Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Half-way there! Mid-semester tired thoughts.

Well, in addition to being Back to the Future Day (you know, October 21, 2015), I noticed that my count-down on my phone is telling me that it is also exactly mid-semester!  We have completed 44 days of coursework and there are 44 more days to go!  EDDE803 is progressing smoothly I would say, the internship in MDDE 620 is still pretty interesting, and the forums there are quite active. I get a lot of energy from seeing students in 620 participating the forums!

That said, I am feeling pretty tired! I don't know it it's just "hump-week"  - you know, that week in the middle of the semester when you feel that you are climbing a steep hill and you just want to sit down, but you gotta keep moving - or just that I really need a vacation (or this damned cold that doesn't want to go... ) :-).  Either way, I hope that once the current project is done that I will feel like I am on a skateboard rolling down hill to the finish line - i.e. lots of fun, and a rush, and not at all like now - feeling like I am dragging my feet.

On the docket for the next 2 weeks is Assignment 2.  While it's only meant to be 4,000-5,000 words, and probably just an introduction, to a topic in teaching and learning, since Jen P. presented on gamification in 801, I didn't want to rehash  her work, and information from the Gamification MOOC from 2012 (one of my 2 primary sources for my own gamification knowledge).  So, I finished reading 3 books on gamification and games in education, and I am now working on both McGonigal's Reality is Broken (in audiobook format) and Sheldon's The Multiplayer Classroom (in print). I think between six books and some background info from my previous gamification knowledge bases (both MOOCs) I should be more than fine.

I was originally planning on gamifying my presentation, build in some audience engagement, maybe have my classmates do some pre-work, but I am not sure how to work the mechanics right at this moment.  Once the paper is written I should have a better handle of how to gamify the presentation - if indeed I go down this path.  It's hard to gauge audience reaction and reception sometimes.  I get the sense that we are all tired coming into our seminar presentations, so I don't know if gamification of a presentation will delight or annoy my cohort-mates ;-)

A couple of weeks after my gamification paper and presentation, I have a presentation on connectivism as well, so I guess I will need to start reading (and re-reading) some articles I have saved on that, and some new ones that have come out since, in order to present something semi- or quasi-comprehensive.  Once these two assignments are done, I think I will be in down-hill-skateboard territory.

On a side note, I signed up for EDDE 804 (registration is open for next spring) and books for that should be here by next week.  I guess they'll have to be shelved for another 30 or so days until the semester ends ;-)

Oh yeah... where's my hover board?

Monday, October 19, 2015

xMOOCs as on-demand documentary viewing

For the past semester I've mostly ignored synchronous learning on coursera.  Instead of consuming materials as they are released, I log in once a week, download the videos for the course, and I keep them in my video library.  If there are textual materials available as well, I donwload those, but I tend to focus more on video materials. When inspiration (or curiosity) strikes, I dive into the specific course of interest and have a video play.  At the moment I tend to play lectures in chronological order, the order that they were listed in - in the course I got them from.

So, why not use coursera as "intended"?  Well, the predominant reason is the lack of time. These past two semesters have been quite busy for me and I don't have the time or inclination to do things as they are released by content providers (yes, I know - the noun used was quite deliberate).  There are also a lot of interesting courses being offered, not just on coursera, but also other MOOC providers. This means that my time, little as it was before, now becomes less when you think of the plethora of stuff that's out there.  My initial tactic was to sign up for many xMOOCs and view things later, but as I discovered, some MOOCs, once the course if "over", have adopted another annoying approach of traditional education - making content in-accessible. So, when I sign up for MOOCs, I download everything I can.  I probably contribute to the great number of 'non completers', but 'completing' a MOOC means many things to many people.  I'll complete the MOOC on my own terms ;-)

I know that some MOOCs are 'on demand' on coursera, which means that you can access them anytime, however those don't easily allow for video downloads. At least, I have not found a way to download for offline viewing thus far, so I usually don't sign up for those.

So, in thinking about my own, recent, use of xMOOC materials, I was thinking of public television, things like the national geographic television channel, documentaries. I was also thinking about  on-demand viewing venues like amazon prime, hulu, and netflix (and to a much lesser degree things like torrenting).  I think over the past 10 years (probably a little more) we've seen a huge change in how entertainment media is accessed and consumed.  Initially we had time-shifiting with devices like TiVo, so you didn't have to watch something on the day that it was on - you could watch it at another time.  Yes, VHS tapes also accomplished the same thing but I had a hard time programming my VCR to do this, whereas TiVo seems to have made it user friendly (even though I never owned a TiVo).

We also experienced place-shifting with things like Sling players which allows you to view things that are outside of your georgraphic region. So, if you are an mid-westerner living abroad, you can watch your local football team abroad if you want. Provided that you have mobile bandwidth, you could watch your local TV locally on your mobile as well. Finally, we have providers such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and the list goes on) that allow you to stream materials to your device.  Some, like Amazon recently, allow you to download a copy for offline use. So, if you are on a plane, or away from the web, you can still watch what you've paid for. So, in the end, you aren't tied to a broadcast model, one where the preferences are set by external interests, but by your time, availability, and mood.

Along with these revolutions in how we consume media, I was thinking how much I liked documentaries as a kid, and I was thinking back to high school where we were required to keep a journal in some science classes (watch a documentary relevant to your science class topic and write about what you learned). And then it hit me.  I am using xMOOC videos in a similar manner as I do television shows these days.  The heuristics of xMOOC videos (at least the social science and history ones I tend to follow) are such that they encourage this type of viewing.  I can just add them to my iPad and I can view them while I am on the train, or while shaving (most of them seem to be talking heads, so no worries about cutting myself), or while gardening (ditto on the talking head).  Learning, then, becomes embedded into other activities.  This is not because the learning isn't engaging - if it were boring I wouldn't be doing it - but rather because the heuristics of materials provided as the bread and butter of the course seem to point to that usage.  If a learner doesn't have the need to engage socially with fellow co-learners, and if the materials don't connect in ways that encourage such social aspects, then nothing is lost. Now...if only those videos were all OERs...

Compare this with cMOOCs. More specifically a cMOOC called creativity for learning in higher ed, The collaboration and discussion component is a large part of the MOOC.  To get the most out of this MOOC you'd have to be engaged in the course, via discussions and exchanges with other co-learners, because that's what the design heuristics dictate. Since I am currently too busy with school and work for this MOOC, I probably won't participate in it as it exists when many are working in that space. I do however think that I will most likely come back in December once the semester is over and I can take a breather.

To wrap up, back to my xMOOC videos as documentary viewing - what do you think?  Should we encourage such asynchronous view of  learning and engaging in the material? What does this do to our current notions of 'completion' and 'engagement'?  How about assessment of learning?   Your thoughts?

Friday, October 16, 2015

So long, farewell, auf viedersehen, adieu! ;-)

Well, after a couple of month of not paying the Ning bill is dead!  Well, the domain is still fine, @cdetorres got that one for 10 years, but the Ning community that it pointed to is pretty much dead.

So what is was Well, back in 2008, when I started my MEd in instructional design, the outgoing class was looking for a new president for the student association (GIDA - Graduate Instructional Design Association).  This association - I later found out, started at some point in the early 90's (the program began in 1984). Since I didn't want to see the hard work of previous officers go to waste, I thought I would step up and take over the presidency.  At the time, someone's final project for a course was to look into communities of practice, and as part of it they created a Ning community, which at the time provided freemium service, so for the student the community was free.

Within a few months of taking over I discovered that the network owner had created the network with their email, which made it a pain to transfer the network, so I created a new network that summer and kickstarted GIDA 2.0, which I nicknamed UMassID (UMass Instructional Design).  Since 2008 I've been inviting current students of the program and alumni to join and to create a community of instructional designers.  In the end I think we had around 500 members.  @cdetorres also got us the nifty domain (until 2018), and John Mazz. created an updated logo for us. So, we were all set to go and launch our new community!

Once Ning went pay-for-play I successfully got the department and college to pay for the service for a few years, but with other obligations on my docket at the moment, lobbying hard for a community (which was mostly dormant) didn't seem like a good use of my time.

So, 8 years in, what have I learned about communities, community building, and communities of practice from this experiment?  Well, In the original paper I wrote about this (written a couple of years into the experiment), the three big take-aways were that:

  • A community manager is needed
  • A community needs a mission
  • You need volunteers
With a few more years under my belt, I would also say the following:

Field of Dreams lied 

That is, if you build it they might not come ;-)  Having a space on the web for people to come and join doesn't necessarily mean that people will come, or that people will stay and a community will take hold.  One of the things that happened was that the community (at some point) was seen as "AK's place" because I spent a lot of time putting in resources of people that my name got associated with it.  Others did not take up the mantle of the community as much in the early years, so most content had my name associated with it. Since students are busy people, a community like this needs better integration - which leads me to point #2

Department Buy-in

I think one of the important stakeholders in this type of community is the academic department itself.  It's not just important to support the next by mentioning it here and there, and to pay the bills once a year, but it is important to utilize it. In teaching contexts we speak of teacher presence. I think something similar exists in network. A department needs to be active in the network by posting jobs, announcements, and news there.  I also think that faculty have a huge part to play by incorporating such networks into their courses. For instance, Athabasca University has the landing (their social network based on Elgg) incorporated in EDDE 802 and 806.  Now, do I visit the landing frequently?  The answer is "no", even though our cohort has a group page there. I find Elgg a bit hard to manage, for one thing, and our cohort's facebook page much easier to interact with. Other EDDE courses don't require access to the landing, so I meet my cohort where it's easier for me. That said, I do think that if the social network was promoted and content were made available I'd be there more frequently, which makes me think that if MEd courses incorporated UMassID into their courses (in a tiered fashion) then the network might provide interesting bits for everyone.

Managing a network is time consuming

I guess  I had much more time earlier on when I picked up the network, but this stuff is time consuming - and finding volunteers to shoulder the responsabilities is not easy ;-). That said, I did find it rewarding.  Finding resources to share with other people was enriching for me as well because it got me to look for stuff that was outside of my own domain.  It's a good thing I went in before the lights were turned off and saved a page of Instructional Desinger Resources that I had created for the community. Now I just need to updated it and curate it :)

I am not sure many people will mourn the loss of  The community needed a mission, but it seems that the mission driving GIDA, the one from the 90's, was not sufficient in the 2010's to keep it going.  To some extent I think that communities go through cycles, and some communities re-work themselves, re-form, and re-combine to create new ones.  I do wonder what the next community for the ID department will be like.  

What are your experiences with creating and fostering communities?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Week 5 down... Week 6 here we come!

Time seems to be on fast forward these days.  Either that or I have too many things to do, and not enough time to do them in.  When did week 5 just end?  Time flies when you're having fun, and when you have a ton of your plate I guess.  The past couple of weeks on EDDE 803 have been relatively 'quiet'.  We haven't had discussion forums, and our live session was cancelled due to unforeseen events.  The internship is fast and furious with a lot of discussion forum posts, and I assume that the short gradeable assignments will start to come in at some point soon in that course.

In the internship I actually ended up partly grading the first of the papers that came in. I grade it first, and the instructor of record looks it over does the final actual grading, this way the learner gets feedback and I get feedback as well. Since I've been teaching for a few years I am approaching this as an opportunity for peer review, so I am approaching my role as an intern in a mostly-an-instructor (but not quite) way.  It took me a few weeks to settle into this role, but this is what feels comfortable at the moment.  The only thing that's still a little fuzzy is helping this cohort of learners with their ePortfolio.  I haven't quite gotten around to making heads or tails of this fuzzy directive.  There is an ePorfolio moodle 'course' (more of a community really) for AU, so why not use that? I guess, phrased differently: what is lacking in that course community that requires my intervention, and how can I best address it.  I think this will be a week 6 and 7 goal for me (answering this question), which will give me  five weeks to do something before the semester comes to an end.

In terms of EDDE 803, the next big deliverable, due in a couple of weeks, is a paper and presentation on some aspect of teaching and learning.  I decided to go back to games and gamification.  Even though Jen presented on this last year (probably around this time of year too), I thought I could expand a bit on the subject.  Starting with her presentation as a jump-off point, I decided to read through some books on games and gamification that I acquired a few months ago and not tread the same path as her.  I was thinking of gamifying the presentation itself, but with the clock ticking down, I am not sure how successfully I'll be able to do this.  I think I will go back and review some coursera videos I have on Gamification (Werbach's MOOC), and Games in Education (Steinkuhler & Squire) to see if I am forgetting something (which I probably am at this point). Inevitably things will be left out because there is only so much you can include in a 4,000 - 5,000 word paper.

I guess keep on keeping on is the motto, until the end of the semester?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lurk on, dude, lurk on!

The other day, while catching up on my (ever growing) pocket reading list, I came across a post from, friend and fellow MobiMOOC colleague, Inge on MOOCs.  It was a rather on-the-nose post about MOOCs, learning, assessment, and the discourse used in MOOCs about learners. Concurrently I am working with a Rhizo team on a social network analysis post where the topic of 'completion' came up, and we started discussing  the real connotations of completion.  How does one measure 'completion' in a MOOC? Is it a worthwhile metric? and what about engagement?  Finally, to add to this volatile mix of intellectual ideas, I am working on a conferece presentation, with fellow lifelong learner and MOOCer Suzan†.

These raw materials made me think back to the early discussions on MOOCs (before the 'x' ones came out) and discussions about lurkers in MOOCs.  Before the xMOOC came out we didn't seem to frame non-visible members of the community as 'dropouts' but rather as lurkers.  There were probably people who quit the MOOC, as in they came, they saw, it wasn't for them, they left - but we left the door open for them to be lurkers if they wanted to.

Early on I viewed MOOC participation sort of similar to the participation patterns in a community of practice (at least those that I had learned in school) which are visually depicted by the image in this post.  ~90% are lurkers, ~9% contribute, and ~1% contribute a lot‡.  In one of my earlier MOOCs, #change11, I engaged more with the idea of lurkers, and the main thesis I had (at least in retrospect) was that at most they were harmless onlookers, at worst they didn't contribute to the continued well being of the community.  I viewed (and still view) learning as a communal activity, so the more people participate in the network of learning the better the outcome for everyone.  It allows depth  of conversation, different discussions to take place, and diversity of opinion.  When a lot of people lurk, my concern was, that a critical mass for community purposes would not be available so that a experience learning could either not get off the ground, or it would not be possible to sustain it.

Fast forward to 2015.  After more than 100 xMOOCs, cMOOC, pMOOC, rMOOC, αMOOC, βMOOC, γMOOC, and other free online learnign experiences I am not really sure where I stand on the subject of lurkers.  Well, I do, but I am also conflicted.  See, learner choice is one big aspect of learning.  You cannot really force anyone to learn something, or participate in some experience.  This holds true for open learning experiences like MOOCs, and for closed experiences (paid courses, seminars, workshops, etc.). Intrinsic motivation is important in learning, and it's what pulls the learner through times, both easy and difficult.  In this aspect, if what motivates learners is for them to lurk, or just participate in certain weeks or modules, then that is not only perfectly OK, it should be encouraged.

The point of conflict, however, comes in kicstarting and sustaining the learning community. Let's say I am an open learning designer♠ and I have this awesome course I am thinking of designing for a certain demographic.  Sort of like hosting a party I don't want it to fail. I want people to attend, be engaged, and have fun (and learn something in the process).  What can I do to make sure that there is a minimum mass to sustain the course through it's x-week duration?  Do I do anything to recruit and tend to the learning garden? Or do I let it run wild, and if it succeeds - then great, and it fails (like a lame party), then that's OK too?

I guess what I am asking (and proposing a discussio on) what are some #altMetrics for MOOC success other than visible participant engagement, or 'course completion', or any one of the traditional success factors?  By de-coupling attendance from success metrics, I think we can be quite fine with having a ton of lurkers in our MOOC, and still having a MOOC be a success.  Lurkers get what they need, active participants get what they need, course designers get what they need.  It's a win-win.  But - how do you get there?


† You know, when I tell people (who already have a PhD) that I am pursuing my EdD online through Athabasca University I get a bit of a sour face. They can't fathom how you can develop academic relationships that lead to stimulating discussions (and papers) at a distances.  Between my cohort and the people I've met in MOOCs I think I have had more mental stimulation that people in residential programs - just saying ;-)

‡ Wonder if this triangle is a distortion, sort of like Edgar Dale's corrupted cone...

♠ Mark my words, Open Learning Designer will be a job title soon enough if it's not already. Prbably a type of instructional or learning designer ;-)