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: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/penetrating-fog-analytics-learning-and-education

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?

BlendKit - Content & Assignments

We are now in Week 4 (of 5!) of BlendKit2012 and the subject of the week is content and assessments. The questions to ponder for this week are as follows:

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course?  In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score? 
  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like? 
  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments? 
  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

One of the nice things about this chapter is the table of types learning activities with idea, tools and techniques on to implement them. I think that these are valuable ideas not just for the blended classroom but also for the online and on-campus classrooms as well. 

While administrators may see blended learning as an opportunity to get double the space utilization as a traditional on-campus course, I see blended learning as a way to infuse authentic content and learning experiences in the classroom. When students are in a face to face course, they may not have the affordance to go out in the field to undertake some authentic task. For example, think of an archeology course.  If you have students in a blended archeology course (and you are lucky enough to be close to a dig!) in your online weeks students can be expected to spend x-many hours in the dirt, in the field, getting to do one of the things that archeologists do, and applying what they have learned thus far in their class and in their curriculum (if they aren't new to the major).  In an art context, learners can spend time going to a specific museum each session that they have an online component, so instead of spending it in class, they can go to Museum X, with a specific task, and then use the affordances of online learning in their blended course to fill in their peers and their instructor.

With the proliferation of smartphones (and devices like the iPad and iPod Touch) learners can snap photos, take video, or record audio interviews and post them to flickr, youtube, vimeo and soundcloud (just to name a few) and infuse this authenticity back into the classroom.  I think that assignments and assessments (with some good design) can also benefit from these mobile affordances to go beyond a term paper. Term papers may not be completely gone, as they are not only vehicles to demonstrate subject understanding, but also mastery of writing, but they can be augmented by other media (such as video and photos) which students might need to show competency in.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thoughts from Day 1 ALN Panel Discussion

Well, yesterday afternoon I got fired up when listening to the final panel discussion of the day at Sloan-C's annual ALN conference. The panel was titled "Evolution or Revolution? What’s Happening with “Traditional” Online Learning?" and I have broken down my thoughts by speaker.

Jose Cruz (The Education Trust, US)
This was a pretty interesting speaker, and he made a good point about putting "learning" back in "online learning". The speaker pointed out that governments was accountability, higher graduation rates, and, of course, do it with less money. This speaker,  mostly focused on access to higher education and higher education completion along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Beyond that the speaker focused a lot on the numbers of people, along different ethnic and racial demographics, that have a BA.

It seemed to me that the basic assumption was that the BA degree was a necessity - period. There was no interrogation of why a BA is a requirement  The speaker spoke about the importance of education for civic engagement and democracy.  Fine, personally I agree.  What I don't agree with is that education (aka Higher Education leading to a degree) is the type of education required for civic engagement and democracy.  If, for some reason, it is, then why do we have people pay for this type of education out of pocket at increasingly higher and higher rates?

Alan Drimmer (University of Phoenix, US)
The focus of  Alan was about careers and infusing a career focus in courses.  In other words (from what I understood) was to make learning connected and meaningful instead of a series of discreet facts.  The interesting thing is that he said that students think that higher education is about getting a job. My questions are where does this come from? What is the role of Higher Education in adapting or clarifying role? And, is there a fear of loss of revenue if we, outright, tell students that higher education is partly about getting a job, but it's about getting people to think critically, not being just another cog in the machine, but one that makes good decisions based on given evidence, and there is no five stop process to attain this.

While Alan's talk was interesting I was distracted a bit from a fellow #CFHE12 person around the discussion of whether a BA is a requirement for a job.  His comment was that if someone wants to be a police officer he can become one by pursuing a Criminal Justice major. This is complete and utter nonsense. To become a police officer you don't need an undergraduate education, much less a BA in criminal justice! What you do need is a high school diploma, to pass physical and mental exams, as well as background checks, and to complete the police academy - which you do ONLY after you've passed all the other tests. At that point if you enter the academy you already have a job as a cop.

My fellow #cfhe12 participant (@ezrasf) changed his argument to using the BA for a quicker promotion.  Well, again, this is not the way promotions work in police departments (granted, different departments have different procedures).  Education is part of the equation. For example until recently our campus police (considered as "state police" for organizational purposes) didn't need higher education credits to become sergeants.  Now it's part of the requirement that they have 60 credits (the equivalent of an Associate's degree).  In order to make it to Lieutenant, my guess would be that you would need a BA's worth of credits, but that's not the only thing that's needed, and given that police departments can be highly political, I doubt that any education in and of itself will give you a leg up if people don't want to promote you. And, criminal justice is not the only way to go to.  Thus, the myth that you need a BA for all work is debunked, and the myth that you need college for promotion purposes is also debunked. As @professorjosh pointed out, some people with an Associated Degree make more money than people with a BA ;-)

Jack Wilson (University of Massachusetts, US)
So this panelist (the final one), former President of the UMass System got me fired up (not in a good way). Wilson was talking a lot about history of UMass with online learning, and the revenues that it has seen in online learning but there was no talk of pedagogy and teaching! The "generic" MBA in me was pretty content with this presentation, but we can't just take a generic business approach and apply it to education because education can't run like a business. 

Wilson puts MOOCs in the "hype" category (only because everyone and their mother seem to be writing about MOOCs without knowing much about what MOOCs are), and claims that hyper prestigious universities are driving the change.  Well, what about the "original" MOOCs, the people that started the MOOC experimentation, and are still experimenting, but we hear nothing about them.  There is an over-emphasis on "xMOOCs" like coursera and not enough of a spotlight on "cMOOCs" and the continuing experimentation that is happening.  [Start cynic comment] Our fast food news culture has finally permeated the academe, and people who know nothing about a topic are called on to become talking heads about the subjects that they know little about.  Bravo. [end of cynic comment].

It seems that now that "online learning" has matured and become "the man" that they are trying to hold on to their fort.  According to Wilson evidence does not support the assertion that MOOCs will change the world.  OK.  My question is what evidence?  Where is the empirical research? Well, there is very little because MOOCs are new.  They are an experimental form and we are still learning from them.  Wilson is the impersonation of the Luddites he criticized when those Luddites criticized online education. I say let do research and give MOOCs the 13 years that online education has had, and then let's talk.

Wilson doesn't fear MOOCs as competition; my question, of course, is what is there to fear? It's just another modality for teaching, such as lectures, seminars, studios, and labs (just to name a few). Even withing MOOCs there is variety in how they are constructed as courses and how they flow It's a bit absurd to see one form of instruction as competition. Wilson asks for the reasons that people go to college (i.e. pay for college) and according to him it's:
  • interaction with classmates
  • interaction with instructor
  • accreditation
  • it's getting the credits (in other words, accreditation, credits mean little on their own)
Wilson doesn't believe that MOOCs provide for the above, which is what students pay for in College Courses.

My problem is that MOOCs do some of these things too!  In all MOOCs I've participated in I've had interactions with classmates, and I've had interactions with the instructors (aka subject matter experts that facilitate the weekly session), and with appropriate assessments the Mozilla Open Badge initiative can provide for accreditation. So, what is there that separates MOOCs from college courses?

I think that Alan got it right by saying that not all students are setup to be self-paced learners, and they do need that one-on-one that they get with University resources and faculty.  That said.  I think that once people get used to the pedagogical factors of MOOCs, and they learn how to learn, MOOCs can be viable that way as well for learning. It's just that students, coming out of high school now, are used to being told what they need to know and they need to get prepared for learning opportunities that don't necessarily have one defined head.

Another thing that really got me going with Wilson is that Wilson (and others!) seem to compare apples to oranges when it comes to comparing credit-bearing college courses with MOOCs and attendance and completion.  Wilson claims that he'd be hauled off to jail if his University had completion rates as low as MOOCs do.  Sure MOOCs (xMOOCs at least) are based on actual college courses, but the participant actions are not the same between the two modes of class for very good reasons! Check out what a fellow #cfhe12 participant wrote about his MOOC participation in the past:
I have a pretty miserable track record with MOOCs. My initial curiosity and earnest intentions are almost immediately undermined by work deadlines, congenital procrastination, shiny objects, and a two and a half year old who isn’t a big fan of sleep. So, in the past, the extent of my participation has been limited to a)signing up and b) regularly deleting the email reminders I get for all of the assignments I don’t complete.
 - http://edtech.vccs.edu/mooc-to-the-future/
You know what's different about MOOCs and college courses?  It's Price! Economists have write a lot about the price of free.  When something is free it encourages people to not just windowshop from outside the store, but to go in an try things out. College courses cost, so unless you have the money to waste, if you pay for it you WILL make the time to attend and do well.  If something is free you can
  1. register and do nothing
  2. register and do some work
  3. register, do all the work, and complete the course
In college courses 1 and 2 are not options (unless you are rich and don't care about wasting money). In MOOCs there ARE options and people DO exercise them based on their day-to-day needs and other, competing, obligations. Thus, you can't compare apples to oranges when it comes to attendance and completion because these two types of courses are fundamentally different, and people do act differently when there is a price difference.  It would be interesting to conduct some experiments to see if people would still go to MOOCs if there were a $10, $25, $50 non-refundable fee for signing up. If you completed the course you'd get a certificate (or badge) and if you didn't, well you wouldn't get your money back.

In his introduction, Jeff Young from the The Chronicle of Higher Education, Panel Moderator for this session, said that he had met many professors (in the beginning days of online education) that weren't involved with online education but they were very upset by it. Then in 2000 with Fathom there was a boom to capitalize on online education and make gobs of money, but it failed miserably.  I feel like we are there again with MOOCs.  People complaining about things that they don't know, and people rushing to make money from them ;-)

Parting Question: Why is there an adversarial relationship between educational institutions and MOOC?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Week 1 of #CFHE12

Well, another 6 week MOOC started this week, CFHE12 (which I keep wanting to spell a CHFE12 for some reason) with George Siemens and company.  This seems quite interesting, and it gives me an opportunity to check out the D2L environment in action, considering that  our campus could have been a D2L campus, but we went with Blackboard instead.

In any case, one of the first things for this week is to introduce yourself in the forum. I didn't do this because in my experience in massive environments you get a boatload of "hello"s or "introduction"s or "Hello from____" threads which are hard to distinguish who is coming in from where at the end of the day.  This might work in smaller group settings (this type of intro activity using course fora) but, for me at least, it fails massively in a MOOC. OK, I am poo-poo-ing this approach, but I don't have something to take it's place right away, just file this under: "things to work out in MOOC pedagogy."  Maybe jumping straight into the content and the discussion is better and you get to learn about your participants throughout the MOOC, but then again, that might leave out the lurkers who might want to introduce themselves, but not go beyond that.  Oh well, I've got not answers do this just yet :-)

In any case, let me just jump to the heart of the matter and respond to this week's introduction and to one of the readings (more reactions to readings to come as I read them, or as I find other interesting things to respond to from fellow participants.

This week's intro:

Few systems in society are subject to the bold proclamations of reform that now assault higher education. In most countries, higher education is buffeted by two strong, but opposing trends:
1. Transform higher education by making it more cost effective and increasing learner access,
2. Build a world class university system to advance knowledge, research, and economic competitiveness.
Publicly funded universities have been significantly impacted by the reduction in state funding, with student tuition rising as a result. The for-profit and online learning sectors have flourished over the past decade. This week, we will consider the scope of higher education change and the tensions that exist.
Discussion question:  Of the change drivers that you've encountered, which are the most significant?

I have to say that the first reading how the American University was killed in five easy steps was quite depressing. That said, I am too young to have direct knowledge of what happened in the '60s, but from what I've read, it seems like things were better back then.  All I have, from direct experience, is my own lived experiences, those of someone born in the '80s - some might call me a digital native, I however do not. What I offer here are my own opinions and views based on readings prior to this, the above linked to article, my own experiences and the questions for CFHE12 week 1 (see above).

My own undergraduate experiences are based on going to college in order to get a good job something pointed to in the blog post,  and something that neither me, my family, or my high school guidance counselors questioned (what is a good job anyway?). In any case, I picked a local state school for my own education due to cost, my financial aid paid for everything because my school was so cheap at that point (around 8k for one year, now 13 years later it's about double - travesty!). My father was eager to not have me think about the price, but given how much I don't like to take on debt (even as kid), I opted for state school - wise decision.

That being said, I think that money is the first driver for change.  I think we need to go back to making education affordable, making education, again, a public good.  Your definition of affordable may be different from mine.  The author of the blog post was quoting something like $600 of UC Berkley.  My own definition is one that is based on what  I lived through.  $8k a year may not be considered out-of-pocket affordable, but with things like financial aid and Pell grants, the out-of-pocket expenses can be close to nothing.

How do we reduce that?  Get rid of the administrative overheard and severely reduce salaries for admins. While some 6-figure faculty members may be the lightning rods for the ire of people who believe that education has gotten too expensive, most faculty are adjuncts who get paid peanuts. The big costs are in admin salaries (and there are a lot of them), and (it seems to me) that it's like an arms race.  You can't make less than what you made before, or less than your neighbor in a comparable job, so salaries keep getting inflated.

The second thing, related to price, is the  "practicalness" of the degree, or getting prepared for the job market.  I've had many discussions with friends who've pursued the same degrees as I have and exploring their annoyance that their Master's degree did not prepare them for the jobs they sought: i.e. they did not learn the software packages that employers have come to expect. I've been in the position to defend the departments by saying that's up to the learner, and that a degree isn't just about learning x-program, but rather higher level concepts that can be applied regardless of concept.  This pulled me back to my own annoyance with my undergraduate advisor. When I was an undergraduate I expressed dismay that half my computer science curriculum was math, and that I was expecting to learn more programming languages.  Don't get me wrong, the part that was CS I loved, the math part no so much.  My advisor informed me that I could learn other languages on my own, and this severely pissed me off ;-) Now I am saying the same thing to others (LOL).

So what is the problem with a practical degree? Well, nothing really! The problem comes in when the degree is (1) only about practical things and not setting you up for life long learning, and (2) when a degree is required for something that you don't really need a degree for.  Starting with life long learning, a college education should be about getting people acclimated with things that they don't know, and sharpening their reasoning and critical analysis skills so that as adults they can venture into areas where they aren't experts but get themselves up to speed.  If you are just learning excel, or only accounting principles (for example) without analyzing those underlying assumptions and contributing to the improvement of what you've learned, you are being setup for the need for paid professional development, so as time goes by, your degree has become less and less valuable without demonstrable continuing education (i.e. certificates from some authorized body - which cost money!). So in addition to having paid a lot of money for your degree, it becomes worthless the more time has elapsed from the granting of it.

The second thing is to stop finally requiting a degree for something that does not require a degree. The BA has become the stand-in for pretty much anything.  Of course people will expect some sort of job skills of they are paying in both time (4-6 years for a BA, 2-4 for an MA) and money; that is how the argument is framed, and that is what they expect, not knowing any better. My punching bag for this type of example is the ALA and their accredited institutions that provide Masters of Library Science degrees.  Having worked in a library I know many librarians who say that the MLIS degree is just a union card to get you in. Most didn't pick up anything of importance during their degree that they couldn't pick up with on-the-job training.

Finally, this situation leads to the de-professionalization of teaching, where teaching has become not something that sharpens your mind and prepares you for dealing with unforeseen things, but rather it has become instruction for dealing with tasks in automated ways. The problem in higher education is that there already is a colonization of the mind of the researcher, the belief that teaching (in their minds Instructing) is something that happens in a community college while research is what happens at the University. I call bullshit. Research is all fine an dandy, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that the purpose of the professor is to teach, and research is something that happens as part of continuing professional development. Seeing teaching as something beneath them is one of our problems today in higher education, and who does the cleanup? Low paid, and seldomly respected by the institutions, adjuncts.

Does this mean that there is no place for research in the University setting?  Well, don't be daft! Of course that's not what I mean! I just think that we need a bit more balanced of a distribution of faculty, and what they do. For instance there ought to be a balance between:
  • research faculty (faculty who 70% research, 20% teaching and 10% on governance),  
  • core faculty (those who spend their time 10% researching, 30-40% on governance - which includes curriculum, and 50-60% on teaching)
  • clinical faculty (those who spend 90% of their paid time teaching because they are practitioners in the field and come in to infuse the classroom with their wisdom by teaching a select amount of courses, and 10% on governance)
With this setup there can be, I believe, a more balanced approach to the academic department that should make it easier to balance the needs of the department (research, life long learning and preparing for the job market)

that's all for now - thoughts? :-)

Monday, October 8, 2012

BlendKit - Assessment

 It's week 3 of 5 in BlendKit2012, and this week's readings are on the topic of assessment (a pretty important topic if you ask me!). Thus far the contributions of my fellow participants have been pretty interesting to read as well (keep it up! :-)  ). In any case, this week's readings give the reader a quick overview of the testing types that an online environment affords, talks (briefly) about the importance of defining expectations (i.e. setting up grading rubrics) and  talks a bit about informal assessments.  This week's questions to keep in the back of your head are as follows:
  • How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating? 
  • What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases? 
  • What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course? 
  • How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?

Coming from an instructional design background most of this stuff was not new to me, but it was exciting, nevertheless, to have a quick refresher :-) My program does not currently require a course in assessment  for its graduates (gasp!) but that may be changing :-) I took the course because I thought it was important.  As far as assessment goes I prefer to allot a lot of the final score of the course on authentic assessment activities†.

Now, if I were to be teaching courses that required more rote information acquisition (dates, numbers, places for example) like history, or introductory biology, I might be giving more points to auto-scored tests and quizzes; but I think that at the graduate level (and upper level undergrad for that matter) there ought to be more of an emphasis on synthesis and actually doing something with the knowledge.  Even in my introductory course on research methods I didn't have quizzes (although that was an option) because the doing was more important to me than knowing which method to use out-of-context. :-)

That said, I do like informal assessments, like self-check quizzes that can be auto-graded in an LMS, and give students feedback on how they are doing. This is how I am approaching the auto-graded coursera quizzes that I am taking as part of the courses I am taking: self-check on comprehension.  My only problem with incorporating them in my courses is a philosophical problem of giving credit for informal assessments and doing so with final course grade points. I don't want them to be a carrot, because the carrot is supposed to be the assessments that are "real" assessments of their knowledge.  I don't want it to be a stick, because then they can be punitive. I also don't like them to be the dessert (my metaphor for extra credit) because I don't want to give extra credit.  So how does one deal with this issue?  Any thoughts or comments on giving credit (counting toward a final grade) for just doing something? As a new teacher it seems too much like giving credit for just showing up.

Finally, a good reminder for me: student generated test questions. I think that these can be good to both (1) motivate students to study and do well on exams, since you as the instructor are putting them in a place of authority and giving them the respect to choose questions; and (2) get students in the "thing like a test creator" mood which can point out the important things about the chapter.

An aside note on proctoring: I started a job this year where our online students (located all around the world) took a final comprehensive exam via Blackboard and they needed to find their own proctor, which our department vetted. All I can say is "wow". The process of finding, vetting, and paying 30 or so proctors every May is a major time consumption and monetarily costly issue!  This December we are trying out an online proctoring company.  If you are designing assessments that require a proctor, think of the costs associated with it as well, not just the money, but also staff time :-)

† I work with graduate students.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gamification Course | wrap-up post

Well, my first xMOOC is now complete! For this first time around in my xMOOC explorations I chose a coursera course on Gamification.  This was a good choice because the video lectures were engaging! It turns out that the instructor has a law degree, so I guess his great presentation skills are now easily explained ;-)

There were a few highlights and a few dim-lights to the course.  As far as the highlights go, as I said the video lectures were quite good! I really did enjoy listening, and seeing, the video presentations each week. Kevin Werbach was a great speaker, and while I think that the  lectures were prepared, he didn't sound like he was reading a prompter, in other words he was natural and not robotic. This made the material flow pretty well. I also liked that there were about 2 hours worth of videos each week, this feels more like a "real" course than just having some small videos to watch.  I do realize that this is discipline specific and that some disciplines have more to say in lecture format than others, but it was pretty good.  I was quite surprised that there were people that complained that there were too many videos.

The four lecture quizzes were OK. I realize that in a MOOC it is really hard to actually read through many qualitative submissions and grade them; thus multiple choice tests with robograding is better from an economic perspective, but I think that there are people that will miss the point: i.e. they will opt for the highest score even if they don't understand why they got it.  I opted to keep my original scores (which ranged from 80%-95%) and looked at the corrected responses to see what  I got wrong.

The thing that was iffy for me was the peer evaluations of the assignments, and I had two issues with them.  First, I can say that the quality of essays that I was asked to judge was variable.  Some essays were quite good (at least I thought so), and some were just bad.  I don't know if it was an issue with the academic quality of the work, if students were lazy and just going through the motions, or if the students were not native English speakers and thus lacked the language required to appropriately express themselves.

In order to address this issue I would propose that (1) students, in their coursera profile, state which languages they are proficient in, and then be allowed to write essays in those languages. That way, natives of those languages can also review that work. (2) I think that an exemplary post should be posted for each assignment that gives learners an idea of what a good essay looks like (and why).  For me it wasn't a big deal, but there were people who (for a 1500 word essay),  posted barely 300 words of (what seemed like) drunk talk :)

The assessment of my essays was also a bit of a hit or miss.  While I did get passing grades for all my essays, it seems like some people really took the time to give some constructive feedback, while others I really wondered if they had viewed and paid attention to the lectures.

Finally, speaking of lecture videos, the one big issue was that they were available on Mondays, which for me is a weekday.  It would have been more conducive to have a week start on a Saturday and end on a Sunday, that way weeks have overlap and students can do some work on the topics on the weekend.  Trying to do this during the week was not as fun as it could have been :-)

All things considered, not a bad course!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blendkit, I am flipping the tables on you!

BlendKit, prepare to have your mind blown!

OK, I am a exaggerating a bit, but I am going to come to this MOOC from a non-traditional approach. I've been thinking about the DIY activities, and I have to say that the DYI tools (4th column, DIY project deliverables) are pretty nifty; not just for blended learning, but also for instructional design purposes in general. Now, I don't think I will have a ton of time to complete all DIY deliverables; and, considering that the course I am working with is only a proposal which may, or may not become a full course†, I think it's best to not spend a whole lot of time on a specific course until it's approved to run (given other competing time issues).

In any case, my guinea pig course is a course on Mobile Learning that I developed (at least in syllabus form) in the past year. The funny thing is that I originally conceived of this course as a blended course; however due to business factors (more online students interested in taking it as compared to local students), I decided to address the course to online learners.  That said, I think it would be interesting to take an online course and turn it into a blended course. Thus not asking which on-campus activities can be undertaken online, but rather which online activities can be done in person? And, how can in-person interactions improve the online course.

Looking at the mix map, I would say that the final presentations for the course (existing item in syllabus) as well as intermediate check-in presentations for the site surveys and the technology white papers (not on syllabus) would be good face-to-face elements.  The technology white papers can have an element of show-and-tell whereby the students who wrote a white paper on a specific technology that can be used for mLearning can demonstrate in class and have a learning activity planned around this.  For the site surveys, they can present what they have found thus far for their sites that can benefit from some form of mLearning intervention and get feedback from their peers so that they can uncover things in subsequent surveys that they might have missed, or not though of.

I am trying to avoid the "course and a half" syndrome that the Sloan-C folks warned us about, so if it seems too much for one course, feel free to chime in!

Finally, one more thing that would (I think) benefit from face to face interaction is doing the site survey as a team of two or a small group of  three people. This would be a course activity modification since the site surveys are individual activities in the current syllabus.  That said, I think that if small teams undertook the site surveys, they would potentially uncover more interesting information about their sites, the learners and the information to be learned than if they were working on their own.

One last word: even though I won't use the course blueprint for this activity, I think the course blueprint is a fantastic tool because it maps course description, to course objectives, to activities in the course. My syllabus already contains all that info, and it's a standard requirement to have these items in the syllabus from our department of Graduate Studies.

So, the question is this: what will you do for your blended course?

† while writing this the "I am only a bill" schoolhouse rock came to mind ;-)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

BlendKit, Week 2 - Initial Thoughts

Yesterday I was reading the materials for Week 2 of BlenkKit, which are adapted from Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning by George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger†.  While the entire reading was quite interesting, what I latched onto were the roles of the educator in this chapter which consisted of:
  • Atelier Learning (Seely Brown, 2006)
  • Network Administrator (Fisher, nd)
  • Concierge Learning (Bonk, 2007)
  • Curatorial Learning (Siemens, 2007)
From the experiences I've had in my own personal background I can say that Atelier Learning and Curatorial Learning are what appeal to me as roles for an educator, not separate, but some combination of both.  Think of a museum and an a master artist's workshop. An apprentice might be in an artist's workshop (atelier), but at the same time, some curated work needs to be available for the apprentice to reference and learn from. This way you have some examples but you are not constrained by them.

This Week's questions to ponder also had me churning the mental cogs:

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)?
  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions?
  • What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the blended course than you have in the past?
  • What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online? 
I personally think that there is immense value in both student-student and instructor-student interactions regardless of the discipline.  The student-student interactions might feel questionable in a science and math context where the students might be seen as not having much to contribute to the subject matter, however they can contribute to tell other students how they worked out a certain problem. Thus students become resources to fellow students in shedding light in how they think about problem solving in a particular discipline, and this may be helpful.

Declarative knowledge is all fine and good, but when it comes down to it, knowledge that is disconnected easily gets misplaced (i.e. forgotten).  Thus, I think that it is helpful to enlist the help of fellow students to help create places for that declarative knowledge to latch onto so that it is not forgotten by the learner, so that it can be put to good use later on (or right away!).

I think the fact that blended learning gives students a bit more time to ponder things and post responses (or questions!) to them means that learners can have a space where they can work out processes, share information, and learn from each other, without having to rush to put in their 2c in that class session that meets once a week for 3 hours. Who knows, the guy in the last seat of the last row who barely speaks in class may have things to say that will benefit all.  Also, because people aren't competing about who's going to jump into the conversation after the current speaker stops talking, means that students will be a bit more mindful about what their peers are actually saying :-)

One last word about FERPA‡. In the readings for this week, as the authors write, the space doesn't really permit to go too much into the nuances of FERPA. The one thing, from my own personal lived experiences, is that FERPA is like the academic boogie-man, or an instrument that people use to not do something that involved technology.  If you are interested in doing something with technology, just make sure that you don't post your student's grades, email or other contact information in a public forum otherwise you will definitely get in trouble FERPA-wise.  If you are

† small note, seems like the link is dead on the BlendKit2012 site, so for the time being google it :-)

‡ Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act