Sunday, April 28, 2013

PhD ponderings: Tenure...or not to Tenure

http://harvardpolitics.com/covers/higher-education/tenure-tune-up/
I've been thinking about the concept of tenure these days, and the general concept or career prospects for the next 30 years for me.  I've applied to a PhD program in our College of Management focusing on Organizations and Social Change. One of my old professors, who also gave me a recommendation, asked me what I wanted to do with the PhD.  The interesting thing is that with a PhD, and without a PhD I am content in my current job role in academia.  I think a PhD would give me bragging rights (not that I'd want everyone to call me Doctor so-and-so), but it would also open up some avenues for jobs that are normally not open to those without a PhD, including teaching jobs.

It is no secret that there just aren't that many tenure jobs around, and with the adjunctification of higher education, the situation may become worse. Who knows? Maybe I am pessimistic, but I don't see things getting better at this point.  In any case, if I were to earn a PhD, if I didn't get a tenure track job, it would be fine.  One of the things that often comes up in teaching jobs is the whole tenure thing.  From where I stand, tenure seems limiting to me.  Right now, for example, I have seniority in my job which gives me some protection. If I were to apply elsewhere (or be encourage to apply elsewhere), I would probably lose my seniority, but I could balance that off with a higher paycheck (risk/reward).  When looking at tenure track jobs, not only does it seem like will you be getting a lower paycheck, there is the whole publish or perish thing, which means you have to bust your rear to get certain deliverables out the door just so you can tick that little box off.  I am a big fan of researching when you have the passion to do so, not the industrial model that seems to come with publish or perish.

Let's assume that you don't perish, what's the incentive to continue that intellectual production? In most places it's some sort of merit pay, but in all honesty, it seem that, most merit situations aren't that enticing to continue that intellectual production as it was in the pre-tenure years.  Tenure, I feel, is also like a jail cell.  If you fail to get tenure, you need to somehow mask it when applying to other schools.  If you do get tenure, and you end up leaving, then there is either something wrong with you, or your former institution, in which case people are looking for gossip. Since it's not cool to gossip, you get dinged both for gossiping and not gossiping (don't people have anything better to do?). That said, remember that there just aren't that many tenure jobs out there to begin with!

Compare this to working as a professional in higher education, or even outside higher education.  There is much more mobility in non-tenure positions.  People can come and go as they please (provided they have jobs to come and go to), and it's just accepted that people will be changing jobs more frequently as compared to tenured faculty for a variety of reasons; some work related, and some not. Heck, you may just be bored with what you are doing and looking for a breath of fresh air.  Either way you are moving.  This isn't the case with tenured jobs.

So, in thinking about a potential six or seven year PhD journey, I am starting to wonder.  If I am already in a learning community, and my colleagues (most of them PhDs) are interested in helping me develop and grow; and if I am already continuing my learning journey on my own with their guidance - what does a PhD program give me, other than the bragging rights and an edge over other adjuncts?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the aversion to acronyms

A couple of weeks ago I was online at the Sloan-C conference on Emerging Technologies for Online learning. It seems as though MOOCs were the thing for this conference, and in specific the different varieties of MOOCs.  That said, itseems like many acronyms were floating around both for non-MOOCs, and MOOC-like things such as SPOC, MOLE, BOOC and so on. I've written about the sillyness of acronyms before on this blog, and those following me on twitter probably saw my virtual eye-rolling when I was live-tweeting sessions.

Don't get me wrong, I did like acronyms earlier in life, but mostly as a way to play with language.
Now, in this environment, acronyms seem like a way to get you noticed, or to get you a paper that others may cite in their papers so you can get some research-cred.  Maybe I am a cynic, but I find that acronyms, in these cases, do obfiscate what's happening or trying to happen. For instance, I've written before about SPOC (small private online course).  This is something that's been the "norm" for online courses for the past 15 years, what's new now?  Well, what's new is the opportunity to ride on the coat-tails of the MOOC hype to get you some more citations. Take MOLE then, a Massive Open Learning Environment.  Hmmm... well, this to me sounds like a PLE.

I could go on with crazy acronyms, but I wont. Even if we are talking about real MOOCs, just changing a few parameters does not warrant a new acronym.  The point is that a  MOOC is an archetype.  Just because we decide to run a course in manner X versus manner Y, it is still a MOOC.  We should be more thoughtful of what we throw out there in terms of terms and not try to reinvent the wheel.  This whole acronym gold rush reminds me a lot of something else that happened 10 years ago: the rush to name the next generation (digital natives, gen Y, etc.) - how many of those are still around? ;-)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Language MOOCing

This past week, crazy events in Boston aside, two new MOOCs began: LTMOOC, on Blended Language Teaching, and the Phonetics and Phonology MOOC from the Virtual Linguistics Campus at the University of Marburg.  The Edx course on the Ancient Greek Hero took a hiatus week to allow people to catch up.  I am still sticking to the Ancient Greek Hero course, and I did try to catch up with the scrolls, a secondary reading that's meant to be "fast reading," but apparently I am not fast enough (I seem to be taking my time).  In any case, my strategy for the Edx course is to read the main reading, and participate in the course, and worry about the scrolls later.

As far as the language MOOCs go, I decided to stick only with the Phonetics MOOC.  Blended learning is something that I already know about since I am an instructional designer, and given my applied linguistics background I can put 1 + 1 together; so with limited time and resources I opted to just keep an eye out on the LTMOOC.  It would be interesting to talk to the Instremia guys at some point, but I don't need a MOOC for it. 

The phonetics MOOC, thus far, is pretty interesting.  I've been interested in the topic for a while, and now the opportunity to learn a bit more, in a novel way.  The interesting thing about this MOOC is that it really brings me back to around 2001 when I was taking online workshops through ICIA and getting my CTS certification. The user interface, the teaching style, and the exercises really are a throwback to those old days of self-paced learning. 

Don't get me wrong, I really like the subject (which means I am highly motivated), and as an instructional designer now I get to see this setup with a new pair of eyes, but the learning experience is a solitary one.  There are forums, but they are not really well integrated with the course.  All of the learning modules are available from the start (which is a nice plus!), so learners can proceed at this own pace.  For example, the recommended pacing means that we should be on Module 1, but I am already on Module 3. Who knows, maybe I will complete this MOOC before I leave for vacation :)

More on the MOOC learning experience as the modules progress.

MOOC certification, and a little more on Self-Paced MOOCs...

Last week I got an email from the MOOC guys running the VLC MOOC, and one of the topics was in the email was all about the certification process. In going through this MOOC (really a self-paced eLearning course, but more on that down below), I would like some sort of proof that I went through it (just in case someone asks), but by and large I really don't care for certification for individual courses. What I care about is the knowledge.

Here is what I got from the VLC:

Class Certification and Class End
The class finishes on 31 May. Participants who have shown activity will be sent a certificate. We distinguish the following activities:
- ActivityClass 0: no activity --> no certificate 
- Activity Class 1: worksheet average < 60% --> confirmation of participation 
- Activity Class 2: worksheet average >= 60% --> qualified certificate
The certificates will be sent as E-Mail attachments in electronic form ready for printout.
By the way, for the future (not for this class) we are thinking about a " Activity Class 3” certificate: All those participants who have reached “Activity Class 2” conditions (i.e. 60 or more percent) will be given the option to gain class credits by means of writing an electronic exam. This, however, involves two pre-requisites:
a) Our university which awards the credits has to agree
b) We will have to charge fees (for this MOOC, which involves 4 ECTS/credits approx. 120,- Euros)
As I said, we are thinking about it. What do you think? Again we are looking forward to receiving your opinion in the class-related forum.
If I were a student, with the potential to transfer the credit into my home institution, or some other institution that I was attending, I think 120 euros is actually not a bad price to pay for a graduate level course! It's going to be interesting to see what the plan is for these xMOOCs going forward. If the courses are the same as their "regular" courses, what's going to be the difference between a $1400 course and a $150-200 fee for a MOOC that shows that you've done all your own work, and you've been assessed by subject experts and getting a university to back that up.


As an aside, there seem to be a lot of self-paced (or mostly self-paced) courses these days that seem to be going after the title of MOOC.  It seems as though MOOCness for them is focusing on the wrong aspect of a MOOC, the massive part.  We've already had self-paced eLearning for quite some time in the form of Web-Based Training. I am sure that these were "massive" in the past, given that these types of self-paced eLearning were used for professional or other educational purposes, thus they now only seem to be capitalizing on the MOOC craze in order to shine a spotlight on their programs.  This seems a bit wrong to me.  What do you think?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First edX MOOC - Week 4 thoughts

I was looking over edX for a course that I could take out of interest, but also something that I could use to evaluate the pedagogy employed, as well as the platform (LMS) itself.

I came across the Ancient Greek Hero, and since I never really did any classics in college, and the last time I read the Iliad was in 7th grade when I was in Greece, I thought that this would be a good chance to kill several birds with one stone:
  1. Re-read the Iliad (it's been on my list for a while)
  2. Learn a bit more of my own home culture, through a more mature learner lens
  3. See the pedagogies employed in this course
  4. See how edX works (thus far)
Coursewise, I think that there are definitely quite a few nice ideas implemented in this course. First, there is an actual textbook (or at least something that is one volume of collected readings), and it's completely free. Nagy's The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours (H24H for short) is something you can buy on amazon, but it's also available for free in the course. There is also a translation of ancient works, like the Iliad, that is a supplementary text. These make it so I can read most things offline, like I did when I participated in cMOOCs and used Pocket to read things during my commute.

The videos of the instructor (Nagy) and his dialogic partners are quite intersting to watch, and if you've read the materials (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours ) then it's almost like a mini review. I would really like to have these videos provide additional information to the readings (connected to them, of course), but not really a rehash of the readings.  The videos do have some new information, you mostly get an opportunity to view the videos, or clips, that are mentioned in the book. The videos of people signing lament songs were quite interesting because despite the language barrier (they were in Hungarian) it reminded me a lot of modern Greek song culture with traditional songs that deal with death and lament.  The other nice thing about EdX videos are that they are hosted on YouTube, so you should easily be able to incorporate them into your own class, and you can also download them!  Way to go edX!  I think this is really getting closer to the spirit of the original MOOC.  Not quite a cMOOC, but getting close :)

The assessments still need work, as far as I am concerned.  Initially I wasn't planning on doing the assessments, given that I was quite happy reading, and viewing, however I decided that I couldn't really see what edX was up to if I didn't partake in the assessments.  This course has two assessments: (1) Multiple choice answers to questions about the readings and (2) read a passage and interpret what's going on.  These are  phrased as essays, but they are really multiple choice questions in disguise. In the grand scheme of things, these seem to me like formative assessments meant to help the learner test to see if they know what they think they know.  That said, I think that there might be some badge or something at the end of the course.

I have kept trying out the assessment tools, sometimes going for the right answer, and sometimes purposefully picking the wrong answer (and sometimes going for the right answer, but getting it wrong), this way I can see what sort of feedback the learners get when they get the wrong answer.  I think that the team, thus far, has done a pretty good job with giving feedback to wrong answers.  There is usually a paragraph or so of explanation for why something is right or wrong, and if you got it wrong, it also gives you the right answer with a reason. The system, however, is far from perfect.  The screenshot shows an example of this: I had the right answer, but it was marked wrong, and the explanation points to me having the right answer.  In a regular online course you can override the grade and have the instructor assign points.  In a MOOC, this can be an issue.

If the point of the assessment is to show the learner what they did wrong, in the hope that they will improve, this type of system error causes some confusion.  If they answered correctly, then why was it marked wrong?  If the point of the assessment is some sort of gate-keeper to prevent some learners from getting some sort of badge or certificate of completion, then these errors have the potential to cause a lot of headaches for the edtech support crew, and for the instructor as well.



At the end of the day, it still seems like xMOOC assessment is still multiple choice question based.  I am hopeful that this will change, at least with edX, given my conversations with people who work for MITx and Harvardx who want to see this be an appropriate platform for the humanities.

All that said, I haven't participated in the discussion forums that much.  Maybe in the next few weeks I will do so to see what they are like. Also, I am almost caught up in the course! I am up-to-date on the book (H24H) and all of the course videos.  The only thing I am behind is the actual scroll-reading of the Iliad. This is meant to be a "fast read" but I can't help but treat it as slow read, which is taking much more time to read than the main textbook.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yay! Linguistics MOOCs!

Well, now we're talking! ;-)

I came across two MOOCs that are related to (one of) my subject(s) of study :-)  The first MOOC comes to us from Germany, although it looks like it will be conducted in English, and it's the Phonetics, Phonology and Transcription MOOC from the Virtual Linguistics Campus. I am actually quite psyched about this MOOC for several reasons:
  • Phonetics and Phonology is something I've been wanting to undertake for a while, but haven't had the time;
  • It uses a platform that I have not seen before, so I am curious on the technical end;
  • It comes from a Non-English speaking country (I am interested in academic production in other languages, and how they are represented in MOOCs).

Here is the intro video for the course:




The second MOOC is LTMOOC (language teaching MOOC) which tackles the topic of blended language teaching. This probably won't be new to me (like the phonetics MOOC), but I signed up nevertheless because I am curious about the platform that they will be using, and I want to see what they say about blended language learning.  This (blended language learning) is something I worked on for my Master's Thesis/Capstone a few years back with a project I called greek for travelers. :-)

So, who is enough of a language geek to join me in these MOOCs? :-)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SPOC?...another facepalm moment

OK, it's early in the morning, and I am reading my news, so I am generally going to be crankier, or more prone to have a "get off my lawn attitude," but this is just ridiculous.   The most recent facepalm moment in the world of education comes from somewhere near Cambridge, MA where a local MOOC platform is getting its start. I was reading a story on Inside Higher Education while coming to work this morning about Stanford joining edX.  I think this is pretty awesome because edX is a non-profit, and as such I can see more Openness, and willingness to be open, as part of a non-profit, rather than a venture backed system like Coursera.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think venture-backed systems are bad, I just have a feeling that they just won't be as open.

As I am reading, I come across this new term: Small Private Online Course (SPOC). Huh?  C'est quoi ça?  Well, I had to follow the link to find out! The link wasn't particularly helpful since it just spelled out the acronym and didn't provide a reference.   I honestly think this gold rush to name things needs to end.  SPOC?  Do you mean a traditional online course?  Traditional online courses are Small, and Private (i.e., not open!)  Are SPOCs free?  In such case should they be fSPOCs? or should be they SPOFCs?  It's the same silliness we see with the name "LOOC" (little open online course), which I dislike with the same kind of strength :-)  What is "little" anyway?  I've been saying for a while that "massive" is really just a matter of perspective.  A course that has more pre-requisites and a higher barrier to entry will, be definition, have fewer participants.  A course that is an introductory level course with few, or no, pre-requisites will be open to a more volumous amount of students and therefore will be "more" massive.  I don't think that the Massive in MOOC is absolute, but rather it is relative!

So, please, can we not call invent new names for things that already exist just for the sake of making a name?

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fool's???

HeckI was browsing coursera today and I noticed a course, recommended to me, for underwater basket-weaving.  I was intrigued because I knew it's April 1st, so I am looking out for interesting things on the net (I don't believe anything in my RSS feed today :p).

In any case, I clicked on the course  (see screenshot) and it has all the trappings of a joke


when looking at the institution's page, you get a 403 error:


Heck, even the intro video seems like a hoax:




Someone please confirm that this is a joke :-)