Thursday, April 24, 2014

Four weeks, Five MOOCs, One Open2Study experience

Last year when I put out the call for the Great Big MOOC Book, one of the submissions came from a colleague in Australia who is going to write a bit about MOOC experiments that they ran on the Australian Open2Study platform, which is sponsored by the Open University of Australia.  I had heard of the platform before, but I never really tried it out since I was testing out other platforms at the time.  Well, since there wasn't much on Coursera to keep me going (too much of the same makes for a dull MOOC), and since rhizo14 is winding down (to some extent) I decided it was time to check out this platform.

I originally signed up for two topics: Teaching Adult Learners, and Becoming and Confident Trainer. The Adult Learner topic was mostly to see what others say about the topic since I've already taken courses on this topic as part of my master's coursework.  The confident trainer was a bit of a repetition, but it was also an interesting look into corporate training, something I am not too much into given that I work in Higher Education.  Once I sampled these two course, I decided to sign up for a few more, Concepts in Game Development, going back to my computer science days; Human Resources, going back to my MBA days for a refresher; and User Experience for the Web, a refresher on my UX days in computer science, but also to see what a self-paced topic looks like.  The other four courses were "paced" courses.

My badges thus far
There are a few things that were head-turners. The Open2Study platform has a certain level of gamification where badges are awarded for certain types of actions. These actions are on aggregate for all courses taken on a platform. So, you are rewarded for participating in the forums, voting on other posts, getting voted up by peers, connecting with others, passings quizzes in the course, getting a perfect score in a class, and completing multiple courses (just to name a few).  By satisfactorily completing five courses, I have earned 29 badges. None of these are Open Badge compliant, so I can't export them to my backpack.  Oh well! The key thing here is that there seems to be a carrot for completing the work in the class, being social, helping others in the course, and actually completing the courses in a satisfactory manner (beyond the certificate that you get at the end).

That said, I did notice that all courses followed the same format.  There are four modules in each course, no more, no less,  Each module has nine or ten mini-modules which include a short video (less than ten minutes) and a multiple choice quiz. Each module has a final, summative, quiz which contains five or ten multiple choice questions.  The final summative quiz can be taken up to four times for a better score, but the thing I noticed was that when I took the quiz, I got a final score. I was never told which questions I got wrong, so when I went back to take it again, I had to second guess myself on some quizzes.  This time around I didn't care about getting the badge for 100% on all quizzes, so I never really tried quizzes again if I got less than 100%.

From a content perspective, I do like some of the video elements, like the glass wall that they write on to illustrate their points (gets us away from horrible horrible powerpoint presentations), and that they limit most videos to 10 minutes. That said, presentations were a bit formulaic.  The formula was:
  1. This is what I am going to tell you
  2. I am telling you what I said I was going to tell you
  3. This is what I told you
  4. This is what we are talking about in the next segment.
It's not THAT bad when you are taking one course, but when you are doing five at a time (and there isn't a ton of of interaction in the forums), it gets kind of dull by week 4.  Speaking of forums, in the self-paced course there was no interaction in the forums since everyone was doing it on their own time. Thus, for me, I blew through the course in 3 days. For the paced courses, due to the fact that there was a barrier (i.e. you can't blow through the content until it's released), there was some discussion in the forums which made for an enjoyable, albeit a little of  discontinuous, experience. While I did get some up-votes for what I posted, and while I did respond to some things that people said, I didn't really feel as "connected" as I do in other MOOC forums, like rhizo.

Finally, I did connect (aka "friend") with some people, but again, feeling disconnected.    On the plus side, I DID end up using some of the knowledge I gained in some of these MOOCs right away, which as refreshingly surprising to me! I'm signed up for five more courses, starting at the end of the week. So more Open2Study thoughts at the end of those.

What you do you think? Have you had any O2S experiences?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

You are being watched, every minute of every day... (research ethics)

Last week I was somewhere between work, teaching, the NERCOMP symposium I co-facilitated and the annual Sloan Consortium Emerging Tech for Online conference. It was nice to see some familiar MOOC faces on both twitter and on the live stream presentations.

I think it was in Jen Ross's presentation (of EDCMOOC fame) that a Rhizo14 participant was quoted anonymously.  I really didn't think much about it at the time. It was more of an "wow, I didn't think rhizo was really that well known outside of some crazy circles."  In any case, it turns out that the quote was from the autoethnography that we are working on (slowly but surely I guess), and that no permission was sought to use the quote.  Before I knew the specifics the prompt on the rhizo14 facebook group was:

I have to admit that my gut reaction was "someone's watching? Who's reading our stuff?" But, I should point out, that this isn't indicative of a negative reaction, but rather a gut reaction (that reptilian brain kicking in).  I have the same reaction when someone I barely know says that they like reading my blog or that they have read my insert-title-here article about insert-topic-here.  I am simply unaccustomed to having people read my stuff, even though I've published a few academic articles and I keep working on this blog, and on the club-admiralty blog. When people cite my academic work in their academic articles it doesn't bother me (it's actually sought out!).  If people want to cite or quote my blog posts, go for it!  It's open!  But the autoethnography was a little bit different.

I see the autoethnography, at least the document we have up on the web now, as a work in progress.  As a place where people can post their stories, and then a bunch of us will come together to "make sense" of everything that was put into the document, and create a final version of "results" or "findings" where we might perhaps quote a few people to illuminate or substantiate the claims we make about the trends we saw in rhizo14.  I see this as similar to what Dave, Bonnie, Sandy and George did in the MOOC model for digital practice. In the process of going through and creating this final findings paper, anyone who did not wish to be quoted would have their wishes respected.  They still participated in providing data to be considered as part of the whole, and we'd get valuable insights, but we would simply not quote them.

I think that there is something qualitatively different between having an internal community, working on a project, out in the open, and deciding collaboratively what to do with the data; and someone outside of the community looking at that incomplete data, who may not have a full picture because they either aren't a member of the community or they are a lurker who may have a partial image of the community.  When a community works on something there is less of a chance that something will be taken out of context, whereas if someone external is dipping in, the chances are higher.

At the end of the day, taking one quote out from a document thats huge isn't a big deal to me.  I personally would have asked permission to use the quote if I were not part of that community.  I think the bigger issue is the aspect of open data, which I am in favor of. As researchers, when you have open data available, and you know you are working on something, does it then become an "arms race" to get your work out before someone else beats you to the punch? I know that we still have this perception of publish or perish in academia, and that we have tenure, promotion, and reputation, tied to publishing (more so than other means of measurement of academic success and productivity), so are open researchers putting themselves at a disadvantage by putting unrefined data out there for everyone to see?  I don't know.

The other issue that came up, again, are the ethics of online research.  To be honest, I need to do more research into what "the experts" (those who write textbooks) say about this.  There is such a breadth of ways to conduct research on the web that seeking permission to use what's out there for every instance is simply unnecessary, yet still ethical, in my book. Open websites, open communities, open blogs, public twitter posts and so on are fair game in my book for data analysis without consent. You may disagree, and that's fine.  We can debate this, but from where I stand, it would be disingenuous of me if I got annoyed if someone used my blog posts as part of their research. I write in the open, and anyone who is writing in the open, should expect that people are going to read, reuse, talk about, critique, and disseminate my writings.  If I don't want that, why not make my blog private? In which case, a researcher would have to seek permission to gain access and use my writings for research.

Big issue...thoughts?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Confessions of a MOOC connoisseur

Well, it's the end of the week (or the beginning if you are following Western conventions with the odd behavior of calling "Sunday" the beginning of the week), grading for my course, for this week, is done, and it's time to see what I missed on Rhizo14 while I was tending to other things. 

One of the things that we are putting together (in addition to the long autoethnography for #rhizo14) is this other research, which I would call Delphi based in its methodology, on why we take MOOCs, why we participate in them, and why we stick, or not stick, to them. I thought that this would be something interesting to participate in since I am not sure I've recorded why I've been participating in MOOCs (as you will note, the MOOC tag is the biggest one on this blog).

The other epithets used online, thus far, for those who keep engaging in MOOCs is MOOCaholic.  I don't know if I like that epithet because it doesn't necessarily describe me right at this moment.  I find myself as an accidental MOOC expert and MOOC thought leader, both nouns that someone else assigned to me and that I am uncomfortable using since there is always more to learn and the bar I set for myself is high.  Nevertheless, when I first started thinking about this, I guess my current status in MOOCdom is either that of the MOOC Connoisseur, or the MOOC Socialite (or someone in between).

Depending on when you has asked me why I've participated in MOOCs my answer will, however, have varied.  Right at the beginning, in 2011 for me, when I started LAK11, followed by CCK11, MobiMOOC and EduMOOC, I saw myself as a continuous learner.  I had just completed my last Masters degree in December of 2010, and I was interested in engaging, at the graduate level and beyond, with topics around my subject of interest. This included Education and Educational Technology, which is why these MOOCs tied in really nicely as an extension of my studies.  The high barrier to entry meant that these MOOCs were other people with pre-requisite backgrounds to engage in this discourse and extend it to new levels.  Of course, back then I didn't know this, but I know now that cMOOCs have a high barrier to entry.  In all honesty I would have been bored if I had to switch gears so radically in those early MOOCs that I may not have continued.  They spoke to me at my level, which was important for motivational purposes.  Not too hard, not too easy - just right.  At this stage I would probably (retrospectively) classify myself as a MOOC Explorer.  I was interested in the subject matter, but I wasn't interested in the form factor until I realized the variety and started collaborating with the MobiMOOC Research team.

Then came Coursera.  This phase I would classify as MOOCing in the Final Frontier, while being a MOOC binge consumer.  Initially I was expecting coursera (and other type of xMOOC platforms) to provide content that engaged me at the same level as the cMOOCs I had previously participated in, and that I kept participating in 2012 in.  When I realized what the format was, and how "easy" it was to get a certificate, but also how useless most of the forums were, I started binging on MOOCs in order to see what was out there.  The topic was important, but it was not as important as as it was in 2011 with the cMOOCs.  Some of 2012 was a bit of an aimless year in xMOOC land because I wasn't particularly interested in STEM courses (so I didn't use Udacity) and the social sciences courses in coursera were cool, but they didn't satisfy the hunger.  Binging on fast food?  There were some courses that were better than others, like the aboriginal views on education from the University of Toronto (this was quite a different worldview that it was a joy to explore) and the Gamification MOOC from the University of Pennsylvania, which was actually well done. Other MOOCs were, I felt, like watching an interesting TED talk, and taking some quizzes.  Not the same intellectual stimulation as the cMOOCs of 2011 and 2012.

In 2013, after I detoxed a bit from the xMOOC binge, I saw myself as a MOOC explorer again. This time taking an opportunity to take courses on things that were interesting to me, but also try to explore new things, such as HarvardX's The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. I had not really studied classics, and as someone who is both Greek and American, and has lived in Greece I thought I ought to know something about the topic.  The presentation also mattered.  There were panel discussions, discussions of the readings in the videos, nice a presentation of what was going on and a free eBook which I actually took on vacation and read.  That's how much I enjoyed this MOOC.  It still had the TED + quiz feel, but I was engaged, so it did not feel like a drag.  This made me wonder what sort of other courses and topics I missed out on by being career focused during my Bachelor degree days.  In 2013 I also tried out some pMOOCs, like OLDSMOOC and the OpenBadgesMOOC and I enjoyed getting my hands dirty again.  2013 was really back to 2011 - learning by doing.  Learn the subject, learn about the MOOC format, and continue to research the MOOC format.  This was the year that I really embraced the MOOC Researcher aspect, going beyond the initial papers that we did with the MobiMOOC research team.

Finally we are in 2014.  It's still early in the year, so who knows what this year is going to bring.  I can already see some trends continuing though: (1) I still want to learn more about classics, and that is what attracts me to some edx courses; (2) I want to learn more about other MOOC platforms, which is why I am signed up for Open2Study courses and experimenting with those; (3) I am curious about how Georgia Tech's MOOC MA is going to work, so I might follow along some of their Udacity courses. I think this is the connoisseur part. Of course, I am engaged in cMOOCs because that's where the community is; I guess this is where the socialite comes into the picture.

So, why do I drop or complete MOOCs? For me it comes down to a few things.  First, and most important, is the motivation that is generated by the topic.  If the topic is interesting to me, I will slog through the MOOC, no matter how badly it's done.  If the topic is marginally interesting, or just not that interesting once the first week is compete, my motivation is less to complete it really goes down.

Another reason is assessments.  Now, in most cMOOCs I haven't really had assessments which is fine.  In pMOOCs or xMOOCs you have either projects or quizzes.  If you get some good feedback on your assessments (i.e. why did I get this bloody question wrong?) then I am more likely to stay and continue. If the feedback is poor, I am most likely to abandon the MOOC.  I am there to have fun and learn; not to be told that I failed (and not tell me how to fix it). It's amazing that even though the certificates of completion don't mean much, as soon as you throw up a graded assessment, like Pavlov's dog, we need to do well in them.

For me these two factors have really amplifying effects for one another.  I am willing to sit through a topic of marginal interest, or sometimes no interest, in order to have that serendipitous "aha" moment where I am surprised to learn something cool and unexpected.  However, if assessments are putting me down, then I am more likely to say "eff-this" and drop the MOOC.  Life is too short for this  :)

Finally, I think the community has a big role in keeping people grounded in the MOOC.  If I can connect with one or two people, and sustain a small learning community, I will most likely stick to the MOOC.  Who know, maybe they will be instrumental in getting over the assessment hill ;-).  It also helps to be able to discuss content and concepts, and in the case of xMOOCs heckle when appropriate :). I guess I can't underestimate the community because when I was doing IOE12, I was alone, having come late to the party, and the only reason I completed the MOOC was because I was interested in the content.

To date, since 2011, I've been in over 30 MOOCs.  I've only really dropped out from two.  One was Udacity's Statistics which I dropped a little over half-way through because some of the explanations in the mini-quizzes didn't click with me, and the topic wasn't of immense interest. There was also no community.  The other course was a coursera course called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, which was all about symbolic logic.  I think I dropped this about half-way too.  I was interested in the topic, however I was only getting marginally passing grades on my assessments.  I wanted to know how to improve, but I wasn't getting that, so since the community wasn't there, and the assessments were annoying the heck out of me, I decided to drop the course. This was also during my MOOC binge of 2012 days, so I was looking to see what to cut out to focus on courses that I was really interested in.

One last note, on certificates of completion.  I haven't received a certificate of completion or achievement or whatever for all the xMOOCs I am considering myself to have completed.  There are MOOCs that I really liked and I stuck the course, but I didn't bother with the assessments necessary to get a certificate. The assessments were beyond what I wanted to invest in the course, and since no subject expert would review and comment on my homework/assignments, why bother?  There is the practice aspect of it, sure, however seeing that we are all busy individuals, I would prefer to practice in an arena of my own making, not someone else's arena.  Someone else's arena is fine if they are also doing the work of assessing you as well.

So there you have it, confessions of a MOOC connoisseur. Why do YOU MOOC? :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Walled Gardens badge

Well,  we are in Week 9 (or 13) in the course I am teaching this semester, and the badges experiment is continuing!  This weekend, as I was reading assignment submissions, I saw that some students, in their design documents, have started incorporating Web 2.0 tools (should we just call them "web tools" now?) that encourage the use, formation, or exploration of personal learning environments (PLE).  Thus, this week the penultimate secret badge has been revealed, and it is the No Walled Gardens badge.

The earner of this badge has incorporated at least two Web 2.0 tools and/or services into the design of their LMS-based online course. This design is incorporated in such a way that it should prompt students in that course to start developing their own PLEs.

Now, I understand that not everyone will be able to incorporate this aspect into their courses, especially the students who are working in corporate training or health-care training and have more stringent privacy and security guidelines.  That said, I thought it was still important to give a tip of the hat to those who are using PLEs, or at least encouraging students, by way of tools to start building their own PLEs.  Learning is happening all around us.  The time we spend in classes (or workshops) compared to all the other times we are learning is small by comparison.  By helping learners seek out new knowledge and learning on their own, and network with their peers for this learning, you are (in my opinion) providing more than simple training, but skills for life.  I guess I am channeling a bit of rhizo week 6 here ;-)

What do you think of this badge?  At this point there is only one secret badge left!  I am starting to think that it won't be revealed (i.e. no one will earn it) this semester since it seems like no one likes doing optional readings ;-)