Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

And just like that, it's fall! (or Autumn, same deal)


It's hard to believe, but the summer is in the rearview mirror.  Next week the fall semester begins and as I look back over the summer  I see some things I learned (or observed) in these coronatimes:

The FoMo is still strong!

I thought I had beaten back FoMo (fear of missing out) but I guess not :-).  This summer many conferences made the switch to online this summer due to the ongoing pandemic and their registration was free.  This made them accessible both in terms of place (online) and cost (free) for me.  So I registered.  I might have registered for far too many because there weren't enough hours to participate synchronously and attend everything I wanted to.  Luckily most sessions were recorded, so I was able to go back and review recordings of things I missed.  Between the Connected Learning Conference, IABL Conference, OLC Ideate, Bb World,'s conference (and a few more that I can't remember at the moment), I got more Professional Development done this summer than any other summer.  By the end of this week, I'll also have caught up with all recordings.  The "AHA!!!" moment for me was this:  About 10-12 years ago when I was first starting out (as a starry-eyed designer) all this stuff would have been mindblowing.  I think online conferences for me are more about filling holes and making me think differently rather than building new knowledge in mind. And that's OK.  I discovered a lot of resources that I forwarded to friends and colleagues who would find them more useful than I did because they are at a different phase in their PD. Just like a garage sale (maybe a bad analogy) can yield nothing at all, it can yield a treasure you never thought existed, or it can yield something for your friends and colleagues. You never know what you will find until you start looking.

Quick startups are possible (darn it!)

This summer I was invited by a friend to co-facilitate a couple of weeks of a bootcamp course for teaching online (Virtual Learning Pedagogy). The learner demographic are educators in Nigeria (the course might have been open to other countries as well). The course was offered through Coderina. I think from the time we were all invited to the first week of the course we only had 2 weeks.  Last week was the last week of the course. I am not sure how much John slept these 6 weeks, but I think that the course was a success.  We talk about agile instructional design in our courses, and I think this was a good example of different teams working on different weeks, checking in with one another, and putting together a course while the course is being taught.  Could it be done better? Yes, everything can improve, but I am proud to have been part of such an agile multinational collaboration. I also got to meet a lot of new colleagues that I didn't know before. I think this was a good case study for agile ID. I can't wait to see what the next iteration of the course will look like :-)

Back into 601!

This summer I taught Intro to Instructional Design and Learning Technologies (it's got another title formally, but that's basically it). I had taken several semesters off from teaching in order to focus on my dissertation proposal (which needed a major rewrite - perhaps more on that after I graduate), and I've been looking forward to getting back into teaching. This summer I used the version of the course that Rebecca designed and uses, opting to not use what I had created a few summers back. Part of the reason for using her course was that she had baked into the course consideration for synchronous sessions.  I tend to be more asynchronous in my designs (so that people can have flexibility), but I wanted to be experimental this summer with sync-sessions.  Another reason I wanted to use someone else's design is to extend my thinking and collaborate with others.  I've got my own version of what an intro course can look like, but looking at another designer's design can add to your own toolkit and thinking,  Additionally, if there is one version of the course that many people contribute to the design of, I think differing student cohorts benefit both from the stability of the curriculum and from the process of collaborative design in the course. This way if cohort A takes the course taught by professor A, they won't get radically different core content than Cohort B taking the course with professor B. Your learning experience may differ, but core knowledge required down the road by other courses should be more or less similar. I really enjoyed teaching this summer. My students were awesome, and we had good exchanges both via synchronous and asynchronous means.  I also loved that I was able to invite friends and colleagues who work in ID to have some candid chats with our learning community. I think this was much more effective than reading articles about what an ID does.  If I could hop into a DeLorean and go back to June: This summer I only had 6 students.  Such a small number of students can make for a nice seminar-style course, but the course was designed with a class size of 10-15. The dynamics are definitely different with such a smaller cohort. I think that if I could go back in time I'd give students an option:  We could have asynchronous forums each week for discussing ideas and topics of the course, or we could forego (most of) the forums and meet synchronously each to accomplish similar means. I think a smaller number of students makes the forum feel a little like an empty playground.  It's got a lot of potential but it's only actualized when many kids go play.

Dissertation ahoy!

Finally, a little bit about this doctoral journey thing.  In May I successfully defended my proposal (yay) which allowed me to apply for IRB/REB clearance (yay!).  At the end of June, I got that clearance (yay!) so I could start reaching out to study participants.  It's hard to believe that a (somewhat) random MOOC I signed up for while waiting to hear back about my application to the EdD program ended up becoming my dissertation topic.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew in terms of story (data) collection but Narrative Inquiry is all about the story through someone's position in that metaphorical parade.  The parade keeps on moving, and so do participants in it, so I am OK with presenting a sliver of that experience (knowing that it's a sliver of it). It's not possible (for a dissertation anyway) to be a completionist when exploring an experience (which I guess pushes back on my FoMo mentioned above).  Hopefully I'll have a good draft of this thing by the end of the semester in December.

So...what was your summer like?

Image credit: "Zen stones" by rikpiks is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit


Is "online learning" the new "community college"?


Me, pondering
OK, maybe the analogy isn't totally clear to you, so let me explain my context. 

When I was in high school (mid-to-late 90s) the advertised (or expected) path after high school seemed pretty clear to me: go to college. There were really no "buts" about it, and there were no gap years considered (those were luxuries that well-off people had since they had money to burn). It was an expectation, from guidance counselors, from teachers, from parents, maybe even from society. Higher education was the path to a good middle-class life, and people were willing to take out loans to go to their dream school in order to achieve this goal. This was a pretty important goal for my parents considering that neither one of them made it to university and I'd be the first in the family (maybe even my broader family) to do this. No pressure, eh? ;-)

One thing that seemed like an underlying current was how dismissive some (many?) people were about community colleges at the time. I had never really thought of community college as an option because of jokes like this one:

You better do well in __(subject)__ otherwise, you'll be attending Cape Cod Community College!

I don't know why CCCC was the butt of the joke for this particular teacher in high school, but the frequency of such jokes (and the virality of them between students) definitely left an impression of community college being a consolation prize, rather than a fantastic (and comparatively cheaper) educational resource! Imagine how much money would be saved if students decided to complete the first two years of their higher education studies at a CC and then transfer into another school! Or graduate from CC and then go into university with advanced standing. From what I know, in my local context, CCs were (and are) commuter schools.  You don't live on-campus at a CC. Compare that to some big-name school in Cambridge (Massachusetts) that my folks wanted me to apply to that required first-year student to stay in the dorms if they wanted to attend that school.

Anyway, I diverge from my point I started with.  The main idea here is that CC, although valuable, was constantly dismissed.  Fast forward to our current pandemic-world.  Students are suing universities for the return of their tuition and fee costs. Nevermind that some of these law firm pitches sound a lot like ambulance chasers, let's dive down to the core:  Universities have been pitched as a place where people go to explore subjects and topics; a type of free-range learning. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate education. 

In recent years, what you saw in university advertising tended to be anything but the learning.  Learning objectives?  Snore! learning outcomes?  yawn!   Rooms with lavish wood paneling?  Noice!  Parties?  Awesome!   Spring fling dances and cookouts?  I'm there!  When you consider the marketing message of the modern university which focuses on amenities, it's not hard to see why people are pushing back against the price tag.  If you paid for a Cruise in the Bahamas, why would you "settle" for the Holodeck?

What's hiding behind those amenities is the promise of a free-range learning environment where you too can learn and be inspired by the greats!  The reality, though, is that you aren't really in a free-range learning environment.  When your tuition and fees cost $60,000 per year (or more), a wise student would do a reality check and see that it's not free-range learning, but rather a prix-fixe menu (in many cases), and students pick X-many courses from column A, Y-many from column B, and Z-many from column C to graduate as soon as possible.  The longer you stay, the bigger your bill!

Conversely, in online learning, where you don't have the striking visuals of campus life and all the non-academic distractions you are forced to start with the learning outcomes.  You need to assess programs based on the outcomes, and you need to advertise based on the transformative experience of the learning and what sorts of careers you are prepared for, not the extracurriculars.   However, it seems, that prospective students (and their parents) don't have metrics by which to assess programs on their learning outcomes, so lacking the social visuals or metrics offered by a campus experience, they dismiss online education; much like how CC education was dismissed by the relevant authority figures in my teenage life.  I think that for-profit schools also have not helped with the reputation of online learning, but talking about "zoom university" and framing educational costs as an all or nothing is also not very productive.  Education is valuable.  I would argue that education at $60k/year was never valuable to people like me, first-generation students, but I hope that more people are teasing out what matters in education. I hope the medium doesn't impact the message in this case.  And I hope that dual-mode universities finally put some support behind their online offerings beyond the classroom.

Your thoughts?  Do you see a connection between online learning and the community college in how they are talked about?



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?


Technology will save us all!


...or wait... will it?

It's been a while since I wrote something on here†, and in all honesty, I thought about taking a sabbatical from blogging to focus on dissertation-related matters.  However, I really hate the current practice of threading on twitter where someone writes 10, 20, 30, or 40 tweets in a thread.  We've even invented an app to make these threads more readable.  I can't roll my eyes hard enough at this because it's a solution for a problem we shouldn't have.  We have long-form means of communicating - they are called blogs.  But anyway - I'll cease my "get off my lawn"-ness and move on to the point.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah... I wanted to respond to something I saw on twitter, but I didn't was to just create a stupidly long thread.

So, in case you have not been paying attention, there is a bit of a global health scare going on, namely COVID-19 (or Coronavirus as the media calls it). It's gotten to the point where cities, states, or even whole regions are under quarantine.

Screenshot of WHO COVID-19 tracker
The question that comes to our mind, as education professionals, is this: well, what happens to school?  And people tend to respond by saying "put it online! problem solved!"  Well... the problem is not solved.  There is no magic fairy dust that will make this a "turnkey" solution or any other marketing jargon that will make this seamless. I've been seeing a whole lot of non-sense tweets about this over the last few days as more and more universities are announcing that they are going online...for now.  I've (snarkily) written responses like "I think I rolled my eyes so hard I experienced whiplash...🙄" to both technoloving, and technohating tweets. But I think it's important to be a little more detailed in my 🙄reaction to some of these so that we can have a constructive conversation around this topic, and so that I don't just come off as a snarky teenager saying "OK, boomer".

So a fellow colleague tweeted the following:
Hello #MOOC platform providers  @edXOnline @coursera @udacity @udemy @FutureLearn @CanvasLMS and others: many higher education institutions are in need of scalable technologies to serve the needs of students and teachers in times of the #COVID19 #coronavirus crisis. Can you help?

Canvas may be the exception here, seeing as they have a "regular" LMS that they also use for their Canvas Network MOOC platform, but most MOOC platforms are awful. I saw this as a user of them!  Yes, I do enjoy the free livelong learning content that they provide‡ but those platforms have been created with very specific UX design constraints in mind. Furthermore, many appear to rely on pre-recorded videos for their pedagogical approach, something which really won't mesh well with the short timeframes that we might be experiencing in the coming weeks♠.  There is also an issue in thinking that a technology solutions provider will be your best bet as a subject-expert contact to help your institution to move online.  They sell a product.  A product with specific design and pedagogical constraints, and - as we've seen recently - with potentially murky data practices.  Your go-to shouldn't be a technology provider to solve your issues.  Your go-to should be the staff that you employ at your university.  Your instructional designers, systems architects, and IT/IS people. They are the ones that know your needs, and they can figure out what the minimally viable product is.  If it turns out that edx is the right platform for you...then guess what?  It's open-source, you can run it on your own!  The same is true with operating systems like Moodle and Sakai, and they are not MOOC related, and have been used to deliver courses at a distance for 18 years!

Another colleague wrote:
Taking college courses temporarily online as an emergency measure to provide minimally acceptable continuity of instruction in response to a pandemic is not an admission that MOOCs are a good or even acceptable substitute for in-person teaching.

The three fallacies here are as follows:

  • You are conflating MOOCs with distance learning broadly.
  • You are assuming that MOOCs are just "lousy products"
  • You are putting on-campus courses on a pedestal.

MOOCs being conflated with any (and all) forms on distance learning has been happening since xMOOCs hit the market in 2011/2012. They are not one and a the same.  MOOCs are a form of distance learning, but they are not the form of distance learning.  MOOCs are also not a bad product.  You always have to go back and ask "what is our goal?" and even then "what is this good for?"  The adhesive used on post-it notes is a lousy product.  Yes, you heard it right.  It's a lousy product because the goal was to develop a super-strong adhesive. However, someone saw this product and created an ingenious use for it, and something that couldn't have existed without the lousy product was created♥. MOOCs have their purpose. It may not be the lofty goal of democratizing education¤ that we kept hearing back in 2012, but that doesn't mean that they are failures in totality.

On another track, many colleagues have been posting about this outbreak being the perfect opportunity for institutions to embrace online learning, and that this global turn of events will (magically) make people see the light. The unspoken assumption being that attitudes will change, and long-term practices will change.  This is completely and utterly false, and it's exemplified by the tweet above.   Vanguards of the "campus is best for learning" camp won't experience an attitudinal change en masse because of this turn of events.  They'll most likely hold their metaphorical nose, get through it, and then go back to their established practices.  Why?  Many reasons§, but here are the highlights IMO:

Attitudinal change requires an open mind - I don't think most campus faculty have that when it comes to pedagogy (sorry!). This lack of creativity, I would say comes from a lack in pedagogical training.  Doctoral programs prepare you to research, and teaching is always secondary (or even tertiary!).  It seems like many doctoral programs just drop people into teaching situations and have them sink or swim (pretty stressful, if you ask me!).  So what happens? Those doctoral students rely on mimicry - doing what they've seen done unto them in the classroom.  Maybe some will break through this cycle and experiment with pedagogy, but that's not a given. And, when faculty are hired lots of attention is paid to attending conferences and publishing, but little (if any) on teaching PD! So, previous behavior and belief patterns are reinforced through the pre-tenure period¶ and in your post-tenure period∞.  I don't need to see the outcome of the coronavirus to know that teaching faculty with these attitudes will use distance learning like a rented car, and when their ride is back from the shop, they will never think about the affordances (and the learners that might need online learning) again...or at least until the next emergency.

Anyway - to wrap this up, one voice that is conspicuously absent is the voice of staff members in this.  Staff will be called upon to support learners at a distance, and/or faculty who will (maybe, possibly, probably) be teaching online for a little while.  What is their role in all this?  How are they supported to do their work, and what are their thoughts and needs in the process.  The university is a complex organism but only faculty are seen as valuable stakeholders here🙄. This attitude needs to change if we are to have productive solutions and discussions when it comes to emergencies.

thoughts? comments?

Notes and Marginalia:
† hey, this is starting to sound like a confessional...let's see where it goes...
‡ I am currently signed up for 2 MOOCs on FutureLearn and 1 on EdX
♠ I'd also argue that Udemy is more of a self-paced eLearning platform and not a MOOC LMS...but that's a whole other discussion.
♥ and used all over the world in offices today
¤ personally I think this goal was overstated as people got swept up in the MOOC fever and institutional FOMO.  We might be seeing another kind of FOMO here with this coronavirus.
§ and probably best suited for a separate blog post
¶ where you might be on emergency-mode all the time while you're attempting to get tenure
∞ if your institution hasn't spent too much time fretting about your teaching until now, why would they do it in the future?


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?

wrapping up this MOOC book...

Finally!  I've made it to the end of the book!  It only took me nine months to do so (a couple of chapters each month?) but it's finally done!  This will be my final review of chapters in Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future.  I was going to write two separate blog posts about this, one for each chapter, but I've sort of run out of steam, and I have a sense that I will be writing the same (or similar things) for the last two chapters. Today under the microscope are chapter 11, which is titled MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution, and Chapter 12 which is titled The Evolution of Online Learning and Related Tools and Techniques toward MOOCs. It should be noted that there is actually a chapter 13 and 14, but I had received those to review before I got this book, and I've written briefly about them, sometime last year - so no rehash in this post.

The abstract for chapter 11 is as follows:
This chapter introduces the evolution of the MOOC, using narratives that are documented by research generated from the educational community. It concentrates on the history and progression of distance learning and its movement toward online education. The authors' perspectives focus on their own anecdotal evolution, from traditional classroom teaching, infusing distance and online learning, to designing and teaching in a MOOC setting. In examining whether the MOOC is more of an evolution or a revolution in learning, they explore questions that have emerged about MOOCs including what distinguishes this model from other online offerings, characteristics of learners who succeed in this environment, and debates regarding best practices. Critical reaction and responses by proponents of this learning format are presented and acknowledged. The research, perspectives and debates clearly impact what the future of the MOOC appears to offer. This continues the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

The abstract for chapter 12 is as follows:
The latest development in the online learning environment, Massive Open Online Courses, dubbed ‘MOOC,' has garnered considerable attention both within and without the academy. This chapter discusses tools and technologies that can support the development of a MOOC, and concludes with commentary about the potential for such a development to continue into mainstream postsecondary education. This chapter delivers a small yet meaningful contribution to the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

For me, chapter 11 seemed lengthy (which isn't bad) but it has sparse citations.  Granted, the abstract tells you as much -that this chapter is the author's anecdotal perspectives on the evolution of the MOOC, but I guess I expected something more than that.  See, when I sit here and blog, whoever reads this blog knows that I am generally responding or reacting to something I've read or experienced.  So, when I write about something there is usually some sort of link to that original something.  On the one hand I did like this chapter's look back at educational technology, and specifically looking at the minitel system and how that was applicable to language learning here in the US - historical details like that don't seem to be acknowledged in our EdTech world of today and some of us seem to be suffering from memory loss in this experiment quickly and fail-fast world. I think there is value in knowing about the past and what those heuristics, affordances, and capabilities were (especially for systems that no longer exist).  That said, I really don't think think this chapter was well researched (makes sense since this was mostly anecdotal), and to me that doesn't provide a lot of value, especially since the list price for this chapter is around $38 US.  Furthermore, the authors seem to be hyper-focused on worries about cheating MOOC, which to me seems like a non-issue. There are articles in open access journals that do a better job than this chapter with the same theme.

In Chapter 12, on the other hand, the chapter was very brief.  In this chapter the technologies used to support a MOOC might as well be technologies that support regular, "traditional" online and distance education. I really did not see a convincing  differentiation between MOOCs and the traditional, for-credit, online learning environment.  I did like the little section that the authors wrote on getting the MOOC publicized and having people sign up for it because I know I haven't seen this elsewhere. So, for a novice in MOOC this might actually be valuable. Again, though, this was only a small part of the chapter.

All things considered, I am glad I read this book, but I really didn't come away with seeing the value in it, include those who are novices at the MOOC. I'd personally prefer to curate the equivalent amount of chapters from open access journals and people's blog posts and package that as a perspectives on MOOCs volume. I hope I am not being too harsh :-)


Higher Education questions - 7 questions

It seems that Inside Higher Education is playing a game of 7 questions. I thought that it would be interesting to respond to these when I has little more brain space to write some more in-depth answer instead of "agree or disagree" which was the original prompt.  These might very well fit into my Educational Leadership course now that I think of it.  So the questions are in italics, and my responses are in regular text.

1) A higher education program where students graduate with a credential, but without substantial career development, is a failed experience.

It depends! I don't necessarily see higher education as being concurrent with career development.  Sometimes, in some programs, and certainly depending on the degree, the benefits of higher education are seen in the long term, not just in the short term after graduation (i.e. gaining a new job or obtaining a promotion).  Some programs require apprenticeships or practica.  In such cases I would say that the academic can go hand-in-hand with  the career development.  However, not all programs are like that.  Some students do not seek programs that have required practica because they already have a job and they can't take time off from that to undertake the apprenticeship requirement.  By necessity programs do have to appeal to a fairly board learner demographic, and such a requirement is limiting.

2) Student affairs/services should scale their engagement efforts via intentional (and sustainable) digital outreach. Not knowing the tech isn't an excuse.

Here I agree. However, I will say that technology is not necessarily the issue.  You can use technology to enable you to increase your outreach, but your audience maybe not be able to access you in a digital means.  Technology isn't always the solution to the problem.

3) UK student services is nearing an inflection point...stay tuned for administrative structures (budget/personnel) that look more like US student affairs administrative divisions.

I am not sure about the UK structures. In the US we may be reaching that inflection point.  Everyone is complaining about the inflation of administrative positions at the universities in the US, which increases costs, so we might be seeing a shake up - stay tuned

4) The student experience affects an institution's brand and ability to be competitive. A bad experience is bad for marketing and enrollment.

Maybe...maybe not. It depends on what the bad experience is.  If a student is a bad match for the program that they were accepted into, then I think the blame is partly the university (for admitting such as student when the fit may be wrong) and on the student for not doing their homework to see what the program they applied to is all about.  If a learner doesn't want to do the work for a class and they get a bad grade (or they don't pass a competency), then they can complain all they want - it's not the university's issue.  However, if there are structural issues with student support, and the university does nothing about them - then that will hurt the university's competitive advantage.

5) No one is a digital native/immigrant...we all have unique levels of digital capability regardless of age.

Why are we still talking about digital natives and immigrants?  Let's move on. That should tell you where I stand.

6) Online-only degree programs are as worthwhile as traditional campus-based experiences.

It's 2016, why are we still taking about online programs within a deficit context? Let's move on!

7) Staff need digital capability/literacy in order to teach digital capability/literacy. You can't have one without the other.

Again...  this seems like a no-brainer to me...

So, what do you think of these?


MOOC Cheater! I caught you!

This past week the web was abuzz with new research to come out of Harvard and MIT on cheating identification in MOOCs, specifically xMOOCs hosted on the edX platform, but I suspect that any platform that collects appropriate analytics could see this used.  The title of the paper is Detecting and Preventing "Multiple-Account" Cheating in Massive Open Online Courses and it's an interesting read. I find the ways of crunching data collected by web-servers as a way of predicting human behavior fascinating.  While I am more of a qualitative researcher at heart, I do appreciate the ways in which we can use math, data, and analytics to derive patterns.

That said, my main argument with the authors of the article are not the methods they use, but rather the actual utility of such an algorithm.  The authors write that CAMEO (Copying Answers using Multiple Existences Online)† is a potential threat to MOOCs because

  1. CAMEO is highly accessible. Anyone can create additional accounts, harvest answers, and not be dependent on someone else to provide the cheater with the answers.
  2. Anyone can sit down in one sitting and acquire certification for a MOOC
  3. Therefore cheating via CAMEO can really lower the value of MOOC certificates, or just render them valueless.
  4. As an added bonus, CAMEO, it is pointed out, is counter to the ToS of the various xMOOC providers.
While I think that the process is interesting, I think that the authors' cautionary tales are part FUD and part bunk.  Yes, CAMEO is accessible to everyone.  If I had nothing better to do I would most likely create a few more accounts on Coursera and edx so I could ace my tests.  So what? It doesn't mean that I learned anything, and on top of that edx institutions have no (or little) skin in the game.  The reason why cheating is treated so seriously on campuses is because Universities lend their names and reputations to the students who graduate from their schools. Thusthe learners gain credibility by virtue of the credibility of the school.  I have not seen this happen in MOOCs yet.  MOOCs are not treated the same, at least as far as credibility goes, as traditional school environments.  I am not saying that they can't be, but they are not now.  In instances where we come closer to having the same level of skin in the game, we have verified certificates where people are proctored when they take these online exams.

The second issue, of being able to sit down in one sitting and get a certificate, is really a non issue. Some people already know the stuff that is covered in the MOOC, but they don't have a way to show that they already know the stuff.  Going through a MOOC where they can just sit down and take the assessments (if all of them are multiple choice anyway), means that in a relatively small time-span they can get some sort of acknowledgement of their previous knowledge.  There is nothing wrong with this.  This actually happened to me last summer.  I was interested in the Intro to Linux MOOC on edx.  Once the thing started I realized that through my peripheral linux use over the past 15 years I already knew the basics.  The course wasn't directed toward me, but I ended up taking the tests and the exams (which seemed easy) and I passed the course way before the closing date.  I suppose that the course rekindled the linux flame and got me using Ubuntu on a daily basis, but from just a course perspective I could be considered a cheater if concern #2 is one thing that pulls cheaters to the forefront.

Finally, the worry about diminishing he value of the certificate of completion...Well... hate to burst your bubble, but I would argue that certificates of completion for MOOCs are nice little acknowledgements for the learner that the work was done, but in real life they have little meaning to anyone but the learner. A certificate of completion may mean something to a current employer who may have asked you to undertake some sort of course, but it's really just a rubber stamp.  The rubber meets the road when you need to apply what you've learned, and neither a MOOC, not traditional corporate training (for that matter) can ensure that you can perform.  There need to be additional on-the-job support mechanisms available (if needed) to make this happen.  A certificate just means that you spent the requisite amount of time in front of a computer and you got some passing grade on some assessment (well, maybe - some corporate trainings have no assessments!).  At the end I wouldn't worry about the diminished value of a certificate of completion because it has no value.

To be fair, the authors do talk about the limitations of their findings, such as only having suspected cheaters, and not having confirmed their suspected cheaters with reality, but they also talk about the reality of trying to prevent "cheating" in MOOCs.

I would have found this paper much more interesting if it weren't so value-laden and steeped in preventing "cheating" in MOOCs.  Cheating, to me anyway, means that you have something substantive to gain by taking the shortcut.  In learning the only substantive thing to gain is the knowledge itself, and there is no shortcut for that (unless someone has invented a matrix-style knowledge dump machine and I can learn kung fu now).

Your thoughts?

† There is a line in the pilot episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Agent Colson asks Skye if she knows whatStrategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division means and she responds that someone really wanted it to spell SHIELD.  I couldn't help but think about this when CAMEO was spelled out..

What's the point of (higher) education?

With Campus Technology behind us, I've got some free time to compose some thoughts on what I experienced this year in Boston.  I like going to Campus Tech each year as I have an opportunity to attend some sessions, see what the EdTech vendors are up to, and meet with new and existing colleagues.  One of the keynotes this year, by SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University) President was really unsettling.

Whereas the keynotes in previous years seemed to be hinting toward innovation in higher education, this particular keynote, under the guise of disruptive innovation in higher education seemed to hint more toward a commodification of higher education, a de-professionalization of many types of jobs in the field, and a process for teaching and learning that reminded me of an industrial age model of education. This was a bit jarring to me, as a regular attendee (and twitter reporter) of campus technology each year.  On the one hand Paul LeBlanc (SNHU President) did sufficiently stir the waters and got enough people to talk about the state of academia, however I am not sure his innovation is really innovative and a sustainable direction for an institution.

LeBlanc has a variety of main points from which he built in. One of his points, and faults of the current system is that Faculty drive the process at traditional schools. Faculty think up of new courses, which go through a governance approval process, which is also time consuming.  SNHU's approach seems to be to disaggregate the faculty, let "SMEs" and IDs take care of the course and curriculum design, hire instructors to teach the same course without variation. This was troubling on a variety of levels.  First, LeBlac seems to be hinting at faculty as not being subject experts.  I disagree with this.  Faculty are hires precisely because they are subject experts.  They, in theory, know their field and keep up with the field.  They are in one of the better positions to think up new curriculum of modifications to the existing curriculum.

I agree that the governance process can take ridiculously long at times (oh, the stories I could share!), but that doesn't mean that we ought to get rid of this system. To me what it means is that we need to look at our current system and see how it can be made more efficient, not completely dismantle it.  LeBlac's rationale for this approach is that faculty don't know what's happening in the walls outside of academia, and therefore the only people who can actually inform the curriculum with what's really needed are Subject Experts (which weren't defined, by the way), from outside the walls of academia.

This narrative isn't something that LeBlanc alone reports. Anant Agarwal, of edx fame, in a recent article on Fortune cites a Deloitte survey  that "found that the overwhelming majority of respondents felt it was on-the-job skills—not what they had learned in college — that got them through their daily workload. The study concluded that there was a significant gap between the skills desired by workplaces and what those polled had actually possessed by graduation." This connects with LeBlanc's comments that CEOs say that graduates from colleges don't have the qualities that their companies are looking for.  I guess the solution is to let the CEOs (companies really) specify what they need. I do call this a bit BS though.  CEOs are often not the best judges to know what skills front-line employees need to have.  To have them have an opinion on what skills undergraduates need for their companies is asking for misinformed opinions.

Another aspect of the presentation was time-to-completion as a key factor.  While I do agree that time-to-completion is important (heck, nowhere is this more evident than the 8-10 year liberal arts PhD!), but I do think that we are diluting learning into cram-and-jam sessions when we advertise 1 year Master degrees (just as an example).  I see this at work.  A number of potential students ask if our degree can be completed in year.  The answer is: no. I suppose that theoretically it could, 4 classes in the fall, 4 in the spring, comprehensive exams in the spring, and 2 electives in the summer and you're done.  But, what have you really learned?  You've crammed just enough to write those papers and take those exams, but have you really learned anything?  Never mind application, because application supposes that you've learned something. In cases like these I suspect that people just want some sheepskin to show that they've "learned" something so that they can get their raise, or change jobs, or whatever.

This argumentation of time-to-degree fits in with the 'adults are busy' narrative.  Adults have lives, jobs, responsibilities, they just don't have time for the "long road" to education.  While I also do hate pedantry in my own educational experiences, I guess what bothers me about this attitude is two things.  First, it treats traditional education as some sort of jail where you must put in your time (while singing nobody knows my sorrow), and it treats these accelerated "for adults" degrees the same way Alan Thicke is presenting Tahiti Village in this ad. Education can be hard, it can take time to acquire, and it needs effort to apply it.  Most else that can be broken down into discreet steps to follow, and are applicable to specific jobs, is really on the job training.

The other thing that bugs me is that there is still an infantilization of the traditional college age goer, the 18-year0old students. These students, according to LeBlanc and other supporters of the difference between "adults" and "kids" believe that traditional college age individuals need an 'incubation' or 'maturation' environment before they hit real life, and college is it. I think that treating 18-year-olds like they need maturation is completely and utter baloney.  As a first generation college graduate I know that my parents (and indeed many friends and family in our circle), didn't go to college to mature. They had jobs, they had family responsibilities, societal responsibilities, at age 18 (some even earlier).  This infantilization is the traditional college demographic does harm to them, and us.
 It only serves as an artificial separation of one group of students - the one who had a break in their education, from the student who went straight from high school to college. Instead of infantilizing one group, how about defining academic supports that are unique to each group?

This keynote reminded me of another, equally ridiculous post, on why MOOCs will fail to displace traditional universities (I was not aware they were competing with one another).  The main theses of the author are that MOOCs aren't dating sites, whereas colleges are - and people apparently attend college to find a mate; and the other is that college is a signal to potential employers that you (a) can get into college, so you must be wicked smaht, and (b) you have the perseverance to make it through, so they should hire you. What a bunch of BS.

The first fault here is the issue of causation vs correlation.   The author cites Assortative Mating [which can basically be boiled down to individuals who are alike pairing up] as a reason why colleges have additional value for people who attend - they provide an environment of other smaht people as potential mates. The issue here is that college isn't the only environment where people pair up. The workplace, and any other place that creates a community is a place where people can meet others with similar interests, hobbies, political thought, education, and whatnot. Could we claim that people search for jobs in order to find mates? Some might, but I don't think this is generalizable.

My own experience - college was that college was really a requirement.  Forget K-12,  K-16 seems to be the new expectation, and one that not everyone can afford!  Someone made it a requirement, but also forgot to make it free. Making college a requirement for many jobs is, as I have said before, sloppy HRM.

So, I'll end this post with the same question I started - What is the point of higher education? Thoughts?


It's the battle of the SPOCs!

"Fractured Spock"
- by me and Net Art Generator,
for #clmooc
Over the past couple of years, since the silly acronym "SPOC" was invented to denote a course that was the antithesis to the MOOC, a Small Private Online Course, I've had issues with the acronym, and took exception to this new discovery on the part of schools that newly invented this form of education, considering that there are schools that have been doing it since the early aughts.

In any case, I was finally going through my Pocket account today, trying to read as many things as I've saved for later reading since
Rhizo15 when I came across a couple of articles that really made me roll my eyes a bit and made me want to facepalm...

The first article is a featured article in Harvard Magazine, July/August issue, titled Is Small Beautiful? This was a fairly quick read, but I couldn't help but think that this was mostly a PR piece on the part of Harvard and Harvardx. There is a lot left to be desired in this article, and about this innovation in general.  For instance, when talking about  the CopyrighX, what does teaching in a "networked" form mean? Does that mean teaching online? I've written before about the application process for Copyrightx and other "limited enrollment" courses, which I think really goes counter to the ethos of Open Education, and it really doesn't take into account the diverse reasons for which learners sign up for MOOC, and their rationales and many varied reasons for the patterns in which they participate in.  Hmm... now that's an interesting topic for research: "activity patterns of MOOC participants and the motivation for learning"! Feed free to borrow this from me and do something with it ;-)

Anyway, some more specifics from the article:

Since the program’s launch, a number of courses at HarvardX have tested a simple solution to many of MOOC detractors’ biggest complaints: scaling down, not up. These experiments—which come with their own acronym, SPOC (small private online course)—enable professors to more fully engage a targeted group of learners, who benefit in turn from an intensive, personal course setting.
First of all, I don't get what the detractor is for scaling up? Is it that you can't practice the same pedagogies?  Well, that to me seems like a no-brainer. New modalities probably require new pedagogies, and those are things we need to discover. We can certainly use our existing paradigms as a base to begin with, but we need to go into this knowing that we will most likely need to adapt.  I'd like to congratulate our colleagues at Harvard for inventing something that those of us in online education have been doing for more than a decade now - the "small, private, online, course" - otherwise known as a traditional online course. There is ample literature out there for these "SPOC"s (horrible acronym) which people should really jump into and read.   Now, don't get me wrong, I think that it's freakin' fantastic that Harvard Law is offering a free course on copyright that looks and feels like something you'd get by paying good money for tuition, but let's not pretend that they've discovered something innovative in terms of pedagogy.

In the end, small courses’ successes rest on defying many of the very promises of the MOOC revolution: they might not be massive, open to everyone, cheap to run, or entirely online. But by using technology to combine the centuries-old lessons of campus education with the best promises of massive learning, SPOCs may be the most relevant and promisingly disruptive experiments the MOOC boom has yet produced.
So, if they aren't MOOCs, why do you bother comparing them to MOOCs?  Even so, MOOCs are not necessarily expensive to run, that is a design decision.  My colleague, Inge deWaard, ran 2 successful MobiMOOC cMOOCs (when cMOOCs were just MOOCs) and I am pretty sure it didn't cost her much. Ray Schroeder ran EduMOOC - again, that was most likely not costly.  We also see examples like #Rhizo14 and #rhizo15, as well as #CLMOOC and #CCourses.  Now, granted all of these are MOOCs of the cMOOC variety, but my point - I hope - still stands.  You can do a MOOC on a shoestring budget.

The other notion that is laughable (please forgive me, I appear to be in an extremely cranky-pants mood today), is the notion that "SPOCs may be the most relevant and promising disruptive experiments..." Really? You mean the thing that my department has been doing for the past 10 years (offering a fully online, accredited, rigorous, Master of Arts degree) is the most disruptive thing to come out of MOOCs? And, the irony is that my department wasn't even first to the online game. There are other departments that have offered online courses that are SPOCs.  They are not free, but nothing in the SPOC definition hints at free. I think this blissful ignorance of what's happening in education outside of the walls of some institutions is astounding.

Fisher’s innovation [with CopyrightX], in a sense, was to be less experimental: using digital resources to engage students in the kind of intense learning experience expected on campus.
Wow... It seems like now we're offering a golden star to everyone ;-).  No, seriously, how can one claim "innovation" when "innovation" is defined as business as usual?

The course was designed to be demanding across the board. “I hoped, from the beginning, that it would be possible to reach these audiences without dumbing down the material at all,” Fisher says. “That was just a hope in the beginning, but it proved to be true.”
I think that there is a sense out there that MOOCs cannot be "demanding" and that materials need to be "dumbed down" for MOOCs.  There is also an assumption that MOOCs are directly correlated to the college course as that course exists for accreditation purposes, based on the credit hour.  It also assumes that the learners want to get exactly out of the course what the instructors want you to get out of the course. These are huge assumptions to make, and they are - in my opinion - largely wrong in the MOOC world.  There are many reasons why people choose to sign up for MOOCs.  Some people just window-shop.  Other people are interested in specific aspects of the course.  Heck, even in a cMOOC, in #rhizo14, we had people who were interested in reading and discussing more of D&G, and people who did not.

Why does learner choice in the matter of what they want to explore not seem to matter here? Some people seemed fairly annoyed that we didn't tackle D&G all the time in either Rhizo, but that's a choice of the learners. Neither Dave, nor anyone else, could force us to engage with the course ins prescribed way. Why should other MOOCs force a specific pattern of participation?  If I were earning 3 graduate credits from a MOOC, I would jump through hoops because I know that I would be assessed for specific things in specific ways.  But when a course is free, and I am not getting formal and generally accepted external recognition of my course accomplishments, why should I try to fit your mold?

The results of this experiment in scaling down from massive are promising. First are the benefits to on-campus learning—one of the oft-repeated goals of HarvardX. The new TF program offers students a rare chance to gain teaching experience in a law-school setting. And by assigning his video lectures as homework for his HLS students, Fisher has cut down the number of weekly class sessions from three to two. The remaining meetings, he says, now feature deeper, more nuanced discussions.
AHA!  So here is a benefit of SPOC, or at least free online courses: They can be training grounds for  people pursuing terminal degrees. Instead of putting them in a 100-level undergraduate course to teach (which they might still do), and have the university catch flak because the professors on departmental listings aren't really teaching those undergrad courses, you can now get teaching experience in SPOCs, and the pressure is (theoretically) less because those few people have been handpicked to attend a SPOC and the SPOC is free (can't complain about a free thing, right?)  Now, the whole cutting down of lecture time...well...again, I congratulate you on discovering Flipped Learning, and possibly even discovering Blended learning!

“Innovation in Health Care,” version two, launched on edX this spring, and the staff has focused on making the team aspect of the course more robust. This has required moving even further away from MOOCs’ one-to-many model. 
Again, here we perpetuate a myth, or perhaps misconception, that the MOOC is a one-to-many broadcast model.  It is not!  It can be, and we've certainly seen this with many xMOOC providers, but it's certainly NOT the only model for Open Online Courses.

Anyway, that's one type of SPOC.  But, did you know that we have competing SPOCs? In a recent (research) article titled Can SPOC (Self- Paced Online Course) Live Long and Prosper? A Comparison Study of a New Species of Online Course Delivery we learn about the new Self-Paced Online Courses! OK, as a Trek fan, and someone who can appreciate a pun, I'll give it to the authors: the title was catchy and it was a nice callback to Mr. Spock. However, that's where my appreciation for the article ends.

There are several issues in this research article, including calling the MOOC a "ore recent variation of the traditional online model". Another is the same folly as the Harvard SPOC article: trying to make something new out of something that isn't.  Self-paced coursed, be they online, offline in the form of CBT (hey, remember that acronym?), or through correspondence education have been around for a while. Heck, there are universities whose entire undergraduate experience is based on self-paced online learning.  I also remember doing professional development and earning a professional certification by learning through self-paced online learning back in 2002ish (if I remember correctly) Where is the novelty?

The conclusion of this study is that there is no significant difference between self-paced online learning and traditional online learning. This doesn't really seem like a shocker - given all the studies on the NSD. It also reminds me of the talk that Rory McGreal gave us during orientation at Athabasca last summer when he said that he didn't want to see yet another study comparing one medium to another to see which is "better" ;-)

To put an end to this long post - what do you think of the battle of the SPOCs?