v6.2.1 - moving along, a point increase at a time

University Education, the Workplace, and the learning gray areas in-between

Many years ago, maybe around 16 years ago, I was sitting in the office of my computer science major advisor, getting my academic plan for next semester signed off on.  My computer science program was actually an offshoot of the mathematics department, and until recent years (2003?) they were one and the same.  My advisor, while looking at my transcript, noticed that (on average) I was doing better in language courses rather than my computer science courses; which was technically true, but many courses designated as CS courses (and ones that were required for my degree) were really math courses, so you need to do a deeper dive to see what I was doing better in.

I never really forgot what he said next.  He said I should switch major; and it was odd that he didn't offer any suggestions as to how to improve†...  Being a bit stubborn (and relatively close to graduation) I doubled down and completed my major requirements (ha!).  During this chat I told him that I really wish there were more coursework, required in my degree, in additional programming languages because that is what I was expected to know when I graduated for work. His response was I could learn that on the job... needless to say, my 20-year-old self was thinking "so why am I majoring in this now, anyway?"

Fast forward to the recent(ish) past, flashback brought to your courtesy of of this post on LinkedIn. I had recently completed my last degree (this time in Instructional Design) and I was having coffee with some good friends (and former classmates). We were a year or so out of school. Two of us already had jobs (same institutions as when we were in school) and one was on the hunt. His complaint was that school didn't prepare him for the work environment because he didn't know the software du jour (which at the time were captivate and articulate). I did my best to not roll my eyes because software comes and goes, but theory (for the most part) really underlies what we do as professionals. In class there wasn't a dearth of learning about software, but there were limitations: namely the 30-day trial period of these two eLearning titles.  So we did as much as we could with them in the time we had with them, and we applied what we learned from the theoretical perspective.  No, we didn't spent a ton of time (relatively speaking) on the software because that sort of practice in a graduate program should really be up to the learner, and it would cost them.  Captivate cost $1100 for a full license, while articulate costs $999/year to license. That cost is actually more than double what the course cost! Furthermore, it privileges one modality (self-paced eLearning) and two specific elearning titles. The fact of the matter is that not all instructional designers do self-paced eLearning, enabled by these titles. Not all instructional designers are content developers‡. I find the author's following suggestion a bit ludicrous:

To replace the non-value add courses, decision makers can study current open job descriptions, and ignore academic researchers' further suggestions. Programs can then be revolutionized with relevant course topics. These new courses can include relevant production tools (e.g. Storyline, Captivate, Camptasia, GoAnimate, Premier, etc.) and numerous cycles of deliberate practice, where students develop a course on their own, and receive the feedback they need. This will make hiring managers very happy.
While I do see value in learning specific technologies, that's not the point of a graduate degree, and graduate courses should prepare you to be a self-supporting, internally motivated learner.  Courses should give you the staples that you need to further make sense of your world on your own, and to pickup tools and know-how that you need for specific situations♠.  Focusing a graduate degree on production tool is a sure way to make sure to really ignore the vast majority of what makes instructional design what it is. Practice is important (i.e. building your learning solutions) but it's not the only thing that's important. I also do think that employers need to do a better job when posting instructional designer job descriptions, but that's a whole other blog post.

I do think that if you are new to any field you (as a learner) should be taking advantage of any sorts of internships, where the rubber (theory) meets the road.  In some programs internships are required, and in others they are optional.  I do think that internships are an important component for the newbies in the field.  When I was pursuing my MA in applied linguistics, and being in a program that focused on language acquisition and language teaching, the field experience (aka internship) was a requirement.  People with classroom teaching experience could waive the requirement and take another course instead, but for me it was valuable (as much as I had to be dragged to to kicking and screaming).  In hindsight, it gave me an opportunity to see what happens in different language classrooms, something I wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

So, what are your thoughts? What do you think of the LinkedIn article?

† I guess this must have been a problem with advising in the college in general because years later the college of science and maths put together a student success center.  They were probably hemorrhaging students.

‡ I suspect this is another, brewing, blog post.

♠ So, yeah...Years later I see some of wisdom of my advisor.  I think he was partly right, in that I should be able to pick up what I need once I get the basic blocks, but I think he was wrong to suggest for me to change major, and I do think that less math, more computer science with applied cases would have been better as a curricular package.
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MOOC CPD & SpotiMOOCdora

Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I did my rounds on coursera, edx, miriadaX, and futurelearn and I signed up for a few new MOOCs.  I had also signed up for a course that a colleague was promoting on Canvas (innovative collaborative learning with ICT), but I've fallen behind on that one, not making the time commitment to participate.  The list of missed assignments (ones that I can no longer contribute to) actually is demotivating, even if my initial approach was not not do many assignments (or rather, play it by ear, and decide on whether I'd like to do some assignments during the MOOC). Maybe this coming week I'll 'catch up' in some fashion ;-).  The interesting thing is that there is a forum in Greek in that MOOC, which is motivational to see what my fellow Greek are doing in the arena of ICT and collaboration. I guess I still have a few more weeks before the MOOC ends...

Anyway,  I digress (probably not good practice for the dissertation).  Today's post was spurred by a recent essay on the MOOC on Inside Higher Education, where the author looked at her prognostications and examined them in the light of information we currently have about MOOCs. It is a little disheartening that the original MOOCs (connectivist MOOCs) are sort of gone (at least I don't really see a ton of connectivist stuff happening these days), and the xMOOC variety seems to be going more and more toward money making.  Even with the MOOCs I've just singed up for, there really isn't an option for a free certificate anymore.  You can still go through the course - which I am to do on my own sweet time (opportunity to explore the classics), but even a basic certificate is not free any longer. Another thing that going into this mix is thinking about continual professional development. In the two departments I am mostly connected with (applied linguistics and instructional design) graduates of these programs often need PD credits in order to maintain a teaching license, or to continue to hone their skills. Usually this is done through free webinars, in-service training, or taking additional graduate courses (depending on your field of course). This got me thinking about two things: MOOCs as CPD (which isn't really a new idea), and the all-you-can-eat MOOC (or SpotiMOOCdora - after services like spotify and Pandora).

My first pondering is this:  given that institutions such as Georgia Tech are offering a $10k MA in the MOOC format, why not consider a smaller leap into CPD (professional development courses)?  I know that maybe doing an entire MA might be a bit of leap for most institutions, heck even a certificate might be a bit of a leap (aka 'micro-masters' in the MOOC world), but CPDs have a different set of expectations and requirements, and they are often not available for graduate credit (some are, but most in my experience are not). I think it would make a ton of sense to develop professional development courses in a MOOC format, that are available for free for a target audience (let's say teachers of high school biology).  The payment can come in the form of assessment, or an in-person fee for a facilitator that brings together the course content of the MOOC (that people have done previously) in an active learning paradigm.

The second pondering is this:  Is there a market for either an all-you-can-eat month-to-month subscription to a MOOC? An example of this would be Amazon Prime video, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and so on.  If not all you can eat, how about a model that's more like Audible, where you get a book per month and you can spend your unused tokens anyway you want (if you are still working on a book, you can bank the token for another month for example).  If either of these models works, then what would be an appropriate price?  Netflix and Spotify at $10/month; audible is $15/month for example.  The reason I am pondering this had to do with the costs of certification.  I don't know what the secret sauce in certification is, but edx is asking me for $200 to get a certified certificate of completion (this sounds redundant).  What does $200 get me?  I don't get college credit for it, and (for me) the joy of learning is internal, so $200 is better spend elsewhere. For instance $200 gets me lifetime subscription to my favorite MMORPG...when said subscription is on sale (lots of hours of fun and additional content). Comparatively the edx certificate seems like a poor value proposition.

What do you think about these ideas?  Does a monthly subscription MOOC make sense?  What is the value proposition?  And, can we resuscitate the cMOOC?   Thoughts?
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Academic Identities, Terminal Degrees, power of the network...

It's been a while since I last just sat down to think and write about something (like the good old days when I was cMOOCing...).  These past few weeks have been about conferences, and getting back on track with my dissertation proposal (although I think I am the only one who is keeping a score on that at this point).

In my attempt to get back to writing, and engaging with friends and colleagues out there in the wild blue yonder which is the internet, I thought I would pick through my accumulated Pocket list until it's almost empty.  One of the ponderings of interest came by means of an article on Inside Higher Ed titled Academic Identities and Terminal Degrees, where the overall question was: Does one need an academic terminal degree to identify professionally with that discipline? And, as Josh goes on to explicate

Can only someone with a Ph.D. in economics call herself an economist? Do you need a Ph.D. in history to be a historian? How about sociology and sociologist? Biology and biologist? Anthropology and anthropologist?

My views on the topic have changed in the past fifteen years; where I basically compare my views as someone who just finished a BA, to my current views...on the road to a earning a doctorate (are we there yet? 😂).  Originally I would have said that someone could call themselves something only if they've earned a degree in that field. I think today I would call that by the term protected professional title, and a degree or some sort of certification would be a way to demonstrate that you've been vetted into that profession somehow by somebody. Now, which titles (economist, linguist, archaeologist, biologist, etc.) are protected, and up for grabs...well...that's a subject for debate! At the time the only means of obtaining that expertise (in my mind) was through formal degree programs.

Since that time, in addition to completing a few masters programs and discovering new fields and new knowledge, I've also discovered the power of the network, the potency of communities of practice,  groups such as virtually connecting, and expanding my own learning and practice outside of the classroom.  My current feeling is that it's not really as black and white at my younger self thought.  I do think that obtaining a doctorate in the field is one path to getting there, but it's not the main criterion to developing your identity in that field.  The main criterion that I have (at this point in time anyway) is practice and expansion of your own skill set in that field. I guess a good way to describe this is through some examples that came to mind while I was trying to tease it out for myself:

Example 1: The non-practicing PhD
A few years ago I was a member of a search committee looking to fill the position of a program director for an academic program at my university. Among the requirements for this position was a terminal degree (PhD or EdD being defined in the job search posting).  We got a variety of CVs from interested applicants.  In reviewing CVs I noticed an interesting cluster of applicants: those who had earned a terminal degree (four, five, six, ten) years ago, but had no publications (or other academic work) under their name other than their dissertation.  Their dissertation was listed on their CV, but nothing else. I am not saying that publishing in academic journals is the only way to demonstrate academic work. You could for example be presenting at conferences, presenting at professional association workshops, writing for a blog or professional publication (basically translating academese to professionals). These job applicants had none of that, so they were demonstrating a lack of practice and continuous improvement in their field.  So they had earned their badge of honor by completing a doctoral program but there was no follow through.   For individuals like that I'd have a hard time calling them an economist, a biologist, a demographer, or a whatever.  I'd called them Doctor so-and-so, but they - in my mind - are not an embodiment of what it means to be a ___________ (fill in blank).

Example 2: Word ambiguity
When I was close to finishing my degree in Applied Linguistics I came across a podcast and a blog of someone who called himself a linguist. I was really happy to come across this podcast and blog because I could continue to learn about a topic of interest once I graduated (and also while I was in school), and this was exciting because back then there weren't really that many linguistics blogs or podcasts around.   My working definition of linguist a person who studies linguistics (where linguistics is the scientific study of language).  This is how I've always understood linguistics.  The person on the other end of this podcast was not a linguist in that sense.  He was a linguist in the dictionary sense of a person skilled in foreign languages.  Personally I'd call that a polyglot and not a linguist. Although, I don't think that it would have bothered me too much if this person called himself a linguist if he didn't really start to preach in his podcast about the best way to learn a language.  I find that at that moment he crossed the line into the domain of what I consider linguists: those who are either clinical linguists (for lack of a better term), and those who are teachers of language and take an inquisitive and critical approach to their teaching and either share what they've learned through their research (published or not). This individual calling himself a linguist was neither a teacher, nor a linguist (in the scientific meaning). Hence the more accurate term that I would use is polyglot not linguist.

Example 3: The practicing MA graduate
In many fields conducting an MA thesis is the only means to graduating from your Master's program.  Even if you don't conduct a thesis to graduate, but you've studied research methods, and continue to hone your skills of inquiry, and continue to read up on advances in the field, I feel like you have the right to call yourself a ________ (fill in relevant blank), if of course there isn't a regulatory board for your profession (nursing, medical, legal, accounting, and other profession of that type). There are many smart people out there who do a lot of work, and who diligently work on keeping their knowledge and skills updated.  Some of them even research and publish.  Through their continued efforts I think that they've demonstrated that they are serious enough about their profession to be included in that group that calls themselves a ___________ (fill in blank).

At the end of the day, for me, an academic identity isn't necessarily tied to a degree earned.  A degree earned on someone's CV might give you clues as to what their academic identity is, but it's not the only consideration.  I think that practice and application are key considerations when you're deciding where you are in the group, or you're not.  I think if a word has double meaning - as with example #2 - the thing to do is stick with the more accepted or widely used meaning, instead of something that isn't used.  I think it's the honest thing to do.

Your thoughts?

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MOOCs as admissions considerations

It's been a while since I've sat down to blog (with the exception of my brief postings last week).  I guess I've had my nose firmly planted in books (physical and digital) trying to get through the reading components of my dissertation proposal so I can sit down and write. I tend to find (for me anyway) that having a bit more of a complete picture in my head as to what I want to write about cuts down a a ton of edits down the road. Because of this I also haven't really engaged a lot with my learning community (MOOCs and LOOMs alike).

That said, a recent work encounter broke my blogging slumber and has pulled me from my dissertation a bit.  In my day job one of my roles is to answer questions about our department's program (what is applied linguistics, anyway? j/k 😆) and that includes questions about admissions. While we prefer applicants with a background in linguistics or related background  such as languages (such as French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, whatever language and literature background) we do accept others who did their BA in something different.  Personally I think that the language is archaic and comes from a time when the mission and vision of our department was slightly different, but that's neither here no there.  My point is that when there are people interested in our program who come from a background other than languages (such as business, or computer science for example) the question always becomes  how can I better prepare for this program, and ensure I get admitted? Basically ensuring that the applicant shows some sort of connection with between their interest in our program and what they did, or want to do.

In the past couple of years MOOCs have come up!  Even though I've been steeped in MOOCs for the past six years I didn't really think others were.  Furthermore, it amazes me how much value others place in MOOCs, and MOOCs that they have taken. Personally, while I like taking xMOOCs (I just signed up for about 10 of them recently through edx and future learn, and I am trying to do one on Canvas on collaborative ICT...) I don't know if I would ever mention my exploits in the MOOC arena to others (except maybe through my blog, or through a group of close MOOC friends).  My rationale for not sharing my learning is this:  While I personally derive value from what I do in MOOCs (it expands my own horizons, even if I am just viewing some videos) I also know that assessments are a little forced in xMOOCs.  Simple MCEs or short-answer peer-graded assignments don't really point toward mastery of something.  In ye olde days of xMOOCs the certificates of participation were free; provided that you completed the MOOC in its original run.  Now xMOOCs require you to pay for a certificate of participation, and I personally don't see any value to that.  Even if you pay for a verified certificate where you have someone proctor you while taking MCEs, what does that really mean?  That you can take a test?

This all got me thinking about the potential use of MOOCs for application purposes.  I personally think that by taking (and completing) a MOOC it shows interest in the topic, so that's a positive for the applicant, but it doesn't necessarily show any mastery. So, while useful, it definitely has its limitations.  The certificates don't really mean much to me for my current work, and yes - I do hold on to the certs that received while they were still free (😉) but I don't see additional value to the ones that people get these days in exchange for cash.

What do you think? Is there a value to students doing MOOCs with the aim of getting into a specific part of higher ed?
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VConnecting NMC Carol Sharicz Wendy Shapiro Judith Erdman

OK, so here is the final session that I was an onsite buddy for from this summer's NMC summer conference.  This session has us join Wendy Shapiro, Judith Erdman, and Carol Sharicz from the UMass Boston Instructional Design Program.

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VConnecting at NMC17 Michael Berman & Eden Dahlstrom

What is the NMC? What is its history?  Well, see the following virtually connecting session from the NMC summer conference and find out :-)

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VConnecting at NMC17 Gardner Campbell & Christina Engelbart

Here is a session with Gardner and Christina.  Their session was one of the few that I got to attend and it was really good! The odd thing is that sessions that I wanted to attend were mostly in the same room, and if you didn't get there in time, the door locked behind you (bug or feature?)

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VConnecting at NMC17 with Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Jill Leafstedt

Continuing with my virtually connecting documentation activities this week, here is a session with Jill Leafstead and @brocansky. Hey!  Got to meet another twitter buddy in person! Woohoo! :-) We were also joined by Eden Dahlstrom the new executive director of the NMC.  The thing we learned (too late) was that the Mac defaults to the build-in microphone when turned off, so...the wired microphone is just for show :p  Oh well.  The things you learn!

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Virtually Connecting at NMC - with Bryan Alexander

A bit of personal documenting this week, posting some videos of virtually connecting sessions from last week's NMC 2017 summer conference. This was my second virtually connecting series with me as one of the onsite buddies, and this was a fun talk with Bryan Alexander.  I've been a virtual and an onsite buddy for a while now, and I still haven't gotten the timings right! I guess  I have more to learn.  joining me as onsite buddy for this series is Greg Dillon, a fellow local instructional designer, and vConnecting buddy.

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Kicking off the lit-review (2.0)

With the summer here, and all of my doctoral coursework behind me, we are firmly in the self-determination area of the game-board.  No external pressures, no external timelines (although there is a statute of limitations on the degree), and interim assignments.  The dissertation proposal is it! That's the next target (which I am hoping to meet by December 2017).

I already have a literature review done, but I was really eclectic in putting it together.  The lit-review (albeit incomplete and in need of some tightening) does present facets of what might be happening underneath it all when it comes to collaboration amongst self-formed groups in open educational experiences, but it doesn't work all that well when providing a grounding for collaboration amongst learners. In other words, I skipped to the chase even though I haven't formally collected data or spoken to other my study participants yet. I am just theorizing from past observations.

In any case, that old lit-review is currently scrapped. It may come in handy later, but I need to focus on the foundational stuff first.  That said, I did a few searches in databases, looking for full-text, peer-reviewed, materials on collaboration in educational contexts. I ended up finding around 200 articles that may be of use (out of several thousand results for my key terms). I also looked for relevant articles on MOOC demographics (to get a sense of who's who in terms of the people involved on the learner side of things in MOOCs).  Finally, I raided my stash of articles that I've been compiling (hoarding for future reading...whenever there is time) since 2011 when I first got involved with MOOCs. This stockpile also contained articles that were of relevance mostly to a previous (dropped) dissertation ideas, but have relevant to the one I am working now.

All things said, I have around 420 peer reviewed articles that look promising, plus 6 or 8 books on collaboration.  That's a lot of reading.  It's also highly likely that I will find stuff in the references section of those articles that I will need to track down because those articles seem of interest.  So, there are two questions that come to mind:

1. Is this overkill?  Now, not all of the articles will prove to be useful and they will go on my reject pile, but even assuming a 20% relevancy of references (80 articles) and a 10% relevancy from those reference's references, that's 588 articles to shift through, which makes for a potentially huge literature review.

2. What is the best way to track your readings (beyond Mendeley, RefWorks, and the like)? Whenever I read there are tons of marginalia, underlined text, and highlighted text. Things that may come in handy later...but may just as well be left on the cutting room floor.  Neither the PDF format, nor the paper format really satisfied me. I feel like I am either putting a ton of work into copy/pasting all of my notes into Google docs but a lot of times I end up using at most 20% (at most 40%)  of that stuff.  It's great note taking, but not sure it is good use of my time.  Then again with articles (especially digital ones!)  I fear that my thoughts in my marginalia are invisible to me because they are simply not collated in one place.

3. (OK I lied, there are 3 things):  How likely is it that I am experiencing academic FOMO with regard to item #2?

I guess rubber meets road this weekend.  I think I'll kick off by re-doing my introduction.  Most introductions I've seen are about twice as long as my draft intro, so it's time to go back, see what I wrote, and provide a little more focus and depth to my intro.  My goal for this time next week: have a new introduction.
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