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?


A decade in review...onward to 2020!


I didn't quite expect this, but it seems like everywhere you turn you see "a decade in review" news stories (radio and TV), "the internet" (in general) and blog posts, twitter threads, and Instagram stories (more specifically).  I hadn't really thought about doing one of these posts, but what the hay, why not join in? 😜 . The last decade has certainly been eventful.  I kicked off the decade by completing my last 2 master's programs, changing jobs (3 departments and 4 titles in the last 10 years), starting to teach, and participating in research.

I absolutely loved Audrey Watter's 100 debacles of Ed-Tech, so I decided to pick a few and structure my post around this since most of these made an impact on my work-life, and some for my leisure. I am not going to pick through every one of those items, but I'll pick a few (and maybe add some of my own).

New Media Consortium (Horizon report #100)
This one was a shocker for me. The way the NMC just ceased to exist was something I'd expect only from a VC-funded start-up. In the last decade, I was able to attend both conferences that were offered in Boston by the NMC.  I enjoyed both, and I made quite a few interesting contacts via those conferences. I also used the Horizon Report as something in the courses I teach.  Not necessarily as something ultra definitive, but something to hone the critical skills of students in my courses (and have some fun prognosticating). While the Horizon Report has been picked up by Educause there is something distinctly different about the feel of Educause as compared to the NMC. Speaking of conferences that went bust:  Campus Technology.  I used to attend CampusTech every year.  It was held in Boston which made it super convenient, it had exhibition floor passes for free (which also meant that you could just attend the presentations if you snuck in), and they had a pretty liberal press pass policy which allowed me to attend for free as being affiliated with my school's paper, and later the CIEE journal. It was also co-located with AAEEBL which basically meant two conferences for one low price of free (for me).  Good times! They will be sorely missed.  I did learn a lot (even if you factor in the amount of hype).

Ning (#98)
Ning is something I came across while I was an MEd student in Instructional Design. Ning, along with SocialGO and Elgg are white label social networks which allow anyone to fairly easily build communities.  SocialGO was never free (it has a free trial), and Elgg is open source - which while great it does require the user to provide a fair amount of their own IT maintenance.  Not being in a position to do that, Ning hit the sweet spot of free basic hosting (up to 200 users for free?) and no server update and maintenance hassles.  Using Ning I built two networks, one for my MEd program (, and one for the Applied Linguistics Department (this is before I started working for them).  After Ning eliminated their free model I did garner enough support for UMassID for a few years, but each year I felt like I was looking for champions to pay for the $200 annual fee.  Most times I was successful, but at some point, I just felt like I didn't want to keep poking the champions for money any longer. We still use Ning for our department's portal, which makes it easy to post information for students, but also keep our alumni in the loop.  With all the changes happening in terms of who owns the platform, I fear that I might need to think of migrating at some point in the future.  I wonder how successful I would be in convincing my university to adopt Elgg, sort of like AU has with their Landing.

Badges (#86)
Open Badges are something that is was really pumped for. I am not sure I am all that disappointed that they haven't taken off like wildfire.  Any long-term change in credentialling does take time to have something accepted and endorsed. As a gamer, I liked badges because they are very much like achievements.  You can have smaller achievements to push you along, and you can have larger achievements (or stackable badges) that allow for much more descriptive information about what someone is capable of. Over the last 9 years we've had the Mozilla backpack,, credly, and Purdue's Passport; I am sure that there are more but those are the ones I've dabbled with.   Now, what I am disappointed in are two things:   (1) everything closing up, and (2) the fragility of badges.  Over the past year, Mozilla stepped out of this arena and migrated things to Badgr.  Credly is shuttering their free version (which allowed folks to create and distribute their own badges like I did for my classes) and replacing it with a paid version (Acclaim).  I was able to download all of my badges from my backpack and upload them to Badgr (which seems to have the capability to freely create badges), but this brings me to the second problem:  badge fragility.  A number of the badges I've earned over the past 8 years are not importable into my backpack because URLs are no longer accessible (and hence not verifiable).  Now, I know that I have those badges, I can post them on this blog or website, but it does pose a problem for the long-term viability of badges.  If someone wants to verify my diplomas they can contact the Registrar's office at my university and they can confirm that I've completed certain areas of study.  With badges, this is currently an issue.

Google Reader (#54)
**sigh** OK this still stings.  Damn you google! Google Reader wasn't just an RSS reader, it was a community.  I could subscribe to RSS feeds of my favorite blogs.  I could follow people from my contacts, and I could follow other people on Reader.  I could upvote RSS posts, and I could share and basically create an RSS feed of my shared items.  While I can (and do) use another reader now (Feedly) it's just not the same.  I end up sharing stuff I read on Feedly on my twitter accounts, but that ends up seeming like a lot of spam (because I read and share).  I feel like this change on the web has also made changes to sites.  Whereas in previous years with Reader I could get the entire news post in my feed now most sites give you a meager 3-5 line previous and you have to click to go to the site for the full thing.🙄.  There just isn't a satisfactory replacement for Reader.  The Old Reader is pretty close in terms of usability but it really lacks the network which made Google reader amazing!  Damn you google! 

Google Glass (#26)
In this past decade, I started traveling again after (what seemed to be) a long hiatus from such activities.  I love traveling. I love seeing new things and experiencing something different.  One of my travels brought me to Italy, to Herculaneum and Pompeii.  The experience was amazing, and I loved how preserved these cities were.  No matter the level of preservation they are still ruined.  As I was walking through the streets of these ancient cities I was thinking was an awesome use case for google glass.  One could use augmented reality as they walked through the streets to see buildings in their full glory. They could see Romans walking through the street while being busy with day to day life. They could hear the sounds of a dead language being spoken again all around them. Put in some QR codes and some geotagged locations and you've got educational pop-ups!  This sounded like a great vision of the future. I was thinking in terms of tourism, but it could easily apply to learning.  Sadly this is not the case...

MOOCs (#4)
Well, technically Audrey's #4 is the phrase "year of MOOCs", but I think that items like "promise of free" (#99) and "UC Berkeley Deletes Its Online Lectures" (#67) could fit in here. MOOCs may be seen as flops, and perhaps for some things they may be. But, as Siemens recently wrote in a twitter thread, MOOCs aren't out yet (OK, paraphrasing here).  Just because we (in North America) are "done" with them, it doesn't mean that others are done with them.  They may make a monumental comeback depending on who they evolve outside of our continent.  I still think there is a lot of promise for MOOCs (and I look forward to the regenesis of the cMOOC), but there are attributes of xMOOCs that really have bugged me over the past few years.  When there were only one or two MOOCs happening at a time, it was perfectly manageable for me (as a learner) to jump in and participate.  When options for providers and topics exploded, it became hard.  I chose which MOOCs to attend in real-time, and which ones to do as a self-paced learner.  Well, it seems like self-paced is not really much of an option the way that things have evolved in the xMOOC world any longer.  Once the course is over, unless you've paid for it, it becomes locked and unavailable.  xMOOCs have embraced a freemium model that takes away agency on the part of learners.   Now, I hope MOOCs survive because they are a part of my own balanced learning diet, but I do hope that providers and designers keep tweaking the recipe.  The freemium model doesn't really work all that well for things that you aren't credentialing people for.  Maybe in the coming decade, we'll see a resurgence of the cMOOC 😀.

I don't want to close out the blog post with only negatives, so I think I should mention some positives.  This past decade was about networks! Through networks, I "met" a lot of interesting and intelligent people who have positively impacted my life.  These are people I've learned within MOOCs.  These are people with whom I've conducted research.  These are people with whom I've virtually connected  (and in some cases even met face to face!).  These are people on twitter chats, on DMs, and at conferences. And also people in my doctoral cohort(s).  Even though technology might not always work for us, the people involved have made the last decade on the web a supportive learning environment for me, so thank you all for the MOOCs, the mLearning, the Rhizos, the lurking, the critical ID, the book and article recommendations, the conference crashing (like wedding crashers, but for conferences), the dissertation encouragement, and so much more! I hope the learning continues in the decades to come 😎


2019: The year MOOC platforms start to die? Adieu Open2Study

Closure screen on Open2Study

Last night, while browsing through my Reddit subscriptions, I noticed on one of the EdTech Reddits that Open2Study is now closed, and that the site redirects to Open Universities Australia (which was the parent entity).  I was a little in disbelief, but since I had not visited O2S in a while I thought I'd check it out with my own two eyes.  Lo and behold, the site was closed (see screencap above) and it was directing people to OU Australia.

On the one hand this wasn't surprising.  I had completed most of the courses that I was interested in within the first year of operation (2013?).  I did check back periodically to see if they had added anything new, but the course offerings seemed to stagnate. I don't think that the platform added any new courses past that initial batch in 2013.  With this stagnation it does seem normal that the platform would close.  However, it does seem a little weird that no announcement was made. Even as late as December 2018 their Facebook page sent kind reminders for students to finish up work before the next iteration of the course started, and a number of facebook posters indicated that they had signed up for the new round of courses starting in early January (this month). So the question is, what gives?

Homescreen of O2S when it ran

The platform itself seemed interesting.  The courses that I took all seemed a little cookie cutter in their design: They were 4 weeks in length, there were videos (coursera-style) to view, quizzes to take, and some discussion forums for interaction, but not necessarily required as part of a course.  There were forums, that were outside of the scope of the course, where people could interact, and the learning process, at a meta-level, was gamified.  Learners could earn badges for completing courses, for getting perfect scores, and for a few other things.  There were some nice ideas on the platform, but it seemed like a rushed response to the MOOC phenomenon, without much follow-through.

I think this is the second MOOC platform to die.  The first one that I can remember was a homebrew experiment that Stanford had (Stanford Open Courses?) which they killed off after a offering a couple of courses; and opted to run an instance of OpenEdX instead. I don't particularly count this first instance of MOOC-platform death as an actual thing since Stanford went on to use OpenEdx, but to my mind the closure (and quite silent one at that) of Open2Study seems quite significant.  I do wonder how many other MOOC platforms will close in 2019 and 2020.

Sample certificate (I need to find my own!)


2017 year in review - school edition

From wikipedia: 1779 illustration of a Catholic
Armenian monk of the
Order of St Gregory the Illuminator,  
Happy New Year! Yeah... it's the fourth of January, but I figure I can get away with it since we're still in the first week of 2018, and this is my first post for the year 😉

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog as of late. Not a lot of MOOCing, not a lot of virtual connecting, not a lot of collaborative or cooperative learning as was the case in previous years.  There has been a lot of reading, mostly in monastic form - you know, lock yourself in a room and read until your inner teenager starts screaming at you "are we done yeeeeeet????" - I guess I am really in the thick of dissertation prep "stuff" (reading and sorting mostly) which I hope I'll get through in 2018 (for the most part anyway)

I thought I would take a break from the monastic lifestyle to put together a few things that really struck me in 2017, at least as far as my own learning, and learning journey, go.

I guess the first thing of interest is that  2017 was my last year of courses. In spring 2017 (winter 2017 in Canadian terms) I completed EDDE 806 which was the last structured and graded seminar for my EdD.  Coming into the seminar I really wanted to get done with classes, so even though I had until Fall 2017 to complete the requirements for the seminar, I made sure I was there each session and doing what was required to be done. 2017 didn't start off energetically though...

I think the major realization I came to in 2017 was that I had over-exerted myself in 2016, and as a consequence I really felt burned out; not starting to feel burned out, but actually burned out. I felt a little guilty because I still wanted to participate in extracurricular academic stuff such as virtually connecting, MOOCs, and working more on research papers with friends and colleagues as these activities encompassed both an academic purpose but also a social purpose. However, in the quest to get moving with the dissertation proposal I needed to sacrifice most of the more fun things in academic life and work on the more utilitarian parts to just get done. The hope is that people will still be there once I am done 😜

Even though I had bits and pieces of my proposal already forming in 2016, I put all of those mostly in the back burner for the spring semester because I wanted to finish off the requirements for the final graded seminar of my studies (EDDE 806). I think what I learned here is that I am mostly a sequential person when it comes to doing stuff. Many people think I can multitask like a madman, but I guess it's all relative from where you are standing.  I think I can do two or three ongoing projects at a time (of varying cognitive intensity), but class + proposal weren't working out for me.

So, once EDDE 806 was done, I took a mental breather, and a month later I begun working on my proposal again.  The introductory chapter (chapter 1) and the methods chapter (chapter 3) seemed to be on a better path, so I focused on that.  I think the core  of what my proposal is was pretty well done in August when I completed writing chapters 1 and 3. The who, what, where, and how were pretty much answered.  The big question still looming was  the "why".  It was hinted at during the introduction, but it needed more exposition, via a literature review chapter. So, September to December I read...I read a lot...and then I read some more (all the while taking notes)...until my inner knowledge glutton decided it was enough. That was after around 500 PDFs which breaks down to about 20 books/conference proceeding compilations and the around 480s articles (overkill?).

This past month I've been going back through the readings and I realized a few things: First is that I had downloaded some articles twice or thrice (since I had been collecting articles on MOOCs since 2014 in anticipation of this moment), but there weren't that many duplicates (less than 10% of the total, definitely).  In reading the same article a few times, over a period of a few months, different things jumped out at time; some things were the same, but my increased knowledge from readings was definitely coloring how I interacted with the texts.

The second part that jumped out at me is that no matter how detailed my lit-review search is, there is still stuff that will be missing from journal database searches. By looking at the references of the articles I read I saw that there were things that could be of interest (maybe), but they were in specific disciplinary journals that didn't deal with education (travel, medicine, geology, etc.), or that were in proceedings of conferences from various professional associations that my library doesn't have the most current access to, or even things that were in a different language.  I could decipher things in French, Spanish mostly without a problem, and some Portuguese, but reading academic discourses in languages that you are not used to reading academic discourses is definitely slower and more taxing. This is not a revelation - I know this from a theoretical perspective as a linguist, but this is one of the few times I felt it personally. Even so, there is probably good stuff out there in languages that are not accessible to me, and things that are not even on my radar, so 100% completion on a specific topic is a fool's errand.

The third thing, that really surprised me, was how much misinformation there was about the history of MOOCs.  In the grand scheme of things it was a small amount of articles, and it was limited to the introductory sections of articles where they were introducing the topic, but having such erroneous info printed in academic journals was a bit jarring. An example: complete lack of discussion around cMOOCs, and xMOOCs being described as evolving from OER. Now, while a nuanced discussion on the topic could reveal that certain xMOOC providers do have dotted lines in their histories to OER, I don't think this is a broad generalization that can be made, and in an introductory section to a journal article it seems quite misleading, especially to someone who might know nothing of MOOCs.  This got me thinking about literature reviews in general, and how little work goes into them sometimes; the write something, cite something, to get it done approach, rather than really thinking about it.  I know that I may have gone overboard here with mine, but I think that the minimalist approach also can be troublesome because it can (and sometimes does) devolve into a find the reference that supports you POV.

This leads me to AK's Theorem of the Funnel of Usage for the literature review (you read it here, so you better cite me! 😝). Basically what my theorem says is that for a literature review you may read hundreds or thousands of pages of stuff, you may comment or find useful things that amount to several hundred pages, bu ultimately only a small amount of what you comments on and find useful will make it your your literature review.  I am looking at a lit-review of 40 pages (double spaced) maximum. Assuming 15 pages per article on average (or around 300 per conference proceeding and book), I'd estimate 13,000 single-spaced pages read.  I have around 200 pages of excerpts and notes, which will go down to 20 pages. All that reading doesn't go to waste, it informs my views and stances (and also impacted some questions I'd like to ask in my interviews, in the methods section), but there is definitely a funneling effect here.

Speaking of overkill, perhaps I didn't have to read as much as I did (we'll never know). I think the fear is that my exam committee will decide to ask me about an article that I actually have NOT read that they think is important and then I'll be standing there like an idiot (and possibly fail 😖).  There is a Greek expression that has stuck with me πιασμένος αδιάβαστος which basically translates to "caught unread" (unprepared). It goes back to the days where children read at home, and they went to school to be quizzed on what they had read. You get caught unprepared, it's a bit of a mark of shame. I sort of felt like this when I was preparing for the comprehensive exams for my MA in applied linguistics and I passed that with flying colors, so I guess I shouldn't be as worried about these things...but I guess students reap what teachers have sowed...even if it was more than 25 years ago...

Another thing that really piqued my interest was thinking about how many web 2.0 technologies have died between now and 2008.  In reading articles about the original CCK, and MOOCs or other collaborations that have happened since I see quite a few technologies that closed down (either recently or some while back).  This makes me ponder a bit about what can be done about digitally preserving some of the artifacts created, or ways in which things worked, or something else.  While describing activities with PageFlakes (for example) is interesting, what happens 20 years down the road when no one knows how PageFlakes worked?

Finally, I realized that this entire process took about five times (or more) the length of time I expected it to take (there are quite a few "LOL :-)" next to self-imposed deadlines I've missed), and in academic articles I've read I noticed that others have also forgotten to include something in the reference list that they referenced in the body of the text, so it makes me not feel as bad when I've done my due diligence but still something goes missing or is erroneously ommited.

I kind of feel like the quote from Francois Truffaut is applicable: "You start a film and you want to make the greatest one ever made. Halfway through, you just want to finish the damned thing." - just substitute film with dissertation :)

Anyway, back to the monastic lifestyle to get some more things done.  How was 2017 for you, academically speaking?

PS Hey! Committee members! I don't know who you are yet, but if you googled me and came across this post, go easy on me 😜


It's the end of the MOOC as we know it, and I feel...

...ambivalent?  I am not sure if ambivalence is the word I am going for because I am getting hints of nostalgia too.  Perhaps though I should take a step back, and start from the beginning.

This past weekend two things happened:

The first thing is that I've completed reading full books as part of my literature review for my dissertation, and I have moved onto academic articles, articles I've been collecting on MOOCs and collaboration in general. While MOOCs aren't really the main focus of my dissertation study, they do form the basis, or rather the campgrounds on which the collaborative activities occurred on, and it's those collaborative activities I want to examine. This review of MOOC articles (while still relatively in the early stages) made me reflect back on  my own MOOC experiences since 2011.

The second thing is that I received a message from FutureLearn which was a little jarring and made me ponder.  Here is a screenshot:

My usual process, when it comes to MOOCs these days, is to go through  the course listings of the usual suspects (coursera, edx, futurelearn) and sign-up for courses that seem interesting.  Then, as time permits I go through these courses.  I usually carve out an hour every other Friday to do some MOOCing these days since most of my "free" time is spent on dissertation-related pursuits.  It would not be an understatement to say that I have quite a few courses that are not completed yet (even though I registered for them about six months ago).  What can I say? I find a ton of things interesting.

If you're new to MOOCs you might say "well, it was a free course, and now it's going back into paid land - you should have done it while it was available". Perhaps you're right, perhaps not.  For a MOOC old-timer, like me (ha!), this type of message is really disheartening, and it really speaks quite well to the co-opting  and transmogrification of the MOOC term (and concept) and making something that is not really recognizable when compared to the original MOOCs of 2008-2012; or perhaps it's a bit even like an erasure - erasing it form the past, but luckily at least articles exist to prove that it existed, and cMOOC is still recognized as a concept.

I am convinced that platforms like coursera and futurelearn can no longer be considered MOOC platforms, and should be referred to  as either a learning management system (which they are), or online learning platform. Over the past few years things that seemed like a given for an open learning platform are starting to not be there.  First the 5Rs started being not applicable.  You couldn't always revise or remix materials that you found on these platforms...but you could download copies of the materials so that you could retain your own copy, and this meant that you could potentially reuse and redistribute.  Redistribution was the next freedom that went,  and after that was reuse.  You could still download materials though (at least on coursera and edx).  Then a coursera redesign made video download not an option... (still an option in edx, not sure if it was an option in futurelearn), and now courses are becoming time-gated... argh.

The certificate of completion was an interesting concept - a nice gift from the people who offered the course if you jumped through their hoops to do the course as they intended, but it was really only valuable when it was free of cost. This freebie has also been lost (not a great loss since it doesn't really mean much - at least not yet).

All of this closing off of designs and materials (closing in a variety of ways) makes me long for the days gone by, day not long ago, and MOOCs only about 10 years in the past.  Although, I suppose in EdTech terms 10 years might as well be centuries.

I do wonder when might be a good time to reclaim the name and offer up connectivist courses again - or perhaps it's time to kill the term (wonder what Dave thinks of this ;-) ), and create something that doesn't have such  commercial interests infused into it right now.



MOOC CPD & SpotiMOOCdora

Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I did my rounds on coursera, edx, miriadaX, and futurelearn and I signed up for a few new MOOCs.  I had also signed up for a course that a colleague was promoting on Canvas (innovative collaborative learning with ICT), but I've fallen behind on that one, not making the time commitment to participate.  The list of missed assignments (ones that I can no longer contribute to) actually is demotivating, even if my initial approach was not not do many assignments (or rather, play it by ear, and decide on whether I'd like to do some assignments during the MOOC). Maybe this coming week I'll 'catch up' in some fashion ;-).  The interesting thing is that there is a forum in Greek in that MOOC, which is motivational to see what my fellow Greek are doing in the arena of ICT and collaboration. I guess I still have a few more weeks before the MOOC ends...

Anyway,  I digress (probably not good practice for the dissertation).  Today's post was spurred by a recent essay on the MOOC on Inside Higher Education, where the author looked at her prognostications and examined them in the light of information we currently have about MOOCs. It is a little disheartening that the original MOOCs (connectivist MOOCs) are sort of gone (at least I don't really see a ton of connectivist stuff happening these days), and the xMOOC variety seems to be going more and more toward money making.  Even with the MOOCs I've just singed up for, there really isn't an option for a free certificate anymore.  You can still go through the course - which I am to do on my own sweet time (opportunity to explore the classics), but even a basic certificate is not free any longer. Another thing that going into this mix is thinking about continual professional development. In the two departments I am mostly connected with (applied linguistics and instructional design) graduates of these programs often need PD credits in order to maintain a teaching license, or to continue to hone their skills. Usually this is done through free webinars, in-service training, or taking additional graduate courses (depending on your field of course). This got me thinking about two things: MOOCs as CPD (which isn't really a new idea), and the all-you-can-eat MOOC (or SpotiMOOCdora - after services like spotify and Pandora).

My first pondering is this:  given that institutions such as Georgia Tech are offering a $10k MA in the MOOC format, why not consider a smaller leap into CPD (professional development courses)?  I know that maybe doing an entire MA might be a bit of leap for most institutions, heck even a certificate might be a bit of a leap (aka 'micro-masters' in the MOOC world), but CPDs have a different set of expectations and requirements, and they are often not available for graduate credit (some are, but most in my experience are not). I think it would make a ton of sense to develop professional development courses in a MOOC format, that are available for free for a target audience (let's say teachers of high school biology).  The payment can come in the form of assessment, or an in-person fee for a facilitator that brings together the course content of the MOOC (that people have done previously) in an active learning paradigm.

The second pondering is this:  Is there a market for either an all-you-can-eat month-to-month subscription to a MOOC? An example of this would be Amazon Prime video, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and so on.  If not all you can eat, how about a model that's more like Audible, where you get a book per month and you can spend your unused tokens anyway you want (if you are still working on a book, you can bank the token for another month for example).  If either of these models works, then what would be an appropriate price?  Netflix and Spotify at $10/month; audible is $15/month for example.  The reason I am pondering this had to do with the costs of certification.  I don't know what the secret sauce in certification is, but edx is asking me for $200 to get a certified certificate of completion (this sounds redundant).  What does $200 get me?  I don't get college credit for it, and (for me) the joy of learning is internal, so $200 is better spend elsewhere. For instance $200 gets me lifetime subscription to my favorite MMORPG...when said subscription is on sale (lots of hours of fun and additional content). Comparatively the edx certificate seems like a poor value proposition.

What do you think about these ideas?  Does a monthly subscription MOOC make sense?  What is the value proposition?  And, can we resuscitate the cMOOC?   Thoughts?

MOOCs as admissions considerations


It's been a while since I've sat down to blog (with the exception of my brief postings last week).  I guess I've had my nose firmly planted in books (physical and digital) trying to get through the reading components of my dissertation proposal so I can sit down and write. I tend to find (for me anyway) that having a bit more of a complete picture in my head as to what I want to write about cuts down a a ton of edits down the road. Because of this I also haven't really engaged a lot with my learning community (MOOCs and LOOMs alike).

That said, a recent work encounter broke my blogging slumber and has pulled me from my dissertation a bit.  In my day job one of my roles is to answer questions about our department's program (what is applied linguistics, anyway? j/k 😆) and that includes questions about admissions. While we prefer applicants with a background in linguistics or related background  such as languages (such as French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, whatever language and literature background) we do accept others who did their BA in something different.  Personally I think that the language is archaic and comes from a time when the mission and vision of our department was slightly different, but that's neither here no there.  My point is that when there are people interested in our program who come from a background other than languages (such as business, or computer science for example) the question always becomes  how can I better prepare for this program, and ensure I get admitted? Basically ensuring that the applicant shows some sort of connection with between their interest in our program and what they did, or want to do.

In the past couple of years MOOCs have come up!  Even though I've been steeped in MOOCs for the past six years I didn't really think others were.  Furthermore, it amazes me how much value others place in MOOCs, and MOOCs that they have taken. Personally, while I like taking xMOOCs (I just signed up for about 10 of them recently through edx and future learn, and I am trying to do one on Canvas on collaborative ICT...) I don't know if I would ever mention my exploits in the MOOC arena to others (except maybe through my blog, or through a group of close MOOC friends).  My rationale for not sharing my learning is this:  While I personally derive value from what I do in MOOCs (it expands my own horizons, even if I am just viewing some videos) I also know that assessments are a little forced in xMOOCs.  Simple MCEs or short-answer peer-graded assignments don't really point toward mastery of something.  In ye olde days of xMOOCs the certificates of participation were free; provided that you completed the MOOC in its original run.  Now xMOOCs require you to pay for a certificate of participation, and I personally don't see any value to that.  Even if you pay for a verified certificate where you have someone proctor you while taking MCEs, what does that really mean?  That you can take a test?

This all got me thinking about the potential use of MOOCs for application purposes.  I personally think that by taking (and completing) a MOOC it shows interest in the topic, so that's a positive for the applicant, but it doesn't necessarily show any mastery. So, while useful, it definitely has its limitations.  The certificates don't really mean much to me for my current work, and yes - I do hold on to the certs that received while they were still free (😉) but I don't see additional value to the ones that people get these days in exchange for cash.

What do you think? Is there a value to students doing MOOCs with the aim of getting into a specific part of higher ed?

Are MOOCs really that useful on a resume?


I came across an article on Campus Technology last week titled 7 Tips for Listing MOOCs on Your Résumé, and it was citing a CEO of an employer/employee matchmaking firm.  One piece of advice says to create a new section for MOOCs taken to list them there. This is not all that controversial since I do the same.  Not on my resume, but rather on my extended CV (which I don't share anyone), and it serves more a purpose of self-documentation than anything else.

The first part that got me thinking was the piece of advice listed that says "only list MOOCs that you have completed".  Their rationale is as follows:

"Listing a MOOC is only an advantage if you've actually completed the course," Mustafa noted. "Only about 10 percent of students complete MOOCs, so your completed courses show your potential employer that you follow through with your commitments. You should also be prepared to talk about what you learned from the MOOC — in an interview — and how it has helped you improve."  

This bothered me a little bit.  In my aforementioned CV I list every MOOC I signed up for(†) and "completed" in some way shape or form. However, I define what it means to have "completed" a MOOC.  I guess this pushback on my part stems from me having started my MOOC learning with cMOOCs where there (usually) isn't a quiz or some other deliverable that is graded by a party other than the learner. When I signed up for specific xMOOCs I signed up for a variety of reasons, including interest in the topic, the instructional form, the design form, the assessment forms, and so on. I've learned something from each MOOC, but I don't meet the criterion of "completed" if I am going by the rubrics set forth by the designers of those xMOOCs.  I actually don't care what those designers set as the completion standards for their designed MOOCs because a certificate of completion carries little currency anywhere. Simple time-based economics dictate that my time shouldn't be spent doing activities that leading to a certificate that carries no value, if I don't see value in those assessments or activities either. Taking a designer's or professor's path through the course is only valuable when there is a valuable carrot at the end of the path. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to be a free-range learner.

Another thing that made me ponder a bit is the linking to badges and showcasing your work.  Generally speaking, in the US at least, résumés are a brief window into who you are as a potential candidate.  What you're told to include in a resume is a brief snapshot of your relevant education, experience, and skills for the job you are applying for.  The general advice I hear (which I think is stupid) is to keep to to 1 page.  I ignore this and go for 1 sheet of paper (two pages if printed both sides).  Even that is constraining if you have been in the workforce for more than 5 years. The cover letter expounds on the résumé, but that too is brief (1 page single spaced). So, a candidate doesn't really have a ton of space to showcase their work, and external linkages (to portfolios and badges) aren't really encouraged. At best a candidate can whet the hiring committee's palate to get you in for an interview. This is why I find this advice a little odd.

Your thoughts on MOOCs on résumé?

† This includes cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, iMOOC, uMOOC, etcMOOC...

Course beta testing...


This past weekend a story came across my slashdot feed titled Software Goes Through Beta Testing. Should Online College Courses? I don't often see educational news on slashdot so it piqued my interest. Slashdot links to an EdSurge article where Coursera courses are described as going through beta testing by volunteers (unpaid labor...)

The beta tests cover things such as:

... catching mistakes in quizzes and pointing out befuddling bits of video lectures, which can then be clarified before professors release the course to students.

Fair enough, these are things that we tend to catch in developing our own (traditional) online courses as well, and that we fix or update in continuous offering cycles.   The immediate comparison, quite explicitly, in this edsurge article is the comparison of xMOOCs to traditional online courses.  The article mentions rubrics like Quality Matters and SUNY's open access OSCQR ("oscar") rubric for online 'quality'. One SUNY college is reportedly paying external people $150 per course for such reviews of their online courses, and the overall question seems to be: how do we get people to do this beta test their online courses?

This article did have me getting a bit of a Janeway facepalm, when I read it (and when I read associated comments). The first reason I had a negative reaction to this article was that it assumes that such checks don't happen.   At the instructional design level there are (well, there are supposed to be) checks and balances for this type of testing. If an instructional designer is helping you design your course, you should be getting critical feedback as a faculty member on this course.  In academic departments where only designers do the design and development (in consultation with the faculty member as the expert) then the entire process is run by IDs who should see to this testing and control. Even when faculty work on their own (without instructional designers), which happens to often be the case in face-to-face courses, there are checks and balances there.  There are touch-points throughout the semester and at the end where you get feedback from your students and you can update materials and the course as needed. So, I don't buy this notion that courses aren't 'tested'.†

Furthermore, a senior instructional designer at SUNY is cited as saying that one of the challenges "has been figuring out incentives for professors or instructional designers to conduct the quality checks," but at the same time is quoted as saying “on most campuses, instructional designers have their hands full and don’t have time to review the courses before they go live.”  You can't say (insinuate) that you are trying to coax someone to do a specific task, and then say that these individuals don't have enough time on their hands to do the task you are trying to coax them to do. When will they accomplish it?  Maybe the solution is to hire more instructional designers? Maybe look at the tenure and promotion processes for your institutions and see what can be done there to encourage better review/testing/development cycles for faculty who teach. Maybe hire designers who are also subject matter experts to work with those departments.‡

Another problem I have with this analogy on beta testing is that taught courses (not self-paced courses, which is what xMOOCs have become) have the benefit of a faculty member actually teaching the course, not just creating course packet material. Even multimodal course materials such as videos, podcasts, and animations, are in the end, a self-paced course packet if there isn't an actual person there tutoring or helping to guide you through that journey.   When you have an actual human being teaching/instructing/facilitating/mentoring the course and the students in the course there is a certain degree of flexibility.  You do want to test somewhat, but there is a lot of just-in-time fixes (or hot-fixes) as issues crop up.  In a self-paced course you do want to test the heck out of the course to make sure that self-paced learners aren't stuck (especially when there is no other help!), but in a taught course, extensive testing is almost a waste of limited resources.  The reason for this is that live courses (unlike self-paced courses and xMOOCs) aren meant to be kept up to date and to evolve as new knowledge comes into the field (I deal mostly with graduate online courses),  Hence spending a lot of time and money testing courses that will have some component of the course change within the next 12-18 months is not a wise way to use a finite set of sources.

At the end of the day, I think it's important to critically query our underlying assumptions.  When MOOCs were the new and shiny thing they were often (and wrongly) compared with traditional courses - they are not, and they don't have the same functional requirements.  Now that MOOCs are 'innovating' in other areas, we want to make sure that these innovations are found elsewhere as well, but we don't see a stop to query if the functional requirements and the environment are the same.   Maybe for a 100 level (intro course) that doesn't change often, and that is taken by several hundred students per year (if not per semester) you DO spend the time to exhaustively test and redesign (and maybe those beta testers get 3-credits of their college studies for free!), but for some courses that have the potential change often and have fewer students, this is overkill.  At the end, for me, it comes down to local knowledge, and prioritizing of limited resources.  Instructional Designers are a key element to this and it's important that organizations utilize their skills effectively for the improvement of the organization as a whole.

Your thoughts?

† Yes, OK, there are faculty out there have have taught the same thing for the past 10 years without any change, even the same typos in their lecture notes! I hope that these folks are the exception in academia and not the norm.

‡ The comparison here is to the librarian world where you have generalist librarians, and librarians who also have subject matter expertise in the discipline that they are librarians in. Why not do this for instructional designers?

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.