Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

MOOC Completion...according to whom?


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

But let me rewind for a second.  How did we get to the topic of MOOC completion?  Well, I've been attempting to make my extended CV more accessible (to me).  In the past, I used a WYSIWYG HTML publishing platform to manage my extended CV‡.  The idea was that I could easily export it and just push it on the web.  In practice, I never did this, and when I changed computers it became a hassle to maintain. So, I moved everything over to google docs for cleanup (and easier updates).  In cleaning up my CV sections (I am not done, btw!), I did make a startling self-discovery. In the time-period 2013-2016, I binged on a lot of xMOOCs!😅  The most notable platforms were Coursera, Edx, Udacity, but there were others such as the now-defunct Janux (Oklahoma University) and Open2Study (Australia Open University), as well as overseas platforms like MiriadaX and FutureLearn.  In the time period 2011-2012 I didn't have a lot of MOOCs, mostly because during this period a lot were cMOOCs and xMOOCs hadn't really spread like wildfire.

This realization now begs the question: "How many did you complete?" (and you guessed it, Kelvin asked it...).  My answer comes in the form of a question "based on whose metrics and measures?".  When you sign up for a paid course (e.g., professional development seminar, college course, certification prep course, etc.) I think that there is an unspoken assumption that the goals of the course mirror, to a greater or lesser extent, the goals of the learner♠.  Can this assumption be something that transfers over into the world of a free MOOC?  I personally don't think so.  I've long said that the course completion metric (as measured by completing all assignments with a passing grade) is a poor metric.  One very obvious reason to me was that people simply window-shop; and since there is no disincentive to unenroll, people don't take that extra step to leave the course formally, as they would with a paid course where they could receive a refund. I've been saying this since xMOOC completion rates were touted as an issue, but few people listened. Luckily it seems that people are changing their minds about that (or just don't care 😜). I guess George Siemen's advice to Dave Cormier holds true for my own rantings and ravings: publish those thoughts in a peer-reviewed journal or they don't exist 🤪 (paraphrased from a recent podcast interview with Dave).

Assuming that we exclude window-shoppers from our list of completion categories♣, what remains?  Well, instead of thinking of distinct categories (which might give us a giant list), let's think of completion in terms of whose perspective we are examining.  On the one extreme, we have the learner's perspective.  The extreme learner's perspective is characterized by total control by the learner as to what the goals are. In this perspective, the learner can be in a course and complete a certain percentage of what's there and still consider the course as done. Why?  The learner might have prior knowledge, and what they are looking for is to supplement what they already know without going through the hoops of any or all assessments in the course. They've probably evaluated the materials in the course, but if they already know something, why spent a lot of time on something already known? Or, an item that should be done to obtain 100% completion is only available in the paid version (some FutureLearn courses are like this), and are inaccessible to learners on the free tier.

On the other extreme, we have the perspective of the course designer. This is the perspective that most research studies on completion seem to adopt. The course designer is working with an abstracted learner population, with abstracted goals.  The outcomes of the course might be based on actual research into a learner group, they might be based on the intuition of the course designer, or they might just be whatever the course designer has an interest in preparing (sort of like the Chef's soup of the day, it's there, you can have it, but it doesn't mean that this is what you came into the restaurant for).  In a traditional course (the ones you pay and get credentialed for) it makes sense that a learner could simply go along for the (educational) ride because they are paying and (presumably) they've done some research about the course, and it meets their goals. In a free offering, why would a learner conform to the designer's assumptions as to what the learner needs? Especially when a free offering can (and probably does) gather the interest of not just aspiring professionals, but people in the profession (who presumably have some additional or previous knowledge), as well as hobbyists who are free-range learning?

Given those two extremes of the spectrum, I would say that there is a mid-point.  The mid-point is where the power dynamic between the learner and the designer is at equilibrium.  The educational goals (and what hoops the learner is willing to jump through) 100% coincide with what the designer designed. Both parties are entering the teaching/learning relationship on equal footing.  If you lean over a little to one side (learner side), the designer might consider the course incomplete, and if you lean over to the other side (the designer side) the learner might start to feel a bit annoyed because they have to jump through hoops that they feel are not worth their while. Some might begrudgingly do it, others not, it really depends on what the carrot is at the end of that hoop.  For me, a free certificate or badge did the trick most times. The threat of being marked as a non-completer (or more recently the threat of losing access to the course altogether 😭) however does not motivate me to "complete" the course on the designer's terms.

That said, what about my experience?  Well... my own behaviors have changed a bit over the years.  When xMOOCs first hit the scene I was willing to go through and jump through all the hoops for the official completion mark.  I did get a certificate at the end; and even though it didn't really carry much (or any?) weight, it was a nice memento of the learning experience. Badges were custom made (if there were badges), and the certificates were each unique to the MOOC that offered them.   Back in the day, Coursera had certificates of completion (you earned the minimum grade to pass), and certificates of completion with distinction (you basically earned an "A").  It was motivating to strive for that, even though it didn't mean much. It was also encouraging when MOOC content was available beyond the course's official end, so you could go back and review, re-experience, or even start a bit late.  As we know, things in the MOOC world changed over the years.  Certificates became something you had to pay for.  Sometimes even the assessment itself was something you had to pay for - you can see it in the MOOC but you can't access it.  Peer essay grading on coursera wasn't something that I found particularly useful, but I was willing to jump through the hoops if it meant a free moment at the end of the course (achievement, badge, certificate, whatever). Once things started having definitive start- and end- dates♪ , and content disappeared after that when certificates (which still we're worth much to the broader world) started costing money, the jumping through the same silly hoops (AES, CPR, MCEs, etc.) it just didn't feel worthwhile to go above my own learning goals and jump through someone else's hoops.

So, did I complete all those MOOCs?  Yup, but based on my own metrics, needs, and values.

What are your thoughts on MOOC completion?  Do you have a different scale? Or perhaps defined categories?

† 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

MOOC CPD & SpotiMOOCdora

Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I did my rounds on coursera, edx, miriadaX, and futurelearn and I signed up for a few new MOOCs.  I had also signed up for a course that a colleague was promoting on Canvas (innovative collaborative learning with ICT), but I've fallen behind on that one, not making the time commitment to participate.  The list of missed assignments (ones that I can no longer contribute to) actually is demotivating, even if my initial approach was not not do many assignments (or rather, play it by ear, and decide on whether I'd like to do some assignments during the MOOC). Maybe this coming week I'll 'catch up' in some fashion ;-).  The interesting thing is that there is a forum in Greek in that MOOC, which is motivational to see what my fellow Greek are doing in the arena of ICT and collaboration. I guess I still have a few more weeks before the MOOC ends...

Anyway,  I digress (probably not good practice for the dissertation).  Today's post was spurred by a recent essay on the MOOC on Inside Higher Education, where the author looked at her prognostications and examined them in the light of information we currently have about MOOCs. It is a little disheartening that the original MOOCs (connectivist MOOCs) are sort of gone (at least I don't really see a ton of connectivist stuff happening these days), and the xMOOC variety seems to be going more and more toward money making.  Even with the MOOCs I've just singed up for, there really isn't an option for a free certificate anymore.  You can still go through the course - which I am to do on my own sweet time (opportunity to explore the classics), but even a basic certificate is not free any longer. Another thing that going into this mix is thinking about continual professional development. In the two departments I am mostly connected with (applied linguistics and instructional design) graduates of these programs often need PD credits in order to maintain a teaching license, or to continue to hone their skills. Usually this is done through free webinars, in-service training, or taking additional graduate courses (depending on your field of course). This got me thinking about two things: MOOCs as CPD (which isn't really a new idea), and the all-you-can-eat MOOC (or SpotiMOOCdora - after services like spotify and Pandora).

My first pondering is this:  given that institutions such as Georgia Tech are offering a $10k MA in the MOOC format, why not consider a smaller leap into CPD (professional development courses)?  I know that maybe doing an entire MA might be a bit of leap for most institutions, heck even a certificate might be a bit of a leap (aka 'micro-masters' in the MOOC world), but CPDs have a different set of expectations and requirements, and they are often not available for graduate credit (some are, but most in my experience are not). I think it would make a ton of sense to develop professional development courses in a MOOC format, that are available for free for a target audience (let's say teachers of high school biology).  The payment can come in the form of assessment, or an in-person fee for a facilitator that brings together the course content of the MOOC (that people have done previously) in an active learning paradigm.

The second pondering is this:  Is there a market for either an all-you-can-eat month-to-month subscription to a MOOC? An example of this would be Amazon Prime video, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and so on.  If not all you can eat, how about a model that's more like Audible, where you get a book per month and you can spend your unused tokens anyway you want (if you are still working on a book, you can bank the token for another month for example).  If either of these models works, then what would be an appropriate price?  Netflix and Spotify at $10/month; audible is $15/month for example.  The reason I am pondering this had to do with the costs of certification.  I don't know what the secret sauce in certification is, but edx is asking me for $200 to get a certified certificate of completion (this sounds redundant).  What does $200 get me?  I don't get college credit for it, and (for me) the joy of learning is internal, so $200 is better spend elsewhere. For instance $200 gets me lifetime subscription to my favorite MMORPG...when said subscription is on sale (lots of hours of fun and additional content). Comparatively the edx certificate seems like a poor value proposition.

What do you think about these ideas?  Does a monthly subscription MOOC make sense?  What is the value proposition?  And, can we resuscitate the cMOOC?   Thoughts?

Course beta testing...


This past weekend a story came across my slashdot feed titled Software Goes Through Beta Testing. Should Online College Courses? I don't often see educational news on slashdot so it piqued my interest. Slashdot links to an EdSurge article where Coursera courses are described as going through beta testing by volunteers (unpaid labor...)

The beta tests cover things such as:

... catching mistakes in quizzes and pointing out befuddling bits of video lectures, which can then be clarified before professors release the course to students.

Fair enough, these are things that we tend to catch in developing our own (traditional) online courses as well, and that we fix or update in continuous offering cycles.   The immediate comparison, quite explicitly, in this edsurge article is the comparison of xMOOCs to traditional online courses.  The article mentions rubrics like Quality Matters and SUNY's open access OSCQR ("oscar") rubric for online 'quality'. One SUNY college is reportedly paying external people $150 per course for such reviews of their online courses, and the overall question seems to be: how do we get people to do this beta test their online courses?

This article did have me getting a bit of a Janeway facepalm, when I read it (and when I read associated comments). The first reason I had a negative reaction to this article was that it assumes that such checks don't happen.   At the instructional design level there are (well, there are supposed to be) checks and balances for this type of testing. If an instructional designer is helping you design your course, you should be getting critical feedback as a faculty member on this course.  In academic departments where only designers do the design and development (in consultation with the faculty member as the expert) then the entire process is run by IDs who should see to this testing and control. Even when faculty work on their own (without instructional designers), which happens to often be the case in face-to-face courses, there are checks and balances there.  There are touch-points throughout the semester and at the end where you get feedback from your students and you can update materials and the course as needed. So, I don't buy this notion that courses aren't 'tested'.†

Furthermore, a senior instructional designer at SUNY is cited as saying that one of the challenges "has been figuring out incentives for professors or instructional designers to conduct the quality checks," but at the same time is quoted as saying “on most campuses, instructional designers have their hands full and don’t have time to review the courses before they go live.”  You can't say (insinuate) that you are trying to coax someone to do a specific task, and then say that these individuals don't have enough time on their hands to do the task you are trying to coax them to do. When will they accomplish it?  Maybe the solution is to hire more instructional designers? Maybe look at the tenure and promotion processes for your institutions and see what can be done there to encourage better review/testing/development cycles for faculty who teach. Maybe hire designers who are also subject matter experts to work with those departments.‡

Another problem I have with this analogy on beta testing is that taught courses (not self-paced courses, which is what xMOOCs have become) have the benefit of a faculty member actually teaching the course, not just creating course packet material. Even multimodal course materials such as videos, podcasts, and animations, are in the end, a self-paced course packet if there isn't an actual person there tutoring or helping to guide you through that journey.   When you have an actual human being teaching/instructing/facilitating/mentoring the course and the students in the course there is a certain degree of flexibility.  You do want to test somewhat, but there is a lot of just-in-time fixes (or hot-fixes) as issues crop up.  In a self-paced course you do want to test the heck out of the course to make sure that self-paced learners aren't stuck (especially when there is no other help!), but in a taught course, extensive testing is almost a waste of limited resources.  The reason for this is that live courses (unlike self-paced courses and xMOOCs) aren meant to be kept up to date and to evolve as new knowledge comes into the field (I deal mostly with graduate online courses),  Hence spending a lot of time and money testing courses that will have some component of the course change within the next 12-18 months is not a wise way to use a finite set of sources.

At the end of the day, I think it's important to critically query our underlying assumptions.  When MOOCs were the new and shiny thing they were often (and wrongly) compared with traditional courses - they are not, and they don't have the same functional requirements.  Now that MOOCs are 'innovating' in other areas, we want to make sure that these innovations are found elsewhere as well, but we don't see a stop to query if the functional requirements and the environment are the same.   Maybe for a 100 level (intro course) that doesn't change often, and that is taken by several hundred students per year (if not per semester) you DO spend the time to exhaustively test and redesign (and maybe those beta testers get 3-credits of their college studies for free!), but for some courses that have the potential change often and have fewer students, this is overkill.  At the end, for me, it comes down to local knowledge, and prioritizing of limited resources.  Instructional Designers are a key element to this and it's important that organizations utilize their skills effectively for the improvement of the organization as a whole.

Your thoughts?

† Yes, OK, there are faculty out there have have taught the same thing for the past 10 years without any change, even the same typos in their lecture notes! I hope that these folks are the exception in academia and not the norm.

‡ The comparison here is to the librarian world where you have generalist librarians, and librarians who also have subject matter expertise in the discipline that they are librarians in. Why not do this for instructional designers?

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.

No more blatantly openwashing

I am a little behind the times in this breakneck-speed of development in the world of MOOCs, but some things (namely EDDE 804) have priority over the comings and goings of xMOOC providers. Close to a month ago IHE had reported in their quick takes section that coursera will remove the option of free for some of their courses.  Blink, and you may have missed it.  I also don't recall seeing much discussion about it in my usual edTech circles.

My original thought was that coursera was just barring access (period) to some courses if you don't pay, however it seems that the actual process is a little more nuanced.  From the coursera blog:

Starting today, when you enroll in certain courses, you’ll be asked to pay a fee (or apply for Coursera’s financial aid program) if you’d like to submit required graded assignments and earn a Course Certificate. You can also choose to explore the course for free, in which case you’ll have full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments. You’ll see the options for each individual course when you click “enroll” on the course information page; courses that aren’t part of this change will continue to show the options to enroll in the course either with or without a Certificate. Most courses that are part of Specializations will begin offering this new experience this week, and certain other courses will follow later this year.

Now, to anyone who does not know how coursera 'graded' courses work, there is no instructor who grades your assignment.  If payment were required to compensate a human being for their time to grade, and provide feedback, on your assignment it would make sense.  However graded assignments are multiple choice exams - done by computer, and peer-reviewed assignments, done for free by your peers.  To some extent this seems to me like a replication of the peer reviewed journal publication model where a lot of work is done for free by volunteers, and then those same volunteers (or rather their institutions) are asked to subscribe to very costly databases to access those journals articles that were written or reviewed by their members for free.

Coursera, in a sense, if becoming a bit like a temporary-access YouTube for educational videos.  If you want something for free, you can come in and access it when it's available  - or if you're lucky it's "on demand" and hence perpetually accessible...until it isn't - and you can watch videos on (mostly) their schedule, because once the course is's over and you no longer have access to videos.  At least EdX (up to now) still allows you to go back and view your past course videos.  In the past, before the new interface, coursera actually had a little download button for the videos in their courses, and I availed myself of the use of that button to keep some archival copies of those videos.  They've come in handy when I've wanted to view them on my tablet or smartphone and I am offline.  Now that capability is gone.

It seems to me that the trend here is to continue to openwash their products while we uncritically accept them as yet another provider of "open" content.  I do get it.  I have an MBA.  I get the responsibility to turn a profit and returning the initial investment (plus some extra for their faith in you) to the investors that put money into coursera.  However, I think you're going about it wrong, and openwashing isn't a great (or ethical in my book) practice.  If you are more honest about what you are doing and completely shed the "open" adjective then we're cool.  But let me ask you this, from a business perspective, how are you different from self-paced elearning outfits like; and how are you going to avoid the same mistakes as FATHOM?  I am not seeing a plan for you...


A way to visualize MOOC students...

Even though this semester is relatively calm, compared to last semester, I still find myself not writing as much as I think I would like.  I've set aside, temporarily, the book I was meant to have finished reviewing last October, on MOOCs, until the semester ends and I can focus on them a little more.

One reason for the refocus of energies is EDDE 804. We are focusing on leadership in education, and I am finding myself spending a lot more time pondering the topic.  I was going to be "ruthlessly pragmatic" and just focus on the assessments, but the cohort members provide for some really interesting discussion and points to ponder.  Another thought that crossed my mind was this: am I over MOOCs?  There was a time when I used to check out coursera, edx, futurelearn, and the other not-so-usual suspects for new courses, however these days going to those sites seems more like a chore than anything else.  I've downloaded a whole bunch of videos from previous courses that I signed up for, and they are on my iPad, but I haven't made a (serious) dent in them yet.  I am looking forward to Rhizo16, which is coming later this year in May.  Perhaps I am looking forward to it, more so than any xMOOC offering, because it will be when the semester ends and I have some brainpower to spare.

I've also been thinking that the xMOOC has really evolved into something that I, at the moment, find completely boring: a self-paced course.  The visual queues and user experience that you get from the new and improved coursera reminds me a lot of how self-paced courses are laid out.  Sure, there is a 'discussions' area, however that - the social presence aspect - seems a little adjunct to the straight up content.  I really liked when I used to be able to just download the content (so much for 'open') and view it on a device of my own choosing, whenever I chose, however the new setup has broken the coursera downloaders that have existed thus far. This, to me, shows how much UX matters.

That said, I've also been pondering the question of who comes into MOOCs.  I know, I know! Lots of analytics and published research from the xMOOC providers and their partners seem to indicate that people who join MOOCs are, generally speaking, educated individuals with at least a BA, but I've been thinking of potential visualizations for this data. Ever since I took part in DALMOOC and played a bit with Tableau, I've been thinking that one of the first hurdles to analyzing MOOCs is to see (1) who is coming and (2) who is engaged.  Especially if we want to consider the potential of MOOCs for employment purposes.    On the way to work today I was scribbling down a way to visualize MOOC participants based on work experience, whether or not they were actively looking for new work, and their educational background.  The visualization that I came up was as follows:

The y-axis on the positive side goes from unemployed (but looking) to 12+ years of work. This comes mostly from HR job descriptions and how desired work experience is generally put on job descriptions.  On the y-axis, "negative", you have unemployed but not looking, all the way to people who are retired.

I generally go to MOOCs because I am curious about the topic and want to learn more.  More often than not it has nothing to do with my dayjob.  It's just me being a lifelong learner.  However, if we are to look at MOOCs for employment purposes we really need  to look skills.  Both skills people bring to the table, which helps somewhat with the instructional design process, and skills that people are looking to attain.  While this is a pretty crude picture of who is a learner in MOOCs, I think that it is an important dimension to examine from our past  7-8 years of MOOCs.  I wonder if people have been keeping data.


What's the usual half-life of an intellectual interest?


Now that school is over, and grading is almost over for the course I am teaching this semester, I finally have an opportunity to go through and continue my quest to read existing MOOC literature.  I had started this past September reading a collection of articles in an IGI publication titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses which I got electronically for a limited time in order to do a book review.  Needless to say that between work, school, and personal priorities this book review (and reading of articles) went in the back, back, back burner.  I also noticed that colleagues Markus Deimann and Sebastien Vogt published a special issue on MOOCs in Europe on IRRODL recently.  It would not be an understatement to say that I could probably take a year off from my EdD program just to read all the MOOC related research that has been published (and retrieved) in the past two years.  I'd say it's been gathering dust, but it's all in two drawers, so it's pretty dust-proof ;-)

That said, even my friends and colleagues have noticed that I don't utter the venerable acromyn as much any longer - despite its promenance on this blog.  So, as I was thining about xMOOCs, cMOOCs, pMOOCs, rMOOCs, and all the other wonderful acronyms, I am wondering what the average half-life of a research interest (or curiosity) is.  I've been thinking about MOOCs since 2011, when I started with LAK11, CCK11, and MobiMOOC. I've worked on a number of fruitiful collaborations with a variety of groups on the subject. I've even been deemed as the MOOC expert on campus (as much as I don't like the title of expert). That said, I've noticed that my interest in coursera, edx, canvas network, and other MOOC providers has really wained.   Maybe it's because I am spending much more time on my PhD.  Or, maybe I've just burned the fuse on the subject of MOOCs and there is a need for academic renewal.  I am not sure.

So, the question is this:  How often do academics change their research interests?  Obviously the answer is probably not something that can be generalizable, however there should be trends that can help shed some light on this.  Do people in the academe pick a topic and stay with it for considerable periods of time, or do most of us act like bees, going from flower to flower based on an ever-changing set of interests?  While I am not aiming for a tenure track position (there are way too few of those around to even bother), I do wonder, if the opportunity ever arises, if a record of going from topic to topic (with no long term commitment to any specific topic) is something that can hurt those prospects for employment in a tenured position.


xMOOCs as on-demand documentary viewing

For the past semester I've mostly ignored synchronous learning on coursera.  Instead of consuming materials as they are released, I log in once a week, download the videos for the course, and I keep them in my video library.  If there are textual materials available as well, I donwload those, but I tend to focus more on video materials. When inspiration (or curiosity) strikes, I dive into the specific course of interest and have a video play.  At the moment I tend to play lectures in chronological order, the order that they were listed in - in the course I got them from.

So, why not use coursera as "intended"?  Well, the predominant reason is the lack of time. These past two semesters have been quite busy for me and I don't have the time or inclination to do things as they are released by content providers (yes, I know - the noun used was quite deliberate).  There are also a lot of interesting courses being offered, not just on coursera, but also other MOOC providers. This means that my time, little as it was before, now becomes less when you think of the plethora of stuff that's out there.  My initial tactic was to sign up for many xMOOCs and view things later, but as I discovered, some MOOCs, once the course if "over", have adopted another annoying approach of traditional education - making content in-accessible. So, when I sign up for MOOCs, I download everything I can.  I probably contribute to the great number of 'non completers', but 'completing' a MOOC means many things to many people.  I'll complete the MOOC on my own terms ;-)

I know that some MOOCs are 'on demand' on coursera, which means that you can access them anytime, however those don't easily allow for video downloads. At least, I have not found a way to download for offline viewing thus far, so I usually don't sign up for those.

So, in thinking about my own, recent, use of xMOOC materials, I was thinking of public television, things like the national geographic television channel, documentaries. I was also thinking about  on-demand viewing venues like amazon prime, hulu, and netflix (and to a much lesser degree things like torrenting).  I think over the past 10 years (probably a little more) we've seen a huge change in how entertainment media is accessed and consumed.  Initially we had time-shifiting with devices like TiVo, so you didn't have to watch something on the day that it was on - you could watch it at another time.  Yes, VHS tapes also accomplished the same thing but I had a hard time programming my VCR to do this, whereas TiVo seems to have made it user friendly (even though I never owned a TiVo).

We also experienced place-shifting with things like Sling players which allows you to view things that are outside of your georgraphic region. So, if you are an mid-westerner living abroad, you can watch your local football team abroad if you want. Provided that you have mobile bandwidth, you could watch your local TV locally on your mobile as well. Finally, we have providers such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and the list goes on) that allow you to stream materials to your device.  Some, like Amazon recently, allow you to download a copy for offline use. So, if you are on a plane, or away from the web, you can still watch what you've paid for. So, in the end, you aren't tied to a broadcast model, one where the preferences are set by external interests, but by your time, availability, and mood.

Along with these revolutions in how we consume media, I was thinking how much I liked documentaries as a kid, and I was thinking back to high school where we were required to keep a journal in some science classes (watch a documentary relevant to your science class topic and write about what you learned). And then it hit me.  I am using xMOOC videos in a similar manner as I do television shows these days.  The heuristics of xMOOC videos (at least the social science and history ones I tend to follow) are such that they encourage this type of viewing.  I can just add them to my iPad and I can view them while I am on the train, or while shaving (most of them seem to be talking heads, so no worries about cutting myself), or while gardening (ditto on the talking head).  Learning, then, becomes embedded into other activities.  This is not because the learning isn't engaging - if it were boring I wouldn't be doing it - but rather because the heuristics of materials provided as the bread and butter of the course seem to point to that usage.  If a learner doesn't have the need to engage socially with fellow co-learners, and if the materials don't connect in ways that encourage such social aspects, then nothing is lost. Now...if only those videos were all OERs...

Compare this with cMOOCs. More specifically a cMOOC called creativity for learning in higher ed, The collaboration and discussion component is a large part of the MOOC.  To get the most out of this MOOC you'd have to be engaged in the course, via discussions and exchanges with other co-learners, because that's what the design heuristics dictate. Since I am currently too busy with school and work for this MOOC, I probably won't participate in it as it exists when many are working in that space. I do however think that I will most likely come back in December once the semester is over and I can take a breather.

To wrap up, back to my xMOOC videos as documentary viewing - what do you think?  Should we encourage such asynchronous view of  learning and engaging in the material? What does this do to our current notions of 'completion' and 'engagement'?  How about assessment of learning?   Your thoughts?


You keep using that word...

Recently I read an article on Your Training Edge which aims to correct misconceptions surrounding MOOCs. The title of this particular post, and I guess myth that they tried to correct, was "MOOCs Aren’t Interactive, So There’s No Real Learning Taking Place". The basic idea in this misconception is really preposterous.  I don't know when interactive became synonymous with learning, but it is clearly a flawed concept.  Yes, interactivity can aid in learning, but just because something isn't interactive it doesn't mean that learning is taking place, and vice versa - if something is interactive it doesn't mean that learning is taking place.  I can think of a lot of cases where there isn't interactivity, but learning happens never the less. Three examples that come to mind are:
  • self-paced eLearning, while you might have some  interactivity (matching games, clicking "next" on the player, and so on), this interactivity is really token interactivity to make sure you're awake.  I have yet to come across really interesting and engaging eLearning;
  • Educational Television and videos.  These only interactive thing about them is that you can pause, rewind, and skip forward.  There is no interaction with that media that is substantive, but learning can occur nevertheless.
  • Books are probably the best example of non-interaction.  They exist, containing knowledge and information, and people read them and they attempt to apply what is locked in them.  The interaction is really turning pages. Despite this, learning can, and does, happen!
The authors of  YTE however don't bring this little fact up.  Instead they bring up some suggestions about how you can make your MOOC more interactive!  I'll list them here (without the notes), for your convenience (I would say read their entire post for your own reference though, this way you see their rationale):
  1. Make interactive video. 
  2. Use discussion boards and social media.
  3. Have a facilitator lead class discussions. 
  4. Hold virtual office hours
  5. Use surveys and polls. 
  6. Incorporate projects and other real-world problem solving. 
  7. Assign learners to groups. 
  8. Use a variety of exercise types. 
  9. Set up knowledge sharing environments. 
  10. Incorporate Simulations
  11. Gamify. 
  12. Go mobile.
Reading this list it's what comes across are someone's suggestions for making a traditional online course more interactive rather than making a MOOC more interactive.  I've been participating in MOOCs of all sorts up to this point, cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, rMOOC (and whatever other MOOC you want to throw in) on a variety of platforms.  In xMOOCs video is usually interactive in some way, shape, or form. Does it allow you to choose your own adventure?  Well, no - but is that desirable?  It depends on the discipline.

Discussion forums in MOOCs don't work.  We've had a good time in Rhizo14 and other cMOOCs using  facebook as a discussion forum, but that's because there are relative few of us.  In larger MOOCs offered on coursera the discussions forums are unwieldy. It's clear that the paradigm used in implementing discussion forums is that of the traditional online course which doesn't work when you have loads of people signed up. The same was true for a cMOOC called CFHE12 which ran on Desire2Learn - I skipped the forums because they were too crazy.

Virtual office hours and facilitated discussion, again, seem like really great for traditional courses, but for MOOCs, unless you clone yourself this won't work.  The same is true about assigning people to groups.  We saw in 2012 that FOEMOOC crashed and burned, and one of the reasons was group making.  Group making doesn't need to crash and burn though.  I was in a group in a NovoEd course this past summer and it worked out well, but in doing this it missed the massiveness aspect of the course.  Furthermore we were lucky in that we had 3 out of 5 members of the team interested in sticking with it and making the group work.  What happens when you have a group formed and people decide that the course isn't for them?  Group dynamics are not the same in a MOOC as they are in a traditional course. 

 From the entire list posted only two items really seem like they are breaking away from the tradition of the campus or traditional online course: gamification and going mobile.  Gamification, and by extension alternative credentialing, is an interesting concept.  Gamification won't work for all learners, but it is something that could engage those who are looking for a way to solve puzzles to get to the next step.  Tied with micro-credentials I think this has great potential in MOOCs - albeit it might take a lot of time and effort to develop something effective.  We've seen a lot of MOOCs use micro-credentials including OLDSMOOC, Introduction to Open Education (#ioe12), BlendKit, and the Open Badges MOOC on Coursesites. There is enough raw material there to look at past practices and plan forward.  Even on Coursera, on Werbach's Gamification MOOC the first time around each lecture featured changed in the environment that the lecture took place that we significant, and it was a puzzle to solve.  That got people thinking and competing for a gift give-away.

As far as Mobile is concerned - I don't disagree that mobile has potential.  My 3rd MOOC was MobiMOOC 2011, and as it turns out a pretty fundamental MOOC in my own personal socialization into this massive participant learning environment. I really liked the ability to participate in discussions through my mobile (same is true of Rhizo14!)  I don't know if this was accidental, or planned, but it worked. Google Groups, what we used for MobiMOOC, due to its connection with email, made it easy to participate while on the go for some things. Mobile, however, is not a panacea. Making things mobile won't increase interaction.

So, my advice for interaction in MOOCs? I would advise that MOOC Organizers plan for some interactions, and plan well within those limited constraints (perhaps a weekly live webcast with twitter discussion - like the DALMOOC had, or like EDCMOOC had), and then allow - and even encourage - participants to find their own spaces to engage.  I would argue that in a MOOC we shouldn't be forcing people down prescribed paths for interaction and engagement. Learners should find their own paths.  The paradigm of the traditional online course does not map well into MOOCs and people who discuss MOOCs should have the two concepts clearly disambiguated in their minds. Otherwise someone is going to come up to you and say - You keep using that word (MOOC), I do not think it means what you think it means. :-)

I dream of dissertation...

Week 1 of 15, of semester 2 of 8, of doctoral work is about to end!  The course that my cohort is focusing on this semester is a research methods course. Luckily neither I, nor it seems many of my classmates, are that new to research methods.  It's nice to have the group (or at least quite a few members of the group) exposed to the basics so that we can spend some time in critiquing and going deeper (and that's something we did on our cohort's facebook group this week anyway).  I also appreciate the fact the course isn't setup to only allow for one path through the course.  There are certainly foundational materials that we are expected to read and know, but for presentations it seems like we have a ton of choices in terms of what research methods we choose to present.

I've been thinking about the assignments and I think I will spend some time exploring research methods that I haven't had a ton of exposure in, or methods that I've been meaning to go much deeper into.  I think I will spend some time with Discourse Analysis - I've got a few books on my bookshelf that need  some reading on the topic, and I think I will focus on autoethnography.  Some members of the #rhizo14 community(and I) are working together on an autoethnographic paper (aka the un-paper) for a special issue of a journal and for an OLC conference presentation.  Autoethnography is new to me, so I guess I'm trying to kill two birds with one stone - both the paper for the journal and something for this course.  The whole aspect of autoethnography is making me think of the dissertation.  I've gone through many potential ideas for a dissertation topic including using design-based-research to convert the course that I teach (INSDSG 684) from a closed, institutional, course to an open course.  Seeing that the course was cancelled last fall (for low enrollment) and that this semester I don't even have the minimum amount of student to run the course, I am not sure that banking on this approach is wise. I may find myself with a re-designed course, fully open, but without learners.  No learners means no data, and no data means that there is little to write about.

In doing some initial work on autoethnography (and this is really preliminary at this point), I was thinking of using my own experiences as a MOOC learner (going 4 years strong in 2015) to write a dissertation about my MOOC experiences.  I am not sure if I will draw upon the previous 4 years, or if I will spend 18-24 months MOOCing in xMOOCs, cMOOCs, pMOOCs, rMOOCs,  and so on and do much more data gathering than I have done in the previous years.  While I have quite a lot of materials on this blog for MOOCs (over 200 blog posts...and counting) the current collection of data I have might be considered haphazard in its collection.

With the explosion of MOOC platforms, and the languages available, I am thinking that I could really sit down and learn in the various languages I know (including French, Italian, Greek, and so on).  It has been a really long time since I've considered myself an xLL (x = insert language of your choice) Language Learner.  One of the areas of research in linguistics is in ELLs (English Language Learners) and how students who have another native language are learning academic materials in a language that is not their own.  When I returned from Greece in 1994 and I started High School in the US I was, in earnest, an ELL.  While the seeds for English were in my head (I was born here and spent some years here before I moved to Greece), my language development wasn't the same as fellow classmates who were English speaking-only and had their schooling in English all of their lives.  It's obvious, at this point, that English is a language that I am no longer considered an ELL in. However, how about French, and Italian, and even German (my German isn't that great). I could pick up new knowledge in MOOCs, interact with classmates (in dreaded discussion forums), and not only pick up something new, but improve my language capacity in those languages (in theory). I think this might make an interesting dissertation.

The only trepidation I have is the method: autoethography.  While I do acknowledge the importance of critical theory in education and in research, and the validity of the researcher's and their experiences as the object of research, part of me is uncomfortable with this. Is studying and researching one's self just a tad bit narcissistic? Also, what about validity and applicability of the research findings - from a scientific point of view.  From a humanistic point of view what I write will be valid, as my own lived experience, however what would my dissertation committee think of this approach?  Something to ponder.  What do you think?