Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Rhizo22: The rMOOC that might be?



Wonder what's in this...

It's been a crazy seven days. 

As part of my narrative inquiry into collaborations that occurred in rhizo14 and rhizo15 (or collaborations that sprung up from the work that started there), I am writing a fictional account of a newbie rhizo-learner (sort of how I was a newbie back in rhizo14) who gets to meet rhizo-alumni from past courses and ask them about their collaborations.  This newbie is simultaneously my avatar, but also a persona that encapsulates some common features of the people I connected with to learn more about their experiences.

I find the flexibility that narrative inquiry affords a bit freeing.  I can more easily change names, places, and situations, but I still can get to the main ideas that emerged from my conversations with rhizo14 alumni and collaborators.

 Anyway, my fictional rhizo course that takes place in 2022 (June 2022, to be exact). I could have made up all the weekly provocation titles, and the course tagline, but it's always much more fun when you crowdsource these things, especially when rhizo-alumni chime in.  

So, here's some information about:

Rhizodemic Learning: Feeding the virus #rhizo22

  • Week 1: Fill in the Blank: Is __________ making us stupid?
  • Week 2: Cyborg Rhizomes: The machine takes over the rhizome
  • Week 3: Viral thoughts in ill-structured domains
  • Week 4: Interprofessional Rhizofictional Learning
  • Week 5: Rhizodemic Learning
  • Week 6: Rhizomes in a post-covid world

I think, like past rhizo courses, that rhizo22 will also have a few weeks of "inmates taking over the asylum", so here are weeks7 through 9.  As you see, I still have some blanks.  If you want to contribute, suggest a title for a weekly "module" or provocation, and I'll add it in :-)
  • Week 7: Fill in the blank: _________ will make you more creative.
  • Week 8: ?
  • Week 9: ?
  • Week x: ????


Groups, cooperatives, collaboratives, swarms...and the ongoing dissertation proposal...

It's been quite a while since I last shared a few thoughts.  I guess time flies even if you aren't having fun 😆. In the past few weeks I've been contemplating the direction of my dissertation proposal.  I am not changing topics (now THAT would be silly, and an unnecessary amount of work), but I am considering the framing of my argument.  The topic (just to refresh your mind) is "Why do we collaborate?" and it's an exploration of the emergent groups that formed in Rhizo14 and rhizo15 to conduct some sort of academic work in order to figure out why we did this (after all, everyone hates group work, right??? 😜) This academic work wasn't part of the original Rhizo-course plan†, so why the heck did we band together to do this type of work?

The question, I should point out (again) wasn't originally mine - I just took an interest in it.  Rebecca H. had originally asked this question of our MobiMOOC team back in 2011/2012 - but we all went (sort of) our separate ways and we just hadn't explored it in depth at the time; and this seemed like a good question for dissertation research (and I found it interesting, so it checked off that internal motivation box), and there were enough people in Rhizos collaborating in groups that made for a viable case study.

Now, one of my stumbling blocks has been terminology. I started off calling what we did (in our various groups) a 'collaboration'.  But, collaboration has certain specific connotations.  Was it really collaboration?  Or did I just see what we did (and what others did, for groups I wasn't part of) as collaboration?  Is a "swarm" different from collaboration? Or is it a specific type of collaboration? It should also be noted that not all work was 'swarmed'.  Part way through this gargantuan proposal I started replacing collaboration with group work, which seems more value neutral than collaboration, this way as part of the research I can see how different people perceived the joint-effort we/they accomplished as somewhere on the 'working together' spectrum.    Is there a word that is value neutral (or mostly value neutral) that rolls off the tongue that means "3 or more people working together on a common goal"?

But I still have a little trouble with the term "group work".  For me it harkens back to school days where teachers put us in groups to do something together that wasn't always of interest to the learner, and people were placed in a situation where they had to work together but it was just awkward (my experiences in the rhizo work didn't feel awkward).   Is the term "team work" more appropriate? Is it more value neutral?  A team may be more self forming...maybe...but it also reminds me of the artificial aspects of corporate 'teams' where work gets done (I think), but there really isn't much camaraderie.  In my experience there was camaraderie in the collaborations I was least from my own observations.

That said, this bring me to the next stumbling block. How did I see this thing/action/project/collective that had/have?   Do I address my own views about the collaborations Ive been part of in the introductory chapter to my proposal/dissertation?  Or do I save it for my data collection section (self-interviews and journaling) as some research methods books suggest? Or, is there a good mid-point where I can address potential biases by discussing it a bit (but how much is enough?) and then saving the rest for the data collection portion?

When the researcher is part of the researched it makes things a little muddy.  Things that are 'clear' in my head aren't necessarily things that are transmitted as 'clear' to the eventual audience of my doctoral work. I think part of the problem is that my direct experience really colors my perceptions (as I expected it would), but also that the question "why did we do this?" is intentionally broad. Would it be helpful to narrow it down to a specific aspect of our work together? And, if yes, what specific aspect would be of most interest to this community I am researching (and am a member of)?  Loads of questions...

OK, that's all the reflecting for now.  What do others think?

† Although, with the mindset of "the community is the curriculum", one could argue that such group work was part of the curriculum.  Cormier! you evil genius! 😈

MOOC Standards...what do these look like?


The case of MOOC standards (as well as MOOC sustainability) is something that keeps coming back to me as a topic of pondering.  I read about it in other blogs.  Then, I want to respond to some of these articles, and bounce off some ideas, but I lose motivation and decide "m'eh" - this topics isn't much of interest.  Then, a little while later, my interest on the topic rekindles.  I thought it would be best to at least write something to keep this conversation on quality going (it might even motivate me to write more in depth...or collaborate with some colleagues to produce something more "academic").

In any case, the most recent thing I read about MOOC Quality, and what that might look like is from eCampus News from about a month ago (something sticking out in my Pocket to-read list). The article points to recent research published in IRRODL where the Quality Matters rubric was used to keep the quality under control in a MOOC. I haven't read the article - I've been busy with school, but it's on my radar for a deeper reading once this semester is over†. However, even though I have not read this article yet, I can tell you that my professional opinion is that the QM Rubric is the wrong measurement of measuring quality in MOOCs.

Don't get me wrong! I like QM, I am QM certified, and I have served in review teams for online courses that want to be QM certified.  However, the heuristics of small online courses, ones that are not open or free, are different from the heuristics of MOOCs that are open, often free of cost, and have an open entry/exit policy for people learning and/or engaging in them.  Can you design MOOCs to fit the QM rubric?  You bet!  Will those MOOCs be successful?  Maybe?  But if they are, they won't be  because a course was designed with QM in mind.

QM, as with any measurement that aims to be objective, has a specific ways of measuring what is of value, and when we use such measurements we tend to industrialize the learning process.  At this point in my development I'll be bold enough to say that it is inevitable that objective measurements create some sort of industrialization, but I may be wrong.  I think that the power of MOOCs is that we are able to break from the current mold of what we conceive as learning, and learning online, and learning in distributed environments, and try out new things.   We don't know yet what works, but we've only been at this for a little while.  xMOOC providers, such as udacity, coursera and to some extent edx, have a pressure to produce profit in some way, share, or form, to show their funders that this is a worthwhile venture - and that they won't go the way of FATHOM.  Some modified version of QM could apply to xMOOCs, but I think that what Siemens said recently is quite true. MOOCs (xMOOCs) are a regression of education - not a progression to the next big thing or 'aha' for us. cMOOCs, and other types of MOOCs that are more experimental in nature have that potential to show us some interesting things, but not if we shoehorn them into our conceptions of what "good online learning" is with frameworks like QM that are geared toward a different type of design and learner demographic.


†and I also finish reviewing that edited volume on MOOCs...argh... the "to do list keeps getting bigger.


A way to visualize MOOC students...

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

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

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

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

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

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


eLearning, ePedagogy, MOOC MOOC!

Huzzah!  Half-way through Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future!  This time I am reviewing chapter 6, which is titled Learning Theories: ePedagogical Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Higher Education.  The abstract is as follows:

This chapter reviews various learning theories about e-pedagogical strategies for the effective use of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in higher education. E-pedagogical strategies refer to the various teaching methods or approaches used by educators when encouraging students to engage with online learning. An up-to-date broad knowledge of learning theories is required by educators to inform and inspire their teaching approaches. Before developing lesson plans, educators should have a clear idea of the learning outcomes which they hope the learners will achieve by engaging with the lessons, be they delivered on or off line. By knowing the desired learning outcomes in advance of developing the lesson plans, educators have the opportunity to consider various learning theories, teaching methods, and pedagogical strategies to select the most appropriate one(s) to use when creating course content for MOOCs. The chapter continues the discussion on ‘ePedagogy and interactive MOOCs' from the perspective of addressing the topic of ‘ePedagogy and students' use of HCI (integrating interactivity into asynchronous MOOCs).
I should start off by saying that I really wanted this chapter to be good (i.e. teach me something), but I came away a little disappointed.  I don't know if this is because I've been reading research for a little while now and, for lack of better words, I "expect better" when I read something that is billed as research; or if there is a mismatch between my expectations of this book and what it's meant to be.

Anyway, what I was expecting to read when I read this chapter was something much more in-depth about how learning theories inform, or can inform, MOOC development.  Considering that we've had a variety of cMOOCs around since 2011, and a whole boatload of xMOOCs, pMOOCs, and other __MOOCs around, it seemed like a good opportunity to do an analysis.  What I ended up getting was (mostly) a review of learning theories and their historical context and how they might be applied to MOOCs.  The application part was really small, so it seemed mostly a historical overview of some learner theories with a little bit of MOOC thrown in.

Even when considering the learning theories, no justification was given for the theories chosen to be examined and some things seemed to be thrown in that weren't really learning theories (example: Computer-supported collaborative learning).  Some learning theories seemed to be  described ad nauseum, while others got short shrift.   The disappointing part was that one could replace "MOOC" with "Online course" and the applications of learning theory would be just as valid.  There wasn't really something here that was MOOC specific.

I think that the paper can be good however, just not as a chapter in this book.  This paper looks like a great paper written for a graduate course. It provides a researched view of learning theories and how they might apply to MOOCs. As a student research paper I wouldn't expect learners to go out there and try every single type of MOOC.  It's taken me 5 years, and I am still experimenting with MOOCs, so I don't expect someone new to know all this stuff from the start. However, as a chapter in a "premier reference source" published in 2015, I'd expect much more.

Maybe I am way to cranky about this.  What do you think?

O'Donnell, E., Lawless, S., Sharp, M., & O'Donnell, L. (2015). Learning Theories: ePedagogical Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Higher Education. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 92-118). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch006

MOOCs, facilitation, and sustainability

Just before my Athabasca semester starts I am trying to make headway in my Pocket 'to read' collection :-).  I had bookmarked this post by David Hopkins a while back where he asks for information about facilitation in MOOCs, and to some extent this runs into sustainability - something we briefly talked about in 2012 at UMass Boston when we hosted the MOOC sustainability symposium.

In any case, the questions that David asks are interesting and important to consider, and I've been thinking about them on-and-off since I read his post, so here are some rudimentary, preliminary, working-thoughts. I should say that I am speaking more as an instructional designer and long-time MOOC follower, and not as someone who has developed and ran their own MOOCs.

What are your thoughts on how we manage the course, the comments and discussion during the run, and the subsequent comments and discussion during re-runs?
I think that the answer to this really depends on your philosophical stand when it comes to MOOCs.  I think if you are running a content-based MOOC, commonly known as xMOOCs, then the answer is simple: you treat your MOOC like you treat any sort of introductory online course. There is a felt teacher presence for the formal duration of the MOOC, and then the course either disappears at the end of the sponsored course duration (not my favorite option by the way), or the course content remains in perpetuity however the comments sections get closed off.  In cases like these it's up to the institution to figure out ways to manage the flow of comments and provide tutoring. This can get costly for courses that have a lot of participation.

If your philosophical learn is not on content, but rather on the discussion and community that emerges from learning, then the instructor and/or facilitator becomes just a node in the network. That node may have some privilege over other nodes by virtue of being the administrator of the platform or the initiator of the course, however the network structure can work around that node.  In cases like these I think that there really isn't a need to put in more resources to manager (or police) the discussion.  The philosophical standing of these MOOCs is that the discussion will find a way to exist and happen, even if the MOOC originator isn't there to share his wisdom and answer all questions. I think that some learners will be annoyed that the instructor isn't paying attention to them (whether consciously or unconsciously since there are only so many hours in the day), but  I think that getting annoyed that the MOOC originator is not paying as much attention to you as you'd like is like being annoyed that the chocolate store down the street ran out of free chocolates when they were running their promotion.

The one area I am still on the fence about is what to do about trolling behavior.  I haven't witnessed this in the MOOCs I've participated in, but it is something that might come up.  Should there be a mechanism to report posts for inappropriate content?  Who should address those? Can people be banned from courses due to inappropriate posts?  And, who decides what is inappropriate and what isn't?

In terms of what to do about previous comments on MOOC reruns...well...this is an interesting discussion we've started to have in the Rhizo15 group as we discuss Rhizo16.  Should we all be anonymous and start a new group, in essence putting behind us  all the previous discussions?  Should we have one group and move forward adding to it? Each Rhizo course has had different themes these past couple of years, so it's not like we're repeating ourselves - which might be the case with some xMOOCs, but even then, should you clear the slate, or continue building on that corpus?  To some extent I think that people don't bother reading  the told comments before they arrive. Even in forums where there is a search function, a common comment towards newbies is to use the search button to find the answer to their question because it's been discussed umpteen times.   From where I sit, at the moment, I see no problem on keeping one course and building on it.

Do you have support, from technical and/or academic backgrounds monitoring the course to keep comments on track and answer pertinent questions? Are these paid positions or part of their role? Do you actively check the comments? If so, what for, why, and what do you do?

Some of this ties in to my previous comments.  I think some of the answers depend on your philosophical stand.  In an xMOOC environment, especially if an institution's name is plastered all over the course, then I think there is greater pressure to have more technical and academic support (for free) since the institution's reputation is potentially on the line.  In a MOOC that is more community based (cMOOCs, rMOOCs, etc.) I think that support is just a node or two away, and that node may or may not be someone who officially designer the course.  In my own experience with these community based MOOCs I think that the originators aren't too far away, but other members/nodes are more empowered to help out and support.

In a community MOOC these would not be paid positions.  In an xMOOC I think that they would be, if your institution puts that kind of pressure on your MOOC design team.  I think, however, that there are other options as well, even for xMOOCs.  I think that there are small perks that users can have even if they aren't paid to support the community.  Some learners will do it because that's their nature.  They should be encouraged to help out if they can.  Some learners do it for the perk of a limited edition badge or title. I know that when I was moderating forums it was cool to have "moderator" in my title.  I didn't moderate because I wanted the title, I was interested in being a member of the community, but that title, which was held by few, was a really big ego boost. It was pretty cool when I didn't even have to apply to become a moderator. I got a nice note from the forum owner who recognized my interest in the community and asked if I wanted to moderate. I think that acknowledgement of my involvement in the community was a nice touch, and it's something that could work in xMOOCs. It costs nothing, and it is potentially helpful to both learner and organization.

Do you design-in an element of real-time collaboration on the course (facilitation of discussion, round-up videos, Google Hangouts, etc.), and if so are these sustainable over multiple runs of the course? If you’ve done these before, but then designed them out of the course for re-runs, why?

Real-time (synchronous) communications are potentially problematic.  Just like my friend and colleague, Maha B., I have an affinity for asynchronous.  I do make it to Virtually Connected sessions, and on occasion I even host them for the team.  That doesn't mean that everyone has the privilege of attending.  The synchronous sessions become like a 'call in' radio show where the producer keeps an eye on the twitter/facebook/Google+ streams for questions and they get relayed to the delphi panel discussing this week's (or this day's) topics.  I think that it's an interesting exercise, and it does have its values, but I don't think that it's the panacea for getting a more human-feeling MOOC.  Instructor presence is just as felt and valid through text and brief spurts of audio as it is in synchronous video or audio sessions. What makes one learner feel warm and fuzzy and connected is not the same as other learners.

That said, even if you run a google hangout, I would treat it as an ephemeral thing.  While they may be recorded for future viewing, I wouldn't necessarily use them in future MOOC runs.  If a special guest came to do a presentation and you couldn't get them again, I would consider re-using that segment again, but the point (that I see) for synchronous sessions is more to increase the sense of community than to relay information.  In a 24x7 online open courses where many people are dispersed geographically there are better ways to deliver information than a synchronous session that privileges those in the same timezone as the instructor.

That's all for now.

What do you think? :-)


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


Week 2 of 13 sort of done

If I think about it long enough...
I would say that rubber has met the road, with week 2 of EDDE803 almost over. People have started being active in the course forums, interesting perspectives and illustrative stories are shared and discussed, and projects are in progress! This semester we are joined by two members of Cohort 6, who I think will be added to our cohort, and thus adding to the diversity of our small EdD group. Metacognition and reflection seem to be big in this course, so as inspiration strikes I think I will keep some notes and thoughts as blog posts, in addition to whatever I keep in evernote. They might come in handy at the end of the semester.

803 Ponderings and News

The first assignment has us going into teams to develop a competency profile for a distance education instructor.  Once our teams develop a competency profile, we collaborate with other teams to develop one of the entire course.  This seems to be part delphi process, part a way to be more mindful and aware of the process we are undertaking, and part as a way to inform our own practice as teaching interns in the course that we are interning in. The process seems to be going well thus far, and once we've come up with a competency profile (no peeking, Cohort 8!) I will post our findings here.  It would be interesting to compare with Cohort 6 to see what they got.

I am already thinking of the second assignment, even though it's not due until November 10th.  This one is indivual, and it's a researched paper on an instructional technique, strategy, or technology that holds particular interest for me based on the study of Unit 3 (note to self: remind myself what Unit 3 is). This includes a paper (4000-5000 words) plus a presentation on the topic. I am not sure what the technology part is (I only see techniques and strategies in our readings), but I guess I will ask Susan in a little while for clarification. I really want to get the literature review done by October 15th at the latest so I can focus on synthesis and paper-writing.


In the internship arena, things are progressing there as well.  I was having a bit of a problem getting a start in week 1.  Part of the problem was conceptual.  I see a distinct Pat influence to the course, and (despite loving my conversations with Pat) sometimes I wonder if questions posed as a way to kick off discussion are rhetortical - in other words, sometimes I have issues getting "a start" in the discussion which leaves me in awe of MEd students who just jump in and start the discussion (without worrying about 'correctness' of the answer). This week I did get a better footing in the course, but as I can see there were 7 unread posts in the forums since yesterday that I need to attend to.  As a TA I am finding it hard to find my place.  As a learner I like to jump in and discuss a lot.  As an instructor in the INSDSG courses I teach I tend to be active, but a little more like a devil's advocate, and more socratic.  I have yet to figure out what my "motivation" (to use an acting term) is as a TA.

Dissertation Ponderings

Finally this week, I've been thinking about my dissertation.  Yes, EDDE805 is a year away, but I like to give things a little thought.  My idea-board for dissertation topics keeps getting added to.  However, I see some things as either not quite viable (at least for the timeframe of a reasonable dissertation), or just not that interesting any longer.  I was reading Maha Bali (et al) 's What Makes a cMOOC Community Endure, and I started thinking about autoethnography again. Since 2011, starting in January 2011 with Siemen's LAK11, and continuing until today I've been MOOCing. cMOOCs, xMOOCs, rMOOCs; MOOCs on Facebook, on edx, on coursera, on janux, on futurelearn, on Moodle, on Blackboard, on Desire2Learn, and many more; MOOCs education, social sciences, arts and architecture, comic books, and language - heck even some MOOCs on logic. Chances are that by the time I get to EDDE805 I will also have taken a handful more of MOOCs, and tried out additional MOOC providers.

The MOOC tag on this blog has taken over, and specific MOOCs like #change11, or #rhizo have representation.  I've been thinking about exploring the journey for lifelong learning through the lens of the MOOC, and through its various iterations and novelty offerings. While I didn't start on "day 1" of MOOCs, with CCK08, I do consider myself as starting MOOCs considerably early, and definitely before the big explosion.  I came to them as free ways (free in a variety of meanings) of continuing to learn. MOOCs have changed quite a lot, and have sprouted off-shoots, since then, and for the most part I've witnessed this change.  I've also tried to keep up with the literature, but there is still a ton I have not read.

So, my idea, upon reading Maha et al's autoethnography, and reflecting on the autoethnography I worked on with Maha and others, was to do either a chronological autoethnography, or a MOOC-type based autoethnography, of a lifelong learner (me) by going back and analyzing my posts, reflections, ideas, and conceptions on MOOCs from this blog. I've got 4 years worth of data thus far, so it could be interesting, right? I am also thinking that I can also continue to write about, reflect on, learn in, and experience different types of MOOCs until it comes time to dissertate which will give me more data to work with.

My main hurdle is really this internal conflict I am feeling about the autoethnography as a method. From a conceptual frame of reference is think that it is a valuable methodology for conducting research.  The researcher as the person under the microscope for the research.  I think objectivity is a bit over-rated when it comes to research, so I am not worried about having a façade of objectivity.  Just like single-subject research is valid in other fields, I think single-subject research via autoethnography is equally valid and valuable.  On the other hand, the little naysayer in me is telling me that this research won't be accepted as "real" research, and thus as such it will be problematic for a dissertation topic. The Rhizoteam had problems getting our collaborative autoethnography out there, so I think that as a one person dissertator I would probably face bigger obstacles.  So, where I am at with this is pondering the widsom of pursuing it, no matter how much I like the idea.

Any thoughts on this?

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?

Rhizomatic Learning - The Practical Guide

Well, it's week 6, the last week of #rhizo15 that Dave will host. The topic of this week brings us back to the original topic of this rMOOC: A practical guide for Rhizomatic Learning. It's hard to really come up with something that encompasses the meaning and approaches  to rhizomatic learning  - heck, I am only now starting to "understand" it and I've only been really thinking about it for 18 months.  Sure that was that brief exposure in Change11, but that almost doesn't exist in my mind.

I started off thinking that in #rhizo15 I would finally be able to read an engage with Deleuze & Guattari and their book a thousand plateaus, but that didn't quite happen. I was deep in the thick of it with my second doctoral course (end of first year, yay!) when the #rhizo15 started, then I was working on a #rhizo14-related project with fellow "classmates" from #rhizo14 on Actor-Network Theory, so I ended up starting to read Latour, and now we're at the end of of #rhizo15, so no D&G this year.  Oh well. Foiled Again! ;-) I do wonder who engaged with D&G in #rhizoDG this year - maybe Aras knows!

So, what would I tell someone about teaching rhizomatically?  I would say that first you'd start with a topic and let your learners explore the topic.  Engage in it but don't be preachy.  Also, design your course so that there are a few weeks left at the end where the "lunatics" can run the asylum, sort of like how we did in #rhizo14.  I think that two of the bigger hurdles in implementing rhizomatic learning in higher education are the following:
  • How do learners "cope" or deal with their new-found "freedom". Many learners expect to be lead, sort of like that Lisa Simpson GIF that was posted early on in #rhizo15.  How do you help learners acclimate to this "open" environment?  Also, how do you deal with preparing learners for this?  I think that it would not be a stretch to say that most people who made it through to the end of both #rhizo4 and #rhizo15 are people who are (at the very least) determined, curious, stubborn, and can deal with ambiguity (and some of them can have fun while doing this). Institutionalized learners don't necessarily have this (think 1984 Apple ad and people sitting in neat little rows). How do you prep learners for this "revolution"? It's not fair to them to dump them on the deep end of the pool.
  • How do you assess the learning that is happening in the course? I know that we have independent studies as examples of how to assess learners in an emerging environment, but how do you deal with 10-15 different assessments in a fair manner.  Is fairness or sameness something we should be striving for in a rhizome or not?  Are fairness and sameness the same?

In the end, no matter what the intention of the designer and the course instructor (Dave in this case), the rhizome will find its own way! It seems that the thing to train both learners and instructors is how to deal with uncertainty.