track
Weekly assignments (culminating in design project) (worth 67%) and quizzes (worth 33%). Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the studio track.

Studio Practicum
ONLY available to students who have received an Apprentice/Studio Statement of Accomplishment from a previous offering. Weekly assignments (culminating in design project) (worth 100%). This practicum is designed for students seeking to continue developing their design skills through an additional iteration of assignments. Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the studio practicum.

Now, OK, it's not more imaginative, but it's better than just one track! One of the problems that Coursera xMOOCs have is that they all (seem to) follow a standardized design which might work for some courses, but not for others! The design seems to be as follows:

View video --> take quiz (assessment) --> work on assignments (assessment) --> peer review assignments (assessment).  Discussion forum activity, or other forms or assessment or activity have not been though about, and they haven't implemented.  I suppose this makes sense, since Coursera and udacity were created by and with the help of people who teach technical or scientific fields where the mode of operation is lecture, work on paper, work on assignment, robograde (in computer science your program works, or does not) grade paper, more lecture.  This mode works (well, or not well) in fields like computer science, but not in the humanities. The same mode of teaching does not apply, so what do you do when your platform wasn't built with this in mind? This reminds me of Lane's paper on How LMSs impact teaching. The underlying platform was built with certain constraints in mind, and in turn those constraints get imposed into other courses. This isn't good from a course design, or course teaching point of view! Perhaps time for a better or different platform?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Open Assessment and Blended Learning

The topic of open assessment came up during #blendkit2012 this week, which is quite a fascinating topic. Britt asked if peer review can work in small groups, having seen it in xMOOCs like coursera.

I've written about open assessment before, but not specifically about this, I don't think. I have written some quick thoughts on the coursera peer review system which can be summarized even quicker by saying "hit or miss." In the one course (thus far) where I've opted to do the assessments and review my peers, the reviews were a mix. Some reviews of my work were good, others were lacking, and for some I wondered if they even read (or understood) the rubric! So, while I can see how massive open peer review can be good, the fact that its anonymous means that I can't seek clarification, and there is no apprenticeship into the rubric to make sure everyone gets it (and really understands the asynchronous lectures).

Bringing this back into the blended classroom, I think that peer assessments can, and do, work. When I was a student I had some courses where peer assessment was part of the course. The key to making peer assessment work (from my experience anyway):
  • Everyone must be current on the reading and makes sure they get them
  • Everyone must understand the rubric and the proper application of the rubric
  • Being anonymous is a good thing at times, it allows students to be honest. But, there needs to be a junction box to feed back questions about the feedback so issues can be clarified
  • Finally, there needs to be instructor final approval of the peer grading and assessment. It's not sufficient to have students peer assess because, after all, they are novices. They would be in the course they were not novices. The instructor this has the obligation to be the final arbiter of the grade, and full in assessment feedback that is lacking, and filter out irrelevant or destructive feedback.
Thus, I can see peer assessment really work in a blended classroom, if implemented right, and if the learners are prepared for undertaking this task.

Mass is relative, and the need for numbers that make sense

This week on #cfhe12 I read a couple of posts of interest from my fellow participants (apologies, I am currently on the train with no connectivity, ore lease I would search for those post and link to them :-) ) and there were two key points that I wanted to reiterate, combine, and expand upon. The first point is that mass (well, "massiveness") is relative. I am sure I learned in physics that Mass is indeed relative there, too, but I'd have to take a MOOC to brush up on my high school physics ;-)In any case, 100,000 MOOC participants in course X does not mean that it is equivalent to 100,000 participants in course Y.

If you have a course (MOOC) that Iran introductory level course (introduction to German for example), you will most certainly get to sign up (and probably retain) a whole lot more people than a more niche course (let's say "Seminal Works of Bertold Brecht" which is taught and discussed, and written about in German). The introductory course will appeal to novices, and people like me who want to brush up. It will appeal to people who just want the language component for travel, news, literature or communication with those long lost, and recently found, relatives. In other words, greater appeal. The Brecht course on the other hand will probably only appeal to people who are interested in Brecht and his works and have the communicative competence to work with German as the primary means of communication (I.e. fewer people than the intro course).

I use another language here as an example very deliberately. More niche courses, especially those in specific disciplines, assume an enculturation into the discipline, an apprenticeship if you will, that intro courses do not. Niche courses assume a scaffolding of the students as a pre-requisite to joining the course rather than having more basic pre-requisites. This apprenticeship into the discipline is essentially the same as speaking another language. Now, whether or not it should be that way is another question and we won't tackle that right now.

This brings me back to massive is relative, and thus we need better metric, better analytics, and better understanding of what those numbers mean. Another MOOC participant wrote about improving the account creation page for gRSShopper. This reminded me of a proposal that I had written about last year as. Prt of #change11: a way to track who is viewing the newsletters (we know they are getting mailed out), who is clicking on the links in the newsletters, correlating that with twitter, diigo, blog and LMS activity to figure out who is participating in some way and who is not. Those who are not participating can be prompted every so often by a "early warning system", like Blackboard's early warning system that alerts instructors if students have not done X by a certain time, to see if things are going well, if the learners need assistance, and if they plan on not participating, why not, and should they be offered a mechanism to unsubscribe (which will record why they left the course). At the conclusion of the course, learners should complete a course survey that gets some feedback from the learners. For 13+ week courses, surveys should be done every 4-5 weeks.

Now some people might cry out "oh think of the lurkers!"... Well, I am! That's why I am now calling them "passive participants" (a little less creepy than lurker). If you have a system in place to record participant activity, you can see who thee lurkers are and what they are looking at such as course videos, synchronous sessions, LMS discussions, twitter posts and blogs (the last 2 from the daily newsletter). If you can get an accurate gauge on how many actual lurkers there are, and how many drop outs there are, you can do a better job at getting the passive participants to participate in some fashion (example off the top of my head: participating in quick surveys before the next week's topic opening and including those responses as part of the topic).

The drop outs you don't have to worry about,they are gone. It would be nice to know why,but you don't have to expend too much time and energy getting them to participate. Passive participants on other hand are good potential resources for everyone in the MOOC, even if the only thing they do is participate in weekly surveys.

Finally, cMOOc vs xMOOC makes a difference. 100,000 on coursera is not the same. 100,000 on a Coursesites/D2L/Canvas MOOC run by Siemens, Bonk, or de Waard. Coursera is like amazon. If you go in for one free class, you might end up signing up for another 5. They are there, they are advertised and they are recommended. cMOOCs on the other hand are a word of mouth endeavor. If you don't follow a certain type of person on twitter (for tweeting or retweeting), you won't know about the MOOC. cMOOCs are all about word of mouth, and as such they also tend to be more niche and focused on higher education. Thus one course's massive numbers don't equate 1:1 for another courses's massive. So please, let's just get rid of the ridiculous retiming LOOC :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Entrepreneurship (and commercial) activity in education

It's week 3 in #cfhe12 and the topic of the week is Entrepreneurship and commercial activity in education, and I kicked off the week by reading The Evolution of Ed Tech in Silicon Valley and How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education. There are, of course, other readings that I intent on getting to, but these two were the only HTML documents that were easy to sent to Pocket (I did however skim the educational start-ups PDF because I was curious). 

In any case, it was interesting to read about the venture capital process, how it related to EdTech, and how much quicker (and easier) it is to be innovative these days. Now, when I say "be innovative" I don't mean the actual having an idea part, but the ability to execute it. With services like Amazon's cloud services it's easier these days for someone who has an idea, and has some know-how (or access to know-how) to be able to get up and running.  Not that long ago one had to go to the appropriate authorities to buy a server, to put it on a campus network with a dedicated IP, invest in backup and recovery tools, including UPS, and hope that the campus IT folks didn't find out (or pull the plug) on such initiatives.

On my own campus there were stories of "people running servers under their desks," with IT folks saying in a rather disapproving way.  At that point I was younger, more idealistic, and working for IT; thus I too was thinking about it in a disapproving way.  My thought was that they should just contact IT, get the resources they need, and do it officially. This way, they get the right tools to get the job done.  Oh how naive I was :-) Fast forward 10 years later and now I too am trying to avoid the IT department.  Why?  I still like them, they are my friends and colleagues after all, but the organizational culture of a large IT department can be summed up by "batten down the hatches" which ultimately means that entrepreneurial spirits can be crushed.

So, let me go back to this idea of entrepreneurship and commercial activity in Higher Education.  I put commercial activity in parentheses in the title because  I think that starting with the profit motive is a recipe for disaster. One has to fail often in order to find things that work, but the key focus should be on finding things that work, rather than finding things that work enough to sell. I think that educational entrepreneurs need to focus on the teaching and learning aspect of the equation, something that isn't always a commercialized item. The spirit of experimentation and inquiry needs to have, as its master, the improvement of the academe, to get us out of certain old, smelly and moldy situations; not what we can in turn sell.  The cynic in me thinks that we are already selling something - credentialing. You might be able to turn around and capitalize your innovation later (this LMSs and how they grew out of campuses and became their own thing), but that should be a happy by product of what you did to make things better for learners on your school (or consortium).

I think the focus on money and reputation is one of the problems with MOOCs (xMOOCs) today. Sure, I don't think that the people behind coursera and udacity started with this in mind. As a matter of fact I am pretty certain they didn't. But Universities are now looking at the prestigious institutions in Cambridge, MA and want to offer their own MOOCs so that they can get visibility for their programs as well. The problem is that doing something for visibility is the wrong motive for offering free education. Khan, of Khan Academy, didn't think of visibility but the education of the person he was tutoring, and how useful it might be for others.  Notoriety came later as a good by product.

The problem I have with institutions coming into MOOCs the way they are coming is the real danger that it will lead to something like a Dot-Com-Bust. When the bust happened many copycats and "me too"s went away. Maybe they had nothing to offer something to begin with, but in the academic sphere I think every school has something to offer. When little or no money is to be had if and and that bust comes, we might write off Free Open Education, OER, OCW and everything that goes with it as a fad. And, because of a certain gold rush and bust-cycle, it might be that an idea and teaching methodology get's send to the internet dustbin because it didn't pan out in the short time that it was allowed to live and make money (i.e. prove itself).

Thoughts? :-)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Last week of Blendkit2012!

Here it is! The final week of BlendKit2012! I know it is only a 5 week MOOC, but it seems to have gone by pretty quickly! The topic of this week, as with any well designed course, is evaluation - or: how do you know that your learning intervention (in this case designing a blended course) has worked and your learners walked away with the knowledge they need to be successful. The reading this week centered around this topic of evaluation. The questions to ponder are as follows:
  • How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to teaching it? 
  • How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded? 
  • With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback? 
  • How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation? 
  • Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?
I find it interesting that peer, colleague, and potentially mentor, evaluations are mentioned here because it's not something that I've come across often in instructional design contexts. Usually most instructional design is iterative, you reach the evaluation stage once your run the course, gather feedback and go back to the drawing board in order to improve your course :-)  I actually like the idea of bouncing ideas off colleagues because it means that you can get feedback before you actually run a course, fix any issues that were in your blind-spots, and iterate more rapidly.

I like the statement from Singh & Reed (2001) “Little formal research exists on how to construct the most effective blended program designs” (p. 6) [in this week's reading]. It brings me back to week 1 on Blendkit2012 when I was thinking out loud about the blend, and the potential conflicts of goals for blended courses between college administrators and college instructors.  The admins probably want to see a standardized 50-50 blended course so they can get the most use out of physical locations and utilities; while instructors need to think about what the right blend is for optimal learning experiences.  This, of course, may mean that the utilization of the physical campus locations may not be optimal, as compared to fully on-campus courses; so begins a dance to find the right "mix" for blended courses to make sure that they are both pedagogically superior and making appropriate uses of the campus without imposing a prescribed meeting space and time for courses.

Finally (back to ensuring quality), the readings do provide some more standards to look at for online course quality, and I've already bookmarked most of them. I am already QualityMatters certified (so I am familiar with that rubric) and I am in the process of completing the Blackboard Exemplary Course MOOC, so I am getting familiarized with that.  As the chapter pointed out, some of these rubrics may seem very prescriptivist, but (from what I see) even if you pass the evaluations using such rubrics, this is only the setup.  It's the execution that matters a lot in quality, when the rubber meets the road, when the instructor meets the students and teaching and learning happens. Even if you've designed an awesome on-campus, online, or blended course, if the instructor is not on-board you are destined for not-so-good things.  This is why I think, that in order to ensure quality, the instructor(s) of the course needs to be part of the design, or debriefing process (if the instructor was an adjunct and not there when the course was designed by a peer or an instructional design team) and they need a peer community of practice (those teaching the same course in the same method) to get them ready to teach the course and to feedback what they find into that community, so the course can be improved, and other teachers of that course can learn from each other's experiences.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MOOCs, demographics, and wrangling the edtech

Yesterday morning I was catching up on some #cfhe12 blog posts by Bryan Alexander (who I have not seen in a MOOC in ages), a blog post about defining MOOCs  by Rolin Moe,  and my colleague Rebecca who writes about the ease and usefulness in MOOCs†.

First, let me respond to Rolin's points (since I happened to read his blog post first).

There are lots of people looking at the future of academic publishing, pushing for an open movement. Some academic journals have gone open, but the majority of journals carry a high price tag which only exists as price opportunistic for educational institutions (and some rare corporations and organizations). Yet academic journals are part of the lifeblood of scientific research, especially for soft sciences (such as education). By only working with open resources, a cMOOC cuts many of these empirical, peer-reviewed research works out of its circulation, having instead to pull from free resources that often lack academic rigor. For a cMOOC to truly excel at its intention (get people to coalesce around a topic), it is going to have to include the strongest work on the topic, and it will need what today exists in academic journals to do so. As the future of academic journals goes, so does the cMOOC. The movement for open access is important for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps entrants into the cMOOCs should use their collective power/cognitive surplus to lobby for changes to the system, rather than only read about it from outside the walls (and outside the rigor).

I have to disagree with Rolin here.  There are many academic journals, that are rigorous, and are open published.  I think Rolin does a diservice here to open publishing by, essentially, equating them with publications where everyone can (potentially) get on their soap-box and spew any sort of inacurracy that they want.  cMOOCs have used open access, peer reviewed, journals. cMOOCs (and xMOOCs) are not limited to non-peer reviewed works.  It's all a matter of course design and what you are expecting to get out of your materials.  In other words, why are you including peer reviewed materials as part of your course?

I disagree that in order for MOOCs to really excel at their intention one must (always) include peer reviewed journals. One must look at the course objectives for the course, and then pick appropriate materials, methods, activities, (and yes, assessments) in order to achieve those goals.  You can't unilaterally say that peer reviewed journals are a "must."  Here is a counter-example: when I was an undergraduate in computer science I never touched peer-reviewed journals, with the exception of my art and philosophy courses which were outside of my major. I did, however, spend a lot of time solving equations and coding.

At the same time, I am currently enrolled in two cMOOCs: Current/Future State of Higher Education (#cfhe12) and Openness in Education (#oped12). Not only is the majority of the “student” population made up of people in high-level or post-studies academe, but I can count on one hand the number of non-university individuals I have encountered in the courses. There is plenty to consider with that kind of demographic, but in relation to academic access, this group has access to academic journals. Again, Open is one of the four tenants of MOOC, so removing that openness would hit at the bedrock of the MOOC movement, but just because the academic journals are behind a paywall does not mean their contents can or should be ignored.

It is true that cMOOCs do tend to attract people who are already in academia and are in higher-level studies. I think in Rolin's case he is in two MOOCs that are of interest to academia and academics, but not necessarily to anyone else.  If you look at discussions around academia these days, it's all about going to school to get a job.  People don't care about Openess because they haven't been touched by it.  Libraries (funded by taxpayers) do subscribe to some paywall databases, but that doesn't mean that average joe-citizen goes to have a look!  The second reason why cMOOCs are frequented by post-studies academe people (versus any joe-undergrad or any person log time out of school) is that they are not setup in the lecture and test model that is frequently what people expect of education in general.  cMOOCs, seem to me, to require life long learning skills that include culling of resources, pruning of materials, figuring out what's good and who's just pushing BS and so on.  Skills that require refining and practice, and when you are coming in with the expectation that you will be lectured at and then take a test; well the two modes don't connect :-)

As far as "open" goes, I've had this debate with many of my MOOC colleagues.  What is open?  If someone asks you to buy a textbook to participate in a MOOC, does that make the MOOC not open?  I don't think so, I think it's still open; but some of my colleagues would probably disagree.  It all goes back to the whole free beer/free speech thing of the Open Software Movement.  They haven't come up with one definition of "Free" so  I expect that we won't come up with one definition of "open".  For me, Open is a shade of gray.  Finally in response to the following:

In a blog about Alec Couros and PLNs, I remarked positively on the concept of facilitator, or someone who organizes the MOOC but only in a manner to establish discourse, not influence it. Thinking over it again, I am not so keen on a Deist teaching method. I appreciate a desire to not overtly influence discussion and the creation of learning, but how does such an approach account for knowledge gaps? I assume (note: assume) the pedagogy here would take from crowdsourcing, and believe the wisdom of the crowd would provide assistance and fill in the knowledge gaps for those with said gaps. Of course, people like Jaron Lanier see crowdsourcing as a net negative rather than positive, and refer to it as mob mentality. Knowledge gaps can result in faulty conclusions, and if we are to believe Argyris’ Ladder of Inference, this will become cyclical, with individuals seeking out new sources of information that compliment their prior knowledge and beliefs…beliefs built on knowledge gaps and faulty conclusions. Off that angle, people might not have knowledge gaps but instead just be wrong about something, lacking evidence or data to support their thesis. As the subject matter in cMOOCs is not objective, right and wrong are blurry terms; however, novices who come to the course with little subject knowledge or experience would be best served to have at least a base of prior research and theory to assist in their learning journey.  

I think that there is a definite issue with "group think," but this is the case with any course.  But, if you look at graduate level courses (which is what most cMOOCs tend to be based on), there is often no clear answer, no absolute right or wrong.  Sure, in some cases there is a right and wrong - for now, until that is disproven.  The point of graduate education is to be OK with ambiguity and to continue to inquire, push for answers, and to experiment. And then try again.  With undergraduate education (and certainly K-12) we have picked up a banking model of education where we have accepted certain X truths, and we expect to open up people's brains and dump it in.  This may be the way that some xMOOCs operate, but, as stated above, it's also dependent on the discipline. You can't just pain the entire teaching establishment with a broad brush.  Knowledge gaps can indeed lead to faulty conclusions, but that's why you've got more knowledgeable peers around to learn from.  Being in MOOC means that you seek out your peers to learn from them, you aren't lectured at.  If you look at cMOOCs there is usually no assessment piece. I think this is intentional (for the time being).

Now, let me turn to the variety of implementation of MOOCs that is mentioned by Rebecca and Bryan. In all honesty, I am a little disappointed with D2L.  I had messed with it back in 2011 when I was working for my Instructional Design department and we were evaluating candidates, so I knew quite a bit about navigating around the mobile interface.  That said, I still find it clunky both on the desktop and on mobile. I agree with Rebecca.  If it ain't working on mobile, the MOOC is almost dead to me since I fill in my "downtime" during commutes with MOOC blog posts and articles (and when I get back on a schedule, reading peer reviewed articles for upcoming research). When I am at home, or in the office, i have other work to do, so I can't mess around with learning the EdTech for specific MOOCs as much. Sure, I can work on it during lunch, but I would prefer to read something interesting (or respond to it) during lunch rather than figure out where my material is.

I think one thing that makes Coursera MOOCs interesting to "the masses" is the simple-LMS feel to it. See video, take quiz, do assignments, participate in discussion forums. The  formula, the look and feel, and procedures are the same regardless of the course.  The same cannot be said of our cMOOCs where some use blogs and PLNs, others use LMS (D2L, canvas, Blackboard, etc), others use google groups and so on.  There definitely needs to be a balance between experimentation and offering a course.


† As a side note, I have not seen many blog posts (at least not as many as I would have expected) in this MOOC.  I am wondering if there is discussion happening in the discussion boards of D2L.  Personally, after the first week, I decided to not follow the D2L discussions.  While I do like Google Groups discussions in MobiMOOC, there is just something "off" about LMS based discussions at the massive level.

Monday, October 15, 2012

cfhe12 - week 2: when world colide!

After a tittle like that, I feel like this blog ought to have a theme song ;-) Is this too dorky? Not dorky enough?  Chime in through the comments :-)

In any case, it's Week 2 of #cfhe12 and the topic of the week is New Pedagogies: New models for teaching and learning. I find it interesting (and ironic) that Blended Learning and Online Learning are considered "new pedagogies" and "new models."  Even though I am currently undertaking 2 Blended Learning workshops (one MOOC #blendkit and one workshop through Sloan-C), I have known about blended learning for a while.  As far as Online Learning goes...I've known about it, and been active in it for much longer!  How can these models be considered new?  To me MOOCs are new because we are still exploring them.  There is no "one MOOC format", just as there is no one Online Course format. MOOCs are a subset of Online Courses, and MOOCs have many other courses that are a subset of a MOOC.

That being said, I am drawn back to "rigor" and what it means to be "rigorous" and "effective." Granted, the InsideHigherEd article was from 2009, but it amazes me that a method of delivery can be seen as less rigorous simply because of the method of delivery. By the same token, I was reading another article on InsideHigherEd (Bitter Reality of MOOConomics) from this past summer where there is a catch-22 for Universities.  Universities, in the past, have had their cachet was in limited spots, and therefore selectivity and limited amount of accredited individuals; and of course the social network you developed. With MOOCs that goes out the window because you have potentially a massive amount of people being "accredited." In some fashion.

The second IHE article talks about getting jobs as the primary motive for people going to college, something we tackled last week on #cfhe12, and something we will most likely see, and talk about, again before this MOOC is over. If people are coming to school for credentialing purposes only, then we have an issue, because the goals and expectations of students are at odds with the goals and expectations of the institution and its representatives: faculty and staff.

[setup] I had an interesting discussion with colleagues last week over the length of courses: again form and versus what needs to be covered and evaluated.  My feeling was that one can have a 13 week on-campus course and a 6 week (intensive) on-campus course, and (more or less) get a comparable educational experience. Sure, it may feel like you're under pressure and you're running to get things done, but with a few modification to assessments you can do it.

In an online space this doesn't work.  You still have the same amount of time, but psychologically (I argue) nothing else changes.  The online classroom is the same whether you have a 4, 6, 8, 10, or 14 week semester.  You can pack in "more materials" but that's about it. In an on-campus class, from a psychological perspective, things change, you meet, in person, twice as often, which signals to the learner that the expectations that the shorter-length course is the same(ish) as a regular semester but you still are expected to cover the same materials, and be assessed on the knowledge you've gained.  In an online course, without other external stimuli, it's easy for learners to "forget" that they are in a shortened-length course, but they are still required to cover the same bases as the "regular" length course. This can breed discontent among students.

[punchline] OK, so what does my little anecdote have to do with the future of higher education.  After this very invigorating debate, some of my fellow faculty members said (or claimed) that (from a student perspective?) the reason to take shorter length courses is to "easily" get 3 credits and move closer to graduation in a shorter time frame.  While I understand that this may be in the minds of students - given that they think that the purpose of education is purely utilitarian (i.e. get a job), but I felt a little uncomfortable with the prospect that faculty (who self-govern their programs) may be starting to think this way too!  It's  up to the faculty to keep the spirit of Higher Education (inquiry) alive, to  find the right blend of inquiry of inquity's sake and relatedness of knowledge to "real" life; and when I hear that maybe we ought to capitulate to the need of the moment (i.e. get a job), I feel that academia has betrayed me. Where is academia headed?

Your thoughts?