Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

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?


Praxis of Virtually Connecting workshop at #DigPed UMW

From the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at University of Mary Washington this week :-)


When the MOOC dust settles...


A long time ago (in technology terms), in an academia very close to us, there were stories of professors who suspended their MOOCs, or decided rant in the class forums and ultimately to walk away because the MOOC wasn't what they expected, and we all (probably) rolled our collective eyes.

OK, maybe we didn't all roll our collective eyes, but I remember thinking that the "participate or get the heck out" and "read the fine textbook" were really incompatible with the MOOC framework. Initially I was somewhat anti-lurker.  I'm not saying I am pro-lurker now, it's just that I don't think that lurkers pose tragedy of the commons issues, so just let them be.  They don't detract from people who want to learn and experiment.  To me, at the time, it seemed like an instructor who wanted to do what many have done in the past. Take a face to face class, and translate it, almost one for one, to online without really thinking about the affordances.

This past week a story came out in the chronicle that talks a little more about what went down with that particular MOOC.  It's a fascinating read for me because it really highlights some serious breakdowns in communication.  After reading this story I am a little more sympathetic McKenzie, but I don't think that he is completely in the clear. It seems to me that his big idea (video lectures on DVDs) were really harkening back to the video professor era and in the age of OER I don't see how a retired academic would aim to have a video professor-like product that would sell. Personally I wouldn't do it for the money, I'd let the content be under creative commons and reap the benefits of recognition†.

In any case, McKenzie seems to have approached his affiliated extension school willing to do this. The extension school seemed to want to do it, and coursera was on-board with this.  Considering the length of the contract with coursera (that we've seen posted online from other universities) I think that the various parties needed to do a better job at reading it and knowing what they were getting into.  So, that's on McKenzie.  On the other hand the extension school seems to have thrown McKenzie under the proverbial bus (at least that's what I gather from the Chronicle story), which I think is wrong.  I think that there is an unwritten understanding between professors and their respective colleges/schools. The professor does their best to represent the university, since the course is offered by the university and the university's reputation is at stake.  At the same time, the college/school has a moral obligation to support that professor in their endeavor.  They can't just say that they entered into this agreement at breakneck speed and just brush it all off.

I think that McKenzie, on his part, though is pretty disparaging to the extension school (and I think that extension schools in general are painted in a pretty disparaging light), when he says that this "would never have been tolerated by the faculty and administration on campus." It seems to paint a line that clearly separates online (extension) from campus ("regular") in a dualistic and perhaps not equal role.  Most universities tend to go toward being hybrid universities, offering both online and face to face options, and I think that this distinction between extension schools and the "regular" university will go away.

In any case, I think that this is yet another example of organizations and people experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) that they don't realize that there are many things that are just not worked out yet. It's too bad that something like this happened, but I hope we can all learn from this.

† my assumption is that I am retired and living comfortably having worked as long as McKenzie worked. If I were in need to cash I'd probably try to sell my knowledge - but knowing that the marker for that kind of stuff is tough, I probably would not bother.

Missed Conversation with Laura Gibbs

A recent hangout I was on talking about online pedagogy with some really cool people :-)

Note to self: Ouroboros as a pedagogical symbol...


Rhizo16 (planning) has begun...

...and along with it the usual cast of characters and their zany antics (picture a 90s cartoon here).

The debate and brainstorming currently happening is how to welcome new members in a new MOOC when we've all started developing connections, bonds, and rhizomes together over the past couple of years.  Will anonymity work? New Groups? Delete old groups? Tea & Biscuits to welcome new members? Hmmmm...

Simon Ensor's Anonymous Rhizo


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?

Questions about Co-Learning

What do you get when you mix connected courses, thinking about academia, and cold medicine?  The answer is a blog post (which I hope makes sense) :-)

As I was jotting down my initial thoughts on co-learning in the previous post I completely forgot to address some of the initial thinking questions for this module.  Here are some initial thoughts on co-learning and how I would address these questions:

What is co-learning and why employ it?
For me co-learning is when two or more people are working together to solve a problem and learn something new.  As I wrote in my previous post, the individuals in this community do not all need to start from the same point. There can, and will, be learners that are more advanced in certain areas as compared to others.  This is perfectly fine, and it's realistic to expect this.  This can be a community of practice, it can be a broad network of learning, or a loosely connected network of learning that centers around a hashtag.  The reason to co-learn is, for me, three-fold.  First you have a variety of learners in the classroom their lived experiences, and previous knowledge, can be beneficial in this learning experience. Second, by having learners co-learn (and in my mind co-teach) they are learning not just the material but they are deconstructing it so that they can explain it to others. This act of deconstruction allows a closer analysis of the subject matter and, hopefully, a more critical view of it.  Finally, this is something that came to mind when engaging in #dalmooc this week - when looking at Social Network graphs of courses, in some cases we see the instructor as a central node, which is a quite privileged position. However this isn't good for learning, so having a course where there is a high degree of connections among many nodes, and the instructor becomes just another node in the network, this spells out good things for learning (or so research says - don't ask me to cite anything, I wasn't taking detailed notes when I was viewing Dragan's presentations)

How can teachers empower students as co-learners?
This, for me, has been the most difficult thing. I teach a course that is an upper level graduate course, which means that students come to my course late in their studies and thus their habits are formed.  Most expect weekly asynchronous discussions with the familiar 1-post, 2-reply scheme.  Many students seem to go beyond this (anecdotal evidence from teaching this course over the last 3 years), however some do not, and there are many reasons for that.  Having co-learning occur means that learners need to be more present, and to some extent their schedule isn't fully their own.  They need to see what their peers are doing so that they can bounce off those messages, riff off them, respond to them, and, when necessary, pertrube them (in educational ways).  I think teachers can empower students to be co-learners by slowly stepping back and scaffolding students to take on that role.  How quickly or slowly you step back depends on the group of learners that are in the classroom.  I don't think that there is a magic formula here, however we are all beholden to the academic calendar, so I would say that it happens somewhere between week 1 and 6 (for a 13-week semester). Even as instructors step-back, it's important to maintain a noticeable teaching presence, and a social presence.  Nothing annoys learners more (I find) than having an instructor that's not there.

How does this pedagogy differ from traditional methods of teaching and learning?  How does the instructor support a co-learning environment? What obstacles might educators encounter in this paradigm shift?  What obstacles might students encounter in this paradigm shift?
I guess here it depends on how one defined "traditional". If traditional means lecture then this approach of co-learning is like night and day compared to lectures.  However, if we encompass Vygotsky's social constructivism, or concepts like Wegner's Communities of Practice as "traditional" then I don't think that co-learning varies a ton from these.  I think that co-learning is a natural extension to constructivism, connectivism, and communities of practice.

I think the key thing, as I wrote above, for support is that sense of social and teacher presence going back to the community of inquiry model. The idea here is that an instructor is just a node  in this learning network.  Sure,the instructor by virtue of being older and having had more learning experiences (and time to read and digest more) is a more knowledgeable other in this aspect. However, his knowledge and voice isn't what drowns out the voices of the learners.  The instructor is there to help people navigate the network, wayfind, provide appropriate scaffolds, advise, and when necessary promote certain content. I don't think we can get away from content and certain "core" knowledge, so the instructor as an MKO in this area has a responsibility of sharing what they know with others, without being overbearing. 

The trick here is having that sense of when to share something and when to let learners struggle a bit. Again research points to the fact that when learners struggle a bit they tend to learn better. I think this is also an area where the instructor might potentially face some obstacles by the learners themselves or their own superiors.  If the learners want content (or *gasp* lectures), then there might be a push from the learners to ask the instructor for nicely packaged answers to their questions. I have seen this in exit evaluations at my own department.  Since we are a department of applied linguistics we don't deal with classroom management (our students are, for the most part, teaching professionals or they go into teaching). We provide the applied linguistics theory, and a space to think about it, criticize it, deconstruct it, and utilize it. However our faculty don't provide cookie-cutter solutions to language learning problems because the answer (as usual) is "it depends".  However learners, in their previous learning experiences, are used to getting nicely packaged data bits, such as "World War I started on ____" or "The first president of the United States was _____" and so on.

This obstacle is something that also affects learners because they need to discover ways in which to not only take the knowledge that they gain in their courses now, but to be able to continuously go out, read the updated literature in the field, deconstruct it, analyze it, and put it back together in meaningful ways to solve their own problems.  The classroom environment provides a nice laboratory where co-learning can be practiced, however once students graduate they need to discover networks in which they can continue to actively co-learn.  This is a literacy that we, as educators, need to help our learners cultivate.

I think that's it for co-learning for now.  Thoughts?


Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities (Online Edition)

Back in September Maha Bali's post on Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities hit the interwebs on the Hybrid Pedagogy site. It's something I've been thinking about writing an Online Edition from my own experiences teaching in an online environment.  It seems to be a bit slow on Connected Courses this week (at least as compared to last week, measured in blog posts), so this seems like a good opportunity to write a little about the topic.

I should say that I haven't overtly thought about applying critical pedagogy to the classroom†. It is quite odd, if you really think about it because of where my academic foundations lay.  I am a graduate of the Applied Linguistics department at UMass Boston.  A department created and shepherded by Dr. Donaldo Macedo (those who know of Freire's work, also know Macedo). But we don't just have Donaldo in our department, we also have other scholars who move in the same circles as people like Henry Giroux, so to not have overtly covered Freire seems odd.  At the same time, in about half my curriculum I could see influences of Freire, so it may not be that odd that I didn't explicitly read any of Freire's work - it was, after all, an undercurrent of our entire MA program.

Anyway, enough with the name dropping.  Since I haven't read the actual text of Freire's work, I will rely on Maha's initial intents (as posted on Hybrid Pedagogy) and I will discuss a bit of my own experience in the online environment.

Intent A: Treat students as peers in a learning community.  Maha writes:

Ellsworth critiques critical pedagogues for discussing this in a paternalistic manner, where “treating” students as peers is a means to “empower” them so they can reach the level of knowledge of the teacher. But I truly believe each of them has valuable experience from their own context to bring to the classroom (that the rest of us have little knowledge of) and I hope my class is a place for them to learn from each other, for me to learn from them, and for them to reflect on their own experiences in ways they can take with them beyond the class so they can keep developing long after I am gone from their lives... 

I agree with what Maha writes.  Especially in the course that I teach I see learners working in various corporate departments, in a variety of fields, learners in higher education instructional design, in K-12 environments, and freelancers, too! This wealth of experience, not just in a variety of work environments, but also the variety of ages and experience in the classroom, is valuable to all learners, including me.

That said, luckily, I have not encouratered the realities that Maha has encountered.  The only reason I can think for this is that my course is further down the stream for most students.  Perhaps, by the time they come to the course that I teach they have already been primed by other professors. As far as research goes, there is nothing covert here ;-) If I am  experimenting with new practices I tell them upfront. Chances are high that I am tweaking something in the course to see what happens, and for instructional designers in training this is a teachable moment. No design is final, everything is up for reconsideration, everything is always to be examined for improvement.

The one thing I have come across, however, is the notion (by some learners) that I should better curate my readings.  I have both required readings and optional readings in my course. Some learners would be just as happy to have me remove the optional readings and make sure my required readings are the best readings that given them answers to everything they need to know about that module's topic.  This, however, is something I can't bring myself to do.  Readings aren't there just as a content dump.  I do pick readings that could be picked apart and critiqued. They may represent the view of some in the field, but whether that is canonical knowledge that every designer should know and abide by...well that's up for debate.  In this aspect, even though learners like the way I run/manage/facilitate/teach (RMFT) the course, some still feel more comfortable putting me on a pedestal and expecting the best of the best of the best for me to give them to consume. Quite interesting, and not at all unexpected. Luckily this isn't the majority of the learners.

Intent B: use the class to promote social justice, and a stance towards social justice and challenging the status quo.

This isn't something I do overtly. Should I be doing this overtly? Does it fit with the course? If so, how?  Good questions! I don't know. When I inherited the course there was an assignment in the early weeks, the weeks that stimulated prior knowledge (or at least gave a really quick bootcamp to the newbies that shouldn't have been assigned to the course due to pre-requisite requirements). The assignment was to find a television commercial and analyze it for the learning styles that it attempts to address (using the VARK framework). I should say that I am not a big fan of teaching learning styles.  While I do think that they begin the discussion and it allows us to think beyond our own preferences for learning, I do find that learners (in general) latch on to this and view instructional design through this lens, which isn't helpful (because there is no discussion).  They take VARK, and learning styles, as an innate fait accompli.

Anyway,  after I RMFT'd this course for a year and half, and it appeared that I would be the instructor of record, at least for now, I decided to tweak this assignment and not focus on specifically on learning styles, but on design in general, and the cultural predispositions to certain designs.  I also encouraged students, if they spoke other languages, to find ads from other countries and share and analyze those.  The assignment went well, but I still think it needs tweaking.  VARK still reared its ugly head. I think I will need to do some more thinking about how to better implement this assignment. I also think it didn't help that another instructor, in their course, used a similar assignment in the same week.  Talk about mixed signals.  This is probably as close as I come to social justice.  I wonder how others, who RMFT instructional design courses deal with this issue.  Instructional Design, as a field, seems quite structured and behavioristic.  Even though it's billed as the Art and Science of Instruction, the Art (and heart) seems to get lost in our processes.  Thoughts?

Intent C: Equal Participation for Students.  Maha Writes:

...which includes students calling me by my first name, and calling each other by their first names; it also includes everyone feeling they have a voice in class, that their contribution is equally valued and equally valuable. But even though Freire suggests that “dialogue cannot exist without humility”, Ellsworth is more realistic about the illusions of equality in dialogue. 
With equality I can see at least a couple of different levels: first the social aspect, which I never really consciously thought about because I always introduced myself as "AK", instead of the "professor". Ever since the first class I RMFT'd we were all on a first name basis.  I do wonder if this is both a function of the course being further down the stream (thus learners have already been prepared for a more equal level of participation), and due to my own education (where we were on a first name basis with our peers and the professors).

I must admit that this is not the equality that first came to mind when I read Maha's post.  The equality that came to mind is equal air-time in the forums, and how some will participate based on the letter of the rubric (3 posts per week, 1 original, 2 responses), and how others open themselves up to much more.  My first thought was that you can't dictate equality, i.e. I posted 10 posts so YOU must post 10 posts.  Upon consideration, I think that I'll keep equality as Maha defined it, but this other type of "equality" I will rename "freedom to participate as much or as little as you need."  I know that this is hard given my current rubric, which dictates certain levels of participation, but with my thoughts about taking this course and designing and redefining it as an (M)OOC‡ there is the opportunity to design a dip-in, jump-out mechanic for participation. I must admit I feel a bit uncomfortable designing this mechanic, both because I've been "schooled" in always including discussion in my online course designs, and because I think that there is better learning through participation. However, I don't think you can meaningfully dictate participation in class.  I may just make the course Pass/Fail, and use badges to distinguish between those who've done the minimum to reach that passing grade, and those who really took advantage of the learning opportunities afforded by their peers. (note to self - save this for dissertation proposal).

Your thoughts?

Side notes, side thoughts, miscellanea: 
† I had originally typed "my" classroom, but I changed this to "the" classroom, since I don't control the physical space (blackboard), and the course can always be given to another adjunct, so the course isn't even "mine" - quite an interesting thought, perhaps for another blog post, about the concept of property and how we apply it to our courses.
‡ Whether or not it's Massive still remains to be seen.  I suppose I should define what "massive" is before I run my experiment.
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EDCMOOC - Perhaps 3rd time is the charm?

A while back, when #EDCMOOC was getting setup for the first time, a fellow colleague, co-author, and member of the MobiMOOC research team, recommended the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh. I think the school was his alma matter and he had good words to say about the organizers. This is always a plus.

Well, first time around I was too busy - I think I was actually too involved with other MOOCs to have the mental bandwidth to participate in #edcmooc. The second time I don't even remember what was happening (was I in summer mode?), so let's scratch that one off.  The third time is upon us! What the heck, I thought to myself, might as well sign up.  The Game Based Learning MOOC  is almost over, and I think I have the bandwidth for #edcmooc now.

Since this is the first week, I went in and had a peek to see how they've set it up. I have to say that this MOOC is, at first glance, doing well on a number of counts; something to really given them applause for.  First, the introductory videos give you a sense of who the organizers and facilitators are, and they are quite  up front that they will be getting their hands dirty with the course.  I think that this counts a lot and it really shows that the course will aim to have a teaching presence be there. This was a nice Community of Inquiry checkmark for me.  There is no need to respond to every single MOOC participant's discussion thread - but having a visible presence and leading by example are quite big factors in MOOC design and implementation in my book.

Another really nice thing is that up-front they address the potential for being overwhelmed with MOOC materials.  There is an attempt to on-board participants into the MOOC and help participants get more comfortable with the idea of MOOCs, the massiveness of the materials created, and prepare learners to be successful in this MOOC.  I'd honestly like to see what the attrition rate for this MOOC is (anyone collecting data or doing participant surveys pre and post MOOC?)

As far as materials are concerned, it's great that the videos are not the end of the materials, but rather serve as introductions to the topics.  The organizers actually go so far as to state this in their introductions.  I think this is important because up to this point, in xMOOCs, the videos have been treated at the material to study, with no other texts to accompany or supplement the videos.  I've peeked at the resources for Week 1 and saved a few things to Pocket for reading, and downloaded a few PDFs to read if I have time later on. It's nice to see academic articles selected from databases  like JSTOR and peer reviewed journals as part of the readings for a MOOC.  I know that the rights negotiation issue is a big deal, and these things cost, but interacting with readings and negotiating meaning is quite an important part of learning.

Finally, it seems that there are no silly little multiple choice test assignments - yes!  There is only one assignment at the end, which is optional, and that consists of a digital artefact that you create based on your understanding of the readings and brainstorming around certain topics. I am glad to see that there are no tests for the sake of having a test. In terms of participation, I am not quite sure what I will do.  I am probably going to be on twitter, and continue on this blog (if the 3rd time is the charm).  I've looked into the forums of the course.  Even though I am still not convinced that the forums are the best form of communication in these things, I did see quite a few of discussions that seemed elevated to me.  In previous xMOOCs I really didn't get a sense that the discussions were worth my time.  It just seemed like junk all around.  As a matter of fact the last MOOC where I felt that discussions were worth my time was MobiMOOC (and that was a cMOOC). I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but other xMOOCs I've been that had discussions either didn't grab me (subject matter wise), or there was such a bad signal-to-noise ratio that I didn't want to spend my limited time looking for something good to read and respond to. It also deterred me from posting some original thoughts on the forum because the signal would get lost.  Luckily this doesn't seem to be an issue with #edcmooc. I am getting a vibe that I can pick three or four discussions at random and all of them will be worthwhile to read and participate in. More on this at the end, I will report on this at the end of the MOOC to see if this was indeed the case.

That said, it seems that blogs are acceptable as a way to connect people in the MOOC, but there doesn't seem to be a main mechanism, like gRSShopper, to collect and aggregate these distributed sources, to it will be interesting to see what people come up with.

For an xMOOC, this MOOC seems quite unlike any other xMOOC.  I think people should take note!

So, this is my question to fellow participants: what is drawing you in, and if this is your 2nd or 3rd attempt at #edcmooc, what didn't work for you before?

More uninformed opinions on MOOCs - and my take on them

The other day, through some source I came across this "4 downsides of MOOCs" from LearnDash. I should have known better than to read a vendor's blog, but then again sometimes they surprise me.  Anyway, the blog post seemed like link-bait because the downsides of MOOCs do not really seem that thought out. They are more reactionary than a deep pondering if the medium. So, here are my 2c on the issues brought forth:

1. Way to big
The main thesis of this brief argument (and it is brief) is that because there are too many  people enrolled in the course it's hard to have intimate learning moments, access to the professor is limited, and there is too much of a chance of homogeneity of thought, so you don't learn to expand your worldview.
That said, just because MOOCs have many participants in them it does not mean that you can't find a working group, a smaller cadre of students who would like to meet more regularly, in person or through something like a hangout, to discuss and expand their understanding. Then, those learnings can be fed forward to the larger class. You don't need to interact with everyone in the course, and you can have close learning experiences.  I am only a sample size of one, but I've had some memorable experiences in MOOC learning (cMOOCs to be specific). These are people that I still follow on twitter, and learn from even though the MOOC has ended a long time ago. As far as xMOOCs go, I think there is still room for automation improvement, where systems could be built to suggest to learners other fellow learners that they can buddy up with to study together.

As far as the access to the professor goes, this seems very xMOOC focused.  If you look at traditional MOOCs (cMOOCs), and not the current crop of xMOOCs like edx, coursera and udacity, you will see that the pedagogy is one of distributed learning, and distributed experts.  There is no one talking head.  Sure, each week will have some expert leading it, but amongst the learners you have more knowledgeable peers that can help scaffold each other's learning endeavors. It's not a sage-on-the-stage model, thus you can expand your current thinking, if you want to of course. Even in a traditional course no one can make you change if you don't want to.

2. Lack of follow through
Here the author's basic thesis is that since the course has a large enrollment, the people who need the most attention aren't getting it, and thus are unsuccessful learners.  The author quotes the same tired song "only 5% completion rate"...

What's lost in this whole "free education for all" song that the xMOOC providers are chanting is that there are certain underlying assumptions about the ability of learners to learn on their own and self-organized groups. This is a real pre-requisite for learning in a MOOC (x or c), and obviously the MOOC isn't geared toward those who aren't autodidacts.  I am not sure if there is a plan to help prepare those who aren't prepared to be autodidacts, but as it stands, we should just admit that that MOOC are  free education for all, with a few asterisks after that statement.  Like it or not, MOOCs aren't catering to everyone.

As far as completion rates go, I've written or spoken about about this ad nauseum. The core of my argument is that completion rates in MOOCs don't matter because we cannot compare them to traditional classes.  MOOCs have a lot of people that sign up just to have a look, but never both unregistering because there is no cost associated with the course, so who care if you are registered? This lack of cost indulges our digital packrat. MOOC critics see these packrats as "dropouts" or "non-completers" when they are not. It's like the unemployment statistics: they don't cover everyone who is eligible to work, but only those looking for jobs.  Just because you sign up for a MOOC does not mean you want to "complete" it (whatever "complete" might mean for the designers).

3. Online Learning isn't for everyone
This is a pretty silly argument. Flute or Trombone Classes aren't for me but I can't say that this is a downside of music education! Sure, not everyone has the internet (or wants to have the internet), but MOOCs, or traditional online courses for that matter, aren't the only venues for education.  If they were, this argument could potentially hold water. As it stands the argument does not.  Since the argument is weak, the author seems to want to point out issues of plagiarism in MOOCs.  Well, all students will try to figure out what they can get away with.  For some it's doing the bare minimum to get a C, and others it's figuring out how to get a better grade with less work, and plagiarism might come into play.  I don't condone plagiarism, but I do question the need for summative assessment of MOOCs.  

Certificates of completion mean almost nothing since there is no guarantor in the background backing up the validity of these certificates.  I hold on to my digital badges and certificates of completion for MOOCs because they are an indication of my having attended a MOOC. What I learned in the MOOC is seen every day through my actions, because I infuse that knowledge and know-how in my day to day work.  Even if the certificate was worth something, if I could not apply what I learned, who would care that I have a certificate? Once certificates mean something, we can then tackle the issue of plagiarism more tactically.

4. Quality Concerns
The author seems uncomfortable with the variety that exists in MOOCs today.  Honestly, I've been to campus courses where I would question their quality, the same is true traditional online education.  It just so happens that these two are the dominant modes of course delivery so no one challenges their quality that often.

Some standardization is a good thing, but don't forget, MOOCs are not fully hashed out yet. MOOCs are experimental and it's important to approach them as an experiment. This is a learning experience for both the learner, as well as the instructors and the design team behind MOOCs, be they cMOOCs or xMOOCs.  I find it odd  that the author mentions SCORM as a "quality standard" because SCORM is just a way to share learning objects between systems.  A well behaved SCORM module can have some pretty awful course material and pedagogy behind it.  Just because a SCORM module is well behaved it doesn't mean that it's something of quality.

Finally, it seems like the author of this post seems to focus only on xMOOCs.  It doesn't surprise me that a superficial critique of MOOCs will give someone these flawed critiques of MOOCs, but  I think that if someone really wants to critique MOOCs they ought to be a little better informed (especially when they represent a product).

Your thoughts?