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Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

MOOC Completion...according to whom?

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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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Are MOOCs really that useful on a resume?

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I came across an article on Campus Technology last week titled 7 Tips for Listing MOOCs on Your Résumé, and it was citing a CEO of an employer/employee matchmaking firm.  One piece of advice says to create a new section for MOOCs taken to list them there. This is not all that controversial since I do the same.  Not on my resume, but rather on my extended CV (which I don't share anyone), and it serves more a purpose of self-documentation than anything else.

The first part that got me thinking was the piece of advice listed that says "only list MOOCs that you have completed".  Their rationale is as follows:

"Listing a MOOC is only an advantage if you've actually completed the course," Mustafa noted. "Only about 10 percent of students complete MOOCs, so your completed courses show your potential employer that you follow through with your commitments. You should also be prepared to talk about what you learned from the MOOC — in an interview — and how it has helped you improve."  

This bothered me a little bit.  In my aforementioned CV I list every MOOC I signed up for(†) and "completed" in some way shape or form. However, I define what it means to have "completed" a MOOC.  I guess this pushback on my part stems from me having started my MOOC learning with cMOOCs where there (usually) isn't a quiz or some other deliverable that is graded by a party other than the learner. When I signed up for specific xMOOCs I signed up for a variety of reasons, including interest in the topic, the instructional form, the design form, the assessment forms, and so on. I've learned something from each MOOC, but I don't meet the criterion of "completed" if I am going by the rubrics set forth by the designers of those xMOOCs.  I actually don't care what those designers set as the completion standards for their designed MOOCs because a certificate of completion carries little currency anywhere. Simple time-based economics dictate that my time shouldn't be spent doing activities that leading to a certificate that carries no value, if I don't see value in those assessments or activities either. Taking a designer's or professor's path through the course is only valuable when there is a valuable carrot at the end of the path. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to be a free-range learner.

Another thing that made me ponder a bit is the linking to badges and showcasing your work.  Generally speaking, in the US at least, résumés are a brief window into who you are as a potential candidate.  What you're told to include in a resume is a brief snapshot of your relevant education, experience, and skills for the job you are applying for.  The general advice I hear (which I think is stupid) is to keep to to 1 page.  I ignore this and go for 1 sheet of paper (two pages if printed both sides).  Even that is constraining if you have been in the workforce for more than 5 years. The cover letter expounds on the résumé, but that too is brief (1 page single spaced). So, a candidate doesn't really have a ton of space to showcase their work, and external linkages (to portfolios and badges) aren't really encouraged. At best a candidate can whet the hiring committee's palate to get you in for an interview. This is why I find this advice a little odd.

Your thoughts on MOOCs on résumé?


NOTES:
† This includes cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, iMOOC, uMOOC, etcMOOC...
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On CVs...

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Recently I came across a post by Josh Kim on whether LinkedIn will replace the traditional academic CV. My short answer to that is "no".  This isn't because I think LinkedIn is bad (it's not), or that the CV is awesome (it's not).  I've got a bone to pick with the traditional, paper-based, academic CV.

The common wisdom, as Kim alludes to, is that a resume is short and targeted, while a CV is longer and is meant to include everything (and the kitchen sink) in your career.  Resumes, for me, seem constraining. How can you adequately describe yourself in 2 pages, especially for seasoned professionals who are older than I am and have a wealth of knowledge and skills?  At the same time a resume is a creative puzzle to solve.  It's a tool for communicating what you will bring to the team you want to be hired into when you apply for a job. A resume encourages your to look into a company and a department, and tailor it to fit where you want to be. It fits a narrative.

By comparison, the academic CV is lazy.  It's just a list of everything, and you hope that it's well formatted.  The onus is on the reader to go through the (reams of paper that comprise the) CV and make sense of it.  Despite the CV being the lazy approach, I also think that the CV is also nothing more than a library index for your career. It's really just the headlines for what you've done, but it really lacks substance.  For example, let's say I am a member of 5 professional associations.  Great. There is a sub-heading on there for that.  But what do I do in those? Or, let's say that I have a section for conference presentations.  Great.  What was the presentation all about?  Is the presentation available on SlideShare (or on your website, if you want to keep it on your own domain)? Or is the recording of the presentation somewhere so I can listen to it?  Ditto for academic papers published. Now, of course, I could go out and find those and read them (I am privileged enough to have access to library databases), but that is detective work on my part, as reader of a CV, to do. Got grants?  Great!  What did you do in them? Who cares how much money you got? (well, I suppose a chancellor, provost, or dean might care...) - the important part is what was the impact and what did you learn?  It doesn't matter if you got a million-dollar-big-whoop-grant if you didn't use it effectively and nothing came of it.


Don't get me wrong.  I like to keep a private CV for myself. It is a nice reminder of the work I've done, the papers I've published, the awesome collaborators I've worked with over the years, but that's just a mental index for me. It could be meaningless to other people.  It seems to me that CVs are more about shock and awe, a "my CV is lengthier than your CV, hence I am better".  I find this a bit of an irony because one of the critiques I've heard from academics about LinkedIn is that the approach that LinkedIn takes is very quantifiable (in that you list, and list, and list) and it dehumanizes the person, but I see CVs being used in the same way.

I have a solution to this - but it's not pretty --> some form of linked data.  LinkedIn works well for non-academic jobs.  Sure, they've added ways of putting in your publications, but you end up having a scroll-a-thon of infinite screens whenever academics start adding in their publications.  So, keep linkedin for your non-academic jobs.  Use Publons to keep a record of your peer reviews.  Use Google Scholar to keep track of your published work, and have that work linked so that people can easily find it (publish open access and/or self-archive).  Use other services to keep track other relevant accomplishments.  The problem that I see is the third-party-ness of these services.  LinkedIn might be killed off by Microsoft. Publons might not turn out to be profitable and it's gone.  Academia.edu might decide to merge with ResearchGate  - whatever it is, the point is that you don't have control of these services, and that's a problem.

I wish there were some sort of WordPress-style software that you could host on your own servers, keep your data, but at the same time be part of a global network that connects your work to others, so you could see who else was in my department at the time I served there, or what my co-authors went on to do after our collaborations ended, or what papers cite the work that my co-authors and I produced.  A single system, disconnected, just keeps the CV in another form. From paper to some sort of digital.  What we need is an evolution of the CV.

Thoughts?
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