Uncle MOOC will be looking after you for a few weeks...
A metaphor is always a handy way to get a grip on something new (as long as one is aware of its limitations). My attitude to MOOCs changes on a weekly basis, and so does my MOOC metaphor - I'm sure you've got one of your own: the MP3 of education, this year's SecondLife, industrial revolution applied to education, a giraffe smoking a cheroot rollerblading down the Champs-Elysees - it can be pretty much whatever you want. So here is this week's MOOC metaphor.
MOOCs are like the patronising uncle who has yet to have a child of his own. They are great fun for the nieces and nephews, they are inventive, playful, and the kids always look forward to them arriving. But this uncle secretly (and after a couple of beers, not so secretly) thinks he could do a better job at raising the kids than the parents. He may also think they prefer him to their actual mum and dad. "Why don't they do all the stuff I do with them?" he thinks. "I'm great at getting them out of a tantrum, I do my distraction technique and they forget it. I never see their dad doing that," he compliments himself. "I would have a set of rules that the kids would respect and obey, not this slapdash approach," he vows.
And then, of course, he has kids of his own. Suddenly he realises he has to work as well as raise the kids, that his distraction techniques don't work with a tired 6 month old at 3 in the morning, that he has to do it every single day and getting the basic stuff done like feeding, bathing, looking after them is a real achievement in itself.
This is how I sometimes feel about MOOCs and their relationship to formal education. They are good fun, they offer something new, a lot of learners really enjoy them. But they shouldn't kid themselves they can do the robust, day to day stuff better than the existing system. If they had to, they'd soon find that a lot of their energy is spent on the not-so-fun stuff, because that is required of them. But, like our friendly uncle they do also make the parents think "maybe we should go to the zoo more often," and "he does know how to get the best out of Tommy, I could learn something there".
So when I see pieces like this announcement that Georgia Tech are offering an online Masters (they don't even have the good grace to blush when they use the term 'MOOC 2.0") it begins to sound not unlike, ooh, I don't know, an Open University (but with cheaper staff support). This makes me think - this is the first signs of MOOCs discovering that it wasn't quite as easy as they thought, but they still like to dress it up as a revolution.
That's my metaphor for the week, I'm sure Dominik has some better ones. What's your MOOC metaphor?
I just recently finished Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema. I picked it up for my 13 year old son for Christmas, but as he still hadn’t read it yet, I decided I would. It was a wonderful read, I highly recommend it to both young and old. I loved it not only because it’s a tale rippingly told, but because it helped me to further clarify some of my own thoughts on culture, ownership and creativity. And while it is guilty (as am I) of maybe overstating some arguments about the prevalence of remix culture, it does so, as do I, because of the inflexible and, frankly, plain incorrect views about the nature of intellectual “property” put forth by industry incumbents that require strenuous resistance and reform.
Anyways, my enjoyment of the book would have gone largely unremarked, but yesterday a tweet from the great folks at Common Craft brought it back to mind.
Now I understand that the purpose of that 2 minute video is to explain the current status of plagiarism and as such isn’t the place for nuanced discussion about the principles underlying it. And I don’t really want to make this post about the video; it’s fine for what it is. But it did bring to mind the following long passage from the book, which is the kind of conversations I want to expose kids to so that “empowering” them in regards to intellectual property, copyright, ideas of originality, sourcing and citation don’t become equated with “simply accepting and complying with the status quo.” Because that status quo hasn’t always been the case. And while it may be the advent of new technologies that are causing that status quo to be challenged, the actual assumptions about property, originality, individuality, culture and ownership underlying the status quo have ALWAYS been worth questioning.
“All this high and mighty talk about ‘creativity,’ what’s it get you? You’re nicking stuff off other people and calling it your own. I don’t have any problem with that, but at least call it what it is: good, honest thieving.”
Something burst in me. I got to my feet and pointed at him. “Jem, chum, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, mate. You might know more about jail than I do, but you haven’t a clue when it comes to creativity.” This was something I’d thought about a lot. It was something I cared about. I couldn’t believe that my old pal and mentor didn’t understand it, but I was going to explain it to him, wipe that smirk right off his mug. “Look, let’s think about what creativity is, all right?”
He snorted. “This could take a couple of months.”
“No,” I said. “No, it only takes a long time because there are so many people who would like to come up with a definition of creativity that includes everything they do and nothing anyone else does. But if we’re being honest, it’s easy to define creativity: it’s doing something that isn’t obvious.”
Everyone was looking at me. I stuck my chin out.
“That’s it?” Jem said. “That’s creativity? ‘Doing something that isn’t obvious?’ You’ve had too much coffee, chum. That’s the daftest thing I ever heard.”
I shook my head. “Only because you haven’t thought about it at all. Take the film I just made with Rabid Dog. All that footage of Scot Colford, from dozens of films, and all that footage of monsters, from dozens more. If I handed you any of those films, there’s nothing obvious about them that says, ‘You could combine this in some exact way with all those other films and make a new one.’ That idea came from me. I created it. It wasn’t lying around, waiting to be picked up like a bunch of pebbles on the beach. It was something that didn’t exist until I made it, and probably wouldn’t have existed unless I did. That’s what ‘to create’ means: to make something new.”
Jem opened his mouth, then shut it. He got a thoughtful look. 26 was grinning at me. Cora was looking at me with some of the old big-brother adoration I hadn’t seen for years and years. I felt a hundred feet tall.
At last, Jem nodded. “Okay, fine. But all that means is that there’s lots of different kinds of creativity. Look, I like your film just fine, but you’ve got to admit there’s something different about making a film out of other peoples’ films and getting a camera out and making your own film.”
I could feel my head wanting to shake as soon as Jem started to talk, but I restrained myself and made myself wait for him to finish. “Sure, it’s different — but when you say, ‘making your own film,’ you really mean that the way I make films is less creative, that they’re not my own, right?”
He looked down. “I didn’t say that, but yeah, okay, that’s what I think.”
“I understand,” I said, making myself be calm, even though he was only saying the thing I feared myself. “But look at it this way. Once there weren’t any films, right? Then someone invented the film. He was creative, right? In some way, every film that’s been made since isn’t really creative because the people who made them didn’t invent films at the same time.”
He shook his head. “You’re playing word games. Inventing films isn’t the same as making films.”
“But someone made the first film. And then someone made the first film with two cameras. The first film that was edited. The first film that had sound. The first color film. The first comedy. The first monster film. The first porno film. The first film with a surprise ending. Jem, films are only about a hundred years old. There are people alive today who are older than any of those ideas. It’s not like they’re ancient inventions — they’re not fire or the wheel or anything. They were created by people whose names we know.”
“You don’t know their names,” Jem said, grinning. I could tell I was getting through to him.
Cora laughed like a drain. “Trent doesn’t know anything unless he can google it. But I do. The novel was invented by Cervantes five hundred years ago: Don Quixote. And the detective story was invented in 1844 by Poe: The Purloined Letter. A fella named Hugo Gernsback came up with science fiction, except he called it scientifiction.”
I nodded at her, said, “Thanks –”
But she cut me off. “There’s only one problem, Trent: The novel was also invented by Murasaki Shikibu, half-way around the world, hundreds of years earlier. Mary Shelley wrote science fiction long before Hugo Gernsback: Frankenstein was written in 1817. And so on. The film camera had about five different inventors, all working on their own. The problem with your theory is that these creators are creating something that comes out of their heads and doesn’t exist anywhere else, but again and again, all through history, lots of things are invented by lots of people, over and over again. It’s more like there are ideas out there in the universe, waiting for us to discover them, and if one person doesn’t manage to make an idea popular, someone else will. So when you say that if you don’t create something, no one will, well, you’re probably not right.”
“Wait, what? That’s rubbish. When I make a film, it comes out of my imagination. No one else is going to think up the same stuff as me.”
“Now you sound like me,” Jem said, and rubbed his hands together.
Cora patted my hand. “It’s okay, it’s just like you said. Everyone wants a definition of creativity that makes what they do into something special and what everyone else does into nothing special. But the fact is, we’re all creative. We come up with weird and interesting ideas all the time. The biggest difference between ‘creators’ isn’t their imagination — it’s how hard they work. Ideas are easy. Doing stuff is hard. There’s probably a million geezers out there who love Scot Colford films, but none of them can be arsed to make something fantastic out of them, the way you do. The fact is, creativity is cheap, hard work is hard, and everyone wants to think his ideas are precious unique snowflakes, but ideas are like assholes, we’ve all got ‘em.”
- Cory Doctor, Pirate Cinema, pages 206-209, Tor Teen Books October 2012 edition
To save me clogging up this blog by banging on about the lazy 'education is broken' meme used to justify venture capital, I've set up one of those Tumblr blogs that gathers stuff together here: http://brokeneducation.tumblr.com/
I think there's a slight danger that like Pseuds Corner in Private Eye it ends up including too much. In the case of Pseuds corner it sometimes seems that any attempt to use words of more than one syllable will be lampooned. Similarly, this tumblr may end up including any attempt to talk about the future of education. In general what I want are those pieces where the education is broken meme is trotted out largely as a pretence for some solution the company or individual has to offer. But I'll take anything in this area really. I would like to pretend that one day I'll go through them and do a semantic analysis or cluster analysis of concepts. But I'll probably just make a sarcastic one-liner instead.
Any suggestions for inclusion just tweet me @mweller.
Mildly interesting aside - I often talk about finding the right voice for a blog. This one is the carefully considered, balanced, poorly written one. I found that as soon as I started doing this tumblr blog it revealed a much snarkier, sarcastic me. Some people may like that, others not.
My small MOOC open course, H817Open ends this week, so I thought I'd post some reflections on how it's gone.
I'll start by saying what my intentions were for it. The idea was to mix formal and informal learners (as it is one quarter of a Masters level course), to blend OERs and MOOCs (it is in the OpenLearn repository and exists after course end), to use an activity-based 'collaboration-lite' model and to adopt a range of technologies.
In general it went well, the learners seemed to enjoy it, although we saw the familiar drop-off of participation. It was only on a small scale so I don't think I can draw any big conclusions. I've summarised my thoughts in the slidedeck below, so won't repeat them here. If you have time I'd thoroughly recommend looking through the blog aggregator at the student contributions, they're fabulous.
I will say though that I'd do it again, and it's been one of the most engaging teaching experiences I've had for a long time, if also one of the most exhausting.
In an earlier post I said the puppy would get it if people didn't enjoy it. Suffice to say the puppy is alive and well, and that is as much as we can hope for:
I admit it, I'm slow on the uptake, but I had a lightbulb moment David Kernohan pointed me at Donald Clark's post on MOOCs "More action in 1 year than 1000" (no hype there then). As Brian Lamb has reported a wikipedia edit battle around MOOCs to remove the early MOOCers such as David Wiley and George Siemens from the picture has also taken place. Initially I thought this was just a bit of ignorance, but Clark's post made me understand - it is part of a wider narrative to portray MOOCs as a commercial solution that is sweeping away the complacency of higher education.
So Clark dismisses the impact of early MOOCers, claiming it was Khan that caused it all: "It took a hedge fund manager to shake up education because he didn’t have any HE baggage." Why? Because it appeals to the narrative to have a saviour riding in from outside HE to save education. If you acknowledge that these ideas may have come from within HE then that could look like venture capitalists latching on to a good idea in universities and trying to make money from it. That doesn't sound as sexy and brave.
This is more than historical pedantry. I'm not saying all mentions of MOOCs must start with an agreed paragraph that acknowledges Downes, Wiley, Siemens, Courosa, Cormier. The intention here is to create an explicit narrative, and as narratives are founded in history, it requires a careful construction of this to support the ongoing story. The narrative goes something like:
Why do people like this narrative? For three reasons I'd suggest:
Of course it falls apart at any detailed inspection. Clark calls MOOCs a sustainable model. Are they? At the moment they rely on those boring, haven't changed in a 1000 years universities to pay the staff to create the courses. How sustainable is that when you've had the glorious revolution? Can they really meet all educational needs? The drop-out rate is high as we know, and they tend to suit experienced learners. They meet some needs and can be very exciting, but as the new universal solution they'd create a lot of problems for a lot of learners (which some brave company would then arise to meet).
Open education wasn't sexy, it was about giving stuff away. Entrepreneurs don't like that model, hence Clark's dismissal of the OER movement (which, at the OU anyway is actually proving itself to be sustainable and part of normal business, but hey, we don't want to hear that). Universities have been around 1000 years - that must be bad, right? If a company had been around for 1000 years, I think we'd be saying it must have a pretty good model. And of course, no innovation ever comes from inside universities.
And all this takes away from the really good stuff in MOOCs. I love MOOCs, they advance open education, they allow experimentation, they do shake up thinking in a good way, they raise the profile of teaching. This is good, exciting stuff.
On Twitter Mike Caulfield said it reminded him of this clip:
So I know Clark is just trolling for attention and one shouldn't respond, but it's worth highlighting this nonsense when it arises because it seeps in and reinforces the new narrative. Don't be mistaken, there is a genuine battle for the future happening here, and it starts by rewriting the past.
David Kernohan has a good piece on education funding and the manner in which MOOCs commercialise higher ed over on his blog (although I disagree with his criticism of Jim Groom and Stephen Downes). It resonates with some discussions I had with people at the Hewlett OER conference in San Diego last week. As readers of this blog will know, I'm no fan of the 'education is broken' cliche.
At the San Diego meeting several smart open education people stated this belief quite passionately, and I voiced my anger at it to the point where it almost came to blows. In the ensuing discussions it became apparent that people bundle together several things under this banner. At different times it was because i) kids are taught in age bands, ii) that we don't encourage creativity, iii) that American kids have to walk to school through gang neighbourhoods or iv) that the current model is financially unsustainable.
I would argue that i) is maybe problematic but is what happens when you want to ensure education happens on a massive scale. None of the alternatives I've seen would really operate at the scale of a nationwide system and are often predicated on very motivated children and parents. But I could be convinced otherwise. I would argue this is an administrative convenience at the moment, not indication that something is broken, and if you can show me how to do it robustly otherwise, I'd go along with it.
For ii) I think we are in the really interesting area where we could do some great stuff with good pedagogy and technology. I was impressed with the project based learning they do at High Tech High, and they take a very egalitarian approach to recruitment so I think there is a model here that could be applied elsewhere. Or many other models. This to me is a sign for opportunity.
For iii) I wonder how much people expect schools to do. If your society is this broken, then don't think schools can fix it on their own.
Which brings me to iv) - funding. Quite often this is what people mean when they say education is broken - that it is financially unsustainable. And this is where I think we are on dangerous ground. If we go around as an education community saying this what we are really saying is "please come and privatise education for the lowest cost". They won't claim to do that at the start, the promise will be to offer better education, for less money. But then market forces will hit, they're in competition with other providers, they need to pay back that VC funding, they need to comply with regulations on fair provision of education, they're facing a lawsuit for incorrect assessment... And those promises get trimmed one by one until the model looks pretty bleak and we sit around in conferences moaning 'this system is even more broken than the last one.'
As I mentioned on David's post, if the argument is really about funding, then let's have that debate, but let's have it in the open. Maybe the full commercial model is the only viable one. We can then decide what we lose by this. But maybe other models are viable too. We spent over £20billion in the Iraq & Afghanistan wars for very little return after all, imagine if we'd put that money into education. It's a cliche I know, but always worth considering.
I don't think people have done proper analysis on the ROI for society for having free higher education (if they have please point me to it). For instance, there was a golden heyday of the Arts college in the 70s. Everyone went to Arts college when they couldn't think of anything else to do. And most of our successful bands and designers came from this background. You couldn't directly attribute the money they generated to the education they had (often they dropped out) but it created the right atmosphere for them to flourish. And sometimes young people just need some space to find out what they want to do before getting caught up in work, and this often means they do better, more productive work later.
So free higher education may not be the 'unicorns and rainbows' dream it seems. If we have the proper debate about education funding, at least we can look at these issues. And all of this is to ignore the more general benefits to society of having more broadly educated population. As David suggests, we need to be wary of being useful idiots by playing into this commercial solution because we've made it seem like the only possible outcome. So the brokenness and the solution are intertwined, but as Chief Brody says, "it's only an island if you look at it from the water".
(or, yes, another bloody Mrs Thatcher post).
The passing of Mrs T has led to some interesting reactions in our house. My wife, raised in the Welsh valleys, and who saw her village go from a state where everyone worked in the mines to one where no-one did, has found it painful. She hasn't wanted to watch any of the debate or coverage, because it makes her too angry, and she doesn't want to feel that way.
Far from growing up on the periphery of Thatcher's society as she did, I grew up in its very centre, in Essex. And this was just as traumatic. As a sensitive teenager in the Thatcher years I felt isolated and confused. Everyone I knew bought in to the very simplistic notion that only money counted, there was no other metric. They became estate agents, bankers, builders. They laughed at me for going to university and wasting my time. I lacked the sophistication and clarity to argue why I felt there was something wrong with this creed and, while people in London may have had viable alternatives to be part of, in Essex there were none. It was a lonely time until I got to university. All of this came back to me this week, particularly as the parade of 80s ghouls such as Tebbit and Mellor were brought out to pay homage.
So I am unable to make a rational judgement of Thatcher's premiership. As many people have commented Britain was a busted flush at the end of the 70s. Enough of us complain about customer service from BT now, you had no idea what it was like in the 70s. So there was a degree of change that had to happen, a painful transition. But I can't make that balanced assessment - it is a purely emotional response.
And this is what I think the commentators fail to grasp. They are judging just on policy. But it's more than that - when Tony Blair passes I think I'll be capable of making a rational assessment of his time, and I bet people won't be celebrating his death with the same fervour.
The protests scheduled for her funeral and the presence of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" at number 1 are more than childish or ghoulish responses. They are, whether the participants realise it or not, part of a struggle for history. Already we are seeing a rational, balanced assessment of Thatcher occurring which tends to favour her. But this glosses over the human aspect of it all, the pain she caused. These public acts are a way of cementing into history this feeling. When people mention her in the future they will have to record now these protests at her passing, it can't simply be a record of a big ceremonial funeral where she was celebrated.
Just as the poll tax rioters were decried and lambasted at the time, but now those riots form an essential part of the Thatcher history, so the less respectful reactions to her death are part of an attempt to etch into history some of that emotional aspect she has for so many. This doesn't mean that anything is legitimate, but I think to simply dismiss more guttural reactions is to misunderstand their role in the wider context.
On my open course H817Open I use a mixture of technology, and thought it might be useful to describe these here, and also to indicate what I'd like to do beyond this.
The technologies are:
OpenLearn - This is where the bulk of the content is hosted and also forums. It is provided by the OU for OU content only, so not an open content system. It made sense to use this, but some recent changes have made the page rendering slow, and the design is suitable for a one-off visit to find an OER in that it prompts you to find other resources, it uses up too much screen real estate on this for a MOOC.
WordPress - this is the blog aggregator, based on the DS106 model. Students blog on their own spaces, but they register their blog with us. We then syndicate all the feeds using the FeedWordPress plug-in. I wanted them to use any blog they liked, so I tried using a Google Form that has a Martin Hawksey script to autodiscover the feed. This hasn't really worked as feeds are hidden all over the place and I've ended up adding most in by hand. We ask students to tag posts with #h817open and only posts with this tag are accepted (there is a setting in FeedWordPress for this), so if they blog about going shopping, that doesn't get pulled in. This has worked quite well. For next year I think I would ask learners to restrict their platforms to blogger, wordpress or tumblr as we can then write a bit of code that will automatically discover feeds in the known locations for these platforms.
Mailchimp - I send a weekly email outlining what is coming up and addressing any issues. This has been surprisingly important, and probably the key component. Mailchimp allows you to send emails to upto 2000 subscribers for free. I get a csv file from the openlearn platform and upload this, then create the weekly email. A lot of the identity and tone of the course arises from this email so it's worth investing some time in getting it right (I don't know that I have).
GMail - I set up a generic email account for the course to handle queries
Cloudworks and badges - we experimented with badges and the Cloudworks system has a very neat tool for creating a badge. However it's a bit fiddly in that you have to create a cloudworks id and then a mozilla one.
Blackboard Collaborate - I deliberately haven't scheduled many synchronous events as I wanted a more open course in terms of timings, but I did get George Siemens to give a talk and we have a discussion and review session planned. The OU has signed a contract with Blackboard so we went with this for easiness, but I think I would explore Google Hangouts next year.
Twitter - I ask people to use the #h817open hashtag, but I have to say Twitter has proven to be less significant, or less active, than I expected. I would probably make a specific activity around this next year to encourage use early on.
Google Plus - I didn't create a specific Google Plus community, but learners created one immediately and it has proven to be lively, interesting and supportive. It has beaten twitter as the forum of choice.
Blogs - as I mentioned above, most student activity is undertaken on their own blogs. They can use any platform they like (although note my reservations about this for next year). I've been trying to promote a 'collaboration-lite' model whereby you can work largely independently, but through the aggregator (or Google Plus) you can connect and share as much as you like. I think this has worked for some learners but not others.
So that is my collection of tools - a mixture of in-house and out-there technologies. I met Philipp Schmidt last week and at the same time had a twitter conversation with Martin Hawksey which has set me thinking. What I would like is an open course DIY toolkit. You come along, select which functions you want and it recommends a bunch of open technologies (although not necessarily open source) with examples of where they've been used, and hey presto, you roll your own MOOC. I may work on this soon, but if anyone wants to have a crack, let me know.
Our edtech innovation conference, held in Calgary May 1-3, is now more or less planned: http://edinnovation.ca/
I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that there won’t be an edtech innovation conference in Canada this year that will have as stellar a line up of keynote speakers and panels: http://edinnovation.ca/conference/edinnovation-2013/
Hope you can join us! Registration is available here: http://edinnovation.eventbrite.ca/.
If you are interested in being on a panel or sponsoring, let me know. I’m gsiemens on gmail.
I've mentioned the idea of resilience before (thanks to Joss & Richard for linking it to open education and giving me the idea). When Terry Anderson from Athabasca visited us last year, I worked on a paper to explore the idea more fully with him.
Resilience borrows the idea from ecosystems, pioneered by Holling, who described it as "‘a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables".
In our paper we take the concept and use it as a means of thinking about how HE institutions can view the impact of digital technology. As Joss points out we shouldn't think of resilience as 'resisting', but rather an ability for core functions to persist, in a new context. Terry and I take two possible digital challenges (MOOCS, no surprise, and Open Access) and look at our respective institutions responses to them from a digital resilience perspective.
I think it's a framework that could work well as a way of thinking about how well places an institution is and areas they need to address. The scoring is subjective of course, but in a group setting it works well to create discussion. Have a go yourself for your institution (or one of your choice) and any particular challenge.
This is for H817Open students - the rest of you, move along now.
If you have registered your blog with the H817Open blog aggregator (by completing this form) and posts aren't coming through, here are some things to check:
1) Maybe it has come through - it checks every hour or so, and posts them according to the time originally published. So yours may end up on an "Older posts" page straightaway. So have a look through, or use the search box (at the bottom of the page) to search for an identifiable term in your post.
2) RSS where art thou? - in order to aggregate your posts, we need to find an RSS (or atom) feed. This is how blogs are picked up by blog readers. Some blogging platforms hide this away and it becomes a case of detective work to find it. If you can't find your RSS feed, then it's likely we can't either. Wordpress, Blogger and (usually) Tumblr all have reasonably easy to find feeds. If yours is hidden, search for help on your platform and then find it and register the feed with us.
3) Tag it up - you need to tag your post with #h817open - this doesn't mean putting this term in the title or in the body of the text, but rather applying a tag. In blogger these are called labels. Again, search for help on your blogging platform if you aren't sure about tags.
4) Open, not closed - some blogging platforms, particularly the OU ones, have a setting where only certain people can read it (eg other OU people who are signed in). The blog aggregator can't access it if a password is required, so it needs to be made public.
5) Don't blog it - It isn't essential to register your blog and have it syndicated, you can point people to posts in the forums or in the Google Plus group that some students have set up. The blog is more of a sample of what is going on in the course, rather than a definitive record.
It's difficult to individually trouble shoot problems on an open course, but the above covers any problems we've encountered so far.
I gave a presentation last week with the above title. In my preparation it wavered between 10 reasons to do one, and 10 reasons NOT to do one, which indicates my ambiguous take on MOOCs, so I settled for half and half.
By "do a MOOC" here I mean for an instructor or an institution to offer one, rather than a learner take one, although you can infer some of the learner reasons also. Later in the week I followed the uniteMOOC session up at Newcastle via Twitter and some very similar responses were being given there. My presentation is below, but actually, you'd be better off looking at Sheila MacNeill's splendid Prezi on the subject, which was part of the Newcastle event.
5 reasons to do a MOOC & 5 reasons not to from Martin Weller
Coursera is now in an enviable position among MOOC providers: they have more students than all the other providers combined (Udacity, edX, FutureLearn, peripheral players like LMS companies). At this stage, Coursera is most like Google in its positioning (edX most like Apple in its attention to detail and quality).
Coursera now needs to start thinking of itself like a platform or an app marketplace. Clearly and publicly define how partners can work with and share data, create an app engine that allows universities to contribute to the value of the marketplace by sharing their content creation and testing tools. At this stage, no other MOOC provider is as well positioned to take advantage of the value add from network partners. The end result would (could) be that we see an explosion in creativity in online learning as the central video/content presentation format of MOOCs needs to be challenged and rethought by a mess of creative folks.
(Enjoy the MOOC or the puppy gets it)
The content for my MOOC, no, I mean, open course, on Open Education is now all available in the OpenLearn environment. It doesn't officially start until March 16th, but I'm adopting a more flexible approach than many MOOCs so you can work through it in your own pace (and it'll stay up afterwards).
Some points to note:
The most valuable aspect of MOOCs is that the large number of learners enables the formation of sub-networks based on interested, geography, language, or some other attribute that draws individuals together. With 20 students in a class, limited options exist for forming sub-networks. When you have 5,000 students, new configurations are possible.
The “new pedagogical models” (A Silicon Valley term meaning: we didn’t read the literature and still don’t realize that these findings are two, three, or more decades old) being discovered by MOOC providers supports what most academics and experienced teachers know about learning: it’s a social, active, and participatory process.
The current MOOC providers have adopted a regressive pedagogy: small scale learning chunks reminiscent of the the heady days of cognitivism and military training. Ah, the 1960′s. What a great time to be a learner.
In order to move past this small chunk model of learning, MOOC providers will need to include problem based learning and group learning in their offerings. That won’t be easy. MOOCs have high dropout rates. Which means that if you’re assigned to a group of 10 learners, by the end of the course, you’ll be the only one left.
The large MOOCs can improve the quality of learning by creating a model for rapid creation/dissolution of groups. If you have teenagers in your house (or if you are a gamer), you’re likely familiar with how groups form in many video games or virtual worlds. There are two extreme opposites: World of Warcraft involves highly cohesive social units where individuals spend long periods of time together in solving problems and engaging in quests. In contrast, Call of Duty has low social cohesion as groups are formed on the spot and once a player logs off, the group dissolve (yes, you can log in and play with friends in a more cohesive unit on CoD as well). The latter model is worth considering for MOOCs.
Let’s say I take a course on Coursera. Due to high dropout rates, pre-planned groups will likely not work well. Instead, if I log in at 10 pm on a Friday in my statistics course, I can be automatically placed into a queue system similar to CoD: I wait until enough people show up to form a basic group, the system then launches us into our group work and we complete the 20-30 minute activity. If we like working together, we can decide to form a more stable group and schedule times to work online together. Otherwise, we disband. For the next group assignment, we are partnered with an entirely different group of learners.
To extend the group work experience, a quest layer can be added onto the assignment. Once a group is formed, each member is assigned a role that is vital to achieving a particular challenge. If members of the group don’t work together and share knowledge and skills, the problem will not be solved. The quest format will likely run longer than 20-30 minutes and may be most successful for groups that have worked together in the past.
My main point here is to emphasize that we need to think differently about group formation in learning when our learners have very weak social ties and when the commitment of learners to varies during the course. Taking a rapid group formation approach, augmented with quests, will help to ensure that some level of social learning occurs throughout the course, even after 90% of the learners have left.
Just got back from UVic where I gave a talk to a small group from the Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory. I was going to write a longer post than this, trying to situate my talk somewhere between the binaries of Disruption-as-Solely-the-Province-of-Neo-Liberal-Discourse and the Education-is-not-broken-at-all poles the discussion seems to be falling into these days (and apologies for picking on Martin, I’m just too tired to dig out a better straw man example of the latter argument.) Because I think there is a third (and fourth and fifth and…) possibility here, that
But that doesn’t fit well on a t-shirt. Plus even those who think it maybe sounds like a good idea in theory don’t think it’s actually possible any longer, if it ever was, so we might as well shut up and enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Anyways, I’m not going to write that post. I (hope I) WILL keep working in “education” and “learning” in ways that embody the changes I think we need to bring about, which likely mean lots of beans and rice in my future, cause its a future where we stop living on borrowed time. But I’m growing weary of trying to convince anyone else. This talk was meant to simply offer some small examples of ways we can implement technology that both harness the liberating power of the network but also make small steps towards changing how universities relate to what’s outside their walls. These changes in and of themselves are insufficient. But they start to position institutions differently, in a way I think will serve them well in the battles to come (if they happen at all; I’m not so naive to think these aren’t rearguard battles, and despite a disdain for the language of warfare, make no mistakes, there are sides to choose.)
Anyways, the slides are below and the full text of the speech of the talk is available here (sorry, no recording.)
And I can’t help leaving you with this clip from Animal House, which comes to mind every time I hear another person downplay the enormity of the challenges facing us
I don't often use this blog for personal reasons, but two colleagues are leaving the OU, and for various reasons I can't make either of their leaving dos. So, to assuage my guilt, and also to publicly acknowledge and thank them, I'm blogging it. I'm sure it's better than a fountain pen as a leaving present.
The first colleague is Ross MacKenzie. Ross works in what is called Learning and Teaching Solutions. They do all the content creation stuff from editing to DVDs to running the VLE. In fact, it was Ross who succeeded me as VLE Director - I'd come up with a solution based on an open architecture, which Ross very sensibly translated as a decision to go with Moodle. This single decision did an awful lot for open source (many other universities took it as a cue that it was okay to adopt Moodle), and also for the Open University it was important to embrace open source. Part of the story of the OU over the last 15 years has been to engage with changing definitions of what it means to be 'open'. And the VLE was a big part of this.
Ross is unusual for a technical chap in that he is helpful and likes to say yes. Arguably this makes him unqualified for the changing world of educational IT (I'm joking IT friends! Sort of). He is also a very good photographer, and plans to do more in this line. He has been going for nearly 3000 days continuously over on Blip, check out his photos there and on his blog (he likes to travel to cold, inhospitable places).
The second colleague is Tony Walton. Tony has worked in the strategy office and alongside various PVCs. For a few years I worked on a number of projects which Tony was charged with leading. I used to joke that a coffee with Tony was a dangerous event since you'd end up on a strategic project. When I list the projects I worked on, mainly because of Tony, you'll appreciate the impact he's had on the OU as well as on my career: Getting the initial Hewlett funding for OpenLearn; developing a new Broadcast Strategy that moved away from TV and led to the founding of our Open Media Unit; the VLE which saw us move to a centralised elearning system; SocialLearn which was the OU's first engagement with social media (and a forerunner to FutureLearn in many ways).
As with Ross, these projects have all helped the OU engage with what it means to be open in 21st century. Like Ross, Tony does not have typical administrator traits, I won't stereotype (again) but he's helpful, unflappable, unassuming and enthusiastic about his tasks.
Tony and Ross, it's been great working with you - enjoy your retirements (or in Ross's case, new career), the OU will miss you (wipes tear from eye). Here's a retirement card for you both to share:
David Kernohan likes to joke that he has a disruption klaxon that sounds whenever that over-used term is deployed. It must have sounded like a nuclear attack warning when reading this educause piece (which he pointed me at, and which Pat Lockley gives the perfect, hilarious response to). Now, I'll confess, I've used the D word in the past. I liked Christensen's first book, it was well researched and well argued. But like so many concepts it has been misapplied to the point where it is meaningless.
If you are about to employ a consultant, particularly in education, I will offer you this money-saving advice for free: don't look at one that uses the word 'disruption' (or, even worse, describes themselves as a 'disruptor').
Disruptors are not concerned about your specific problem, they only have blanket solutions. They don't worry about making something useful, only about sounding revolutionary. Disruption is about ego. You see disruption appeals to people because it's revolutionary, elite, new, sexy. Just being useful or practical looks all dowdy besides glamorous disruption.
So, everything has to be disruptive, a game-changer, a revolution, an all-encompassing tsunami of change. It can't just be useful in a particular context. That educause piece judges OERs a failure precisely because they are not disruptive. That tells you more about the author than it does about OERs - in their world only disruption matters. Take the OER based TESSA project. Useful? Undoutedly. Disruptive? Probably not. So, who cares about it, right? We should aim higher than getting well paid speaking gigs for middle-aged men with goatees who skateboard to work.
Any educational technology advance in the past 15 years will have been claimed to be disruptive by someone: elearning, learning objects, VLEs, OERs, games, MOOCs. The thing is all of these are very useful for particular problems. But if they ain't disruptive they're no good.
So this is my motto from now on: don't be disruptive, be useful.
Last thought - whenever I hear disruption, it is not David's klaxon that plays in my head, but Mitchell and Webb's NumberWang, except it is now "DisruptionWang". Try it, you'll find it makes as much sense.
UPDATE: DisruptionWang is sweeping the nation. You can now get the t-shirt (courtesy of David Kernohan)
No, not MOOCs. Badges.
Ok, now that you’ve stopped laughing (I admit, even I have a hard time not dismissively thinking of the sleeves of my Cub Scout shirt when I hear the term) let me explain why badges, as they mature beyond where they are currently, have the potential to disrupt formal education in a way that none of the technology innovations we’ve seen in the last couple of decades have.
Over those two decades, essentially the duration of my working life so far, every time I have tried to explain the magnitude of the disruptions (and the amount of potentials) that the network presents to formal education institutions (especially post secondary ones) the trump card interlocuters ALWAYS bring out to minimize the potential threat is “Accreditation.” Regardless of how many people are learning with each other, for free, in communities online, or the skyrocketing costs of formal ed, or how poorly the 4 year residential model serves an increasingly unconventional student body, or how the educational practices in many higher ed classrooms have barely moved out of the 19th Century, when met with the prospect that the value of a University degree is under threat and that their “market” will get as disrupted as the newspaper business, or travel agencies, etc., the response is simply “yeah, but we’re the only one who can issue degrees that people trust.” But I believe badges hold the potential to disrupt this.
Again, I’ll give you a second to stop laughing. And I can’t fault you for laughing; even if you can get over the name, the idea that “badges” can compete head to head with “degrees” seems laughable, if badges are seen simply as their equivalent, just smaller, issued to acknowledge informal learning by small groups who could never compete with the brand recognition of the likes of Harvard or, closer to home, UBC, and, importantly, lacking the backing of governments and other trusted “bodies.” Maybe even more laughable for lacking recognition by the people degree/badge holders are trying to convince (mostly employers, but others too).
But I contend that’s because, so far, badges haven’t tackled THE important problem, at scale, in a way that models how the net works – who do we trust and why?What is Accreditation Anyways?
Before looking at how a different execution of badges could seriously disrupt higher ed, it seems important to get clear on what accreditation is in the first place. The explanation below, from Wikipedia, offers a decent starting point:
“Higher education accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of post-secondary educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency.
In most countries in the world, the function of educational accreditation for higher education is conducted by a government organization, such as a ministry of education.” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_accreditation
While it may work slightly different in the US and other jurisdictions, the general model seems to hold true – some body, whether governmental, NGO (and for profit? god I hope not) establishes criteria and processes which a department or program must fulfill, and then vouchsafes their credentials as credible based on this. It’s about how we currently establish trust in the credibility, quality (and ultimately value) of the education that someone (be it the public or, sadly, increasingly the individual student) has paid for. Ideally, this would be individualized – when trying to evaluate a specific individual’s capacities, we wouldn’t look at a proxy for that (which is what a credential is) but instead be able to examine all the examples, to look at the ways in which their capacity was developed and judge for ourselves whether it meets the specific needs we have. But that doesn’t scale, at all, so we invented proxies, first at an institutional level, and as these grew in number, at a jurisdictional and even international level.
But it seems to work. Well, kind of. Mostly. In jurisdictions where accreditation is spread out across a large number of bodies, it can be hard to keep track of them all (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_recognized_higher_education_accreditation_organizations#United_States). This, as well as the sheer number, globally, of accrediting bodies, can let imposters creep in and makes verification difficult. And even with rigour and government backing, there remains the real issue of inter-jurisdictional recognition; just ask our cab-driving Doctor from Pakistan about this. Add to this the fact that, while the accreditation process is by design rigorous and difficult to pass, that also means, by design, it doesn’t expand quickly or accomodate smaller units of learning well; just ask someone who’s tried to start a new program, which seems more relevant if we acknowledge the pace of the growth of knowledge is unlikely to slow down.How could badges disrupt this?
So my take on why badges have seemed underwhelming to date is that they’ve appeared to focus on the signalling mechanism (a way for person A to signal they’ve learned X from organization B, which is in essence what a diploma or degree generally does) without addressing the underlying trust/credibility issue (WHO has issued that certificate and why should they be trusted – e.g. why is a badge from UVic worth more than one from Bob’s Online Badge Emporium.) It had to unfold this way – the obvious place to start is with the basic mechanisms for issuing and displaying a badge. But that does not need to be the sum total of what badges are, and according to Mozilla Roadmap documents on their Open Badge Infrastructure, won’t be.
At root, what we’re dealing with is a question of “who should we trust and why?” As luck would have it, we already have a number of models of how to address this in the digital world that come from the field of Cryptography. Specifically, when it comes to public key encryption, there are two competing models that I believe align well with the current model of accreditation and the emerging model of badges: the centralized trust model of a pubic key infrastructure and the decentralized “web of trust” model.
The centralized trust model (think “Certificate Authorities” [CAs] like Verisign or Thwate) is akin to the current accreditation model, where only a single (or very few) body is entrusted to issue accreditation/certificates and acts as the maintainer and adjudicator of standards. Like the current accreditation model the centralized trust model is at first blush attractive because it consolidates this complex function in a few entities, but it also suffers a number of problems: if a CA is compromised, the security for everyone in the system for which the CA is attesting is similarly lost. Also, like centralized accreditation, it converges knowledge (or ‘validation’) and power into very concentrated hands; we depend on the (increasingly questionable) representative nature of our democracy to ensure that what accreditors accredit is “in the public good” just like we rely on these few Certificate Authorities to verify and enforce throughout their entire chain (it’s not quite as simple as that in both cases, but hopefully a good enough approximation.)
Contrast this with the “web of trust” model, often exemplified by encryption systems like PGP, which is what badges *could* become. In this model, a “decentralized fault-tolerant web of confidence for all public keys” emerges, over time, as each persons’ keys are “digitally signed by other users who, by that act, endorse the association of that public key with the person or entity listed in the certificate.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_of_trust) In layman’s terms, like any network effect, if there are only two of you with keys signing each others’ key, while it is still of _some_ value, the value of the system overall increases as more nodes join and a large, robust network emerges over time.Interlude (in which the author confesses he hadn’t done his homework and, frankly, can at times be a bit of a presumptuous dick)
I have a confession to make: up until recently, I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to badges either. I understood they potentially offered some alternative to existing credentialing models and tried to come to their defense when various colleagues of mine dismissed them out of hand, but I couldn’t see how they could overcome the hurdle of validation/recognition. It wasn’t until I was lying on my couch a few weeks back, alternatively reading wikipedia and napping, that this idea that if badges existed within an ecosystem of issuers, learners and “recognizers” (people to whom you are trying to prove you know something) all of whom could attest to the effectiveness of the learning represented by the badge by “signing” it, that this can scale, in a Peer to Peer way that models how the actual infrastructure of the internet works. Because I hadn’t actually been involved or paying close attention to the actual developments by the Mozilla Badge team (and others, presumably) I had the (absurd? presumptuous? egotistical?) thought “why has no one else talked about this?”
Which of course they have. The folks working on this are very smart. And (luckily for me) I thought to ask on twitter before finishing this piece (and thus coming off even more arrogant than usual) whether anyone was working on a “distributed trust model for badges.” @prawsthorne was the first to offer some helpful links, pointing me to the Mozilla Roadmap documents on their Open Badge Infrastructure, the Badges Infrastructure Tech Docs (cf section on ‘Badge Endorsement’), the Mozilla Open Badges Dev Group and a post on the Super Awesome Badge Summer (cf section “Endorsement, public key infrastructure, federated backpacks”).
All of which were good starting points and indicators that the issue was definitely on the Mozilla Badges team’s radar. But it wasn’t until I started digging in further and also received a few more messages, both from Peter and from leaders of the badge initiative, Carla Cassili and Erin Knight, that I struck gold and read how clearly the vision they have for a distributed validation/trust network aligned with my own couch-bound daydreaming. Instead of trying to replicate any further the arguments, I just urge anyone who is interested in understanding the potential to go read the following two pieces:
If you know the history of public key encryption, you’ll know that while both the centralized Public Key Infrastructure model of Certificate Authorities and the distributed web-of-trust model of PGP still exist, PGP adoption by individual users has been spotty at best, plagued by very real “ease of use” issues (along with a general lack of understanding of the issue), while PKI, for all its flaws, supports pretty much all of the commercial transaction encryption on the net today (read: online shopping etc over https). Given that, why should a validation and endorsement mechanism for badges be any different?
As Erin outlines in the paper linked to above (page 4), there are plenty of good reasons for us to resist implementing a centralized trust model that replicates existing centralized accreditation models, easier though that may be. But even if we chose not to, what will keep a distributed model from failing/help it succeed? Well, a few things, I think:
Even with all of this and a flawless execution, there is nothing to guarantee widespread adoption or that this will become the disruptive force it has the potential to become. Incumbents do not give up their advantages willingly and it is naive to think they will. But…
…implemented in a robust, open way that really does allow a badge to represent learning at various scales (micro-lessons to full programs) and to be attested to, *bi-directionally*, by all the parties involved (learners, issuers, endorsers, “recognizers”) at scales ranging from the individual to the national, an open badge infrastructure opens the field to upstarts who really could disrupt the existing system. Especially upstarts that already “own” users. Think Google. Think Facebook. Think Apple. Right now the accounts you have with them don’t actually have that much to do with your “real” life. But they want them to (why do you think they are so anxious for you to connect your phone number and credit cards with these accounts?) I’m nt hoping for such a future (nor do I think Mozilla is – cf their work on Persona, an “identity system for the web”), but instead of resting on the sanctity of our existing accreditation models, we need to get our heads in the game and realize the size and scale of the stakes we are playing for.How could existing institutions respond to this?
Well, it seems like the current response is “not at all.” And fair enough; everyone is so taxed to cope with the current set of challenges and disruptions that to even contemplate a response to a *hypothetical* disruption that may not even happen seems unfeasible at best. But if you take a step back for a second and look at this in the light of other things we say we’re trying to accomplish in our institutions, be they transforming how and what we teach to transforming our business models, this potential disruption, which I believe speaks to the core of what universities do AS A BUSINESS, may actually offer the opportunity to rethink and re-engineer this in a way that is not only beneficial to learners, instructors and institutions but can help institutions adapt to the internet instead of trying to ignore it or have it conform to models that, while long lasting, were only ever temporary approximations.
And where do you start? Well, you already have a unit that is quite possibly ripe to experiment with this. It’s usually called “Continuing Studies.”
This is why I dispair when I hear CIOs refer to authentication and authorization systems as “just plumbing.” Yeah, I get that it’s just plumbing - IF YOU THINK YOU LIVE IN A WORLD SEPARATE FROM THE INTERNET AS A WHOLE. I’m not suggesting they can singlehandedly solve this issue and this transformation on their own, but as some of the largest “civil society” players that exist, they have the potential to lead on an issue that WILL get decided. Given that the current contenders in the arena of trust & identity are either large commercial entities or central governments who only seem to understand models that place them at the centre validating everyone, if you understand that every time we proxy these relations, every time we “represent” them, we recreate the conditions of our own disempowerment, even if it seems less feasible, do you really want to work for the alternative? </technoutopianrant>
Alright, you can go back to laughing now.