Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Learning and Certification - thoughts inspired by CC Cert


Over the few weeks and interesting discussion has been taking place over the Creative Commons Open Platform mailing list. The Creative Commons group has created, and is now offering, CC certification.  The certification consists of a 10-week online course with a traditional number of students in the cohort (around 20), and there is a cost associated with it ($500). I'll be honest, when I saw the cost I did an eyeroll (at no one in particular).  My initial reaction was that I too shared the sentiment that some people on the mailing list reacted to: I've been in the realm of CC for more than five years.  I have (or think I have) a solid understanding of CC.  Why does this thing cost $500.  The fact that Maha speaks highly of her experiences in the course did serve as a  means to get over my original reaction to it - which got me thinking...and which brought me back to another point that friends, colleagues, and I have discussed for a while:  the difference between learning and certification.

It is true that the price may be a bit prohibitive for some educators that need access to this training, however, as was pointed out in the discussion, the materials for the workshop are all available, for free, under CC (see here). So then, what is the issue? Since the material is free, there is nothing preventing me, or anyone else for that matter, to learn on our own, or form study groups around this particular topic and progress through at our own pace.  This isn't any different compared to how I actually learned about CC to begin with. So why the my eyeroll? I suspect that my own reaction was what Downes articulated in one of his emails, which basically is summarized like this: If there is now an official certificate, does this invalidate my own learning and expertise in the field if I don't have this certificate? Which for me basically boils down to an academic version of FOMO (at least for me, your mileage may vary).

Over the past 20 years of professional work I've come across a number of certifications that I felt like I needed to be taken seriously as a professional. There are many examples of this. When I was working in A/V I was actually a CTS. When I was in management I felt like PMP and Six Sigma certification was needed.  When I was working day-to-day in Instructional Design, I briefly courted the ideas of CPTCPLP, and CMALT.  And over the years I've come across training, similar in nature to the CC Certs, but for other topics.  Over the years I've also kept an eye out on job posting and the requirements for those posted jobs.  With a few exceptions, I didn't see any certifications required.  There were some notable exceptions - for example project management jobs either required or strongly preferred holders of the PMP cert, but by and large certifications were noticeably absent form job requirements.

This leads me to the conclusion that certification, while desirable as an acknowledgment of completion and and acknowledgement from some higher authority that you've mastered the content isn't necessarily required.  That FOMO experienced by not having a certificate is (as most FOMO is) misplaced.

What do you think?


Electronic Resources El30 (Week 5)


Time-vortex initiated... loading Week 5 of EL30 ;-)

eL30's topic in Week 5 was all about resources, and specifically OER.  This is a fun topic to return to from time to time to discuss, especially now given that my state seems to have taken it a step further by having a Massachusetts Open Education initiative which my university is promoting. There were a few things that came up as interesting in the interview, some newer to me, and some things that have come up in previous posts about OER.

One interesting comment that came from the discussion is when Stephen mentioned during the chat that he is more reluctant to share a resource if it goes through a vetting/accrediting/QA process; not because he doesn't like quality, but because someone can just say "this resource doesn't deserve to be shared". I found this quite interesting. It's not that I disagree with Stephen, I too would be reluctant to share in an official capacity any work of mine if it meant that someone I don't know may be judging my contribution on some unknown set of criteria, hence making the sharing and vetting process opaque.  This small, and potentially throw-away comment, really brings to the fore the importance of gate-keeping with OER. When it's relatively easy for me, as a creator, to contribute my work to the open by sharing a link to an ePub or PDF that I made what is the value of having such gate-keepers?†  In hearing this comment I also was reminded of similar situations.  When I was a graduate student I was president of one of the student associations. I thought it would be nice for students to get together outside of the classroom context to socialize (taking a cue from previous presidents) and I attempted to organize some get-togethers during and after the semester ended.  Invariably there were many who complained for one reason or another - the dates were no convenient, or the locations proposed weren't convenient, or the times proposed weren't convenient, or something else.  I realized (again) that you can't please everyone, and when someone decides to share something, freely, the expectations (by others) should also also be elastic since you didn't design the deliverable for them specifically (but people seem to forget that).

Another interesting point brought up was by Sukaina Walji who made an interesting point about OER  and that it may be growing toward something that is marketed (or commercialized?) as people want to adopt them because they don't want to create, or edit, their own materials.  This was an interesting point to be made because it really feels like a colonization of OER by corporatist entities. It reminds me a lot of what happened with MOOCs after Coursera et al came to the game. Will there be a point where we're starting to debate the meaning of "open" in OER in the near future? Also, as educators, aren't we responsible for creating some of our own materials? If everything is a collage (take some of column A and some from column B) without creating something of our own, what does that mean for the profession of teaching? Having been in contact with a variety of faculty in the past, I am constantly surprised as to how many faculty use canned lecture PowerPoint that come with the textbook for example (and it's usually bad PowerPoint design to begin with). I get that we don't have the time to create everything ourselves, but where does the creative process fit if we just buy something (or even discover something for free in an OER directory) without really thinking and tailoring its use for our classrooms?

Finally, from the point of the weekly chat, an issue that emerged with OER is the categorization of resources, aligning those OERs with curriculum, and determining level of difficulty of the OER.  These add to the level of complexity of sharing and finding OER.  This, for the discussants, connected with Wiley's reusability paradox.  The thing that jumped out at me here is that categorization of some types of OER is really a local-level issue.  For instance, if I am creating an OER assignment-bank for my introduction to instructional design course then I am designing with local considerations in mind which include local degree requirements, local curriculum requirements, and local conceptions of level of difficulty.  If this assignment-bank makes it into an OER repository it's up to the end-user to do most of the work to determine level of difficulty, where in the curriculum it fits, and how it fits in with their educational objectives.  However, if a few colleagues and I decide to come together to create an OER textbook - let's call it introduction to instructional design & learning technologies then we are thinking more broadly at the time of creation and we can make recommendations as to where it can fit.  The end-user still needs to determine some specifics, but the authors can help in alleviating some of that overhead.

Personally I've found issues with finding OER, in repositories, because looking for specific material to match my needs usually doesn't provide me with much.  However, if you approach the search for materials material in a manner that is more like browsing items at a flea market then you could come away with some interesting gems, especially if you are flexible in how you arrange your class. You should still be prepared to edit the materials, but there is potential there for serendipity.

Last thing that came to mind as I was composing this post: Tenure, promotion, and OER. I would be curious to know how many institutions consider OER as a substantial part of tenure and promotion of their faculty.  My economics knowledge is fairly rudimentary (ECON 101 & 102 in college) but it seems that faculty (like most other rational actors) would pick things to do (research, publish, committees, etc.) that provide substantive returns in them being able to keep their job (by means of tenure).  If OER isn't really considered to be that important by an institution, who is left caring about creating quality OER?  In a recent email, for example, my institution was promoting the fact that faculty could earn a $200 stipend for reviewing OER.  I think that's great but I think the calculus is wrong:  $200 is far less valuable in the long run for an employee than doing something else that would allow them to keep their job.

Your thoughts?

† Yes, I know there is value in having peer review and certain amount of gate-keeping so that there isn't fake material out there, but I pose to the question as a means of poking at the question.


EDDE 806 - Post VI - A new semester

And so, this week, another school season kicks off!  This week  we had both the kick-off for EDDE 805 (dissertation seminar I) and EDDE 806 (dissertation seminar II). I decided that last to start attending EDDE 806 regularly (or as regularly as I can) so that my final class-based semester (next spring) can be focused more on getting my dissertation proposal done.

In this first session of EDDE 806 we mostly had a bit of a check-in (which is sort of what we did in 805 as well). There seemed to be some interesting strands that came came out of 806 last night.  First, Peggy Lynn (Cohort 6) is working on a project to translate the term OER (Open Eaducational Resources) into a variety of languages for a variety of reasons, but one of them is to make it easier to label, and search for, OERs that are in languages other than English.  If you want to help out please check out this page.  I did actually try to coin a term in Greek a number of years ago.  A few colleagues and I worked on a MOOC paper that we published in EuroDL and the nice thing about EuroDL is that they accept abstracts in languages other than English as well.  So, I worked on the Greek abstract and tried to come up with an acronym and translation for MOOC. The translation I came up with was Ανοιχτά Μαζικά Διαδικτυακά Μαθήματα  and the acronym I was going for was (ΜαΔιΜα) which, to a Greek would remind them of the homophone "μάδημα" which translates to 'plucking' (I did say I was going for the absurd, right?)  In any case, my acronym didn't stick (How did Cormier do it?!) and the term used now in Greece is Ανοιχτά Μαθήματα which translates to Open Courses.  Maybe my claim to fame will be the OER translation LOL.

Another interesting strand is the strand of scope for the dissertation.  Craig (also from Cohort 6) mentioned that he has a topic that he was passionate about, but it seemed a little too idealistic to implement - at least within the confines of a dissertation.  Pragmatism is something that has come up many times, and I think someone last semester in 806 encouraged us to be ruthlessly pragmatic.  Advice which I am taking to heart.

Finally,  there was the case of Viviane (Cohort 6) who is working on an OER-related project for K-12.  She discovered recently that someone at the open university of Portugal is also dissertating on a very similar topic.  I guess we've got a case of Tesla and Marconi :-).  Viviane mentioned that she is avoiding to look at this person's work for fear of being influenced.  For what it's worth I am not in that camp.  If someone were working on the same (or very similar) project as me (and I knew about it) I would definitely have a look at their work. I would have my own plan (ahead of time) even if it's a broad sketch of a plan, and I would deconstruct the other person's plan with a designer's eye.  If there were things I liked I would take (and give credit) and if there were critiques, I would mention that in my dissertation. Working in a vacuum doesn't seem productive to me, but we all have our own tactics to 'get through this' dissertation experience :-).  I think both approaches have merit, but my approach is definitely filtered through my preference of working with others.

This story, from Viviane, also got me thinking.  I know that historically dissertations are single-author.  However, what if they weren't?   For example, let's say I am working on an idea and someone else from Cohort 7 (my cohort) or someone from Cohort 6, or heck someone from the Open University of Greece, were interested in working on the same thing?  Would there be a possibility of working collaboratively on a team dissertation?  We could work together to setup the literature review, discuss the problem (from multiple facets if we are in different countries!) and we could all collect data at our respective locations.  Each member would collect and crunch their own data, and then we could compare our findings.  Hence, instead of me working alone, with one group of people  at my university (UMB) to collect data, we could collect cross-sections of data from the US, Canada, Greece (etc., depending on how many people on the dissertation) and we could jointly publish.

The tricky part I think would be the defense. Would you do this defense separately?  Or would you do it together?  If I were on an examination committee I would do it separately in order to make sure that it's not a frankenpaper (you do part 1, I do part 2, then we stick together, but we are unaware of each other's parts) and that the individual candidate can stand on their own. However, the research part and the monograph would be done collaboratively.  Does this make sense?  What do you think of this option?

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.

Getting paid in exposure...not!


One of the items I've wanted to comment on for a while was a blog post posted by friend and colleague Rebecca Hogue.  Rebecca writes that she teaches courses (similar, or the same courses as I do at UMB anyway) and these courses would be well served by a decent eBook that is published (and updated) for the course.  I wholeheartedly agree!  For the past half a decade I've been thinking about trying to put together an edited volume for the introductory course in instructional design†, or just write the book myself.

I've been thinking that this should be open access, given my philosophical leanings toward open access for education, however - just like Rebecca - I am not paid to teach full time. I teach because I like it, and I like to mentor others. Writing a book (or putting something edited together) takes up a lot of time and effort, and of course that needs to be maintained.  Expecting that someone will do it for free is not realistic.  It's a good thing that I was too busy to write about this topic before, because some of my artist friends recently also posted on their facebook feeds on a related matter: artists being asked to do creative work for free and the only benefit to them is "exposure".  Exposure you will get anyway once your work is out there, so the client is basically getting a free ride.  Just as artists should not work for free (ahem...for "exposure"), so too academics should not be working for free.

Now, this doesn't mean that you - as an academic - should give up on open publishing! I do think that employees need some level of permanence in their positions, and their evaluations need to reflect his open ethos as well.  For example, when an adjunct is considered "full time" when he or she teachers 4 courses per semester, mathematically that breaks down to each course counting as 25% time‡.  If you are being compensated only for teaching, then there is no expectation of creating resources that would be valuable to others.  For the tenure track folks, open publishing should be valued the same as closed publishing♠.  What's valued in annual faculty reviews (from my own experience) are publications in "high impact" journals. Those journals are usually closed access. There is a lot of academic labor that goes into publishing, reviewing for, and editing for journals that don't pay the authors (or their institutions for that matter) for their academic output, but rather expect to be paid in order to access the work done by those faculty members. This is nuts to me. The moral here is that in order to have this type of open academic output done by faculty members there need to be appropriate mechanisms within the institutional organization to make it happen.

This aspect of payment - and who's producing OER, brings me to Rebecca's concluding questions:

Does the OER movement create/promote some of the disparities that it is trying to break down? Does it mean that only scholars who are paid by institutions have the freedom and ability to participate in creation? What about those living in developed countries? How do they participate in the creation of open scholarship? Is it just another form of colonization by the well off academy?
I think that in order to actually create OER you need to have certain prerequisites taken care of.  As a person you need to be able to support yourself before you're able to give away all of the fruits of your labor.  You can give away some things for free (and get exposure that way) but those need to be strategic and calculated. For example, publishing in open access journals costs you nothing (to publish), it's free for others to access, and you are losing no money because you wouldn't be paid for a journal article even if it were in a closed access journal.  Journal articles also take less time (comparatively) to write than books.  Books on the other hand can be sold, and some money can be made from them.

The question of colonization is interesting to ponder, and I don't have an answer.  To some extent it reminds me  of the old riddle: if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?   Let me explain my framing here:

  1. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book then they don't read it.  What is the net impact?
  2. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book but they read it anyway through the library or through some book "piracy" site.  What is the net impact
  3. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can't afford to get to a venue where that book is available (i.e. online)  What is the net impact?
  4. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can read it.  What is the net impact?

When an author writes a book they write from their own perspective, whatever that perspective might be. I think it's up to the reader to determine what the impact is for them. Do they take and assimilate the author's perspective? Or do they take it as initial data and formulate their own results and outcomes from it?  Not knowing how things work on the other end (the reading/consuming end of things) makes it a little hard to decide whether OER can be considered a colonizing force.

As far as how people in developing countries participate in open scholarship - I am not sure. I think that we are in a privileged position  to consider issues of open scholarship.  If I worked for minimum wage (or less!) and needed to work 60-80 (or more!) hours per week to make ends meet I (personally) wouldn't be thinking of open scholarship. I think this is where things like Universal Basic Income start playing a role in what we do as societies. If certain basic needs are met we are free to explore other areas (good ol' Maslow). Until then, we grind along to live another day.

Your thoughts?

† something I've reconsidered in light of recent experiences trying to get pieces for edited volumes!
‡ 25% time for those keeping score at home means 10 hours per week - which seems crazy to me since I end up spending more time with my learners than that...
♠ personally argue that open publishing should count for more since that is much more accessible to others than closed publishing

Non-transformational transformation

Chugging along (hey I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!) with my review of Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future, which started some time last year.  Today under the microscope is chapter 10, which is titled Redefining the Classroom: Integration of Open and Classroom Learning in Higher Education.  The abstract is as follows:

The printing technology revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge at a pace never conceived of earlier. In recent times, radio and television brought education within the reach of masses. More recently, the multimedia technology, and Internet have revolutionized the delivery of education. Top universities of the world have collaborated to develop massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are made available to public either free of charge or at a nominal cost. Mainly supported by start-ups such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX, MOOCs are mostly created by universities in United States and Europe. This essay reviews the impact of these changes on higher education using available reports, articles, and meta-analyses. Although there is no conclusive evidence of the impact of MOOCs, there is a strong possibility of MOOCs leaving a lasting mark on the traditional higher education system. This chapter falls within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

This chapter made me do a double take, and I started questioning my underlying assumptions of what type of book I was reading, which prompted me to go back and re-read the mission of the book.  This chapter is a review of online and distance learning, in general, with a specific emphasis on MOOCs.  It's not a bad chapter, and it does fit in with the mission of the book. My own particular use for it might be as an introductory reading to online and distance education, with a little information about MOOCs if I were not feeling up to creating my own slides for a lecture. Even as an introductory text though, I'd take it with a grain of salt, perhaps asks students to not only read it, but go out and find information about the topic of MOOCs and supplement - and question - what this text provides.

There are three things that really stood out for me in this chapter:

1. You're citing wikipedia?!  Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who are of the mindset that you must never ever cite, or even use, wikipedia; but come on!  You're used wikipedia to cite Distance Education! As of today that article has  83 cited sources! You couldn't look at the sources and see what is available for you to dig a little deeper and get a definition of Distance Education from a source like the Handbook of Distance Education?

2. Someone with a background in learning, educational technology, or instructional design should have proof-read this and provided feedback to the authors (all of whom seem to be in computing sciences of one form or another). Some things are just plain wrong.  One of their claims, under the MOOC Pedagogy section is that "The teaching and learning theory and practice of xMOOCs has been termed Instructional Systems Design (ISD)" (p. 174).  Now - granted, this IS cited, so the error may have originated elsewhere (or maybe it's an error in the author's understanding), but this is just plain wrong.

3. The article at time lacks direction and it seems like they tried to fit in even the kitchen sink.  Academic Partnerships are mentioned as a MOOC provider (which they are not), they discuss, briefly, the Minerva Project, which is interesting, but I am not sure how it fits in, and they discuss blended learning - in general.  At the end, I really failed to see the impact that MOOCs have had on higher education through this article. It wasn't bad - I just expected more.



Deceptive Promises?


This morning, while commuting, I was able to read through another chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future, which I started back in August of 2015 (or somewhere there about).  This time I am reviewing chapter 9, which is titled Deceptive Promises: The Meaning of MOOCs-Hype for Higher Education.  The abstract is as follows:

Since 2011, massive open online courses (MOOCs) fired the imagination of the general public as well as the academics, university administrators and investors alike. This chapter is an analysis of the main promises and expectations associated with MOOCs in higher education. This analysis is largely informed by a literature review of new extensive research reports, press releases, media articles, scholarly blogs and academic papers. Considering costs and benefits, ethical aspects and the impact on the landscape of higher education, the author explores whether MOOCs stay consistent with their initial promises and rhetoric. This chapter continues the discussion on the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' with the particular focus on the topic of ‘educational training design.

I think that this is actually a chapter that's worthwhile reading! I think that it fits in well with the work that Rolin Moe, Markus Deimann,  and Panagiotis and I, published in CIEE volume 2, issue 1. The author of this chapter writes about the failed promises of the (x)MOOC and how the (EdTech?) reality distortion field that was prevalent at the time really brought many universities into the (x)MOOC arena without much planning for fear of missing out (FOMO).  This article was much better written critique than the Meisenhelder articles published in the NEA journal Though and Action titled MOOC-mania.

I think that the critiques of the author are valid, and this researched essay (position paper?) really lays out the perfect (reality distortion) storm that brewed up between 2011 and 2013.  While it is a worthwhile read, I wouldn't consider it as the only source of MOOC critique and issues†.  I think that there are two big issues that stood out for me.  The first issue is that the author just writes about MOOCs.  He makes no distinction between the various types of MOOCs, and the various rationales for starting the MOOC. xMOOCs were by no means the first MOOC, that honor goes to the connectivist MOOCs that started around 2008 and continued until this mania hit.  The connectivist MOOCs didn't necessarily seek to democratize education, whatever that may mean.  Sure, they were open resources and they were available to anyone who could connect with them, but - from my own readings and experience - that's not how they started.

Relating to this, I don't like the connotation of the title, specifically the deceptive part.  When someone is deceptive, they are intentionally so.  There is an agency behind deception, and there is some goal or gain to be hand.  While the xMOOC does definitely have issues, I don't think that the actors in the xMOOC arena (Kohler, Ng, Agarwal, Thrun, et al.) were deceptive in their practices or even their means.  I think that the Stanford crew were swept up in the unexpected popularity of those two experiments that they ran and they mis-stepped, and mis-spoke.  For Agarwal, on the other hand, it seemed like a natural extension of their previous effort - open courseware.  Maybe I am being naïve, after all I wasn't behind closed doors when this was all conceived, but I am less convinced that this was all a planned, deceptive, practice from the start.

The other thing that doesn't quite sit well with me is the economic aspect.  I got a sense that a major underlying current as to whether a faculty member or institution adopts MOOCs is the economic factor (rather than something more substantive like pedagogical factors).  While I think that jumping head-first into something you know little about is not wise (and often discouraged!), I do think that the sustainability argument, or rather the "will this make us money, increase enrollments, increase x, y, z revenue", is a false one.  As an IHE you certainly don't want to bleed money.  You can only do that for a certain amount of time until you go our of business.  However,  I don't see MOOCs, or other types of OCW and other types of OER, as revenue generators.  What you do in class, in a small seminar, or "regular" 20-student class does not show in a MOOC.  You can't treat OER as a window into your courses and your programs. It just doesn't work that way.  What should be considered are the synergies between traditional paid-for education and free open courses. There is no reason why these two cannot co-exist and support one another.  There are some ideas I have about this - but subject to another blog post - this one is getting lengthy.

Did you read this article? What did you think?

† see previously references articles as samples of others writing in the same field

Content Knowledge vs Practice


Hey!  It's week 2 in NRC01PL!  Well... no, it's not, it's probably like week 5 or something, but I am working at catching up ;-)  The second week of this MOOC (which I've only now joined the Google Group) is on the Content/practice dichotomy. It's interesting because this comes up quite a few times in discussions in academia. The pendulum seems to swing from extreme to extreme.  Too much practice (which I gather is perfectly fine with Stephen D), or too much theory and content.

The videos that Stephen had for this week were pretty interesting.   It was interesting to get a little backend view of OpenEdx (considering that I have no interest in setting up my own LMS). From the demonstration of OpenEdx I think that it's nice that OpenEdx has the ability to break a course into sections...but as Stephen demonstrated this functionality I found myself questioning the rationale behind this. Sections are tools  we use in traditional classes in academia to manage how many students are enrolled in a specific class. This is meant to keep the workload of the instructor at a manageable size. However, with an LMS like OpenEdx, the ability to break a course into sections seems like a vestigial organ from older LMSs and not something that is built for "massive" scale. I get that the software developers probably tried to throw that in just in case someone asked for it, but I'd personally throw it under a "legacy" settings so as to not encourage its use ;-)

In the other video Stephen seemed to be reading from a script.  In addition to brain a nice trip down memory lane (Netscape Netcenter, technorati, and so on), I picked up some things that Stephen said, and I wanted to respond to them, and add in my own thoughts. As a sidenote, I didn't realize that RSS was something that Netscape designed for its netcenter.  I am happy it survived the demise of netcenter, however it's alarming that websites are not feed-less... (argh). Please treat the following quotes more as paraphrases (I was jotting down notes as I was listening)

Grading the least interesting thing about online learning
I agree! I would say that grading is probably the least interesting part of learning in general, whether you learn online or not.  The one thing I've observed in my (few) years of teaching is that learners (those in my own circles at least) have been indoctrinated (or apprenticed into) a society where grading is seen a way of measuring your self-worth  In cases like these "lower" grades are seen as bad and students will try to get some sort of accommodation in order to get a better grade. My classes are for the most part based on Mastery Learning, where students can earn an "A" if they submit enough drafts and show improvement, but there comes a point where as a reviewer and commenter you also get tired of reading variations on the paper you are "grading".

Personal learning sort of like eating at a buffet
I like this analogy that Stephen used. I actually see it with my dad.  He has different interests at different phases, and he is free to explore those. Whenever someone traveled to Greece they always brought back books for him to read on topics he was interested in (he prefer to read in Greece). I think where we run into problems is that our schools are systems where personal learning throws a wrench in the system. We have majors, and minors, and tracks, and honors, and required courses, and optional courses.  Our system isn't built to accommodate such free range learning. I am not saying that personal learning cannot be done. I, at least, am one data point that it is proof that it can be done. But I am wondering how this could work at a larger, systemic, scale.

Share readings with the community - pick and choose as a learner what stuff to read and react to.
I like this idea.  I would love to implement it in my courses. And, to some extent I have done the junior version of this where I provide at least some materials that students can choose from, but the topics are pre-defined.  There is a canyon here that is potentially preventing students to be free range learners in this type of community environment.  In a classroom setting you have some regular constraints such as: weeks in a semester, how many hours of effort you're expecting learners to spend each week for x-many credits (accreditation related), and how programs and curricula fit together.  If you could get over that hurdle (and I am convinced you can - but it's not easy), the question becomes one of pre-existing skills. Do learners have the necessary skills to be able to learn in such a free range environment? Or will they find it very difficult because they have not been prepared to be lifelong learners?  How do they deal with potential feelings of intimidation when they are in a learning environment that has learners that are traveling the environment at different speeds?

old way of sharing - sharing parts of courses (readings, videos, software, etc.)
I agree, and we can see this on initiatives like OCW.  What I am wondering is this: is this old way necessarily a bad thing? I think sharing an entire course, such as a MOOC, is another way of sharing, but it's also potentially confining in that you are taking someone else's design for the course.  I have enough trouble sometimes with modifying OER for use in my own courses because their objectives don't necessarily match my own very well, imagine trying to do this with an entire course.

Learning Design is a dead-end; Learning Design doesn't take advantage of the online environment.
This was more of an "ORLY?" moment.  I've heard some criticisms of instructional design over the years, and I like discussing those with people.  I wouldn't consider myself a dyed in the wool stalwart defender of instructional design, but when ID vs LD comes up I try to be a devil's advocate. That said, I don't think I've come across anyone who is willing to throw the entire thing out the window.  I think Stephen needs to better explain what he means when he says that LD doesn't take advantage of an online environment.  In what way?

Order emerges out of networks
I think that this can be true.  However, I think that people need to be able to operate within a network in order for order to emerge.  Order does not emerge magically and without external intervention.  Order is caused by people (or Actors if we go with ANT) operating in a certain ways.  If the actors don't know how to act, then order does not necessarily emerge.  The question, for me, then becomes - how do people learn how to act?  And, how can we catalyze this?  After all, some things are like reinventing the wheel.  Do we want to wait for everyone to re-discover something? Or do we teach them?

Learning should not be structured as courses but as games and experiences
I like it, and I don't disagree.  I am only wondering (pondering) what the ramifications are for people who are learning by game and experience?  Can that mode of learning be compatible with the current structures of education that we have in place? With all of the limitations and constraints that we've listed above?

Learning isn't something that leaners go to, or that they do, it's simply there, in the space
I couldn't agree more. One thing that amazes me is that people think of learning as something that is happening only within the four walls of the school. Anything that happens outside of those four walls is not considered learning, even though it really is. That said, I do think that learning is something that learners do.  And, I say this, as a way of distinguishing autonomic responses from voluntary responses.  I think (know, as a matter of fact - from my own "book learning") - that people's bodies can learn to react to things, and we tend to stay away (or be attracted to) from whatever made us react in a certain way. That is a type of learning. But the learning we are speaking of here is something that is voluntary. That people do with an open mind, and that they seek out.  In this sense, I think that learning is very much something that learners do because it's not voluntary - it's something they engage in willingly.

We can't manage learning. We are stewards of learning
I wonder what some of my behavioral intervention friends and colleagues might think of this.  In a sense I agree, we are stewards of learning.  We've been placed in that role by our institutions, by our peers, and by others. Others recognize our stewardship.  that said, I do believe that learning can be managed.  Perhaps managing learning isn't the most effective way of going about to teach (especially in particular settings) but  it is an option, and, I would argue, it's an option that should be considered depending on your specific circumstances.  At my stage of learning, I don't do well with people managing my learning.  I tried to audit/sit-in a 200-level French course (to improve my academic writing in French) - I never went back after 2 sessions because it was not geared toward me as a learner.  Clearly in that sense managing my learning experience didn't work.  But I can conceive  of instances in other learning experiences where it could work for the learners who were there.

Your thoughts?


EDDE 806 post II - Of research questions and generalizability

Yesterday evening I attended my second formal EDDE 806 session (formal in the sense that I am doing blog posts for it, as opposed to just attending and being a fly on the wall).  In any case, the session was pretty interesting, and Viviane Vladimirsky, a fellow EdD student, on her work on her dissertation.

Just prior to Viviane's presentation, as we were going around introducing ourselves there were two interesting pieces of information shared (and reinforced).  First, when we're working on our dissertation when in doubt ask our committee members what they want to see addressed.  Asking people outside of your committee will just muddy the waters, because in the end, in order to graduate, you only need to satisfy your committee and no one else.  I think this is sage advice because if you ask 10 scholars to give you feedback they will all come back with different points of view (based on their own backgrounds, epistemologies, and biases).

The other piece of information (wisdom) shared was on the importance of research questions (very specific ones).  I gotta say - I am still not sold!  I get the importance of specific research questions in certain contexts, but this week I've been reading (again) about post-modernism in 804 and I guess I am rebelling a little against the notion that we have to absolutely have concrete research questions in order to research.  As I joked in the discussion forum, can't I just be the "data whisperer"?  Can I come in with the broad question (such as "what does the data tell us?"), and a grounded theory approach, and continue on with my research?  To be continued...

Anyway, Viviane's presentation.  Viviane is doing research in Sao Paulo Brazil.  Her project is based on Design Based Research principles and she is working on creating K-12 teacher professional development to improve teacher training using OER, and encourage the uptake of OER in the professional activities of K-12 teachers.  Do do this, she is looking at it from two theoretical frameworks, the Unified theory of acceptance and use of technology, and the Integrative Learning Design Framework (this looks like an instructional design model to me). She also chose DBR because DBR is pragmatic, grounded, adaptive, iterative, collaborative, and the designs can be modified based on emerging insights.  In a sense DBR reminds me a lot of agile instructional design.

When the limitations of this study were discussed the issue of generalizability came up.  Again, because of my post-modern frame of mind at the moment, I don't think generalizability is an issue.  Sure, you can't necessarily compare to a physicist who runs experiments and can come up with something that is generalizable (for the most part), but is that really an issue?  We, as humans, are complex beings and a lot of different factors go into who we are, and how we act.  Findings from one research may not be generalizable, but those findings, taken with the findings of other studies (in meta- studies) can bring us closer to understanding certain things that many be generalizable.  I know that we have to cover ourselves and state the obvious, that findings are not generalizable, but that seems like a given to me (and not something we should be apologetic about - not that Viviane was apologetic, but I've seen others be).

So that was it for the seminar of February 4, 2016.  Did you attend? What did you think?

Quality of MOOCs?


Continuing on with the review of articles in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future today I have a chapter dealing with quality of MOOCs

Chapter 2 is titled Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. The abstract tells us:
Institutional quality assurance frameworks enable systematic reporting of traditional higher education courses against agreed standards. However, their ability to adequately evaluate quality of a MOOC has not been explored in depth. This chapter, Quality Assurance for Massive Open access Online Courses – building on the old to create something new, explores the added learning and teaching dimensions that MOOCs offer and the limitations of existing frameworks. Many components of a MOOC are similar to traditional courses and, thus, aspects of quality assurance frameworks directly apply, however they fail to connect with the global, unrestricted reach of an open learning and teaching platform. The chapter uses the University of Tasmania's first MOOC, Understanding Dementia, as a case. MOOC-specific quality assurance dimensions are presented in an expanded framework, to which the Understanding Dementia MOOC is mapped, to demonstrate its usefulness to a sector grappling with this new learning and teaching modality. This chapter continues the commentary on – Policy issues in MOOCs Design, through the topic of ‘quality issues critical comparison – contrasting old with new.'

This was an interesting article, not because of the MOOC angle, but really about learning more about accreditation and peer review in an Australian context.  The MOOC angle seemed...a little off.  There are two big questions that came up as I was reading this article:

  1. Why does an institution offer MOOCs?
  2. How does one measure 'quality' in an educational context?

Now, I know that we have frameworks available to us as educators to quantify the 'quality' of our online courses. One prime example is Quality Matters.  However, I think that all quantified means of measuring human learning do fall short.  I've passed many courses in my days as a learner (especially in required undergrad courses) where I just checked items off the list.  I knew the lines I was expected to paint in, and I did so proficiently enough to pass tests.  Hence, quality-wise, I guess that means that the course was good, since I passed, the course and the course had gone through the requisite steps of both internal and external review, but it doesn't mean I learned anything.

One of the proposals of the authors is that MOOC business models have failed to reflect 'reality' is because they have not  been integrated formally into university frameworks through quality assurance. I didn't see anything in this article that supports this hypothesis.  Quality is a tricky thing.  Unfortunately, for education I don't think that there isn't one simple solution to obtaining and measuring quality.  We have, in my opinion, come up with a system that tries to keep honest people honest, however I don't think this system of peer review, internal and external review, and course evaluation are any indication of quality.  Quality seems a bit elusive as a concept because it means different things to different people.

The type of quality we see described in traditional contexts is that of design.  Making sure that (a) goals and objectives match the (b) instructional activities , and that (c) assessments tie back to objectives, and that materials used tie back to a + b + c. This is a simplified view, but it's all about connecting the dots in course design.  Actual learning and application - once the class is over, is not usually something that is testable.  In the parlance of Kirkpatrick's model of evaluation, we undertake level 1 and level 2 evaluations, but we are not able to conduct level 3 or level 4, which would require us to have access to the learners after the fact for further testing.  In graduate programs where there might be a final capstone, portfolio, comprehensive exam, you might be able to conduct level 3 evaluations to some extent, but that's about it.

So, when we're talking about "quality" in MOOCs it's important to figure out what we mean by quality.  The other thing that makes MOOCs, in my opinion, a bit harder to assess, especially in implementation, is the variable learners in the course.  In traditional assessments of courses we know that courses need a minimum number of students to run (a business decision), so faculty can plan potential activities knowing the lower and upper limits.  In a MOOC this is pretty hard because registrations mean nothing. How are outcomes measured when there is a lot of potential flux?

In terms of making the decision to offer a MOOC, the big question is why do universities do this?  What's in it for them?  The public education and access mission of some schools might be a reason, but given the costs described by the authors of making a MOOC, why go through these steps?  Why not focus on OER development or something cheaper? I am sure that there is still hope for the academic youtube channel ;-) The authors write, rightly so, that MOOCs are not an easy path to revenue, so I am curious as to the reasons institutions decide to offer these MOOCs (other than the "they are new and shiny, and we must participate!" type of reason).

The authors, going back to quality assurance, claim that the "traditional approach of utilising external peer review to ensure that the course level learning outcomes are appropriately calibrated still has merit in the MOOC environment".  To a small extent I agree, if you are talking about specific xMOOCs with specific outcomes, and specific limitations. However, I am reminded of a comment a friend and colleague (Maha B) made somewhere online (twitter? blog? facebook?) about feeling constrained when she had to fully develop the course structure of a (traditional) online course before the course started. This didn't leave much flexibility for learner interests.    I see where Maha is coming from, and for experienced educators, while it makes me nervous, I keep an open mind.

Personally I like everything planned ahead of time for two reasons (1) I know an overall path I've designed, and I can work with it and help guide novice learners on rails, and I can also defend the design when it comes to a curriculum committee; and (2) it helps learners plan the semester to have something on rails.  That said, I do not like being rigid in my teaching - just because we have a roadmap it doesn't mean that we can take the path least travelled, or even go off the road.  This is little sidebar was with regard to 'regular' courses.

With MOOCs - given that they are a form of online education that we are still studying in their nascent state, to try to pigeonhole them into a rigid structure that was built in order to ensure that college credit was worth something comparable between institutions.  MOOCs are not credit-bearing courses. They are optional, free, open to entry and exit, and they don't award any college credit.  So why try to slice them and dice them by using measurements that are created for credit-bearing courses when the actual ethos and purpose of such courses is not the same as credit-bearing college courses?  Furthermore, MOOCs (again depending on the course) can be completely undeveloped from at the beginning.  There can be connecting and connective threads going from week to week, however the entire course structure need not be completed from the onset.  This is one of those constraints that exists with credit-bearing courses, but there is no reason for it to exist with MOOCs.

In the end, I think that the concept of 'quality' in a MOOC won't elicit a unified definition of what that looks like.



Walls, J., Kelder, J., King, C., Booth, S., & Sadler, D. (2015). Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 25-47). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch002