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

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.


The perils of external rewards

A couple of years ago I was working on hashing out this idea of Academic Check-ins.  Think of it as Foursquare meets informal learning meets campus engagement meets alternative credentialing. A paper came out of that brainstorming with a proposal of what such a system might look like.  While working on hashing out some ideas I wanted to dive deeper into this concept of motivation, both internal and external.  One of the potential issues with extrinsic motivators such as the various "goodies" that you get for checking into places†.

While there wasn't a magic bullet (at least in the background research I did) for a good balance between internal and external motivators there was one huge warning: be very careful of external rewards for doing things. They slowly start to replace internal motivation that was there, and if you remove those external rewards, there is a danger of internal motivation not being there to sustain the learner.  This was somewhere in the back of my mind, but it really hit me yesterday as I was browsing the newly opened Learning to Teach Online course at Coursera. Now, I've been teaching online for the past three (or so) years, so I've gotten some of my own research done on this and I seek out communities of practice in this area to improve my own practice.  I decided to join this course as part of my own PLE.  When I logged in I saw that this course does not offer a Statement of Accomplishment (i.e. I was there, I read the materials and passed the quizzes), but they do offer a Verified Statement if I wish to pay for it.  This is the third Coursera course in two months that I have started that does not award a Statement of Accomplishment because (in my opinion) doing so would cannibalize their Verified Statement monetary opportunities.  While my final grade will be reflected on the course records page of my profile, I won't have a snazzy, but ultimately not very useful, statement to print out.

Now, this, for me anyway, has had an interesting effect on motivation, and how I approach these courses! This morning, during my commute to work, while reflecting on this, the aspect on motivation, extrinsic rewards, and what happens when you remove rewards that were previously given for a certain task, and the ultimate resulting detriment to motivation that this has on the learner. I have to say that now that Coursera has conditioned me to expect a Statement of Accomplishment for completing their courses I'm finding it hard to motivate myself when there is not statement of accomplishment available unless you pay for the Verified Statement.

Don't get me wrong, Udacity, FutureLearn and countless cMOOCs I've been part of in the past don't have statements of accomplishment, but I participated in them (in the forums too!) and really enjoyed the course. However when I entered those MOOCs I had no expectation of a statement of accomplishment.  My motivation was purely internal.  With Coursera (and any other instance where statements are issued) the motivation is internal when it comes to going through the material and browsing through the forums (passive participant in MRT parlance) but to get me to be active in that environment I need the carrot (statement or badge), especially when I am not a complete novice at the course. When that carrot doesn't existed and then it is removed, I am thinking much more judiciously about the amount of time I invest in any given course endeavor (i.e. not burning the midnight oil for graded assignments that won't give me something tangible to hold at the end).

I am simply reflecting on my own motivations here (so I don't expect a certificate), but I do wonder what adverse reactions might there be not only having paid certificates now that we've been conditioned to them. I've already caught a few stray comments on other courses indicating that they wouldn't have signed up if they know that there was no certificate for them.  Interesting.

Your thoughts on the matter?

† examples of this would be stickers in the case of GetGlue/TVTag, stickers in the new swarm check-in app, stamps in the old Gowalla, and some might argue badges would fit into this category too!

Two Future Learn courses down - some initial thoughts on the design and the platform

This spring semester seemed to be the spring semester for experimentation (then again, there is almost no bad time for experimentation).  I decided, among other things, to really give FutureLearn a try.  FutureLearn is still in Beta, so I guess I haven't missed a lot yet, but one of the things that  I think is really important when evaluating a course design, or even a platform, is picking courses that you, as a learner, are interested in. Thus, you have two hats to put on, the hat of the learner, and the hat of the evaluator.  These roles are mutually in support of one another, so it's a win-win situation.  The two courses that I picked for this platform are Corpus Linguistics, so that I could geek out a bit on one of the subjects I am interested in, and the mind is flat, whose title really caught me.  I think that if it has been labeled as "Psych 101" I would have just kept walking.

Now, it's not possible to judge a platform just on the design of the courses that are offered on it, and it is not possible to judge a course design by itself, because it is so intertwined with the platform accordances. That said, the comments I have about FutureLearn (down the bottom) are just indicative of my experience with these two courses.

Corpus Linguistics

What drew me into this course was really the topic.  When I applied to my Master of Arts programing Applied Linguistics back in 2008 I did not know much about the possibilities of linguistics. I just knew that I liked languages, and that I could get my degree in linguistics (where I can explore languages at a meta level) for almost free.  One of the areas I was exposed to was corpus linguistics, but since it wasn't a core focus of the program, it was just one assignment in one course.  Having the opportunity to undertake an entire course in this topic was something that was really appealing to me. This MOOC was offered by the University of Lancaster.

This MOOC, in terms of design and implementation, did quite a few things well as far as I am concerned.  Granted, it was an xMOOC, so a lot of materials were instructor-sourced, as opposed to a collaborative knowledge building environment which you tend to see in cMOOCs, but I really didn't mind this because the course was just so fantastically done.  Right off the bat there were two "tracks," the introductory track where you had a set of videos that introduced you to the topic, and an advanced track that you could go to if you wanted more, or if you weren't new to the topic and wanted to tackle some more in-depth topics.  The introductory stuff were sometimes things I knew, and sometimes things I did not know.  Having the advanced things to look forward to made the repetition of the known introductory stuff less boring and I treated it more as a "oh yeah...I remember that!" as opposed to "ugh...why am I even here???"  I admit that this is psychological on my part, but it does play a role in the classroom.

The advanced material was a treat, at least for me.  Having interviews with people doing research on cyber bullying, trolling, and corpora with limited amounts of text in them connected with my own interests (i.e. using a twitter corpus to see what's happening in a class, like we did with the MRT last year). It was also fascinating to see and hear people on camera that I had been introduced to when I was doing my linguistics degree, people like Geoff Leech for example. By the end of the course I was surprised to find out that my own department chair (and someone I have taken courses with) actually knows Tony McEnery (in person) and some of the others in the videos.  Small world!

From an assessment perspective, yes, we still had the multiple choice tests, but near for some of them they did something interesting.  They presented you with three essays, which were based on corpus data, and you were asked questions about them.  To answer these questions you needed to go into the corpus to at least run a few queries and see some things for yourself. This way, you couldn't just pick the answer that sounded more right because the answers were quite literally "essay A", "essay B" and "essay C".  Related to this was access to additional materials, such as access to a variety of corpora with which you can play with freely, but you could also answer, or participate, in discussion forum questions.  Some of the questions in later modules were setup in a way that you needed to go an play with the corpus a bit to be able to write something.  This encouraged activity and curiosity (at least for me). There also seemed to be quite a lot of volunteer participants in the forums as well as a notable presence by Tony McEnery himself.  This is a major win as far as I am concerned.

Finally, materials.  This MOOC seems to have shared articles that were behind a paywall. I don't know how they finagled access, but I am glad they did.  I haven't, in earnest, read all of these articles (no time), but I have saved them for summer reading.  I think having access to such readings, that are usually behind a paywall, is something that makes for a better experience in a MOOC. If you are interested in the topic, the MOOC is running again in September if I am not mistaken.

The Mind is Flat

At the end of the Corpus Linguistics MOOC, after a week or so rest, the second FutureLearn MOOC started: The Mind is Flat, a MOOC offered by the University of Warwick. The reason I joined this MOOC was because of the catchy title.  The MOOC is about human behavior both in the lab and in the real world.  I would not normally undertake a course taught by an economist, or something in the field of Psychology, so the catchy title and my own question of "why is the mind flat" pushed me toward signing up.  I recognize that this is my own bias against such courses, but at the conclusion of this couse this week I am more open to courses "outside" my discipline.  This is an odd thing to say considering that I've been thinking that we (in academia) need to be more cross-disciplinary anyway, and our disciplines to connect, influence, and enhance one another.  Anyway, I guess there are more psychology courses down the road for me :)

In comparison to the Corpus Linguistics MOOC, this course has just one track. This isn't bad per se since this topic was new to me so I didn't mind.  Like the Corpus Linguistics MOOC, however, it did have invited guest speakers and invite interviewees that, in my opinion, gave the subject matter a little more of an extended connection with what happens in non laboratory settings. The course materials were interesting, and there did seem to be a presence in the forums, however I did not participate as much in these forums as I did in the Corpus forums.  In the corpus forums there seems to be more of a collegial nature to the interactions between MOOC participants.  There weren't any flame wars (that I saw) in these forums, but I think that many didn't like to be told that the mind is flat (and by extension their mind was flat).  It seemed like an insult to them, and you could see this in the forums. It also didn't help that they had a Banker for one of Britain's banks on as an interviewee. I liked the interviews, but it seemed to me that other UK participants, who know more about the bank, have less positive feelings toward it (and their employees), and this translated to the MOOC.  A shame. I did notice comments, at the end of this week, that others stopped participating in the forums due to this negative nature of the comments.  I think that this is an interesting thing to revisit and continue to research.  The MRT did some initial work on this, but I think that there is much more to research in this area of sentiment analysis and its effect on participation (especially in open courses). On a side note, while I didn't see much presence in the forums from people who were in charge of the course (this is partly because I stopped really going too deeply into the forums after a certain point), it was really nice to have a 20 minute recap at the beginning of each week for what had transpired in the forums in the week prior. Thus, some videos were pre made, while others were done on demand each week.  I think this was a good way to increase the presence of the instructor in the course.

One of the activities, that I liked, were the psych experiments that they had for us each week.  This was pretty nifty because it kept you engaged outside of the discussion forums, and outside of the (now obligatory?) multiple choice quizzes at the end of each module.

The interesting thing that I noticed in this MOOC is that there is an option for a Statement of Attainment for the MOOC if you pass a sit down exam which costs £119 (around $200 USD). This seems quite interesting, but I am wondering if college credit is tied to this.  I am not familiar with how CPD (continuing professional development) works in the UK, but it would be interesting to see a compare and contrast between various countries and how CPD is measured and given value.  Personally I would like a certificate of participation in the MOOC, but I am wondering now how one can do this in a way that is mostly automated and what the criteria are.  For example, if I came into a course and clicked on all the videos and marked them as "read" within 2 days of the opening of the MOOC, and I do well on the quizzes, does this count as having participated in the course?  Is there a level of engagement in the forums needed?  How about the length of time of my involvement?  If I were shown as having been active on the site for six out of six weeks instead of one day out of six weeks?  Good questions to ask fellow instructional designers, learning specialists, and computer programmers!

FutureLearn as a Platform

Finally we have FutureLearn as a platform.  The Corpus MOOC I undertook almost exclusively on the desktop.  Given that there were demonstrations of Corpus tools (for about 1/3 of the course), it was useful to do this on my iMac where I can have the video on side of the monitor, and the corpus tool of the other side of the monitor. Some of the interviews I watched or listened on my iPad while I was shaving. Never waste a learning moment ;-)

The Mind is Flat was intended to be done mostly on my smartphone, and I did manage to get most of it done on my smartphone during my commuting hours.  I did end up viewing some of the materials on my iPad or on my computer. The reason for this is that my phone started complaining that I was going over my 2GB plan.  Luckily T-Mobile does not charge me overage charges for going over the 2GB soft limit on my phone, but it really did get me thinking more about mobile friendly content. This is something at my colleague Christian and I, along with a new acquaintance Jorgen (met at the DML conference this past spring) about mobile friendly content - be it chunkable text that remembers your position when you come back (like amazon's whisper sync), mobile friendly activities, and now videos served at different rates to help conserve bandwidth.  The truth is that talking head videos are nice to some extent, they help you feel a little more connected to the person giving the lecture, or the person interviewed, but at the same time they are more intense on the bandwidth and they don't often add much to offering.

Keeping this in mind, I was actually thinking of ways to try to do some of this multimedia content in a mobile friendly way.  An app for your phone or tablet might be a good idea where you can download content locally when you are at a wifi hotspot, and then access it either in an offline mode, or access the downloaded content while online. This way the heavy duty stuff was previously offloaded onto wifi, and the "light" materials, such as posting to a forum, giving something the thumbs up (aka "like"), or marking something as "read" can be done over mobile networks.

Another possible idea is having some sort of flag for the multimedia where someone can say "offer this as an audio file on demand." This way, if there aren't any obligatory visuals, such as slides or charts, you can either stream the audio (which takes up less bandwidth than video), or you can download the audio onto your podcasting or music player app for later listening.  For the podcast route you can also use enhanced podcasts (granted these seem to be Apple only) where required visuals (charts, images, slides and so on), can be embedded into the podcast.

That said, I think FutureLearn (even though they are still in beta), have done a great job on their platform.  The platform scales well for big screens (computers) and for little screens (smartphones).  I had no navigation problems on a small screen, and the UI was pretty intuitive. The one thing I don't like is the naming scheme for the files.  Initially I thought this was a Corpus MOOC issue, but it seems to be a FutureLearn platform issue.  It seems that each file uploaded to the course has a long identifier string just prior to the actual file name. Maybe this is a way to do version control, I don't know.  From a user interface perspective, however, this seems like a usability issue.  When I donwload a PDF of a trascript, I want to see a name for it, not a file name with hexadecimal number proceeding the file name like this example: b8e90e3be51dabc300dbbf7f2c0f6bbb-b8e90e3be51dabc300dbbf7f2c0f6bbb-6.8_What_is_a_Good_Society.

What are your experience with either MOOC, or with FutureLearn?  What do you think?  I am keeping an eye out for more courses on this platform.  I think it's a breath of fresh air in the MOOC space.

Here come the lurkers!

Well, It's week 9 of Rhizo14 (or week 3 of the after party of rhizo14, depending on how you look at it.)  Last week we had a discussion on de-mobing teachers (I guess enabling teachers to not teach to the test?). To be honest I lurked a bit last week on facebook since the day job, the other work obligations, the DML conference (which was awesome!) and subsequent weekend food poisoning made me miss out on Rhizo, and get behind on the FutureLearn Corpus Linguistics course.

Anyway, how apropos that we've just promoted the Week 10 topic to Week 9!  All about Lurkers! The overall question proposed for Week 9 is "Why do we need lurkers?"

If you go back through my MOOC blog posts, which at the moment number somewhere in the 170 range (how the heck did that happen?) you can see that I haven't really thought much about lurkers in MOOCs, and in thinking about designing MOOCs, I don't think of lurkers much then either.

The reason I don't think of lurkers much is that the majority of learning experiences, for me, require some sort of interaction.  I do acknowledge that there is content-learner interaction, and this is a valid type of interaction. For this reason I do respect the right of lurkers to lurk and engage in that content-learner interaction as they see fit for their own intended learning outcomes.  That said, interaction (which hopefully is engaging) does not necessarily equate to participation.  For me, participation is a learner-learner, and to some extent learner-facilitator, type of interaction which, again, should foster engagement.  It is through this separate, and different, type of interaction that we get more materials, different views, different entry points to the same materials, and different departure destinations. Seems, and sounds a lot like a rhizome, and it can grow, and be traversed, but only if there are enough people to put in the effort to grow this from the seedlings that the instructional designers and course creators provide. A self-paced course will (probably) be the same each time it runs, same start and end.  But a cMOOC, when it runs multiple times (if someone wants to take it multiple times) can have a lot of variation.

As I was working on a literature review for an article I am working on with a colleague, I came across an article by Rita Kop on PLENK2010. The following is a quote from a lurker:
"My lurking provided me with a wealth of information and education into MOOC, PLE, PLN, PLC, and how information and knowledge will be shared by all—teachers, students, kids, adults. . . . PLENK has provided me an opportunity to listen to the experts. . .I come in and read the posts that are of most interest to me. I wanted to know how it affects my teaching efforts, my learning, and how to share this with others. The discussions did give me a clear idea of how they are used by different people. . .Thank you for allowing lurkers, who may not know enough to post, but have learned a great deal in just lurking."
from: Kop, R. (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experience during a massive open online course. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 12(3).

Most lurking seems to be of this variety (at least from my own personal experiences).  If lurkers don't want to feed anything back to the community, then that's OK; however do we need lurkers in MOOCs?  I can't see a reason why you'd need them since they don't feed back something into the whole process.  I would not design a MOOC around lurkers.  If I did, I'd call it a self-paced course, or OER.  Not  a MOOC.

Your thoughts?
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FutureLearn Corpus Linguistics course - first thoughts

Check, check. Is this thing on?
Linguistics isn't generally considered a topic, like one of those sexy STEM courses, that everyone talks about when they talk about degrees and fields to study for job related purposes. For this reason we haven't seen a lot of linguistics related MOOCs.  Last year we had the Virtual Linguistics Campus offer three MOOCs using their own approach to teaching MOOCs which seemed more like self-paced eLearning. I didn't complain (much) because it was, after all, courses in linguistics.

This time around, the University of Lancaster is offering a course on Corpus Linguistics, which I have naturally signed up for.  There is at least one colleague from the #rhizo14 MOOC taking this course, so I am curious to see what they think of the course after all is said and done.  In the meantime, I have some initial thoughts on the course itself, as well as the mechanics of the future learn platform, as they are realized through this MOOC.

The first thing that caught my attention was the informational emails that were, and are still, sent out to learners.  They are, in my opinion, a really nice touch, leading up to the course to prepare the learners for what's in store. This also builds up some anticipation and keeps the MOOC in the forefront of people's minds.  I know that there are people who sign up for MOOCs and forget about them.  This happened to me with an edX MOOC on Alexander the Great.  It starts this week (or next week?) but I had completely forgotten that I signed up for it. This week I also got at least one email thanking me for my participation in the discussion forums and encouraged me to keep it up.  I don't know if this was sincere, or if some computer algorithm saw that I posted in a few forums and this was a way to motivate me to continue.

The introductory video by the main course instructor (Tony McEnery) indicated that the course was built for depth, so learners could engage with as much, or as little, of the material as they wanted or needed to.  This is actually pretty cool, from where I stand, because it is only the second time an xMOOC (or a MOOC on an xMOOC platform) had encouraged students to participate as much, or as little, as they want to.  The other course was EDCMOOC on coursera.  That said the future learn platform has a little progress bar under each week that indicates how much you have completed from each module. The module contains basic content, as well as "advanced" content for those who are not new to topic of Corpus Linguistics.  Since this was not new to me, I did complete all topics for the week and I got a full bar under Week 1. For introductory learners, however, if they only engage with the introductory materials, they only get a half-bar.   This is making me wonder how the idea of "completer" of a course will take shape in this course.  What are the criteria that the creators of this course will use to gauge how successful their MOOC was.  I guess one small part will be those completed progress bars.

From a participation perspective, the course facilitators seem to have a presence in the discussion forums and actively encourage people to interact there. The discussion forums on this platform seem unobtrusive, but I don't know how they will pan out in the end. Each article and video has their own forum, which makes topical discussion a bit easier.  Instructors have encouraged people to use forums, both for peer-to-peer support, but also to make issues visible to the tutors of the course so they can intervene if needed. I am curious to see how this works out in the end.  From my part, I don't have a ton of incentive to participate in the forums.  I do think that the fact that forums are immediately accessible on the course content page does encourage me to have a quick peek, and "like" or respond to something really quickly (if it's within my domain of expertise), but it doesn't really encourage me to keep track of a discussion and keep coming back to it within the weekly module.

The thing that I scribbled down yesterday, while thinking about this, is Vygotsky's ZPD, and peer scaffolding.  If my role, in the course, is that of a fellow learners, but my ZPD is perceived to be much higher compared to other course participants, what is the incentive to stick around in the forums and help out, and engage in dialogic learning? At that point, I am a bit like a course tutor, which means that I am not, potentially, getting as much out of the transactional relationship that more novice learners.  Now, if I had more time to focus on just one MOOC, and I werent' doing a whole lot of other things, I would most likely help more novice learners. But, in cases where more advanced learners are in the course, and they don't have as much time to commit, how do you encourage their participation in the course for the benefit of everyone?  This is something I don't have an answer to yet, but I am curious about exploring more.

In addition to videos each week, there are a variety of "articles" which are pages with plain text information about the topic. These serve as additional information, and preliminary information, the the included videos.  This is also where they posted study tips the beginning of the week.  It's good to see course instructors treat this as a course, and  encourage some tried and true ways of keeping track of ones own learning, like keep notes! Course designers also seem to give students a heads up of areas they should focus on if they are novices in the topic, or if they have been exposed to it before.

From a materials perspective, it is nice to have the option to download both transcript and the slides to the lectures. The only logistical issue is that the names of the PDF files are absolute garbage and not descriptive for the most part. The file names do contain some information about the title of the file, but they are fronted with some hexadecimal number that's only good for the storage systems that the file is part of.  On the plus side, they can be used to pipe through a concordancer to do some of the corpus analysis ;). 

As far as the videos are concerned, most videos are great. For instance, I got an opportunity to see, and hear, Geoff Leech, a name I've heard quite a few times as a linguistics student, but never had the opportunity to see him in action so-to-speak.  The videos are not downloadable, which is a shame. I can see these videos being good supplements to materials in our own linguistics program.  The one disappointing thing were the advanced lectures by Richard Xiao.  The lectures were obviously not made for this MOOC, and that is perfectly OK.  My big issue is that they were just voice-over-powerpoint. In cases like these, where the slides are just visual representations of what is already conveyed by the audio channel, I would prefer to have these as an audio podcast to listen to on my way to and from home.  Being stuck at a desk to just listen to something does not seem like a good use of my time.

Finally, from a mechanics perspective, the "Mark complete" marker on each page is a nice reminder to learners what they have, and have not looked at, as far as the materials go.  Reminds me a bit of the coursesites functionality for awarding badges in their MOOCs. I am wondering if there is some sort of alternative credential, like a badge, attached to this course and the "mark complete" toggles.

So, after one week, what is my game plan for this MOOC? Since I had covered the introductory stuff in my APLING 629 course (Structure of the English Language), it seems like I would be going to the more advanced material each week.  I think that I will tackle the introductions to the module on Monday, and tackle 5 sections per day to keep on top of things. I see that, unlike other platforms, the materials for weeks 2-8 are already available, so I think if I have free time, I might just start other modules early.

The final thing, from a pedagogy perspective, for this post is the notion of student centeredness. To me this term seems  to mean whatever people want it to mean.  In #rhizo14 a participant said that in the corpus linguistics MOOC, one of the facilitators said that this course was student centered, and there was obvious disagreement.  The course is very top down, in that materials have been created already, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is not student centered.  I am wondering how others are going through the course, and they are following some perceived critical path, or of they are jumping around modules and exploring as they are going along.  I honestly think we need to define what we mean by "student centered" before we can decide whether this course is, or is not, student centered.

Your thoughts on this MOOC thus far?


Udacity a lousy product? Perhaps...perhaps depends.


Just before the spring semester starts and I start getting really busy with the day-job, teaching my class, working on a couple of conference presentations and working on the FutureLearn course on Corpus Linguistcs, and P2PU course with Dave Cormier, I thought I should really jump into a couple of Udacity course offerings to give the platform a real try out. In years past I stayed away, as a learner, because none of the content was interesting. While I do come from a computer science background, the things that pique my interest tend to be in the style EDCMOOC or  CCK. Now, however, that Udacity has "Introduction to the Design of Everyday Things," it was an opportunity to test that out, as well as a more technical Statistics course. If I were taking a n exit survey, I would probably say that I took "Introduction to the Design of Everyday Things" because I liked the topic and I knew the author, and I signed up for "Statistics" to see how a math course would run.

So, right off the bat, one of the things that might reverberate in your memories from late 2013 is that Sebastian Thrun claimed that they have a lousy product.  My answer to that is that they might have a lousy product.  What is (was?) Udacity's goal?  According to their about page (accessed a few seconds ago):
Our mission is to bring accessible, affordable, engaging, and highly effective higher education to the world. We believe that higher education is a basic human right, and we seek to empower our students to advance their education and careers.
OK, mission statements can meant to leave operational matters out of the big picture statements.  Based on this text, I would say that it's a bit early to throw in the towel just yet simply because you couldn't move a giant mountain with your sheer willpower.  Having said this, there are some definite good things I noticed, and some points of improvement on the Udacity platform and their instructional design.

In the Introduction to the Design of Everyday Things I liked that the presenters (I can't really call them instructors, there was something "off" about the presentation aspect) encouraged students in the course to post reflections at certain points in the course. The main issue here is that the  discussion forums not really appropriate place for reflection.  Most topics would probably start with some variation of "My Reflection on X" and it will quickly become a hot mess. I know others have commented on how discussions aren't always the best tool for MOOCs, at least discussions the way we have them in traditional online learning. Reflections, in a MOOC, could be better off in a blog format, something that is portable by the learner, and allows for discovery and recommendation systems (like the one I describe here) to be useful to learners, to help them find peers and develop their own study circles.

One of the things I liked in this course was the student ingenuity, as seen in the forums for the first couple of modules. in bringing up issues with design and potential fixes. The annoying thing, as was pointed out by a few learners, was that there was no "right answer" posted.  Even if there isn't a right answer, there ought to be a mechanism whereby people who have completed and assignment and have logged x-many hours in the forums (substitute with whatever metric you feel is appropriate), that there is some hidden video that comes up from the presenters of the course that show some potential answers.  Simply telling learners "go to the forums and see what your peers come up, and discuss" is not sufficient.  It is a good start, but the course facilitator needs to get their hands dirty. This is one of the elements I liked in cMOOCs, as well as EDCMOOC (I am not sure what to classify this as - we need a better typology of MOOCs).

As I progressed through this course, I did snap photos of bad designs and had potential fixes in my head (this was part of a couple of assignments), but didn't really feel compelled to participate in the exchange. Maybe because I took a course for credit on designing User Interfaces back when I was an undergraduate (and I've done this), and (or) I took a similar course on Coursera in 2012 (or at least I thought it was 2012). In either case, I was lacking a good reason to participate in a "course" instead of taking the route I took, which was something like watching a TEDtalk or Khan Academy set of videos.

As far as the statistics course goes, I made it half-way through the course. The Statistics videos reminded me a lot of high school and doing problems on an overhead projector with erasable markers. It definitely brought back a sense of nostalgia (as nostalgic as one can ever really be about high school), but I didn't really see much innovation.  Don't get me wrong, I think the videos were informative, and I liked the way they incorporated the ability to answer multiple-choice questions, or supply simple numerical answers right in the video.

The course started losing my interest around half-way though, however.  I think by module 18 (Binomial Distribution) of 34 I had grown tired of the mode of learning.  The big thing for me was the lack of some sort of "real" help when I was running into calculation issues.  Some issues were simple silliness on my part (the equivalent of forgetting to carry over the 1 in a simple calculation) which rightfully earned me a "well d'uh!" but for some more complex problems I would have liked some better way of working through issues.  The only ways of communication seemed to be the forums, which is really flat, for one thing, but I also didn't see a way to plug in mathematical formulas.  This seems like a major oversight since udacity launched with a STEM focus.

I think that the design of the videos (Khan-like it seems) is pretty interesting as a way of flipping a face to face classroom, rather than attempting to do this fully online in a MOOC format. When students are taking a MOOC, I am not sure that this is sufficient. Even in the Design of Everyday Things, elements such as projects could work better in dyads or small groups, and use the videos (which weren't that long) as part of a flipped classroom.

    At the macro level, the interesting that the courseware is separated from the certificate of completion.  I have gone through coursera and I don't see previous course offerings on their system.  I can see courses I have signed up for in the past, but not other past courses.  The courseware, for all intents and purposes is gone. With Udacity it isn't so  you could treat a Udacity course as a self-paced eLearning course. This isn't a MOOC (in my book anyway), but at least there is learning material there after the course is complete.  In this fashion, I think Udacity has innovated a bit by no keeping to the existing structures of making courses inaccessible after the semester ends.

    As far as certificated go, from the FAQ:
    Udacity verified certificates will be awarded based on successful completion of course projects. After successfully completing your final project, your identity will be verified through a live exit interview during which you will need to show government-issued identification and chat with one of our project evaluators to verify your independent work on your final project. Upon successful completion of this process, you will receive an official Udacity verified certificate.
    I find it interesting that the is a viva voce verification of who you are and what you have learned. This sounds a bit like an oral comprehensive exam to me, albeit it is for only one course.  If I had the energy this spring I would seek out a Udacity course to see if I can get certificate in it so that I can go through the process and check it out - alas, so many things to do already on my plate, it will have to wait.  What I am curious about is how this process is working for udacity. How many students do they get trying to get a verified certificate? what does it cost (to Udacity and to the learner)? What are any interesting obvious BS, or what we might consider plagiarism, that they've come across.

    Finally, for the instructional designers out there, here is a nice take away from the Introduction to the Design of Everyday things that I think is applicable to ID (or any design problem for that matter):

    7 Design Questions for Design
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What are my alternatives?
    • What can I do now?
    • How do I do it?
    • What happened?
    • What does it mean?
    • Is this OK?
    • Have I accomplished my goal? 

    2013 MOOC Learnings

    Apple's Clarus the cowdog;
    and his "moof" 'bark
    Well, it's the end of 2013 and it's been a MOOC-kinda year, so before I head off for a small break (which is probably going to involve a lot of MOOCing), I thought I should write a summative post for my year's exploits in MOOCs.

    2013, other than it being the year of the Anti-MOOC (according to some) was really the year of the xMOOC for me.  I participated in a lot of xMOOCs and got to see how different organizations had different takes on how to approach courses that are online and have, potentially, a large amount of participants.  Most of my MOOC experiences were coursera based (it seems like they are at the top of the hill at the moment), but I did expand my horizons by taking a course on EdX on the Ancient Greek Hero, a Harvard course, and a couple of courses through the Virtual Linguistics Campus which are courses offered through the Philipps-Universität Marburg. The VLC, interestingly enough got an award for Excellency in Higher Education for 2013, which makes me wonder how MOOCs fit into that award.

    The thing with all of these three MOOC providers is that they all had pretty much the same formula: view videos, take some quizzes, and maybe participate in discussions.  In coursera I did the bare minimum for discussions, in edX I did none, and in the VLC I basically participated for troubleshooting purposes.  This just brings me back to the notion of engagement, and how MOOCs, done at the institutional level, really fail to engage.  The VLC folks I'll give a pass to for one reason: it seems to me that the european tradition centers around mostly lecture, so in essence the VLC folks made their paid materials open-access and continued on with the same approach as they had in the past in their traditional courses.  With coursera and edx, being in the US, while we come from that lecture tradition, we do tend to change things around and attempt new things to engage our learners.  It seems wrong to me to replicate that lecture "feel" in an online course, and by extension in a MOOC.  We need to do something better in order to engage the learner.

    Speaking of engagement, alternative credentialing may be the way to get some of this engagement happening.  For example, in the Mozilla Open Badges MOOC that I took part in last fall, there were badges that marked each step of the process.  Participants wrote  up activities each week, if they passed, they got a badge, and if they didn't they got feedback and were encouraged to submit again with changes, taking a queue from mastery learning.  That said, even though I racked up the badges, I wasn't as active in the LMS forums because I really didn't see as much value.  The interaction seemed quite didactic in nature, top down, and the forums weren't all that useful.  When the content is, to some extent user generated, and learners read and react to things posted by the facilitators, and then learners respond to other learners, remix and redistribute, that's when activity becomes more noticeable.  Or, as was the case with FSLT12, if there is some shared understanding and a common goal, then people feel more engaged and want to participate in forums.  In the Open Badges MOOC I didn't really see that shared goal as much, despite the best  efforts of the organizers :) This just goes to show that you can design a perfectly good course, but you are still tied to whoever signs up and participates in it.

    It is sad to say that my only cMOOC was OLDS MOOC.  There should have been more, where there more that I didn't see?  Also, OLDS MOOC wasn't really a "traditional" cMOOC in a sense, but rather, I think, that it was retroactively named a pMOOC.  I actually really liked OLDS MOOC and I got a few things that I want to fold into the classes that I teach. I want to be on the lookout for cMOOCs for next year so I don't miss any good opportunities :)

    Speaking of next year: I've decided to give Udacity another try.  I have signed up for a course on statistics (a refresher for me), and a course on the design of everyday things.  I liked the book and wanted to see what the author had to say.  It seems that both are self-paced eLearning.  More on that as I get through the courses.  I have also signed up for two FutureLearn courses to see what's up there.  I signed up for a Corpus Linguistics Course and a course called "The mind is flat: the shocking shallowness of human psychology."  I am quite curious not just about the content, but also about seeing another European Approach the MOOC.  I haven't seen anything on edX or yet that has really piqued my interest from a content perspective. Maybe the course on Alexander the Great on edX could be a good candidate, but I have so many things on my plate that it would probably be a bad idea to take this on during the Spring semester.  Long story short, I am waiting for that singularity of innovation to occur (or have we reached the slog phase of the MOOC?)

    As an aside, I am looking for an acronym, relating to MOOCs, that spells MOOF (that way I can use the Clarus icon more often ;-).  Massive Open Online Fun? Have ideas? Leave a comment!