Monday, September 30, 2013



Call for Chapters & Illustrators: The Great Big MOOC Book (version 1.0)

Apostolos Koutropoulos (University of Massachusetts Boston).

Call for Chapters & Illustrators 
Proposals Submission Deadline: November 15th, 2013
Full Chapters Due: April 15, 2014
Revision Submission Date: August 1st, 2014

This book will explore the various aspects of MOOCs (cMOOCs and xMOOCs). It will serve as a primer into the MOOC field for professionals in the field of education, including professors, instructional designers, educational technologists, project managers, and administrators. The idea for this book came in 2011 after I had completed my first few cMOOCs, and seeing the nascent state of the field, I wanted to facilitate an open access book on the topic.  The original proposal, which got some traction but I never pursued, can be seen here:

Objective of the Book
This book will present chapters that revolve around the issues associated with the MOOCs in Higher Education, K-12, Corporate Learning, and other formal and informal learning environments.  Issues in this book can fall under the areas of Pedagogy, Design & Development, Institutional Policies, Alternative Credentialing, Teaching and learning and so on. The book aims to present chapters that are research based.  All chapters will be peer reviewed prior to acceptance to publication.

Target Audience
The anticipated audience includes researchers,  teachers, instructors, professors and senior managers in Higher Education, policy makers, open learning designers, instructional designers, open learning Universities, professional accrediting associations, and government qualification recognition bodies. 

Recommended topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
The following list is taken, as recommendation, from the initial Great Big MOOC Book Call. It should be noted that the term "MOOC" here is short hand for both cMOOC and xMOOC. The book aims to strike a balance between the two varieties of MOOCs. Chapters can include original research writing, researched position papers, articles describing the design and development of past MOOC, and lessons learned.  All chapters will be peer reviewed.

  • The History of MOOCs
  • Pedagogical Foundations of MOOCs
  • Theory and Practice of Connectivism
  • Learning Theories and MOOCs
  • MOOC Planning  and development
  • Learns Learning from MOOCs
  • Learner profiles in MOOCs
  • Learner Motivation in MOOCs
  • Learner Engagement in MOOCs
  • OCW, OER, OLI and MOOCs
  • Learner Assessment in MOOCs
  • Frameworks for MOOC Evaluation
  • Self-Organization Process in MOOCs
  • How to design a MOOC
  • MOOCs and the Language Barrier
  • MOOCs and Designing for Learner Success
  • The realization of Openness in MOOCs
  • Digital Badges and alternative credentialing in MOOCs

Submission Procedure 
Chapter contributors are invited to submit on or before November 15, 2013, a 2-3 page manuscript proposal clearly describing and explaining the topic of the proposed chapter. The proposal should include the chapter summary, table of contents, and authors’ contact information. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by December 30, 2013 about the status of their proposals and sent chapter organizational guidelines. Full chapters are expected to be submitted by April 15, 2014. All submitted chapters will be reviewed on a blind review basis. Contributors may also be requested to serve as reviewers for this project.

Individuals interested in providing illustrations for this book, please contact the book editor

This book is scheduled to be an Open Access, self-published book. Copies of the book will be hosted for free on scribdscholarworks (UMass Boston), and Contributing Authors and Illustrators are also invited to host the book on sites of their preference.  I am also planning on working with my University to sponsor the project so we can have University backing, we can get an ISBN and other resources to help expedite the publishing.

The Anticipated release of this book is December 2014 (sooner if I can ;-) )

Important Dates
November 15, 2013: Proposal Submission Deadline
December 30, 2013: Notification of Acceptance
April 15, 2014: Full Chapters Due
May 20, 2014: Review Results Returned
August 1, 2014: Final Chapter Submission

 This book will be released for free under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. Authors and Image Contributors will need to license their work accordingly in order to be compatible with this license.

Inquiries & Contact
Please direct all inquiries, chapter proposals, submissions, and so on to Apostolos Koutropoulos a [dot] koutropoulos [at] umb [dot] edu

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Badge MOOC Challenge 3: Competency Frameworks for a Badge Ecosystem

Custom is an odd name of a badge :)
Week 3 of the Mozilla Open Badges MOOC on Coursesites (half way through) and we are continuing our exploration of using badges for the #ESLMOOC. As with previous posts, the prompt of the challenge comes first followed by my thoughts on the subject.

Challenge Assignment 3: Competency Frameworks for a Badge Ecosystem
At the next level of complexity, we consider the ecosystem of five principal sets of stakeholders:
  • Learning Providers
  • Assessors
  • Job Seekers
  • Employers
  • Standards Organizations
And an additional component:
  • Badges
  • Competency Definition
Employers are governed by regulations, industry standards, and best practices. Employers need employees whose skills and competencies support and advance business objectives in accordance with these requirements.

Standards organizations get input from academic research and employers about evolving best practices, and, in turn, provide guidance, even governance, over business practices. Standards organizations in some cases define sets of competencies and the types of evidence that are valid for demonstrating these competencies. Badge system collaboration between standards organizations, learning providers, and employers can benefit all stakeholders: When badges are tied to assessments that are themselves aligned to industry standards and best practices, the likelihood of finding the right match between job seeker and employer is greatly improved. And learning providers can use these alignments to offer learning programs that better match employer requirements and offer greater value to their learners.If the ecosystem is in balance in this way, the exchange value of badges is high; when the ecosystem is out of alignment, the value of badges is low.

Based on your analysis of a current ecosystem in the prior challenges, describe how badge competencies could be defined and aligned to improve/revise/rethink the currency exchange within your ecosystem.

Outline a badge system that reflects collaboration between standards organizations, learning providers, and employers.

  1. What type or segment of employers will your badge system target?
  2. What competencies do these employers value and/or require?
  3. How are these competencies defined, and do they need improved definitions?
  4. Who maps the competencies badges? Does this mapping include stackable competencies?
  5. Is there a badge system that already maps to these competencies that could be applied or revised?
  6. Create a persona/archetype that represents a standards organization stakeholder.
  7. Write one or more “after badges” user stories depicting the value of your badge system for employer personas.

Brainstorming on Challenge 3

I have to admit that this particular challenge is challenging (no pun intended) because language proficiency is a bit of an intangible at times.  While there are considerations to keep in mind while deveoping testing and evaluation mechanisms (see CEFR manual, pg 11) I would argue that there is no standard that's etched in stone for showing, let's say something like sociolinguistic proficiency. But, on the other hand there probably area ways of being able to infer certain levels of language proficiency in phonological, orthographic and grammatical levels of proficiency. As a matter of fact it seems that most language tests I've been exposed to cover these latter three areas.

So, in thinking about who will be using these  badges, the employer segment of the population, I am thinking that in the case of #ESLMOOC the main users of the badges will be the Universities.  From an employer perspective, if a University is requiring their instructors to teach and evaluate their learners in English, then those members of the teaching staff can earn a variety of badges to showcase their expertise in English.  For new-hires to the department the hiring committee would  most likely take badges into consideration for new employees. For existing members of the Department Personnel Committee, who usually look at scholarship, professional advancement, and merit, would be using badges to evaluate how their existing teaching staff is doing with acquiring and perfecting the language used as a medium for the delivery of teaching.  As an extension to this, I would say that admissions committees in departments could look at badges earned by applicants to their program to evaluate their language skills, and thus to some extend evaluate their ability to succeed in their program.

Without doing a full needs analysis, it would be hard to really nail down what competencies specific universities look for, however since I am working for an academic department I can probably guess at some really high level needs that departments may have in terms of competencies.  In no particular order I would say that department would need their teaching staff to:
  • Possess the required academic and professional vocabulary for their discipline,
  • Speak English in an un-accented way so that students can understand lectures (especially students who don't share the same cultural background as the instructors),
  • Be able to read and comprehend academic literature in English,
  • Be able to write concisely and persuasively in English to be able to apply for grants,
  • Be able to write academic articles in English,
  • Be able to provide written and oral feedback to learners in their classroom in English.
Since language is a fuzzy thing, there aren't really concrete definition for these competencies, at least ones that I can find†. That said, I do believe that, for at least a group of professionals, let's define them as Professors of Education for this example, there can be cross-institutional definitions that are valid for defining these competencies.  For instance, accent reduction is something that employees in call centers undertake, and many actors learn other accents for specific roles in movies.  Since there are parallel professional groups undertaking this specific competency, we could look at what they are doing and how they are defining the attainment of that competency.  Professional vocabulary is something that we can also "easily" assess both through rote method (vocabulary tests), which is unimaginative and a pain, and through embedded methods, like reviewing research and professional articles written by the faculty.  Grammar and orthography can also be tested this way, and it hits on a variety of competencies mentioned above.  To do this effectively we will need to develop rubrics to assist the learners in knowing what and how they need to perform to demonstrate their competence.

As far as who's mapping the badges to competencies, that would be me and the team working on #ESLMOOC.  In all honesty I would prefer to not be the sole mapper of badge-to-competency because I do believe that one person doesn't know everything. I think that a team of MOOC designers would figure out the right mapping of badge-to-competence.  Since the MOOC creation would be a part of my potential PhD process I will have a big part in the design and implementation aspects, but I will be seeking input and feedback on the process.  I do envision the badges to stack-up.  How  much stacking will be possible will depend on the duration of the MOOC and the various opportunities learners take to engage with the material and their peers in the MOOC. At the very least, for some badges, I am thinking of a low and a high badge, where if learners demonstrate B2 level competency during Week 1, but during Week 9 (for example) they move up to C1, the B2 badge would be superseded by the C1 badge.  Depending on the categories of learning addressed by the MOOC there could also be badge collections (not necessarily leveling up) where if learners earn 3 badges from 3 different categories such as "academic writing," "professional writing," and "written student feedback" they may get a "writing maven" badge.   As of now there are no badge systems in this arena that I know of that could be adapted to our use.

The persona for the Standards Organization is kind of hard to think about and nail down. The standards organization, the Council of Europe, is looking (at least from my initial explorations on the subject) at broad generalizations with their CEFR. So, for the purposes of this brainstorming session I will make up what I think is in the mind of someone sitting on these committees coming up with these frameworks.

The name is Radek Zalenka.  Radek sits on the committee that works on the Common European Framework of Reference for Language Learning (CEFR).  Over the past years this working group has come up with the current CEFR.  The current CEFR is designed to be broad enough to be used with any language and to give evaluators general categories that they can use to peg a student's proficiency in.  While there are certain guidelines for developing evaluations, there may need to be some more sub-categories for each of the major proficiency categories. This way specifics like orthography, phonology, and sociocultural factors can be indicated separately. Since languages are different, the badge systems for the different languages may have some common aspects, and some not-so-common aspects with each other. This gives Radek pause to consider because the CEFR is generalized and that's the power behind it.  If badges are created and there is the potential of having different sets of badges for different languages, that can devolve into something completely unwieldy. Thus, Radek is entering this badge "thing" with some skepticism.

As far as "after badges" badges stories go for the employer persona, I can think of targeted support of faculty, and new incoming students to these institutions.  When someone comes in to an institution, either as a student or as a faculty member with some level of  B2, C1 or C2 proficiency that doesn't really tell us what areas they may still need some help with. After all, even some native speakers may have some issues with the register differences in the language used in certain disciplines!  By having learners earn badges for what they know, and how well they can perform, specific workshops can be designed by Professional Development or Faculty Development offices on campus to address those needs.  For example a professor may have a C2 level (Master Proficiency) in English, but have such a thick accent that it renders them incomprehensible at times, but their written elements are just fine.  If this is the case and the learners have not earned the "speak like a native" badge (just sayin'...) then workshops for accent reduction can be organized.  If  graduate students are coming in and they haven't developed that academic language in English yet, workshops can be organized around the attainment of profession-specific language for those students, so they can write and speak in a way that meets with professional expectations.

I see the after-badges aspect mostly are being able to identify target areas that need help in gaining mastery. If you do have the specific badges earned, then you should be all set to be place in the appropriate classes (for students) or the get a job (for teachers).  Your thoughts?

† quick disclaimer, I am only at the beginning of planning this MOOC. I have a ton of materials in my initial literature review, and part of it are the CEFR standards. From an initial quick look, I didn't see concrete definitions, but that doesn't mean that they aren't there.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Badge MOOC Challenge 2: Define the Currency of an Ecosystem

It's week two (of six) in the #OpenBadgeMOOC and the challenge for this week is to think about and define the Currency of an Ecosystem. As with the first blog post in this series, this thought process relates to the #ESLMOOC that I am thinking of developing as part of a potential dissertation proposal, and the writing instructions for this challenge are posted in the first part of the blog post, followed by my brainstorming.

Challenge Instructions:
Challenge Assignment 2: Define the Currency of an Ecosystem
At the next level of complexity, we consider the ecosystem of four principal sets of stakeholders:
  • Learning Providers
  • Assessors
  • Job Seekers
  • Employers
And an additional component:
  • Badges
When badges are introduced into the basic ecosystem model, we can see the decoupling of learning providers and competency/skill assessment, and “Assessors” are added to the model as another set of stakeholders. Why? Because badges are tied to assessment; badges are awarded when an individual demonstrates or provides evidence of competence. Learning providers can also be assessors, but these roles can be differentiated.

Assessors are responsible for valid and reliable assessments. In other words, assessors must ensure the assessment activities accurately reflect the targeted competencies, and that they do so consistently, regardless of who the job seeker is. When an assessment is successfully completed, the assessor issues a badge to the job seeker in recognition of that individual’s competence, and the now-badge holder adds that badge to his/her identity through a badge backpack or other methods of storing and displaying badges.

The means by which an individual acquired targeted competencies is not necessarily relevant to an employer. Two benefits derive from this:
  • Many different learning providers can offer pathways to the same skills/competency assessment. Often, assessors also offer courses or other learning opportunities that support learners/job seekers looking to undertake assessments.
  • Assessment can be linked to formal/traditional education as well as to non-traditional learning situations.
Further, the constellation of badges in a badge holder’s backpack recognizes both a broader range of skills and competencies than can be acquired through a traditional learning program, and more detail about the badge holder’s skills and competencies are communicated than through a traditional diploma and transcript with end-of-course grades.

Assessors as a role that can be differentiated from learning providers add a useful dimension to our analysis of our ecosystem, one that helps us articulate the exchange value of valid competency assessment. Implied in this new dimension is the premise that badges can improve the value exchange in an ecosystem. To consider this possibility, we first need to understand how the “currency,” exchange value, of the ecosystem currently works. For the ecosystem you defined in Challenge 1,
  1. How are competencies defined in your industry or community of practice, and by whom?
  2. What are the learning frameworks that guide learners toward achieving the competencies?
  3. Who assesses learners’ competencies? What evidence documents learners’ competencies, and who has access to this evidence? Can individuals assert competence without having undertaken a learning program, e.g., through tests or prior learning evaluation?
  4. How are learners’ competencies recorded?
  5. Who are the consumers of the records of competence?
  6. Outline the shortcomings and strengths of the current currency exchange in this ecosystem.
  7. Create a persona/archetype that represents an assessor stakeholder. This could be articulated as an additional role for your learning provider persona from Challenge 1.
  8. Elaborate on your “before badges” user stories from Challenge 1 to include more detail about the current state of the currency exchange.

Brainstorming Begins for Challenge #2

It's pretty hard to try to enumerate all possible entities that define competencies in English as a Second Language because there isn't one entity, but rather many different entities.  For example, there are four types of tests (at least) that can vouch for a person's competency such as the TOEFL, IELTS, Michigan and Cambridge Exams.  When thinking about Europe, there is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages put together by the Council of Europe, and in the US you have the ACTFL National Standards. The Cambridge exam harmonizes with the CEFR standards.  For the purposes of this project (#eslmooc) I will be focusing on the CEFR, and if time permits I might draw parallels to ACTFL as well. The reason to pick these two is because they are, technically, language agnostic, so it may be able to generalize any research findings (beyond the application of badges for this project) to other Language Learning MOOCs.

Now, as far as learners go, learners are scaffolded by teachers in both private and public school settings.  The goal, in addition to acquiring the language, is to also be able to pass tests like the Cambridge and Michigan tests to be able to demonstrate proficiency in the language. Ways to scaffold learner's understanding and usage of the language include written, read, oral and aural modes of communication. Depending on the educational setting these might be integrated with one another, or separated into distinct units. Some instructors may have the academic freedom to structure their course in any way they see fit, while others may have to follow mandated state or national standards for language teaching, mandated curricula, or even ways of teaching. There seems to be quite a variety in this area.

Evaluation of learners is actually more disintermediated from instruction, or so it seems to me. While private language institutes, where learners take the first steps in learning a language, can be accredited or provisioned to run such examinations and ultimately evaluate them, there are other organizations that can offer learner evaluation such as the British Council and Private Testing Centers where the only thing they do is testing. Thus, it is conceivable that someone can, without having undergone formal instruction, go and take this proficiency test.  Since I have not taken, or administered such tests my experience comes from friends and acquaintances that have taken or administered them.  There seems to be both a written component to such test, as well as a verbal/interactional component, sometimes in the form of an interview.

It seems to me, being on the outside, that learner competencies are most likely recorded internally by grading the written exams, and perhaps through interlocutor notes (in the cases of interactional portions of the examinations) so that internally there is some record. Externally, I've seen people who've passed such exams get a certificate of some sort indicating the date that they took the test, their final grade, and the type of test that they passed. These records can then be presented to employers or schools as a demonstration of competency in the language.

There are some deficiencies that I can see in this system. First, and foremost, it seems to me that, like most standardized tests, learners who want to demonstrate their abilities they will most likely need to take some exam-prep workshop, or read a book about it, or take practice tests in order to pass the test.  Sometimes it seems like in cases like these simply demonstrating your knowledge is not enough.  You really need to learn how to "beat the test."

A second shortcoming, for me, is the ability to communicate in different environments. When you pass one of these examinations it doesn't necessarily prove that you can communicate successfully in a specific field. For example, a field might have specialized vocabulary or  ways of writing and communicating that such a generalized test might not take into account.  It also seems that the final grade for passing is a conglomeration of the various mode of communication (listening, speaking, writing), instead of breaking things down, thus it seems that it may make sense to break up this monolithic grade to a more nuanced breakdown of skills and levels in those skills.

The assessor persona in this case is has two potential options: Someone who was a teacher, but is also an assessor by virtue of having their language school certified to be an assessor; or the assessor can be someone who has never taught the learner and is only there to assess them.  Here are two specific personas for these two cases:

Leon Broznic:  Leon, as we saw in the previous blog, has been contracted by the University of Milan to get their faculty up to speed, as far as English Language Skills go, for teaching their subjects in English. In addition to his teaching roles he also has a contract job every so often to evaluate candidates who are taking the English Proficiency Examination through the local Private Language School. Since Leon also teaches, some of the candidates taking this exam are some of his former students.  Since Leon has taught them before, if he had known that they were planning on taking the exam, he would have laid down some of the foundations for being successful in such exams. Leon administers and evaluates both the written portion of the exam and the interview (aural/oral exam) parts. From an evaluation part, Leon sometimes wishes that he could give more than just a Pass/Fail evaluation for certain aspects of the exam because his former students find him after the exam is over and ask specifically how they could improve. Since the final documentation is a certificate, it doesn't give the learner an idea of specific strengths and weaknesses. Leon would like some standardized token to show that certain aspects of the exam were attained with High, Low or Mid-Mastery and where they could improve.

Shannon Henry: Shannon works for the British Council and conducts only the examination portions of these proficiency exams. Shannon does not teach. She is usually seen by exam takers as an unknown person, and this raises some of their anxieties that they might have over the exam itself. Like Leon, she sometimes wishes that he could give more than just a Pass/Fail evaluation for certain aspects of the exam because exam takers who don't do well in all parts (and thus not pass) could potentially do well in some parts of the exam. By getting some sort of checkpoint for the parts that they have mastered, they can go and practice what they didn't do so well one.  When the exam candidate comes back for a test re-take they can focus only on the areas they needed to show improvement, and not things that they already had mastered. This could, potentially, cut down on the amount of time it takes to grade exams that are re-take exams, but where the learners already demonstrated mastery in some parts of the exam.

Before Badges, as I wrote above, you have one monolithic certificate which is really a summing up (an average perhaps) of all the components that go into the assessment.  Like a final grade for a course this doesn't really tell the employer or school how well a learner has mastered certain skills.  The parallel to a course grade would be that the learner may have done really well in the first 10 weeks of but slacked off the last two.  He still would receive an "A", but those skills in the last two weeks may be under-developed (or not developed at all). I see badges as a potential way to further show the specific levels and skills that a learner has demonstrated through some sort of assessment, so if for example a job or academic appointment requires better writing at the advanced level than speaking and interacting with the public, then an earned badge would be able to give you that information more readily than an "A" on a certificate. I guess this would be something along the lines of a micro-credential :-)

That's it for Week 2 (for now).  Your thoughts?  Any areas in this badge process where there is room for improvement (or are there people with dissenting views?)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MOOCs to the rescue! (in lowering tuition)

I wish I could find a caricature of a personification of a MOOC as a super hero. It would fit really well in this post :)  I was recently reading a news item on the washington post titled The Tuition is Too Damn High, Part IX: Will MOOCs save us?

I have to say that it's amazing to me that Khan Academy is still included in the MOOC category even though Khan Academy isn't really about MOOCs.  That said, who knows, maybe in the future Khan Academy might turn into a MOOC-shop in the future (if they see money in it).

Anyway, the point of this post is really about the flipped classroom model, and not about MOOCs.  Sure, the Washington Post talks about MOOCs as a potential savior for Universities and Student's wallets but what the article really is talking about is using MOOC content as a way to flip the face to face classroom; and this has nothing to do with MOOCs. It seems to me that if we didn't have money, time, energy, and/or the will to create resources for our flipped classrooms before what makes us think that we will have any (or all) of those now?  Even if we do create flipped classrooms (which I think is a grand idea), how does this address the issue of cost?

It seems to me that we have this excitement and fear about the MOOC.  Some people are probably chanting The University is Dead. Long Live the MOOC. And others are probably getting their pitch forks and going after that MOOC Demon. The big question is why aren't we really looking for some in-between road? And, why should MOOC resources be used to fill in for deficiencies in campus courses?  What we ought to be doing is some proper instructional design, and if MOOC resources fit the bill (and are free and open), then by all means use them. But, you shouldn't base your course solely on what's available free and open in a MOOC.  That is, potentially, a recipe for disaster.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discussion forums in MOOCs are counter-productive...well, sort of...

The other day I was reading this blog post on why MOOC forums are counter-productive.  I was really thinking hard about this and my initial inclination is to agree. Forums, in MOOCs, are counter-productive. But, as with most things in life, there is a big asterisk here.

If we look at how MOOCs are setup, and by MOOC here I mean xMOOC since that's what most people think of, the discussion board is one big crazy mess. Coursera has done something interesting in crowdsourcing thread relevancy by allowing people to up-vote or down-vote threads, but at their core these discussions are setup like every other discussion forum out there in traditional education: There usually is a prompt that people will answer, and answers can be repetitive as well, so when you are the 1000th poster to a question prompt and you see that others have answered something similar to your answers, what is the motivation to wade through many, many, many similar answers in order to find the subtle contextual variations?

I do remember one MOOC's discussion forum that was pretty awesome - and that was MobiMOOC 2011 (a cMOOC).  What made the discussion forum awesome was that people were able to use it an an incubator to ask questions and engage with the materials with few prompts. This way, when people responded to the prompts, they weren't all answering the same question (thus not that much repetition), and for the most past alike threads stayed together, instead of having a lot of similar threads all over the place and displacing the discussion in many different spots.

I remember CFHE12 where they used Desire2Learn as their Open LMS.  This was a disaster, as far as I am concerned.  The "introduce" yourself thread was unnecessary, a hold over from traditional online education meant to build community became a crazy gargantuan thread where people spoke out-loud about who they were with few people bothering to read other people's intros.  The community building aspect of the introductory thread needs reconceptualization in the MOOC world.  I think, for the most part, we've dealt with this issue over the last year, but I still see "introduce yourself" threads in MOOCs that make me cringe :)

As I am thinking about the engagement elements of #eslmooc I am thinking about the discussion forum and what role it can or will play in the MOOC. I don't like the LMS discussion forums, they are not built for scale, and they fall short on many elements needed to engage large audiences.  If your MOOC suddenly becomes a Massive Mostly-Lurkers Online Course traditional discussions forums can work, but not if you plan on engaging many of your signed up participants.  My initial thought is that the discussion forum can be an agora where people can share learning tips, tips for writing, pronunciation and being a successful learner.  I think that language production, will most likely, be not in a discussion forum.

Your ideas?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Badge MOOC Challenge 1: Define a Current Ecosystem

Who am I?
** Updated on 9/19 with more detailed personas**

Well, I will try to stay regular with these Mozilla Badge MOOC challenges (goal is it get them our each Saturday so I don't fall behind and other things get in the way).  I've decided that for the Badge Challenge I will start brainstorming on the topic of my ESL MOOC, that topic that's been floating in my mind as a potential PhD Dissertation topic.  These, of course, may change while I further process the topic, but someone's gotta start somewhere.

Prompt for the challenge (scroll down for my contribution):
Define a Current Ecosystem
At a basic level, we consider the ecosystem of three principal sets of stakeholders:
  • Learning Providers
  • Job Seekers
  • Employers
Traditionally, we have viewed these three principal sets of stakeholders as having a fairly simplistic, linear relationship: Traditional higher education institutions and other types of learning providers (e.g., trade schools) impart knowledge and skills to learners and issue credentials. Learners cum job seekers take their credentials to employers, who use job seekers’ transcripts and other work/life experiences to ascertain whether job seekers are suitable for employment.

Facilitating change begins with articulating where we are and what problems need solutions. Are employers getting the information they need, at the right level of specificity, to make good hiring decisions? Do current linear models (learning provider =>; job seeker => employer) provide good through-put? Are job seekers getting the value they need out of their education investments?

Consider an industry or community of practice where you anticipate that badges could have a positive impact. Describe the ecosystem of this industry or community and provide an overview of how it currently works. Describe the roles of the primary stakeholders in this ecosystem: learning providers, job seekers, and employers.Create personas/archetypes that represent each of the stakeholders.
Write one or more “before badges” user stories that articulate specific problems or areas needing improvement in this ecosystem.

Brainstorming on this challenge:
So the community that I am considering deploying badges to is an ESL learning community.  This, as I wrote above, is tied into a Language Learning MOOC (ESL MOOC) that I am considering building, running, and studying and analyzing for a potential dissertation.  I have picked the tag #eslmooc for this. Now, with language, a piece of paper that describes your skills in the language almost doesn't matter.  It may open some doors, as far as human resources or graduate admissions departments are concerned, but once you step through to the workplace or into your program of study, if you can't produce you can immediately be spotted and pointed out.

Teaching language does vary in depending on level (low, intermediate, high), country, and provider.  For example, when I was growing up in Greece we were taught French in elementary and middle school at my school district.  We also had the ability to attend private language schools for English, Spanish, French, Italian and German.  Those were the prevalent languages back then.  Now you you can probably find Russian and Chinese as well. During those years you could take exams (sort of like the TOEFL) in a variety of languages.  The TOEFL wasn't big when I was a kid, the two big English test were the "Michigan" and the "Cambridge". If you passed these two "Proficiency" exams you were considered capable of using the language.  While those still exist, there is Common European Framework for assessing language proficiency that is language agnostic.

Learners, thus, learn language skills in public schools or private schools, they take standardized tests using this common framework for assessment in Europe (or TOEFL in the US), and their certificates of proficiency at the various levels are accepted by employers or schools of higher education where these learners are applying. This is the environment in which the ESL MOOC will operate in, and where the badges will fit in.

There are three basic personas here in this ecosystem:

  1. The Learners: These are the people that attend courses.  Some courses are compulsory, such as those in K-12 language environments, and some are potentially optional, like those in private language schools.  The motivation of the learners does vary a lot.  There are learners who:
    1. don't know why they are bothering to learn another language, usually found in compulsory education; 
    2. know they need to be educated in another language but they have their reservations. Motivation for these learners can be positive or negative depending on what else is happening in their lives;
    3. who are interested in the subject matter and really want to excel regardless of immediate benefits that they may have.
  2. The Teachers: These are people who also vary a lot.  Some are in private schools while others in public.  Some are doing it because they love the discipline while others are doing it just for the pay-check.  Depending on the country, school district, or educational environment they are in they may have broad latitude to present materials and use evaluations of their own design to evaluate their learners; or they may be forced to use standardized tests. In cases like the Michigan, Cambridge and TOEFL exams, these are standardized by external entities.
  3. The Employers/Admissions Committees: These are people who either employ (or accept students to academic programs) that take previous evaluations of learners, conducted by the Teachers, to admit these students into academic programs, or hire them for open positions. In both instances the positions for academic programs or jobs are limited, and thus hiring managers or admissions committees need to make sage decisions about who their admit/hire. A bad admissions or bad hire does have repercussions down the line, and sometimes serious ones. Thus, there is a broad trust associated with the work that Assessors do further up-stream.

To expand a bit on the personas, here are some specific sample personas for our Language Learning Ecosystem:
The Learner: Meet Mario Andretti (no, not that Mario Andretti!). Mario is an Italian Graduate Student who applying to schools outside of Italy.  Mario loves languages and he has been studying English since he's been in elementary school and take the opportunity to skype with his relatives in the US and Canada to practice his English.  He has taken English language classes in public school, but has never needed to really prove that he "knew" the language. Being able to interact well in English language environments, including on websites, has been good enough for him.  Now, in order to  get into graduate school, he needs to prove his level of mastery in English to be accepted into school. Mario does not work, but he plans on being a full time student at a school in the West Coast.  He is particularly keen on getting into NYU or Harvard. Since admissions period is coming up, he really needs to get into gear and prepare for this language proficiency exam,a nd take is soon, or he risks not being considered for graduate studies this year.

The Learner: Meet Stella D'Agostino. Stella is an Italian Professor at the University of Milan where the language of instruction is slowly changing from Italian to English.  Stella has had the required compulsory education of English, as well as having done some studies abroad which helped her develop her verbal language skills. Since there is a shift coming at her university she would prefer to be able to demonstrate that she has sufficient mastery of English to teach and provide feedback to her learners in English, instead of taking time to go to unnecessary classes.   Her time would be better spent on research and publishing and honing those skills that she has some deficiencies in. She does not need to go to the entire course in English to accomplish her goals. Stella is also the type of person who is impatient with sitting in a course where she already knows the material, so it would be better to not force learners such as Stella into courses that they don't need, but develop a evaluation instrument to not only showcase granularly what she can do, but can also place her in appropriate mastery courses.

The Teacher: Lawson Blake is an Australian ESL teacher.  He lives in Milan and has been contracted by the University of Milan to help bring their professors up to speed with teaching in English.  On his spare time he is also a freelance ESL teacher helping students prepare for examinations such as the Cambridge exam. While Lawson is a very patient teacher, he really dislikes wasting people's time when they are in a course (his) when they don't need to be. He is familiar with the European Framework and wishes he were able to strategically target the areas that learners have actual need to improve in, instead of making them sit through the entire language training seminars that he runs. He would like to be able to have an instrument that is granular enough that lets campus administrators know the level of their professors proficiencies in a variety of ways, including things such as written language, academic discipline language proficiency, spoken ability, listening comprehension, and understandability (accent and cadence related).

The Admissions Committee: Leon Broznic is a Professor in the Sociology Department of NYU.  He is one of three members of the admissions committee of his department. Along with other academic requirements, like previous GPA and letters of recommendation, he is looking at the language proficiency of incoming candidates for their MA in Applied Sociology.  The program is very competitive because they only accept 10 students every year into their program. This program is rigorous in that it requires a lot of high level reading each week, and the courses are styled as small seminars so that learners interact a lot with one another and their professors.  As such, a high level of language ability is really critical to the success of learners.  The program accepts IELTS and TOEFL scores, but what they've found out, through past experience, is that these scores aren't always good indicators of language ability for their field. He wishes that there were other ways, more detailed, that learners had to demonstrate their capacity for academic language. Some of these tools might be testing for grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary, but not necessary for the ability to comprehend (at a basic level) academic texts - a skill crucial in a graduate sociology course. Leon, is a patient professor and has worked with international students to improve their language ability while in the program, once certain issues crop up, but he wishes he knew the various levels of proficiency of students before they were accepted so appropriate support mechanisms can be put in place pro-actively and make sure that they are tailored to the learner.

Thinking of a before badge story isn't that hard.  I recently heard on NPR that Universities around the world are switching their language of instruction, at least for graduate programs, to English (either quickly or slowly) in order to remain globally competitive and to better prepare their graduates for jobs both within their own country but also for jobs outside of their own borders. While this has been met with some skepticism, the way to accomplish this switch to English as the language of instruction is to train the professors who teach those languages. This includes both advanced English skills (akin to C2 mastery of English using the European Framework) and the acquisition of language specific to their own discipline, so in a sense those learners will be learning the lingo of their profession in another language.  

Right now I am not sure what sort of certification there exists in this area, but I can see badges as playing a role in making specific skills more transparent, instead of just saying "C2 level proficiency." The NPR story was focusing on the University of Milan, so perhaps there is the potential of having a sample size to test this MOOC on Italian professors from there.

I do think that there are obstacles here with badges and alternative credentials like badges.  The one thing that is big is acceptance.  TOEFL, Michigan and Cambridge tests carry a lot of weight.  Perhaps internal training where the trainers are vetted by the higher-ups at the University also carry a lot of weight, but badges earned in a MOOC may have some hard time getting traction in a field so inculcated in the notion of the degree or certificate, such as higher education. Even if some of the badges correspond to C2 proficiency categories, I am wondering how widely accepted such language proficiency badges may be.

So what do you think?  Anything else I should be keeping in mind at this stage? This can be either MOOC related, or Badge related.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Semester, New MOOCs

Well, new semester, new experimentation with xMOOCs (I didn't see any cMOOCs on the docket this fall).  I decided to try out a few MOOCs on subjects that are interesting to me, as always, while I try to find my way toward a potential dissertation proposal.

The first two MOOCs are on coursera and they are "Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative" from Vanderbilt and "Video Games and Learning" from University of Wisconsin - Madison.  Video Games and Learning begins next month, so I have some time to take in Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative before that one starts.

Right off the bat, I see that Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative has two tracks, a "regular" and a "distinction" track. The difference in the distinction track is that you have to participate online in the LOTRO MMORPG (free) and to complete three peer reviewed exercises.  My time is limited this semester so starting a new RPG when I am already invested in Star Trek Online is a bit too much for me. I'd like to engage (and get that nice little distinction mark), but in all honesty the "distinction" for this course is just "regular" activities in other Coursera courses, so why bother? :)

This brings me to the first "issue" with certificates.  Sure, they might not be particularly worth something at the moment, but at some point those "with distinction" might matter. Also, sure, these are all offered on the coursera "LMS" but they are from different institutions.  You still see the "coursera" logo on the the certificate very prominently (not the University logo), so it would make sense that "Certificate of Accomplishment" and "Certificate of Accomplishment with Distinction"  is standardized somehow.

In any case, those are the two coursera courses on the docket.  The other two are the Mozilla Badge MOOC offered through coursesites, and the Virtual Linguistics Campus MOOC on Pragmatics.  When I was a linguistics student we did a quick overview of Pragmatics, so my knowledge is limited, thus I wanted to expand upon it a bit.  This MOOC sounds perfect! The Phonetics & Transcription MOOC that they ran last spring was pretty interesting. It felt more like a self-paced course, so I am wondering if they've tweaked their formula or if they are going for the European model of education that focuses on reading periods and lectures instead of what we see in the US.

The badges MOOC sounds pretty interesting, but this first week was a little underwhelming. It seemed that the "MOOC" consists of weekly hour-long webinars, along with suggested readings around a certain topic. Until I started poking around a bit only to find out that the groups and the activities were hidden away (not on the main menu) Hmmm... Let's see how this goes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Awarding the right thing

scavenged image
I am not sure where I found this blog post (probably through an RSS feed somewhere), but I am glad it came my way.  In his initial reflections on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC, this author talk about feeling a bit patronized by earning certain badges. It's like you can't take two steps before someone throws a badge at you and tells you that you're awesome ;-)

A while back, when I was doing some research into motivation by means of awards for a paper I was working on, I did find that there wasn't (yet) that much research on badging. There was, however, a lot of psychology related research on motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the affects that rewards and reward mechanisms had on motivation, and specifically motivation to learn.  There were some pretty cool findings (must find articles to post references at some point).  While I don't remember everything off the top of my head, I do remember that motivation is quite a complex thing. There is no silver bullet that will work for everyone when it comes to motivation and reward mechanisms.  What I do remember, from a video-game perspective, is that game designers do award some limited badges for certain things like completing the tutorial (this way players have gotten some instruction on how to play the game), and for certain check-points in the game (like reaching the end of a chapter or module and completing it with a satisfactory performance). Other than that, rewards tend to be more specific in that the gamer has to go out of his way to pursue and complete that goal, like putting 100 enemies to sleep with a tranquilizer dart.  

If you over-indulge games (and learners) in really basic rewards, they get hooked on easy rewards, and they don't necessarily want to pursue harder to reach goals, which give them a reward.  Thus some easy targets at the beginning mean that rewards wet the pallet of the gamer (or learner) to want to continue to pursue certain goals.  I'm thinking that the way Hyperlinked Library has implemented the badging system might mean that badges may lose some value because of the over-saturation of easily accomplished tasks.  I would be quite curious to know what learning design parameters were for the design and implementation of these badges.

That said, I am quite curious to see people experimenting with alternative credentialing and badges.  I really hope that people support the Mozilla Open Backpack and we get some interesting data to work with. In some cases we will have a glut of badges, for no good reason, but it's a learning experience.  What are your ideas for badge-worthy tasks in a course? [Tasks that can be done in any course]

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Say hello to SMOC (another pointless acronym ;-) )

A Smock
The other day an article came across my radar with the title "Don't Call it a MOOC." Well, of course, I really had to read it because it kind of sounds like MOOC is an insult, so don't insult a course by calling it a MOOC ;-) As if MOOC isn't a bad enough acronym, UT-Austin somehow found a worse one, SMOC (pronounced "smock").  So, what is this SMOC, other than a poor, and unnecessary acronym?

Basically, what it boils down to a SMOC (synchronous massive online course) is nothing more than a live webcast of two rockstar professors in a television studio.  I really fail to see where the innovation is, considering the fact that what you really have here is the digital equivalent of sitting in a 1000-seat auditorium, in a face to face introductory course. Sure, they say they have tutors for "small" groups of students, but, as a commenter on the article points out, that is still around 80 students per assistant.  Even then, it's not a professor but a graduate assistant, a former student in the course.

One of the two rockstar professors commented that:
“The cons of a MOOC is that you take away a sense of intimacy, a sense of community, a sense of a simultaneous, synchronous experience,” Gosling said.
I am actually wondering how intimate a group it can be between a group of 80 students per graduate assistant.  On top of that, I have a gut feeling that these guys have never attempted to MOOC themselves, or did the cursory try to say that they've tried it, but didn't really give it a go.  I have had MOOCs (granted mostly cMOOCs fall in this category) where the learning environment felt intimate and I got to know my peer learners.  I guess the misunderstanding comes in when Gosling (superstar #2) says that "In that sense, running the course as a traditional MOOC would be more efficient", I guess traditional in this sense means xMOOC. I don't know how xMOOCs can be "traditional" considering they didn't originate the concept.  I would certainly call them "mainstream," but not traditional.

Another thing that is a little disconcerting is this quote:
“I think we were influenced predominantly by this mix of Jon Stewart and 'The View' or Jay Leno,” said James W. Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at UT-Austin.
All of these shows are, at their core, entertainment.  Sure, it's fun to include some elements of "fun" in your course (you don't want to be a bore), but I am failing to see the pedagogical connections between the exemplar shows, and sound pedagogy.  Now, granted, MOOCs are experimental, so we should take as many opportunities to be guinea pigs as we possibly can, so we can learn something from it.  But, it seems to me that there is (or at least there ought to be) research into distance education emanating from previous synchronous distance learning experiments, satellite and television learning programs, and so on.

Finally, I think that institutions seem to be focusing on the wrong type of "massive"
To ensure that students don’t treat the class as a static broadcast, the class will be split into smaller pods monitored by former students, who essentially work as online TAs. The pods will remain static throughout the semester, giving students a core group of classmates to chat with during the lectures.
It seems that the "massive" that institutions are aiming for is the type where one can say "look at how much my IT infrastructure can hold!"...or better yet "mine is bigger than yours." The thing that made "massive" in MOOC such an interesting thing was not just the IT side of things (I admit, I find it interesting given my background) but also the fact that learners can pick from a vast pool of peers to engage with.  I have no problem with recommending peers to follow and engage with, after all some people need that.  But, it seems wrong and counterproductive to keep pods static and segregated in a massive environment.

Your thoughts?

Monday, September 2, 2013

MOOCs in Higher Education - Must resist feeding trolls...

Happy Labor Day everyone!

The other day I was going through my two Learning Solutions Magazine articles to see if there were any comments (Part 1 and Part 2 here) that I might be able to address.  I think it's great when people engage with the reading material on the web in a constructive way, it helps everyone expand their knowledge a little. That said, the comments weren't that many, and they were from a while back, so I thought I would address them here.

Comment 1
I'm not sure how you can say that "MOOCs first appeared in 2008." Remove the word "online" from MOOC and you have International Correspondence Schools.

I think the underlying current of this comment is "everything old is new again." Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone is claiming that MOOCs are this whole new genesis that came from nothing and is here to change the world like nobody's business. However, one can't dismiss that this current form of online learning, an experimental one at that, is not new.  The term MOOC was coined by Cormier in 2008 so I, and others, can claim it started in 2008.  If you look at the initial wikipedia entries for MOOC, that we started developing in 2011 as part of a MOOC, there were some things called pre-MOOCs that certainly lead up to the cMOOC we know today, but one can't claim direct lineage from Correspondence Schools.

If you do, online learning is nothing more than a glorified correspondence school, which I think it a gross miscategorization. You can't just ignore the "online" bit.  The "online" bit gives the course certain affordances that aren't there otherwise. These are simplistic examples, but things like discussion forums, and peer-to-peer assistance, and peer to peer learning are just not possible unless there is a cohort near by and you can arrange for some face to face meetings.  Even then, it's not the same. Learning does not happen with one master to many pupils.  It's certainly a model, but it may not be the most appropriate model.  Don't get me wrong, peer-to-peer learning isn't always the best either, but we need to come to terms with the idea that there are more knowledgeable peers/others out there, and we need to employ to most appropriate "other" at the appropriate times.

Comment 2
Prior to on-line there was difficulty in presenting massive or free (open) courses due to cost, and time required to get information from one place to another. Although radio based courses were going on for decades.
However I find the use of c and x a kind of jargon. Before there was connectivism there was student-centered learning where students determined content and before instructivism there was instructor-centered learning, where instructors determine content. Both of these are millennial old ideas, packaged in new words that spell checks don't recognize. 

Just like correspondence schools, I am also a bit far removed from Radio based distance education courses. The most immediate analog I can think of are courses I saw on PBS when I was in High School in the mid-to-late 90s. The cost is certainly one thing, but television/satellite and radio (I suppose).  Now that said, this medium (broadcast) does address the cost issues of photocopying and distributing via mail, but it still does not address the peer-to-peer aspect of MOOCs (well, the cMOOCs at least).  I have often described coursera, udacity and edx (the xMOOC poster boys) as a television distance education course with discussion forums because of their sage on the stage approach to MOOCs.  I am not sure that this is totally appropriate given the online medium's capabilities, but I am sure that there are applications where this is indeed the right course of action, or something similar to it anyway.

MOOC, cMOOC, xMOOC may be jargon. Actually, they are jargon to those outside the experimental world of MOOCs. That said, I disagree that we already have terms that map directly onto these new terms.  Student-Centered does not directly map onto "connectivist," and "student centered" is someone else's jargon. The ideas are not as old as dirt.  If they were, we'd be out of a job. We would have discovered everything there is to discover and we'd hang up our robes, go to the beach and enjoy an Mai Tai.  We are, or should be, exploring new ideas and refining our understanding of how things work, and how we can improve upon them.  Ideas, as I wrote above, are not new, but they are refinements on what has come up in the past.  Refinements are not the same thing as the original.

Comment 3
". . . facilitating a MOOC is different from both of them. The medium is experimental and instructors do need to adapt their teaching."
You are using the words "facilitating" and "teaching" interchangeably. When you are discussing MOOCs, you really need to stick to using "facilitating" because there isn't any teaching involved.
Teaching is NOT information dissemination which is the premise behind a MOOC. Teaching is about interaction and cyclical feedback mechanisms.
You discuss the lack of formal assessment practices in MOOC beyond the standard mastery completion of T/F, MC quizzes. I would highly recommend that you consider revising your definitions of mastery and assessment. When was the last time you were asked a multiple choice question in the "real world?" (Sorry I'm not providing you with choices to answer that.)
When authentic assessment mechanisms with extrinsic feedback become the norm, then you can recommend that we "go forth and MOOC."
Good catch!  Yes, I do interchange the titles between teaching and facilitating.  Why?  Because, in my opinion, the role of facilitator and that of a teacher are one in the same. The course, xMOOC or cMOOC, does start off with some structure, and there are weekly knowledge experts that teach some aspect of the course.  That said, those teachers are not the end-all-be-all of the course.  The teacher does slip into the role of facilitator as everyone in the MOOC comes together to learn.  Thus, going back to the more knowledgeable other/peer (Vygotsky) that I mentioned above, we have a setup where teachers go into teaching or facilitating roles depending on the need of the MOOC.  That said, even in campus-based courses, I don't know if we can just have one without the other.  I see both terms as different sides of the same coin.  Feel free to disagree with me (and provide evidence), but that's my view for now.

Now, I disagree with the assertion that the premise behind MOOCs is information dissemination.  Anyone who claims this has not been in cMOOC, or has not actively participated in a well-designed xMOOC. I am not sure how to remedy this for you anonymous commenter, other than to say: "try being a student in a MOOC and participate." That said, I've had quite a few courses, both graduate and undergraduate where the point of the course seemed to be information dissemination. It may have not been intended as just a method of disseminating information, but that's how it felt from a participant's perspective.  This was especially true in Mathematics courses. Those courses lacked the interactions and cyclical feedback mechanisms you describe as part of your rubric for what teaching is, whereas I had those in certain MOOCs, like FSLT12 and OLDSMOOC for example.

Finally, as far as assessment goes, dear anonymous, you should double check what Mastery Grading is.  Mastery grading is not incompatible with the way that some xMOOCs are currently setup up.  If you are allowed to take a quiz virtually unlimited amount of times until you get a satisfactory grade (or until you plateau) you are essentially given many opportunities to demonstrate how well you know the materials (how well you've "mastered" it).  To answer your question, when was the last time I saw multiple choice tests in the real world:  I had a few graduate courses that used MC tests as part of a final evaluation. Now the best way to test student's knowledge, but I did experience this in a brick and mortal school.  Even outside of school, think about exams like the PMP, CAPM and other professional certification exams.  All of those are MC tests. Just saying...  A

As a side note, this last comment seemed rather aggressive, argumentative, ignorant, and a bit like it was coming from a troll. I don't know if this was the intent; or if this was a "get off my lawn" comment; or something else like someone just had a bad day.  I'll chalk it up to the lack of context, and paralinguistic features that text in general has. I generally don't respond to trolls, but just in case this was an earnest comment, I thought I should write a response.

Your thoughts?