Thursday, December 31, 2015

So long 2015! What a "teaching" year!

Well, 2015 is done!  Grades are in, courses are complete, and things are in process for next year.  Next spring I am not teaching, so I am thinking about cool (and instructive) things I can implement for the course that I am scheduled to teach this summer (intro to instructional design).

I won't work too hard on next summer's course just yet, too many other things to consider first.  That said, I realized late in December that 2015 was an interesting teaching year for me.  I am usually only allowed to teach 2 courses per calendar year, but through some fluke - and departmental needs- I ended up teaching three courses, all of which were at different ends of the spectrum for learners.  One of the courses was for learners around the mid-point of their learner career, one at the beginning, and one at the end.  It was also an interesting year because I handed off the course that I've taught for a long time to a friend and colleague, and I picked two other courses up that I had not taught before, so course continuity was also in my mind.

So, in the spring I taught INSDSG 684 (The design and instruction of online courses). The class was rather small (for such an important course these days), but I think it's partly my reputation as being a demanding instructor that has caught up with me ;-).  The course was mostly what I inherited from Linda B., with a few changes to keep the readings current and up-to-date.  For the fall semester I passed off the course to my colleague Rebecca, and it was at that time that I was really needing to explain the course in general.  When I got the course from Linda I did not receive a design document with ideas, specs, and rationale for certain activities, so as someone who has done Quality Matters I was left thinking through that framework - looking for things in the course that satisfy the requirements for QM, but without knowing for certain if that was the intent.  I think that if I went back in time, I would have re-done the course and documented the heck out of it for instances like this when a hand-off is necessary.  Things that were good practice in computer science (document your code) are also good practice in instructional design - document your designs!  This process also gave me pause to consider departmental course continuity beyond the syllabus.  I wonder if other instructors out there think in terms of such depth for their course designs.

In the summer, just by chance, I ended up teaching INSDSG 601 (introduction to instructional design), which is actually the first course, and a prerequisite for all other instructional design courses.  This time around I ended up looking at the course with a fine-tooth comb.  I looked at what was on Blackboard from previous instructors, I looked at assignments, and at three different syllabi.  It was quite interesting to see three implementations of the course, two designed for online and one for in-person.  I wasn't particularly happy with the versions of the course I saw, especially considering that I had seen students down the stream (in 684) for a few years and I had assumed certain skills that some did not have when they arrived at the course.  I started thinking about what an intro course should have, and how it should setup learners for success down the road - if they continued to be learners in this program, or for lifelong learning, if this was their only course in instructional design.

The two biggest things that I didn't like about previous implementations were:

  1. They were using videos created by an instructor who was no longer teaching in the program.  While the 20-minute lectures were fine, I think that there is something 'off' when the person teaching the course is different from the person you listen to each week on lectures.  It's fine to collect various TeacherTube and YouTube videos in your course (from different people), but when there is one person who is regularly lecturing to your course (and introduces themselves as an instructor in one of them), I think there is some potential for confusion on the part of the learner.  At the very least, to me, it signals that the instructor doesn't even care enough to redo the videos.
  2. I think parts of the course were bolted on to an existing frame (instead of preconceiving the instructional design of the course).  This meant that research papers and mid-terms exams (where you were tested on procedural knowledge) found their way into what I (primarily) conceive of as a studio course. 
So, I ended up redesigning the course, introducing learners to technologies, theories, concepts, and methodologies that they would see later on.  There is an aspect of learner choice in the course - both in deliverable formats and in topics to choose from - but the idea is still that of a studio course.  I rather enjoyed working on this redesign since I actually got to document quite a few things.  It's not as documented as I ask learners to document in their designs, however I think that's the difference between real life and a demonstration in an academic exercise.  I think I am probably teaching the same course in summer 2016, so I have an opportunity to tweak things!

One of the things that really came up (over and over) is that learners cannot separate grades from performance.  Last year I wasn't sure who to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘ in Blackboard, so I ended up using 50 (for the ✘), 80 for a ✓, and 100 for a ✓+.  The ✓+ is really meant to be an above and beyond type of grade (if you get a lot of ✓+ that means that you might not be in the right course).  I can't recall how many students were concerned that they were only getting a B- in the course (because all they were seeing was the 80 in assignments).  This time around I think I've figured out how to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘, so I'll see if there is a change in perception from learners.  Should be interesting.

Finally, in the fall I ended up advising in the capstone seminar, seeing students at the other end of the spectrum.  I think the challenge in undertaking this course is that you have a certain expectation of what learners, those who are almost credentialed instructional designers, should be able to do and the discourse that they should be able to produce in their documents. When deliverables are shy of those expectations it's challenging at times to come to a common understanding because the learners are also frustrated by this experience as well - that of being in their final course but things not being as easy as they thought they might be.  The experience here I think showed me that all faculty in a program should take turns being the advisor or grader in a final exercise.  This way they all get to see where structural weak points are in a program so that they can be addressed in the curriculum.  When only one or two faculty undertake this they might just sound like broken records and ignored.

Finally, to wrap things up, I've seen comments from colleagues over the years about 'final exam season' being 'student drama' season; you know of the country song variety - spouse left me, took my dog and my truck, and left me with the moving bill - or something along those lines.  I think that even jokingly this is potentially problematic because true student drama cases are probably few and far between, and joking about it being the season for student drama (potentially) predisposes us from expecting the worse from students. So, I guess - my advice going into 2016 is this: expect more from your students, not less and definitely not drama :-)

Happy 2016!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The student's year-end-review

Socrates Badge, by @merryspaniel
It's a bit hard to believe, but two years ago - around this time of year - I was scurrying to get my application into Athabasca University to have my application considered for Cohort 7.  The deadline for Athabasca's program is at the same time as the deadline for my department (January 15th), so I was trying to make sure that my recommendations were all in order.  I had applied to another program prior to Athabasca (surprisingly enough I never heard back from them...) so I had tapped into my referee base already and I didn't want to burn them out (again).

Well, things worked out, my application went in, and I made the short list (#woot!).  Now, with a year-and-a-half under my belt, I am about to begin EDDE 804 (Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education).  The Moodle course isn't available yet (darn!) so I can't yet tell much of the actual mechanics and slant that the course will take.  I am wondering how much overlap there will be with my MBA and through what lenses the MBA background and knowledge can (and will) be filtered, interpreted, and applied through. It should be an interesting course.  I started reading one of the texts, Higher education and the new society, but between holidays, a winter cold, and pending home improvement projects, I think I'll wait until I get back to work and use my commute time as my book-reading time.  The other text, Leadership for 21st century learning: Global perspectives from educational innovators, seems more like cases and specific examples, so since I don't retain much in terms of long term memory for these things, I might just wait until the semester starts and tackle those on a week-by-week basis.  As a learner I've re-discovered (many, many, times) that the fall semester is probably my favorite semester.  I have four (or five) months between semesters and I am able to sit down and read - at my own pace - and explore readings in depth before I have to discuss them in the course.  While I can work under the time pressure, it's definitely not the way I prefer to consume and process information.

In any case, seeing as it is two years since I started applying to Athabasca - and I had to write about my dissertation plans in my statement - I thought I would revisit where I am on that front.  While I don't have to make up my mind until comprehensive exam time about my dissertation, I think it helps to keep an eye on the ball.

Before I applied to AU, I was thinking of doing something something that dealt with language learning through MOOCs.  An initial idea was this one here, where I made some proposals on how to look at language learning through MOOCs, and in specific I was thinking cMOOCs. This was a potential plan if I were to apply to the University of Athens (Greece) at one of their language and linguistics departments.  Due to strikes that didn't work out, but I kept the idea alive.  When I applied to AU, another idea I was thinking about was learner motivation in MOOCs, both xMOOC and cMOOC.  I was interested in seeing what spurred learners to sign up for MOOCs to begin with, and what made them 'complete' MOOCs - and of course did they meet their goals by 'completing' the MOOC.  The notion of completion was something that I also wanted to explore.  While that was an interesting topic, I sort of lost steam on it as my own interests grew, and as others started exploring this territory.

I also wanted to be more pragmatic with my dissertation.  Dissertations don't really get cited in research much, and I feel as though they are one last run through the park with the training wheels on to make sure that an institution is unleashing a capable and ethical researcher into the world; thus a dissertation isn't necessarily some sort of magnum opus that will get you loads of citations (not that I care a ton about citations, but it is a metric that academia seems to use).

So, as I am writing this post and staring at my blackboard, here are some other ideas that came up during 2015 for a dissertation (most of which are rejects at this point for dissertation purposes):

  • Study of lurking in MOOCs
  • Effects of a learner's social network graph in 'completion' of a MOOC
  • Meta-analysis of MOOC research literature: Finding and major trends
  • Barriers to learning in open online courses
  • Motivations in open online courses (not "massive"  so a refinement of the original idea)
  • MOOC Pedagogy evolution (more of a historical analysis thing)
  • Corpus Analysis of  cMOOC or xMOOC Forum activity
  • Digital Badges study --> design + learning outcomes
  • Comparison of improvement of learner motivation in traditional online courses when using digital badges in lieu of graded (0-100%) assignments. While this is an interesting action-research project, the data collection is dependent on me teaching, and at the moment I have to wait one year between teaching cycles.

So, a ton of ideas.  Now that I jotted them down from here, I erased them from my blackboard ;-)

The idea that seems to be sticking though, and I am seriously considering, is somewhat of an autoethnography.  When I was thinking about what I've worked on the past few years, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to AU, those reasons were online learning, lifelong learning, and MOOC related.  So, the current though on the dissertation is this:  Attempt to do a dissertation-by-publication style of dissertation. Luckily there is someone from Cohort 5 who is piloting this, so I don't have to be guinea pig :-).  I was thinking of three articles:
  1. Autoethnography of an unlikely lifelong learner (I really disliked school, so it's kind of odd to be interested in education at this point).  This might be the first article before I look at my blog data and 'taint' my own reflections and analysis on learning. Need to do more research on Autoethnography as a research method. This would be article #1
  2. Look at my own posts tagged with "MOOC" and specific MOOCs I've participated in - as well as various MOOC providers (coursera, edx, etc), and take a grounded theory approach to analyzing my MOOC related posts (which at this point are close to 300). This would be article #2.
  3. Finally, go through my MOOC related blog posts, again, and conduct a critical discourse analysis on them. This would be article #3.
  4. Perhaps for article #4 (if things work out) I could do a meta-analysis piece where I could look at findings from the three articles and triangulate learning by and through MOOCs.
  5. Then, wrap a nice intro and conclusion on this and bam! done! (hopefully)
Initially I was thinking that a single-subject research approach wouldn't get much traction, but in talking to one of my cohort-mates who works in the field of applied behavioral analysis (where single-subject research is the norm?), and in reading more about autoethnography, I am thinking this might just work.  At the very least I don't have to (1) get IRB/REB approval to research myself, and (2) I don't need to wait one year between data collection cycles.  Now all I have to do is to convince the committee that this is worthwhile ;-)

So there you have it folks.  Two years since I started on this crazy journey in doctoral studies. it's hard to believe that in a year's time from now I will be working on my comprehensive exam... time flies!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

MOOCs and the Art Studio

Back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing (a little) chapter 4 and jumping off from there.  The chapter title is "PMOOCs and the Art Studio: A Catalyst for Innovation and Change in eLearning Development and Studio Pedagogies", and based on the title this chapter had me intrigued.  I am not very familiar with Studio-Based education, so was looking forward to learning a little more about that as well.  This might be a good chapter for fellow Athabascan (or Athabascian?) from Cohort 6.

Anyway the abstract for this chapter is as follows:

The challenges of MOOCs are currently a significant issue for universities. New contexts of openness, massiveness and collaboration on the Web are challenging traditional forms of university education delivery. These challenges are catalysts for change both generally and in studio pedagogies in particular. This chapter focus on how disruption caused to traditional art studio teaching models occur through intersection with MOOC activity. The provision of studio arts subjects by MOOC providers is also shown to be innovative for MOOC design and delivery. The authors show these challenges by drawing on their participation in two arts based MOOCs, The Art of Photography and Practice Based Research in the Arts. The MOOC pedagogies of openness, massiveness and collaboration, provide opportunities inherent in studio-based arts delivery which contemporary MOOC platforms rarely achieve. The authors draw into question potential frameworks for evaluating choosing and designing contemporary MOOC activity. This chapter falls within the ‘policy issues in MOOCs design' with specific relevance for the topic of ‘technology and change management for the MOOCs environment'.

This article was fairly decent in my view. The article took an autoethnographic approach to research where the two faculty members decided to experiment first-hand with MOOCs (xMOOCs) from a learner's perspective to learn more about them and how specific instantiations of MOOCs worked, what strengths and weaknesses these MOOC approaches had, and how they might be used in studio education.  It's not the first time that I've read of faculty members taking MOOCs as learners in order to see how they work, but I think that this might be one of the few times that fellow faculty come in with an analytic and inquisitive eye, and they put themselves into the learner frame of reference. Other times it seems like faculty have an axe to grind and what they write is total garbage based on a non-analysis, colored by their own perception of what learning should look like.

In any case.  Another benefit here, in this chapter, for me what that the two MOOCs pursued were actually from lesser known providers: Open2Study in Australia and NovoEd (apparently a Stanford University experiment).  I've taken courses in Open2Study, and I have taken one course on NovoEd, so it was interesting to compare their experiences with my own.  The funny thing is that I had taken the Open2Study course they described in this article and I found myself reflecting back to the mechanics of O2S courses, and that course in specific.  I think that is someone has not taken an Open2Study course, or a course on NovoEd, this article give you a little taste of the mechanics of those two platforms, the strengths, and some of the frustrations.

From the description of what studio education is, it sounded to me that the cMOOC (or something like that) might actually make much more sense if you are thinking about a MOOC that has the same (or similar) frame of mind as studio based education (Hmmm.. wonder what Lisa thinks about this).

The one thing that was brought up was the meaning of the world Massive.  O2S courses are basically 4 weeks long, regardless of the course topic. Once the course is over, you can actually take it again in the subsequent month, so I think there are 12 opportunities in a year to take a course.  While this cuts down on the 'massiveness' of one section's registration, I do wonder if it enables learners to take the MOOC when they feel they have the time, as opposed to signing up and either lurking or not participating at all because they don't have time.  If they don't have time, you might ask why do they sign up?  Well, fear of missing out  (FOMO) might be one reason, but there is also the ability to just download the videos (or access them later in the case of Edx), so you sign up when the registration period is open. I wonder if the FOMO is lessened by this, if fewer people sign up for different sections, but the engagement/registrant ratio is higher.

Anyway, interesting chapter.  Worth a read if you are new to MOOCs, and especially these platforms.

Your thoughts?

Errey, H., & McPherson, M. J. (2015). MOOCs and the Art Studio: A Catalyst for Innovation and Change in eLearning Development and Studio Pedagogies. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 61-73). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch004

Friday, December 18, 2015

Democratization of Education - How do you define this?

I've been trying to catch up with things I've saved in my Pocket reading list over the course of this past semester, and one of the articles (or blog posts?) came across was about how MOOCs have failed to democratize education, and given that this was one of the fundamental goals of MOOCs this is a problem.

I don't think I know where exactly this goal, or rhetoric, about democratizing education came from.  I suspect that it was somewhere in the xMOOC discourse around the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.  Even if xMOOC providers, and their proponents, didn't initiate this discourse, they certainly capitalized on it by providing cases of poor learners, who would normally not be served by higher education given their backgrounds, and MOOCs could help. It's easy when you have prodigies to start with, but that's a whole other story. The point is that xMOOC providers just added some fuel to the fire since this discourse suited them. And, it's not a bad goal to have, but you don't start with a service and say your service provides for that demographic.  You do a needs analysis on that demographic and build your services with those constraints and information in mind.  Anyway I digress, back to democratizing...

So, this author (who I am failing to remember right now), claims that MOOCs (xMOOCs I guess) seem to be taken and completed by people who already have college or graduate work completed, and they aren't the main beneficiaries of MOOCs.  Since there isn't a majority of poorer, non-college educated students who are benefiting from this, the goal of democratizing education is essentially bust.  I disagree.

I think everyone has latched on to democratization of education meaning only that education is available to those who have not had any education of this type in the past, so anyone who has not attended college.  I ascribe to a broader, more liberal, meaning of democratization of education, one which encompasses providing access to education in an open manner to anyone who desires it regardless of their background.  Just because someone has already gone to college and graduated, it doesn't mean that they want their education to stop.  I see the democratization of education as being able to provide accessible portals into lifelong learning, being a 'palace of the people' (sort of like the Boston Public Library) where people come to gain knowledge for development and delight.

While it is true that college graduates (hopefully) have some means to sustain themselves through gainful employment, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the time to attend credit-bearing courses, or the money to spend on them.  If all they want to do is learn something new, either for professional or personal reasons, paying for a college course binds you in terms of time and cost. Work and family usually come before continued and life-long education, so it's something that's always thought of last.  Democratizing education to me means making the option for education, regardless of your educational background, more accessible in terms of flexibility of time, flexibility of cost, and flexibility in participation.

Just because one demographic has not benefitted from MOOCs (yet) doesn't mean that they are failing in democratization of education. It also does not mean that we should give up on that demographic.  Maybe MOOCs, and specific MOOC pedagogical designs, are better suited to that purpose.  Maybe MOOCs are not the answer, but a failure of democratization of education it is not.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Professional Learning through MOOCs

Back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing (a little) chapter 3 and jumping off from there.  The chapter title is "Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise", and based on the title it really had me hooked! This is a chapter that I was really looking forward to reading because it seemed like a good chapter to tackle workplace learning, professional development, talent development, and where MOOCs fit into this arena.  If you remember last year, some people had professed 2015 (or was it 2014?) to be the year that MOOCs made it into the enterprise (LOL).

Anyway, the abstract for this chapter is as follows:
This chapter will locate debates around MOOCs within a discussion on the purposes of higher education for professional learning and trends for trans-disciplinary approaches in designs for networked learning. The authors revisit the meaning of a ‘higher' education in contemporary tertiary contexts and within professional learning degrees and also examine the types of expertise required when designing for and facilitating learning in a MOOC open-style environment. In response to these aims, they offer a trans-disciplinary framework (Wadsworth, 2010) drawn from complex systems thinking in health, community and human services, to assist our enquiry into educational innovation. The authors suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the types of expertise required by those involved in macro-level learning occurring in MOOCs will lead towards a greater role in creating the next generation of multi-professional experts. They draw from the learning sciences, epistemologies on ways of being and becoming, and innovations with educational technologies.
This article, in the end for me, over-promised and under-delivered.  It's not that it's not that bad, but rather it's not that good.  I would have expected to read this article back in 2012 when xMOOCs were starting to become a 'force' in higher education and everyone was having their 15 minutes in the limelight when they were announcing MOOC platforms, MOOC offerings, MOOC initiatives and so on.  In 2015 the article does not really provide much new thought and perspective into the xMOOC discussion.  Seeing as the article is more of position paper, rather than empirical research, it's hard to see the value of adding their voice to the "MOOCs have issues, we need to address these" chant.

Another problem I had with this article is that it reinforces certain ideas and rhetoric around MOOCs and academic quality, research, and discourse in general.  For example the authors write that "The benefits of these open and online courses were their potential capacity to deliver high-quality education from the best institution and instructors to very large groups of people" (p. 48).  We've seen this before with "elite" institutions claiming that they are the well or watering hole where you can find self-proclaimed "the best lectures" from the self-proclaimed "best institutions". This type of discourse is highly problematic on many fronts (as I think I've written before on here), one of which being pedagogical in nature: the equation of lecturing at and learning. Another issue, related to the various "elites" is the reported (in this article) dearth of research articles about MOOCs in high impact academic journals - as if the impact factor of an academic journal has any bearing on the quality of research that is conducted and published.

The authors write that "neither the cMOOC or the xMOOC s seem to be adequately equipped to deliver educational outcomes at the higher knowledge domains and will therefore remain a testing group for various pedagogical approaches, rather than a viable alternative to a traditional university course" (p. 51).   I call BS on this, and it seems to me that the authors have little to no first hand experience with MOOCs (or any type).  My first issue is that the authors fail to identify what sorts of educational outcomes they are talking about.   Are we talking about undergraduate courses? graduate courses? introductory courses? advanced courses?  Not all courses are the same in terms of the requirements they have, and their educational outcomes.  I've been in quite a few cMOOCs, for example, that would give a graduate course a run for its money.  That said it was also up to the learner (me in this case) to maintain my motivation and pull through with my own goals within that given course.  All MOOCs might not be good for All educational outcomes, but you need to pair appropriate outcomes with appropriate modes of delivery and learner background.  I would not, for example, put a learner who is barely prepared to college into a MOOC on college writing.  That person needs much more personal feedback and support than current MOOCs can provide. That doesn't mean that a Creative Writing MOOC won't be useful and challenging to someone a little further with the skills they have.

Finally, the authors argue that you need experts to produce experts, so experts teaching other people who will become experts and providing mentoring.  While this may be one approach to developing talent, I don't think it's the only one.  I am reminded of many occasions where a whole lot of us 'peers' worked together to collectively increase our expertise in something.  We weren't experts, and didn't have experts to hold our hands, but we did it anyway.  That's how science progresses.  We collectively work together to explore the unknown, and in the process we become experts. I am also reminded of self-paced eLearning, where I had no peers online, back in the early 2000s, when my training in classroom A/V equipment came on CD for the multimedia and I logged into an online system for the self-placed text and image parts.  I worked at becoming an expert, through distance education, when no one else was around - not even an instructor.  The notion that you need experts to make experts is a bit off to me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this article. Your thoughts?

Lodge, J. M., & Lewis, M. J. (2015). Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 48-60). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch003

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Quality of MOOCs?

Continuing on with the review of articles in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future today I have a chapter dealing with quality of MOOCs

Chapter 2 is titled Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. The abstract tells us:
Institutional quality assurance frameworks enable systematic reporting of traditional higher education courses against agreed standards. However, their ability to adequately evaluate quality of a MOOC has not been explored in depth. This chapter, Quality Assurance for Massive Open access Online Courses – building on the old to create something new, explores the added learning and teaching dimensions that MOOCs offer and the limitations of existing frameworks. Many components of a MOOC are similar to traditional courses and, thus, aspects of quality assurance frameworks directly apply, however they fail to connect with the global, unrestricted reach of an open learning and teaching platform. The chapter uses the University of Tasmania's first MOOC, Understanding Dementia, as a case. MOOC-specific quality assurance dimensions are presented in an expanded framework, to which the Understanding Dementia MOOC is mapped, to demonstrate its usefulness to a sector grappling with this new learning and teaching modality. This chapter continues the commentary on – Policy issues in MOOCs Design, through the topic of ‘quality issues critical comparison – contrasting old with new.'

This was an interesting article, not because of the MOOC angle, but really about learning more about accreditation and peer review in an Australian context.  The MOOC angle seemed...a little off.  There are two big questions that came up as I was reading this article:

  1. Why does an institution offer MOOCs?
  2. How does one measure 'quality' in an educational context?

Now, I know that we have frameworks available to us as educators to quantify the 'quality' of our online courses. One prime example is Quality Matters.  However, I think that all quantified means of measuring human learning do fall short.  I've passed many courses in my days as a learner (especially in required undergrad courses) where I just checked items off the list.  I knew the lines I was expected to paint in, and I did so proficiently enough to pass tests.  Hence, quality-wise, I guess that means that the course was good, since I passed, the course and the course had gone through the requisite steps of both internal and external review, but it doesn't mean I learned anything.

One of the proposals of the authors is that MOOC business models have failed to reflect 'reality' is because they have not  been integrated formally into university frameworks through quality assurance. I didn't see anything in this article that supports this hypothesis.  Quality is a tricky thing.  Unfortunately, for education I don't think that there isn't one simple solution to obtaining and measuring quality.  We have, in my opinion, come up with a system that tries to keep honest people honest, however I don't think this system of peer review, internal and external review, and course evaluation are any indication of quality.  Quality seems a bit elusive as a concept because it means different things to different people.

The type of quality we see described in traditional contexts is that of design.  Making sure that (a) goals and objectives match the (b) instructional activities , and that (c) assessments tie back to objectives, and that materials used tie back to a + b + c. This is a simplified view, but it's all about connecting the dots in course design.  Actual learning and application - once the class is over, is not usually something that is testable.  In the parlance of Kirkpatrick's model of evaluation, we undertake level 1 and level 2 evaluations, but we are not able to conduct level 3 or level 4, which would require us to have access to the learners after the fact for further testing.  In graduate programs where there might be a final capstone, portfolio, comprehensive exam, you might be able to conduct level 3 evaluations to some extent, but that's about it.

So, when we're talking about "quality" in MOOCs it's important to figure out what we mean by quality.  The other thing that makes MOOCs, in my opinion, a bit harder to assess, especially in implementation, is the variable learners in the course.  In traditional assessments of courses we know that courses need a minimum number of students to run (a business decision), so faculty can plan potential activities knowing the lower and upper limits.  In a MOOC this is pretty hard because registrations mean nothing. How are outcomes measured when there is a lot of potential flux?

In terms of making the decision to offer a MOOC, the big question is why do universities do this?  What's in it for them?  The public education and access mission of some schools might be a reason, but given the costs described by the authors of making a MOOC, why go through these steps?  Why not focus on OER development or something cheaper? I am sure that there is still hope for the academic youtube channel ;-) The authors write, rightly so, that MOOCs are not an easy path to revenue, so I am curious as to the reasons institutions decide to offer these MOOCs (other than the "they are new and shiny, and we must participate!" type of reason).

The authors, going back to quality assurance, claim that the "traditional approach of utilising external peer review to ensure that the course level learning outcomes are appropriately calibrated still has merit in the MOOC environment".  To a small extent I agree, if you are talking about specific xMOOCs with specific outcomes, and specific limitations. However, I am reminded of a comment a friend and colleague (Maha B) made somewhere online (twitter? blog? facebook?) about feeling constrained when she had to fully develop the course structure of a (traditional) online course before the course started. This didn't leave much flexibility for learner interests.    I see where Maha is coming from, and for experienced educators, while it makes me nervous, I keep an open mind.

Personally I like everything planned ahead of time for two reasons (1) I know an overall path I've designed, and I can work with it and help guide novice learners on rails, and I can also defend the design when it comes to a curriculum committee; and (2) it helps learners plan the semester to have something on rails.  That said, I do not like being rigid in my teaching - just because we have a roadmap it doesn't mean that we can take the path least travelled, or even go off the road.  This is little sidebar was with regard to 'regular' courses.

With MOOCs - given that they are a form of online education that we are still studying in their nascent state, to try to pigeonhole them into a rigid structure that was built in order to ensure that college credit was worth something comparable between institutions.  MOOCs are not credit-bearing courses. They are optional, free, open to entry and exit, and they don't award any college credit.  So why try to slice them and dice them by using measurements that are created for credit-bearing courses when the actual ethos and purpose of such courses is not the same as credit-bearing college courses?  Furthermore, MOOCs (again depending on the course) can be completely undeveloped from at the beginning.  There can be connecting and connective threads going from week to week, however the entire course structure need not be completed from the onset.  This is one of those constraints that exists with credit-bearing courses, but there is no reason for it to exist with MOOCs.

In the end, I think that the concept of 'quality' in a MOOC won't elicit a unified definition of what that looks like.



Walls, J., Kelder, J., King, C., Booth, S., & Sadler, D. (2015). Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 25-47). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch002

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Academic Trading Cards

I came across this in PhD comics the other day:

I am sure that the concept isn't novel  - I've been trying to get my friends and colleagues to do something like this for a few years no avail. ;-)  I wonder if anyone in the AU EDDE cohorts wants to try something like this.  Or, maybe, a Magic the gathering type of card game with academics.  If you draw the George Siemens card you get +5 on network powers for 3 turns.  What do you think? ;-)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Who's a teacher?

With the semester over, and the brain working on momentum, I've decided to capitalize on the spare brain-power, and time, to finally read a book that I agreed to write a review for back in the summer (yeah, I know - a tad bit late...). The book is a collection of articles titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  I'll come back to the topic of the book as a whole after I am done with this process.  I think that going through chapter-by-chapters, picking and reacting to some things that piqued (and poked at) my interests is a little more interesting that trying to condense 15 chapters into one book review. This is sort of what I did with the #rhizoANT review.

Chapter 1 is titled Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment.  The abstract gives us a sense of the article:
In July 2014, a massive open online course (MOOC) entitled The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) was offered within the University of Melbourne's programme. Designed as a research engagement and dissemination initiative, the ATC21S MOOC enrolled 18,000 education practitioners, predominantly interested in teaching and assessment of complex 21st century skills. This chapter describes the experience of developing and teaching in the MOOC, and of learning through it. The authors suggest areas for ongoing research, and highlight areas in which MOOCs may stimulate broader change. This chapter commences the dialogue for the opening book section – policy issues in MOOCs Design, and responds to the topic of ‘emerging technology and change management issues for eLearning in the MOOCS environment.'
This article seemed a bit like an action research project, which is fine, but it did not really add to my own understanding of MOOCs. It does provide some data, which in aggregate can be considered as part of the xMOOC learning environment, but the MOOC aspect of the article didn't provide much for me personally.  On the other hand, some comments, and assumptions about technology, did pique my interest a bit.  For example, right from the start the authors comment that MOOC platforms are still in their infancy.  While this may be true when discussing platforms like coursera and udacity, we've had the LMS around for at least 20 years.

Another comment "The platform determines the organization of the materials and the processes of the course..." while, in it does ring true, it seems to me that taken together with the previous quote is sort of an excuse to work within the confines of what the MOOC LMS allows.  While I don't consider myself an EduPunk, it's kind of hard to think of MOOCs (these days) and conceive of people painting within the lines of the LMS when what kicked off MOOCs was this sense of the untamed and MacGyvering to reach your aims. In other words, your aims were not determined by what you had available.

The authors asks us to consider that "'teaching' should not be conflated with what a teacher does."  This is true, in a sense.  What a teacher does is teaching, however teaching isn't solely defined by the actions of a teacher.  Fellow students can be teachers as well, if we - for example - take a Vygotskian view of the more knowledgeable other who helps scaffold fellow learners to new learning. That said, I do find it a bit problematic to consider the platform as a teacher "who tirelessly organise[s] the learning experience".

While I do think that technologies can be actors in a learning network (at least from what I've read and experienced with the ANT readings) and they can influence how actors connect and work with other actors and knowledge in that network, I think that the authors of this paper are giving technology, and the LMS in particular, too much of an active role.  The LMS is an inert piece of technology. It does not organize anything. A human actor acts to organize the learning materials, and perhaps learning opportunities, that occur in that learning network.  While, from a connectivist view (if I am interpreting connectivism correctly), the learner can access 'learning' from a non-human appliance, I don't think that the act of providing materials is the same as being a teacher.

In their conclusions, the authors indicate that the "distinctive teaching power of a  MOOC arises from the combine 'teaching' efforts of  three components: a course team of collaborating professionals; a digital platform that tirelessly organises and provides feedback to learners; and the peer teaching capabilities of a collegial, experienced, qualified, group of participants".

Those three components, in my view, are available in traditional online courses as well, so I am not sure how MOOCs are different in this view.  However, I do think that there is a subtle distinction here around the concept of peers: they are collegial, experiences, and qualified.  This to me indicates that MOOCs do have pre-requisites (and those should be encouraged during development) and there is an aspect of collaboration hinted at with the collegial piece. I don't know if I've read in other pieces in the past about "ideal" learner characteristics for MOOCs.

Next blog post, chapter 2.  What do you think of chapter 1?

Milligan, S., & Griffin, P. (2015). Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 1-24). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch001

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's the usual half-life of an intellectual interest?

Now that school is over, and grading is almost over for the course I am teaching this semester, I finally have an opportunity to go through and continue my quest to read existing MOOC literature.  I had started this past September reading a collection of articles in an IGI publication titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses which I got electronically for a limited time in order to do a book review.  Needless to say that between work, school, and personal priorities this book review (and reading of articles) went in the back, back, back burner.  I also noticed that colleagues Markus Deimann and Sebastien Vogt published a special issue on MOOCs in Europe on IRRODL recently.  It would not be an understatement to say that I could probably take a year off from my EdD program just to read all the MOOC related research that has been published (and retrieved) in the past two years.  I'd say it's been gathering dust, but it's all in two drawers, so it's pretty dust-proof ;-)

That said, even my friends and colleagues have noticed that I don't utter the venerable acromyn as much any longer - despite its promenance on this blog.  So, as I was thining about xMOOCs, cMOOCs, pMOOCs, rMOOCs, and all the other wonderful acronyms, I am wondering what the average half-life of a research interest (or curiosity) is.  I've been thinking about MOOCs since 2011, when I started with LAK11, CCK11, and MobiMOOC. I've worked on a number of fruitiful collaborations with a variety of groups on the subject. I've even been deemed as the MOOC expert on campus (as much as I don't like the title of expert). That said, I've noticed that my interest in coursera, edx, canvas network, and other MOOC providers has really wained.   Maybe it's because I am spending much more time on my PhD.  Or, maybe I've just burned the fuse on the subject of MOOCs and there is a need for academic renewal.  I am not sure.

So, the question is this:  How often do academics change their research interests?  Obviously the answer is probably not something that can be generalizable, however there should be trends that can help shed some light on this.  Do people in the academe pick a topic and stay with it for considerable periods of time, or do most of us act like bees, going from flower to flower based on an ever-changing set of interests?  While I am not aiming for a tenure track position (there are way too few of those around to even bother), I do wonder, if the opportunity ever arises, if a record of going from topic to topic (with no long term commitment to any specific topic) is something that can hurt those prospects for employment in a tenured position.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Schooooool's out for December!....

...Schoool's out...until January...

OK, OK,... maybe my take on Alice Cooper's "School's Out" isn't as catchy...but it is indicative of the situation right now :-)  EDDE 803 is over, and I am waiting for EDDE 804 to begin.  Well, technically the course is over tomorrow, however all assignments are done and submitted, and I am not in maintenance mode in the forums.

The final assignment was really a reflection on the internship, what I got out of it, what things that I learned in the course I applied, and what I foresee applying to my own professional practice.

As I wrote in my reflection, both for the course and for the internship, I wasn't really sure what I was going to get out of it that I didn't already (somewhat) know when I came into the course.  My background is in instrucitonal design, and I have been teaching for a few years.  It's not that I think I'm perfect and that I can't improve, but sometimes you don't know what you don't know.  So, what did I take away from EDDE 803?  I'll focus on three things, one element from the internship, one from the cohort, and one from me as a learner.

First, the internship.  As I've (probably) written before, my internship was with Athabasca University's "Greek Cohort", which is a partnership with the Eastern Macedonia & Thrace Institute of Technology (one of Greece's Universities). Everyone in the cohort, as far as I could tell, had Greek as their native language, althrough the langauge of the classroom was English.  This isn't that odd, many people come from overseas to study, or attend online programs where the language of instruction is English.  What I found particularly interersting was that everyone involved spoke Greek in this particular class.  From this cohort I got that most people (if not all) were K-12 educators, which is not a typical demographic at the UMass Boston Instructional Design (ID) program that I am affiliated with.  I think it was a breath of fresh air for me, because as much as I like both Higher Education and Corporate ID, I really want to expand my own perspectives on the application of ID to this field.  The students were energetic, and the forums in this course were truly alive.  I really enjoyed this internship experience.  Now if I could find a way to continue to be affiliated with this Greek cohort...

Second, I think that I will say something about the cohort.  Building cohorts I think is a bit like cooking and chemistry.  Too many of the same type of people and you have an echo chamber.  Have too many different types of people and you risk not having a cohort gel.  I think our ragtag crew is just right. OK Cohort 6 and Cohort 8, if you are reading this I don't know much about your cohorts, so I am biased, so let's just say that I like my cohort.  One of the areas I've grown to appreciate more through this cohort is behaviorism.  Behaviorism wasn't really part of my repertoire as an isntructional designer, or a language educator and linguist.  It's very constraining.  However, I've also learned that what you learn in school is also only part of the story (a part that ends in the 1940s).  People have worked on behaviorism since, and because one of the members of our cohort is an applied behaviorism professional, we got to learn more about both past and current thought and research on behaviorism.  Had we not had this person in our cohort I think I would have just kept on ignoring (shunning?) behaviorism.

Finally, a little bit about me.  Now, it's true that the textbooks for the course (while pretty cool), they didn't contain a lot of new knowledge for me personally due to my background.  I could have had a really easy semester - if I wanted to.  However, as a doctoral student I think it's important to challenge yourself.  For some classmates, where the information was new to them, or fairly new, that was challenging - and this is fine.  For people like me, where we did pick up some new info, but it wasn't all new, I think it's important to create our own challenges.  I ended up tackling the topic of gamification.  I had read a couple of Jim Gee's books on the topic so I could have written something just based on that.  However, I took the opportunity to read 4 additional books that have been on my bookshelf since last summer on the topic, and do some more research, in order to expand my own knowledge - not to just check off a box saying that the assignment was done.

I am not saying this to receive some sort of kudos or an "attaboy".  I am saying this to indicate to prospective doctoral students, those who are thinking about applying to programs, or who have just started, that they need to challenge themselves.  Sometimes if you are in a course where some material you already know, then you need to to find ways to extend and expand your knowledge.  It's not just up to the professor and the course to challenge you.  You have an environment, and a group of people with you, to help provide a space for opportunities. However you should not expect those people and environments to be the primary, or even end-all-be-all drill sargeant for all your learning.  You need to develop your own internal drill sargeant to get you going!

Alright.  That's all I have for now on the end of 803.  I think I have 3 collaborative papers to help get on the road, and MOOC related articles to read :-)

So, how did YOUR semester go?