Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

When the MOOC dust settles...


A long time ago (in technology terms), in an academia very close to us, there were stories of professors who suspended their MOOCs, or decided rant in the class forums and ultimately to walk away because the MOOC wasn't what they expected, and we all (probably) rolled our collective eyes.

OK, maybe we didn't all roll our collective eyes, but I remember thinking that the "participate or get the heck out" and "read the fine textbook" were really incompatible with the MOOC framework. Initially I was somewhat anti-lurker.  I'm not saying I am pro-lurker now, it's just that I don't think that lurkers pose tragedy of the commons issues, so just let them be.  They don't detract from people who want to learn and experiment.  To me, at the time, it seemed like an instructor who wanted to do what many have done in the past. Take a face to face class, and translate it, almost one for one, to online without really thinking about the affordances.

This past week a story came out in the chronicle that talks a little more about what went down with that particular MOOC.  It's a fascinating read for me because it really highlights some serious breakdowns in communication.  After reading this story I am a little more sympathetic McKenzie, but I don't think that he is completely in the clear. It seems to me that his big idea (video lectures on DVDs) were really harkening back to the video professor era and in the age of OER I don't see how a retired academic would aim to have a video professor-like product that would sell. Personally I wouldn't do it for the money, I'd let the content be under creative commons and reap the benefits of recognition†.

In any case, McKenzie seems to have approached his affiliated extension school willing to do this. The extension school seemed to want to do it, and coursera was on-board with this.  Considering the length of the contract with coursera (that we've seen posted online from other universities) I think that the various parties needed to do a better job at reading it and knowing what they were getting into.  So, that's on McKenzie.  On the other hand the extension school seems to have thrown McKenzie under the proverbial bus (at least that's what I gather from the Chronicle story), which I think is wrong.  I think that there is an unwritten understanding between professors and their respective colleges/schools. The professor does their best to represent the university, since the course is offered by the university and the university's reputation is at stake.  At the same time, the college/school has a moral obligation to support that professor in their endeavor.  They can't just say that they entered into this agreement at breakneck speed and just brush it all off.

I think that McKenzie, on his part, though is pretty disparaging to the extension school (and I think that extension schools in general are painted in a pretty disparaging light), when he says that this "would never have been tolerated by the faculty and administration on campus." It seems to paint a line that clearly separates online (extension) from campus ("regular") in a dualistic and perhaps not equal role.  Most universities tend to go toward being hybrid universities, offering both online and face to face options, and I think that this distinction between extension schools and the "regular" university will go away.

In any case, I think that this is yet another example of organizations and people experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) that they don't realize that there are many things that are just not worked out yet. It's too bad that something like this happened, but I hope we can all learn from this.

† my assumption is that I am retired and living comfortably having worked as long as McKenzie worked. If I were in need to cash I'd probably try to sell my knowledge - but knowing that the marker for that kind of stuff is tough, I probably would not bother.

The curious case of the cMOOC


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DALMOOC episode5: Fun with Gephi

CCK11 Tweet visualization
Alright, after a few days of being sidelined with a seasonal cold, I'm back on #dalmooc.  Still catching up, but I have a feeling I am getting closer to being at the same pace as the rest of the MOOC ;-)  In any case, this is a reflection on week 3 where we started messing around with social network analysis (SNA).  This is cool because it's something that I had started doing on another MOOC on coursera, with Gephi, so it was an opportunity to get back on and messing with the tool.

So, what is SNA?  SNA is the use of network theory to analyze social networks.  Each person in this network is represented by a node (or edge), and nodes can be connected to other nodes with a vertex (or many vertices). These connections can indicate a variety of things (depending on what you are examing), however for my usage in educational contexts I am thinking of vertices as indicators of message flow, who sends messages to whom in a network, and also who refers to whom in a network. I think this latter one is interesting from an academic citation point of view as well.

As was pointed out in week 3, SNA can help discover patterns of interaction in online learning environments. I think that it can also help up discover patterns in physical environments, however this is harder because we don't have big brother watching the physical environments as much as we can collect data about patterns of participation in virtual environments. It's much more labor intensive to keep accurate track in a physical environment.

An interesting application of SNA is its use in understanding learning design (Lockyer et al - in video). We can use SNA to analyze patterns of interaction in courses that we design an implement, thus we can (to some extent) see how our designs are affecting the learner's patterns of participation.  While this is feasible, I think that it's also hard to keep the variables pinned down so that there are no confounding errors. If you've designed an online course (that is NOT self-paced) you can see the same course design taught different ways if you put different faculty in the driver's seat.  As such I think that in studies using SNA to analyze course design (and/or teaching methods) it's important to account for all variables.

Other interesting things from Week 3:

An Instructor-centered network is one where the instructor is central node in network. These are recognized in literature as only leading to lower levels of knowledge construction (see Bloom's taxonomy). Related to this type of network is having one learner have a dominant role in a course, thus the instructor is replaced (or shares the spotlight) with a dominant learner.  This is also not desirable from a pedagogical point of view. One can start with an instructor-centered environment and facilitate the change to a P2P interaction. Students will need scaffolding in order to reach that P2P network.

Sense of community is predictor of success in educational endeavors. A common way of collecting this type of data is questionnaires, and I think that in education this can be both in-class as part of a mid-term temperature check in the course, but also in the final course evaluation.  I am wondering, however, how accurate this self-reporting is. Is this just an affective measure? Or can learners feel like they are lacking a sense of community but in reality have it but not get as much as they feel they need?

Network brokers are nodes that connect two or more communities in a network and have a high degree of centrality.  These network brokers can see information across many different communities, and as such can have access to many different ideas flow through them. Network brokers are associated with high levels of achievement and creativity. So, in an educational setting it's good to be a network broker.

Cross-Class networks are latent ties by attending the same events, so even though I am not connected with many people in #dalmooc (at least on twitter I don't retweet or write to many others in the MOOC - maybe I should...) I am connected to other people through the course hashtag and by attending the same event. In a traditional learning setting this could be likened to participating in a learner community such as (our instructional design community) or the Athabasca University Landing network.

CCK11 Blogs, week 6
Next up, the Gephi portion of this post.  I've been messing around with Gephi data from CCK11. I was quite excited to get my hands on the CCK11 data to mess around with in Gephi until I remembered that I didn't tweet all that much in CCK11...D'oh! I was curious to see where I was  in the network of connections.  Even if I were active I don't think I'd be able to see myself there because the data appears to be anonymized (and rightfully so).

I did run some analysis of the blog connections in CCK11 using Gephi again (part of the data dump available in #dalmooc) and here was a place where I expected to see myself and see who I was connecting to, however, again, the data was anonymized. My question entering into this analysis was more about analyzing my own patterns of interaction.  I was new to MOOCs back in 2011 and CCK11 was the MOOC where I really started learning about connecting with others for academic purposes. Thus, I wanted to see what my initial and developing connected literacies pointed to. Alas, this was not to be :-)

As Dragan mentioned in one of the videos of this week, analytics should be question-driven, not data-driven. Just because you have data, it doesn't mean that you should use it, or that you will find anything meaningful in it.  This was the case with me and this data. There were some interesting visualizations, but I wanted to have a look at the people involved, who connected to whom, and look more at the qualitative connections: what posts, what ideas, what types of know-how got distributed throughout the network and by whom. It's a little hard to do this with anonymized data, so you really need to abstract and think at higher levels when working with this.  If we had data from other MOOCs, this type of anonymized data could be useful to compare patterns of participation of one MOOC to another.

Thus concludes my week 3 experiences.  What were your thoughts?

Confessions of a MOOC connoisseur

Well, it's the end of the week (or the beginning if you are following Western conventions with the odd behavior of calling "Sunday" the beginning of the week), grading for my course, for this week, is done, and it's time to see what I missed on Rhizo14 while I was tending to other things. 

One of the things that we are putting together (in addition to the long autoethnography for #rhizo14) is this other research, which I would call Delphi based in its methodology, on why we take MOOCs, why we participate in them, and why we stick, or not stick, to them. I thought that this would be something interesting to participate in since I am not sure I've recorded why I've been participating in MOOCs (as you will note, the MOOC tag is the biggest one on this blog).

The other epithets used online, thus far, for those who keep engaging in MOOCs is MOOCaholic.  I don't know if I like that epithet because it doesn't necessarily describe me right at this moment.  I find myself as an accidental MOOC expert and MOOC thought leader, both nouns that someone else assigned to me and that I am uncomfortable using since there is always more to learn and the bar I set for myself is high.  Nevertheless, when I first started thinking about this, I guess my current status in MOOCdom is either that of the MOOC Connoisseur, or the MOOC Socialite (or someone in between).

Depending on when you has asked me why I've participated in MOOCs my answer will, however, have varied.  Right at the beginning, in 2011 for me, when I started LAK11, followed by CCK11, MobiMOOC and EduMOOC, I saw myself as a continuous learner.  I had just completed my last Masters degree in December of 2010, and I was interested in engaging, at the graduate level and beyond, with topics around my subject of interest. This included Education and Educational Technology, which is why these MOOCs tied in really nicely as an extension of my studies.  The high barrier to entry meant that these MOOCs were other people with pre-requisite backgrounds to engage in this discourse and extend it to new levels.  Of course, back then I didn't know this, but I know now that cMOOCs have a high barrier to entry.  In all honesty I would have been bored if I had to switch gears so radically in those early MOOCs that I may not have continued.  They spoke to me at my level, which was important for motivational purposes.  Not too hard, not too easy - just right.  At this stage I would probably (retrospectively) classify myself as a MOOC Explorer.  I was interested in the subject matter, but I wasn't interested in the form factor until I realized the variety and started collaborating with the MobiMOOC Research team.

Then came Coursera.  This phase I would classify as MOOCing in the Final Frontier, while being a MOOC binge consumer.  Initially I was expecting coursera (and other type of xMOOC platforms) to provide content that engaged me at the same level as the cMOOCs I had previously participated in, and that I kept participating in 2012 in.  When I realized what the format was, and how "easy" it was to get a certificate, but also how useless most of the forums were, I started binging on MOOCs in order to see what was out there.  The topic was important, but it was not as important as as it was in 2011 with the cMOOCs.  Some of 2012 was a bit of an aimless year in xMOOC land because I wasn't particularly interested in STEM courses (so I didn't use Udacity) and the social sciences courses in coursera were cool, but they didn't satisfy the hunger.  Binging on fast food?  There were some courses that were better than others, like the aboriginal views on education from the University of Toronto (this was quite a different worldview that it was a joy to explore) and the Gamification MOOC from the University of Pennsylvania, which was actually well done. Other MOOCs were, I felt, like watching an interesting TED talk, and taking some quizzes.  Not the same intellectual stimulation as the cMOOCs of 2011 and 2012.

In 2013, after I detoxed a bit from the xMOOC binge, I saw myself as a MOOC explorer again. This time taking an opportunity to take courses on things that were interesting to me, but also try to explore new things, such as HarvardX's The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. I had not really studied classics, and as someone who is both Greek and American, and has lived in Greece I thought I ought to know something about the topic.  The presentation also mattered.  There were panel discussions, discussions of the readings in the videos, nice a presentation of what was going on and a free eBook which I actually took on vacation and read.  That's how much I enjoyed this MOOC.  It still had the TED + quiz feel, but I was engaged, so it did not feel like a drag.  This made me wonder what sort of other courses and topics I missed out on by being career focused during my Bachelor degree days.  In 2013 I also tried out some pMOOCs, like OLDSMOOC and the OpenBadgesMOOC and I enjoyed getting my hands dirty again.  2013 was really back to 2011 - learning by doing.  Learn the subject, learn about the MOOC format, and continue to research the MOOC format.  This was the year that I really embraced the MOOC Researcher aspect, going beyond the initial papers that we did with the MobiMOOC research team.

Finally we are in 2014.  It's still early in the year, so who knows what this year is going to bring.  I can already see some trends continuing though: (1) I still want to learn more about classics, and that is what attracts me to some edx courses; (2) I want to learn more about other MOOC platforms, which is why I am signed up for Open2Study courses and experimenting with those; (3) I am curious about how Georgia Tech's MOOC MA is going to work, so I might follow along some of their Udacity courses. I think this is the connoisseur part. Of course, I am engaged in cMOOCs because that's where the community is; I guess this is where the socialite comes into the picture.

So, why do I drop or complete MOOCs? For me it comes down to a few things.  First, and most important, is the motivation that is generated by the topic.  If the topic is interesting to me, I will slog through the MOOC, no matter how badly it's done.  If the topic is marginally interesting, or just not that interesting once the first week is compete, my motivation is less to complete it really goes down.

Another reason is assessments.  Now, in most cMOOCs I haven't really had assessments which is fine.  In pMOOCs or xMOOCs you have either projects or quizzes.  If you get some good feedback on your assessments (i.e. why did I get this bloody question wrong?) then I am more likely to stay and continue. If the feedback is poor, I am most likely to abandon the MOOC.  I am there to have fun and learn; not to be told that I failed (and not tell me how to fix it). It's amazing that even though the certificates of completion don't mean much, as soon as you throw up a graded assessment, like Pavlov's dog, we need to do well in them.

For me these two factors have really amplifying effects for one another.  I am willing to sit through a topic of marginal interest, or sometimes no interest, in order to have that serendipitous "aha" moment where I am surprised to learn something cool and unexpected.  However, if assessments are putting me down, then I am more likely to say "eff-this" and drop the MOOC.  Life is too short for this  :)

Finally, I think the community has a big role in keeping people grounded in the MOOC.  If I can connect with one or two people, and sustain a small learning community, I will most likely stick to the MOOC.  Who know, maybe they will be instrumental in getting over the assessment hill ;-).  It also helps to be able to discuss content and concepts, and in the case of xMOOCs heckle when appropriate :). I guess I can't underestimate the community because when I was doing IOE12, I was alone, having come late to the party, and the only reason I completed the MOOC was because I was interested in the content.

To date, since 2011, I've been in over 30 MOOCs.  I've only really dropped out from two.  One was Udacity's Statistics which I dropped a little over half-way through because some of the explanations in the mini-quizzes didn't click with me, and the topic wasn't of immense interest. There was also no community.  The other course was a coursera course called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, which was all about symbolic logic.  I think I dropped this about half-way too.  I was interested in the topic, however I was only getting marginally passing grades on my assessments.  I wanted to know how to improve, but I wasn't getting that, so since the community wasn't there, and the assessments were annoying the heck out of me, I decided to drop the course. This was also during my MOOC binge of 2012 days, so I was looking to see what to cut out to focus on courses that I was really interested in.

One last note, on certificates of completion.  I haven't received a certificate of completion or achievement or whatever for all the xMOOCs I am considering myself to have completed.  There are MOOCs that I really liked and I stuck the course, but I didn't bother with the assessments necessary to get a certificate. The assessments were beyond what I wanted to invest in the course, and since no subject expert would review and comment on my homework/assignments, why bother?  There is the practice aspect of it, sure, however seeing that we are all busy individuals, I would prefer to practice in an arena of my own making, not someone else's arena.  Someone else's arena is fine if they are also doing the work of assessing you as well.

So there you have it, confessions of a MOOC connoisseur. Why do YOU MOOC? :)

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It's Open Teaching Time!

It's Open Teaching time on #ioe12!

Having been involved with MOOCs for close to a couple of years now (in the fringes early on, and on the main stage since January 2011), I thought I knew quite a lot about open teaching, but Wiley video presentation surprised me and I learned something new!  I had run across Wiley's syllabi on Open Content a while back, (before this course) but I wasn't aware that the goal was to also have students suggest topics as well!  When I heard that (in the presentation) I thought to myself " would be cool if learners actually did do this, but somehow I don't they will..." and lo and behold they did not!  I do agree that it's probably a perceived power dynamic between teacher and student. Students are not empowered to suggest topics in our culture, so it didn't surprise me that students did not contribute to the syllabus.  Maybe something to change, culturally, in the future.

Language in such open courses is something that interests me as well.  I've thought, off and on, over the past year or so, ever since I met the first non-native English speakers in a MOOC (might have been #CCK11) that it would be worthwhile to research and write about language issues in MOOCs, the dominance of English as the language of communication and so on.

Personally I think that Open Teaching is important.  At the institutional level it allows students to see what goes on in the course, and to decide whether they want to participate in this course for credit.  Students in the course can also be empowered to participate - education isn't just happening to them, but  rather students are active agents in their education.  From a more broad perspective open teaching allows diverse views to come into the course, and allows both other learners and other instructors to come in and participate.  If you're not open, and not a lot of people benefit, why would someone spend a week (or more) to come and be a guest host to your course?

Open Content

It's Open Content week on Introduction to Open Education with David Wiley (well, it was Open Content week a while back, but I just got to it!) This week, at least compared to the previous two weeks, there was little reading and materials (perhaps this is a good week to work on the Research Badge, eh? ;-)  ) and, at least for me, I think I have come across these materials before in Change11 and perhaps CCK11. David talked a bit about Open Content during Change 11 Week 5.

It is a pretty interesting concept, his open content idea pre-dates creative commons, and I think he was glad someone took charge of the legalese and made the concept happen. It was also nice to have someone openly discuss the fact that they didn't so so well in their initial try.  Failure seems to have a negative connotation in our society, even if iteratively we end up working things out in the end.

One of the things that holds great promise, for me anyway, is the open textbook concept.  Small OERs are nice (and we will get to them in this course, eventually) but I do like the idea of an open textbook that you can use, contribute to, and edit as needed for your course; all of this without having to worry about costly "course packets." When I was still in classes, course packets would cost as much as books, just to get a chapter from here, a chapter from there, and a case from somewhere else.  At least with open textbooks quality, work can be available for free (both in the Beer and the Speech sense) if you just want an electronic version.


FSLT - to blog...or to comment...hmmmm

It's week 2 in FSLT, and the topic of this week is group participation. One of the things mentioned this week by the facilitators are the roles that people take in group work, which was quite interesting, as I could see people in my past group work experience taking on those roles consciously or subconsciously. In the MOOC forums there is quite a lively discussion this week (as there was last week), which got me thinking.

One of the things that I've been pondering is the mode of participation.  In MOOCs like Change11 and CCK11 the main mode of participation seems to have been Blogging, and aggregation of those blog posts through a daily newsletter.  Other modes included tweeting, posting on delicious, and using the basic commenting systems on gRSShopper.  It is true, at least for me, that in these two MOOCs I did not miss the discussion board element and I fully embraced blogging (and commenting on other people's blogs) as a way to participate and follow the learning action.

In MobiMOOC11, EduMOOC11, FSLT12, BonkOpen, and LAK11 we had some sort of management system in place that had discussion boards  FSLT12 and LAK11 used Moodle, BonkOpen used Blackboard, and MobiMOOC and EduMOOC used Google Groups.  In these systems, while I have blogged a bit (mostly a meta-learning and meta-cognitive pondering type of blog post), the main action is happening in the discussion forums. I know that FSLT12 has a blogroll, which I consult a couple of times per week (but not as frequently as the daily CCK11 and Change11 newsletters), and load up my Pocket (aka "read it later") account.

I was actually wondering if I should blog more...or if it's OK to not blog as much, but participate in discussion forums. It seems to me, that my own personal strategy is "biggest bang for the buck" - so wherever there are more people, that's where I participate. Since time is a zero sum game, any time blogging, is time spent away from discussion boards, and vice versa.  What do fellow learners think?

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Sensemaking in a MOOC

I had come across Jupidu's post on Sensemaking in a MOOC a while back, but I haven't had much time to respond to it just yet (until now I guess ;-)  ).  I was actually thinking of my participation in MOOCs in general; as well as the two MOOCs I am now participating in - those being Change11 and DS106.  I was actually thinking of points 1, 2, 4 and 5 in specifically and I thought I would do a bit of compare and contrast between the two:

  • Sensemaking works around identity creation – in every environment f2f or virtual I’m building my identity and this “self” is in continuous interaction with the environment and with the other learners as well.
  • Sensemaking works retrospective – I’m making sense out of experiences reflecting about them, as I’m doing it now with this article I want to write. And therefore sensemaking is influenced by my memory of situations.
  • Sensemaking is social – of course it is in the Mooc! I’m a kind of aware of some the learners who participate in the Mooc, who write in their blogs, twitter, discuss, think about the questions of the experts, reflect the online sessions, relate the inputs to their daily work, comment their ideas, …
  • Sensemaking is ongoing - yes, of course, we are in the middle of something, reinventing learning, cooperating … and at the moment we don’t know how this Mooc actually works – and we, all the Mooc participants try to make their individuell “sense” out of the Mooc

Even though DS106 does have a wonderful WordPress based community, I tend to not go on there as much to see what my fellow students are up to.  Part of this is a function of time - I don't have a lot of it, and the daily email recap that I get from Change11 does give me the headlines and I can pursue things in depth from there if I wish (this is in-fact how I found jupidu's post).  This mechanic influences how social I am.  While the DS106 tag does make my post harvestable by the DS106 elves that work in the background, it doesn't necessarily mean that I will be going to the site as often, which means I tend to be less social (than I should).  This means that, for me, DS106, sense-making is less social and more of a solitary activity.  Sure, there is some social element, but not as much as MobiMOOC, Change11, and CCK11 for example.

Sense-making is retrospective indeed, in more ways than one!  For example, looking at DS106 assignments, I find that there are quite a few of them that I've done in the past just by experimenting, but I didn't know that it was digital storytelling at that point.  It's a great opportunity to go back, pull some of those projects (or candid shots) and tell a story around them - a "making of" type of thing and perhaps how I've grown and learned more since then.

I guess, in the end, my sense-making in a MOOC works on a MOOC-by-MOOC basis.  While the underlying mechanisms may be the same, they act differently depending on what sort of situation I am in :-)

2011: the year of the MOOC

With 2011 almost gone, I thought I would write a bit about the major educational venture of 2011 (at least for me), the Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC).  Last year, at this time of year, if you told me that I would be spending a lot of time in MOOCs I would call you crazy.  While I had heard of MOOCs in 2009 and 2010, I was too busy with a capstone project (for my Instructional Design degree) and my comprehensive exams (for Applied Linguistics) to pay too much attention to PLENK and CCK09.

With formal schooling done (at least for now) and with no courses to take at the university I decided to experiment with MOOCs.   In January a friend and colleague, @cdetorres, recommended LAK11 - Learning Analytics. This was to be my first MOOC. It was quite interesting, I did learn quite a lot, and it just highlighted that I was interested in a topic, learning analytics, that I hadn't spent a lot of time pondering. The course was quite fast paced; a lot of things to do, in what seemed like a little time.

Then came CCK11 (connectivism and connected knowledge). I came into CCK not so much convinced of the first "C", connectivism, but I was all for "CK."  CCK11 felt more like a traditional course in that it was 13 weeks long (like a regular semester), and it contained mostly topics that I didn't know much about. It was also a natural extension of my psycholinguistics course that I had taken the previous semester. I am still not convinced of connectivism as a learning theory by itself, but  in conjunction with other things (like social constructionism) I think it works.

Then came MobiMOOC. MobiMOOC was a six week spring course. It was a great course, lead by experts in the field of mobile learning. This MOOC was not only informational but also introduced me to a lot of interesting people, some of them in the MobiMOOC Research Team with which I've worked on a couple of papers.  I think out of all the MOOCs this one was "just about right" both in terms of duration and in terms of content.  CCK was great but near the end I felt a bit of "senioritis" setting in and I didn't feel like going along with the course as much as I did in the beginning.

In the summer we had EduMOOC.  This one had the greatest promise but it ended up being a disappointment.  I had heard a lot of positive things about Ray Schroeder, the topic was interesting (education today and tomorrow) and I had three positive experiences in MOOCs coming into it...but this particular MOOC was all over the place, it lacked focus, and it just seemed like it wasn't designed (at all).  Oh well. Perhaps EduMOOC12 will be better :-)

Finally, there is Change MOOC (dubbed the mother of all MOOCs), which is still going on. I think that Change is what EduMOOC tried to be (at least from the eduMOOC descriptions available).  Change isn't bad, but it also isn't that well designed it seems.  Change seems more like a conference, and less like a "course", something that a number of bloggers have written about in the past four months. In the initial weeks there seemed to be a lot of "new" topics, but as time has gone on, it seems like things are being repeated.  The dip-in, jump-out also isn't helping since I see topics from the 3rd week of the MOOC come up again as new people join.  It's great, but for those that are keeping up it feels a but like clutter in the daily mail.  Oh well :-)  Something to be worked out in the form-factor of the MOOC, it's still young!

This year has been full of educational experiences, many new and interesting people on the internet (including but not limited to: Inge, Rebecca, Osvaldo, Sean, Michael, Nilgun, Serena, Jaap, John, Rita and brainysmurf) and a renewed potential for future open educational experiences.  Looking forward to 2012!

On selfish blogging and form & function

Yesterday while taking the train back home from work I was catching up with Change11 related blogs.  Two of them caught my eye and sparked my imagination (or perhaps cognitive process is a better any case it got me thinking). First I read Tony Bates' initial summary of the week he facilitated, and then Jenny's response to him on selfish blogging.

Tony writes (and this is not the only thing he writes so read his entire post):

There could be all kinds of reasons for the shortage of comments on this week’s topic, but I was more struck by the form in which they occurred. Participants did not comment directly to my post for this week, but within their own blogs. I call this the syndrome of the selfish blogger. We all do this. If we have something interesting to say, we’d rather say it on our own web site than someone else’s (it would be nice though if the post was also copied to the site that originated the topic). I had to go and cull all the comments from the #Change 11 newsletter and from pingbacks to get them into one place, so I could comment on them as a whole.
I have to say in MOOCs where an LMS (example: LAK11) or a Google Group (example: MobiMOOC, eduMOOC) were used and there were discussion forums, I really did find it obnoxious when people created (or responded to) a discussion post with something like this:
Oh, I wrote something about this very thing in my blog the yesterday day with regard to insert-MOOC-name. Check it out here:
As a matter of practice I did not bother going to those people's blogs. There was enough content in the discussion forums to keep me occupied without having to sidetrack.  What I did find very considerate was when people copied and pasted their blog content into the discussion forum with an attribution link.  I think this is the best of both worlds, because as Jenny states, she post on her blogs because those are her reflections on a topic (and reading between the lines here:) not something that is necessarily a response to some discussion somewhere. If we have something that is our reflection on something BUT at the same time fits into a discussion, then the considerate thing to do, as far as I am concerned, is to copy and paste the entire post in the discussion IF it fits in.

Personally, I didn't take offense to Tony's selfish blogger  comment. I think the key theme posed by Tony "Can change come from within, or do we need to re-invent new forms of higher education that are de-institutionalized?" is what drove me, and others this week.  I did post twice on the subject, once in English and once in Greek, with different content in each. Of course I don't expect Tony, or others, to speak Greek, but at least something was there.

Now, as far as forums, blogs and comments go - for me at least, these are three different cognitive processes.  If a MOOC has all three (like MobiMOOC, eduMOOC and LAK11) I tend to stick to the forums for most things, and to blogs for personal reflections.  If a MOOC has gRSShopper, like CCK11 and Change11, where all your content is harvested into a daily newsletter, then longer pieces (like this one) where more time and thought go into it and/or I am referencing more than one source go into a blog.  If I see something interesting on a blog, and I want to add a quick reply, thought or comment then I do indeed post to that blog and comment.  I don't see comments as a venue for discussion, even though threaded comments have become the norm these days, the form is still limiting for longer posts like this one. Mini-discussions are achievable if you keep it to 2 paragraphs or fewer per comment.

Why not use the gRSShopper system for blog comments?  I did try that with CCK11, but I found that
  1. I wanted to maintain "authorship" of my comments, and many blogs have disqus, which allows me to do that
  2. comments on gRSShopper, for me, are disconnected a bit from the blog content.
I don't have any suggestions on how to fix the system. Perhaps a way to harvest and collate comments automatically from blogs?  I don't know how technically difficult that is :-)

Finally Tony asks:

  1. Could I have done something that would have resulted in more comments, more discussion and more integration of the discussion in this MOOC?
  2. Or is the topic itself the problem – just not of interest to most people in this MOOC?
  3. Or are people just too busy to go beyond the webinar and a short response?

OK, to answer these in sequence 
  1.  I don't think so. I think you are limited by the distributed nature of this MOOC. It's neither space bound not time bound. Much of the content is all over the net AND the MOOC-fathers have already setup an expectation that there aren't forums on here, so it's hard to break apart (I think) from an distributed expectation and try to corale people into a forum for a week. It's also a fact that some people are a week, or two behind, or some people skip a week in MOOCs. This type of freedom makes it a bit difficult for facilitators.
  2. For me the topic wasn't a problem, but then again I work in academia, in IT, so I know the issues. Perhaps other participants may have had a harder time getting started with this theme because they didn't have the required social capital to tackle it right from the gate.
  3. Some people will be too busy, for sure.  I am pretty sure that most people are not. I think a lot of MOOC participants take time to read many (if not all?) the facilitator provided materials and do respond via their blogs with their thoughts on the subjects...and then comment back to others via comments (for short comments) or longer expository blog posts (for longer "comments"). I know that there are many people who are on here whose native language is not English. I really like reading blogs from people like this (like Serena for example in Italian and Jaap when he posts in Dutch) because it adds another dimension to the MOOC. If English isn't your native language this takes time, and if a MOOC has been established to not be as strictly time bound as traditional courses, then it will take people more than the "allotted time" to get their thoughts and comments out :-)

For what it's worth, I enjoyed the topic, and thought that Tony did a good job, but he was limited by the existing MOOC setup. I think that the "weekly guest" is really a misnomer because people only get "revved up" that week for that topic, but the topic tends to persist for a week or so after the official "end" of the topic.

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