Club-Admiralty

v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Graduate admissions process pondering


This post has been brewing in my head for a couple of years now. Since I am waiting for IRB clearance for my dissertation I thought it would be a good time to jot things down and see what others think.  I usually tend to have people in my network who either teach or work in some sort of instructional designer (or faculty developer) capacity.  I don't (think) I know too many people in the higher education administration aspects of my work to discuss these kinds of things with (so I may just be speaking to no one 😝).

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)
I've done this song and dance four times since 2004.  The first time I did it (for my MBA), I didn't think much of it.  The second time I did it (for my MS), it was a little easier, albeit annoying because I was applying to the college I was already a student in.  The third and fourth times (MA and MEd degrees) I reused letters of recommendation and I phoned it in. I actually used one application to apply to two programs, and one statement of intent that covered both.  I almost did it a fifth time for another MA degree, but they required GRE scores to prove that I could go graduate work (after having successfully completed 4 masters programs mind you...), which is when I decided to not apply to that program.

As part of my day-to-day work, the admissions process is one of those things I manage, and I'm convinced that the entire apparatus is mostly an arcane and archaic gatekeeping mechanism, built around the constraints of "p-learning" (Dron, 2016) and program scarcity (when MA programs only really accepted a few students each year).   The admissions process doesn't feel like an enabling mechanism.

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🤷).

Another thing that I find interesting, is the requirement for a BA (sometimes the requirement is just a BA, even if it's not in the discipline).  A bachelor's degree can be verified by transcript, but I do find it odd that some schools require *every* transcript. So if someone has earned an Associate's Degree in Automotive engineering (school 1), a Bachelor's in Sociology (school 2), and wants to apply to an MA program in school 3 (let's say in a sociology program), that school could ask for a transcript from his AA degree transcript even though it's not relevant, just in case the applicant has anything to hide🙄. If the applicant has demonstrated that they can do academic work by showing a transcript with a completed degree, why request everything? 

Related to this, here is a hypothetical (I haven't seen or heard of this happening in real life, but it theoretically could): students are able to take graduate courses as a non-matriculated student.  As a matter of fact, learners can string together all required courses for a degree as a non-degree student but still not earn the MA because they either lack a BA, or they took all their courses as a non-degree student, so we can't count most of them if they matriculate near the end of their studies.  I am actually not sure where I stand on this.  On the one hand, the MA is positioned as an advanced degree in something (which assumes an introductory degree in it?) but on the other hand if you can do the work, and you demonstrated that you can by actually doing the work, why should you be prevented from earning that degree if you don't have the previous one in the series? 🤔

The graduate admissions protocols (at least for masters programs) seem like unnecessary gatekeeper these days.  Because of all of the documentation required, and the process of review for the materials submitted, admissions has defined calendar deadlines each year, which can shut people out if they happen to miss those deadlines.  Personally, I'd like to see more Open Admissions process to start to take place.  Perhaps some introductory and required courses could be open to anyone interested in taking them (I'll pick a random number, and say that this represents 40% of the curriculum), and then whoever is interested in continuing their studies can submit a brief application, and a reflective essay/statement of purpose and the faculty can make a more informed decision in terms of formal acceptance given their own experiences in class with the applicant. This would cut out the unnecessary transcript evaluation, letters of recommendation, and standardized scores (and all the processing and vetting that goes on with that).

Your thoughts?
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HyFlex is not what we need (for Fall 2020)

HyFlex (Hybrid Flexible) is a way of designing courses for (what I call) ultimate flexibility.  It takes both ends of the teaching spectrum, fully face-to-face, and fully online-asynchronous and it bridges the gap.  Back in the day, I learned about this model of course design by taking an OLC workshop with Brian himself, but you can learn more about the model in his free ebook.  I liked the model at the time (and I still do), because it gave more options to learners in the ways they wanted to participate in the course. They could come to class, they could participate online synchronously, and they could just be asynchronous, or a mix of any one of those depending on the week.

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.

I think HyFlex can work, but not for everything.  Furthermore, for fall 2020 it puts the lives of faculty in danger because faculty would have to come in to teach on-campus.  The "flex" option seems to only be available to learners.  When Brian Beatty originally proposed the HyFlex model (from what I remember of my OLC workshop), the flex was a two-way street.  The faculty member could also say "well, this week we're online because of obligations I have" - but the flex proposed by colleges and universities doesn't seem to include this two-way flex.

Anyway- that's what I have to say about HyFlex.   How about you? 
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Is "online learning" the new "community college"?



Me, pondering
OK, maybe the analogy isn't totally clear to you, so let me explain my context. 

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?

~AK

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Synchronous, online learning, and "remote" learning

The question of synchronous sessions in online learning has been swirling in my head over the past few weeks.  So has the term "remote" instruction (🙄).  I usually tend to sit on the sidelines these days, maybe throwing a few potshots on twitter here and there when I have time, but this article on IHE today was one where my eyes rolled too hard, and there was an audible grunt in the room...

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? ❓


Your thoughts?


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Technology will save us all!


...or wait... will it?

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
The question that comes to our mind, as education professionals, is this: well, what happens to school?  And people tend to respond by saying "put it online! problem solved!"  Well... the problem is not solved.  There is no magic fairy dust that will make this a "turnkey" solution or any other marketing jargon that will make this seamless. I've been seeing a whole lot of non-sense tweets about this over the last few days as more and more universities are announcing that they are going online...for now.  I've (snarkily) written responses like "I think I rolled my eyes so hard I experienced whiplash...🙄" to both technoloving, and technohating tweets. But I think it's important to be a little more detailed in my 🙄reaction to some of these so that we can have a constructive conversation around this topic, and so that I don't just come off as a snarky teenager saying "OK, boomer".

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.


thoughts? comments?


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?

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Academic Facepalm (evaluation edition)

Back in December, I was searching for the #tenure hashtag on twitter.   There was some discussion (probably stated by Jesse Stommel 😜) which prompted me to search for this #hashtag out of curiosity to see what was tagged.  Along with heartwarming stories of people who've just earned tenure (a nice perk right before the winter break!), there was this wonderful tweet specimen...



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.

Your thoughts?
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MOOC Completion...according to whom?


The other day I had an interesting (but brief exchange) with Kelvin Bentley on twitter about MOOC completion.  This isn't really a topic that I come back to often, given that completion-rates for MOOCs, as a topic, seems to have kind of died down, but it is fun to come back to it. To my knowledge, no one has come up with some sort of taxonomy of the different degrees of completion of a MOOC†.

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?





Marginalia:
† 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
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A decade in review...onward to 2020!


I didn't quite expect this, but it seems like everywhere you turn you see "a decade in review" news stories (radio and TV), "the internet" (in general) and blog posts, twitter threads, and Instagram stories (more specifically).  I hadn't really thought about doing one of these posts, but what the hay, why not join in? 😜 . The last decade has certainly been eventful.  I kicked off the decade by completing my last 2 master's programs, changing jobs (3 departments and 4 titles in the last 10 years), starting to teach, and participating in research.

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 (#98)
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.


Badges (#86)
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...


MOOCs (#4)
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 😎

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Brief notes on CC-Licensing, Copyright, and Greece

Disclaimer/Heads-up: This is a short post connected to my work on the Creative Commons Workshop (aka “mini book report” or “homework”). It’s not meant to be an exhaustive copyright analysis, nor legal advice. Reader discretion is advised. Oh yes - this is also licensed under CC-BY 4.0 😃

For this final post for CC-Cert will look briefly at Greece, specifically with regard to Copyright and Creative Commons usage. Πνευματική ιδιοκτησία (intellectual property) or πνευματικά δικαιώματα (intellectual rights) are the Greek terms for denoting copyright, as well as the borrowed term “copyright” itself. The entity, in Greece, that “guards” the rights of IP holders is the Hellenic Copyright Organization (OPI) “ supervises the operation of the system for protecting the authors and the related rights rightsholders; safeguards the rights of the users and the public; balances the interests of copyright sectors with those of industrial property sectors; incorporates and adjusts in Greece the latest evolutions in community and international level, contributing in this way to the promotion of creativity and culture” [source].

Greece’s copyrights, similar to the US, are enshrined in the country’s constitution, more specifically addressed in Articles 2, 5, 14, 16, and 17 dealing with personal and intellectual property [source]. Greece is one of the signatories of the Berne Convention, as well as a member of the WTO, and a signatory to the WIPO Copyright Treaty [source]; as such adheres to the rules and regulations of that treaty. Just like in the US, copyright is bestowed upon the creator when their intellectual work affixed to a tangible medium [source]; examples of such media are books (physical and digital), paintings, drawings, music, photographs and so on [source].

Creative Commons does exist in Greece as an organization but there doesn’t seem to be a good way of discovering content that is CC-Licensed via their portal, or an affiliated portal. If you know where to look, you can find a decent amount of CC-licensed content in Greek. For instance, Kallipos is a repository of Greek textbooks geared toward a higher education audience. Kallipos also includes various learning objects such as exercises, videos, tests, and slides. OpenCourses is Greece’s take on MOOCs, and OCW broadly, where courses and course materials were available under CC-licenses. I consider this a hybrid OCW/MOOC platform because courses offered can range from an “A-” grade level (course notes and other text materials like exams), to an “A” grade level (text notes and audio lectures or notes), to an “A+” grade level (text notes and video lectures or notes). The “A+” level is typically what we see with xMOOC platforms. As of this writing, 26 institutions across Greece participate in this initiative. This initiative is supported by the Greek Universities OCW network. Another initiative is Photodendro, which I would describe as an OER Educational YouTube type of network. The network hosts educational OER videos across a variety of topics in Greek.

Finally, it appears that textbooks for K-12 (which are produced by the Greek Government) are now available for free through the ministry of education. Even though these books are free to download, when I was looking at the front matter of a random sample of textbooks I did not see any CC-licensing information, which means that this material is under traditional copyright! I think this is an area where improvements can be made. If the course texts (and associated teacher resources) become available as OER (they are paid for by public money after all) they can be used globally. One use case that I can think of are bilingual schools where Greek can be one of the language pairings. Making these texts OER would allow local educators to tailor the materials created to be adapted to local needs. I do understand that some of the materials need to be under traditional copyright (e.g., anthologies for language arts often contain excerpts or whole short stories that are under traditional copyright), but I would guess that some exceptions can be made, either by seeking permission from the relevant rights holders, or by crafting legislation for fair use (which apparently isn’t a thing in the EU).
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A learning circle, and CC-licensed handbook, for program admins


This blogpost is connected to my participation in this fall’s Creative Commons Certification course. The track that I picked was the educator track, but I’ll deviate a bit from the traditional educator track♦ and put on the hat of a college administrator♥. In my day job, I am the main administrative person for an online master’s program. To borrow a phrase - the “Soup to Nuts” guy for my program.  I am there when prospective students ask questions about our program, help shepherd them through the admissions process if our program is the right fit for their needs, help guide them through the program, and see them through to graduation. Sometimes I am also the alumni contact.  That’s not to say I am alone in this endeavor, there are many people who are part of this intricate machine: from faculty who teach courses, to colleagues at the Registrar’s office who actually schedule courses, colleagues in Admissions, and even other students in the program who help provide an on-the-ground view of our program†.

Anyway, the job of a graduate program manager (GPx§) is truly one that is multifaceted and there is no manual for doing the job.  When you start working you are basically thrown in the deep end and asked to make sense of it all.  Sometimes you might be lucky to have colleagues who share tips, tricks, and experiences★, but some are not.  I think this is where I see CC-licensed materials can come into play.  My proposal is to start small: assemble a group of 5 GPx folks who are interested in sharing their stories, tips, tricks, and how-tos. This can form the "manual" (which would be CC-licensed) and a crash course (using the manual as a guide or a centering principle) on how to do the job.

This can include practical elements, such as techniques for connecting with prospective learners,  marketing tips and approaches that are more grassroots as compared to the grander☆ marketing approaches employed by the institution. It can also include more action-oriented learning items such as case studies created by our community for the community, which can help train new people.  If materials are licensed under CC-BY they can be used by other universities, and help others in similar situations. Hopefully, others can also contribute to the collections of works☘ under a similar license.

Now, I don’t think it will be all fair seas and smooth sailing for the entire voyage here.  I think that many institutions (and perhaps some individuals) consider what they do as their “secret sauce”, and as is the case with most secret sauces people don’t want to share their recipe.  They view that as their competitive advantage. Another institution may view our institution as the competitor, and thus may not want their employees sharing their coveted practices. Individual employees, even within the institutional walls may view their knowledge and practices as a competitive advantage that they might want to keep to themselves (we do live in turbulent employment times…)   Hence, they might be reluctant (or even negative) toward the though of sharing materials under CC.

While I don’t think you can win everyone over, I do think that the “secret sauce” lies more in the relationships you build with people, and attitudes of actual caring, rather than any procedural ideas, approaches, and “recipes” you might find in a job manual.  I’ve come across many such negative individuals in my 20 years on this campus, and I think that the approach that yields the best results is one of leading by example.  I don’t think I can ever convince people purely on an intellectual basis to operate in the open, so showing not telling would be my approach♣. I think if I can find some individuals on my campus to start contributing to such an endeavor and we end up with a prototype, we can start sharing it with people in our immediate circles♤. This would also be a good opportunity to educate people further on Creative Commons in a stealth way😀.

Some materials that can be created, and thus licensed under CC, are how-to manuals for using the student information system¶, approaches for tracking student progress, guidance on admissions processes, creation of case studies and role-playing scenarios, and templates for filling in important partner-department information. There is also a possibility of linking to traditionally copyrighted information, such as eBooks and journal articles.  I think this is an advantage for this particular group of learners has because we all work for academic institutions and thus have access to academic libraries that can provide us with those traditionally copyrighted materials for our learning circles. While this material cannot be distributed with the original materials that will be CC-licensed, they might provide some good references that can be incorporated into the “how to” guidebook for the job.

In terms of actually implementing this as a course, once the materials are created (at least in beta form), I am thinking that the concept of the learning circle (p2pu.org) might be useful in this context, starting locally with people meeting in person, and then perhaps cross-institutionally. The materials that we put together and licensed under CC could be the materials used as a central hub for the learning circles, but we don’t have to paint within the lines and only stay with those materials.  Furthermore, how we evolve in the learning circle and inform updates to our CC-licensed resources for the group.  The way that I envision this is similar to the CC-Cert workshop.  The materials can be available to anyone in a PDF, GoogleDoc, or ePub format, but there can be an associated, time-bound, learning event that can occur at my home institution, somewhere else or even cross-institutionally.

Your thoughts?


MARGINALIA
♦ You know, someone who teaches or facilitates workshops or classrooms
♥ You know, what I do for a living.
† Sometimes staff and admins can be detached from the nitty-gritty and don’t remember how it was when they were students.
§ I use the term "GPx" because the "x" can be: manager, coordinator, assistant director, associate director, director - there seems to be little consistency across campus.
★ I was lucky to have had some documentation to decipher, and colleagues to ask.
☆ and perhaps more generic marketing campaigns. I find them to be generic anyway...
☘ this can encompass a manual that can be tailored to the specific institution, a course, or even a community of practice.
♣  especially if they believe that their livelihood is tied to secrecy
♤ Both on and off-campus
¶ A partner department for this could be the Registrar's office.  Other relevant campus IT systems might be the LMS, getting access to email, using the finance systems (for GPx folks who deal with finance), and so on.
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