I was at the MOOC research initiative conference in Dallas, Texas last week. As Jim and others have reported, we got caught in icemageddon, but that's a whole other (war) story. I'll be doing a few posts about the conference. It was a fantastic meeting, well done George Siemens, Amy Collier and Tanya Joosten for putting it together. I got to have some great conversations, and meet people I've know online for years. Which is by way of apology for my first post being a bit negative.
This one concerns one aspect of the conference that I am having difficulty articulating, so I'm going to try and work it through in this post. There was a data strand to the presentations, and I went to a few of these. There is some fascinating stuff being done, particularly when you have analytics on so many learners. But I also had a vague sense of unease about some of these.
They were often presented by super-smart, young computer-science researchers from privileged universities: Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford, Harvard. I don't have anything against super-smart, young or computer science people, or anyone from those universities (some of my best friends are young people :). But there was something a bit, well, cold, about it all (and not just because of the wind chill factor of -10). People were nodes, and they could be manipulated to move from peripheries to the center by tweaking certain elements. It was easy to forget you were talking about learners, and not sales of baked beans.
But I think we need this research, it's useful and can tell us a lot about what's going on. Candace Thrall was stuck at the airport so couldn't give her presentation, but a colleague gave it on her behalf. She mentioned that one of the transitions we were going through was from a theory-led one to an evidence based one. Prior to this Jim Groom was telling me about Mike Caulfield suggesting we were in post-theory now, where only the big-data mattered (this was from a book I think, if anyone knows which one, let me know).
I felt I had a glimpse of that post-theory world, and I wasn't sure I liked it. We may have been too theory-heavy before, where the evidence was inconsequential, because hey, we have a nice theory. But the pendulum swing to lack of theory where we only care about the evidence seems to lose sight of the people in the system. So I guess my plea to the super-smart, young computer science researchers at ivy league institutions who are now getting into to education is - don't ignore the bearded old guy with a bunch of theories in his back pocket, we need those too.
Like Dallas, education should be warm and welcoming, and the danger is that data fetishisation will make it like the post-apocalyptic Dallas I experienced.
The paper is:
McAndrew, Patrick, Goodyear, Peter and Dalziel, James (2006) “Patterns, designs and activities: unifying descriptions of learning structures,” International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(2-3), pp. 216–242, [online] Available from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/6489/
It appeared in a Special Issue (actually double issue) of IJLT which meant that there was some delay from writing to publication so the paper itself came out of some study leave time spent in Australia in 2004. I was very kindly hosted by Peter Goodyear at the CoCo research centre at The University of Sydney. The whole visit was wonderful in many ways. Part of the time was working with Peter and with James Dalziel from Macquarie University on the different perspectives we each brought to considering the ways that teachers design their materials. As the person with the study leave time I carried out the integrating task in the paper, but what was key was the brainstorming sessions in Peter’s office and a visit up to James’ base in Macquarie to see his work.
While our views overlapped, the paper presents three different perspectives which were each led by one of us: Peter on patterns, James on LAMs and myself on Learning Design. At the time IMS Learning Design was very visible and had expectations that it could provide an integrating framework from shared designs through to playable systems.
With the benefits of hindsight it might have been thought that we could say which perspective was the “winner”. But hey I am an academic so it is not going to be that simple. There has been some recent reflections on the over-enthusiasm for precise ways to describe learning designs, i.e. IMS Learning Design has not met all its hopes. In the paper it says:
“… IMS Learning Design … may not provide significant support for exchange of understanding and reuse in a [way] that recognises adjustment to context and draws on the skills of both the original designer and those of the teacher involved in the reuse.”
I think that what has emerged is more a hybrid of the different approaches. Perhaps not as directly as suggested by the paper’s outlining of an alternative form of James Dalziel’s LAMs system, but with a broader aim to help share approaches and help people think of alternatives. It certainly should not be said that learning design has failed to have impact, especially here at the Open University.
After my work on the paper I have spent a period less directly involved in learning design research, focussing rather on open education, however things have certainly moved forward. The OULDI project which combined external support from Jisc and internal focus on updating module design inside the OU culminated in a set of tools and the running of the OLDS-MOOC (more on that in a paper and evaluation report). The publicly released tools demonstrate the hybrid approach: unlike IMS LD the output is not intended to be a full playable encoding of the “unit of learning”, it goes beyond patterns in using a range of tools to capture and represent the stages in a way that measures some of the impact, and while it mirrors LAMs in having a relatively easy to use toolset it does not integrate with a student facing component.
The OULDI work, not surprisingly, fits with the way we do things here. A team approach that needs clear steps (stage-gates) and multiple perspectives. Learning design is then communication but also an essential part of understanding expectations on learners which can lead into making effective use of learning analytics. In the 2013 Innovating Pedagogy report the point is made that there is a cycle from design to activity to analysis and back to design (the report was collaborative so not quite sure who to credit for this – maybe a mix of Doug Clow, Rebecca Ferguson and Mike Sharples) . Without the design part the chance to actually do something with what we measure is much reduced.
To bring things up to date learning design is a also a key element in the METIS project (see the recent METIS newsletter). There learning design is used to structure workshop designs and introduce the tools that help capture ideas. For the pilot workshop inside the OU the focus was on designing collaboration, not on learning design itself. Perhaps this demonstrates that the learning design approach has matured; no longer a novelty to be introduced (as it very much was in 2004) rather an assumed need to design learning in 2013.
This post started with a look back on my paper from nearly 10 years ago. It has ended with more connections to current work (of others more than myself) than I expected – and plenty of signs that Learning Design is of more importance now than then – but maybe no longer part of the hype cycle.
This is really the introduction to another couple of posts – one where I talk about a relatively old paper of mine (just about ready to go), and the other where I intend to discuss a fairly recent paper (when I write that one). So if you don’t want a post that describes why I posted other posts then don’t read this post read those posts :-).
As with many other people who work in UK academia a *lot* of time and effort has gone into the preparation of of information for the UK REF (Research Excellence Framework) which is just about finished with. The REF occurs every few years (last one was in 2007) and has many complications and aspects. One of these aspects is that it uses published pieces of work to allow the panels to assess the value of work. This means a list of upto 4 papers are submitted for each person and those papers must have appeared between January 2008 and December 2013 (though preparation time means that realistically the limit is earlier than that). Anyway that is already too much about the REF, though I suspect it will haunt us over the next year or so until the results flow back.
The consequence is that we tend to ignore papers we wrote before 2008, and in a year’s time we will be starting to pay less attention to the papers that made it into the 2013 submission as we start to collate evidence for the next time around. A year or two back we had a discussion in IET about this and a good idea emerged which was to gather together some of our best past papers and make a book of the collected works with a bit of narrative. The idea was that we could and up with something similar to the Morgan-Kaufmann “Readings in …” series that I still have on my shelves from when I started my PhD – then it was a great convenience to get some of the best papers on a subject without standing for hours at the photocopier. (Martin Weller also had an interesting version where we could use his meta-journal approach to collect things – definitely a good way to go.) For whatever reason (probably that REF thing) we have not got around to actually building the collection but the idea has stuck with me.
So my next post is the “Old paper” one where I will revisit a paper that I am particularly proud of that was written in 2004 and appeared in 2006 … Learning Design revisited.
My “New paper” is a trickier choice, tempted by the very latest paper submitted and *about* to appear but not quite wanting to tempt fate on that. Or a couple of recent papers on the theme of openness, or when I finally got something published on Activity Theory, or getting a chance to work on the theme of accessibility, or … – so will see exactly what I do in the next couple of weeks.
We are now less than two weeks away from our MOOCs and Emerging Educational Models: Policy, Practice, and Learning conference. Registration is still open.
The conference will showcase successful grantees from the MOOC Research Initiative, as well as numerous panels addressing challenges around planning, designing, and running MOOCs. The full schedule is now available.
I’ve had the privilege of being on Steve Paikin’s The Agenda several times over the last few years. Steve is an informed and provocative interviewer, one of the best I’ve encountered covering the education sector. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity spend time on Steve’s program talking about how changing knowledge needs and structures are influencing the development of new learning systems and models. The interview is below:
Tomorrow (November 20), I’ll be hosting an online discussion on a MOOC Framework that I’ve been developing with a few colleagues. If you’re interested, more information is here.
I have just started a new role within the Institute of Educational Technology coming in as Acting Director as Josie Taylor steps down and retires. I have worked with Josie from my very first days here in IET 14 years ago. We constructed the funding bid to HEFCE for the Knowledge Network (or as we termed it then UNLOCK – University Networked Location of Community Knowledge) and set up the UserLab as a way to manage having several EU/internationally funded projects in the same area at the same time. Working closely with Josie as I have shadowed her over the last few weeks has been a great introduction and I am happy to say that I am able to take on IET in a good state.
IET has slimmed down to now have about 90 staff in total across academics, researchers, academic related and support staff. But IET’s research is healthy and the works it carries out inside the university seems more in demand than ever. All universities are having to cope with changes in how students view them, how they have come to study and the different options they now have. Perhaps the impact on study at the OU have been even bigger as it is a university that operates across all four nations as well as through Open Educational Resources. The OU needs to cope with various systems and in particular with the way part-time study has to adjust to the requirements for loans imposed on students from England. That is a major change that needs to be reflected on in terms of learning design, accessibility, data analytics and quality enhancement. All aspects where IET places a major role within the OU.
A big topic for this year is the coming together of learning opportunities around free resources. My research lies in this area, with the OER Research Hub, and the OU has brought together universities and other organisations from the UK and beyond in FutureLearn. This is an innovative way to lower the barrier to taking part in courses (in fact while typing this I though why not actually join the latest offering of a FutureLearn course from the OU on Ecosystems – the elapsed time from thought to registration was just under 2 minutes).
FutureLearn and its Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) is only part of a broader approach to OER for the OU. There are also direct open courses, such as OLDSMOOC and H817Open (both operated out off IET) and continuing investment in OpenLearn, iTunesU and YouTube from the OU’s Open Media Unit. Not forgetting great BBC programmes.
The work on the Innovating Pedagogy reports, which I was pleased to be able to be part oded helps us reflect on what this means for pedagogy. The 2013 report balances various options and considers 10 areas but one that is coming out as more prominent is how what we do with students is more and more overlapped with what is happening in the world. In the report this is seen as “Crowd-learning” and Mike Sharples in an article in the Times Higher speculates that perhaps 2013 is the year of the crowd. I had the chance to present on the Innovating Pedagogy report at the recent EADTU conference in Paris, already blogged by Leigh-Anne Perryman on the oerresearchhub.org site. My own slides (below) covered the pedagogic lessons from the open universities and how the innovations we report are helping review these.
Well, there it is folks. After two years of hype, breathless proclamations about how Udacity will transform higher education, Silicon Valley blindness to existing learning research, and numerous articles/interviews featuring Sebastian Thrun, Udacity has failed.
No one did more of a disservice to MOOCs than Thrun through his wild proclamations (“we have found the magic combination for online learning” and “in the future there will only be 10 universities”, digital learning manifestos, and so on) and self-aggrandizing. No one will do more damage to MOOCs as a concept than Thrun now that he realizes how unfounded his statements actually were.
Amazingly, after Udacity and Thurn’s “bull in a China shop” run through higher education, he proclaims that he has seen the light: “”We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product…It was a painful moment.”"
The Udacity pivot, showcased (a latin term meaning “spin”) as a good thing in the Fast Company article, is the equivalent of Obama doing an Affordable Care is Working media tour. Make no mistake – this is a failure of Udacity and Sebastian Thrun. This is not a failure of open education, learning at scale, online learning, or MOOCs. Thrun tied his fate too early to VC funding. As a result, Udacity is now driven by revenue pursuits, not innovation. He promised us a bright future of open learning. He delivered to us something along the lines of a 1990′s corporate elearning program.
No doubt most of you will have read the (unintentionally hilarious) interview with Udacity founder and the media's poster child for MOOCs, Sebastian Thrun. If you haven't the short version (minus the ego fanning and competitive cycling) is that Thrun has realised that not many people complete MOOCs, and that making them pay is a good incentiviser, so he's making Udacity an elearning corporate training company.
And there it is. After all that hype. All that "Napsterisation of higher education", the "end of universities", the "10 global providers of education" nonsense, what do we have? A corporate elearning company. As TS Eliot observed, the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
Everyone will blog about it (I expect there will be a wave of "the end of MOOCs" pieces by the very people who wrote "the end of universities" ones), and I can barely bring myself to add to the noise, but if you take a step back, it really is a fascinating, and telling case study in what happens when companies try to do openness.
What is both interesting and depressing about it is the sheer predictability of it all. I commented a while back that FlatWorld Publishing provided a good warning. When the going gets tough, openness is the first casualty. Only last week George Siemens was railing against how people had opted for the easy option because openness was complex and messy. Thrun says it's because he is worried that the Udacity product was 'lousy', but you can bet those venture capitalists were whispering in his ear "where is the return on our investment?".
A couple of points worth noting: Thrun seems to have 'discovered' that open access, distance education students struggle to complete. I don't want to sound churlish here, but hey, the OU has known this for 40 years. It's why it spends a lot of money developing courses that have guidance and support built into the material, and also on a comprehensive support package, ranging from tutors, helpdesk, regional study centres and so on. But of course, none of the journalists and certainly not the new, revolutionary people at Udacity wanted to hear any of this. They could solve it all, and why hadn't higher education thought of this before? As Audrey Watters said to me on twitter:
@mweller "disruptive innovation" means never having to say 1) you're sorry 2) you're wrong 3) you're ignorant 4) all of the above— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) November 14, 2013 (Audrey has an excellent post on the Thrun interview that you should read)
I also like the way the article depicts Thrun as bravely digging into the data: "he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes". That's right, no-one had noticed. If only someone had, say, plotted all of the MOOC completion data...
Anyway, where does this leave us? Does it mean MOOCs are dead? Not really. It just means they aren't the massive world revolution none of us thought they were anyway. And it also suggests that universities, far from being swept away by MOOCs, are in fact the home of MOOCs. You see, MOOCs make sense as an adjunct to university business, they don't really make sense as a stand alone offering. One wonders if the likes of Shirky will be writing about how wonderful the university model of open education is. So in the end, far from being a portent of doom of the university model, MOOCs are a validation of universities and their robustness.
It's not the end of MOOCs, they just make more sense when you view them as part of the OER continuum. Actually I don't think Udacity's product is lousy - they have some really fine open material. It's their business model that's lousy. To quote the Smiths song of the title: "Nothing's changed, I still love you, only slightly less than I used to."
David Kernohan delivered an stunning presentation at the Open Education conference: The Avalanche that Hasn’t Happened. He provides a critical evaluation of the testing/evaluation narrative in education. It is the best take down that I have seen of the dominant trends of for-profit, testing, and deliverology (honestly, that’s a word) impacting education. This video (below) needs to be shared broadly, particularly with leaders in the education sector. This is an impressive and valuable documentary. If David decides to develop a career creating education documentaries, I’ll be the first to provide kickstarter support. Resources and citations for the video are available here.
I’m at the Open Education conference in Park City, Utah. The conference is now in its impressive 10th year. I did a presentation following Andrew Ng (Coursera). Slides and video are below. The focus is on my early experiences with MOOCs, their current state, and future directions (as well as some angst and hope).
One interesting take away from WISE13 was how much people still want a teacher. During the session, if a panelist desired applause, all that was required was a statement along the lines of “this is not about technology, it is about teachers” or “teachers are so important” or (as in our panel) “it’s not software or hardware but humanware”. I understand the appeal of wanting someone to guide us or wanting a person rather than a computer to direct our learning. Brian Lamb has an excellent post on Agency and Algorithms that captures the dehumanizing aspect of algorithmic instruction. The concern of waning teacher influence is not only a result of technology – it is also due to the prominence of networks and participatory culture. Mediators, in networks, are less important than they are in hierarchies.
We face a future of less teachers. Or perhaps, less of a traditional view of teachers and more teachers overall as we can self organize and teach each other. A small example of this is Google Helpouts, which offers not only the technology to tutor others but also the marketplace to be discovered.
Education is constantly confronted with a dual threat:
1. Acknowledgement that it is a foundation for all human progress and able to lift regions and society out of poverty,
2. Public policy and investment that denies the value of education.
When society faces a problem, whether racism, violence, or inequality, education is the first scapegoat and the first solution. Report after report validates the role of education in improving the personal lives of individuals and the public sphere of highly educated regions. Politicians and reformers point to international comparisons to laud or condemn performance of local education systems.
Unfortunately, when economic pressures hit, one of the first casualties is public education – at all levels. We are experiencing this in Alberta now where our well-coiffed, but ill-informed and short-sited education, minister Thomas Lukaszuk is slashing funding. I have a hard time resolving the tension between “education is critical” and “let’s cut it when we have budget issues”. Education is essentially an investment in the future. It is a politically soft target where people shake their heads, protest somewhat loudly (unless you’re from Quebec), but then go about their day. Other areas of government funding, such as healthcare, are harder to raid from future generations because people feel the impact of cuts almost immediately. In education, we can have decades of erosion before it impacts the daily lives of most members of society.
I attend somewhere in the range of 30-50 education/technology/learning conferences annually. These conferences range from local conferences with a 100 or so attendees to large international events with over 2000 attendees. While I’ve enjoyed the personal learning experience, the overall message is disheartening. Frequently, if it’s a university’s annual learning event, I’ll be introduced by a senior leader who will then a) leave immediately after the introduction or b) when seated in too conspicuous location, will stay for the session and immediately leave. These annual “celebrations of teaching and learning” send the wrong message to faculty. The real message should not be “here is a speaker who doesn’t know much about our system to tell us how we should teach” but rather should be “I’m committed to teaching and learning and I have cleared my schedule for the next two days to learn from and with you so our university community is stronger and more able to address the challenges we face”.
Last week I attended the WISE conference in Doha, Qatar. This event has been on my radar for a few years as it causes a significant splash in social and mainstream media annually. When I received an invitation to attend, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m glad I did.
WISE is a global event, though the organizers describe it as a movement and platform rather than a conference. Where else will you meet former prime ministers such as Gordon Brown, Julia Gillard, heads of UNESCO, World Bank, university presidents, leaders of NGOs, prominent academics, students, and startups that represent all regions of the world? I’ll posit: WISE is the most important annual education conference in assessing global education trends, connecting with peers, and observing a strong economic commitment to education in action.
A few examples:
I am not aware of the total investment in WISE conference and related education projects by the Qatar Foundation. A back of the napkin calculation puts it in the range of hundreds of millions. Unlike other notable foundations with an education focus, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Qatar Foundation does not only target specific outcomes or specific projects. Their investment, especially with WISE, is in long term conceptual areas such as “innovation in education” and “education for all”. Creating a forum to share innovations, outside of prescribed criteria established in advance, is urgently needed. In times of rapid change and uncertainty, experimentation, action, and discourse are needed, rather than following status quo solutions. After a decade of attending and presenting at learning, technology, education, and innovation conferences, WISE is the best forum that I have encountered for having the most important global education conversations.
As I’m writing this, I’m torn between excitement about, and support for, the innovative work happening in Qatar in education and sadness around the monochromatic education conversations and reduced funding happening in Alberta, Canada, and most other western countries. It does make sense, however, that in a global world, I would find brilliant innovations outside of my province and country. I’d be encouraged if there was a prospect of seeing WISE-like innovations developing in Canada. Unfortunately, we value talk about the importance of education over long-term visionary investment.
I've been thinking about openness in education a lot recently (my plan is to write a book on this, more on that later). And I've slowly, probably years after everyone else, come to the conclusion that it's a mistake to talk about openness as if it's one thing. There may have been a time when it was, when all the forms of openness blended easily into one indistinguishable lump, but that's not the case now. Not only are there different aspects of openness, but I'm beginning to feel that some may be mutually exclusive with others, or at least prioritising some means less emphasis on others.
What do I mean by this? Well I could list the different types of openness in education: OERs, MOOCs, open access, open scholarship, etc. But instead it's more useful to consider the motivation for openness, why has someone adopted an open approach in the first place? Here are some possibilities:
Increased audience - you want as many people as possible to be able get at your resource, be it an article, book, course, video or presentation. The main aim here is to remove barriers to people accessing it. This means it has to be free, easily shareable, online, and with easy rights.
Increased reuse - related to the above, but slightly different, you want people to take what you have created and combine it with other elements, adapt it and republish. The same considerations are required as above, but with an extra emphasis on minimal rights and also creating the resource in convenient chunks that can be adapted. Whereas the first motivation might mean releasing your song online, the second motivation might lead you to sharing each of the tracks that constitute the song separately under a CC-BY licence.
Increased access - this is different from the first motivation in that you want to reach particular groups who may be disadvantaged. You have open access in that you do not require formal entry qualifications. You may decide that free is also the best way to gain increased access, but that may not follow. If you want to work with learners who often fail in formal education then simply making a resource free doesn't really help. What they need is material aimed at this audience and specific support. Open access is not just about price.
Increased experimentation - one of the reasons many people adopt open approaches is that it allows them to do different things. Whether that's use different media, create a different identity, or experiment with approach that wouldn't fit within the normal constraints of work, an open method allows this. If this is your goal, then the emphasis is on getting an audience that will feedback on this and maybe participate in this experimentation.
Increased reputation - being networked and online can help improve your, or your institution's, profile. Openness here allows more people to see what you do (the motivation of increased audience) but your main aim is to enhance your reputation. If you were an academic who really wanted to be on the keynote circuit then operating in the open, publishing openly, creating online resources, being active in social media and establishing an online identity might be a good way to achieve this. Here openness is a method by which you realise a different goal, but it could be anything. The emphasis here then will be on networking and using openness to establish identity.
Increased revenue - while we may have suspicions about open washing and using openness as a route to commercial success, it's true that an open, or part-open model can be an effective business model. The freemium approach works this way, where a service is open to a large extent, but some users pay for additional services. If this is the goal then openness works by creating a significant demand for the product.
Increased participation - you may need input from an audience, but can't pay to access them. This could be crowdsourcing in research, or getting feedback on a book or research proposal. Being open allows others to access it and then provide the input you require. Openness here can be quite targeted, you want to reach a particular audience and get them involved, not necessarily as large an audience as possible.
Let's take an example in education and consider it from these different motivations. Let's imagine your university (or a university you know) wants to create a MOOC. They've heard all about them and think they should be doing something in this area (this actually covers about 90% of university's approach to MOOCs). They seek your advice, so you go around to a bunch of different stakeholders and you ask them "what is the aim of the MOOC? What do you want from it?"
Now, the person from marketing says they want to increase the university's online profile and reputation. From this perspective you propose a MOOC in a big hitting subject, featuring a big name academic. The subject will be "Life on Mars". It'll be expensive, high end production, acting as a showcase for the university and getting it in the press.
When you speak to the Dean of the Science faculty they say they are concerned about student recruitment on their post grad course. They want it to bring in high fee paying overseas students. The model that might work here is one that makes the first 6 weeks open, and target a specific audience, who can then sign up. You suggest offering badges and allowing people to build up to taking the full masters.
You then speak to an academic who is really keen to try a student-led approach. They feel frustrated by the customer-led focus of conventional teaching and see in MOOCs an opportunity to try some more radical pedagogic approaches that they have been blocked from implementing. They don't see it as particularly massive in terms of audience, but it will be a rich learning experience for those who do it, as they will be creating the curriculum. You propose a MOOC based in Wordpress, and featuring a range of technologies with learners co-creating the content.
Later you have a conversation with a funding council who want to bring under-represented groups into science. They will need a lot of support, but they are willing to fund the provision of mentors and support groups in the community. You suggest a MOOC based on adapting existing materials, with carefully targeted support and minimal technical barriers.
And so on - you can see that from each of these perspectives the resultant MOOC would be a very different beast. It would be open in each of these scenarios, but with a different emphasis on the form that openness should take.
So, now that openness has to a large extent won out as an approach, the question is no longer 'do you want to be open?' but rather 'what sort of open do you want?'.
I watched the tweets from the WISE13 conference with interest. One that caught my eye (and rather made it water) was Gordon Brown extolling the value of education and its benefits for society. You can see his talk below:
It's a good talk, impassioned and well reasoned. I agree with everything he said. But I find it strange that he is saying it. Brown's record on international development is good, it's something he really believed in. But when he was Prime Minister, he abolished what's called ELQ funding in the UK. This meant that you couldn't get funding to study if you already had an equal or higher qualification. This was enormously damaging for many of the people you want to avail themselves of education - those who have been made redundant and want to reskill for examples.
I appreciate this is a minor concern compared with global education for all, and particularly the social power of getting girls into school. But it's the principle - you don't get to talk about the wonderful power of education if when you had the chance you looked at the budgets and thought "nah, education's not worth it, we can make a saving there."
Everyone (well maybe not some of the Taliban) thinks education is a good thing. It's an easy totem to gather around and make impassioned calls for. Education has a lot of social credit. We shouldn't let people use it without having shown their credentials, and Brown botched his chance when he had it to demonstrate that he really believes in the transformative power of education. Of course, compared with what's come afterwards, Brown's crime is minor in comparison, but even so, you don't get to use education now as your platform. Or at least not without some contrition. The same goes for openness - you have to earn that badge through action.
This past week, in preparation for our upcoming MOOC research conference (early bird registration ends Oct 31), I held two online presentations on a) MOOC Research Initiative (a review of literature, research themes) and b) Lessons MOOCs can learn from online education. Slides and recordings are below.
I came across a disturbing story last week, particularly for academics in the UK who use social media. A UK academic who blogs and tweets as Plashing Vole reported that a journalist from the Sun on Sunday had contacted him, telling him they were going to run an article about him. It concerned a few anti-government tweets he had made, in one jokingly making a Nazi comparison. An MP was calling for him to be sacked. In the end they didn't run the piece, but it must have been a stressful few days.
This worries me on a number of levels. Firstly, I often encourage academics to establish an online identity, and that part of that identity is to give a bit of themselves, not just bland broadcast. If we are now entering a phase when any opinion or joke will be used against you then this advice might be harmful.
Secondly, I think most of us will have a 'there but for the grace of God' moment on reading his account. I am mindful of being offensive in any online communication, but I've made jokes & expressed opinions so if someone really wanted to I'm sure they could construct a negative story about me and use a few carefully selected tweets to prove a case. The same is true for any of us I think - a friend of mine was berated by someone because they tweeted about biscuits during work hours.
But the thing that bothered me most of all was the sense of surveillance and suppression of opinion. The East German secret police used to have people in every workplace reporting to them, and they would drill holes in walls to spy on citizens. Any anti-state sentiment that was expressed would be recorded and that person would find their life difficult, or they'd just be disappeared. The consequence was that no-one would express any dissenting view in public, which was, of course, the aim. It is the same here, it doesn't matter that they didn't run the story, they only need to threaten to often enough to make academics scared of expressing an opinion publicly. And that is a very dangerous society to live in.
The possible saving grace is that I would hope universities are strong enough to stand up to this nonsense, and also, I think it's such a non-story, and would be of so little interest to their readers that it's not a practical policy. But who knows?
Several presentations this next week that might be of interest to readers:
2. As part of the MOOC Research Initiative, I’m organizing two open events this coming week:
Oct 22, 11 am Mountain Time (see conversions):
An Overview of the MOOC Research Initiative: The project, literature, and landscape. This presentation will provide a timeline of the development of the MOOC Research Initiative, its goals, the review and selection process, and lessons learned. I’ll also provide early results from structured mapping of research literature, research methodologies, and parent disciplines of researchers. This will provide an overview of the state of MOOC research – who is active, how are they researching MOOCs, and the disciplines that are involved in MOOC research.
The session will be held here in Bb Collaborate. You can log in at any time to make sure that you have the necessary plugins to join the session.
Oct 25, 11 am Mountain time (see conversions):
Lessons for MOOCs from Traditional Online Learning: Developing a MOOC framework. This session is part of a white paper and video project on what is known about online learning through a review of literature that is generally accepted by academics in online/distance learning and how that knowledge relates to MOOCs. In particular, can the research on social learning and learning in communities that is well established in online learning provide an important contribution to the data-driven (often focused only on clicks or observable behaviour) research now emerging from large MOOC providers? A framework will be presented that bridges what is known about online learning and what we are learning about MOOCs. This framework will be presented at the MOOC Research Conference in December (register here
The session will be held here in Bb Collaborate. You can log in at any time to make sure that you have the necessary plugins to join the session. ).
For top-secret research I am undertaking, I'm looking at a range of MOOCs, both xMOOCs, cMOOCs and flavours inbetween (although, definitely not ridiculous variations such as SPOCs). Here's some breaking news - they are all pretty good. Take away all the hype, commercial bubble and rabid arguments on both sides and you are left with some good teaching material.
As I've been going through them (admittedly not as thoroughly as a student), I've begun to think that a mix of them would probably represent a good grounding in a topic, equivalent to a 1st year of an undergrad degree. It wouldn't teach some of the other skills you develop, I'll come to that later. Let's take an example, say I want to study a degree in Psychology. The following MOOCs would give me a good knowledge base:
Now, I think that would give you a good grounding in knowledge. I know from doing my first degree in Psychology that the first year is really spent bringing everyone up to speed. A second year could then start on the assumption that all of the above is known to all students. This is where a conventional (campus or distance) university can step in. The MOOCs only take you so far. They're good at getting across content, but not so good at developing skills. As a Psychology graduate there are key skills you need to develop (the elusive qualities of 'graduateness'), such as critical thinking, reading and interpreting scientific literature, debate and communication skills, experimental design, etc. These are really best developed by interaction with other learners and experts in a more structured, focused manner than most MOOCs offer.
So here's a model for a university wanting to offer something different - come to us with certificates in all of the above MOOCs and we will enroll you on a shortened two year degree programme. Because we want to be competitive our fees (assuming a UK uni here) are set at £7K per annum (compared with the usual 9K) and that means your degree will cost you £14K, not the usual £27K. That begins to look like a good offer, and I would be willing to bet that there would be no difference between these students at graduation than those that have studied a three year programme.
Of course there are a whole host of objections to this model, for instance it can undermine universities, it plays along with the broken funding regime, a three year degree programme is the right length of time for personal development, and so on. I wouldn't disagree with any of these. And I wouldn't suggest that this is the only model that should be pursued, but rather it is an example of how changes in education, and open education in particular, could offer a wider diversity of university models.
One parting thought - if this model was used successfully I wonder how long before the MOOC providers started charging for their courses to be used in this way?
In times of fake open access journals, and open access being used as a means of making even more money by publishers, it's nice to know that some things are true to the simple values of open access... yes, there is a new issue of JIME out. It may not have the bells and whistles of a funded journal, and maybe we can't give it as much time as we'd like, but it's free to publish, peer-reviewed and open to all.
In this issue there is quite a range of papers, some have a 'design' theme, but it's not a themed issue. Here is the editorial, I'm sure there's something there to pique everyone's interest:
This edition of JIME sees a varied collection of papers covering a diverse range of topics. It starts with a perspective piece by the Director of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, Josie Taylor, addressing the institutional approach to pedagogy and technology here at the OU. This piece was originally given as a speech internally and focuses on the OU experience, but it will be of interest to others, particularly as they seek to blend new technologies and pedagogies. Its discussion of the learning model and the connection and journey between informal and formal learning is of particular contemporary interest.
There are three papers concerned with different aspects of design: designing online learning or blended courses - and the role of learning design in developing such courses. The first of these is an article by Terumi Miyazoe and Terry Anderson, which provides a much needed theoretical basis for examining OERs and MOOCs. Using the Interaction Equivalency Theorem, they address issues such as the scalability of different MOOC models.
In the third article Canan Blake and Eileen Scanlon focus on designing for collaborative learning and provide a mix of the theoretical and practical in examining the nature of collaborative online learning and its relation with the learning environment. They note that, whilst much prior research has focused on empirical studies to understand the mechanisms, as well as the benefits of collaboration, this is not always helpful in addressing the challenge of designing good collaborative learning activities.
The fourth article, by Anna Mavroudi and Thanasis Hadzilacos, picks up on both themes of collaboration and design again in its discussion of group work in designing for adaptive learning. This paper presents an empirical case study of collaboration on a complex design text, which like Blake and Scanlon's paper above, is in the context of Open and Distance Education, and which has implications for design guidelines in contemporary teaching contexts.
A less theoretical and more practical focus is given in the final article, where Nick Pearce and Sarah Learmonth investigate the use of Pinterest as a tool for anthropology students, suggesting that its non-linear format aids the integration of material in an interdisciplinary subject.
This issue also includes a book review written by Bethany Alden about Joseph P McDonald's book "Going online with Protocols: new tools for teaching and learning".