Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Count THIS!

This is my mind at the moment
I must admit, my attempt at a witty post title probably fell really flat.  Oh well, that's why I am not a comedian :-).  Out of the fire (EDDE 802) and into the Rhizome! This is technically week 2 (or is it week 3?) of Rhizo15.  Normally a cMOOC (or as others in the Rhizo14 gang have named Rhizo - an rMOOC),  there is a little disorientation to be expected, but between the barely controlled chaos at work, the wrap-up of my first year as a doctoral student, the ET4Online conference, and Rhizo15 starting at the same time... well... I just need to clone myself a few times to gain sanity ;-)

In any case, regardless what number week it is in Rhizo15, the current topic is "learning is not a counting noun, so what do we count?" (I'll go back to Learning Subjectives in a few days when I've had some time to catch up on what's saved on Pocket on this current topic). This is a good question, and an interesting topic for K-12, academia, and higher education in general.  The instructional designer in me was trained with Performance Objectives in mind, using the ABCD method (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree). Behaviorists seem to love to quantify ;-).  Of course, the actual truth in learning is more gray than the Black and White that people like Mager would like to report. Not everything is quantifiable. Perhaps in a corporate environment, if I am receiving cash-register training, or mail-room training there are a finite number of inputs, and a finite number of outputs, and therefore ABCD objectives are applicable, however most learning is messy. There are infinite inputs, and quite infinite outputs.  I would also argue that performance objectives aren't measuring learning, but rather they are measuring behavior - muscle and not mind.

What is a designer to do?  We're not supposed to use verbs like "to understand" in our learning objectives (ooops... don't cross the rhizomes!), but can you really quantify everything in upper level courses where learners are taking the wheel ( I ranting?  probably not). OK, save this strand for next post on learning subjectives

So, the question is "what counts?"  I guess my question to Dave and the Rhizo15 community is "what counts where?".  I think that the answer to what counts can vary, a lot, depending on what community, group of people, and "learning" that you might have in mind. One type of what-counts might not be the same as another type of what-counts. I can only really speak for myself, and for the disciplines that I have studied, with instructional design being the primary since that's also what I teach; so I am not aiming at generalization with my comments :-)

The two things that count for me are: resourcefulness as measured by life-long learning to solve problems you don't already know how to solve; and the ability to cope with chaos, to analyze what's going on, and to come up and test solutions.  If we are looking through the lens of the Cynefin framework I would expect students to be able to deal with complex situations with relative ease and savoir faire; or even tackle chaotic situations with the help of others. In this chaotic case I would say that the principle of a More Knowledgeable Peer would come into play. Then, as a group of people the learners would be able to complement each other's knowledge and skills, learn from one another, and help solve a problem.

Now, there are two problems with my two things that count.  For one thing they are not countable. They are in the same category as sand and sugar.  While I could count grains of salt, sand, and sugar (if I magnify things enough), from a more pragmatic perspective those things aren't countable. Thus,  I can't go to an accreditation committee and claim that "I'll know it when I see it" (when I discuss a pass/non-pass situation with these two things). The educaitonal system is setup for countable nouns.

The other problem is that you can't really build a course around these two things and have it be the same for everyone in the course.  If you have a small group of students who are all interested in the same thing, you probably are able to create a Themed Course (i.e. "Commodities in sub-saharan Africa") but can this be done for a larger class? or can one semester be compared to another meaningfully?  Should we be comparing (or be able to compare) two distinct semesters of a course like this? How about any course? These two things might be something to aim for with the completion of a program of study, but not necessarily in a course, or a specific module in a course.  I guess this is where my sand analogy comes in.  A course or module is a grain of sand, and together many of these build toward what we think of as sand.

Did I answer the question?  You tell me ;-)  One of the things highlighted by this topic is that there is a need for all of us to have a firm standing on what our ontological perspectives are.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some closing thoughts on EDDE 802

Snowed in? Reading about Research?
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I suspect that this won't be the last post on my blog with the EDDE 802 label, but for the purposes of a final assignment in 802 this is my reflective last post for the course.  EDDE 802 was fun, but it was a challenge.  The content wasn't as challenging as the framing: being placed in the role of an impartial researcher, with a specific epistemology, setting up specific balanced research experiments.  I guess one of my issues in writing like this is that it feels abnormal.  No one is bias-free, and picking one epistemological stance is like trying to pick one flavor of ice-cream at the ice-cream shop.

With that in mind, our cohort had some great discussions both through official channels such as the Landing and Moodle, but also in our unofficial channel - the Cohort 7 Facebook page.  I think most of our "real" discussion occurred in the Facebook page and our refined ideas and posting made their way to the various discussions on the Landing.  Moodle didn't work out that well for me this semester.  In 801 I got notifications of new posts in the Moodle forums, but this semester, no matter how much I tinkered with the setting to enable this, nothing was showing as a new post (either by email notification or on moodle itself). As a consequence I ended up missing posts.  Luckily most of the discussion of the course was on the Landing and for that I was getting notifications.

The discussion that I found the most interesting, and thought provoking was the discussion on research ethics.  Even though that discussion is over (well, as "over" as any discussion on the web is), there is still much to be said and explored about the ethics of doing research on the internet.  This is a topic that we've discussed with colleagues, before I got into the AU EdD program, and it's something that we still discuss, especially with topics such as MOOC research.

While I find myself agreeing with Pat Fahy's stance of respecting the rights of the "willing majority," the group of  individuals who do want to participate in research but who might not be able to because a small minority might want to, I don't know how to operationalize it yet.  I think that when the rubber meet the road, i.e. when I get going with my own dissertation work, it will be interesting to see what barriers come up with individuals who do not want to participate in the research and how that might need creative ways of getting past those barriers.

It's hard to pick any one cohort member from cohort 7 that stood out more than others that was helpful to me. I think that the discussions that we had on the Landing, but also on our Facebook page, has made it feel like I am not just discussing academic matters with a random group of people, but I am also in this endeavor with a supportive group of people who are going through this as well, and some times our frustrations and triumphs intersect, and other times not. The point is that I got energy from the cohort, and I hope I gave some energy back to them.

There is one individual, however, that deserves a shout-out, and that's Lisa H. from Cohort 6. She is the designer of the Cabin Fever Epistemology badge (seen above).  Lisa and I have been going back and forth over the semester. She has provided me with peer feedback on the 2 major assignments, and she (and @pinshe and from Cohort 6) have illuminated some areas of 802, while at the same time providing for some relief from the seriousness of doctoral studies.  I don't know if this is a Cohort 6 "thing" but, when discussing assignments with them, there is always an assignment-drink pairing suggestion.  Assignment 4 proof-reading and editing goes well with Tentura (my contribution to the EDDE pairing guide). This inter-cohort support network, just like the Cohort 7 support network on our Facebook page, is an example of a mechanism to maintain and augment motivation to continue (at least for me).

On a final note, I thought I would wrap-up by discussing technologies used in the course. Moodle I wrote a little about (not my favorite LMS, but it's fine-it works), but there were other tools like Adobe Connect, Elgg (the Landing), and VoiceThread.

I written before about Voicethread. In the past I was conflicted about this tool.  I am still conflicted.  At the end I think it's how one uses it.  I've seen some bad uses, and I've seen some good uses.  I think that the voicethread for 802 falls into one of the better uses.  Even though I've been interacting with a couple of member from Cohort 6 on twitter, most Cohort 6 members are invisible.  Seeing (or rather hearing) their reactions to the Koro-Ljungberg et al article on voicethread helped me make a connection with them through time. I still don't know most of these individuals, but it's makes the course more relateable, and suddenly being a doctoral student doesn't feel like such an individualistic venture.  At the end of the day your make-or-break activity (dissertation) is your work, and you are the only author, but you've had a support network to get you through that, and you know that there are others before you that did it as well.  I think that if voicethread were a tool just for our cohort I might have not liked this activity as much, but the fact that it tied one cohort with another made it worthwhile for me.

Elgg is also one of those love-dislike relationships.  On the one hand I really want to love the Landing.  Back in 2008 I started two networks for my own school, for our instructional design MEd community (current students and alumni), and for the program that I manage now. I want those to take off and be adopted by current students and alumni (but they haven't been wild successes as far as adoption goes). Since I am in the same role as Terry Anderson and Jon Dron are with my own "landings" I want to love it.  At the same time Elgg seems unmanageable.  The discussions tool is fine, the wire is fine, and the content collection is fine. But nothing really draws me in other than the sense of really wanting this thing to take off.  Sometimes I feel like Elgg is tackling too much.

The Wiki in Elgg, for instance, seems a little half-baked.  Not AU's fault, but Elgg's  The wiki platform could be something else.  Maybe wikimedia's platform could be used instead? For assignments like the paradigm wiki (part of  assignment #5) I think that we also need a little more scaffolding.  People like me, who have edited wikis in the past, are able to work naturally in this environment.  Others who are not as familiar will create pages titled "My 3 articles" in the paradigm wiki. If the intent of the wiki is to become a resource for future (and past) cohorts, then wiki pages like this aren't that useful. I understand that this is part of a network literacy that we ought to cultivate, but I don't know if this should be explicitly taught, have small videos explaining how to add and edit the wiki for specific assignments, or if it should be left as is now (students figure it out on their own).

Finally, Adobe Connect session were good.  On the one hand there are days where I feel like zombie at 8pm EST (6pm MTN), but even though I am tired I like the idea of spending an hour with the cohort and the instructor discussing aspects of the course. I think that there are things (resources) that come out spontaneously in a synchronous session that don't necessarily come out in discussion forums.  Would I have liked more connect sessions?  I don't know. My initial thoughts are "no" - I wouldn't want more.  On the one hand, in 801, the weekly sessions did serve as a tool to regulate the course flow (something to expect each week), but on the other hand, with the amount of readings and cognitive processing requirements for 802 I think the little extra sleep gained from not having weekly sessions was good.  My brain's fuse is a bit fried, so I am glad we have a few months break between courses.  The one recommendation I would give is this: I think I would space presentations out a bit so that we don't end up with 6 presentations in one night, but other than that I enjoyed the Connect sessions. I know that some learners don't like going first, and that we need to cover research methods early so that we can tackle other parts of the curriculum, but better spacing is needed between the methods presentations in order to really make it a valuable jigsaw activity.

So, those are my concluding thoughts for EDDE 802 :-)

Stay tuned for more EdD thoughts over the summer as I participate in Rhizo15, hopefully read Deleuze & Guattari,   and I catch up on published MOOC articles from the past year.