Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 MOOC Learnings

Apple's Clarus the cowdog;
and his "moof" 'bark
Well, it's the end of 2013 and it's been a MOOC-kinda year, so before I head off for a small break (which is probably going to involve a lot of MOOCing), I thought I should write a summative post for my year's exploits in MOOCs.

2013, other than it being the year of the Anti-MOOC (according to some) was really the year of the xMOOC for me.  I participated in a lot of xMOOCs and got to see how different organizations had different takes on how to approach courses that are online and have, potentially, a large amount of participants.  Most of my MOOC experiences were coursera based (it seems like they are at the top of the hill at the moment), but I did expand my horizons by taking a course on EdX on the Ancient Greek Hero, a Harvard course, and a couple of courses through the Virtual Linguistics Campus which are courses offered through the Philipps-Universität Marburg. The VLC, interestingly enough got an award for Excellency in Higher Education for 2013, which makes me wonder how MOOCs fit into that award.

The thing with all of these three MOOC providers is that they all had pretty much the same formula: view videos, take some quizzes, and maybe participate in discussions.  In coursera I did the bare minimum for discussions, in edX I did none, and in the VLC I basically participated for troubleshooting purposes.  This just brings me back to the notion of engagement, and how MOOCs, done at the institutional level, really fail to engage.  The VLC folks I'll give a pass to for one reason: it seems to me that the european tradition centers around mostly lecture, so in essence the VLC folks made their paid materials open-access and continued on with the same approach as they had in the past in their traditional courses.  With coursera and edx, being in the US, while we come from that lecture tradition, we do tend to change things around and attempt new things to engage our learners.  It seems wrong to me to replicate that lecture "feel" in an online course, and by extension in a MOOC.  We need to do something better in order to engage the learner.

Speaking of engagement, alternative credentialing may be the way to get some of this engagement happening.  For example, in the Mozilla Open Badges MOOC that I took part in last fall, there were badges that marked each step of the process.  Participants wrote  up activities each week, if they passed, they got a badge, and if they didn't they got feedback and were encouraged to submit again with changes, taking a queue from mastery learning.  That said, even though I racked up the badges, I wasn't as active in the LMS forums because I really didn't see as much value.  The interaction seemed quite didactic in nature, top down, and the forums weren't all that useful.  When the content is, to some extent user generated, and learners read and react to things posted by the facilitators, and then learners respond to other learners, remix and redistribute, that's when activity becomes more noticeable.  Or, as was the case with FSLT12, if there is some shared understanding and a common goal, then people feel more engaged and want to participate in forums.  In the Open Badges MOOC I didn't really see that shared goal as much, despite the best  efforts of the organizers :) This just goes to show that you can design a perfectly good course, but you are still tied to whoever signs up and participates in it.

It is sad to say that my only cMOOC was OLDS MOOC.  There should have been more, where there more that I didn't see?  Also, OLDS MOOC wasn't really a "traditional" cMOOC in a sense, but rather, I think, that it was retroactively named a pMOOC.  I actually really liked OLDS MOOC and I got a few things that I want to fold into the classes that I teach. I want to be on the lookout for cMOOCs for next year so I don't miss any good opportunities :)

Speaking of next year: I've decided to give Udacity another try.  I have signed up for a course on statistics (a refresher for me), and a course on the design of everyday things.  I liked the book and wanted to see what the author had to say.  It seems that both are self-paced eLearning.  More on that as I get through the courses.  I have also signed up for two FutureLearn courses to see what's up there.  I signed up for a Corpus Linguistics Course and a course called "The mind is flat: the shocking shallowness of human psychology."  I am quite curious not just about the content, but also about seeing another European Approach the MOOC.  I haven't seen anything on edX or yet that has really piqued my interest from a content perspective. Maybe the course on Alexander the Great on edX could be a good candidate, but I have so many things on my plate that it would probably be a bad idea to take this on during the Spring semester.  Long story short, I am waiting for that singularity of innovation to occur (or have we reached the slog phase of the MOOC?)

As an aside, I am looking for an acronym, relating to MOOCs, that spells MOOF (that way I can use the Clarus icon more often ;-).  Massive Open Online Fun? Have ideas? Leave a comment!

Friday, December 6, 2013

MOOC Participants who liked this post, also found this useful....

Jeeves will point you to the right discussion forum
A couple of years ago when I was putting pen to paper and I was working on my Academic Check-ins paper I was doing some more research into recommender systems, you know the systems like the ones that they have on and Netflix whereby if you rate a certain product in a certain way, or if you view certain products, more recommendations come up based on your usage pattern of the system.

Now, those systems aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they can serve as ways of finding some diamond in the rough that you didn't know exist.  Think about it, both in a shopping or entertainment venue, and a MOOC you have one potentially huge issue: limited time to devote, a large sea of information to go through in order to find what might entertain you, or pique your intellectual interest and  get you engaged with some subject.  Last summer, at the end of Campus Technology 2013, I was having food and drinks with new friends and colleagues that I met at this conference.  I brought up a suggestion: what if we could develop a system that could help learners cut through the noise? A system, based partly on linguistic corpus analyses of the learners or work, as well as learner psychometrics and learner and learning analytics.

The way that I articulated the system last summer would be as follows:  Learners who are participating in MOOCs, be they cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, or whatever other variety comes our way, would be able to connect their twitter, blog, Google+, disqus, and facebook accounts and the system would be able to to an linguistic analysis of their posts on these services and compare them to other MOOC participants in the same MOOC who these learners should be interacting with.  This could be based on levels of educational homophily (same-ness) that learners exhibit through their posts.  Here, learners can act as More Knowledgeable Others to help each other grow as learners. To ensure that there isn't a danger of groupthink, the system would also throw in (through a magical algorithm) people with differing points of view. This way learners would have the option to read dissenting views, and hopefully engage intellectually with that aspect as well.  The level of difference could, conceivably, be something that the learner, the owner of their educational match-making profile, have control over. So if a learner feels comfortable only being stretched so much right now, they can control the level of difference that they are exposed to.

To take it one step further, learning management systems for MOOCs, such as coursera, udacity and EdX, could tie into this system. This way there is one big dashboard of learning analytics and corpus data that be analyzed to help the learner discover interesting peers, hot discussion topics and interesting topics for the learner to participate in the discussion forums of those services. So, if I am following #edcmooc for example on coursera, and Jeeves knows about it (nicknamed this system Jeeves), then Jeeves would be able to see what I am writing on my blog about this course, how I am reacting to the materials and peers on twitter, the facebook group, and how I am up-voting or down-voting some threads, and through a daily email I could be told which threads are "on fire" and that I should look at, and which threads or peers I might want to connect to, follow, or respond to. This type of adaptive system would be learning not just from one MOOC, but all MOOCs I've participated in. And, if I want to, from my blog in general.

The system would be portable, and have APIs to hook into any MOOC platform. This would ensure that the person in charge is the learner themselves, not someone else.  In the summer I was thinking of a simpler system, maybe built into something like gRSShopper or a MOOC platform, but since then I've been thinking that data portability and cross-system compatibility is much more important given the plethora of MOOC platform providers cropping up around the world.

What surprises me is that this idea is something that hasn't gotten any traction yet. I did say it in a public venue among fellow learning enthusiasts. I wonder why I haven't seen anyone else pitch this yet. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crowdsourcing the PhD search...

Since I have a captive, in a sense, audience, I thought I would use the power of the crowd to help me identify a suitable PhD program for myself :)

Now, over the years I've been thinking about pursuing a PhD, but a sage mentor once told me that I should take at least a year break from school before making any decisions.  Essentially clear the head out, think about what I like to do, and then think about what PhD program might be most appropriate for me.  Well, it's been four years, and I've already made a few excel spreadsheets with potential programs, but they all fall short in some way shape or form, usually the main issue is financial ;-)  So, I thought I would tap into the wisdom of the crowds on the web, on #edcmooc, and people following the Sloan Consortium to see what you all think about my (potentially unreasonable) conditions for the "perfect" PhD program; it can be an EdD too - PhD is just short-hand for the purposes of this post.

Program of Study

My educational background has taken me to many places. All of those places are quite fun, but I think I've settled on the intersection of distance learning, language learning, and educational technology (ICT).  This means that I am looking at a Universities that have faculties of Education, or faculties of liberal arts or language and literature (Applied Linguistics can fit in a variety of places) that can mentor me in these fields.  I am both a US citizen and a Greek citizen, so I guess that opens up the doors on a couple of continents.  Some initial ideas floated to me were the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, which seemed quite promising, but the recent strikes, and related uncertainty make it a problematic candidate. I can't even apply since it's closed due to strikes :).  Athabasca University is another option. Great program, really interesting faculty mentors, and they tackle a topic of interest: distance education. Cost is a bit of an issue. The Open University in the UK was/is also another option of consideration. But I am not all that familiar with the UK system.  From my various spreadsheets of research into PhD programs over the years, most universities that I scoped our originally are out of the picture because they would require me to move and quit my job - which isn't an option. This leads me to the residency requirements...

Residency Requirements

Since I need to maintain my day job, which I like by the way, in order to pay my bills, a program of study that requires me to quit my job to be a full time student, or required frequent traveling, is out of the picture for practical purposes. I can take a trip once or twice per year if needed and use up my vacation time to attend required local meetings. So, I would say that, my options are programs that are predominantly distance education; or perhaps european programs that work more on an independent study basis and I can work on my dissertation from day one and cover any gaps as I need to. Personally I like the independent study idea much more for a variety of reasons - this brings me to Entry Level requirements and Coursework.

Entry Requirements & Coursework

One of the things that was disheartening, when I was creating my big ol' spreadsheet of academic programs, was entry level examinations like the GRE. I contacted a variety of programs to see if the GRE requirement can be waived, and I explained my background.  The response I got was a polite, but canned, response that the GRE is a requirement.  In all honesty, having completed 4 masters degrees, for 2 of which I received the Academic Excellence award, and having completed 138 credits of graduate academic work, I think that institutions can show a bit of flexibility ;-)  This also brings me to the question of advanced standing.  In the US we seem to have a lot of coursework required to do a PhD above the MA degree. Is it really necessary to take 12, 13, 14 or more courses before you are even allowed to present a dissertation proposal?  In my humble opinion, no.  So, my ideal program would minimize the coursework requirement, allow me to work independently when appropriate, and would allow me to work on my dissertation on day one.


Cost is a big issue, looking back at my good ol' spreadsheet I see two basic options:
1. Quitting work to get a Graduate Assistantship that pays for all tuition and fees, but you'll be eating ramen noodles for the next six years. That is if you are lucky to recuperate work-wise and get a job right after you are done with your PhD studies.  This isn't an option

2. Keep your job, pay your bills, but take our crazy amounts of loans in order to subsidize your PhD studies.  Thank you, but no thanks.  The student loan debt crisis is already crazy in the US, so I don't want to add to it, and put myself into further debt.

Is there a third option? Reasonable tuition that can be paid for in full by grants or scholarships?

My Dissertation idea

So, now we get to the heart of the matter.  What is the dissertation topic?  I've been involved with MOOCs for the past three years now, and online education for five or so. I am interested in continuing to investigate this topic, and specifically I am looking at designing, and implementing, an ESL MOOC based on whatever research is currently out there.  In this MOOC I plan to collect a variety of data.  I haven't decided what I will be analyzing yet for the dissertation part, but in one form or another the following types of data seem to be prime candidates for analysis in a MOOC, and a language learning MOOC at that:

  • Learner scaffolding
  • Learner linguistic production
  • Learner-constructed corpus data analysis
  • Learner participation patters (deep topic, can span many media, or just some)
  • Pathways that learners take to learning
  • Learner motivation
  • Learner resilience in massive open learning environments (MOLE!)
So, my friends and peers,  do you know of a good place I can take this dissertation topic where I can be mentored, have a ton of fun with it, and earn a PhD, without quitting my job, going into crazy amounts of debt, or have to waste time taking unnecessary coursework?  Your input is much appreciated ;-)

Monday, December 2, 2013

#edcmooc - A chat with Prof. Eliza

I was thinking about what to create for my digital artefact for EDCMOOC.  My initial thought was to create a sample dialogue between a fictionalized EDCMOOC student and Prof. Eliza.  Prof. Eliza would be, of course, based on the the venerable ELIZA computer therapist program. I could then go in and modify the specific psychotherapy lines with something specific to education.

In the faceless environment no one knows if you are a dog, so in online education how do we know if a professor isn't just a machine pretending to be human?  In any case, this was meant to be a parody. There were two directions I could go once I got the dialogue all set:

  • I was going to ask a friend to run some lines with me, and they would play the role of Professor Eliza. The computerized responses as said by a human would/should make people think about appropriateness of responses of professors to learners and how helpful they are.
  • Or, I could text chat with Professor Eliza and record that, and the EDCMOOCer reaction to the text (frustration would be part of the reaction).
Well, since time ran out, and my goals were too lofty, I decided to do a little mLearning and use a, new to me, application called animoto.  I used the dialogue from the ELIZA engine, and the "title" text (top) is eliza, and the subtitle (bottom) text is the response from EDCMOOCer.  In the end, can machines, or fake artificial intelligences feel lonely?  You tell me ;-)

Chat with Eliza