OK, where's my script writer?
It's been a busy October thus far in dissertation research land. How do I know? My memo doc for October is already at 40 pages (single-spaced) in length, and it's only October 6th! The September and August memo docs are sparse by comparison!
Just as a "previously on AK's Dissertation Adventure", I am examining collaboration in Rhizo14 (and to some extent Rhizo15) using Narrative Inquiry as my method.
Memo documents are my interim texts, which are essentially my ongoing analysis, reflection, thoughts, and quarantining my own views as a researcher; but they sound cooler when using the Narrative Inquiry lingo of interim texts. I like the term because I feel like it denotes something on-going, reflective, iterative, and in the midst; whereas "data analysis" feels more sterile.
Anyway, my free time is spent looking at field texts (my "data"), making notes in the margin, jotting down names of actors, actions, plots, motivations, and thoughts. For my project I went really went above and beyond the "1 or 2" research participants that Creswell recommends for the Narrative Inquiry method. Even though I am swimming in information, one of the reasons I chose to expand to 4 people was to get some additional voices in the mix, which I thought were interesting to include, and hopefully insightful for the eventual readers. The initial problem I had with having 4 people was how to do a restory? The advice that I received was to funnel all 4 stories into one hypothetical persona. I guess this can work, but I also feel that it homogenized things a bit. Restorying 1 person into 1 persona doesn't have this problem. Then I thought of Rhizo14, and the metaphor of a dinner party, or a campfire telling stories (or singing songs). I think I can restory the 4 narratives by using the dinner party (or campfire) as a place where participants virtually interact and share their stories with others. Of course, since there were a countable number of people in the original story, and since participants need to be anonymous, I'll need to figure out different names for people (I am considering gender-neutral names and personal pronouns), and some really specific things will need to be tweaked to mark the identity of people. I think this would make my IRB/REB much more comfortable with this.
Now, I have 4 stories to tell. I am also keeping track of myself (to keep researcher bias at bay), so I could put myself in this dinner party. There will probably be cameos from people as well. I just need to figure out the creative writing component of this. The main question is how to write the story (once I get to it)? I'll need to do a little more research on this. In Narrative Inquiries that I've read, some people just restore in prose (and very much in APA fashion), others have made it into a poem, or a movie script, or song lyrics. It seems like the chosen form represented the people's stories being restoried, and the comfort of the researcher. So... my questions for anyone in the Rhizo community reading this: what sort of form should my restory take? Is it a physical location like a campfire? A virtual place like zoom or a VR simulation like "ready player one"? Does it live on facebook? Or does it take place in a faraway land a long time ago (or a long time in the future)? Who is part of that narrative for you?
Looking back at this, I really wish I could do a collaborative autoethnography for this. I'd love to bring people together to do a follow-up to our Rhizo14 autoethnography. Talking to people about this, going back through openly available blogs and re-reading people's words is making me reminisce about all the fun we had in Rhizo14 and Rhizo15 collaborating. Of course, that's not a way to earn a doctorate...I suppose that will have to wait until I graduate.
And just like that, it's fall! (or Autumn, same deal)
It's hard to believe, but the summer is in the rearview mirror. Next week the fall semester begins and as I look back over the summer I see some things I learned (or observed) in these coronatimes:
The FoMo is still strong!
I thought I had beaten back FoMo (fear of missing out) but I guess not :-). This summer many conferences made the switch to online this summer due to the ongoing pandemic and their registration was free. This made them accessible both in terms of place (online) and cost (free) for me. So I registered. I might have registered for far too many because there weren't enough hours to participate synchronously and attend everything I wanted to. Luckily most sessions were recorded, so I was able to go back and review recordings of things I missed. Between the Connected Learning Conference, IABL Conference, OLC Ideate, Bb World, HR.com's conference (and a few more that I can't remember at the moment), I got more Professional Development done this summer than any other summer. By the end of this week, I'll also have caught up with all recordings. The "AHA!!!" moment for me was this: About 10-12 years ago when I was first starting out (as a starry-eyed designer) all this stuff would have been mindblowing. I think online conferences for me are more about filling holes and making me think differently rather than building new knowledge in mind. And that's OK. I discovered a lot of resources that I forwarded to friends and colleagues who would find them more useful than I did because they are at a different phase in their PD. Just like a garage sale (maybe a bad analogy) can yield nothing at all, it can yield a treasure you never thought existed, or it can yield something for your friends and colleagues. You never know what you will find until you start looking.
Quick startups are possible (darn it!)
This summer I was invited by a friend to co-facilitate a couple of weeks of a bootcamp course for teaching online (Virtual Learning Pedagogy). The learner demographic are educators in Nigeria (the course might have been open to other countries as well). The course was offered through Coderina. I think from the time we were all invited to the first week of the course we only had 2 weeks. Last week was the last week of the course. I am not sure how much John slept these 6 weeks, but I think that the course was a success. We talk about agile instructional design in our courses, and I think this was a good example of different teams working on different weeks, checking in with one another, and putting together a course while the course is being taught. Could it be done better? Yes, everything can improve, but I am proud to have been part of such an agile multinational collaboration. I also got to meet a lot of new colleagues that I didn't know before. I think this was a good case study for agile ID. I can't wait to see what the next iteration of the course will look like :-)
Back into 601!
This summer I taught Intro to Instructional Design and Learning Technologies (it's got another title formally, but that's basically it). I had taken several semesters off from teaching in order to focus on my dissertation proposal (which needed a major rewrite - perhaps more on that after I graduate), and I've been looking forward to getting back into teaching. This summer I used the version of the course that Rebecca designed and uses, opting to not use what I had created a few summers back. Part of the reason for using her course was that she had baked into the course consideration for synchronous sessions. I tend to be more asynchronous in my designs (so that people can have flexibility), but I wanted to be experimental this summer with sync-sessions. Another reason I wanted to use someone else's design is to extend my thinking and collaborate with others. I've got my own version of what an intro course can look like, but looking at another designer's design can add to your own toolkit and thinking, Additionally, if there is one version of the course that many people contribute to the design of, I think differing student cohorts benefit both from the stability of the curriculum and from the process of collaborative design in the course. This way if cohort A takes the course taught by professor A, they won't get radically different core content than Cohort B taking the course with professor B. Your learning experience may differ, but core knowledge required down the road by other courses should be more or less similar. I really enjoyed teaching this summer. My students were awesome, and we had good exchanges both via synchronous and asynchronous means. I also loved that I was able to invite friends and colleagues who work in ID to have some candid chats with our learning community. I think this was much more effective than reading articles about what an ID does. If I could hop into a DeLorean and go back to June: This summer I only had 6 students. Such a small number of students can make for a nice seminar-style course, but the course was designed with a class size of 10-15. The dynamics are definitely different with such a smaller cohort. I think that if I could go back in time I'd give students an option: We could have asynchronous forums each week for discussing ideas and topics of the course, or we could forego (most of) the forums and meet synchronously each to accomplish similar means. I think a smaller number of students makes the forum feel a little like an empty playground. It's got a lot of potential but it's only actualized when many kids go play.
Finally, a little bit about this doctoral journey thing. In May I successfully defended my proposal (yay) which allowed me to apply for IRB/REB clearance (yay!). At the end of June, I got that clearance (yay!) so I could start reaching out to study participants. It's hard to believe that a (somewhat) random MOOC I signed up for while waiting to hear back about my application to the EdD program ended up becoming my dissertation topic. I may have bitten off more than I can chew in terms of story (data) collection but Narrative Inquiry is all about the story through someone's position in that metaphorical parade. The parade keeps on moving, and so do participants in it, so I am OK with presenting a sliver of that experience (knowing that it's a sliver of it). It's not possible (for a dissertation anyway) to be a completionist when exploring an experience (which I guess pushes back on my FoMo mentioned above). Hopefully I'll have a good draft of this thing by the end of the semester in December.
So...what was your summer like?
Image credit: "Zen stones" by rikpiks is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Graduate admissions process pondering
Anyway, one thing that's been gnawing at me for the past number of years is how one enters into graduate programs. I'll focus more on the master's level for a few reasons. I manage an MA program, I teach for an MEd program, and from observation, I've seen that masters programs probably don't have as many administrative constraints: for example, [virtual] classroom space, working with a cohort model that's more tightly integrated [as compared to doctoral programs that are more tightly interconnected], and most masters programs allow non-matriculated students to take courses for fun or interest (doctoral programs typically do not).
In the US, a typical application to a graduate program requires the following:
- An application (usually electronic these days)
- An application fee (my institution has it at $60 for domestic students)
- A statement of purpose (why do you want to apply to the program, how does it meet your goals, etc.)
- 2-3 letters of recommendation from academic referees (former professors)
- Your transcript indicating that you completed an undergrad program (sometimes ALL transcripts, even if you decided to take ENGL501 for fun somewhere...).
- Some sort of standardized test (albeit this is not as common these days)
Take letters of recommendation for example. If you've attended a western institution, and you ask for a letter of recommendation from a former professor, the letters of recommendation that they provide will mostly be good. No one decent will agree to write a recommendation if they are going to negatively evaluate you. Hence, the asking for, and receiving, of a recommendation becomes a ritual of asking former professors to vouch for you, but really knowing ahead of time that, if they agree, what they write will most likely be glowing. It privileges people who've already built those connections with some professors, and it is a colossal waste of time for the referee. It also privileges western applicants because (it's been my experience) that non-western referees typically write sparse recommendations that typically reference a transcript ("AK was a good student, got A's in my class"). In cases where someone doesn't have academic recommendations (for whatever reason), a common tactic is to take a course or two in the department (as a non-matriculated student) to obtain those letters of recommendation. If they've taken two courses, and gotten good grades (however you define "good grades"), then the recommendations are pointless (especially since those who write the recommendations are also those who often read them for admissions🤷).
HyFlex is not what we need (for Fall 2020)
Quite a few people on twitter, including @karenraycosta, were pondering whether they don't like HyFlex (in general), or the implementations of HyFlex that we are seeing. Heck, It seems like HyFlex has become the white label flex model for universities because some of them are creating their own brands of flex!🙄. I wonder what marketing geniuses came up with that. Anyway, colleagues and I have been trying to flex our learning for the last few years as a trial, with mixed results. The main issue that comes out a lot is a critical mass of students, with a secondary issue of staffing. In "pure" modality (full F2F or full-asynch) you need to have a critical mass of learners to be able to engage in constructivist learning. If lectures are your thing and you expect people to sit down, shut up, and listen, then it works just fine. However, for the rest of us who want to build learner connections and interactivity in the classroom we need a minimum amount of students, and we need to have a sense of how many there will be so we can plan activities. An activity for 20 people won't necessarily scale down to 2 people. The same thing is true in asynch, if most people are F2F, writing in the forums might feel like speaking to an empty room.
Things become more complicated if you want to create a sync session online and merge that with a F2F meeting. The instructor becomes not only an instructor but a producer. They need to manage the tech, ensure that everyone on-site has devices that they can beam the online folks in (zoom, adobe connect, etc.) to work in groups, for team presentations you gotta work wizardry to ensure that all people are well represented and the tech works. I've seen this type of producing happen in distance education classrooms of old where people connected 2 physical classrooms via P2P connections, and each site had a producer to manage the cameras that connected the students from one classroom to another, and the remote classroom had a tutor. In total there were 4 people to make this happen for a class of 40. HyFlex (the way it's implemented) expects one person to do this: the instructor.
While I think HyFlex is an interesting model to pursue, I think it's something to pursue for large class enrollments (think classes of 80 or more students), or multi-section team-taught courses (ENGL 101 for example that might have multiple sections taught by many people). HyFlex isn't good for a "regular" class size class (regular defined as 12-20), because you need to design and plan for possibilities that might never occur. This makes course creation more costly, and course maintenance an issue, which falls upon one person: the instructor. Considering that the majority of courses are taught by adjuncts these days - who aren't paid well - this also becomes an issue of academic labor. Think about it (and use my university as an example):
- One course is compensated as 10 hours of work per week (at around $5000, or $33/hour)
- Assume 2 hours per week prep time (really bare minimum here, assuming all course design is complete and the instructor doesn't have to worry about that). That leaves 8 hours
- 3 hours of that is "face time" each week. That leaves 5 hours
- 2 hours per week are office hours. That leaves 3 hours.
- Assume 3 hours per week that you are spending engaging in things like forums, mentoring, reading learner journals, and responding back to them (an equal amount of time spent as on-campus). You are left with no paid hours to devote.
- So what's left out?
- What if you need to do more than 2 hours/week of student conferencing? Do you take a pay-cut? or do you say "first come first serve, sorry!" (not very student-friendly!)
- Who grades and gives feedback for papers and exams? Are they all automated? That's not really good pedagogy
- When does professional development take place to be able to use all the tech required for HyFlex? Is this paid or not?
- Parking on my campus costs $15 per day, so $225 per semester if you are only teaching one-day per week. If you are unlucky and teach 3 days per week (MWF) or five days per week (MTuWThF), then your parking costs are $675 and $1125 respectively.
- This makes your compensation per course:
- $4475 ($31/hour) - one-day teaching schedule
- $4325 ($28/hour) - three-day teaching schedule
- $3875 ($25/hour) - five-day teaching schedule
- While these costs are incurred for people teaching on-campus anyway, when they are off-campus they are not working, however, with HyFlex they still have their online obligations.
- There is a commuting cost associated with going to/from home. Those hours are not compensated or accounted for.
Is "online learning" the new "community college"?
When I was in high school (mid-to-late 90s) the advertised (or expected) path after high school seemed pretty clear to me: go to college. There were really no "buts" about it, and there were no gap years considered (those were luxuries that well-off people had since they had money to burn). It was an expectation, from guidance counselors, from teachers, from parents, maybe even from society. Higher education was the path to a good middle-class life, and people were willing to take out loans to go to their dream school in order to achieve this goal. This was a pretty important goal for my parents considering that neither one of them made it to university and I'd be the first in the family (maybe even my broader family) to do this. No pressure, eh? ;-)
One thing that seemed like an underlying current was how dismissive some (many?) people were about community colleges at the time. I had never really thought of community college as an option because of jokes like this one:
You better do well in __(subject)__ otherwise, you'll be attending Cape Cod Community College!
I don't know why CCCC was the butt of the joke for this particular teacher in high school, but the frequency of such jokes (and the virality of them between students) definitely left an impression of community college being a consolation prize, rather than a fantastic (and comparatively cheaper) educational resource! Imagine how much money would be saved if students decided to complete the first two years of their higher education studies at a CC and then transfer into another school! Or graduate from CC and then go into university with advanced standing. From what I know, in my local context, CCs were (and are) commuter schools. You don't live on-campus at a CC. Compare that to some big-name school in Cambridge (Massachusetts) that my folks wanted me to apply to that required first-year student to stay in the dorms if they wanted to attend that school.
Anyway, I diverge from my point I started with. The main idea here is that CC, although valuable, was constantly dismissed. Fast forward to our current pandemic-world. Students are suing universities for the return of their tuition and fee costs. Nevermind that some of these law firm pitches sound a lot like ambulance chasers, let's dive down to the core: Universities have been pitched as a place where people go to explore subjects and topics; a type of free-range learning. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate education.
In recent years, what you saw in university advertising tended to be anything but the learning. Learning objectives? Snore! learning outcomes? yawn! Rooms with lavish wood paneling? Noice! Parties? Awesome! Spring fling dances and cookouts? I'm there! When you consider the marketing message of the modern university which focuses on amenities, it's not hard to see why people are pushing back against the price tag. If you paid for a Cruise in the Bahamas, why would you "settle" for the Holodeck?
What's hiding behind those amenities is the promise of a free-range learning environment where you too can learn and be inspired by the greats! The reality, though, is that you aren't really in a free-range learning environment. When your tuition and fees cost $60,000 per year (or more), a wise student would do a reality check and see that it's not free-range learning, but rather a prix-fixe menu (in many cases), and students pick X-many courses from column A, Y-many from column B, and Z-many from column C to graduate as soon as possible. The longer you stay, the bigger your bill!
Conversely, in online learning, where you don't have the striking visuals of campus life and all the non-academic distractions you are forced to start with the learning outcomes. You need to assess programs based on the outcomes, and you need to advertise based on the transformative experience of the learning and what sorts of careers you are prepared for, not the extracurriculars. However, it seems, that prospective students (and their parents) don't have metrics by which to assess programs on their learning outcomes, so lacking the social visuals or metrics offered by a campus experience, they dismiss online education; much like how CC education was dismissed by the relevant authority figures in my teenage life. I think that for-profit schools also have not helped with the reputation of online learning, but talking about "zoom university" and framing educational costs as an all or nothing is also not very productive. Education is valuable. I would argue that education at $60k/year was never valuable to people like me, first-generation students, but I hope that more people are teasing out what matters in education. I hope the medium doesn't impact the message in this case. And I hope that dual-mode universities finally put some support behind their online offerings beyond the classroom.
Your thoughts? Do you see a connection between online learning and the community college in how they are talked about?
Synchronous, online learning, and "remote" learning
First of all, I guess I should explain my aversion to the term "remote" instruction. Our field, distance education, has many terms to describe learning at a distance that actually mean something, and have actually had decades of research behind them! Because the existing terms mean something, and usually have legalistic implications, it's like administrators are using a synonym for "distance" in order to avoid any sorts of contractual agreements that they have made. For instance, at my institution, if a faculty member develops an online course from scratch (for the first time), they are entitled to a development stipend. There is a process behind this stipend, which includes working with an instructional designer and getting a Bootcamp version of the skills one needs to teach online, but it exists, and it takes time. In the times of COVID19, timelines are compacted, and such processes are too long, and money is often too short. So, instead of calling these classes online, they euphemistically call them "remote" in order to avoid paying any stipend. The "right" course of action would be to negotiate with the faculty union about this.
The second issue that I have with the designation "remote" is that it seems to denote a "less-than" term for distance education. It's OK that this course stinks because it's a "remote" course. I wholeheartedly disagree. I think the correct term for a rushed course is an emergency online course, not a remote course. Online courses can stink. And, some do! But to claim that we don't want to call what we do classify what we do in an emergency online learning context as online learning because that's not what online learning is,...well, that's just silly IMO. We did start off with emergency remote teaching when this started, and why we picked the wrong word - picking remote over emergency - is beyond me. The word emergency should be enough to denote that what's happening is not necessarily the most fully fleshed out, but it is the best we can do in with the time and resources we have at hand. Furthermore, emergency remote/online/distance learning is perfectly fine when you have one week to make the pivot. Come September, if we're all still quarantined in place, distance learning should not be emergency anything! We should use the summer to plan for good online learning and to build out student supports that may be lacking at the moment!
Finally, there is an aspect of synchronous often tied with the affinity of using the term remote learning. Many people decided to just move their lectures into zoom. Hey, a 45-minute live session might be OK three-times per week for one class; multiply that by 4 courses for a full-time student. However, sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours per week on zoom sessions that might not be needed, and then being in front of your computer for all assignment (plus all the distractions and poor internet that you might have at home) and it doesn't make for a conducive learning environment. That said, we do have the option for synchronous online meetings. Online courses aren't designed to be strictly asynchronous or self-paced. Furthermore, just because mixed-mode institutions have ignored their online learners for the past decade doesn't mean that online or distance learning is inflexible and doesn't adapt to the changing needs of learners. It doesn't mean that there is a lack of community, and it doesn't mean that distance education cannot create co-curricular opportunities. Just because you have ignored some or all of these possibilities doesn't mean that they don't exist, and it doesn't require that you create a new term to describe them.
In the end, what I am seeing with remote learning is the same thing we saw in the 2012-2014 MOOC Craze years, where what we knew about online and distance education was summarily ignored due to the new shiny. Did we not learn anything from that experience? ❓
Technology will save us all!
It's been a while since I wrote something on here†, and in all honesty, I thought about taking a sabbatical from blogging to focus on dissertation-related matters. However, I really hate the current practice of threading on twitter where someone writes 10, 20, 30, or 40 tweets in a thread. We've even invented an app to make these threads more readable. I can't roll my eyes hard enough at this because it's a solution for a problem we shouldn't have. We have long-form means of communicating - they are called blogs. But anyway - I'll cease my "get off my lawn"-ness and move on to the point. Now, where was I? Oh yeah... I wanted to respond to something I saw on twitter, but I didn't was to just create a stupidly long thread.
So, in case you have not been paying attention, there is a bit of a global health scare going on, namely COVID-19 (or Coronavirus as the media calls it). It's gotten to the point where cities, states, or even whole regions are under quarantine.
|Screenshot of WHO COVID-19 tracker|
So a fellow colleague tweeted the following:
Hello #MOOC platform providers @edXOnline @coursera @udacity @udemy @FutureLearn @CanvasLMS and others: many higher education institutions are in need of scalable technologies to serve the needs of students and teachers in times of the #COVID19 #coronavirus crisis. Can you help?
Canvas may be the exception here, seeing as they have a "regular" LMS that they also use for their Canvas Network MOOC platform, but most MOOC platforms are awful. I saw this as a user of them! Yes, I do enjoy the free livelong learning content that they provide‡ but those platforms have been created with very specific UX design constraints in mind. Furthermore, many appear to rely on pre-recorded videos for their pedagogical approach, something which really won't mesh well with the short timeframes that we might be experiencing in the coming weeks♠. There is also an issue in thinking that a technology solutions provider will be your best bet as a subject-expert contact to help your institution to move online. They sell a product. A product with specific design and pedagogical constraints, and - as we've seen recently - with potentially murky data practices. Your go-to shouldn't be a technology provider to solve your issues. Your go-to should be the staff that you employ at your university. Your instructional designers, systems architects, and IT/IS people. They are the ones that know your needs, and they can figure out what the minimally viable product is. If it turns out that edx is the right platform for you...then guess what? It's open-source, you can run it on your own! The same is true with operating systems like Moodle and Sakai, and they are not MOOC related, and have been used to deliver courses at a distance for 18 years!
Another colleague wrote:
Taking college courses temporarily online as an emergency measure to provide minimally acceptable continuity of instruction in response to a pandemic is not an admission that MOOCs are a good or even acceptable substitute for in-person teaching.
The three fallacies here are as follows:
- You are conflating MOOCs with distance learning broadly.
- You are assuming that MOOCs are just "lousy products"
- You are putting on-campus courses on a pedestal.
MOOCs being conflated with any (and all) forms on distance learning has been happening since xMOOCs hit the market in 2011/2012. They are not one and a the same. MOOCs are a form of distance learning, but they are not the form of distance learning. MOOCs are also not a bad product. You always have to go back and ask "what is our goal?" and even then "what is this good for?" The adhesive used on post-it notes is a lousy product. Yes, you heard it right. It's a lousy product because the goal was to develop a super-strong adhesive. However, someone saw this product and created an ingenious use for it, and something that couldn't have existed without the lousy product was created♥. MOOCs have their purpose. It may not be the lofty goal of democratizing education¤ that we kept hearing back in 2012, but that doesn't mean that they are failures in totality.
On another track, many colleagues have been posting about this outbreak being the perfect opportunity for institutions to embrace online learning, and that this global turn of events will (magically) make people see the light. The unspoken assumption being that attitudes will change, and long-term practices will change. This is completely and utterly false, and it's exemplified by the tweet above. Vanguards of the "campus is best for learning" camp won't experience an attitudinal change en masse because of this turn of events. They'll most likely hold their metaphorical nose, get through it, and then go back to their established practices. Why? Many reasons§, but here are the highlights IMO:
Attitudinal change requires an open mind - I don't think most campus faculty have that when it comes to pedagogy (sorry!). This lack of creativity, I would say comes from a lack in pedagogical training. Doctoral programs prepare you to research, and teaching is always secondary (or even tertiary!). It seems like many doctoral programs just drop people into teaching situations and have them sink or swim (pretty stressful, if you ask me!). So what happens? Those doctoral students rely on mimicry - doing what they've seen done unto them in the classroom. Maybe some will break through this cycle and experiment with pedagogy, but that's not a given. And, when faculty are hired lots of attention is paid to attending conferences and publishing, but little (if any) on teaching PD! So, previous behavior and belief patterns are reinforced through the pre-tenure period¶ and in your post-tenure period∞. I don't need to see the outcome of the coronavirus to know that teaching faculty with these attitudes will use distance learning like a rented car, and when their ride is back from the shop, they will never think about the affordances (and the learners that might need online learning) again...or at least until the next emergency.
Anyway - to wrap this up, one voice that is conspicuously absent is the voice of staff members in this. Staff will be called upon to support learners at a distance, and/or faculty who will (maybe, possibly, probably) be teaching online for a little while. What is their role in all this? How are they supported to do their work, and what are their thoughts and needs in the process. The university is a complex organism but only faculty are seen as valuable stakeholders here🙄. This attitude needs to change if we are to have productive solutions and discussions when it comes to emergencies.
Notes and Marginalia:
† hey, this is starting to sound like a confessional...let's see where it goes...
‡ I am currently signed up for 2 MOOCs on FutureLearn and 1 on EdX
♠ I'd also argue that Udemy is more of a self-paced eLearning platform and not a MOOC LMS...but that's a whole other discussion.
♥ and used all over the world in offices today
¤ personally I think this goal was overstated as people got swept up in the MOOC fever and institutional FOMO. We might be seeing another kind of FOMO here with this coronavirus.
§ and probably best suited for a separate blog post
¶ where you might be on emergency-mode all the time while you're attempting to get tenure
∞ if your institution hasn't spent too much time fretting about your teaching until now, why would they do it in the future?
Academic Facepalm (evaluation edition)
I'm not gonna lie. IT BUGS ME.
It bugs me as a learner. I've always completed course evaluations and I tried to give honest feedback to the professor. If the course was easy, hard, just right, I wanted them to know. If I was appreciative, I wanted them to know. Yes, sometimes I've half-assed it and just completed the Likert scale with a "loved the course" comment at the end, but many times I try to be more concrete about the feedback.
It bugs me as a program manager. I am the individual who sets up, collects, and often reminds students, about the course evaluations. My colleague is in charge of making sure things like these get into personnel files and maintains department records, and also seems to manager tenure and promotion paperwork for our department (among her other duties). Faculty committees spend time discussing this each year for merit increases. So. much. wasted. effort!
It bugs me as an adjunct. Yes, I teach for the fun of it. I like helping new instructional designers find their footing. As an adjunct, if my course evaluations are bad I could be no hired again just for that. There are no protections. And, then you've got this tenured individual who openly flaunts their privilege.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know that Level 1 evaluations are flawed. They don't measure learning, they measure reactions to the learning event. But they are feedback nevertheless. If you don't give a bleep about what students say about your course, one day, despite your tenure, you might not have any students left...
As an aside, I feel like tenure is an outdated institution. I'd advocate for strong unions over tenure any day of the week.
MOOC Completion...according to whom?
But let me rewind for a second. How did we get to the topic of MOOC completion? Well, I've been attempting to make my extended CV more accessible (to me). In the past, I used a WYSIWYG HTML publishing platform to manage my extended CV‡. The idea was that I could easily export it and just push it on the web. In practice, I never did this, and when I changed computers it became a hassle to maintain. So, I moved everything over to google docs for cleanup (and easier updates). In cleaning up my CV sections (I am not done, btw!), I did make a startling self-discovery. In the time-period 2013-2016, I binged on a lot of xMOOCs!😅 The most notable platforms were Coursera, Edx, Udacity, but there were others such as the now-defunct Janux (Oklahoma University) and Open2Study (Australia Open University), as well as overseas platforms like MiriadaX and FutureLearn. In the time period 2011-2012 I didn't have a lot of MOOCs, mostly because during this period a lot were cMOOCs and xMOOCs hadn't really spread like wildfire.
This realization now begs the question: "How many did you complete?" (and you guessed it, Kelvin asked it...). My answer comes in the form of a question "based on whose metrics and measures?". When you sign up for a paid course (e.g., professional development seminar, college course, certification prep course, etc.) I think that there is an unspoken assumption that the goals of the course mirror, to a greater or lesser extent, the goals of the learner♠. Can this assumption be something that transfers over into the world of a free MOOC? I personally don't think so. I've long said that the course completion metric (as measured by completing all assignments with a passing grade) is a poor metric. One very obvious reason to me was that people simply window-shop; and since there is no disincentive to unenroll, people don't take that extra step to leave the course formally, as they would with a paid course where they could receive a refund. I've been saying this since xMOOC completion rates were touted as an issue, but few people listened. Luckily it seems that people are changing their minds about that (or just don't care 😜). I guess George Siemen's advice to Dave Cormier holds true for my own rantings and ravings: publish those thoughts in a peer-reviewed journal or they don't exist 🤪 (paraphrased from a recent podcast interview with Dave).
Assuming that we exclude window-shoppers from our list of completion categories♣, what remains? Well, instead of thinking of distinct categories (which might give us a giant list), let's think of completion in terms of whose perspective we are examining. On the one extreme, we have the learner's perspective. The extreme learner's perspective is characterized by total control by the learner as to what the goals are. In this perspective, the learner can be in a course and complete a certain percentage of what's there and still consider the course as done. Why? The learner might have prior knowledge, and what they are looking for is to supplement what they already know without going through the hoops of any or all assessments in the course. They've probably evaluated the materials in the course, but if they already know something, why spent a lot of time on something already known? Or, an item that should be done to obtain 100% completion is only available in the paid version (some FutureLearn courses are like this), and are inaccessible to learners on the free tier.
On the other extreme, we have the perspective of the course designer. This is the perspective that most research studies on completion seem to adopt. The course designer is working with an abstracted learner population, with abstracted goals. The outcomes of the course might be based on actual research into a learner group, they might be based on the intuition of the course designer, or they might just be whatever the course designer has an interest in preparing (sort of like the Chef's soup of the day, it's there, you can have it, but it doesn't mean that this is what you came into the restaurant for). In a traditional course (the ones you pay and get credentialed for) it makes sense that a learner could simply go along for the (educational) ride because they are paying and (presumably) they've done some research about the course, and it meets their goals. In a free offering, why would a learner conform to the designer's assumptions as to what the learner needs? Especially when a free offering can (and probably does) gather the interest of not just aspiring professionals, but people in the profession (who presumably have some additional or previous knowledge), as well as hobbyists who are free-range learning?
Given those two extremes of the spectrum, I would say that there is a mid-point. The mid-point is where the power dynamic between the learner and the designer is at equilibrium. The educational goals (and what hoops the learner is willing to jump through) 100% coincide with what the designer designed. Both parties are entering the teaching/learning relationship on equal footing. If you lean over a little to one side (learner side), the designer might consider the course incomplete, and if you lean over to the other side (the designer side) the learner might start to feel a bit annoyed because they have to jump through hoops that they feel are not worth their while. Some might begrudgingly do it, others not, it really depends on what the carrot is at the end of that hoop. For me, a free certificate or badge did the trick most times. The threat of being marked as a non-completer (or more recently the threat of losing access to the course altogether 😭) however does not motivate me to "complete" the course on the designer's terms.
That said, what about my experience? Well... my own behaviors have changed a bit over the years. When xMOOCs first hit the scene I was willing to go through and jump through all the hoops for the official completion mark. I did get a certificate at the end; and even though it didn't really carry much (or any?) weight, it was a nice memento of the learning experience. Badges were custom made (if there were badges), and the certificates were each unique to the MOOC that offered them. Back in the day, Coursera had certificates of completion (you earned the minimum grade to pass), and certificates of completion with distinction (you basically earned an "A"). It was motivating to strive for that, even though it didn't mean much. It was also encouraging when MOOC content was available beyond the course's official end, so you could go back and review, re-experience, or even start a bit late. As we know, things in the MOOC world changed over the years. Certificates became something you had to pay for. Sometimes even the assessment itself was something you had to pay for - you can see it in the MOOC but you can't access it. Peer essay grading on coursera wasn't something that I found particularly useful, but I was willing to jump through the hoops if it meant a free moment at the end of the course (achievement, badge, certificate, whatever). Once things started having definitive start- and end- dates♪ , and content disappeared after that when certificates (which still we're worth much to the broader world) started costing money, the jumping through the same silly hoops (AES, CPR, MCEs, etc.) it just didn't feel worthwhile to go above my own learning goals and jump through someone else's hoops.
So, did I complete all those MOOCs? Yup, but based on my own metrics, needs, and values.
What are your thoughts on MOOC completion? Do you have a different scale? Or perhaps defined categories?
† There may be some article there somewhere that I've missed, but in my mission to read all of the MOOC literature that I can get access to, I haven't found anything.
‡ What's an extended CV? It's something that contains everything and the kitchen sink. That workshop I did back in 1999 for that defunct software? Yup, that's there...because I did it, and I need a way to remember it. It's not necessarily about the individual workshops, but about the documenting of the learning journey. The regular CV is somewhat cleaner.
♠ Maybe this assumption on my part is wrong, but I can't really picture very many reasons (other than "secret shopper") that someone would pay money to sign-up for a course that doesn't meet their goals.
♣ Window-shoppers I define as people who enroll to have a look around, but either have no specific educational goals they are trying to meet (e.g., lookie-loos), or have goals to meet, but they deem the MOOC to not meet them (e.g., "thanks, but not what I am looking for"). Either way, they don't learn anything from the content or peers in the MOOC, but at the same time, they don't unenroll since there is no incentive to do so (e.g., a refund of the course course).
♪ e.g., module tests deactivating after the week was over and you couldn't take them - AT ALL if you missed that window
A decade in review...onward to 2020!
I absolutely loved Audrey Watter's 100 debacles of Ed-Tech, so I decided to pick a few and structure my post around this since most of these made an impact on my work-life, and some for my leisure. I am not going to pick through every one of those items, but I'll pick a few (and maybe add some of my own).
New Media Consortium (Horizon report #100)
This one was a shocker for me. The way the NMC just ceased to exist was something I'd expect only from a VC-funded start-up. In the last decade, I was able to attend both conferences that were offered in Boston by the NMC. I enjoyed both, and I made quite a few interesting contacts via those conferences. I also used the Horizon Report as something in the courses I teach. Not necessarily as something ultra definitive, but something to hone the critical skills of students in my courses (and have some fun prognosticating). While the Horizon Report has been picked up by Educause there is something distinctly different about the feel of Educause as compared to the NMC. Speaking of conferences that went bust: Campus Technology. I used to attend CampusTech every year. It was held in Boston which made it super convenient, it had exhibition floor passes for free (which also meant that you could just attend the presentations if you snuck in), and they had a pretty liberal press pass policy which allowed me to attend for free as being affiliated with my school's paper, and later the CIEE journal. It was also co-located with AAEEBL which basically meant two conferences for one low price of free (for me). Good times! They will be sorely missed. I did learn a lot (even if you factor in the amount of hype).
Ning is something I came across while I was an MEd student in Instructional Design. Ning, along with SocialGO and Elgg are white label social networks which allow anyone to fairly easily build communities. SocialGO was never free (it has a free trial), and Elgg is open source - which while great it does require the user to provide a fair amount of their own IT maintenance. Not being in a position to do that, Ning hit the sweet spot of free basic hosting (up to 200 users for free?) and no server update and maintenance hassles. Using Ning I built two networks, one for my MEd program (UMassID.com), and one for the Applied Linguistics Department (this is before I started working for them). After Ning eliminated their free model I did garner enough support for UMassID for a few years, but each year I felt like I was looking for champions to pay for the $200 annual fee. Most times I was successful, but at some point, I just felt like I didn't want to keep poking the champions for money any longer. We still use Ning for our department's portal, which makes it easy to post information for students, but also keep our alumni in the loop. With all the changes happening in terms of who owns the platform, I fear that I might need to think of migrating at some point in the future. I wonder how successful I would be in convincing my university to adopt Elgg, sort of like AU has with their Landing.
Open Badges are something that is was really pumped for. I am not sure I am all that disappointed that they haven't taken off like wildfire. Any long-term change in credentialling does take time to have something accepted and endorsed. As a gamer, I liked badges because they are very much like achievements. You can have smaller achievements to push you along, and you can have larger achievements (or stackable badges) that allow for much more descriptive information about what someone is capable of. Over the last 9 years we've had the Mozilla backpack, Badgr.io, credly, and Purdue's Passport; I am sure that there are more but those are the ones I've dabbled with. Now, what I am disappointed in are two things: (1) everything closing up, and (2) the fragility of badges. Over the past year, Mozilla stepped out of this arena and migrated things to Badgr. Credly is shuttering their free version (which allowed folks to create and distribute their own badges like I did for my classes) and replacing it with a paid version (Acclaim). I was able to download all of my badges from my backpack and upload them to Badgr (which seems to have the capability to freely create badges), but this brings me to the second problem: badge fragility. A number of the badges I've earned over the past 8 years are not importable into my backpack because URLs are no longer accessible (and hence not verifiable). Now, I know that I have those badges, I can post them on this blog or website, but it does pose a problem for the long-term viability of badges. If someone wants to verify my diplomas they can contact the Registrar's office at my university and they can confirm that I've completed certain areas of study. With badges, this is currently an issue.
Google Reader (#54)
**sigh** OK this still stings. Damn you google! Google Reader wasn't just an RSS reader, it was a community. I could subscribe to RSS feeds of my favorite blogs. I could follow people from my contacts, and I could follow other people on Reader. I could upvote RSS posts, and I could share and basically create an RSS feed of my shared items. While I can (and do) use another reader now (Feedly) it's just not the same. I end up sharing stuff I read on Feedly on my twitter accounts, but that ends up seeming like a lot of spam (because I read and share). I feel like this change on the web has also made changes to sites. Whereas in previous years with Reader I could get the entire news post in my feed now most sites give you a meager 3-5 line previous and you have to click to go to the site for the full thing.🙄. There just isn't a satisfactory replacement for Reader. The Old Reader is pretty close in terms of usability but it really lacks the network which made Google reader amazing! Damn you google!
Google Glass (#26)
In this past decade, I started traveling again after (what seemed to be) a long hiatus from such activities. I love traveling. I love seeing new things and experiencing something different. One of my travels brought me to Italy, to Herculaneum and Pompeii. The experience was amazing, and I loved how preserved these cities were. No matter the level of preservation they are still ruined. As I was walking through the streets of these ancient cities I was thinking was an awesome use case for google glass. One could use augmented reality as they walked through the streets to see buildings in their full glory. They could see Romans walking through the street while being busy with day to day life. They could hear the sounds of a dead language being spoken again all around them. Put in some QR codes and some geotagged locations and you've got educational pop-ups! This sounded like a great vision of the future. I was thinking in terms of tourism, but it could easily apply to learning. Sadly this is not the case...
Well, technically Audrey's #4 is the phrase "year of MOOCs", but I think that items like "promise of free" (#99) and "UC Berkeley Deletes Its Online Lectures" (#67) could fit in here. MOOCs may be seen as flops, and perhaps for some things they may be. But, as Siemens recently wrote in a twitter thread, MOOCs aren't out yet (OK, paraphrasing here). Just because we (in North America) are "done" with them, it doesn't mean that others are done with them. They may make a monumental comeback depending on who they evolve outside of our continent. I still think there is a lot of promise for MOOCs (and I look forward to the regenesis of the cMOOC), but there are attributes of xMOOCs that really have bugged me over the past few years. When there were only one or two MOOCs happening at a time, it was perfectly manageable for me (as a learner) to jump in and participate. When options for providers and topics exploded, it became hard. I chose which MOOCs to attend in real-time, and which ones to do as a self-paced learner. Well, it seems like self-paced is not really much of an option the way that things have evolved in the xMOOC world any longer. Once the course is over, unless you've paid for it, it becomes locked and unavailable. xMOOCs have embraced a freemium model that takes away agency on the part of learners. Now, I hope MOOCs survive because they are a part of my own balanced learning diet, but I do hope that providers and designers keep tweaking the recipe. The freemium model doesn't really work all that well for things that you aren't credentialing people for. Maybe in the coming decade, we'll see a resurgence of the cMOOC 😀.
I don't want to close out the blog post with only negatives, so I think I should mention some positives. This past decade was about networks! Through networks, I "met" a lot of interesting and intelligent people who have positively impacted my life. These are people I've learned within MOOCs. These are people with whom I've conducted research. These are people with whom I've virtually connected (and in some cases even met face to face!). These are people on twitter chats, on DMs, and at conferences. And also people in my doctoral cohort(s). Even though technology might not always work for us, the people involved have made the last decade on the web a supportive learning environment for me, so thank you all for the MOOCs, the mLearning, the Rhizos, the lurking, the critical ID, the book and article recommendations, the conference crashing (like wedding crashers, but for conferences), the dissertation encouragement, and so much more! I hope the learning continues in the decades to come 😎