Friday, October 31, 2014

DALMOOC, episode 1: In the beginning

Alright, I guess it's time to start really committing some braincells (and time) to DALMOOC, the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC that started last week on EdX.  I wasn't going to attend this MOOC, to be honest about it, but seeing that George Siemens was behind this, I knew that there was an experimental aspect to it. Learning analytics is not new to me, my first MOOC (cMOOC) in fact was LAK11 (Learning Analytics and Knowledge) which I jumped into right after I finished my Applied Linguistics studies.

So, now that I have cleared my plate of a number of coursera MOOCs (decided to give myself the "audit" status and just download the videos for later viewing - maybe in January or something), and that most of my assignments are done for EDDE 801, I can devote a little more time to writing in the open web about academic stuff and ponderings about academic stuff.

So, what brought me to DALMOOC? The first thing that brought me to it is this xMOOC/cMOOC structure that I've written about before.  A pure xMOOC, for me, is like TED talks.  I see little incentive to do assignments for xMOOCs (although I must admit that my track record on edx is a little better than on coursera). A cMOOC can be overwhelming for some, but the chaotic structure is appealing to me.  I like getting content from peers.  Videos don't always provoke me to think outside the box, peer's postings sometimes do, and that's where the spark of thought occurs and provokes me to think about things that I haven't thought about before, and to elaborate on things that I have thought about for both my benefit and hopefully other's benefit (the whole "being the teacher helps you make headway in your own learning" theory).

Once I signed up I discovered other great aspects, beyond learning analytics, about this MOOC.  The opportunity to mess around with software like Tableau for example is great, and getting to try out ProSolo. I had tried out and last summer but they seemed lacking that social aspect.  ProSolo (from the 15 minutes I've spent in it thus far) seems like a social network infused with learning.  Maybe I am reading into this, but from the recommendations I get, it reminds me a lot of the Recommender System that I had proposed for MOOCs two summers ago :-).  Anyway, I am looking forward to exploring ProSolo more (and probably reporting back here).

In any case, what's my game plan here? Explore the software for visualization of data, like Tableu, probably view a few videos each week, but I guess the core will be spend on ProSolo and on blogging.  Like other cMOOCs I've been part of I plan on picking up on what others write in their blogs and go from there.  The chaotic nature of cMOOCs does not scare me (I come armed with Pocket for later reading!) I will most likely not be part of the forums because they are usually a time-sink and there is no way to save posts for later reading.  This is one thing I liked about the forums of MobiMOOC, things came in the mail, I read the forum post, and if I had something to say I could respond right from my phone.  Perhaps this is the next user-interface innovation needed in xMOOCs, but I digress.

OK, I'm off to see where the daily digests are going for DALMOOC and watch this space for more sparks of thought on this MOOC.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The medium is the message, so pick your medium well

This semester I am helping out a colleague, and current M.Ed. student on the topic of MOOCs. He is taking a few MOOCs as part of his trying to grasp what it means to take a MOOC in order to create a MOOC.  Unsurprisingly, as is the case with most people, he's having some issues with Connected Courses because cMOOCs require the knowledge, and utilization of, certain literacies that we don't necessarily teach, or practice in school, even as graduate students.

So, in brainstorming with him over the past couple of weeks I've been  thinking a lot about the phrase: The Medium is the Message†.  One of the main pitfalls of instructional designers and instructional technologists, especially those who are currently going through their studies and are novices in the field, is that they tend to think of technology first, and everything else later.  This is true with MOOCs as well, especially people who've been enculturated to think that MOOCs are of the xMOOC variety, that they begun at elite Universities and platforms for such innovations were funded by venture capital firms, so that we may arrive at coursera, udacity and so on. So, the first question on my colleague's mind seemed to be which platform to use. This is the wrong starting point, for a variety of reasons.  First, the medium of an LMS, and coursera and co. are learning management systems, let's not kid ourselves,  comes with certain constraints in mind.  This concept isn't new, Lisa Lane wrote about it back in 2009, and I'm sure others have written about similar and related issues before this.

The pedagogy that was initially conceived for those initial Stanford MOOCs really has informed the design that has gone into coursera and co., and as a consequence to that, this design constrains all future courses "designed" for that platform to fit a specific mold.  I read something today on CogDog's Blog about people liking the LMS because they find the web too complicated‡. I guess this is people and institutions might also flock to MOOC LMS of various sorts and not think outside the box and devise solutions that work for them and their specific educational goals and outcomes for offering a MOOC. It's not like you can co-opt a MOOC LMS to do what you want to do, right?  You can try, and I think that the good folks at E-Learning and Digital Cultures did a good job with their MOOC, but they still needed to work within the confines and requirements of the coursera MOOC platform.

When you play in someone else's sandbox, you need to obey their rules. Disobey and at the best case scenario you will find yourself trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Worst case scenario you might get slapped by the provider and this could take many forms. So, at the end of the day, my advice to future educational technologists and instructional designers is to not start with the technology, start with your goals, aims, and how you'd like to reach them.  Go with technology after you've done part of your planning.  Also, it's worthwhile looking at the Terms of Service for what you are going to use.  You might be surprised at what you can, and cannot, do.  I came across a coursera ToS agreement a while back.  While I didn't read the entire legal document a few things popped out to me as concerning.  If things raise some red-flags, it's important to do something about it (or avoid the software) because you are not only thinking of your class and your learners, but also your university.

So, this was where this post was going to end, but I saw that Paul de Haye (probably known mostly due to #massiveteaching) posted on his blog a few things, including a statement of what happened with #massiveteaching, as well as a blog on the erosion of thick legitimacy by coursera. Both were interesting reads, so if you haven't read them yet they are worth reading and chewing on for a while.  They also seemed to connect to the overall message of this post: the medium is the message, hence a longer-than-usual blog post.

I am not going to summarize Paul's posts (you should read them directly from the source), but two things come to mind when reading them.  First, I agree with coursera, and other venture capital driven MOOC projects as riding on the coat-tails and reputations of established universities. Paul, if I am understanding this correctly, calls this Thick legitimacy.  This is the first time I hear of this concept, so I am interpreting it a bit through my own cultural expressions (like riding the coat-tails of someone).  I think this  thin legitimacy of projects like Coursera is inevitable for any new project, and any entity in that position would look for ways to make themselves look more credible, and hopefully in the future through their own efforts develop their own thick legitimacy.  We see this tag-along mode of being partly by the rhetoric of "take the world's best courses online, for free" (current slogan on  We also see this in the rhetoric from non-profits liked edx ("Take great online courses from the world's best universities" as the current slogan on

I don't think that there is a problem with thin legitimacy to begin with, everyone has to start somewhere.  Even doctoral students, like myself, are basing their own initial thin legitimacy on their institution's thick legitimacy until we can prove ourselves and develop our own brand of thick legitimacy (a positive reputation).  I think the problem, as Paul writes, is that if those with thin legitimacy don't start developing their own, and leech of the legitimacy of their partners, then their partners are not only not gaining a benefit, but they are actively hurt by this thin legitimacy.  I'll give you a personal example from this. I work for a university who has been in online education for quite some time now (I think our first online courses were in 2000).

My home department is now entering our 9th year with a fully online, accredited, and respected program.  I can't claim any of the glory, others set it up before I came, but as an alumn of the program I am proud of what my department has achieved.  Enter the xMOOC with thin legitimacy.  Some learners who have taken xMOOCs are asking me advice about our online program. They equate the work done by coursera as being the archetype for online courses, and they are looking to transfer that understanding on how online learning works to traditional online, accredited, programs like the one I am working for.  This actively hurts us, as an established online program, because we are equated with the impoverished pedagogy of xMOOCs. We are not partners with coursera, but we are still feeling, to some extent the collateral damage from this. I can only imagine what institutions who partner with xMOOC platforms might get in terms of feedback in their traditional online programs. Wait, are there universities on coursera that have traditional online programs?

The second thing that jumped out is Paul's act of civil disobedience (for lack of a better term). Paul saw issues with Coursera's policies, and as we've discussed here, elsewhere, and in real life, MOOC LMS providers don't make deals with individual professors but rather with university administrators and university legal departments. Those legal documents are concerning to many, and there are ways of getting the word out and getting others concerned as well.  Paul's approach was to use the system to try to raise awareness of the system's issues. OK, that's one approach, and it certainly got a lot of notoriety (bad notoriety for Paul, unfortunately), but I am happy that his side is now out and available. I personally would not have chosen to use coursera to make a point about coursera's problems.  There are other ways of achieving this that would not be personally damaging to one's thick legitimacy. To some extent I think there is something European about being in the system to co-opt the system (or maybe I am reading too much into this), but I think that it's easier to have a grassroots campaign, and join up with others of like-mind, to achieve your goals.  The good news is that we now know how things went down.  The bad news is that Paul's name lost currency through all this and that trust takes time to re-develop.

That's all for now.  Thoughts on all this?

† I've been told that Canadians love McLuhan.  Is this an over-generalization, or is it true?
‡ CogDog thinks that this is a crap-filled point of view.  So do I. You are basically partially abdicating your responsibility as an educator to someone else.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ο Ιστός ως πλατφόρμα

Τις περασμένες δύο εβδομάδες είχαμε ως θέμα μας, στην ενότητα του connected courses, το τον ιστό, και συγκεκριμένα τον ιστό ως πλατφόρμα, και ως κουλτούρα. Τα κείμενα που μας έδωσαν ως αρχική ύλη ήταν πολύ βασικά για εμένα.  Πριν από αυτή την ενότητα δεν το είχα σκεφτεί πως είμαι στο ίντερνετ σχεδόν είκοσι χρόνια.  Όταν επέστρεψα στην Αμερική κάποιος φίλος τις οικογενείας, βλέποντας πως είχα αφίσει όλα τα φιλαράκια στην Ελλάδα, μου πρότεινε να τους βρω στο ίντερνετ. Κάπου τότε άρχισα να μαθαίνω τι σημάνει διαδίκτυο, και τα έμαθα χωρίς βιβλίο. Έτσι την κουλτούρα του ιστού, και την τεχνογνωσία που χρειάζεται κάποιος, την έμαθα μέσα σε 20 χρόνια, γνωρίζοντας πολλούς και διάφορους ανθρώπους από όλο τον κόσμο.

Τώρα το θέμα μας είναι πως μπορούμε να διδάξουμε εμείς αυτά τα πράγματα σε λιγότερο χρονικό διάστημα στους φοιτητές μας, έτσι ώστε να μπορούν να χρησιμοποιήσουν αυτές τις γνώσεις, αυτή την τεχνογνωσία, και να μπορούν άνετα να κινηθούν στον χώρο αυτής της νέας κουλτούρας, ειδικά όσον αφορά τα ανοιχτά ακαδημαϊκά μαθήματα. Το Mozilla Foundation είχε ένα ωραίο διάγραμμα για το Web Literacy (Διαδικτυακή Παιδεία) η οποία βλέπει αυτή την τεχνογνωσία από τρεις πλευρές: την πλευρά την εξερεύνησης (exploration) του διαδικτύου, από την πλευρά την κατασκευής (building), και από την πλευρά των συνδέσμων (connecting).   

Όταν άρχισα να σκέφτομαι το πως μπορώ να συνδυάσω εργασίες στο διαδίκτυο στα μαθήματά μου νόμιζα πως αρκετοί φοιτητές, ειδικά στο επίπεδο των μεταπτυχιακών, είχαν την τεχνογνωσία για τα επίπεδα τις εξερεύνησης και κατά κάποιο τρόπο και το επίπεδο της κατασκευής, οπότε κοίταζα να λανσάρω από την κατασκευή και να κάνουμε κάτι στα επίπεδα της κατασκευής (αρχικά) και μετά να συνεχίσουμε και να καταλήξουμε στο επίπεδο των συνδέσμων. Αυτό, επίσης, κολλάει και με τα υψηλότερα επίπεδα της ταξονομίας του Bloom.  Τελικά όμως, αυτό που κατάλαβα είναι πως, ακόμα, οι πιο πολλοί φοιτητές, ακόμα και στα μεταπτυχιακά, δεν έχουν φτάσει ακόμα στο μεσαίο επίπεδο, οπότε πρέπει να αρχίσω λίγο με bootcamp στα βασικά.

Εσείς τι βλέπετε στις αίθουσες σας; Έχουν οι μαθητές ή οι φοιτητές ας τις απαραίτητες τεχνογνωσίες για το διαδίκτυο; Πια η στρατηγική σας ως πως την χρήση διαδικτυακών πόρων στο μάθημά σας;

Monday, October 20, 2014

WWW literacies and the importance of self archiving

Here we are, week 2 of module 3 (so week 6) and half-way through the formal run of connected courses.  I spent most of last week catching up with stuff that was piling up in my Pocket account from previous weeks. In all honesty I wasn't quite sure what to make of this module.  Pretty much all of the things that were readings failed to spark my imagination, given that I had either read similar things in the past, or I had actually lived through them.  The thing that really started to spark my a few things was Mozilla's Web Literacy white paper. Then I was having a conversation with fellow MOOCer Luis, in real life, about literacies and then it hit me.  How do people engage on the web, in a cMOOC? Luis was telling me about issues with engaging with a cMOOC and fellow participants out on the web, and how the other two xMOOCs he is following along with seem much more engaging.  I think that this is because they have a form and format that graduate students know to recognize, whereas cMOOCs do not. In order to engage in a cMOOC you really need to be playing at the Connecting level of Web Literacies, and not everyone is there yet.

This reminds me of the guest lecture we had from George Siemens in my EDDE 801 course earlier this semester. He had mentioned, that at least to his knowledge, most of the effort in the research has been on getting people up to speed with the technology (the mechanics) rather than actually using the technology for educational purposes and analyzing that.  This seems to jive with my, anecdotal, observations of what's happening in the classrooms that I have access to, and the thought processes of fellow faculty members (e.g.: "we'll teach them the tool, not expect them to make something with a tool we provide no instruction on")

The interesting thing with Mozilla's web literacy map, at least for me, is that I started early.  The Exploration literacies were acquired in the mid-to-late 90s, the Building literacies in the late 90s and early aughts, and the connecting skills in the early-to-mid aughts.  These were mostly done through browsing (Netscape 3.0 anyone?), the building through hand-coding HTML, then through WYSIWYG, and through experimentation with javascript and flash, and the Connecting literacies through participation (and later on moderation) of forums, and a Greek blog that I was maintaining at the time. This graphic made me realize three things:

1. It put into words nebulous concepts that I've been thinking about since I've been thinking about designing my own MOOC, and infusing technology into my own traditional online courses.  I expect my graduate students to be at the Connecting Literacies stage, without seeing where they are first.  Now granted, not everyone will reach the coding, scripting, infrastructure stages of Building, however I do believe that everyone can compose, and remix, and design to some level! Those can be leveraged to get learners to share, collaborate and participate in open practices. How one designs assignments for that that go beyond the "here's the tool, now let's learn about it" and get to the "let's make cool stuff with this tool! You'll figure it out!" is the next nut to crack.

2. In thinking of my own journey through the acquisition of these literacies (mostly through trial and error), I realized that I learned and honed these things over the span of 20 years. I've had a certain privilege (and curiosity to pursue it) that others may not have.  The question then, for me, is how can we rapidly on-board people so that they don't take 20 years to reach a certain level with those literacies?

3. Self-archiving is important. I really wish I could show people early versions of my website.  I know that has some versions of my website archived back to 2001 (which isn't bad!) but the public versions of my site were actually on good ol' Geocities initially. Before blogs were the in thing, I used my website's announcement and news page (usually the homepage) to write publicly once (or twice?) a month. This was a way for friends to get a quick snapshot of what was happening with me when I came to college.  It was also an opportunity to pick a new song (in midi format!) to share with anyone who came to the page. The stupid thing would autostart and you either listened to it, or muted your speakers. Talk about bad user experience design :).

Each month I just hit delete on that old content and updated the HTML file with the new news. Once Yahoo bought Geocities I decided to pay the small fee to get rid of the ads and the website became more elaborate.  Not that I have an awesome website today, but it has seen an evolution from 1996 when I started it (offline version) to now.  I think being able to illustrate someone's steps (and missteps) in developing those literacies is important.  If you don't self-archive, no one will :)

So, what thoughts did this module provoke?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A more responsive final exercise for the PhD?

My own doctoral journey may have just started, but it's been a meandering path to even get to the start.  It's not the destination after all that matters but the journey. Eventually all doctoral journeys culminate in a dissertation.  For the longest period of time this type of writing was a bit intimidating.  After all, who's got the energy to sit down and write a document that's 100 pages long and that few people will read. I challenge you to go ahead and look at academic articles that cross your path.  How often do you see people citing someone's dissertation in their citations?  Not that often, eh?

So, this gets me to this blog post.  I was reading Maha's blog post this morning on the way to work about her experience with her dissertation and her defense, and I was prompted by the #digiped questions she reposted.  This really got me thinking about my own path and what it's leading me to.
about a more responsive, and perhaps more accurate, final exercise for a doctoral degree. The recent #remixthediss was also an interesting catalyst for this thought process to kick in.

So, let's start with what is the purpose of the dissertation.  Just for kicks go on, ask Google "what is the purpose of dissertation?" and see what you get.  One of my search results was from Yale (trustworthy source, no?) and they cite Lovitts & Wert (2009) in stating the following:

The purpose of the dissertation is to prepare the student to be a professional in the discipline. Through this preparation the student learns and demonstrates the ability to conduct independent, original, and significant research. The dissertation thus shows that the student is able to:
  • identify/define problems,
  • generate questions and hypotheses,
  • review and summarize the literature,
  • apply appropriate methods,
  • collect data properly,
  • analyze and judge evidence,
  • discuss findings,
  • produce publishable results,
  • engage in a sustained piece of research or argument,
  • think and write critically and coherently. 

OK, this is a good solid way to start thinking about the dissertation as a final exercise for a doctoral program.   So, let's look at the first question of #digiped: "How is the dissertation pedagogical? What are the intrinsic and instrumental values of the form?"

If you are going through a doctoral program, on the surface level, the dissertation as an academic monograph does have a pedagogical purpose.  As stated above by Lovitts & Wert (in the Yale document) the point of the dissertation is to make demonstrate that you know how to do all of the individual and collective parts of research and critical analysis that is expected of people who hold the title "doctor". These include the collection of data, review of previous literature, analysis of data, the curiosity and critical thinking (as embodied by generating questions and hypotheses), and engaging in something in a sustained manner to bring out new knowledge.

The form, however, the one that we have come to know and resembles an academic monograph, is not the only form that brings us to those results and can show to our peers that we have attained that level of knowledge, self-reflection, and have obtained the necessary argumentation to take the training wheels off and be set off into the world on our own.  One thing that I would submit as evidence to this is the following piece of advice that I have received with regard to any dissertation I write: I should write my dissertation so that I can pull out chapters and with minor changes I can send them for publication to journals. It seems to me that if few people are citing your dissertation in their own work, and if your ultimate goal is to get some journal articles out of your dissertation, then why not begin with the goal of having your final exercise be  x-many publishable quality articles?

This brings me to the second question: "What shapes can (or should) a dissertation take? What institutional structures must change in order to make way for a proliferation of unique forms? How can we collectively manage anxieties about the dissertation that often get in the way of the kind of experimentation that pedagogy demands?"

Here I can only speak about the disciplines that I have been most directly involved with (management, IT, education and applied linguistics), but I think that there are a lot of different shapes that final exercises can take.  One example I brought up are  multiple qualifying papers. Does 3 sound OK to everyone? I just picked a number out of my head. It seems to me that publishable quality academic papers as a replacement for the dissertation have many benefits.  One of the benefits is that you, as a student researcher, can demonstrate familiarity with more than one research method by undertaking this as a final exercise. You can also demonstrate that you are not a one-tune fiddle by choosing more than one topic that you are interested in.  One topic per article!  By working on three articles you have an opportunity to be mentored by many different faculty, you can get peer review for your work, just like you'd be getting when you submit to a journal, and once your work passes internal review you can also submit this work to publication (where you can get additional peer review!).  This to me seems like a win-win situation for everyone.  The learner can demonstrate that they know what they know, they get published work out of it (and maybe a conference poster or presentation too?) and they get feedback in many areas.  The institution benefits by having having grads who are more versatile and perhaps more cross-disciplinary, and the profession benefits by having work (a dissertation) that is out there, and open, and not gathering dust in some proquest database...

Now the drawback that I see here is that my proposal is still based on text. Perhaps something similar might be accomplished by having to present research-based talks and presentations at conferences, have those recorded, and then have a Q&A session with a final committee (sort of like a dissertation defense) where you are judged on the quality of your work and how you know what you know. This would rely less on text and more on presentation skills.  I think that we cannot escape text in our line of work, but knowing how to write in a variety of different scenarios is important. This could be something that demonstrates a competency in that aspect of academic life.

For what it's work, my preference would be for many academic articles (and/or book chapters) that are of publishable quality.  I have no interest in writing a book.  I might change my mind, who knows, but at the moment my academic life revolves around academic articles.  I would prefer to have the ability to demonstrate my competency through multiple articles, using many different research methods, in a couple of different topics rather than hyper-focus on one topic to get this dissertation done.

The last thing to tackle in this post is on collaborative dissertations.  "How can we make way for more collaborative dissertations, especially in fields where dissertation-writing is traditionally a very isolated endeavor? What are the benefits of making this work increasingly collaborative?"

I think if we keep the dissertation as the one and only exercise for a doctoral degree it's hard to make it collaborative. The dissertation is the way to show that you have attained those skills (see above) and if you only have one document to showcase those skills, you can't really work collaboratively.  In a well designed article, if you work with others, there is no distinction in voice. It's one, unified, piece that everyone has contributed to, not many smaller pieces stitched together.  This makes it impossible to really evaluate one individual.

However, I would argue, that working well with others, and working collaboratively is an asset in academia. My value the work I've done with my colleagues in the MobiMOOC Research Team.  Even though we've disbanded and are pursuing our own interests, we still keep in contact and I learned a lot from that experience.  I think that this is a competence that people need to have.  If you have a final exercise which consists of many articles instead of one monograph, then one of the articles can be a collaborative article that is researched and written by a team of 3-5 people on any given subject. This not only brings people out of isolation, it provides for a potentially encouraging and nurturing environment for the people working together, and it helps people move along their doctoral path. We've all heard of stories of people who get through their coursework in a PhD only to never complete their dissertation. Multiple articles, one of which should be a collaborative article, could help eliminate that issue.

Alright, enough talk (on my end).  Your thoughts?

side note: 200th MOOC blog post!

Friday, October 10, 2014


Some Friday homework posted here.  I was listening to Audrey Watters's keynote address at CETIS a few weeks ago and I thought this would make some good material for thinking and a critique - so here it is.  Your thoughts?

Watters, A. (2014, June). Un-Fathom-able: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech. Keynote presented at the 2014 Center for Educational Technology, Interoperability and Standards Conference. Bolton, UK. Retrieved from:

This review focuses on Audrey Watters’s keynote address at the CETIS 2014 conference. There are a number of elements that intrigued me enough to make it the focus of my second review.  This keynote is about the history of educational technology, but it artfully weaves together three distinct but related areas: First, Watters talks about prevailing narratives in the US-centric technology industry; secondly, she discusses Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their historical antecedents; and, finally, she makes reference to long-term effects of previous educational technology efforts. For this review I focus mostly on the first two.

The first thing that really grabbed me was Watters’ anecdote of her friend, who was invited to speak about the current state of education to other investors, CEOs, engineers, and entrepreneurs. He was of the opinion that online courses were first developed in 2001 at MIT, something which is factually wrong.  He may have been thinking about OpenCourseWare (OCW), but the fact that he was conflating OCW with online courses speaks volumes as to what passes for education in some circles.  Even though I didn’t know that online, or technology enhanced, courses went back to the 1960s, with efforts such as the University of Illinois’ Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO), I knew that MIT was not the first to delve into some sort of online, or computer-enhanced, teaching since my University had a learning management system (LMS) at least since 1998.

There are a number of fascinating points here to consider.  First, it’s interesting to ponder who is getting invited to these gatherings to discuss the future of education. Noticeably absent from these presentations are people actually involved in education, people in secondary or tertiary education. Investors, Engineers, Entrepreneurs, and CEOs are outsiders in the field of education, but also have a lot to gain from it, namely lucrative contracts. As such they have an incentive to view the past, as Watters describes it, as a “monolithic block of brokeness - unchanged and unchanging until it’s disrupted by technological innovation, or by the promise of technological innovation, by the future itself.

The other interesting aspects here both deal with how the narrative is framed.  First, the educational narrative, as is told these days, is US-centric if we exclude the brief mention of Prussian. These narratives have permeated the discourse of education and have gained a foothold. This exclusionary narrative is not healthy to continued excellence in education, because we don’t take into account information that is potentially valuable and useful as we move forward.  The other aspect that bears noting is a Randian (as in Ayn Rand) aspect that frames entrepreneurs and engineers as saviors of education’s ineptitude, and above all frames the individual as that ingenious person that will save the day.  We see this in Sal Khan’s History of Education the big thing, that his interviewer notes as they skipped over one hundred years of education history,  was the founding of Khan Academy, adding fuel to this Randian narrative of education.

 The second aspect of this keynote are the historical antecedents of the current MOOC phenomenon.  Watters discusses Fathom, a venture spearheaded by Columbia University, and Alliance for LifeLong Learning (AllLearn), a joint venture between Stanford, Oxford, and Yale. AllLearn originally intended to offer courses exclusively for alumni, a move that we see Harvard contemplating with MOOCs today (Kolowich, 2014), before they opened it up to everyone. Fathom, on the other hand, was open to anyone who was interested in paying for the coursework.  Some courses were free, but it appears that the cost was at least $500 per course, for a non-credit course.  Both of these initiatives failed and closed their doors by 2006. There are a few interesting things to note here.  First, it would appear that xMOOCs, like coursera and edx, follow the model and design set forth by AllLearn and Fathom courses both in their “best courses from the best processors” rhetoric, but also from the course design perspective. The thing that should raise some eyebrows here is that when you’re touting a “best courses from the best professors” you are putting learning in the backseat and you are putting something other in the center, something like the institution or the professor.  A name brand, instead of actual learning.

Secondly, it’s interesting to note that the prevailing narrative is that we can do things cheaper and faster these days with the internet; however, as Watters breaks it down, venture capital invested in xMOOC platforms has been more than doubled what was invested in Fathom, AllLearn, and UKeU. Additionally, course development costs for these platforms are about the same as they were a decade ago.  Finally, thinking about how successful such initiatives are, when people who worked at these ventures were interviewed about their eventual failure, the scapegoat was the low levels of broadband internet availability for properly sharing course materials.  This is ironic on multiple levels, including: (1) high-speed (aka broadband) internet penetration levels are marginally better today - 8% higher than the early 2000s, to make it 28% ; (2) those initial ventures offered courses on CD-ROM for people who didn’t have high speed access, so in theory the lack of broadband is moot; and finally (3) some of those same individuals are at the helm of xMOOCs today!

Finally, Watters mentions some unintended consequences of previous educational technology developments, like the LMS, which have permeated the way that we think of things.  For instance, if you look at xMOOC platforms, like coursera, it’s clear to see that their underlying design language is that of the LMS, a siloed environment where there are no connections between courses, or even course resources.  What happens in the LMS stays in the LMS, and once the course is done you, as a learner, lose access to the materials. The question then becomes, when we are talking about an Open course, why are we building silos and walled gardens? Why not focus on actual open practices? The alternatives that we can build on are, are Watters says, a “future of learner agency, of human capacity, of equity, of civic responsibility, of openness.”

Kolowich, S. (2014, February 11).  Harvard U. WIll Offer Exclusive MOOCs to Alumni. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Δικτυακή ευχέρεια και εμπιστοσύνη στο ίντερνετ

Είμαστε λοιπόν κοντά στο τέρμα της δεύτερης μονάδας του Connected Courses, ένα ανοιχτό διαδικτυακό μάθημα (OOC) και η θεματολογία αυτής της μονάδας είναι η εμπιστοσύνη στον χώρο του διαδικτύου και η διαδικτυακή ευχέρεια των μαθητών, αλλά και τον καθηγητών. Το θέμα της εμπιστοσύνης μου θυμίζει κάτι παλιά podcast από Έλληνες, όπως ο vrypan, κατά το 2005-2007 όταν είχαμε αρχίσει να γράφουμε όλοι στο διαδίκτυο με τα μπλογκ μας και να τουιτάρουμε εντός τον γνωστόν μας δικτύων. Θυμάμαι τότε πως ο Παναγιώτης (vrypan) είχε δημιουργήσει έναν aggregator ο οποίος είχε μια γενική λίστα των ελληνικών μπλογκ και αν θυμάμαι καλά έκανε aggregate και ένα μέρος από την ανάρτηση για όσους ενδιαφέρονταν να δουν κάτι περιληπτικό πριν αποφασίσουν να πάνε να διαβάσουν το μπλογκ.

Εμένα αυτή η υπηρεσία μου άρεσε αρκετά επειδή ήθελα να βρω άλλους Έλληνες στο διαδίκτυο και να έχω κάποια επαφή με ελληνικό περιεχόμενο που με ενδιέφερεε και που δεν ήταν από εφημερίδες. Μερικοί όμως είχαν πρόβλημα με το aggregator, και υπήρξε, αν δεν κάνω λάθος ένα μικρο πέρα-δώθε με μερικούς στο ίντερνετ, οπότε τελικά τους έβγαλαν από το aggregator. Αν θυμάμαι καλά το θέμα ήταν θέμα προστασίας του ιδιωτικού περιεχομένου (privacy) αλλά αφού τα μπλογκ ήταν δημόσια το privacy δεν έπαιζε. Αυτό που συνειδητοποίησα αργότερα ήταν ότι δεν ήταν θέμα privacy αλλά θέμα εμπιστοσύνης Όταν έχεις ένα ιστολόγιο, και δημοσιεύει διάφορα, μερικές φορές ξέρεις ποιος τα διαβάζει - σου αφήνουν σχόλια και έτσι δημιουργείτε μια συμπάθεια μεταξύ των αναγνωστών ενός μπλογκ. Αμα βλέπεις στα analytics πως έχεις πολλούς που έρχονται στο ιστολόγιο σου αλλά δεν ξέρεις ποιοι είναι μπορεί να μην σε πειράζει πολύ επειδή είναι ανώνυμοι και μπορεί να ήρθαν τυχαία. Όταν το μπλογκ σου όμως είναι σε ένα aggregator, τότε είναι σαν κάποιος να σου βάζει έναν προβολέα και να σου δημιουργεί ένα τρακ, και προφανώς έναν τρόπο σκέψης που γράφεις όχι το τι σκέφτεσαι, αλλά κάτι που περνάει από φίλτρο έτσι ώστε για να μην εκτεθείς.

Έτσι λοιπόν βρισκόμαστε στην εμπιστοσύνη στο διαδίκτυο. Ακόμα και ανοιχτό να είναι το περιεχόμενό μας, ή στην ιστοσελίδα μας, ή στο ιστολόγιο, ή στο τουιτέρ, ή οπουδήποτε, υπάρχει αυτός ο φόβος το ότι θα πάρει κάποιος αυτό που έχουμε πει ή έχουμε γράψει και θα το διαστρεβλώσει Και αν οι σκέψεις μας είναι προκαταρκτικές, όπως είναι συνηθισμένο εντός μαθήματος, τότε μπορεί κάποιος να έχει την λάθος άποψη για εμάς, ή να μας τρολάρει - κάτι που θέλουμε να αποφύγουμε (γενικός). Οπότε στα ανοιχτά μαθήματα που δημιουργούμε - τα καθεαυτού ανοιχτά μαθήματα, και όχι τα ψεύτάνοιχτα όπως αυτά στο coursera, χρειαζόμαστε να έχουμε μια διαδικτυακή ευχέρεια έτσι ώστε να μπορούμε να έχουμε μια ιδέα για το ποιες πληροφορίες είναι καλές, και ποιες πηγές πληροφοριών είναι γενικά καλές, και μια ευχέρεια ως προς την εμπιστοσύνη. Δεν μπορούμε, σε ένα ανοιχτό περιβάλλον, να είμαστε καχύποπτοι, αλλά από την άλλη, πρέπει επίσης να έχουμε και τα επιτηδειότητα να μεταχειριστούμε μια κατάσταση η οποία έχει πάει κατά διαβόλου χωρίς να ήμαστε έτοιμοι να τα παρατήσουμε.

Εσείς τι λέτε; Ποιες οι σκέψεις σας για την εμπιστοσύνη στο διαδύκτιο;

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Can students opt out if you teach in Open Learning?

Siemens, 2014
It seems like Connected Courses is the cMOOC that keeps on adding while we are in the process of conducting the course.  I think, based on my own personal experience, that this (the addition of "features" as the course is in progress) is a hallmark of cMOOCs ;-).

Anyway, Discussion forums have been added to  Connected Courses, and a discussion cropped up on whether students can opt out of the open course if you are teaching in an open environment.  If they are not comfortable with open, is there an option for them to participate in a closed version, which I guess is similar to an a traditional online course through an LMS.  I am not sure how much I will participate in the forum, so I thought it would be an interesting though exercise to post some initial thoughts on here and have a discussion about the topic on here (or via a network of blog posts) since it connects with what I might be doing as an experiment for my dissertation.

So, really quickly: my idea revolves around "converting" a traditional online course to an open online course. Now whether it reaches Massive dimensions, that's another question. Then teach, collect data, and see where that goes.  This is my 30,000ft view, details still hazy (I have 2 years to come up with a more concrete proposal).

So, the initial sketches and ideas that are going into my ideas-notebook have to do with George Siemens has a dual-layer MOOC proposal. I have a sneaking suspicion that most MEd level students will not be comfortable being thrown off the deep end of a cMOOC.  Some might do fine, especially if they are interacting with people like the #ccourses crowd, but some might require some scaffolding and building up of their network literacies, thus they might need something a little more familiar.  The xMOOC format, at least what one sees in coursera, edx, udacity, novoed, and so on, would be of use to them.  As the learners progress through the MOOC they can switch tracks - cMOOC to xMOOC and vice versa - as they feel that it is fit for them.  However, in conceiving of the xMOOC track I don't foresee a sign-in wall like most xMOOCs, so the question in the forum gave me pause to think.  What if some students don't like the idea that others, who are not signed up and paying for credit, in the course are logged in and are reading their forum posts and blog posts?  Should they have a private little area that acts more like a traditional course?

My initial inclination is this: no.  The course is offered in the format that it is offer (an open format) and since the course is an elective, the learners don't need that sort of an accommodation (an accommodation to use only a closed course).  I do realize that this sounds inflexible on my part, and that I might be throwing some learners into the deep end of Open Learning. It's also not really andragogical in that I am not coming to an understanding and negotiating the course structure with them a bit.  On the other hand, it really makes me think about what learners are really paying for when they are paying for a credit-bearing class.  Are they paying for an evaluation of their capabilities? for mentoring? for instruction? for all of the above?  The idea behind my experiment is that the Open Course could run in defined semesters for people who want to take it for credit through their institution (mine would be an example since I teach this course), and it would be open for anyone to take at any time, or in concert with cohorts taking it for credit. Thus, at any give time you have learners who are both taking the course for credit and those who are doing it for free because they are curious about the content.

If instruction and content are given away for free (in a MOOC anyway), then what's left?  In a free open course one may say that the course was developed to be open to begin, so closed is not an option. Unless, of course, the learners fork to MOOC and go off to play in their own private sandbox - which is perfectly fine with me. However, once you start mixing credit-bearing aspects of a course and MOOCs, things get a little more murky.  What are the expectations of the learners?  What are the expectations of the institution?  Is everyone on the same page as to what each person's role is in the course? I don't have a clear-cut answer at the moment, but my initial gut feeling is to go with Open, unless people want to fork the MOOC.

What are your thoughts? What DO learners pay for when they attend a for-credit course?  What if you made that course free, why would they pay for it if it's a free OOC?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Random article critique - Head of Gold, Feet of Clay

I suppose that it's not quite random, it's actually part of the work I am doing for my first doctoral course.  That said, I thought I would post this here (now that its been submitted) to see if others have read this particular article and what they think :)

Power, T., & Morven-Gould, A. (2011). Head of gold, feet of clay: The online learning paradox. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(2), 19-39. Retrieved from

The article’s thesis is that the paradox of online learning is this concurrent appearance of a boom and a bust. Since online learning, like any other complex system, is multifaceted this seems plausible. This piece has three main sections: (1) a literature review on attitudes toward distance education spanning 1999 to 2009; (2) a description and reconceptualization of the iron triangle which has three constraints cost, quality, and access; and finally (3) a proposal for a course design and course instruction methodology that the authors have termed BOLD. While this article was interesting to read, the setup of the argument detracted from its potency. This made me feel as if the authors were putting up a strawman argument, an argument setup so that it is easy to be disproved. My critique addresses certain, but not all, issues in each of the article’s three areas. First, in the area of the literature review, I’ve identified a few of the strawman’s weak points, intended or otherwise. The authors have used Maeroff’s (2003) definition of online learning (OL) as which defines OL as only as an internet-based asynchronous mode of learning. This omits synchronous online learning which, in many institutions, is the reality for online learning. This, of course, sets up their rationale, further in the article, for a method that incorporates asynchronous and synchronous. In 2003 this may have been revolutionary, but in 2011?

The authors cite research indicating that OL often develops without the full involvement of core faculty. Without having gone deeply into the cited literature to review the specific conditions of their research, I have a hard time believing this. Programs, at a distance or in person, do have to go through University governance, and prior to that they need development. Both stages require core faculty involvement. How do online programs manage to be developed without such a key stakeholder?

The faculty, in this article, are portrayed as resisting online learning. Research is cited for this includes reasons such as core faculty not having time to teach online, thus we resort to hiring adjuncts, find the tasks menial and boring, and losing control over their intellectual property (IP). However these arguments assume that tenured faculty do online learning in addition to their regular duties, not as part of their regular duties. A counterexample to this argument is my department where tenured can faculty teach one course online and one on-campus. At least in our University, the reason why more tenured campus faculty don’t teach online is the administration. Faculty don’t question this, so they don’t teach online. As far as IP goes, it seems that the underlying argument is that IP, on-campus, is protected through obscurity since you can only make limited photocopies of a professor’s notes. This point is moot, however given that faculty upload their digital content on systems like moodle even for their on-campus courses. Finally, there is a claim that online students often feel alone and isolated, which links to unsustainably high rates of withdrawal and drop-out. This reference is dated. Practices, and student attitudes, have most likely progressed in the 10 years since the most recent cited article was published. What happens now in online courses? Is this still the case?

The second area of the article deals with the concept of the redefined iron triangle. The authors describe the iron triangle as a zero-sum game, that Universities will inevitably use it, and because OL hasn’t been fully realized yet, the iron triangle isn’t the right paradigm to use. I disagree with this notion that if it were a viable paradigm it would have already worked by this now. The authors don’t consider other important questions that would impact the offering of OL programs such as: What is the mission of the institution? Is OL right for the mission? and, What are the target demographics of student for the institution? It seems like there are some false conclusions drawn here.

Even so, their reframed triangle doesn’t really address other considerations. Cost-efficiency is attributed to administrators as a concern, quality to faculty, and accessibility to students. However, just to pick one group, the students are also interested in quality, which impacts their future prospects for success, and they are interested in the cost, which will determine if they can attend any give OL program. Reframing all terms as positive in the iron triangle doesn’t diminish the fact that there are complexities which aren’t addressed. This is not an accurate representation of reality, and it would appear that this is also a zero-sum model.

Finally, the third area of concern is the BOLD course design itself. In addition to the concern raised above, about the operative definition of OL, the claims of BOLD’s benefits appear overblown. For instance the authors claim that administrators will like BOLD’s cost-efficiency because there is no need to invest in any new systems. However there seems to be a lack of acknowledgement that systems to support BOLD do cost in both monetary and human resources terms to operate, and operate well, and if the university does not already have them, they need to procure them.

From a pedagogical perspective BOLD is claimed to increase quality by successfully approximating the campus experience, without having to be on-campus. However there isn’t a questioning on whether the campus experience should be approximated in an online environment. This seems like the equivalent of recording a play, as it would be experienced in the theater, to be broadcast on television. While it is an approximation of a play, is it the best way to tell the story? As a whole, I don’t think that the iron triangle and BOLD are bad. However, in potentially setting up a strawman argument to easily prop the BOLD alternative, this doesn’t help support it. This could have been a better exploration of BOLD if it didn’t rely on such a setup to prop it up. And, finally, an initial stated paradox wasn’t fully explored.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On Network Fluency

On the web, not one knows you are a ____________ (fill in the blank).  Connecting with the previous elements of trust, I am continuing my opening exploration of this module's second topic: Network Fluency.  The introductory chat is available as a YouTube video, and the discussion is on the topic of Social Capital and Personal Learning Networks.

This subject of Network Fluency (or Network Literacy as was discussed on Rhizo14†) has come up many times, both in various MOOCs I've been a part of (mostly cMOOCs as it turns out), and in the contexts of instructional design. There is some desire by faculty to include more networked (dare I say "connected") elements in their courses, however the biggest concern is access. Will learners have access to the required technology? Will they want to use this mode of learning? Will they have the skills to use what they need to use? And, when skills come into question, it's been my observation that the skills that pop into mind are the mechanical skills, not the networked literacy skills that are a foundational pre-requisite to being successful in this type of environment.

A couple of weeks ago, in my EDDE 801 seminar George Siemens. While we had him as a captive audience to our questions I thought I would ask a question to see if he knew of any research that had been done on network literacy in action in the classroom, since everything I had seen thus far in my own small sphere dealt mostly with rudimentary hardware and software usage rather than sophisticated usage for learning. It appears that I have not missed much in the research since, according to his knowledge, we are still only working on the on-boarding phase, and not the actual doing phase.  Such a pity.  I have wondered what would happen if you started throwing students into the somewhat deep end of class. Would they rise to the occasion and figure things out (as far as the basic mechanics of the ICT goes), or would they just drown?

In thinking about network literacies, as I was brainstorming about this topic, I jotted down the following as skills:

  • traversing a network - How does one start in a course, like #ccourses, and connect to other people to commence their learning?  They might see content produced by others on the homepage, content that is privileged over the content of the content of the facilitators because it's on the homepage. The authors of this content may be more accessible than the course facilitators by virtue of not being a central node.  However, how does one break the ice and start commenting on other people's blogs in order to start traversing that network? To get from point A to B to C? Your background, the social capital you have accumulated in other areas of the web (and off the web) play an important role in breaking the ice in this initial step.
  • discovering new nodes - Nodes here refers to both human and non-human nodes.  How you discover people, electronic technologies, and analog technologies will differ.  You might discover some great colleagues  and have short or sustained interactions. You might discover books, articles, TED talks, and crowd-sourced YouTube videos.  New nodes may be physical locations, like visiting ancient sites in Greece, Italy or China.  Some nodes are connected, making your life easier (think books connected to Google Books or your library's OPAC), and some nodes are not connected (or as connected), so the way you go about discovering them isn't always as simple as traversing a path that connects them.
  • engaging with new nodes - Once nodes are discovered, then there is the issue of engaging with those nodes.  Here the educational interactions come to mind: student-student, student-content, student-instructor. I would add student-self interaction, that internal dialogue that we undertake to make sense of things when other required nodes are not present. Engaging with other nodes is a real skill that should be cultivated, but often there is little time (or energy) left when we're focusing purely on the mechanical (lower level of Bloom's taxonomy) and we don't focus on this.
  • engaging your CRAP detector - I think I read this in one of Howard Rheingold's books a while back, and librarians I know keep referencing it.  While I think that we should be egalitarian in our networks, it's inevitable that some information peddled by our fellow peers is just bad information.  This may be incidental, for instance how many people have Retweeted, or +1, or re-shared something without vetting it? We trusted the source that we got it from, so we didn't vet it ourselves.  However, we ought to engage the critical part of our mind and pass things through a mental filter to detect possible issues with the information we get. Not everything in an academic journal is great or accurate, but it may have been at one point.
  • socializing opportunities as on-ramps and off-ramps -  How does one design connected courses to provide for easy on-ramps (see traversing the network) and off-ramps to make sure that people don't get overwhelmed and quit?  We, invariably, tend to come from environments where learning is dictated, materials are curated, and if you buy into the xMOOC narrative the "best professors, from the best universities" in their field are "teaching" you - while really means they are talking at you and curating content.  However, this isn't the true face of learning.  Learning is messy, you need to roll you sleeves up and wade through good and bad information. You need to process it and then you need to do something with it.  When learners are conditioned to have curated content (and this content is not voluminous), they tend to get frustrated with the volume that gets thrown at them in a connected course.  We, as designers, need to engineer ways to get people in and out easily, especially for people who don't just dip into things, or who have a tendency to jump out and never come back.
Those are my initial thoughts on the matter.  Ideas? :)

† strongly believe at this point that we should drop the year from rhizo14 and CCK08/CCK11. Helps maintain a continuity when the course is offered again.