Friday, March 28, 2014

MOOCs as ephemeral entities

So, the other day I was at the NERCOMP annual conference.  I heard a few people speak (cool stuff), and I also got an opportunity to chat with people, and be a nosy eavesdropper on other people's conversations.   One of the things that came up, as has come up elsewhere in the past three or so years, has been the concept of MOOCs as OER and MOOCs as OCW.  We've actually seen this with xMOOCs like Udacity as having their content labeled as open courseware. EdX uses the term "courseware" for their course materials on their MOOCs, whether they are open is an entirely different discussion.  Even my third MOOC ever (mobimooc 2011) had stated that the materials would remain as OER after the end of the MOOC.

Then, I started to think about Dave Cormier's question, or potentially a challenge, on how to introduce newbie to the Rhizo14 MOOC that ended five weeks ago, but we are still active, on facebook at least.  All of this got me thinking about two things:  first, what is the value of material created for MOOCs as OER?  One of my critiques of some OER is that they are created with such distinct needs in mind that it's not always possible or useful to adapt this OER for your own purposes.  The second question that came to mind was the utility of courseware that remains, after the MOOC is done, if there isn't a sufficient community around to rally around the materials. The use case that came to mind was my participation in #ioe12 (David Wiley's Intro to Openness in Education MOOC). I went through the motions, I got something out of it, but I suspect I would have gotten much more out of it if people were there to go through it with me - that shared space and shared experience.

All of this is making me ponder and hypothesize that MOOCs are, in fact, ephemeral entities.  They are here today, and maybe gone tomorrow; at least as far as instructor-sourced content goes.  I wonder if certain MOOCs (speaking of individual classes like Rhizo14)are like Woodstock in a sense.  I don't get woodstock, but people who lived through it and went to it have it etched in their minds because of the experiences they were having and connections they made with other humans while there. Are MOOCs this type of ephemeral experience?  Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Encouraging Independence, part II

I am attending, and presenting, at NERCOMP 2014 today. As I was checking Blackboard over the past couple of days and "grading" feedback pieces submitted by my students, I noticed an interesting trend in the feedback (and some emails sent by students) that reminded me of #Rhizo14 (week 2?): encouraging independence.

We are now in week 8 (of 13) in this course and students are put into groups of three from now until the end of the semester. They are each working on their own, independent, final project - but they are in peer review groups. The question that I got, from a lot of students, was "what are we supposed to do in our groups?" Of course, I am paraphrasing here, but the underlying current was: we've assigned groups, well now what? what do you want us to do?  I should point out here that this is the 3rd round of groups in this course.  The first two were self-selecting groups, so in the third one I stepped in to make sure that people were working with different partners. 

While I have people working on a small project this week, the bulk of the work is really peer review at the end of the semester.  So why pair people up now?  Well,  I honestly wanted to get people to know one another (and the courses they are developing) before the 12th week comes along and they start their peer reviews.  If they get to know one another and their peer's projects, who knows? They might actually develop a peer support network to help them along with the project.  Of course, I didn't articulate this when I assigned groups because I wanted to have people work organically together rather than focus on the work-production aspect of the course. 

This was just an interesting thing to note, and "aha!" light bulb came up when I was reading these comments a few days back and rhizo came to mind.  So. The question then becomes: have we de-skilled our students so much that they need to seek permission to work with one another?  At the beginning of the semester should I make an announcement (or course banner?) that indicates "this is a collaboration zone! Work with one another freely, share ideas, help one another (and no, collaboration isn't cheating)"

Thoughts? comments?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Discussion Kindler Badge - revealed!

Well, it seems one more week has passed by in INSDSG619, and one more badge had been earned by some learners, and therefore revealed to everyone! Last week the Discussion Initiator was revealed, and this week, the Discussion Kinder has come out!

Discussion Kindler
This badge is awarded to students who have made an effort to keep the discussion going by responding to peers and helping to tease out nuances in the discussion.

For at least six weeks (half the semester), a student needs to post at least 5 responses to peer contributed posts per week. These replies to peers' posts need to meet the full rubric criteria for responses

Over the past few years, both teaching and observing online posting behaviors of students, I've noticed that there are some students that go the extra mile and post more than the minimum of required replies to their peers.  Thus, they keep the discussion going, they ask expository questions, they guide the discussion, and they offer help to their peers.  For 619, I have not specifically stated how many responses to peers students need to have each week.  The number is, in reality, arbitrary, so if a student wants to only reply once per week, and they meet the requirements for the rubric, their part is, technically done.  Of course, we don't learn as well by following the minimum path. So, to award those that go beyond the minimum number of postings, I've created this badge.  Why 5 postings per week?  In most classes I've seen, the required number of responses to peers is 2-3.  Thus, I thought that 5 would be a good "break from the pack" indicator.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

One More Badge - discovered!

We are now in the middle of Week 7 (of 13) of the course I am teaching (INSDSG 619: The Design and Instruction of Online Courses) and one more of the secret badge is revealed!

Discussion Initiator
  • Must hit all elements of the discussion board grading rubric,
  • Must be the first to respond in any given week,
  • Must be a post that encourages other to respond and engage in discussion (i.e. have at least 3 responses to it),
  • Must be a post that kindles the discussion (i.e. Original poster needs to respond to fellow student's responses, not ignore his/her own post),
I've noticed over the past three years that I've been teaching that there are some students who always (or often) take the leap and start the weekly discussion off by contributing an initial discussion forum post for that week.  I do know, from my conversations with current and past students, that there are some students who prefer to stay back for a few days, see what other people write, and then go in and add in anything that hasn't been said. This is perfectly acceptable, but I wanted to reward those who jump in first, do a thoughtful job, and encourage others to jump in.

So, in order to  receive this badge, for 2 weeks (out of the entire semester) a student will need to post first, meet the discussion board rubric criteria, so no "FIRST!" posts that contain no content, and the posted must post something that encourages discussion.  There are few things worse than a dangling thread, with an initial post, and where no one else has bothered to respond and engage with the original poster :)

The one issue I had to grapple with, with this badge, is that it is a limited edition, in a sense.  Since students have to exhibit this behavior twice per semester (it used to be 3 times, but I relaxed the criterion a bit), that means that there can only be six badges awarded max (and that's if everything is perfect).  Out of a class of 20 (theoretical max enrollment in my course), that means that only 30% of the students (max) would receive this badge.  On the one hand, having this badge means you are above everyone else, but should badges be potentially available to all?  I guess this is a philosophical discussion.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blogging, Lurkers, and Schrödinger's cat

Alright, so I guess we are entering the final frontier of #rhizo14 here, with week 11.  Perhaps I should stop counting weeks and call this series of posts "This Week in Rhizo14" ;-)  Last week I missed some discussions on P2PU, which I've gone back and answered some questions directed to me, but I think this ends my formal mingling in P2PU for Rhizo14 and I will focus more one the PLE aspect on Facebook and the blog.

There were a number of interesting discussions last week.  Rebecca asks, in her blog, about the value of Blogging, this coming from one of her students this semester. While I have posted on Rebecca's blog, I thought I would discuss a little more here about educational blogging and this blog. In 2008 I needed a blog for education purposes. It was a class requirement, so I started ID Stuff, which is what I use now for MOOCs and other educational blogging. Before that I had blogged about a variety of topics, so I kept the title of the blog more encompassing rather than naming it INSDSG605 since I might want to use it for other courses, and other educational endeavors (and I have!)   There isn't one reason to blog (as others have written on Rebecca's comment thread). The topics will be varied depending on the goals of the author. What I would say is most important is a connection to a community. I can write something that I am pondering, and others can chime in. I think the value of the blog is more as a thinking tool rather than a reporting tool for most. I've really used this blog a lot with MOOCs.  I plan on using this blog when I start my doctoral work as well. Who knows, someone might point me to a resource that I might need but I also don't know that I need.

The other thing, last week, as this joke I made about Lurkers being like Schrödinger's cat in MOOCs, and this generated some discussion on P2PU.  For a primer on Schrödinger's cat have a look at this quick youtube video:

The idea for using Schrödinger's cat as an analogy for Lurkers was a momentary thought.  Lurkers both exist and don't exist at the same time.  From our perspective, as those who are designing and/or participating in MOOCs we can't see or observe lurker actions/reactions because they are lurking and thus their actions are invisible to us.  If a lurker does do something, they they are no longer lurking, so a state has been chosen and thus we can see it.  If a lurker goes back to lurking, you don't know if they've stopped contributing because they are lurking, or have "dropped out," or some other non-participatory state.

Maha, on P2PU writes: [Schrödinger's cat] basically means "paradox"? I'm still not sure how you mean - that lurkers are part of the group but not really part of it? I don't think it's like that. I think of it as in lurkers might be learning in different ways than everyone else, but just not contributing to anyone else's learning but their own. They have the right, but it is a selfish right (no offense to anyone). Some people do something interesting - they lurk online but participate in back channels f2f which is a bit different from lurking, I think.
I wonder, also, if some lurking occurs because people are:
  • Unsure of themselves
  • Unsure of how to participate (e.g. don't know how to promote their blog posts for example)
  • Afraid of being identified online
  • Afraid of saying something openly to complete strangers (more so in an open environment - at least in xMOOCs they can post in disc forums anonymously).
Come to think of it - there was an interesting discussion on twitter about whether anonymity could/should be acceptable in open courses... what do you think?
I can see where there might be confusion. What I mean is more of a philosophical thing along the lines of  "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If lurkers have no visible influence on the course, how do we know that there are lurkers? and how do we know what they are getting out of it? How do we know that there are people actually in the course if they are true lurkers?  I think that lurkers can get something out of the course, but whether they get something from the course, and whether they are lurking or not (being/not being) are two different questions.

On the related note on anonymity, I think anonymity is perfectly fine if it's not used for trolling or griefing. I have no problem interacting with anonymous people.  Anonymous44430 as a username could be an issue as far as recognition goes (I will never remember someone's number), but  anonymity through pseudonyms isn't really anonymity in my book.

Frances Bell commented as well:
Openness can be a device for silencing just as privacy can be a device for bullying, in communication. Just because we want things to be simple doesn't mean to say they are. Lurking can be a rational response, a kindness to reduce noise to signal ratio. Using the terms unsure and afraid suggests a deficit model for lurking. Anonymity in online discussion can be more apparent than real as people can give away contextual clues that help to identify the author.
To be honest, I had never thought about this aspect of lurking --> Lurking as the deliberate reduction of noise in the signal. This is actually pretty interesting concept to wrap one's head around.  I think some lurkers may be of this variety, but I am not sure how many of this type there are.

Your continued thoughts to Schrödinger's Lurker? :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Here come the lurkers!

Well, It's week 9 of Rhizo14 (or week 3 of the after party of rhizo14, depending on how you look at it.)  Last week we had a discussion on de-mobing teachers (I guess enabling teachers to not teach to the test?). To be honest I lurked a bit last week on facebook since the day job, the other work obligations, the DML conference (which was awesome!) and subsequent weekend food poisoning made me miss out on Rhizo, and get behind on the FutureLearn Corpus Linguistics course.

Anyway, how apropos that we've just promoted the Week 10 topic to Week 9!  All about Lurkers! The overall question proposed for Week 9 is "Why do we need lurkers?"

If you go back through my MOOC blog posts, which at the moment number somewhere in the 170 range (how the heck did that happen?) you can see that I haven't really thought much about lurkers in MOOCs, and in thinking about designing MOOCs, I don't think of lurkers much then either.

The reason I don't think of lurkers much is that the majority of learning experiences, for me, require some sort of interaction.  I do acknowledge that there is content-learner interaction, and this is a valid type of interaction. For this reason I do respect the right of lurkers to lurk and engage in that content-learner interaction as they see fit for their own intended learning outcomes.  That said, interaction (which hopefully is engaging) does not necessarily equate to participation.  For me, participation is a learner-learner, and to some extent learner-facilitator, type of interaction which, again, should foster engagement.  It is through this separate, and different, type of interaction that we get more materials, different views, different entry points to the same materials, and different departure destinations. Seems, and sounds a lot like a rhizome, and it can grow, and be traversed, but only if there are enough people to put in the effort to grow this from the seedlings that the instructional designers and course creators provide. A self-paced course will (probably) be the same each time it runs, same start and end.  But a cMOOC, when it runs multiple times (if someone wants to take it multiple times) can have a lot of variation.

As I was working on a literature review for an article I am working on with a colleague, I came across an article by Rita Kop on PLENK2010. The following is a quote from a lurker:
"My lurking provided me with a wealth of information and education into MOOC, PLE, PLN, PLC, and how information and knowledge will be shared by all—teachers, students, kids, adults. . . . PLENK has provided me an opportunity to listen to the experts. . .I come in and read the posts that are of most interest to me. I wanted to know how it affects my teaching efforts, my learning, and how to share this with others. The discussions did give me a clear idea of how they are used by different people. . .Thank you for allowing lurkers, who may not know enough to post, but have learned a great deal in just lurking."
from: Kop, R. (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experience during a massive open online course. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 12(3).

Most lurking seems to be of this variety (at least from my own personal experiences).  If lurkers don't want to feed anything back to the community, then that's OK; however do we need lurkers in MOOCs?  I can't see a reason why you'd need them since they don't feed back something into the whole process.  I would not design a MOOC around lurkers.  If I did, I'd call it a self-paced course, or OER.  Not  a MOOC.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Attention splitting in MOOCs

The other day I caught a post by Lenandlar on the #Rhizo14 MOOC which is over, but we amazingly are keeping it going.  At the end of his post on motivation that I wanted to address, since they've been on my mind and they've come up a few times in the past week.

Are MOOC participants in favor of shorter or longer videos or it doesn’t matter?  

I can't speak for all MOOC participants, I can only speak for myself, and from my own experiences. I can say that video length does matter, but it's not just about the video length.  On average, I would say that you don't need a video that is longer than 20 minutes. My feeling is that if I want to watch a documentary, I will watch a documentary, not participate in a MOOC. Anything longer than 20 minutes is probably unfocused and not suitable to the medium and the goals of the course.

Of course, simply having 20 minutes to work with doesn't mean that you should take up all that time.  This goes back to figuring out what your message is, what you need to talk about, how you are going to present it, and what the ultimate goals are of the video.  I think that Grice's maxims are a perfect fit here :). If your video is 20 minutes long but is just right for what you intend to do with it, great.  If your video is 5 minutes but it failed miserably, then you wasted my time, or worse you diminished my interest in a topic I was previously interested in. At the end of the day, it's not about the length. So long as the learner knows the duration of the video, and any dependencies (i.e. do I need to watch something else before I watch this), if the video is well made, on point, and on-time, you are OK. The learner can carve out the time that they need to watch certain videos if they know the duration ahead of time.

What is the extent of discussions taking place on Forums set up for MOOCs?  
Again, this is only my experience.  I think that some forums work well, and some do not.  Forum that work as list-servs, for me, work well because I can keep an eye out on things that are happening in the forums while I commute on my smartphone, and respond accordingly.  If I have to wait to get home, after all else is done, then I am lost in a sea of posts.  This is useless, so I avoid those forums.  A good example of forums working well was mobiMOOC 2011.

There is of course another element here, and that is learner choice.  If forum discussions are created with prompts, like traditional online learning, then the forums get barraged by the 2, 3, 4, 10 ,15 possible answers and you end up having a lot of repetition.  There are countless examples of this, but one that comes to mind is the Games in Education MOOC that I did last fall.  Interesting stuff, and I did try to participate in the forums, but as soon as one person makes a post about a particular game (let's say Metal Gear Solid), then why are there six other threads with the same game?  Those should all be in one thread.

Meaningful discussion could conceivably take place in a MOOC discussion forum, but I don't think that the variables have yet been determined as to how to best setup a forum from a technological and a pedagogical end. The other thing that comes to mind is this notion (from PLENK2010 research if I remember correctly, Kop et al?) there were quite a few people who seemed to be "refugees from the forum" who started blogging. Having an alternative vehicle is great, but the thing I started pondering in Rhizo14 was how many media can a learner reasonably keep track of at any given time?  For me, in rhizo14,  the Blog and the Facebook group were primary.  P2PU secondary (check in every few days), and twitter tertiary, in other words whenever I could remember.  Two primaries and two secondaries are what I could handle (and not that well I might add).  So in MOOCs, where forums don't work well, or where forums are an option among other venues (Fb groups, G+, twitter, blogs, wikis and so on), what toll does that take on the learner?

Does course duration matter to MOOC participants? If so, what is an optimal length? What is too short? What is too long?
I will refer you back to my video answer for this one ;-). In all honesty, it depends on the subject matter at hand, and who you expect the learners/participants to be.  In some cases, like CCK, the course was structured for 13 weeks (if I remember correctly).  Perhaps this was a university requirement, since it did run for credit at the University of Manitoba, but it may just as well have been a design consideration outside of university norms.  That said, I would say, from the research I've read thus far, such as Weller's analysis of Katy Jordan's data (I think I've seen a recent article on IRRODL that I have not read yet by her) the  sweet spot seems to be six weeks for MOOCs.  Now, I think this data is based on coursera xMOOCs, so the design decisions for those MOOCs are probably affecting the appropriate length.

Going back to my earlier comment, I would say that if you think of your message, and your delivery, and your goals, you will have an idea of how long the MOOC needs to be.  I will go ahead and state that a MOOC that is less than 3 weeks is not really a MOOC. I don't know what it is, but a MOOC it ain't (assuming C = course).  It took me a couple of weeks to get acclimated to the people in Rhizo14, even if I knew some of them from before.  Depending on your participation in the MOOC, it may take you a week to get comfortable and in the head-space to be where you need to participate, or lurk/consume.  Thus, three weeks are, for me, the very minimum needed.  The max...well, current research seems to indicate six, or maybe eight, weeks, but this depends on a variety of factors.

Monday, March 3, 2014

After Action Report: One more coursera from Amsterdam down; first Miriada complete. What just happened?

Last week was the last formal week of #rhizo14.  Even though we crazy lunatics have taken over Dave's P2PU course site and are continuing the course on our own (for now), life goes on and other MOOCs start and finish.  This week was the week I completed the Introduction to Communication Science from the University of Amsterdam, and the course Diseño, Organización y Evaluación de videojuegos y gamificación (design, organization, and evaluation of video games, and gamification)from the Universidad Europea, using the Miriadax platform. The former was taught in English, using the all too familiar Coursera model, while the latter was taught presented entirely in Spanish (with one or two interviews in English). The Communications course isn't technically over, next week in the final week, but the final exam was this week.  Since I am done with both, I think it's good to have a little post-mortem analysis.

Coursera - Intro to Communication

The novelty that got me into this course on coursera was the fact that it was presented from someone from the University of Amsterdam.  I've seen xMOOCs from a (small) variety of US schools, so I wanted to see what some of the European schools were doing.  Of course, I was interested in the topic and I wanted to learn more about it.  I had a suspicion that having gone through an MA in Applied Linguistics I would know some of this stuff, but I wanted to fill in some gaps.  Sadly, there was little innovation in the course.  The course still follows the standard coursera practice of video presentations and multiple choice quizzes after each module.  I did like the fact that the characters on screen were (or appeared to be) hand-drawn but I really just had the videos on a small window while doing other things.

There is a final exam in the class, which I did while watching television.  It was 100 questions, and I took my time with it.  I just wanted to see how well I did in the multiple choice exam while I wasn't in a quiet environment like my office.  I guess we will find out next week when the exam closes and grades are released.

That said, there are two things of interest, from a procedural point of view, in this MOOC.  First, the MOOC is scheduled for 8 weeks, but only five weeks had content created by the MOOC team.  Week 6 was a week where learners submitted questions and the instructor talked about them. Week 7 was all about the final exam but no new content, and week 8 (this coming week) is going to be a look behind the scenes on how this MOOC was created.  I am actually quite curious to see what they present and how they went about to create their MOOC.

The main issue with coursera, at this point, is that I am just used to the same old thing, and it's getting kinda boring.  If the lecture videos aren't engaging, there is nothing redeeming or new to explore about the platform.

Miriadax - Videojuegos

The other course that I just completed (and got my certificate moments ago) was a course on video games on MiriadaX,  My spoken Spanish is quite rudimentary.  I taught myself Spanish after I studied French and Italian and it was quite easy to pick up, at least in written form.  I decided to join MiriadaX in order to try them out for a presentation I was doing on MOOCs for my local Educause affiliate.  I didn't just want to join any course, I wanted to join a course with a topic I was interested in.

So, let me start off with what I did NOT like.  MiriadaX has copied the worst parts of the US-based xMOOC platforms. The course was a series of videos, followed by multiple choice tests. Now, if I were a native speaker of Spanish, I would most likely experience xMOOC fatigue by participating in this course, and the Alexander the Great Course (edX) and the Communication course (coursera above). But, since I am not a native speaker, the multiple choice tests and the videos actually served a dual purpose.  They both served up content about to topic at hand and they served as a way for me to get back into the language!

The one thing that I would really want to improve in this course, as a language learner, is some real closed captioning! For the most part I was able to understand what was said, and after my ears adjusted I was (sort of) OK.  But, when it came time to listed to the interviews I had hard time with some of the accents. It was clear that they had guest speakers (interviewees) from a variety of Spanish speaking countries and I was not familiar with all the accents and cadences.  The automatic transcription on YouTube was of no help because it routinely mistranscribed what the people were saying.  I know this because I saw the transcription make errors on things I know I heard correctly (and the transcriptions made no sense).

In terms of completion, I was able to get 90% there since the majority of the course was multiple choice comprehension tests. Had I done the the peer review project I could have gotten a "perfect score" - but my Spanish isn't up to that level yet.  I wonder if I did mine in English what would my peer reviewers say.  Hmmmm.  something to test out in the future.  One interesting about this course was a pre-test before the first module.  I don't know what they did with the data they collected, but it would be interesting to see how this, along with actual performance in the course, says about learning in MOOCs.  Speaking of MC tests, on the one hand they did give me many chances at getting the right answer (so mastery grading, I suppose), but I was never really given any feedback on why I got things wrong.  This seems like an area that the course design can improve on. Finally, I did like that the creator of the MOOC had put together a small text-based packet at the end of each module recapping everything. This was pretty easy, from a language learner perspective, to use since I didn't have to worry about accents I didn't recognize :-)

From a platform perspective, there are some nice things in the MiriadaX platform that I like, and I think other xMOOC platforms should maybe steal!  The first thing I liked was this concept of  Karma Points. If you participate in the forums, you can earn Karma Points from your fellow classmates (or instructor as well?) for being active in the forum and contributing to the continued well being of the course.

There are also Badges for completing social tasks on the platform.  My guess would be that these can also be tied into participation in the forums, in peer review, and so on. Finally, when you complete a course you get both a badge and a certificate for completion of course. The badge can be sent to your Mozilla Backpack, and the certificate you can print out. Thus, covering both ends of the credentialing.

Anyone else have examples of platforms other than Coursera, Udacity and EdX?  Curious to see what other platforms do.  What do you think of foreign language MOOCs as a way to improve your language skills?