Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Rhizo22: The rMOOC that might be?

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Wonder what's in this...

It's been a crazy seven days. 

As part of my narrative inquiry into collaborations that occurred in rhizo14 and rhizo15 (or collaborations that sprung up from the work that started there), I am writing a fictional account of a newbie rhizo-learner (sort of how I was a newbie back in rhizo14) who gets to meet rhizo-alumni from past courses and ask them about their collaborations.  This newbie is simultaneously my avatar, but also a persona that encapsulates some common features of the people I connected with to learn more about their experiences.

I find the flexibility that narrative inquiry affords a bit freeing.  I can more easily change names, places, and situations, but I still can get to the main ideas that emerged from my conversations with rhizo14 alumni and collaborators.

 Anyway, my fictional rhizo course that takes place in 2022 (June 2022, to be exact). I could have made up all the weekly provocation titles, and the course tagline, but it's always much more fun when you crowdsource these things, especially when rhizo-alumni chime in.  

So, here's some information about:

Rhizodemic Learning: Feeding the virus #rhizo22

  • Week 1: Fill in the Blank: Is __________ making us stupid?
  • Week 2: Cyborg Rhizomes: The machine takes over the rhizome
  • Week 3: Viral thoughts in ill-structured domains
  • Week 4: Interprofessional Rhizofictional Learning
  • Week 5: Rhizodemic Learning
  • Week 6: Rhizomes in a post-covid world


I think, like past rhizo courses, that rhizo22 will also have a few weeks of "inmates taking over the asylum", so here are weeks7 through 9.  As you see, I still have some blanks.  If you want to contribute, suggest a title for a weekly "module" or provocation, and I'll add it in :-)
  • Week 7: Fill in the blank: _________ will make you more creative.
  • Week 8: ?
  • Week 9: ?
  • Week x: ????

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OK, where's my script writer?

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It's been a busy October thus far in dissertation research land.  How do I know?  My memo doc for October is already at 40 pages (single-spaced) in length, and it's only October 6th! The September and August memo docs are sparse by comparison!

Just as a "previously on AK's Dissertation Adventure", I am examining collaboration in Rhizo14 (and to some extent Rhizo15) using Narrative Inquiry as my method.

Memo documents are my interim texts, which are essentially my ongoing analysis, reflection, thoughts, and quarantining my own views as a researcher; but they sound cooler when using the Narrative Inquiry lingo of interim texts.  I like the term because I feel like it denotes something on-going, reflective, iterative, and in the midst; whereas "data analysis" feels more sterile.

Anyway, my free time is spent looking at field texts (my "data"), making notes in the margin, jotting down names of actors, actions, plots, motivations, and thoughts.  For my project I went really went above and beyond the "1 or 2" research participants that  Creswell recommends for the Narrative Inquiry method. Even though I am swimming in information, one of the reasons I chose to expand to 4 people was to get some additional voices in the mix, which I thought were interesting to include, and hopefully insightful for the eventual readers. The initial problem I had with having 4 people was how to do a restory? The advice that  I received was to funnel all 4 stories into one hypothetical persona.  I guess this can work, but I also feel that it homogenized things a bit.  Restorying 1 person into 1 persona doesn't have this problem.  Then I thought of Rhizo14, and the metaphor of a dinner party, or a campfire telling stories (or singing songs).  I think I can restory the 4 narratives by using the dinner party (or campfire) as a place where participants virtually interact and share their stories with others. Of course, since there were a countable number of people in the original story, and since participants need to be anonymous, I'll need to figure out different names for people (I am considering gender-neutral names and personal pronouns), and some really specific things will need to be tweaked to mark the identity of people.  I think this would make my IRB/REB much more comfortable with this.

Now, I have 4 stories to tell.  I am also keeping track of myself (to keep researcher bias at bay), so I could put myself in this dinner party.  There will probably be cameos from people as well. I just need to figure out the creative writing component of this. The main question is how to write the story (once I get to it)?  I'll need to do a little more research on this.  In Narrative Inquiries that I've read, some people just restore in prose (and very much in APA fashion), others have made it into a poem, or a movie script, or song lyrics.  It seems like the chosen form represented the people's stories being restoried, and the comfort of the researcher.  So... my questions for anyone in the Rhizo community reading this:  what sort of form should my restory take?    Is it a physical location like a campfire?  A virtual place like zoom or a VR simulation like "ready player one"?  Does it live on facebook?  Or does it take place in a faraway land a long time ago (or a long time in the future)?  Who is part of that narrative for you?

Looking back at this, I really wish I could do a collaborative autoethnography for this. I'd love to bring people together to do a follow-up to our Rhizo14 autoethnography.  Talking to people about this, going back through openly available blogs and re-reading people's words is making me reminisce about all the fun we had in Rhizo14 and Rhizo15 collaborating. Of course, that's not a way to earn a doctorate...I suppose that will have to wait until I graduate.


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Synchronous, online learning, and "remote" learning

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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!

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...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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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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A decade in review...onward to 2020!

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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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2019: The year MOOC platforms start to die? Adieu Open2Study

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Closure screen on Open2Study

Last night, while browsing through my Reddit subscriptions, I noticed on one of the EdTech Reddits that Open2Study is now closed, and that the site redirects to Open Universities Australia (which was the parent entity).  I was a little in disbelief, but since I had not visited O2S in a while I thought I'd check it out with my own two eyes.  Lo and behold, the site was closed (see screencap above) and it was directing people to OU Australia.

On the one hand this wasn't surprising.  I had completed most of the courses that I was interested in within the first year of operation (2013?).  I did check back periodically to see if they had added anything new, but the course offerings seemed to stagnate. I don't think that the platform added any new courses past that initial batch in 2013.  With this stagnation it does seem normal that the platform would close.  However, it does seem a little weird that no announcement was made. Even as late as December 2018 their Facebook page sent kind reminders for students to finish up work before the next iteration of the course started, and a number of facebook posters indicated that they had signed up for the new round of courses starting in early January (this month). So the question is, what gives?

Homescreen of O2S when it ran

The platform itself seemed interesting.  The courses that I took all seemed a little cookie cutter in their design: They were 4 weeks in length, there were videos (coursera-style) to view, quizzes to take, and some discussion forums for interaction, but not necessarily required as part of a course.  There were forums, that were outside of the scope of the course, where people could interact, and the learning process, at a meta-level, was gamified.  Learners could earn badges for completing courses, for getting perfect scores, and for a few other things.  There were some nice ideas on the platform, but it seemed like a rushed response to the MOOC phenomenon, without much follow-through.

I think this is the second MOOC platform to die.  The first one that I can remember was a homebrew experiment that Stanford had (Stanford Open Courses?) which they killed off after a offering a couple of courses; and opted to run an instance of OpenEdX instead. I don't particularly count this first instance of MOOC-platform death as an actual thing since Stanford went on to use OpenEdx, but to my mind the closure (and quite silent one at that) of Open2Study seems quite significant.  I do wonder how many other MOOC platforms will close in 2019 and 2020.

Sample certificate (I need to find my own!)

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EL30 - Agency (Week 9)

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The last week of EL30 was on the topic of Agency.  The video chat was quite interesting to watch but the topic of agency wasn't as big as I thought it would be (maybe time to rewatch? It's been a few weeks since I watched it).  The conversation started off with some interesting examples of community agency, but it seems to have gone beyond that. I have taken some snippets of the conversation and reflected a bit on them.

Just to situate this blog post, here is the information about this week from the course page: "Each of the major developments in the internet - from the client-server model to platform-based interoperability to web3-based consensus networks - has been accompanied by a shift in agency. The relative standing of the individual with respect to community, institutions, and governments was shifted, for better or worse."

One of the things that jumped out at me was an issue with analytics, an issue brought up by the discussants of the week: the data that we collect for analysis is data that is necessarily and by definition historical.  By trying to replicate the best practice of the past, you are also replicating potential structural inequalities. Furthermore by basing your decisions and actions on historical data (without a critical eye on the conditions - both stated and unstated conditions) you could exclude inadvertently exclude the same populations that were historically excluded populations, and these are the same populations that you need to include going forward.  Need to be critical about your data use.  The key take-away here is that no matter what data you end up using to make decisions, data isn't value-free.

Another comment, this one made by Jutta also gave me pause to ponder: supporting learner agency means supporting learner generated goals.  This is quite interesting, and it sort of flies in the face of how Instructional Design is taught, and how courses are generally designed ;-).   While the beginning of any good instructional design plan includes a learner analysis, the learning, or even performance, goals that the learner isn't really in the driver's seat with regard to goal setting.  The goals are usually institutionally set.  "By the end of this course you will..." - that's how most learning objectives begin, and none of them really consider a learner's individual goals.  As I was sitting here, reading my notes on this session, and thinking about this point, I was thinking about my own learner experiences.  When I first went to college I did have instructors who actually asked us learners "what do you want to get out of this course?" (or something along those lines).  This was a bit of an odd question for me at the time (and a little bit now) because of two things:

1. Some courses were required courses for my major, or for some sort of distribution requirement as an undergraduate.  I sort of feel like the institution is punking me a bit. On the one hand they are telling me that I need to be there; for reasons that aren't necessarily explicit to learners at the time, other than "well this is a required course in your plan of study"; while at the same time they are asking me what I want out of it now that they have a captive audience.  Agency is lost when something is compulsory, so asking "what do you want out of this course" seems disingenuous for compulsory courses. 

However, here is another example:  I almost minored in German†.  To earn a minor in German I needed to take some elective courses, and one elective that looked interesting was a history course on Weimar Germany. In having electives there was learner agency, and it prompts the learner to think about what topics are of interest to them from a wide (or constrained) array of choices.  This probably made the course more interesting (or rather, I was interested in the topic, so I was more self-motivated?). In that class I don't think anyone asked me what I wanted to get out of it, but I probably would have had a better answer :-)

2. I do wonder how much learners are sabotaged by being provided with learning objectives for the course prior to being asked what they want to get out of it?  Is someone's thinking constrained if you present them with what the course is about (specifically) and then ask them what they want to get out of it?  What if you ask them before you share your learning objectives?

Now, as an instructor I do (try to) ask students what they want to get out of the courses I teach.  In some cases what they want is totally incompatible with the course - and since I work in an institutional setting my 'bosses' expect certain things from a course.  That said, I do actively keep an eye out for things that might interest my learners as we cover topics that might be adjacent to their interests.  I see this as a form of mentorship.

I'll wrap up this post, and maybe even #el30 with something Silvia said: We shouldn't wait for our desired future to happen.  We need to create the future we desire.


Marginalia:
† I was actually 1 course short! All I needed was a literature course, but what it basically boiled down to was stay 1 more semester for the minor, or graduate now.  I chose graduation.


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El30 - Experience (Week 8)

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Well, the penultimate topic for EL30 is on the subject of experience.  I wasn't quite sure, when I started watching that week's recorded chat, what I would get from the week, but unsurprisngly I had a few "AHA!!!" moments.

From the course page: "It is a truism that we learn from experience, and yet creating a role for experience in learning has been one of the most difficult problems in education. And so much of education continues to rely on indirect methods depending on knowledge transfer - reading, lectures, videos - rather than hands-on practice and knowledge creation."

One of the first connections that came to mind was a connection to an overall curriculum.  When someone attends your school, or even your program, should there be  a requirement to go out in the field and do something?  Let's say for my department (we educate applied linguists who aim to be language teachers), should everyone be required to do a practicum as part of their degree? Right now a practicum is technically required but it can be waived if  a student has teaching experience already. Anecdotally I can say that about 90% of students waive that requirement.  However, even if they are experienced teachers, what would happen if we asked them to go to someone else's classroom instead? What can they gain by experiencing something outside of they "regular" way they do things as teachers? What if they step out of their own boundaries to experience something new?

Another connection that came to mind comes from my own teaching experience. As some might know, I also teach part time in a graduate instructional design program. Over the past six or so years I've been in conversations with fellow ID professionals about instructional design and our own learning experiences.  Invariably a topic comes up where an IDer says "we didn't learn X in class" or "they don't teach you Y in school".   Substitute "X" with some software and substitute "Y" with some soft skill.

This really connected for me when Stephen asked Amy: "Transitioning from A to B; how to you do that?" and  Amy responds: "by doing it!"  It is a little surprising to me, as someone who works in higher education, that we don't prepare our learners (mentally) for the fact that a plan of study (an MA or MEd degree for example) is a finite period of time in a student's life. It is not possible to teach everything that everyone needs to know to be a respectable professional in such a finite time. This mindset also assumes that knowledge is finite and that what we teach today is valid forever and always.  We should be encouraging students to go out there and just do it if there is something in particular that they want to learn. We should be designing into our courses space for experimentation and self-learning (not just guided learning). For example, if someone wants to learn Adobe Captivate or Articulate, they should hit up some tutorial on youtube, lynda (in the US this might be free with a public library subscription), or the help pages of the relevant software.  Assuming that you will learn Adobe Captivate (or other such eLearning authoring tool) in a graduate course, and by extension you will master certain eLearning authoring packages through a graduate course is a waste of a graduate course in my opinion :-). This kind of knowledge gets outdated quickly.

Some other ideas that bubbled up throughout the chat:

A hashtag for every book chapter or recipe for activity.
Amy's created a hashtag for each of her chapters in her book.  This way people can report back when they try something in a learning activity book, or engage in a discussion around the content of a given chapter.  This way you make the book a living book enriched by the thoughts, ideas, and mods of others who are part of that community of reading that book or chapter.

Amy: creativity is best achieved when there are constraints
I agree wholeheartedly!  I remember a time, before mLearning took off in the US, that I was trying to convince my fellow instructional designers that we should be looking at mLearning.  How can we provide learning through non-smartphones?  That was exciting to me. One of my colleague looked at me straight in the eye and quite seriously said that they wouldn't invest in learning about mLearning until Flash was available on the iPad. An entry level model for an iPad 2 at the time cost $500 (and Flash never came to the iPad 😏). This was incredibly short sighted of my colleague, but really telling. This person had no constraints - elearning authoring packages were provided to them, obviously iPads and smartphones were provided to them, so they designed in abundance.  When you design in abundance you can't necessarily think creatively!


I like Amy's approach of doing things in small chunks.
The rationale to do this is that it increases motivation and decreases stress of getting started.  It' sort of how I composed this post (over 4-5 days if you include the viewing time).  I will be the first though to acknowledge that  I am also pretty bad at going with this advice ;-) I'll do it, but I always feel that I should be doing more.  I guess I should get comfortable with going "at the right pace".


Amy: Propose a project for students in the next semester
I love the idea. I liked it since I first came across it in DS106!  I need to start looking for ways to make it happen in the courses that I teach :)


Amy: it's ridiculous that we silo things in education. 
I agree.  One of the things that I have noticed in academia, from my own back yard, is that there are neither good collaborative relationships between academic departments (mixed degrees, cross-functional learning, joint offerings), nor good collaboration with instructional designers and faculty. At the moment the relationship between entities feels the different parties involved feel like it's all a zero sum game.  We need to break down the silos both between academic units, and between academics and support of various sorts.



OK, that's my take from this week.  Thoughts?





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El30 - Community (Week 7)

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Continuing on with my quest to experience the remainder of el30 before work begins again, today I'll write a bit about my thoughts about the topic of Week 7 which was community.

From the course page for the week:
"The traditional concept of community was built on sameness, on collections of people from the same family, speaking the same language, living in the same place, believing the same things. The fundamental challenge to community is to make decisions on matters affecting everybody while leaving to individuals, companies and institutions those matters not effectively managed by consensus."

The interesting thing for me with this topic is that I sort of had an "AHAAAA!" moment (didn't quite scream it though...the all-caps was more for effect 😜).  My aha moment revolved around my dissertation proposal and the concept of collaboration in MOOCs and what came to mind is that there needs to be a certain amount or type of community to exist in order for working together to happen...well...maybe... I guess I can't go too far with this line of thought until I look at the literature because I might be told I am biased 😉. In any case, it is something that I need to dive a little deeper into in the coming weeks.

So, in the community video chat of the week (link; the Peter Forsyth video isn't loading) there were a number of a questions that came up about community.  I don't  think that many were answered since it seemed like an open brainstorming session (which is fine), but I thought that my take on this week would be continue the open brainstorming session and maybe attempt to answer these questions from my own learning perspectives.

What is a minimal viable community?
I suppose the first question I have is: what type of a community is this? I think a community can be successful, at least initially, with only a handful of members.  If pressed for a number I'd call it 4-5 members.  The example I can think of here closely-knit cohort members, or a small group of students who progress through a program of study in similar pace even though they might not be in a cohort.  In my case one such example is the cohort I am in for my doctoral work. Out of a cohort of about 13 members (I've lost count since we've added and subtracted to our cool group over the years) we have 7-8 who are quite engaged in our cohort community, and the rest participate from time to time as life ebbs and flows.

What are markers of community?  
You know, I have a hard time defining such markers.  In the discussion the hashtags was brought up as an example. Another example was a shared space such as google docs, a facebook group, or even something like an IRC channel.  While these certainly can be markers of community, I think that community is more than a space (even the hashtag is a space marker IMO).  A space is certainly required as an incubator for the community, and if we go by Actor-Network Theory, the space can influence how the human actors act within that space, but for me the hallmark of a community is activity of some sort.  The space can be a base to jump off from when the community is active, and it can be an archaeological space for the time the community disbands or dies. An example of such archaeology is diving into the Usenet archives to see what communities did back when they used Usenet. Hence the marker of community for me is (1) more ephemeral and (2) more qualitative in nature, things such as relationships, feelings, learning, and entertainment


What is a community?  Who is a member?
I suspect that this is quite difficult to answer.  Some communities (like #el30) are open and anyone can conceivably be a member.  Other communities, like those of professional associations are closed by requiring members to pay dues.  Even when someone pays dues and is able to access a community, does that make them a member though?  Or are there other pre-requisites to membership?  For example does there need to be some sort or hard declaration of membership from the person being inducted into the community?  In #el30's case, registering for the Daily? or posting a blog?  or retweeting something?  If a tangible aspect exists, what does this mean for lurkers?   I guess the question is this:  is community membership something that is provided from outside of a person (membership conferred) or something that is from within (membership declared or claimed)? A good example came from the discussion and that is the example of person reading a book that others are reading concurrently, but one person who is reading is not contributing to the discussion of the book (IRL lurker) - is he a member of that community?

How do you meet each other to form a community?
This is something that might come from my own dissertation work. I suspect that there are many ways in which community can be formed.  I think part of it is serendipity (e.g., my own chance encounters with people from MOOCs over the last 8 years), and part of it might be through our own social networks (person A introduces person B to person C to some sort of community). This is definitely something that requires a deeper probe though.

What are the core elements of a community? What brings people together?  
In the discussion the example of the EU was brought up, more specifically the EU being a solution to avoid the horrors experienced by various European nations in WWII; however this is more ideological and not everyone is on-board with ideology first; so the initial steps were at first tangible elements and they were practical - namely an economic union.  Downes posited that in some communities there is some sort of attractor.  In the original MOOC (CCK) that attractor was George Siemens (according to Downes), and for some (the 'core' group?) it was the fact that the course was a 3-credit course at the University of Manitoba.  I would say that the attractor is probably a lot of different things to different people. Depending on what you want to get out of the community, your attractor will vary.

Finally, there were two things that caught my attention. There was a discussion around the distributed web after the obligatory discussion of platforms (such as facebook) and the control we cede over to them. The question came up as to whether community formation is made more difficult if there aren't any centralized areas like facebook?   What is the role of a platform in community creation?  I would go back to my previous answer and say that this can be analyzed a bit through ANT, but also the platform is that starter space, or incubator (if you will).  People can, and do, move onto other spaces once initial connections between human elements are formed.  An example of this is CCK where people met on Moodle but they formed together in other spaces during and after the MOOC.

As far as distributed networks go, IMO distributed works well for the techies like some of us with an initial starter pack of connections.  It's harder for people, like my family in Greece, to be on a distributed platform.  They may lack the know-how to set something up for themselves, and even if some of them do have this know-how, discoverability is an issue. Hence iMessage, Fb messenger, and facebook being 'important' in those communities if you want to be connected.

Last but not neast: Downes called EL30 "not a course, but a massive social event" - I wonder what the attributes of a course are.

So, that's it for me this week.  What do you think?




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