Tuesday, February 25, 2014

(Some) Secret Badges Revelaved!

Well, Week 4 has begun in the graduate course I am teaching, and it was time to tally up some numbers to see if any secret badges needed to be released and awarded to students in the course.  Of the 8 secret badges I designed for this course, four of them have been discovered by students one-quarter of the way through the course! This is actually pretty nifty!  So what are the secret badges that were revealed this weekend?

Helping Hand

Description: A helping hand can be like a compass showing you the way to the solution.

Criteria: To earn this badge a learner needs to respond to at least two fellow learner's troubleshooting question with an answer that gets the initial learner "unstuck" from where they currently are stuck in their project, or in the course.

More info: The idea behind this badge was to reward students who help out others students with some of the technical issues in class. For example a student may not know how to "collect" discussion forum posts for easier reading, or subscribe to a discussion thread so that they receive emails when something new is posted.  Of course the instructor can help take care of some of these issues, but fellow classmates are very good resources for fellow students.  They can share workflows with each other, point out features and functionality previously unknown to fellow students, and they can help troubleshoot.  All this comes together to create a learning community that is invested in the learning of they fellow classmates and creates (in theory) a supportive environment for learning.

Bug Squasher

Description: This is awarded to a student who has discovered at least 3 issues with the course (dead links, permissions issues, description of materials that aren't visible, etc.) and has contacted the instructor to try to fix this. By doing this learners are contributing to the continuous improvement of the course.

Criteria: Over the period of 13 weeks, a learner must have identified at least 3 bugs with the Blackboard course, and must identify them in a collegial manner that encourages continuous course improvement.

More info: Every semester, without fail, no matter how much preparation and testing I've put into the course, there is always a dead link, or a permissions issue from when the course is copied from a previous semester and files are inaccessible.  Sometimes, during runtime, I have also forgotten to open up (make visible) a discussion forum for the week (how can I forget to do that?). In cases like these there are students who discover issues early on and allow me to fix things in the back end early on so that the class doesn't skip a beat. This badge awards students that not only discover these bugs, but also relay this information in a colleagial tone.

Beyond the Course

Description: This badge demonstrates that a learner has been able to successfully connect external readings, in the course discussions in a way that expands their own, and their classmates', understanding.

Criteria: In order to receive this badge a student must:
  • Quote something relevant from an external reading in a way that enhances the classroom discussion;
  • Provides background to the reading, not just a stray quote, to setup context for sharing this particular quote;
  • Provide a citation or link for this information (i.e. "I read this on ASTD magazine" won't suffice) ;
  • Must do this at least 3 times in a semester
More info: The course isn't a a separate entity, divorced of it surroundings! What you learn in a course connects with your previous knowledge, and will connect with the external world after the course is done.  Even though there is a provision in the discussion forum rubric to connect with external knowledge, this external knowledge can be readings or personal experience.  This badge awards class participants for sharing relevant readings that learners can look up and read at a time convenient for them.

Sharing is Caring

Description: Throughout the semester the badge earner has shared a tip, trick, or best practice with the course classmates or the community of instructional designers. You've given everyone a 1up!

Criteria: In a blog post (on umassid.com during the first week) or discussion forum (on Blackboard throughout the course) the learner will have shared a software or design tip, trick, or best practice. In order to be awarded this badge, a learner must have shared something at least 3 times during the 13 week semester.

More info: One of the things that I've seen over the semesters is that some students share tips and tools with their fellow students. Not just any random tool or tip, but tools and tips that address the design needs of their fellow classmates. This is just a tip of the hat to those who are team players and want to help out their fellow learners by sharing something they know that could be helpful to their classmate.  A tip can be a link to a handout or guide, a link to a "how to" for specific software, or it can be a recommendation for a piece of software or service that can be of use to a specific need expressed in the forums.

What do you think of these initial badges?

Friday, February 21, 2014

The forum is an illusion

Well, last week of #rhizo14 and we're all pondering where to go from here, planning the next steps I guess.  Although I am getting the distinct feeling that participants are going through the stages of grief ;-)  In any case, the topic of this last week ties into enabling student independence, which was the topic of week 3, except that this week it feels more like kicking the birds out of the nest :)

The other day, independent of rhizo14, I was having a conversation with one of my graduate assistants, who also happens to be in the graduate course I am teaching this semester (titled: The Design and Instruction of Online Courses).  This, and #rhizo14, mixed and produced the following thought process, pondering, and question at the end of the post.

(Historical background - if you want to skip, go down 3 paragraphs)
The first time I taught this course (Spring 2013), I was a last minute substitution. The course designer, and regular faculty member teaching the course, was not available to teach the course, so since I was familiar with the subject I was called upon. I was familiar with the particular course shell since the person who usually taught it was a valuable colleague who shared her materials with me, and I had also taken an earlier incarnation of this course (if we are in version 4.0 now, I took it when it was at version 1.0).

There were a few things in the course that I didn't agree with including in the course (such as learning styles), and certain articles with broad generalizations about generational differences, but since it was the first time teaching that course I decided to focus my time on reworking the six thematic overview lectures. This way learners would have the dissonance of having Professor X speaking in the lectures, but Professor Y actually teaching.  I also decided to be a devil's advocate in the forums to help coax out more critical views of the readings.  The class went well.

Second time around (last fall), I was also a last minute substitute. No worries.  This time around I decided to not do any heavy re-work of the course and decided to focus more on refining course podcasting, something I introduced that first time around. I continued to play devil's advocate in order to help students engage with the materials a little more critically since I hadn't gone back to replace things that I saw as outdated.

Finally, this semester (three weeks in now), I knew that I would be teaching this class for a third time, so I decided to go back and thoroughly review all materials (audio, video, text) to see what can be replaced and made up to date. I also decided to try out badging (more on that in this blogpost).  As I was reading the materials for week 3 (this week) back in December, I removed the Learning Styles stuff (the ones that took themselves seriously anyway) and replaced them with quick overviews of what Learning Styles are so that people are conversant to some extent about them. I also added some more materials critical of learning styles.  There was an article that was there on generational differences, which as I was reading I almost wanted to throw my iPad against the wall ;)  Typical "boomers are this, Get X are this, Millenials are this" stuff which I disagree with (as is evidenced by the JOLT article I wrote a few years ago).  Well, I get to the conclusion, and there while this article was reporting on other people's work, it does include a caveat that you can't generalize (in brief anyway). So I thought to keep this article, at least for this semester, as a way to help students develop a critical reading of literature.

So, back to my graduate assistant.  Since she works in the office next door, I got to hear a lot about what BS this article was, with backup to her arguments (yay!), and apparently some other students thought the same based on her own communications.  But I haven't seen this critical aspect in the discussion forums.  When I queried her about why she hasn't posted any of this in the course fora (it's an online course), I got the response that there is no forum dedicated to this. The (stated) discussion topic of the week wasn't conducive to posting a critique of the reading materials, and she felt that the virtual café wasn't the space for it. The message was clear: make a forum for it.  I disagree with this mode of thinking because I am basically making a path for them to walk (in my view).  What if, in life, they come up with 3 roads (this is a metaphor...), and they are asked to choose, but none of the choices are valid.  Should they not feel comfortable treading their own roads, and having a way to reason and backup their views and opinions?  What if the forum is just an illusion?

Furthermore, I informed her, and other graduate assistants in the room, that when I design a course from scratch, I include materials that are both good (in my view) but also rubbish, so that students can get conflicting views and they need to critically analyze what they are getting, discuss, process, reason, and come to a conclusion of their own. I got a somewhat joking response that they pay money so they expect good content to be put into their brains. I think (hope!) that they were joking since we in the Applied Linguistics department rail against the Banking Model of education ;-). I am pretty sure, however, that there are students out there that do believe that since they pay for a course, they are entitled to only the best content, to read, regurgitate (or apply) and feel happy about it.   Then the instructional designer kicked in and I started wondering about my own practices.  Should I tell students, up-front, that some of the articles I see as good and some as rubbish? Or should I not? My fear is that if I do so, it may become a game of discover what the professor likes and throw it back to him (a fine tradition in schools as I understand it), whereas if I am working with a more with a devil's advocate approach, I won't tell you what I think (well I do, but it's at the end of the process), but I want you to argue your point of view and expand upon it.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Planned obsolence - the end of #rhizo14

The end is nigh! The end is nigh! This is the last week of #Rhizo14. Of course, the end is probably just a beginning, but we'll cross that bridge later on.  In any case, the topic for this week is Planned Obsolescence, or as I would frame it: the culminating step of the metamorphosis of our learners from guided to self-guided life-long learners.

Dave asks How do we teach ourselves into uselessness?  While this is probably meant to be provocative, I don't think that we can ever teach ourselves into uselessness, both from a teacher perspective and a learner perspective.  From a teacher perspective, it is quite possible (and I would say desirable), to teach our students to be on their own, and to continue to learn on their own, and pass on that knowledge and gusto for learning to others.  Just because we've enabled others, doesn't mean that we are useless or obsolete.  It just means that we've added to the world.  This isn't a zero-sum game.  Yes, it probably means that we've finished off the planned portion of the course, but as rhizomes go, I (and an instructor) can continue on to what interests me in my own learning, and my former students can explore things in depth that really resonated with them.  Thus, possibilities exist in the future for cross pollination.  I can help them with what I have learned, and they can help me with areas that they went more in depth.  As one of my former professors told me when I was close to graduation, he no longer saw me as a student, but rather as a colleague.   This was quite powerful!

From a teacher-as-learner perspective, the question of How do we teach ourselves into uselessness? could also be interpreted as how do we learn so much that we become useless.  I think this is also an equally silly question.  This goes back to Week 2 or 3 when I posted on the Facebook  about engaging in a society where the concept of overeducated exists.  I think overeducation is a concept used by bosses and businesses who don't wish to see their employees grow because the underlying fear is that you will stick with the job until you get another, better, job.  This, of course, is a false equation.  People may have more skills and education than they need for a specific job, but that doesn't mean that people will get up and leave a job if everything else is fine with it.  That said, it is quite possible to be quite educated, but never put that education to work (at least for day-job type gigs). That doesn't mean you're useless, it means you've got interests that you liked to explore.

Dave goes on to ask about How do we empower people so they have the PERMISSION to learn without us?  At the end of the day, as far as I am concerned, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.  We can give permission, empower, enable, and authorize learners to learn without a leading course figure, but I think that there is something that needs to go off in the learner.  A switch that flips or a light-bulb that turns on.  They need want to take the initiative to learn on their own.  They need to have the energy to question their own assumptions.  And, they need to have the guts to stand up for what they are claiming to be true, and have the self-awareness to know when it's time to go back to the drawing board when things seem to not be going the way they thought they would go. After all, when the professor is obsolete, you can't point the blaming finger on him ;-)

As a side note, I was meaning to write a summative post for week 5, because I did read a lot of good stuff that made my own mental gears turn, but rhizo14 has been the opposite of crystallization.  I came to the table with somewhat crystallized ideas and was interested in exploring them with others, and as the course has gone through, the crystalline entity has become more of a gelatinous thing, which now seems more like primordial learning and knowledge ooze, where new potential is possible again ;).  There were quite a few things last week I felt I needed to respond to, but they were phrased so well, that I didn't think I could add to it, in the long blog sense.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The medium is the message...

The medium is the message...
The medium is the curriculum...
The community is the medium...
The community is the curriculum!

Well, we've made it to Week 5 of Rhizomatic Learning, and this week's topic shares it's title with the course itself!  The Community is The Curriculum.  Odd, to me this would have made a perfect final week (you know every end is a new beginning, circle of life learning type of thing).  Perhaps the end is nigh and this is Dave's subtle way of telling us ;-)

Anyone, the community as curriculum poses some interesting questions for me and I'll explore the first two that came to mind (otherwise we'd be here all day).

Background of Learners

 It seems to me that courses like this one (and other highly engaging OOCs, engaging to me anyway) is that we are relying on two things from the participants of the MOOC.  The background of the learner (i.e. they aren't complete novices in the discipline), and they are self-starters.  We don't care about a certificate of completion or no stinkin' badge. We do it because we love this stuff.  Even when we're sick we engage. I'd love to be able to apply the community is the curriculum mantra to the courses I teach, but none of them are seminar style.  This mantra can work in a seminar style course, but students are scaffolded into being able to participate in that academic discourse.  I didn't just show up one day in LAK11 (my first MOOC), or CCK11 and was able to participate readily.  This was years in the making, and several masters degrees later. It was mentorship from previous professors who got me to a point where I could wrangle with the abundance of information, to filter, sort, and use it, and engage with peers.  It was also the breaking away from the shackled of academic credit that enabled this.

When I was a for-credit student, I looked for the most efficient way through an assignment.  Get the rubric, follow it to the T, and get a good grade (and hopefully some learning would have occurred in the process;) ). WIthout having to worry about grades, credits, and an investment, I freed my learning.  Now, students who still have to worry about those things are a little apprehensive about the community being the curriculum since certain learning objectives have to be met, and what they say is that they pay for a subject expert to put together a curriculum for them and help guide them through it.  This is something we see all over in our field from students, from professional organizations, and now from MOOCs (you know, the "best" professors from the "best" universities giving you their "best" material for free - BS rhetoric). To make things worse, there are some students who are only in it for the credential, which potentially means efficient at getting a grade, but not necessarily learning.

Anyway, when working with those constraints, how does one turn things around in their own classroom (assuming it's not a OOC and you need to deal with someone else's constraints)?

What about participation?

The second thing that comes to mind is about participation.  Ever since the days of my first MOOCs, I have enjoyed reading posts by people like Jaap whom I met back then in CCK11 if I remember correctly.  I looked forward to the Daily which had all of the blog posts, tweets, delicious links, and discussions happening on gRSShopper for the past 24 hours.  The community can be the curriculum, but only if the community participates.

I've been flamed (well, lightly flamed ;) not burned to crisp) in past MOOCs for really calling lurkers to carpet and not participating. Essentially consuming, but not putting anything back into fire to keep it going.  I've grown to be a little more accepting of lurkers (especially seeing the untenable nature of forums in large scale MOOCs), but the issue of lurking is still something of an intellectual brainteaser.  I too lurk.  I lurked on #rhizo14 most of last week. but there is ample content there for the community to engage with without reading my stuff, and I've established a pattern that I am comfortable with (intro post, Fb posting and reading, final post). But what happens when there are few to participate?  Then the curriculum is the view of a handful of people.  This somehow seems unbalanced.  Also, depending on the constitution of the group, you may end up with a virtual echo chamber where the curriculum might be the same nonsense replicated over and over again, with the thought provoking voices being silenced.  What sort of measures do we have when things like this happen?  If we've established that the community is the curriculum, we can't really swing the other way and take the reigns of our course again, can we?  Now, of course, there is probably a middle ground here, but the black and white approach is probably more conducive for an argument ;)

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wrapping up the stupefying book week

This was an eventful week! Snowstorm, followed by several days of coughing, sneezing and all those other lovely wonderful symptoms of winter colds (or whatever it is I have).  This has made me fall a little behind on reading the contributions of fellow rhizotravelers, but hopefully I can slowly catch up on my Pocket readings.

One of the things I came across this past week was a post by Tellio where he writes about how he collects all of the sources relating to #rhizo14.  I had started thinking about this back in Week 2 when I started thinking about how many channels I can reasonably follow and participate in. My own threshold is 2.5 channels.  I decided to focus on P2PU and on Facebook, and the 0.5 channel is twitter for when I am commuting and on my mobile phone.  Any more than that becomes untenable, for me anyway.  What Tellio described in his post reminded me of the days before RSS, when I had three or four forums open in tabs simultaneously (MacOSX.com, HowardForums.com, and a PDA one if I remember correctly), and had another browser open with sites like CNET, Engadget, and so on in each tab and I was refreshing them periodically for news.  During conferences and expos I would rapid refresh to get all the latest news.   This was like a full time job, and something that I don't feel the need to do anymore thanks to RSS readers.  This did get me thinking, however, on attention span, cognitive load, and "reasonable" participation (however one defines that for themselves).  I do wonder what the limits are in this online environment.  If we were in a face to face situation, I couldn't participate in two conversations concurrently and be effective at it.  In this distributed online environment, what's the limit?

Another comment that got me thinking is Keith Harmon's post this past week where he talks a bit about the inevitability that text will be rhizomatic. I don't think that this is something new, and at the same time it's not the only mode of reading.  The BIG grain of salt that I want to start off with here is Don Tapscott, and people like him.  We've seen the over-emphasis on digital natives (net-generation, and other synonym terms) around 10 years ago without loads of thought into the nuanced view of learners and their backgrounds.  There are some students who do dip in and out of texts, like the ones on Tapscott's video (link in Keith's blog), but simply jumping into a text to get what you need, and jumping out doesn't mean that you are doing so effectively, or that you are representing the text accurately.

A good example of this is a "research" paper that I came across on digital native. This author cited my paper (which was a refutation of the monolithic digital native) as evidence of what digital natives supposedly are (competent in all technologies and clamoring for their use in the classroom - supposedly).  Instead of going to Prensky's own writings for this, they went to whatever source they came across, which happened to be mine where I was referencing Prensky in order to write more in-depth about this concept.  This is an instance where someone really didn't read what I had to write, but rather picked the part they wanted for their own predetermined narrative and went with it. Now, to be fair, I made a tiny error in that article; I wrote about Littlejohn & Margaryan's research as being Australian when it was actually British - I jotted the wrong thing down in my research notes, but this wasn't selective reading on my own part.

It's important to note that there is deep reading, and surface reading.  There is no need to start every text and go from start to finish and perform deep reading.  Different situations require different skills, and different level of engagement.  I think a more nuanced view of what is required of the course, and what the goals are will really inform both students and the instructor on how they are best going to engage with materials.  A one size fits all approach doesn't work.  Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What MOOCs Can Do for the Traditional Online Classroom (Part II)

Note: An MS Word or PDF version of this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/205135659/What-MOOCs-can-do-for-the-Traditional-Online-Classroom-Part-II


2014 is upon us! We are now a couple of years from the big MOOC “explosion” in the news, and since we’ve gone to both extremes, too much optimism and too much pessimism, about what MOOCs can and can’t do, it’s now time to have a more refined look at MOOCs and their potential to cross-pollinate with, and positively influence the direction, and practices, of traditional online courses.

As with the previous article in this series, I’ll just refer to MOOCs in general.  The reason for this is that MOOCs are experimental, and we’ve seen a lot of experimenting over the lifespan of MOOCs these past six years. These include cMOOCs, xMOOC, pMOOCs, sMOOCs, and other MOOCs that have yet to be named.  It’s now time to start thinking about what can best be borrowed from MOOC practices into traditional online learning.  As with the previous article, when thinking about this topic, there are three different areas: materials, technology, and practices. In this article I’ll discuss blogging and tweeting as technology and materials, easter eggs as practices, Open Communities, as practices supported by technology, and collaborative research as a way to tie everything together.

Easter Eggs

I don’t see Easter Eggs often in MOOCs, but I think it’s worthwhile to think about incorporating this feature into courses.  An Easter Egg is a hidden message, a hidden joke, or some hidden treasure in a game, software, or computer program - and apparently it’s also found in books and crosswords, too! The Gamification MOOC, offered through the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera, had an easter egg throughout the course.  When the course instructor created his weekly lectures his background trinkets changed. Those who were observant noticed that the changes spelled out “ftw” (or “for the win” for those in the know). There was a prize for the first person to decode this Easter Egg which was a free copy of the professor’s book, also named For The Win. Now, as an instructor or designer you don’t need need to break the bank awarding prizes for your learners. If you tie in Easter Eggs into a badge system you can have secret badges that learners don’t know about until they unlock these.  Badges can also be unique, in that only one learner in a class of twenty can earn that badge in each semester, thus giving the badge to the person who first discovered the hidden feature.  What could be an easter egg? 

A potential Easter Egg element that you can incorporate could be around additional or supplemental readings.  Not every learner will go through the supplemental readings, but they are there for a reason: you hope that students will read, or view, or listen to what you have posted. What if you put in a small piece of text in an article that directed learners to email the professor with a keyword? Or, what if you tie into your LMS’s analytics to see who was the first person to click and view a recording that went above and beyond the class? Or, you can be like Dr. Werbach, in the gamification course, and do something more covert, but also sustained throughout every week, to help your learners pay closer attention to your presentations. Some learners will care about these elements of gamification, but others will not. Just because this does not necessarily appeal to all learners does not mean that you shouldn’t try to increase engagement by using this approach. One thing to remember is that some things will resonate more with some learners than others. If a set of actions that result in the discovering of an Easter Egg in your course is optional then there is no issue with having all learners partake in an activity that doesn’t resonate with them. Furthermore, pairing Easter Eggs with badges is one way of encouraging curiosity and exploration amongst your learners.

Blogging, Tweeting & Distributed Learning

Again, blogging, tweeting and distributed learning are not something that is new to MOOCs.  Ever since the advent of Web 2.0 we’ve been thinking about ways to incorporate these tools into our teaching in order to increase the engagement in our classrooms.  One of the early examples of this was using twitter in a face-to-face class to engage students in a large auditorium lecture (Smith, 2009, Elavsky et al., 2011). One of the things done well in certain MOOCs is providing for spaces outside of the classroom and the course discussion forum to demonstrate not only an evolving understanding of the course materials, but also ways of collaborating and communicating with others in the course. By using tools such as gRSShopper, a tool used in CCK11 for example, or tools such as wordpress to aggregate blog posts, tweets, and other content created by learners in their own learning spaces back into the course, you are encouraging learners to take a leap and start thinking about learning in spaces outside of the classroom. In other words preparing for lifelong learning in Personal Learning Environments.

Another important aspect of this is having the instructor be present in these environments as well. In thinking of the Community of Inquiry model (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001), it’s important for the instructor not only to read and react to the contributions of his class, but also to write publicly about the topics that the course is tackling. Thus, the instructor isn’t confined to the regular roles of sage on the stage, or guide on the side, but also takes on the role of fellow passenger on the learning journey. After all, even if someone is teaching the course, that does not mean that they know everything about every single aspect of the course.  Thus, their exploration of the subject matter helps them as instructors, and helps their learners reach for higher levels of mastery in the subject matter. I would liken this to masters practicing their craft, and apprentices learning from it.

Open Community

Even if your course isn’t a MOOC, there is something that you could take advantage of: a large scale community of support! A good example of this is Alec Couros’ EC&I course. You can either open the course up to non-credit participants, or you can invite Network Mentors to help the learners in your course. Or, of course, you can do both as Alec Couros does. Now, it should be noted that this doesn’t work for all subjects, and some courses, as they are currently designed, don’t necessarily scale-up very well. The Fundamentals of Online Education MOOC (#foemooc) found this out the hard way (Kolowich, 2013). However, having out-of-class mentors participate in the discussions, provide feedback toward student’s projects, and provide current real-world examples to whatever is covered in the course in any given week is a big benefit to the learners in the course. The big question, then, becomes what’s in it for the mentors?  It would seem like good, ol’ fashioned, altruism, is not necessarily the norm these days.

One potential way to approach this is to have introductory and advanced level students in one course. The advanced students would have taken the course before, so that they would have already been exposed to the introductory material.  In addition to going over the material, and getting a second chance at thinking about the content, and sharing that know-how with the introductory students, these advanced students would have access to materials that are only available to them. This could be thought of in game terms as “level 2.”  Thus, for college credit purposes, an independent study course could be devised for the handful of former students who act as mentors in the course in the future. A letter of recommendation could be nice if the mentors do a good job; earning badges for lifelong learning for skills such as supervised course facilitation and mentoring; and for those PhD candidates, such practice might count toward teacher preparation workshops that they might need to do. If you design your course well, and take into account scalability issues, you might be able to offer an open access course as well. Here learners get to learn not only from the materials you provide, but from the diverse experiences of their fellow peers.

Collaborative Research & Collaborative Writing

Finally, collaborative research and collaborative writing can be something that you incorporate into your course. Generally, this isn’t something I’ve seen built into MOOCs, but rather it’s a happy by-product of massive open online collaborations that occur in a MOOC. In MOOCs I’ve discovered individuals whose research interests follow or complement my own, so we’ve had very successful post-MOOC research collaborations.  Two of these great individuals are fellow co-authors such as Inge de Waard and Rebecca Hogue. These types of collaborations are great because not only do you get to learn more about a specific subject by collaboratively researching about it, you also get to attain new levels of understanding by working with people who know something about things you don’t. These types of peer scaffolding can be seen through the lens of Vygotsky’s More Knowledgeable Other (Vygotsky, 1978).

In the recent Video Games and Learning MOOC on coursera Steinkuhler and Squire asked participants in the MOOC to contribute to a project called the Playful Learning database. Collaborative research doesn’t have to be about papers. Rather, a group of students in a course can contribute to project like Playful Learning or wikipedia by picking topics that are related to the class they are in, but also intersect topics that they are interested in.

Again, this is not necessarily an option in all courses, but in upper level undergraduate courses and graduate courses it’s a interesting thing to think about adding into your course. One of the biggest things that I hear students complain a lot about is group work, and research isn’t something that is neatly tied together in one semester’s time, or fits 100% with the content of the course. How does one balance academic schedules and people’s dislike of group work?  Perhaps certain incentives like being able to publish in a peer reviewed journal that only accepts collaborative research could be an option.  Or, perhaps offering local or regional conferences for students to present their work among peers and established researchers. Of course, there is always the possibility that students will feel good about contributing to something that they are passionate about, like a wikipedia article on their favorite movie, television show, or video game.  There is no one answer to the “what’s in it for me?” question. 


In this last series of articles we examined some techniques and tools used in the world of MOOCs to drive student learning and engagement. These tools and techniques don’t necessarily need stay segregated in the world of MOOCs, but we can learn from them and adapt them into our traditional online courses. With some solid instructional design, and a little imagination, materials and tools such as OER, digital badges (part 1 of this series), easter eggs, blogging and tweeting;  and techniques such as peer grading (part 1 of this series), open communities and collaborative writing have the potential to enhance what goes on in a traditional online course. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things we can learn from MOOCs, and I am sure that as time progresses we will have more that we can borrow from them. One thing is for certain: watch the MOOC space, and keep an open mind.

     Anderson, T. Rourke, L., Garrison, D.  R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.
     Elavsky, C. M., Mislan, C., Elavsky, S. (2011). When talking less is more: exploring outcomes of Twitter usage in the large-lecture hall. Learning, Media and Technology. 36(3). pp 215-233. DOI:10.1080/17439884.2010.549828
     Kolowich, S. (2013). Georgia Tech and Coursera Try to Recover From MOOC Stumble. Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/georgia-tech-and-coursera-try-to-recover-from-mooc-stumble
     Smith, K. (2009). The Twitter Experiment - Twitter in the Classroom. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WPVWDkF7U8
     Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Harvard University Press.

     Easter Egg Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg_(media)
     EC&I: http://eci831.ca/
     Gamification [Coursera / Werbach / UPenn]: https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification
     gRSShopper: http://grsshopper.downes.ca/
     E-learning and Digital Cultures [Coursera / Knox; Saybe; Ross; Sinclair; Macleod / U of Edinburg]: https://class.coursera.org/edc-002/class
     Open Badge Initiative: http://openbadges.org/
     Playful Learning: http://beta.playfullearning.com/
     Video Games and Learning [Coursera / Steinkuhler & Squire / UW Wisconsin]: https://class.coursera.org/videogameslearning-001/class/index

Friday, February 7, 2014

What MOOCs Can Do for the Traditional Online Classroom (Part I)

Note: An MS Word or PDF version of this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/205134044


It’s been a few years of extreme sentiments around MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). 2012 was proclaimed the year of the MOOC (Pappano, 2012). 2013 was the year that MOOC criticism was the new trendy or “in” thing (Rees, 2013). Perhaps in 2014 we’ll move away from such dichotomies and evaluate what’s working in MOOCs, what’s not; and what we can import into traditional online learning.   A while back I read a post on WCET about redirecting the conversation about MOOCs. One line that really caught my eye, and that has really struck me up to now, was “let’s Learn from MOOCs and recapture the microphone” (Cillay, 2013).  Now, MOOCs are still in an experimental mode, and we will be in this mode for quite some time in my estimation. After all, classes need to run, so that we can collect data, analyze it, come up with hypotheses and test them. Then rinse and repeat until satisfactorily designing and implementing a MOOC that covers your instructional needs.  This is really exciting to me, but I realize that it might not be exciting to others, or worse yet they might feel uncomfortable by the lack of answers at this point in time.

In this this set of articles I’ll just refer to MOOCs in general.  cMOOCs aren’t known by many, and xMOOC as a term seems to be used as a derogatory term (Moe, 2013). Also the two extreme positions don’t necessarily describe the diversity of MOOC setups today. Since MOOCs are experimental, and we’ve seen a lot of experimenting over the last six years (it’s been that long), I think it’s time to start thinking about what can best be adapted from MOOC practices into traditional online learning.  We’ve already seen MOOC materials used as a way to flip the classroom (McGuire, 2013), but I suggest we go further and experience something transformational, not just see MOOCs as another place to find course materials for our courses. When thinking about this topic, there are three different areas: materials, technology, and practices. In part 1 I will be discussing Open Educational Resources as as materials, peer grading as practices and badges for lifelong learning as both technology and practices.

Open Educational Resources

I know that Open Educational Resources (OER) aren’t something new, and aren’t something that is particularly unique to MOOCs.  The ethos of MOOCs is quite compatible with OERs in that MOOCs Aggregate, Remix, Repurpose and Feed Forward, and OERs work on a Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute framework.  While it seems that MOOC LMS systems like coursera, udacity and edx seem to not have that sharing ethos of the original MOOCs, and they have been criticized for this (Wiley, 2013 being one recent example),  it is undeniable that they are producing some really valuable materials that could be used as OER in courses, online, blended and even flipped classrooms. The use case for MOOC created materials for a flipped classroom has actually been tried out by San Jose State University.  That said, if MOOC LMS systems, or consortia like edX, make their materials available as OER, a move I am convinced they should make, then everyone benefits because instructors can have a wealth of additional, high quality, materials that they can incorporate in their courses. For example, in a recent MOOC I participated in, I was able to see short, relevant, video lectures on the relationship of games and education.  A few years ago I had read Jim Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (fantastic book, by the way). If I were designing a course on this topic, along with other materials I would consider what MOOC generated content has to offer. After all, these are experts in their field, and if they haven’t published any materials in paper (or ePaper) form, the only way to get them into your classroom is what they’ve produced for their MOOCs. Not every MOOC has such an open policy on reuse of their materials, but it’s great when MOOC professors, like Steinkuhler & Squire, go the extra step to mention that their materials are free to reuse. Additionally, moving away from just borrowing OER from MOOCs, I would say  that when designing our own traditional online courses  we ought to design our materials in small chunks that can be shared and remixed.  These can then be used by our peers in the same, or other, institutions. In other words, design course materials with the goal of reusing, and sharing with others. This should help both us when we redesign, or tweak, our courses, but also our colleagues.

Badges for Lifelong Learning

It should be noted that not every MOOC is providing badges for life-long learning.  However, there are a number of MOOCs, both within Learning Management Systems like Blackboard’s coursesites, and MOOCs that are cobbling together their own MMS (MOOC Management System) using a variety of Web 2.0 and homegrown tools, that are awarding badges for life-long learning that are compatible with Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative. In addition to a few coursesites MOOCs that have awarded badges, such as the MOOC on Open Badges, we’ve also seen badges on MOOCs like OLDS MOOC, Games MOOC, and BlendKit just to name a few. All of these MOOCs have taken different approaches to awarding badges, with different criteria and different significations to the awarded badges.  It would be worthwhile to pay attention to actual use-cases of badges in these courses and think about how we can incorporate them in our traditional online learning. If we look at the stated learning objectives for our course, do any of those lend themselves to a badge?  What would a badge signify in the grand scheme of things?  Would it add value?  If it does, why not implement it? 

Looking beyond our course objectives, are there skills that we want to foster, or behaviors that we would like to encourage, but they are not part of our learning objectives?  For example, in the course I teach, the design and instruction of online courses, I let students pick the LMS of their choice to implement their course.  What if students who implemented a course in Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, or Canvas got a “novice Moodler” or “canvas artist” badge to indicate whatever level of proficiency they had demonstrated in using that LMS while they were working on their final course deliverable, which just so happens to be a fully designed and mostly implemented online course.   What if, as an instructor, I value collegiality amongst my students and I want to encourage or recognize people who are generous to their fellow students, who help their fellow students grow as learners and as instructional designers. Such as badge could be useful because such soft skills could be valued by organizations who want team players.  Badges, in this context, are only a couple of years old, and MOOCs certainly pre-date them, but they are something that certain MOOCs seem to have embraced, and they are, I would argue, valuable in our traditional online courses as well.

Peer Grading

MOOCs get a bad reputation when it comes to peer grading as means of learner evaluation. Since in MOOCs it’s not possible for one person (usually the instructor) to meaningfully read, evaluate and provide feedback for massive amounts of written work, most MOOCs seem to go the route of peer reviews. While there may be many out there that won’t touch peer reviews and peer grading with a ten foot pole, peer reviews and peer grading are actually neither new as a tool for learning, nor are they an inappropriate instrument to use in your course.  If you have an instructor, a more knowledgeable other, providing the final evaluation of your learner’s accomplishments the peer grading mechanism is a learning tool you should consider using.  If you create a really good assessment rubric for the assignment, peers can grade each other using the same criteria that the instructor will use.  This accomplishes two things:  First, it provides the learner being reviewed a way to gain insight as to how his work is being perceived by someone who is using the same grading rubric as the instructor. This helps the reviewee receive valuable feedback about their work from peers.  On the other hand, the reviewer gets into the instructor’s mindset.  The reviewer can then, by diving into the different parts of their peer’s work, gain a level of knowledge to allow them to self-assess their own work.  By being a reviewer your learners should be able to also gain an ability to critically reflect on their own work, and thus improve it.  One of the key things here is instructor presence. You can’t just give learners the rubric and have them take on such a big task.  Learners will require both scaffolding in order to get up to speed with the rubric, and also receive post-review feedback in order to see how accurately the evaluated their peers. A small margin of error should be OK, but a large one might point to misunderstanding about the rubric or the assignment. This will have an impact on the reviewer’s own submission and it would be good to rectify any misunderstandings of the assignment before it’s too late.


Since MOOCs are experimental and they give us the opportunity to test new pedagogies, and new technologies, in environments that don’t necessarily jeopardize our existing concepts of credit hour or academic rigor. Thus we find ourselves in a place where we can really take a step back and not only examine our instructional design practices with regard to MOOCs, but we can also see how the results of these experiments in instructional design can benefit other facets of online learning, such as those in traditional online courses. In Part 2 of this article I will discuss what I see the role of MOOC elements such as Easter Eggs, distributed learning and open communities in traditional online courses. Stay tuned!

     Cillay, D. (2013). It’s Time to Redirect the Conversation about MOOCs. http://wcetblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/redirect-mooc-conversation/
     McGuire, R. (2013). EdX and San Jose State Announce Partnership for MOOCs In Blended Classes. http://moocnewsandreviews.com/san-jose-state-edx-partnership/
     Moe, R. (2013). MOOCseums: Using the Open Movement to Invigorate Local Museums. Open Education 2013 Conference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chr0VKXN0_E
     Rees, J. (2013). Anti-MOOC is the new Black. Retrieved from: http://moreorlessbunk.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/anti-mooc-really-is-the-new-black/
     Wiley, D. (2013). SJSU, edX, and Getting it Right/Wrong on MOOCs. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2832
     Wikieducator (n.d.). Defining OER. http://wikieducator.org/Educators_care/Defining_OER

     CCK11 How To: http://cck11.mooc.ca/how.htm
     E-learning and Digital Cultures [Coursera / Knox; Saybe; Ross; Sinclair; Macleod / U of Edinburg]: https://class.coursera.org/edc-002/class
     GamesMOOC: http://gamesmooc.shivtr.com/
     MobiMOOC: http://mobimooc.wikispaces.com/
     OLDS MOOC: http://www.olds.ac.uk/
     Open Badges MOOC: http://badges.coursesites.com
     Open Badge Initiative: http://openbadges.org/
     Video Games and Learning [Coursera / Steinkuhler & Squire / UW Wisconsin]: https://class.coursera.org/videogameslearning-001/class/index

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books making us stupid?

Well, we've made it to Week 4 of #rhizo14, a full two-thirds done with this rhizomatic thing. But wait, if rhizomes are all middle with no beginning and end, what does two-thirds actually mean?

I guess the topic of the week is the printed medium, and the overall question of "is Books making us stupid?"  The question brought up immediately the mental image of Homer Simpson, from the show The Simpsons, pondering one such question.

Dave, in his opening salvo this week tells us that there is something in Books that he distrusts, in that books encourages objectivity, distance, a feeling of being removed from the audience. Something less participatory.  This is quite an interesting thought, considering that many (of a certain generation) would claim that Google (and the Internet) is making us stupid and we are losing out literacy skills because we aren't reading as much.  Just like those concerns over Google are unfounded, so is this concern about Books (in general).  Books are just a tool, and tools can be used, misused, and overused, underused and abused. Books haven't always made us "stupid," they have been used to transfer information and knowledge over the millennia from previous generations to new generations. They have also been used to obfuscate, inveigle and deceive potential readers, and to influence them to act or behave in certain ways that are not beneficial to their readers.

What has the medium of print done to learning? I think that books have done wonders for learning, and for scholarship, provided that people have the literacies necessary to engage with the content of the books, and with others about this content.  Books have allowed us to not only pass-on knowledge, news, information, and entertainment, but they have also serves as a chronicle of our own knowledge generation process.  Some may want to throw away old books because they serve no purpose - the knowledge in them is obsolete.  It is true, perhaps, that people might not want to reference these obsoleted books as a primary source of knowledge to be introduced to any given field, but as a historical reference these books, when compared to newer books, give us a sense of where we came from, and how we got to know what we know today.

Dave asks us to think about the implications of the book's (and thus the author's) objective distance. How does it impact what we believe is valid in our society both inside learning and outside of it? In the words of Walter Ong - Orality is "empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced".  I think that books are snapshots of any given moment in time in what we know about a certain subject.  Authors can write, with the intent of reaching out across the boundary of the book and influencing the reader, for good or ill.  That said, just because the author himself can't come and have a dialogue with you or your learning circle, it doesn't mean that you can't engage with the materials that the author has provided via the book he's written.  Think of the US Constitution for example and the intellectual battles that go on between people about the author's original intent.  Those guys are long dead. Even if they were alive, what would having them tells us the original intent accomplish?  Things have changed since 1776, and original intents could be incompatible, at least to some extent, with how things are today. What's important in these discussions, I would argue, is not always the original intent of the founding fathers of the US, but rather the discussion itself and what results it yields toward attaining a more equal and just society. We use the written word, but the written word is just one element in a grand ecosystem of activity and relationships that help us wrangle with bigger issues and move forward.

Does this make sense? or did I lose all of #rhizo14? ;-)

your thoughts?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Uncertain thoughts on #rhizo14

So, week 3 is done, week 4 is upon us in #Rhizo14, and the topic for week 4 is undeclared. So, this is a good opportunity to maybe do a summation of last week.  However, as I was thinking about this topic I was a bit uncertain on how to proceed.  There were many things discussed, and many topics approached in facebook, P2PU and the various blogs.  I guess Jenny and I had the same issue with which thread to pick up and unfold.

Then Jenny brought together the aspect of uncertainty and jobs:
Nowadays, many people, if not most, will have a number of jobs during their career. There is no certainty that they will be able to stay in the same job or even in their own country throughout their working lives. And we know that in many aspects of society, change is coming at us much faster than it ever has in the past.
This got me thinking of something Maha wrote:
Now if only I could convince my students that this is actually a good thing in formal (and informal) learning! They would have to unlearn quite a lot. I think maybe thinking of it as serendipity instead of uncertainty would put a more positive spin on things, but that might be misleading because uncertainty also entails risk. It is just that I believe those risks are already there, it is just time to embrace them.

And the gears started churning.  This isn't quite a school-learning thing that it brought me to, but rather a life-learning thing. My frame of reference, as far as work goes, comes from a very traditional, old country, frame: you pick a career and that is what you do until you retire.  I saw this growing up with various immediate relatives, family friends and extended circles. When I was an undergraduate I thought I knew what I wanted to do, and that was to be a computer programmer.  Obviously, that's not where I am now, despite the fact that I enjoy what I do.

Still, I picked a job and kind of stuck with it, until I changed to go and work for a library. Things were pretty certain and stable with my first real job, until I went to the library.  This is where I met my new supervisor who came in with the frame of mind that one ought to change their job every couple of years.  This type of uncertainty was scary given that I had experienced eight years previous of rock solid certainty.  Well, since then, through departmental re-organizations, trading (like soccer players) to other departments, and good ol' fashioned poaching, In the eight years since I moved to the library I've had five job titles, in four departments. If you do the math, it's essentially switching jobs almost every couple of years.  The thing that seemed totally scary at the time when I first encountered it, seems a bit natural at this point in time.  Not because I chased after this uncertainty, but because uncertainty happened, and it was (for the most part) a good thing.

I think that if you chase after uncertainty, Indiana Jones style, you could find yourself in a pickle, but if you embrace uncertainty, go ahead with changes that occur professionally, organizationally, and in the classroom (to tie this back into learning), there are many opportunities for serendipity to come into play. But, in order to take advantage of such serendipitous occurrences, you must be open to the possibility - embrace uncertainty.

Finally to bring this back to some reactions from the blogs this week, I missed the unHangout, but Jenny reports:
Sarah Honeychurch asked in the UnHangout ‘Is all knowledge up for grabs?’ Has the nature of knowledge changed? I can see that this could/would create lots of uncertainty. Is this the really big deal in relation to uncertainty?
This seems like a large philosophical discussion of what is, and what isn't knowledge, and the nature of knowledge.  I don't think that the nature of knowledge has changed fundamentally.  The pace of the information we share has changed to some extent, at least for those of us lucky (or unlucky?) to lead fast-paced lives connected to the Internet 24x7. What we know is a continuous loop of learn, verify, apply, test, and repeat.  We can approach all knowledge with the certainty that this is what we know now, but it might turn out to not be true in the future, at which point we will know something else with certainty.  Certainty, in other words, is in a perpetual state of flux, and that's OK. I am not sure what is meant by "is all knowledge up for grabs?", but if we mean "is it accessible to all?", then the answer is no.  Even if you have all the resources in the world, you still need one resource that isn't malleable: time, so you need to figure out how to allot your time and which knowledge or fields you want to pursue.  But, as we know, we don't have access to everything.  No one library is the library at Alexandria. And even if it were, people still need various literacies in order to gain access to what is written, recorded and photographed.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

MOOC Evaluation: Beyond the Certificate of Completion

NOTE: this is a report of the post I wrote for Sloan-C back in November of 2013.  I am reposting here as a backup.  The original can be found here http://blog.sloanconsortium.org/2013/11/18/mooc-evaluation-beyond-the-certificate-of-completion/

This coming January will be my third year of involvement in MOOCs. Questions have come up in the last year around the issue of why students “drop out” and how to better retain students. Tied to these questions is the issue of evaluation of learners and learning in MOOCs. At this point, I’ve witnessed at least three different kinds of MOOCs, and they all approach evaluation somewhat differently.

During my first year all MOOCs were of the cMOOC kind. This included, among others, LAK11 (Learning Analytics), CCK11 (Connectivism) and MobiMOOC (mLearning). There was not an evaluation of learner knowledge acquisition component in these MOOCs because the MOOCs were focused on community and emergent learning. This meant individuals made their own goals, within the framework of the course, and worked out a plan to attain those goals. In the end, they were only accountable to themselves and any sponsors they might have had for participating in the learning activity. This lack of external accountability earned cMOOCs the nickname “massive open online conferences” instead of their original “massive open online courses.” This was OK, as far as I was concerned, because I was happy to learn new things instead of having to show it on a piece of paper.
When Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and others dubbed “elite” Universities, decided to join the game, learner evaluations came into the picture, and came in a systematic way. This is partially because these courses were converted from current campus courses and evaluations were part of the norm. This brought up new considerations such as: How does one evaluate hundreds of thousands of students? Even in a “mini-massive” course of hundreds of students there is an issue in evaluation because it takes so darned long. As a result, automated testing, by way of multiple-choice quizzes, and peer reviews entered the picture. Big data and crowd sourcing also seemed to provide answers. In the end, you received a nice little certificate of participation if your overall grade was above a certain percentage. In this sphere, the “with distinction” mark was also available for students who went above and beyond the minimum requirements. As I’ve written elsewhere, as the requirements vary from course to course, the “with distinction” mark means little since there is no standard rubric for it.
Now, we’ve seen other MOOC practices emerge. One recent category is the project-based MOOC (or pMOOC). The OLDS MOOC, and, more recently one could argue, Mozilla’s Open badge MOOC, fall into this category. In this type of MOOC, participants work on a project (or projects) throughout their involvement in the MOOC. The projects receive student comments by peers designed around improvement or they are evaluated by a team. The work seems substantial enough to keep achievement hunters (those just looking for a quick path through the MOOC in order to get a piece of paper, or a badge) at bay.

The question of learner evaluation in MOOC environments is quite big. Yet, it all comes back to one fundamental question: What is the final outcome of your MOOC? The “C” in MOOC is for “c”ourse. We have this notion in our heads that courses have evaluations and grades. Perhaps it’s time to reassess this aspect, just as we need to reassess the significance of retention rates in MOOCs. Some self-check feedback is probably worthwhile in any course, MOOC or not. In smaller courses, establishing that you are on the right path might be as simple as a discussion forum or discussion with peers and the instructor, so no test is needed. In MOOCs, depending on the subject, some automated testing may help. Peer reviews (not peer grading) may help in building a community of learners that help scaffold each other’s learning endeavors.

Evaluation as a means of self-check has its place. The proof, however, on whether you can put this knowledge to use, is in practice. A piece of paper saying you participated in a MOOC is for now not worth the paper to print it. Institutions offering MOOCs do not give you credit for the course, other institutions don’t accept it for credit, and no one recognizes, at this point, that piece of paper. Even Coursera’s signature track, with proctored exams, does not yet gain recognition. So, at the end of the day, if learners aren’t getting some external recognition of their learning, what is the point of formal graded evaluations in MOOCs? I would argue that it’s time to go back to the drawing board. When designing MOOCs, do a learner and learning outcome analysis, and work toward development of MOOCs that makes sense for that environment. Then work on evaluation mechanisms that make sense for your stated course goals.

What are your thoughts on the subject?