Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gimme an El! Gimme a Pee! Gimme and Ess and an Ess!

What does that spell?  elp-ss-ss ;-) OK...well that sounded more funny in my head...

Anyway! Week 5 of NRC01PL (last week! All caught up! yay!) was about Learning Performance Support Systems.  My first introduction to LPSS (a brief one at that) was in an instructional design course almost 10 years ago (if my memory works).  The funny thing is that we did talk about LPSS (without using that label) in a Knowledge Management course while I was doing my MBA.  The lesson here?  Interdisciplinarity is indeed a thing worthwhile practicing! :-)

When we learned about LPSS way back when, it was within a corporate learning context. The idea of an LPSS, which in my knowledge management course tied into communities of practice, was that employees, who are also learners, have access to a system to get realtime, just-in-time, help with whatever they are doing.  An example of this might be, for example, a short video on how to print something from your computer to a networked printer in your office.

Of course, the LPSS that was discussed last week in NRC01PL was not this type of LPSS.  This LPSS seems more like a place to bring together all of your learning.  I created an account†  and had  a look around. I know it's still in beta, or perhaps even in alpha, but I don't think this type of service is really for me.  I am feeling like an old fart for saying this, but I feel a bit saturated with services at the moment.

From the introductory video LPSS it seems a little like services like degreed that allow you to track and account for all courses that you complete, every book you read, every article you read, and so on.  I did try degreed for a while in order to keep track of things that I do on the web, but within a few days I shut down my account. I also tried another similar service on the web, but I forget what it was now.  Being able to track all of accomplishments is pretty nifty, don't get me wrong, however I already have a ton of online services that do that for me. Goodreads for example keeps track of what I've read.  Zotero and Mendeley do that for academic articles. Diigo & Delicious keep track of what I share on twitter.  I also have a CV where I keep track of all MOOCs I attended (among other things). I used to keep track on Class-Central, but I've stopped updating that profile ages ago.  The question is, do I really need to go in and manually input stuff again? Or should I just be able to point services like these to auto-import my badges, certificates, attendance records, and so on?

I feel like I've input my degrees and educational information so many times, in so many services, that I don't feel like doing it again... I eventually stopped updating my info on various services because it's a hassle to keep it all up to date :-) I am also getting annoyed by services like ResearchGate that ask me to upload copies of my papers on their service because they don't have a little URL field in their service.  I prefer to post in open access journals.  Most of what I write is already open access, with a URL that points to it.  Why not allow me to simply give a URL (feeling cranky toward RG today hehe).  If I have an ORCID and a Google Scholar profile, why can't other services tap into that?  Publons seems to be able to, why can't others?

It's not all doom and gloom with LPSS though, and the fact that it's in development means that there is potential to fix these issues. It also seems that the LPSS system learns more about what you like and what you don't like, and it works as a recommender system for your own learning, which seems really cool.  It actually sounds a lot like a system I proposed a few years ago about MOOC recommender systems (and published on this blog...somewhere) ;-).  I think that this is probably the real strength of the LPSS - good recommendations for further learning, but it needs data in order to do that, and I think that's probably the most challenging part of this. Stephen called this deep learning analytics the learning analytics for one person across many services and platforms.  This can be pretty tough to accomplish given the closed nature of some platforms. I wonder if digital badges could help address this in some way.

A thing that jumped out to me was that the end goal of the LPSS is not to act simply as a teaching system, but rather to act as a learning system to help learner accomplish their goals. This is done through subsystems that talk to one another such as the Personal Learning Record subsystem, Resource Repository Network subsystem, and learning analytics.  I did wonder though, if the intent is to put the learner in control of their own learning goals, would it make more sense to have all of this in a system that is not multiuser (and if it is, it's electively multiuser), so that the learner has a domain of their own, and they can have it hosted like WordPress on any server they want.  Does the centrality of LPSS go counter to the learner in control argument? Just a thought.

Finally, an interesting statistic shared last week: Carnegie Mellon research seems to indicate that the amount we need to memorize for work has gone down. In 1986 it was around 75%, in 1997 around 20% and in 2006 around 10%.  So memorization not something that should be a goal. Lifelong learning is the goal.

That's all for now.  What did you think?

† creating an LPSS account reminded me that I haven't used ProSolo in ages. We used ProSolo back in the days of DALMOOC. I logged into ProSolo, had a look around, and left.  Not much for me there at the moment. Too bad, because its potential seems to have fizzled.  I wonder what others think

Monday, March 28, 2016

PLE, the Learner, Open Learning, and...Academia

Moving right along with #NRC01PL - this is a (hopefully) short post on Personal Learning Environments, which was the topic of week 4 of NRC01PL.  Maybe this week I can actually catch up to this week's discussion (although twitter has been surprisingly quiet in this cMOOC). In any case, I love discussing PLEs because in order to meaningfully discuss PLEs we need to discuss the context in which education is happening, and those pre-requisite learner skills and behaviors that I wrote about a little bit in my previous post.

So, what are PLEs?  PLEs were defined this week as learning environments where leaders can integrate distributed information, resources, and contacts; and reflect about learning progress and learning products based on standards and interfaces (Schaffert/Kalz, 2010).

It's interesting to consider this definition because what we see (well, at least what I see) is a modularization of the learning environment.  As a matter of fact Stephen mentions a proposition (or stipulation?) by Feldstein where he indicated that we need a system to be able to slot in new pieces as they become available, not as an afterthought or add-on but as a fundamental characteristic of the system. I think that this sentiment really fits into the PLE realm because how we learn and what we choose to display as tokens of learning can vary a lot, and they can vary with the frequency at which technologies become available or non-available.

If you take, for instance, the use case of one learner (me), the PLE is a system of components held loosely together by the interconnections of those components.  While I do have those components on my domain ( that is not the main point of ingress for people who follow me.  People might see this blog post, my, my twitter posts, my google+, my slideShare, my Scribd documents, storify, and so on.  Some of these services will most likely be defunct in about 10 years time (some maybe less), but I can pull out those services and put in others as my PLE grows and as it gets pruned.

The one thing I don't necessarily agree with is that the PLE is positioned as a rival to the LMS. We see a screenshot from this week's presentation at NRC01PL indicating some criticism of the LMS, which I assume is meant to be juxtaposed against the PLE.  While I do think that some things are generally negative (like teaching having all the rights), I do think that there is a lot of gray area in the criticisms above.  Prepared courses are not generally a bad thing.  What is bad is inflexibility.  Instruction isn't necessarily a bad thing; but being overbearing robotic are.  Learners consuming isn't necessarily a bad thing; but learners mindlessly consuming and regurgitating is.  What is important for me here is context.  What is the context in which these things are happening, and are they happening at the right time, for the right reasons? As Helene said (in the first video, when doing a recap on cMOOC research) some students need that structure, so having structure and something designed isn't a bad thing.

In the past I think we've positioned PLEs and LMS at opposite ends of the spectrum. And, we couldn't have them crossing paths because they were incompatible.  However, I do think that an LMS and a PLE can be used concurrently, and effectively, within a class environment. The matter at hand is more a matter of design and implementation rather than pitting one technology against another, or (perhaps worse) pitting ideologies (open vs. proprietary) against one another.

One last comment on identity on the web. It's interesting to consider identity, or rather  - identities.  I have several of them online.  Some are visible in this web of professional and personal learning that I am connecting through my blog, my school portfolios (see a recent example), my (public) twitter activity and so on. But there are also identities elsewhere. On my website I've categorized them as Academic, Professional, and Personal - broad categories.  I think your PLE probably focuses mostly on the academic side, but overlaps with the professional as well.  However, the personal side of things can be totally separate from the PLE.  Does what I watch on TV shape my PLE?  How about what games I play and what achievements I've earned? It's interesting to think about what our diverse identities are, and how those intersect and influence each other - or not!

As a side note, some notes on cMOOCs:

I found it interesting that the Daily Newsletter is something that comes up in research as important to learners (according to Helene)...well, not so surprising since I find it one of the most useful things in cMOOCs offered by Downes & Co.  Since I haven't been able to find it for this MOOC, I've decided to focus on the twitter feed. Let's see how that works out ;-)

Connectivity can be an issue amongst learners - something to keep in mind with any course design. Transcript versions of talks would be useful to people with connectivity issues that can't do streaming of media.  Stephen said that it costs around $150 per hour for transcription + proofreading time after. Interesting thing to consider the costs for free courses.

One of the motivations for people to come to a MOOC: the facilitator or guest speaker.  The human is still pretty important! The content isn't king, as the old saying goes ;-) This reminds me of #humanMOOC, and humanizing online education, and some of the mis-steps (as I would characterize them) with xMOOCs.  in xMOOCs content is prioritized over interaction - over that human element.  Interaction is seen as forum posts, but this doesn't work well with MOOCs (x or c, it doesn't matter). One of the draws for a course is still that human element. Even if you miss a live session, it's recorded and we still treat it as fresh, as ephemera rather than canned and packaged a lot time ago, for consumption in some time in the future.

Finally, I found Helene's reframing of Lurking as purposeful passive learning (PPL) interesting.  Definitely something to explore further on.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The curious case of the cMOOC

Moving along in NRC01PL, here are some reflections of what was presented in week 3 of the Personal Learning MOOC.  It's been rather busy at work, and at Athabasca as I am wrapping up my semester, so I haven't really gelled with anyone else in this cMOOC.  I think that the topic would be interesting to discuss in connectivist fashion, but I have not yet (satisfactorily) done any wayfinding. I see some friends from other MOOCs in the twitter stream (like Autumm and Jupidu), but don't see much in the place of discussion.  Maybe once I "catch up" I'll pay more attention to what others are doing?  I am getting a similar vibe now to the one I got in the Wiley MOOC on OpenEd (#ioe12)  - I am in a museum tour, and I am a few rooms behind the group.  Good opportunity for mischief and creative exploration, but it's always fun to have another friend around to share the experience with.

In any case, in week 3 the topic was the (curious) case of the cMOOC, where Stephen discusses a little bit about the connectivist MOOC (aka "original" MOOC), and how things connect with it.  It seems that Stephen really likes the number 2, either with zeroes before it (e.g. 0.0002) or after it (e.g. 2,000) ;-).  In the two recorded live sessions there was talk of traditional classes versus cMOOCs, and one of the power of ten, which is where I gathered that Stephen really likes "2" ;-)

Stephen talks about the classic course model as following a linear path, which can be recognized as follows:
  1. develop objectives and competencies
  2. administer pre-test/warm-up
  3. present content
  4. participate in some sort of learning activity
  5. participate in some sort of discussion and/or reflection
  6. evaluate and/or assess learners
  7. wrap-up

Stephen also went through and showed us the back-end of Moodle...well, the teacher end of things (not the server admin level), and gave us an overview of that.  Having used Moodle to teach I've seen (and used) this before but it really did remind me of the criticism of  traditional courses as being (potentially) too linear. I think this is a valid issue when we think of Moodle as the use case.  Moodle is way too linear, and I see this with my doctoral courses (Athabasca uses Moodle).  I think that a linear structure is perfectly fine for courses that aim to keep things simple and to really scaffold students who are new to online learning (and perhaps rusty with structured learning in general), but it can be incredibly boring for some (on one of the spectrum) and incredibly confusing for others (at the other end of the spectrum) when everything about the course is just displayed on one, long, web-page. I think having some additional organizing principles would not hurt Moodle.

In any case, thinking about MOOCs in specific Stephen tells us that the big difference with MOOCs (as compared to traditional courses) is that:
  • They are open. Really open. You don't need to sign-up to see the content for example,
  • There is a mix of levels, from novice to expert,
  • The MOOC uses a network structure,
  • People aggregate materials, and they feed information forward,
  • There is an abundance of content (drinking from the fire-hose) 
    • in designing their open course Downes & Siemens didn't want to pin people down to a particular curriculum. 
    • They wanted to enable contribution to the curriculum
  • It's hard for people to conceptualize how this would all work (especially when coming from a traditional background)

A lot of these things are new, and challenging to people who've been entrenched in the traditional models of teaching and learning. For example, when we're thinking about open courses, I am reminded of a conversation a long time ago, in a meeting room far-far-away, where we were discussing courses (and how low enrollments) were. People were thinking in terms of "their" courses being offered, not as the curriculum as the whole.  I said something along the lines of "it's not about butts in seats" and the retort from someone was "What do you mean? without thinking about butts in seats how do we get paid?".  The economic motive was strong with this one.  I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this, because that's an entrenchment mentality that makes it hard to conceive of alternative modes of teaching and course offerings. Whether people need the teaching income or not is a whole other issue.

I've often thought of making the courses I teach open, and whoever is signed up (through the university) simply gets graded and credit is earned. Those who don't want to sign-up can simply enjoy as much (or as little) of the learning experience as they want. The problem is that even if I want to do this with "my" class, there are potentially university gatekeepers out there who think with the mentality of if you get the milk for free, why buy the cow?  I get it.  Budgets are tight, units need to survive and enroll students, but I think that universities really misconceive what the milk and the cow in this situation are.  Students aren't signing up for content.  We've had this content available to us in the past (in libraries). We've been part of communities of practice that help scaffold us into learning new things and existing in new situations.  What a university's job is (at least at the graduate level, I can't really speak to undergraduate education) is that of credentialing and mentoring. I joined an instructional design MEd program because I was denied jobs due to the lack of the credential (never mind that I had learned a lot on my own through book-learning and CoP memberships).  As an adjunct I am also (generally speaking - not in my specific case) not empowered to make those decisions as to whether or not to offer an open course. Tenured and tenure-track faculty have greater leeway, partly because of academic freedom.

In terms of having a mix of levels of learners in the course, I see this as both a strength of the cMOOC, and maybe a weakness.  I like being in mixed-level MOOCs because I can take the lead in my own learning, and I can set the pace and difficulty.  With xMOOCs I've often felt bored. I like the lectures (most of the time), but the (required) activities for earning a certificate can be boring.  The mixed levels work for a learner who is at least somewhat familiar with traversing a network and forming communities or sub-communities in which he can learn.  When a learner is new to this, it can feel like you're limping along (as a pedestrian) on the autobahn where Ferraris are zooming past you at 100 Mph. This can be quite demotivating to newbie learners.  So, the question is, how do we foster those newbie learners into a community, when the community itself has not fully formed yet? What sort of scaffolds and structural supports do they need to get started? I know that in Rhizo14 and 15 we had a few who felt really lost and perhaps not welcomed in our community because of this.  How do we minimize this? I think preventing it altogether may not be possible, but minimizing alienating effects could happen.

Stephen mentions Cormer's model for success in MOOCs (Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, Focus).  I had forgotten about this.  Rebecca and I  (wow! 4 years ago!) wrote about this topic as well for Learning Solutions Magazine based on our experiences with cMOOCs at the time.  Can we, and should we, update these document and concepts for those newbies?  Athabasca University has a Learning to Learn Online MOOC, designed to help newbies into traditional online learning. Should we create a "learning to learn in MOOCs"? (if such a thing doesn't exist yet).  Something like this could potentially help newbies with the issue of over-abundance that they might experience in MOOCs (the drinking from the fire-hose).

And, how do we ensure that learners don't just focus on areas that they are comfortable with, and ignore areas that might seem too challenging? For Open Learners (those who don't pay for a credential or certification) I don't think that this is particularly an issue.  For those who want a credential, I think that this is where the Deakin Digital initiative potentially comes in.  I was unaware of this initiative, but it is definitely something to look into since they are looking at ways to unbundle formal credentialing at the university level, and it is targeted toward people in graduate education who are working professionals and not the traditional student demographic.  When we break down courses into core competencies that can be badged (with demonstrable evidence - keeping that recent @cogdog blogpost in mind ;-) ), I think we can gently push learners toward those skills/content/attitudes that they might be blind to, or just ignoring.

For what it's worth, I think it's hard to do this (open courses and badging) piecemeal.  Last year, when I offered badges for INSDSG 601, someone asked me: well, what happens with Dr. so-and-so teaches this course in subsequent semester and they don't want to deal badges? Will the students say "what about AK's students? They got badges, why can't we?"  My personal response to this is really sorry, but that was when I offered the class, and other instructors have the freedom to structure their class as they see fit.  However, this does raise a bigger issue.  What I deem as important to badge for my class(es) someone else might not. This is why it's important (IMHO) to think about this from an entire curriculum perspective and develop and deploy another program that is open and badged from the start. This way you are potentially avoiding issues like these and you can do some interesting action research on how and why things work (or don't).

OK.  Maybe I've written too much for now.  What are your thoughts on this? ;-)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Content Knowledge vs Practice

Hey!  It's week 2 in NRC01PL!  Well... no, it's not, it's probably like week 5 or something, but I am working at catching up ;-)  The second week of this MOOC (which I've only now joined the Google Group) is on the Content/practice dichotomy. It's interesting because this comes up quite a few times in discussions in academia. The pendulum seems to swing from extreme to extreme.  Too much practice (which I gather is perfectly fine with Stephen D), or too much theory and content.

The videos that Stephen had for this week were pretty interesting.   It was interesting to get a little backend view of OpenEdx (considering that I have no interest in setting up my own LMS). From the demonstration of OpenEdx I think that it's nice that OpenEdx has the ability to break a course into sections...but as Stephen demonstrated this functionality I found myself questioning the rationale behind this. Sections are tools  we use in traditional classes in academia to manage how many students are enrolled in a specific class. This is meant to keep the workload of the instructor at a manageable size. However, with an LMS like OpenEdx, the ability to break a course into sections seems like a vestigial organ from older LMSs and not something that is built for "massive" scale. I get that the software developers probably tried to throw that in just in case someone asked for it, but I'd personally throw it under a "legacy" settings so as to not encourage its use ;-)

In the other video Stephen seemed to be reading from a script.  In addition to brain a nice trip down memory lane (Netscape Netcenter, technorati, and so on), I picked up some things that Stephen said, and I wanted to respond to them, and add in my own thoughts. As a sidenote, I didn't realize that RSS was something that Netscape designed for its netcenter.  I am happy it survived the demise of netcenter, however it's alarming that websites are not feed-less... (argh). Please treat the following quotes more as paraphrases (I was jotting down notes as I was listening)

Grading the least interesting thing about online learning
I agree! I would say that grading is probably the least interesting part of learning in general, whether you learn online or not.  The one thing I've observed in my (few) years of teaching is that learners (those in my own circles at least) have been indoctrinated (or apprenticed into) a society where grading is seen a way of measuring your self-worth  In cases like these "lower" grades are seen as bad and students will try to get some sort of accommodation in order to get a better grade. My classes are for the most part based on Mastery Learning, where students can earn an "A" if they submit enough drafts and show improvement, but there comes a point where as a reviewer and commenter you also get tired of reading variations on the paper you are "grading".

Personal learning sort of like eating at a buffet
I like this analogy that Stephen used. I actually see it with my dad.  He has different interests at different phases, and he is free to explore those. Whenever someone traveled to Greece they always brought back books for him to read on topics he was interested in (he prefer to read in Greece). I think where we run into problems is that our schools are systems where personal learning throws a wrench in the system. We have majors, and minors, and tracks, and honors, and required courses, and optional courses.  Our system isn't built to accommodate such free range learning. I am not saying that personal learning cannot be done. I, at least, am one data point that it is proof that it can be done. But I am wondering how this could work at a larger, systemic, scale.

Share readings with the community - pick and choose as a learner what stuff to read and react to.
I like this idea.  I would love to implement it in my courses. And, to some extent I have done the junior version of this where I provide at least some materials that students can choose from, but the topics are pre-defined.  There is a canyon here that is potentially preventing students to be free range learners in this type of community environment.  In a classroom setting you have some regular constraints such as: weeks in a semester, how many hours of effort you're expecting learners to spend each week for x-many credits (accreditation related), and how programs and curricula fit together.  If you could get over that hurdle (and I am convinced you can - but it's not easy), the question becomes one of pre-existing skills. Do learners have the necessary skills to be able to learn in such a free range environment? Or will they find it very difficult because they have not been prepared to be lifelong learners?  How do they deal with potential feelings of intimidation when they are in a learning environment that has learners that are traveling the environment at different speeds?

old way of sharing - sharing parts of courses (readings, videos, software, etc.)
I agree, and we can see this on initiatives like OCW.  What I am wondering is this: is this old way necessarily a bad thing? I think sharing an entire course, such as a MOOC, is another way of sharing, but it's also potentially confining in that you are taking someone else's design for the course.  I have enough trouble sometimes with modifying OER for use in my own courses because their objectives don't necessarily match my own very well, imagine trying to do this with an entire course.

Learning Design is a dead-end; Learning Design doesn't take advantage of the online environment.
This was more of an "ORLY?" moment.  I've heard some criticisms of instructional design over the years, and I like discussing those with people.  I wouldn't consider myself a dyed in the wool stalwart defender of instructional design, but when ID vs LD comes up I try to be a devil's advocate. That said, I don't think I've come across anyone who is willing to throw the entire thing out the window.  I think Stephen needs to better explain what he means when he says that LD doesn't take advantage of an online environment.  In what way?

Order emerges out of networks
I think that this can be true.  However, I think that people need to be able to operate within a network in order for order to emerge.  Order does not emerge magically and without external intervention.  Order is caused by people (or Actors if we go with ANT) operating in a certain ways.  If the actors don't know how to act, then order does not necessarily emerge.  The question, for me, then becomes - how do people learn how to act?  And, how can we catalyze this?  After all, some things are like reinventing the wheel.  Do we want to wait for everyone to re-discover something? Or do we teach them?

Learning should not be structured as courses but as games and experiences
I like it, and I don't disagree.  I am only wondering (pondering) what the ramifications are for people who are learning by game and experience?  Can that mode of learning be compatible with the current structures of education that we have in place? With all of the limitations and constraints that we've listed above?

Learning isn't something that leaners go to, or that they do, it's simply there, in the space
I couldn't agree more. One thing that amazes me is that people think of learning as something that is happening only within the four walls of the school. Anything that happens outside of those four walls is not considered learning, even though it really is. That said, I do think that learning is something that learners do.  And, I say this, as a way of distinguishing autonomic responses from voluntary responses.  I think (know, as a matter of fact - from my own "book learning") - that people's bodies can learn to react to things, and we tend to stay away (or be attracted to) from whatever made us react in a certain way. That is a type of learning. But the learning we are speaking of here is something that is voluntary. That people do with an open mind, and that they seek out.  In this sense, I think that learning is very much something that learners do because it's not voluntary - it's something they engage in willingly.

We can't manage learning. We are stewards of learning
I wonder what some of my behavioral intervention friends and colleagues might think of this.  In a sense I agree, we are stewards of learning.  We've been placed in that role by our institutions, by our peers, and by others. Others recognize our stewardship.  that said, I do believe that learning can be managed.  Perhaps managing learning isn't the most effective way of going about to teach (especially in particular settings) but  it is an option, and, I would argue, it's an option that should be considered depending on your specific circumstances.  At my stage of learning, I don't do well with people managing my learning.  I tried to audit/sit-in a 200-level French course (to improve my academic writing in French) - I never went back after 2 sessions because it was not geared toward me as a learner.  Clearly in that sense managing my learning experience didn't work.  But I can conceive  of instances in other learning experiences where it could work for the learners who were there.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

One more down... two more to go!

The past several weeks felt a little like a marathon and a spring combined while our team was getting ready to present on our topic.  For the second assignment for EDDE 804 we explored and proposed leadership implications and educational interventions for a complex issue in society.  The subject we selected was sexual harassment and assault in the armed forces (specifically in Canada).  Paper | done.  Presentation | done (clocked in at just under 26 minutes).  Now all we have to do is moderate a forum for a couple of weeks on our topic.

3 weeks left to go! (Can we get a break yet? ;-) )

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grading Rubrics

The other day I came across this PhD Comics strip on grading rubrics. As a trained instructional designer (and having worked with instructional designers on and off since I started university as an undergraduate student) the concept of rubrics has really stuck with me.  That said,  I generally struggle with rubrics.

In theory they are brilliant - a way to objectively measure how well someone has done on whatever assessable assignment. On the other hand, they are not that great and they could be a means for discontent and discord in the classroom (the "why did you indicate that my mark is in category B when it's clearly, in my student mind, in category A?" argument). For this reason I try to create rubrics that are as detailed as I can make them.  That said, it seems that detailed rubrics (like detailed syllabi) are rarely read by students ;-)

Another issue arises with inherited courses. When I've inherited courses from other people that's also a source of an issue with rubrics.  It seems that their rubrics are less detailed and more subject to interpretation - which in my mind doesn't help the learner much - and it does little for consistency between faculty members who might teach the same course.  Here is an example (redacted to try to keep assignment and course somewhat anonymous. It is an intro course though):

Using this Rubric, I would say that two people (who don't know each other) teaching the same course can potentially be giving two different marks for the same assignment.  What's important here is the feedback given to the learner, so the mark may not matter as much in a mastery grading scenario, and the (good) feedback gives them a way to re-do and improve for a better mark if they want.

The more I design, and the more I teach, I am wondering if detailed rubrics are better as a way to on-board professors and instructors into departmental norms, and if broader rubrics are better for the "student view" and used with a more mastery-based approach to learning. :-/


Monday, March 14, 2016

MOOC Standards...what do these look like?

The case of MOOC standards (as well as MOOC sustainability) is something that keeps coming back to me as a topic of pondering.  I read about it in other blogs.  Then, I want to respond to some of these articles, and bounce off some ideas, but I lose motivation and decide "m'eh" - this topics isn't much of interest.  Then, a little while later, my interest on the topic rekindles.  I thought it would be best to at least write something to keep this conversation on quality going (it might even motivate me to write more in depth...or collaborate with some colleagues to produce something more "academic").

In any case, the most recent thing I read about MOOC Quality, and what that might look like is from eCampus News from about a month ago (something sticking out in my Pocket to-read list). The article points to recent research published in IRRODL where the Quality Matters rubric was used to keep the quality under control in a MOOC. I haven't read the article - I've been busy with school, but it's on my radar for a deeper reading once this semester is over†. However, even though I have not read this article yet, I can tell you that my professional opinion is that the QM Rubric is the wrong measurement of measuring quality in MOOCs.

Don't get me wrong! I like QM, I am QM certified, and I have served in review teams for online courses that want to be QM certified.  However, the heuristics of small online courses, ones that are not open or free, are different from the heuristics of MOOCs that are open, often free of cost, and have an open entry/exit policy for people learning and/or engaging in them.  Can you design MOOCs to fit the QM rubric?  You bet!  Will those MOOCs be successful?  Maybe?  But if they are, they won't be  because a course was designed with QM in mind.

QM, as with any measurement that aims to be objective, has a specific ways of measuring what is of value, and when we use such measurements we tend to industrialize the learning process.  At this point in my development I'll be bold enough to say that it is inevitable that objective measurements create some sort of industrialization, but I may be wrong.  I think that the power of MOOCs is that we are able to break from the current mold of what we conceive as learning, and learning online, and learning in distributed environments, and try out new things.   We don't know yet what works, but we've only been at this for a little while.  xMOOC providers, such as udacity, coursera and to some extent edx, have a pressure to produce profit in some way, share, or form, to show their funders that this is a worthwhile venture - and that they won't go the way of FATHOM.  Some modified version of QM could apply to xMOOCs, but I think that what Siemens said recently is quite true. MOOCs (xMOOCs) are a regression of education - not a progression to the next big thing or 'aha' for us. cMOOCs, and other types of MOOCs that are more experimental in nature have that potential to show us some interesting things, but not if we shoehorn them into our conceptions of what "good online learning" is with frameworks like QM that are geared toward a different type of design and learner demographic.


†and I also finish reviewing that edited volume on MOOCs...argh... the "to do list keeps getting bigger.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

EDDE 806 - Post IV - madlib your research a bit

Last week my goal of attending all 806 sessions this semester got derailed by fatigue.  For those keeping score at home, I've attended 3, and written about 4 (including this post) this semester - still ahead of the game ;-).  Thank heavens for recorded sessions! As the sole member of Cohort 7 representing in 806 I feel like I should be more on top of things ;-)

In any case, the presentation this past week included a presentation by Robyn Gorham (cohort ?),  an interlude by Lisa and Peggy (Cohort 6), and a presentation by Djenana Jalovcic (cohrot 5), who I met briefly in one of the virtually connecting sessions where I was a virtual buddy for a conference she was presenting in.

The nice news (that I would have missed had I not viewed this recording) is that for our 806 presentation we don't need to limit ourselves to the traditional 20-minute presentation, we could do something new, innovative, experimental, (insert other adjectives here) where we can experiment with new form factors.  For example, Lisa & Peggy Lynn are doing 3 presentations, each one 10 minutes a piece, and those 3 together would count as the presentation requirement for 806.  Definitely something to think about for next spring when I am formally in 806! Maybe I'll take some time to ideate over the summer and in 805.

Anyway,  the presentations for this session were about researching educational interventions for people with some sort of disability.  It was pretty interesting and I am wondering if this was planned, or just serendipity :-)  Furthermore, as Lisa wrote in her reflection on this presentation: "the underlying theme to both parts of tonight’s 806 session was examining what it means to be an actual human learner (as opposed to an idealized construct of a learner) in an increasingly online/digital learning era."  This is an interesting take-away from the presentations, and not something that I would have thought right off the bat.  I tend to be very resistant to the notion of replicability of studies.  While I think it's a lofty goal to have, it's something much more relevant to the physical sciences than the sciences that work with beings as complex as humans, and more specifically in the domain of learning and teaching.

Robyn's title was "Blended Learning using Online Technology as a Suitable Accommodation for Concussed Adult Learners." She has passed her proposal defense (yay!) The two main take-aways that I got from Robyn's presentation are that (1) for people who have been concussed we often check them to make sure that they are  fit for physical labor, but we don't do as much on the cognitive level - the "return to learning" as Robyn termed it.  (2) When working on her proposal, since it was disciplinary by nature, she focused a lot on the neuroscience, and not enough on the science of learning.  This is a good pitfall to avoid when working on your own proposal, and eventual dissertation. We can get too engulfed in what we like, and what we find interesting, and not have a balance of other elements needed for us to frame, and defend, our arguments.

Djenana's topic was "Experiences of Students with Disability in Online University Programs".  Djenana is looking at discovering what are the essences of experience of studying online for both undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. She is doing this from a phenomenological lens in order to get a deeper, richer, understanding of the learner experiences.  Djenana mentioned that it was not that easy getting facts, figures, and stats on disabilities at Canadian IHEs which got me thinking about what sort of data is collected (aka valued) by departments of institutional research. Djenana also introduced phenomenolocal epoche (from the Greek εποχή) - but I think I need to do a little more research into this. Seemed interesting, but I want to read more about it before I wrote about it - fascinating concept though.

Finally, the interlude activity, with Lisa & Peggy Lynn, focused on research madlibs.  Even though I viewed the recoding it was quite engaging.  I wish I were able to attend this session because I could have loved contributing to it :-).  I think it was Robyn that said that people are interested in what she is researching, but when she explains it,  their eyes glaze over (smile and nod!).  I think this is where eduResMadLib ties in.  The challenge posed for the week is to take 20 minutes to write as many variations of your research questions as possible. This allows you to see other possibilities, but I also think that you might be able to frame your research in a way that laypeople can understand (nice tie-in with 804 this week reading about the university of 2525). Why 20 minutes?  We... I think Lisa and Peggy Lynn will have to explain this a little more in the future, but they hang their hat on the research of Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik  from the 1920s (the soviets are coming! the soviets are coming!), which states that once a task has been started it tends to want to finish it. If it isn't finished then the person experiences dissonance. We don't want dissonance, hence limit activity to 20 minutes.

The collaborative Research Madlib from this session

Friday, March 11, 2016

Teaching, Grades, and the Impostor Syndrome

The other day I was reading a blog posted by Rebecca on marking and getting a sense of that impostor syndrome creeping in. I love reading posts like these because I still consider myself new to the teaching, even though I've been doing it for a couple of years now.  Some of the things that she describes are things that I have thought or experienced, and some are not.

In terms of an impostor syndrome, it hasn't come out for me with grading assignments.  In the past, when I have momentary panics or thoughts that impostor syndrome is setting in, it's usually around content-area knowledge!  Early on, when I started teaching, I wasn't even a doctoral student.  I was a practitioner and life-long learner, with a little research under my belt.  I knew enough, but I didn't consider myself the font of all knowledge - and that was scary.  What would learners think of me?  What if I was in a 'pop quiz' type of situation and the learners asked me some question and I didn't know the answer? Oh no! :-0

Luckily this only happened for a couple of semesters.  I quickly came to two realizations.  First, it's not possible for me to be the font of all knowledge on the subject I am teaching.  Researchers keep researching, things keep getting published, and it's not possible to keep up with everything in order to be completely up to date so that I could answer those unforeseen pop quizzes from students (which never came by the way).  I am not even 40 yet, so I don't expect to have the same amount of knowledge 'banked' as colleagues who have been active in the profession three times longer than I have.  It's just not a good metric by which to base your professional worth.

Another realization is that I shouldn't be the font of all knowledge.  Students can't just come knocking on my door whenever they have a question about some content area.  What's important is that we are all lifelong learners and that we exist in a network (how connectivist of me).  If we don't know something we can (and should be able to) find it through our network of humans and non-human appliances. As an instructor - a professor - I should have as one of my objectives to help them become self-sustaining, otherwise their degrees become not-as-valuable (some may say worthless) a few years after they graduate.

Once I got comfortable with these two propositions impostor syndrome went away for me.  In terms of grading assignments, I too am all about the feedback.  I dislike grades (The Chronicle had an article on grades the other day). I wish out courses worked on pass/needs improvement for grades as this would better align with how I design classes that I teach now.  As I was reading Rebecca post I reflected a bit on what it was like the first time I taught INSDSG 619 (now 684).

The course was a designed by a colleague to be an exemplar of how to design for online. What you read in the course on a week-to-week basis was also reflected in the design of this course.  I've written before about not feeling empowered to change things (other than changing readings to keep current).  One of the things I really disliked about that course were the rubrics for assignments.  Now, in theory rubrics are a good idea.  They describe to the learners what they need to do in order to pass the assignment.  However I found some rubrics so non-granular that basically everyone who put a little effort into it could get an "A".  There is nothing wrong with everyone getting an "A", however I noticed (over 3 years teaching that course) that the quality of projects would vary greatly, yet learners were still all getting an A or an A-.  That is because the rubric I inherited had only 3 levels, and the differentiators between the levels were so minute (in my mind) that a lower grade was really a result of a technicality (again, this in my view).

In any case, for the introductory course that I taught last summer, I decided to start from scratch and make all assignments pass/needs improvement. This way I can make an assessment as to whether something is passing (or not) and then focus more on giving feedback.  The main issue - when it comes to grades - is how do you differentiate a A, from a B, from a C?  The answer is imperfect: volume!  The more assignments you do that are of passing quality, the higher your course grade.  It's not something I like, but it works for now.  I guess I'll need to brainstorm more about this. The plus side is that I am not feeling impostory, so that's out of the way ;-)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Seeking the evidence

In my quest to catch up on Pocket - before the news becomes stale, I came across this post by cogdog on seeking the evidence behind digital badges.

The anatomy of the Open Badge include the possibility of including links to evidence for the skill that you are being badged for.    Of course, just because there is an associated metadata field available for people to use,  it doesn't mean that people actually use it!

I know that the evidence part of badges is something that is often touted as an improvement over grades in courses, or diplomas, because grades don't indicate what specific skills you've picked up, and this problem is a bit worse with diplomas and graduation certificates because you can't evenly compared one candidate to another (let's say in my case it would be comparing me to some other computer science major from another university - or heck even my own university).

Anatomy of badge, by ClassHack

So, in theory, badges are superior to these other symbols of attainment because they tie into assessable standards (that a viewer can see) and it ties into evidence.  And, again in theory, the layperson (aka the hiring manager) can read and assess a candidate's skills and background.  In practice though the evidence is lacking, and I am just as guilty of this having issued badges in two of the courses I teach. From my own perspective-from-practice I see at least two reasons for this lack of evidence:

1. Not all badges are skills based, and the evidence is not always easy to show.
I use badges in my courses are secondary indicators. Less about skills and knowledge, and more about attitudes and dispositions.  So, I have secret badges, sort of like the secret achievements in xbox games, that unlock when your perform specific tasks.  I let students know that there are secret badges, and that they relate to forum participation, but I don't give them the criteria so that they don't game the system.  They objective it to reward those who exhibit open behaviors and learning curiosity behaviors.  Once a badge is unlocked then I make an announcement and people can have a chance at earning it too, if they want.  In cases like these the badge description acts as the means of telling the reader what a person did to earn that badge (i.e. helped fellow classmates at least 3 times in one semester), but I don't attach evidence from specific forums. That seems like a ton of work for nothing (since looking at text from disconnected posts isn't meaningful to someone)

2. Good enough for class - but good enough for evidence?
Another concern I've had when thinking about attaching evidence to badges that I issue is the fit for purpose.  Some badges are known to my students (let's say the 'connectivism' badge where students in an intro course create some deliverable to train their fellow students on the principles of connectivism).  For my purposes an assignment might be good enough to earn a passing mark.  However, my fit for purpose is not someone else's fit for purpose.  Because of this I have not included links to evidence.  Furthermore, some of the evidence is either locked behind an LMS, or it's on someone's prezi account, or weebly site, or wikispaces page.  The individual student can delete these things at will, so my links to these resources also become null.  So, there is an issue of archivability.

One of the things that cogdog mentioned was that "being badged is a passive act".  I think that in many instances being badged is passive and that has certainly that's been my experience in a number of cases.  However I have seen exceptions to this. There have been a couple of MOOCs that, such as the original(ish) BlendKit, and OLDSMOOC where I had to apply in order to receive a badge.  This allowed me, as a participant and learner, to say that I am ready to be evaluated and the outcome would be a badge if I passed.

What do you think?  Is the evidence more hype than anything else?  Can it be done better? If so, how?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Environmental aspects of learning

Classroom space, in second life
A while back I really wanted to develop a course (for the instructional design program I teach in every now and again) on environmental factors of learning.  I know that the topic might seem nebulous but I think that's where the strength of the course would come from†.  We could examine not only technologies which we use to facilitate our learning (and how they promote and don't promote learning, or certain kinds of learning), but also look at learning from a cross-disciplinary perspective including room design, social factors, architecture, technologies, learner attitudes, and so on.

This idea is still in the nascent stages while I am working on my doctorate‡.  That said - despite the busy schedule this semester - I decided to dive into #NR001PL, a cMOOC looking at Personal Learning Environments which is hosted by the National Research Council of Canada (where Stephen Downes works).  The course is interesting in that it ties in gRSShopper◊ (or CCK MOOC fame), OpenEdX (which I am not really digging), and a couple of other systems such as, arke, and so on.

So, the topic of the week (for week 1) if I am guessing right, is "learning through practice".  As I was looking at the course on OpenEdX, and viewing the recordings for the live sessions which I missed, and I came across one part in which Downes cites Tony Bates:

Tony Bates says there are many possible effective learning environments. So what distinguishes between good learning environments and bad learning environments? "It is important for every individual teacher to think about what components may be necessary within their own context and then on how best to ensure these components are effectively present and used," he writes. "The learners must do the learning. We need to make sure that learners are able to work within an environment that helps them do this." 

This is a good question to ponder - what makes a good learning space?  I'll focus more on the online for this pondering, but looking at face to face environments is also an interesting thing to ponder.  In an online environment a lot of the learning is mediated by various software platforms, two of the most ubiquitous are the Learning Management System and the synchronous conferencing system.  I've been part of my own institutions RFQ process for replace our old LMS with something new in the past five years.  It was an interesting process because our "needs" (which were determined before I got there) focused more on doing things to get over shortcomings of the previous LMS, rather than think about what we want to do, from a pedagogical perspective in our class.  Hence, the new LMS, from the eyes of the users whose user stories were gathered, were about replicating the old LMS, which wasn't working well.  Go figure.

When we look at LMS we are sold on bells and whistles, however we don't actually see good examples of pedagogy.  I think the more bells and whistles we have on a system the more we are actually constrained in their use, and the more they constrain our practice since software is really never value-neutral; it's created to solve specific needs, for specific people, in specific contexts. I'd be in favor of creating a more cut back LE (learning environment) where the learner and the instructor have more capability to customize their workspace.  This allows the learner to take more control of their environment and their learning, and it allows instructors to think outside the box.  It also requires that instructors are better prepared to teach (in general), and to (more specifically) teach online. This way you are providing instructors with the ability to shape their own teaching space without mandating (or highly recommending) instructivist principles through institutional templates.  Templates can be good, but just like other aspects of technology they can be abused, and constrain pedagogy.

As a side note, I am not sure how to submit something to OpenEdX for "assessment" of this MOOC...any one got any ideas?

Your thoughts?

† potential for some rhizomatic and connectivist learning for you!
‡ so until I have that EdD after my name, that course won't happen ;-)
◊ I have yet to find gRSShopper, and as of this blog post OpenEdX is down...

Monday, March 7, 2016

Higher Education questions - 7 questions

It seems that Inside Higher Education is playing a game of 7 questions. I thought that it would be interesting to respond to these when I has little more brain space to write some more in-depth answer instead of "agree or disagree" which was the original prompt.  These might very well fit into my Educational Leadership course now that I think of it.  So the questions are in italics, and my responses are in regular text.

1) A higher education program where students graduate with a credential, but without substantial career development, is a failed experience.

It depends! I don't necessarily see higher education as being concurrent with career development.  Sometimes, in some programs, and certainly depending on the degree, the benefits of higher education are seen in the long term, not just in the short term after graduation (i.e. gaining a new job or obtaining a promotion).  Some programs require apprenticeships or practica.  In such cases I would say that the academic can go hand-in-hand with  the career development.  However, not all programs are like that.  Some students do not seek programs that have required practica because they already have a job and they can't take time off from that to undertake the apprenticeship requirement.  By necessity programs do have to appeal to a fairly board learner demographic, and such a requirement is limiting.

2) Student affairs/services should scale their engagement efforts via intentional (and sustainable) digital outreach. Not knowing the tech isn't an excuse.

Here I agree. However, I will say that technology is not necessarily the issue.  You can use technology to enable you to increase your outreach, but your audience maybe not be able to access you in a digital means.  Technology isn't always the solution to the problem.

3) UK student services is nearing an inflection point...stay tuned for administrative structures (budget/personnel) that look more like US student affairs administrative divisions.

I am not sure about the UK structures. In the US we may be reaching that inflection point.  Everyone is complaining about the inflation of administrative positions at the universities in the US, which increases costs, so we might be seeing a shake up - stay tuned

4) The student experience affects an institution's brand and ability to be competitive. A bad experience is bad for marketing and enrollment.

Maybe...maybe not. It depends on what the bad experience is.  If a student is a bad match for the program that they were accepted into, then I think the blame is partly the university (for admitting such as student when the fit may be wrong) and on the student for not doing their homework to see what the program they applied to is all about.  If a learner doesn't want to do the work for a class and they get a bad grade (or they don't pass a competency), then they can complain all they want - it's not the university's issue.  However, if there are structural issues with student support, and the university does nothing about them - then that will hurt the university's competitive advantage.

5) No one is a digital native/immigrant...we all have unique levels of digital capability regardless of age.

Why are we still talking about digital natives and immigrants?  Let's move on. That should tell you where I stand.

6) Online-only degree programs are as worthwhile as traditional campus-based experiences.

It's 2016, why are we still taking about online programs within a deficit context? Let's move on!

7) Staff need digital capability/literacy in order to teach digital capability/literacy. You can't have one without the other.

Again...  this seems like a no-brainer to me...

So, what do you think of these?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Emergent Leadership

I've been slowly working on EDDE 804 assignments and reading (which is why I have not been as active on this blog lately).  I've been slowly working on my third assignment, the 'big one' for this class, which is a portfolio of all my learning in 804.  As part of this I am uploading my first assignment, in which I explored the concept of emergent leadership  The portfolio is coming along...slowly...but I guess I need to turn my attention to our team project first where we're looking into the issue of Harassment in the Military.

More on that later (once it's all done). Until then, here is assignment one.