Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Synchronous, online learning, and "remote" learning

The question of synchronous sessions in online learning has been swirling in my head over the past few weeks.  So has the term "remote" instruction (🙄).  I usually tend to sit on the sidelines these days, maybe throwing a few potshots on twitter here and there when I have time, but this article on IHE today was one where my eyes rolled too hard, and there was an audible grunt in the room...

First of all, I guess I should explain my aversion to the term "remote" instruction.  Our field, distance education, has many terms to describe learning at a distance that actually mean something, and have actually had decades of research behind them!  Because the existing terms mean something, and usually have legalistic implications, it's like administrators are using a synonym for "distance" in order to avoid any sorts of contractual agreements that they have made.  For instance, at my institution, if a faculty member develops an online course from scratch (for the first time), they are entitled to a development stipend. There is a process behind this stipend, which includes working with an instructional designer and getting a Bootcamp version of the skills one needs to teach online, but it exists, and it takes time.  In the times of COVID19, timelines are compacted, and such processes are too long, and money is often too short.  So, instead of calling these classes online, they euphemistically call them "remote" in order to avoid paying any stipend.  The "right" course of action would be to negotiate with the faculty union about this.

The second issue that I have with the designation "remote" is that it seems to denote a "less-than" term for distance education.  It's OK that this course stinks because it's a "remote" course.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I think the correct term for a rushed course is an emergency online course, not a remote course.  Online courses can stink.  And, some do! But to claim that we don't want to call what we do classify what we do in an emergency online learning context as online learning because that's not what online learning is,...well, that's just silly IMO.  We did start off with emergency remote teaching when this started, and why we picked the wrong word - picking remote over emergency - is beyond me. The word emergency should be enough to denote that what's happening is not necessarily the most fully fleshed out, but it is the best we can do in with the time and resources we have at hand.  Furthermore, emergency remote/online/distance learning is perfectly fine when you have one week to make the pivot.  Come September, if we're all still quarantined in place,  distance learning should not be emergency anything!  We should use the summer to plan for good online learning and to build out student supports that may be lacking at the moment!

Finally, there is an aspect of synchronous often tied with the affinity of using the term remote learning. Many people decided to just move their lectures into zoom.  Hey, a 45-minute live session might be OK three-times per week for one class; multiply that by 4 courses for a full-time student. However, sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours per week on zoom sessions that might not be needed, and then being in front of your computer for all assignment (plus all the distractions and poor internet that you might have at home) and it doesn't make for a conducive learning environment.  That said, we do have the option for synchronous online meetings. Online courses aren't designed to be strictly asynchronous or self-paced.  Furthermore, just because mixed-mode institutions have ignored their online learners for the past decade doesn't mean that online or distance learning is inflexible and doesn't adapt to the changing needs of learners. It doesn't mean that there is a lack of community, and it doesn't mean that distance education cannot create co-curricular opportunities.  Just because you have ignored some or all of these possibilities doesn't mean that they don't exist, and it doesn't require that you create a new term to describe them.

In the end, what I am seeing with remote learning is the same thing we saw in the 2012-2014 MOOC Craze years, where what we knew about online and distance education was summarily ignored due to the new shiny.  Did we not learn anything from that experience? ❓

Your thoughts?


Formal education and social capital

You don't go to Harvard for the Education. You go to Harvard for the Connections!
- someone from my past (I don't remember who).

The other day a long-distance friend and colleague posted an interesting blog post pondering (or positing?) that Social and Cultural capital are the main problem in online education. A very engaging twitter thread and discussion ensued (which I am having trouble locating at the moment), but I thought I'd let the dust settle a bit and collect my thoughts on the matter first.  It is a little self-serving too because I wanted to get back into the habit of writing and this seemed like a good opportunity.  As I was thinking about where to start untangling this thread the quote at the beginning of this post came to mind†.

As I was thinking about this I interrogated some of my educational experiences, both undergraduate, and graduate, and free-range learning (like MOOCs).  Most of my education was residential in nature. Although I do prefer distance education‡ life circumstanced necessitated campus courses for most of my education♠ I am also leaving free-range learning aside. This sets the background for my views. So, what do my (totally anecdotal) experiences point to?  Social Capital♣ is not baked into higher education at all.  It may be the frosting on the Higher Education Cake, but it's not really an integral part of the experience. There are some courses, that required collaboration, cooperation, or some form of human-human communication certainly approached the topic tangentially♥ but large section courses and lecture courses did not.

So where does learning about social and cultural capital come from in the higher education environment? Extracurricular activities! Oddly enough I think I learned most of my face-to-face skills in this area during my MBA program.  There were a number of guest lectures and free workshops available throughout my MBA program that looked at this topic. It was also included in quite a few cases in managerial and HR courses♦ I took.  Now, do I remember most of my classmates that I had in class (in person, no less!).  Not really.  I remember the dozen or so people I worked on projects with, but thanks to LinkedIn I am reminded there were others too 😊. I do consider myself to be an introvert, so organized events and socials, like the ones my MBA program had, were not my favorite venue, but I attended some nevertheless because of the value associated with them.

This begs the question: who do I remember the most? The answer is people from my free-range learning, and people who I met online.  Social capital, for people that are at a distance, for me developed outside of the classroom, and not even as an extracurricular activity that was tied to the classroom.  University facilities did help◊ but ultimately those connections were made via trial and error, and the willingness to take a leap of faith and chat with total strangers⊕. What makes that leap of faith worth taking?  I suppose it depends on each individual. For me, it was finding people to chat in Greek.  For others, it seemed to be about soccer, or hockey, or super Mario or some other common interest.  The skills learned in these online experiences and online social circles translated directly to both formal distance education as well as free-range online learning. A bit tangentially, the benefit I saw of online vs. face-to-face was that I could easily lurk in online environments and jump in when I felt ready, whereas in face-to-face environments that's a bit awkward.

From my experiences, it seems to me that learning about and experiencing the accumulation of social capital, is a by-product of actual social experiences themselves. And, in order to have those social experiences, you need some other motivating subject (learning, language practice, keeping in touch, discussing the finer points of your favorite novels, etc.).  Curriculum (online or f2f) doesn't do that by itself.  The experience needs to be engineered in order for it to happen. So, I would say that social and cultural capital are not problems in the online learning environment.  It's a bit of an issue across all learning - but it's only an issue if you expect that to be an outcome (sort of like the nameless person who said what I quoted at the beginning).

Your thoughts?

It's been said and heard many times, but the one that sticks out to me is the context of cost: You can get an equally good education at Harvard and at your local state university, but you go to Harvard for the connections that will potentially set you up for life. It's highly problematic if you think about it, and it becomes even more so with recent news of Epstein and his connection to universities (i.e., paying large amounts of money to be close to influential people and thinkers). Anyway, I digress.
why drive into campus, park, pay for parking, and deal with traffic when you can learn on the train?
tuition for campus courses was free (employee benefit) whereas online was not.
defined as "the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively." by the OED - didn't bother diving deeper into the sociological literature
Hey, we did have to work together after all!
As opposed to marketing, finance, IT/IS and accounting courses
I didn't have the internet at home at the time, but high-speed internet was available on-campus, so I spent a lot of time in the computer lab
Ah, the Yahoo! Chat days... brings back good memories

Campus deadzones, and creepy hallways: where did everyone go?

Found image on Google
(not actually a photo of me)
Happy Friday dear readers! (umm...anyone still there?  I swear! I am alive! 😆)

I've been attempting to write a blog post all week (and trying to do the 10 minutes of writing per day), but I've been failing on that account...I guess Fridays are a better day as things wind down from the week.  In any case, there is an article from the Chronicle that's been on my mind this week titled "Our Hallways are too quiet". Our department chair sent this to us (everyone in the department) as a thought piece, perhaps something to ponder and discuss in the fall - probably because our department is also like the department that is described in the article.

I had a variety of cognitive and emotional processes go off, and get gears grinding while I was reading this.  I actually hadn't noticed that the author was from MIT...who only recently "discovered" online learning (like Columbus discovering the New World).  Yes, I am a little snarky, but I also think that your frame of reference is really important.  If you are a Bricks and Mortar institution what you consider "community" might look different from an institution that is focused on distance education (or at least has a substantial DE component).  But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me just say this:  My job title is "Online Program Manager" - as in the person who runs the online components of a specific MA program.  Having been on campus for close to 20 years now, in a variety of roles, I can see both sides.  I think this particular article is really biased, in ways that their author doesn't even get.

Let's start with this:
Entire departments can seem like dead zones, and whole days can pass with only a glimpse of a faculty member as someone comes to campus to meet a student, attend a meeting, or teach a class. The halls are eerily quiet. Students, having figured this out, are also absent. Only the staff are present.
This excerpt, as well as the rest of the article, is very faculty-centric.  As if the faculty (or this particular faculty member anyway) are the only ones who suffer any consequences from creepy hallways.  In my most recent job (headed into my 6th year soon!), and my first in an academic department, I've experienced the demoralization that comes with absence of colleagues.  In all of my others jobs on campus I've always had colleagues around (with the exception of vacations and such).  Whereas in an academic department I didn't (don't) always see people.  In my induction period (when I was getting the lay of the land and doing a SWOT analysis of the program I was managing so I could be more effective) Mondays through Thursdays I'd at least see my fellow program managers and faculty here and there, but on Fridays it almost felt like being in the movie I Am Legend.  Granted, this didn't bother me back then because there was a lot of paper records to go through and make heads and tails out of everything. Being busy meant that I didn't really mind being alone.  Once all paper was organized, made sense of, and work could be done remotely, the big question that comes to mind is this:  Well, if I can do my work remotely, and I don't have to deal with the x-hour commute, why would I need to go in?  especially for someone who manages a distance learning program.  If one group of employees (faculty) can work remotely (effectively) why not another group whose job duties are conducive to it?  I do agree with one point made above:  students having figured out that faculty aren't there are also not there; but there is a big caveat here:  who are your students? Students in my department are (by and large) working adults, so even if faculty were around it doesn't mean we'd suddenly have students sitting around in semi-circles, drinking their dunkies coffee (local affectionate term for Dunkin' Donuts) and discussing Derrida.  If you think that way, you're living in a fantasy.  Student demographics matter.

Goin' onto the next point. The author writes about faculty avoid the office for a variety of old fashioned reasons, such as not being able to get work done, avoiding feuds, and avoiding time-sinks like watercooler talk, but then she turns her attention to the perennial foe: technology!
A big reason for decreased faculty presence in their campus offices is technology. Networked computers that allow one to write anywhere also allow us to have conversations with students and colleagues that used to take place in person. Creating new course materials and ordering books is easily done online. Cloud software has made pretty much all our work processes easily done from home, a vacation cabin, a foreign conference hotel. For many scholars, this has been a very liberating occurrence, giving them wondrous flexibility.
Pardon me, I don't know you, but I call 💀💢🐄💩😡 on this argument.  Yes.  technology has facilitated certain efficiencies, like not having to fill out a form in triplicate, or not having to wait overnight for a journal article query that only returns title and abstract of potentially relevant articles to you.  Technology has not caused faculty not to want to come to the office.  Other organizational factors play a major role in the day to day decisions on whether or not to work remotely.  When research productivity is sought more, then people will do what they need to do to be more productive in their research.  If community engagement, service, teaching, or other aspects of the professoriate are valued more, than people will gravitate toward those.  I basically comes down to incentives, and when there is little incentive to be on campus to meet those objectives, then you will undertake them at a place that is most convenient for you.  I think a lot has to do with the expectations set forth by the institution, the institutional culture, and by extension the departmental culture.  Sure, you can have a department chair (the head honcho in an academic department) mandate that everyone (yes, including faculty) have to be there 3 days per week, and put in at least 10 hours of  'face time' into the department during regular business hours (9-5).  That's really only 3 hours per day. Does 3 hours per day really build community?  Nope.  Does 3 hours per day guarantee that people will be there on those same days and hours?  Nope.  This is the equivalent of butts in seats, for no good reason.  It's as anachronistic as forcing students to endure a long lecture just because you haven't through of your pedagogies.  First you determine what your root goal is (and no, more face time isn't a worthy goal), and then you hatch a plan to get there, while at the same time taking into consideration the various local variables, norms, and expectations (heck, maybe those need some rethinking too!)

Every time I hear about technology as the "big bad" I am reminded of the rebooted (and cancelled) Thurdecats.  From the fan wiki article (with my own annotations in brackets):
Most citizens [of Thundera] abhorred technology, denying the existance of machinery entirely and leaving thoughts of such things as fairy tales. This belief was a major contributing factor to their destruction as the lizards [their enemy] attacked them with advanced bipedal war machines Warbots while the ThunderCats fought with bows and arrows.
Just an interesting side-trip - take it as you will 😂

Anyway, moving along, finally, I see a conflation of the sense of community with face time, and they are not the same thing.  The author writes:
Some would argue that worrying about departmental community is ridiculous. After all, professors aren’t hired or promoted on the basis of departmental relationships, or civic engagement, and most faculty members desperately need quiet time in which to do research and write. True enough. As my colleague, Sherry Turkle, has argued: Conversation matters. Personal contact matters. It is very hard to build relationships with people we do not see in person, and such relationships are the bedrock of so much else that matters on any campus.
I think community is important.  However just because someone is not in their office at the same time YOU are in your office doesn't mean that you can't have community.  And just because you re not meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't communicating.  And just because you aren't meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't having personal contact! I've had lots of meaningful conversations, and personal contact with my many distance friends, family, and colleagues over the year.  From my doctoral cohort, to vconnecting friends and colleagues (sorry I've been a ghost - dissertation is sucking my mental energy), to colleagues who are geographically dispersed.  Every time I hear of Sherry Turkle I can't help but roll my eyes. Yes, face to face is nice.  Yes, I like face to face sometimes, but face to face ain't the end all be all of conversations, connections, communities, and work.  Yes, we do need community.  Without it we are just a loosely joined confederation of people maybe striving toward a common goal (maybe not), but with community we become stronger, and we get smarter.  But community can be achieved in a different ways (look at vconnecting for example).

To wrap up, I am reminded of a joke, or something that one of my mentors (Pat Fahy) kept saying "It's the parking, stupid!".  This was the response to the question "why do students pursue distance education?".  Of course, this is just one piece of the puzzle; others being things like mobility issues, health issues, childcare, elder-care, working two (or more) jobs, and so on.  I think in an era where we are offering some really great distance education programs (oh yeah...welcome to the party, MIT), and we've seriously considered what makes a good online program for our disciplines in order to get here, it would behoove us to also look at what makes our jobs effective and how we can effectively build communities of various modalities.  Forcing grown human beings to have face time so that they form community is the equivalent of having your kids forced to stay with "weird uncle mike" or grandma, because you feel like your kids need a connection with the rest of your family, but you haven't bothered making them part of your family in the day to day, except only on holidays.  Both kids, and adults, resent such forced actions.  We can do better.  Just sayin'

OK, now that I've ranted on 😏 - what do you think? 😃


EDDE 806 - Post VI.III - The one with Sir John Daniel

OK, I am almost 'caught up' with the stuff I missed while I was on vacation (at least as far as 806 goes).  I remember receiving an email from Pearl indicating that Sir John Daniel would be presenting. Too bad the internet wasn't that reliable :-/  Oh well, thank goodness for recordings ;-)

Sir John Daniel seemed like a pretty interesting  person, and very knowledgeable (with over 300 publications to his name) and he must be a respectable human being because he wouldn't hold 32 honorary degrees from 17 different countries if people only liked him for his scholarship.  I guess the bar has been set for me (haha! :-) ). The only area where I surpass him is in the amount of MOOCs I've taken vs how many he's taken.  Even as a recording it was great to get to 'meet' such a distance education heavyweight (maybe I can email him and we can go for some coffee and discuss the future of DE next time I am around his neck of the woods in Canada ;-)  ).

In any case, there were some interesting connections drawn between Open Universities (OU) and MOOCs. The OU UK was created so that it would be Open to People, Open to Places, Open to Methods, and Open to Ideas.  MOOCs, as he argued, could be seen as Open to People (Massive), Open to Places (Open), Open to Methods (Online)...but what about the "C" in MOOC?  What about the course?  I ask what does it mean to pursue a 'course' in something?  And, does the course have some sort of assessment?  He discussed a little about badges (whether or not there is assessment), and he brought up an interesting question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who watches the watchers?)  This was brought up in reference to ePortfolios, and to badging.  It's a good question and I think it's quite pertinent to higher education in general as well.

We - as a profession - have put a lot of emphasis and currency (κύρος) in lots of old institutions.  As Sir John mentioned, MOOCs may not be the transformative change in higher education that they were (wrongly I would argue) claimed to be back in 2012, however they've made online education more respectable. After all, as Sir John said - if Harvard is doing it, it must be OK.  While I don't have anything against Harvard, I think that this type of attitude is potentially damaging to our field (in general, not just DE), because people don't pay attention to the good work done by DE researchers until Harvard starts paying attention... and even then, they do reinvent the wheel at times because they haven't been paying attention.

This type of blindness is replicated in the scholarly publishing industry (MOOCs and Open Access are good threads between this presentation/discussion and the one with Alec Couros). It's hard to break into established journals and OA, so any new journal has an uphill battle regarding their  journal's rank.  University rankings are based on where you publish (at least to some extent?) so that influences where people try to publish.  A bit of a vicious circle.

But, it's not all doom and gloom. I think we can make a dent, and make OA, and Open Institutions who have been doing DE for a while now, more 'respectable' - and perhaps have those institutions viewed in the same respect terms as Harvard when it comes to DE courses and programs.

One take away for me, as something to look more into, is looking into the African Virtual University.  I don't know much about it, and it seems pretty interesting (both from its history, and what it does now).

Your thoughts?

Say hello to SMOC (another pointless acronym ;-) )

A Smock
The other day an article came across my radar with the title "Don't Call it a MOOC." Well, of course, I really had to read it because it kind of sounds like MOOC is an insult, so don't insult a course by calling it a MOOC ;-) As if MOOC isn't a bad enough acronym, UT-Austin somehow found a worse one, SMOC (pronounced "smock").  So, what is this SMOC, other than a poor, and unnecessary acronym?

Basically, what it boils down to a SMOC (synchronous massive online course) is nothing more than a live webcast of two rockstar professors in a television studio.  I really fail to see where the innovation is, considering the fact that what you really have here is the digital equivalent of sitting in a 1000-seat auditorium, in a face to face introductory course. Sure, they say they have tutors for "small" groups of students, but, as a commenter on the article points out, that is still around 80 students per assistant.  Even then, it's not a professor but a graduate assistant, a former student in the course.

One of the two rockstar professors commented that:
“The cons of a MOOC is that you take away a sense of intimacy, a sense of community, a sense of a simultaneous, synchronous experience,” Gosling said.
I am actually wondering how intimate a group it can be between a group of 80 students per graduate assistant.  On top of that, I have a gut feeling that these guys have never attempted to MOOC themselves, or did the cursory try to say that they've tried it, but didn't really give it a go.  I have had MOOCs (granted mostly cMOOCs fall in this category) where the learning environment felt intimate and I got to know my peer learners.  I guess the misunderstanding comes in when Gosling (superstar #2) says that "In that sense, running the course as a traditional MOOC would be more efficient", I guess traditional in this sense means xMOOC. I don't know how xMOOCs can be "traditional" considering they didn't originate the concept.  I would certainly call them "mainstream," but not traditional.

Another thing that is a little disconcerting is this quote:
“I think we were influenced predominantly by this mix of Jon Stewart and 'The View' or Jay Leno,” said James W. Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at UT-Austin.
All of these shows are, at their core, entertainment.  Sure, it's fun to include some elements of "fun" in your course (you don't want to be a bore), but I am failing to see the pedagogical connections between the exemplar shows, and sound pedagogy.  Now, granted, MOOCs are experimental, so we should take as many opportunities to be guinea pigs as we possibly can, so we can learn something from it.  But, it seems to me that there is (or at least there ought to be) research into distance education emanating from previous synchronous distance learning experiments, satellite and television learning programs, and so on.

Finally, I think that institutions seem to be focusing on the wrong type of "massive"
To ensure that students don’t treat the class as a static broadcast, the class will be split into smaller pods monitored by former students, who essentially work as online TAs. The pods will remain static throughout the semester, giving students a core group of classmates to chat with during the lectures.
It seems that the "massive" that institutions are aiming for is the type where one can say "look at how much my IT infrastructure can hold!"...or better yet "mine is bigger than yours." The thing that made "massive" in MOOC such an interesting thing was not just the IT side of things (I admit, I find it interesting given my background) but also the fact that learners can pick from a vast pool of peers to engage with.  I have no problem with recommending peers to follow and engage with, after all some people need that.  But, it seems wrong and counterproductive to keep pods static and segregated in a massive environment.

Your thoughts?

 Comments (1)

MOOCs in Higher Education - Must resist feeding trolls...

Happy Labor Day everyone!

The other day I was going through my two Learning Solutions Magazine articles to see if there were any comments (Part 1 and Part 2 here) that I might be able to address.  I think it's great when people engage with the reading material on the web in a constructive way, it helps everyone expand their knowledge a little. That said, the comments weren't that many, and they were from a while back, so I thought I would address them here.

Comment 1
I'm not sure how you can say that "MOOCs first appeared in 2008." Remove the word "online" from MOOC and you have International Correspondence Schools.

I think the underlying current of this comment is "everything old is new again." Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone is claiming that MOOCs are this whole new genesis that came from nothing and is here to change the world like nobody's business. However, one can't dismiss that this current form of online learning, an experimental one at that, is not new.  The term MOOC was coined by Cormier in 2008 so I, and others, can claim it started in 2008.  If you look at the initial wikipedia entries for MOOC, that we started developing in 2011 as part of a MOOC, there were some things called pre-MOOCs that certainly lead up to the cMOOC we know today, but one can't claim direct lineage from Correspondence Schools.

If you do, online learning is nothing more than a glorified correspondence school, which I think it a gross miscategorization. You can't just ignore the "online" bit.  The "online" bit gives the course certain affordances that aren't there otherwise. These are simplistic examples, but things like discussion forums, and peer-to-peer assistance, and peer to peer learning are just not possible unless there is a cohort near by and you can arrange for some face to face meetings.  Even then, it's not the same. Learning does not happen with one master to many pupils.  It's certainly a model, but it may not be the most appropriate model.  Don't get me wrong, peer-to-peer learning isn't always the best either, but we need to come to terms with the idea that there are more knowledgeable peers/others out there, and we need to employ to most appropriate "other" at the appropriate times.

Comment 2
Prior to on-line there was difficulty in presenting massive or free (open) courses due to cost, and time required to get information from one place to another. Although radio based courses were going on for decades.
However I find the use of c and x a kind of jargon. Before there was connectivism there was student-centered learning where students determined content and before instructivism there was instructor-centered learning, where instructors determine content. Both of these are millennial old ideas, packaged in new words that spell checks don't recognize. 

Just like correspondence schools, I am also a bit far removed from Radio based distance education courses. The most immediate analog I can think of are courses I saw on PBS when I was in High School in the mid-to-late 90s. The cost is certainly one thing, but television/satellite and radio (I suppose).  Now that said, this medium (broadcast) does address the cost issues of photocopying and distributing via mail, but it still does not address the peer-to-peer aspect of MOOCs (well, the cMOOCs at least).  I have often described coursera, udacity and edx (the xMOOC poster boys) as a television distance education course with discussion forums because of their sage on the stage approach to MOOCs.  I am not sure that this is totally appropriate given the online medium's capabilities, but I am sure that there are applications where this is indeed the right course of action, or something similar to it anyway.

MOOC, cMOOC, xMOOC may be jargon. Actually, they are jargon to those outside the experimental world of MOOCs. That said, I disagree that we already have terms that map directly onto these new terms.  Student-Centered does not directly map onto "connectivist," and "student centered" is someone else's jargon. The ideas are not as old as dirt.  If they were, we'd be out of a job. We would have discovered everything there is to discover and we'd hang up our robes, go to the beach and enjoy an Mai Tai.  We are, or should be, exploring new ideas and refining our understanding of how things work, and how we can improve upon them.  Ideas, as I wrote above, are not new, but they are refinements on what has come up in the past.  Refinements are not the same thing as the original.

Comment 3
". . . facilitating a MOOC is different from both of them. The medium is experimental and instructors do need to adapt their teaching."
You are using the words "facilitating" and "teaching" interchangeably. When you are discussing MOOCs, you really need to stick to using "facilitating" because there isn't any teaching involved.
Teaching is NOT information dissemination which is the premise behind a MOOC. Teaching is about interaction and cyclical feedback mechanisms.
You discuss the lack of formal assessment practices in MOOC beyond the standard mastery completion of T/F, MC quizzes. I would highly recommend that you consider revising your definitions of mastery and assessment. When was the last time you were asked a multiple choice question in the "real world?" (Sorry I'm not providing you with choices to answer that.)
When authentic assessment mechanisms with extrinsic feedback become the norm, then you can recommend that we "go forth and MOOC."
Good catch!  Yes, I do interchange the titles between teaching and facilitating.  Why?  Because, in my opinion, the role of facilitator and that of a teacher are one in the same. The course, xMOOC or cMOOC, does start off with some structure, and there are weekly knowledge experts that teach some aspect of the course.  That said, those teachers are not the end-all-be-all of the course.  The teacher does slip into the role of facilitator as everyone in the MOOC comes together to learn.  Thus, going back to the more knowledgeable other/peer (Vygotsky) that I mentioned above, we have a setup where teachers go into teaching or facilitating roles depending on the need of the MOOC.  That said, even in campus-based courses, I don't know if we can just have one without the other.  I see both terms as different sides of the same coin.  Feel free to disagree with me (and provide evidence), but that's my view for now.

Now, I disagree with the assertion that the premise behind MOOCs is information dissemination.  Anyone who claims this has not been in cMOOC, or has not actively participated in a well-designed xMOOC. I am not sure how to remedy this for you anonymous commenter, other than to say: "try being a student in a MOOC and participate." That said, I've had quite a few courses, both graduate and undergraduate where the point of the course seemed to be information dissemination. It may have not been intended as just a method of disseminating information, but that's how it felt from a participant's perspective.  This was especially true in Mathematics courses. Those courses lacked the interactions and cyclical feedback mechanisms you describe as part of your rubric for what teaching is, whereas I had those in certain MOOCs, like FSLT12 and OLDSMOOC for example.

Finally, as far as assessment goes, dear anonymous, you should double check what Mastery Grading is.  Mastery grading is not incompatible with the way that some xMOOCs are currently setup up.  If you are allowed to take a quiz virtually unlimited amount of times until you get a satisfactory grade (or until you plateau) you are essentially given many opportunities to demonstrate how well you know the materials (how well you've "mastered" it).  To answer your question, when was the last time I saw multiple choice tests in the real world:  I had a few graduate courses that used MC tests as part of a final evaluation. Now the best way to test student's knowledge, but I did experience this in a brick and mortal school.  Even outside of school, think about exams like the PMP, CAPM and other professional certification exams.  All of those are MC tests. Just saying...  A

As a side note, this last comment seemed rather aggressive, argumentative, ignorant, and a bit like it was coming from a troll. I don't know if this was the intent; or if this was a "get off my lawn" comment; or something else like someone just had a bad day.  I'll chalk it up to the lack of context, and paralinguistic features that text in general has. I generally don't respond to trolls, but just in case this was an earnest comment, I thought I should write a response.

Your thoughts?


Blended Learning, and Distance considerations

This morning, while commuting to work, I was catching up on some blog posts from fellow #blendkit2012 participants and I came across a blog post titled Is blended the same as half-distance? but Andres Norberg. I was originally just going to comment on the blog post itself, but the response was getting quite lengthy, so I converted into a blog post.

Anders asks:

If traditional face-to-face education is combined with distance education, what happens? Savings of classroom space and lecturing time? Better enrollment on campus due to increased flexibility in scheduling for students? Extra learning efficiency by using modern tools? More stimulating classes? A sense of being modern and up-to-date by enriching a classroom culture with digital tools? All of the above?

It's interesting, to consider f2f education combining with distance education, but, when it comes down to it, what does that combination really mean?  For example, our campus has a lot of web-enhanced courses, a designation given to an on-campus course that uses tools such as the LMS, wikis, blogs and others tools to enhance the learning.  No reduction of on-campus time takes place, which might lead to (what Sloan-C calls) the 1.5 course (1 course, but with enough to-dos for a whole other half a course). Then of course we have blended, and online modalities as well.

If you take blended, and web enhanced, you essentially have a combination of on-campus and online tools, and depending on your blend, your course may be different than your colleague's, teaching the same course, in the same department, but using a different blend.

So what is the goal of blended learning?  I think the answer depends on who you ask!  If you ask administrators they might say (and I realize I am being a bit cynical ;-)  ) that the goal is better utilization of limited resources (i.e. classroom space). If you ask students, it might be that they save money on gas and parking by not coming as often and therefore are also able to work more shifts.  Better efficiency by using newer tools?  Doubtful.  Coming from a management background I can say that efficiency does not lie in what tools you use, but rather the intersection of people, processes and tools.  You can have the tools, but without the process in place and the right people, you might end up being less efficient.

My personal belief is that blended learning is undertaken because it is the right tool for the job, and that is its main benefit.  If you are looking for better learning outcomes for a specific course, blended learning might be the tool for you.  The fact that students have to travel less, be able to work more, and there is potential better utilization of resources are only the cherries on top of the cake.  What should be driving our design and our processes is better learning outcomes for our learners.  This is what I see as the potential benefit of blended learning.

Lastly, I think that Anders hits the nail on the head when he says that the classroom is a tool itself - therefore as a tool, it's best to think about how to properly utilize it when you have it :)
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