Friday, May 17, 2013

Pre-vacation xMOOC thoughts // assessment and availability

In a few days I will be leaving on vacation, so I won't be MOOCing...or at least I won't be MOOing.  I have downloaded textual materials on my iPad, and I plan on getting a local SIM where I go to keep up with my RSS feeds (until Google Reader decides to kick the bucket).  I thought it would be a good idea to write a few thoughts while I have a hardware keyboard in hand.

First up, edX and the Ancient Greek Hero course that I have been following. In a previous post I had mentioned that I had fallen behind with reading of the Iliad Scrolls (the side materials for the course) and I was only keeping up with the main textbook, the Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. Week 6 and 7 were actually quite long, compared to previous weeks, in terms of reading, so I have fallen behind on that one too. It is on my iPad, so I will be completing it during my vacation.  That said I did have a lightbulb moment when I was thinking of academic rigor for MOOCs and how xMOOCs are replicating existing (campus based) course structures.

Many seem to want MOOCs to be the messiah of higher education; that they will deliver us from whatever evils (or inefficiencies) we happen to have. But I think many people are misinterpreting the strength and the potential of the MOOC.  If you have a course, with established due dates, with modules that are hidden until a certain date triggers a selective release of materials, and do-or-die assessments, why are you bothering having a MOOC?  I do think that having certain operational dates for the course is useful as an organizing principle, but the non-self-paced nature of the typical xMOOC course is giving me pause to ponder.  It is good to scaffold learners, but one of the tenets of MOOCs (at least original cMOOCs) is learner choice. xMOOCs seem to lack this.

On the converse, I'd like to talk about the Virtual Linguistics Campus MOOC on Phonetics.  I actually just completed the entire course (with a 94% average).  I am not sure the course passes the MOOC test, in that it seems very much like a self-paced course with some discussion boards being optional.   Maybe phonetics is just for us geeks and there aren't that many who want to take such a course, thus the discussion boards are not as popular :)

That said, since this course was setup as a self-paced MOOC, I had access to ALL materials since day one.  This meant that I could tackle as much, or as little, as I wanted to, just like a true original MOOC. This also meant that I could go ahead and tackle all materials before I went on vacation, I did not have to wait for someone to release the materials to me each week in a traditional fashion.  There are some things that I can critique about the VLC MOOC on Phonetics, and that is the assessment aspect.  On the one hand I really liked the assessments and exercises.  When I got to the final few lessons/modules the materials were quite tough for me.  The exercises allowed me to practice the materials, and the assessments were mastery based, which meant I could take them as many times as I need to in order to get understand the materials and demonstrate mastery.

While this allowed me to complete the course, I have a confession to make: I have yet to read all of the downloadable chapters.  I have read half of them, and half will be read while I am on vacation.  This means that the assessments were based purely on the video lectures. This is where I question the inclusion of text-based materials that come from book chapters.  While I certainly find the readings fascinating, why include them if you don't evaluate what the learners learned by reading them?

That said, I wish I could download all of the edX lectures in advance, on my iPad, so I can view them on the plane while I am on vacation. I haven't flown for years and in-flight entertainment sucked last time I flew ;-)  I'd much rather be learning :-)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

is MOOC the new "digital native"?

Last weekend one of my friends emailed me one of his Pocket readings in which the link between Second Life and MOOCs was made (i.e. is the MOOC the new Second Life?).   I must admit that I laughed at this because I never found Second Life particularly useful, whereas I do find MOOCs pedagogically intriguing.  The whole disruption aspect is up in the air still for me.

I was excited to see, yesterday, on First Monday an article on MOOC Pedagogy.  "YAY!" I thought, let's read something good!  Sadly, the article was a piece of garbage.  This isn't really a knock on the authors, well, maybe a light jab on the arm as opposed to a left hook on the face, but I do see some serious parallels between the whole Digital Natives (and other such classifications) from early 2001 to 2011 and MOOC "research" like this one.  The digital natives sideshow produced many opinion pieces that posed as research; and then these opinion pieces existed in a vast echo-chamber fueled by people who did not want to be left behind. What there was a distinct lack of, was critical thinking and critical analysis of the whole digital native (see my article titled "Digital Natives: Ten Years After" for more). Sadly, we are starting to see the same with MOOCs.

There are many flaws in this article, but I will pick apart a few.  I thin Downes today did a good job at pointing out how the research method essentially determined (biased) the outcome of the research. I will research on a few other things in the article:

The first issue is the issue of Massive.  I've already written about the Massive part in other blog posts, and in essence have come to the conclusion that Massive is relative.

There is no absolute definition of each of these characteristics, however. Even the concept of massive is open to interpretation. Although claims have been made to large registrations of up to 160,000 participants (Fazackerley, 2012), the number who complete the course is typically much lower, of the order of 5–15 percent of initial enrolees (Korn and Levitz, 2013). Realistically, in order to qualify as massive, the participation at any point during the running of the course should be large enough that it couldn’t be run in a conventional face–to–face manner.

The emphasis in this passage is added by me.  Basically the authors of this paper dismisses my basic premise that massive is relative, and gives deference to the crowd that think that face-to-face is the ultimate form of education. Thus, reading between the lines, online courses (traditional or MOOC) are really there because of space considerations. This line of thinking is flawed. The second issue revolves around open.

These courses are also free or “open"

Now, for the longest period of time I've held the line that there are degrees of openness, and I still believe that. However, I don't believe that free and open are the same thing. I believe that Open is open as in "Open Source," or  "Open Access," or  "Creative Commons." Some of these options may have a cost associated with them, and some may not.  I do think that free is usually part of the equation, but free and laden with copyright is definitely not open. It is ironic that this person does not get the difference in "open" given that "his research interests include open source software, technology and society and health informatics" (taken from the credit at the end of the article).

The justification of pedagogical benefits of MOOCs is in all likelihood teleological. The benefits have been retrofitted after the fact to a course format pioneered by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig (2012)

The authors here may have a point. Thrun and Norvig did create two platforms (Coursera and Udacity) and may have gone back to validate their pedagogy.  I personally find these two systems to be a rehash of existing learning management systems that work better with multimedia..  The main issue for me is that there is a complete ignorance of original MOOCs, cMOOCs, and what they brought to the table in terms of pedagogy. The MOOC in this article is really associated with the xMOOC and there is a lot of revisionism, and ignorance, going on.

The principle feature of MOOCs is they largely take place online. The prevailing argument is that online courses are at least as effective as face–to–face courses.

The only thing I have to say to this is "welcome to the last 15 years of research ;-)

Online learning is not without its disadvantages, however. Some researchers argue that interaction and timely feedback, are quite often absent in online instruction (El–Tigi and Branch, 1997; Olson and Wisher, 2002).It has also been widely recognized that online courses experience much higher attrition rates than classroom based courses (El–Tigi and Branch, 1997; Olson and Wisher, 2002; Merisotis and Phipps, 1999). In addition, specialised skills are required to work with the technology often resulting in sound and video production that is less than broadcast quality (Kerka, 1996). Students must also display greater learner initiative as there is less supervision than in a classroom environment and there is also the potential for online students to experience social isolation (Kerka, 1996).

I have to say, this is one of the things that made my jaw hang.  The research quoted here is quite old, and is probably referring to early online courses where people were learning by doing. I guess it's sort of similar to xMOOCs because the xMOOC folks like Thrun came from an on-campus teaching position and they decided to replicate their campus teaching environments instead of basing their MOOCs on sound online design principles that have developed in the last 15 years. In the bolded section (my emphasis added), I can say that this is blatantly wrong! Maybe the production isn't HD quality for these videos, but I have to say that, in both cMOOC and xMOOC, that use video, even Google+ Hangouts, the video quality is actually pretty good.

MOOCs are in essence a restatement of online learning environments that have been in use for some time. What is new is the numbers of participants, and the fact that the format concentrates on short form videos, automated or peer/self–assessment, forums and ultimately open content from a representation of the world’s leading higher educational institutions. This review has demonstrated that MOOCs have a sound pedagogical basis for their formats

Actually, yes and no. Your research may have pointed you to this fact, and in this aspect your conclusion is true.  However, as an instructional designer and as someone who teaches online, I can say that MOOCs are NOT a testament of online learning environments that exist as "traditional" online learning.  They are, in fact, different from a design and pedagogy perspective!  This is a failed conclusion since all of the literature review was about online learning, and the attempt was to fit the xMOOC into this frame. There is NO critical analysis of the pedagogical foundation of xMOOC, which is really online courses of the early 2000s (ie campus courses made online).

So, instead of going on and on about this, let's hear what you have to say about this :)