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

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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The doctoral Winchester plan

If you've ever seen the movie Shaun of the Dead, a humorous take on the surviving the zombie apocalypse, you are familiar with the Winchester plan.  The Winchester is a local (to the protagonist) pub, and it key to surviving the zombie apocalypse - according to the protagonist, is taking a short skip-and-a-hop to the local pub (after doing a couple of short tasks) and waiting for help to arrive while imbibing their drink of choice. Surviving the zombie apocalypse is a breeze!  Well, it's not that simple to survive the zombie apocalypse - as the protagonist finds out!

The past semester has been a little difficult (mostly due to over-committing on my part) and that has affected my own desired progress through my doctoral program.  The classes and the seminars are done (yay!). The next step is the dissertation proposal (which is in draft form).  In the past few days I've been thinking about my progress in all its wonderful variety which includes slow progress, lack of progress thereof, stopping to smell the roses the academic roses, academically procrastinating, and taking trips down academic rabbit holes that call to the academic sailors to their doom like attractive sirens. This has made me realize that, like Shaun - the protagonist of the movie (hey, it's a good movie, go see it if you haven't!), I too had my own Winchester plan to making it through my doctoral studies.

My plan did not include a pub, or waiting with a drink until someone came and conferred upon me the title of doctor.  It did, however, include some misconceptions about the process.  I think that conceptually I knew what the dissertation was about (basically a long, five part, [research] essay).  I thought I had enough practice in all of the individual parts - the methods section, the literature review, the writing up of the findings, the APA format.  Before I got into a doctoral program I had authored, and co-authored, and co-researched, papers which got published in peer reviewed academic journals.  I thought that the dissertation would be more of the same.

This turned out to be a bit of a challenge because academic journals have a 6000-9000 word limit, so a lot get cut out and left on the cutting room floor.  Or, you just choose what to put in from the start, knowing that you have a limited space to work with, so that you don't have to cut a lot. A dissertation on the other hand is (or seems to be) much more exhaustive. A demonstration of what you know rather than a simple demonstration of an argument that you are setting forth. Much like Shaun, I found out that my previous skill set - while it would help somewhat in the zombie dissertation apocalypse, I would find it hard, I would be more challenged than I thought I would be.  Much like Shaun I am to make it to the end though, and I will end up in a pub after the dissertation is successfully defended to celebrate. Now I just need to find my way back to the path and avoid the zombies that drain my time and energy - and focus on the dissertation!

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Networked Learning you say?

Last year, around this time of year, I went on a fun little academic detour. A colleague from overseas (Suzan) invited me to work with her on a conference paper for last year's Networked Learning conference.  While we worked on it we came up with the concept of Hybrid Presence which Suzan presented for us (since I could not attend in person) and we worked on an expanded version of the paper which should be coming out in a book soon.

Networked Learning was a new concept to me so I thought I would spend some time reading more on the topic. I got as many books on the topic as I could get my hands on last year and I started reading. Now that journey is coming to end having started reading the last book I got my hands on on the subject. I was briefly considering going through and downloading and going through all conference proceedings from the past 10 years, but having each article was a single download and perhaps a better use of my time is to go back to my own dissertation topic and read up on it rather than academically procrastinate by learning more on Networked Learning ;-)

So, what is networked learning? Networked Learning is defined by Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson,and McConnell (2004)* as:
learning in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learners and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources
One (or more, actually) of the chapters that I read says that this definition has been remarkably resilient to the passage of time.  The thing that I've noticed with this definition is that it's remarkably broad, which might explain its resiliency.  From my observations (from readings) ideas and concepts that have fallen under (or play nicely with) the main concept of Networked Learning are specific types of problem-based learning, mobile learning, online learning, web-enhanced face-to-face learning, learning in augmented reality, informal learning, authentic learning, and many more.  I've also noticed that most people writing about the topic tend to be from Europe. The concept has not been adopted widely in elsewhere in the world.  It strikes me that here (where everyone seems to strive to coin a name for something) such a broad definition wouldn't necessarily have sticking power. I do like it though because it's a good foundation to build further work on.

In my short(ish) detour into Networked Learning I've come across some ideas for my own dissertation as well...which I noted somewhere...I do admit that I need to be a little better at note taking for longer works if I am to make my way through this dissertation process.  My note taking has been tuned for shorter articles (the standard 6000 to 8000 word research articles) and for a 200 page dissertation research (where some topics need to be ELI5) my current note taking practices may not be cutting it.

What do you know of networked learning?  Have you used the concept?  Have you written about it?  Are there any articles from the conference proceedings from the past 10 years that are a must read?

* in the book Advances in research on networked learning (Boston, MA: Kluwer)

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Are conferences places where we repeat ourselves?

It's been a long time since I last blogged and it wasn't part of a class (or at least it really feels like a long time!) Last week I received informational booklets (more than a triptych, less than an actual program book, and advertising in nature) for a couple of summer conferences that I keep track of, and some of which I have attended in the past.

Leafing though these booklets I noticed something that hasn't been as evident to me in the past:  It's the same people that are in the presentation spotlights this year as have been in the past two, five, or more years!  Now, the truth is that I had noticed in previous years, but this year some conferences have moved to a new location (which isn't local), and it was a bit odd to have certain locals highlighted as presenters when the new venue is a 16 hour drive (or 3 hour flight). Thinking back at other conferences too - both ones that appeal to academia, and the private industry of learning design - I've noticed that year after year the list of "A-list" presenters and session leaders tends to be the same.

This made me wonder about my own recent distaste (or perhaps burnout is a better word) with EdTech (and related) conferences.  When I started attending these types of conferences (with any regularity, and always only local) about 8 or so years ago they were amazing... well, at least amazing to me.  New ideas, new products (yes, I love gizmos), ability to talk to people who were implementing and getting data from things I had considered doing myself.  Generally I really liked the freshness and the new ideas vibe.  Then I noticed that while presentations were incrementally new, the people never really changed a whole lot.  Don't get me wrong, there are people that I'd like to see again and see what they are working on now, but the "point release"-ness of presentations and topics has made me not care as much about what people present at conferences any more.  I tend to get more intellectual stimulation off virtually connecting sessions than attending conferences in person.  Yes, virtually connecting does piggyback off conferences frequently, but I find it much more potent.  Perhaps because I know I can sign up for one session, attend, discuss, think, and get back to other parts of life rather than feel like the ROI of time-spent/learning isn't working out in my favor.

As I was pondering this, Joshua Kim and Kristen Eshleman posted on EdSurge with their Five reasons [they] will avoid EdTech conferences. It's interesting that they (too!) also bring up things like vConnecting. Out of the things that Kristen and Joshua mention the two immediate things that jump off at me and are echoed in my sentiments about EdTech conferences are the ROI and getting over the hype.  Even if I still like talking to vendors (take note that I don't like your emails most times!), there have been fewer and fewer new products in the marker.  Even presenters are (in some aspects) hawking their wares. In their case it might not be a product, but it might be mindshare for themselves and/or their institutions. This leads me to ROI, both for the intangibles (my time and energy), and the tangibles (money to get there, and for conference registrations). I don't think the product is worth the investment any longer.

That said, I think Kristen and Joshua make a point that doesn't immediately pop-up from my own 'me-centric' view - where are the faculty and students?  Perhaps faculty can have their attendance paid for by institutions, but students are effectively priced out.  Those are the people who I'd most like to interact with after we all get to speak to vendors, or listen to presentations from peers at other institutions, because then we can have meaningful discussions about what we can do at our institution, and what sort of interesting pedagogical things we can do with other institutions.  Most of the people that attend these conferences are techies (like me), and while I can see applicability for the classes that I teach, I am also part of a larger department with colleagues who don't get to see what I see.

In the end, I am wondering: what's next?  If we aren't doing conferences (because we are bored, uninterested, and/or priced out), how do we work on our professional development in meanginful ways this summer?

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