Friday, August 29, 2014

MOOC Completion rates matter?

A while back I came across a post by Martin Weller titled MOOC Completion rates DO matter. Because my Pocket account was overflowing with some great content (including this one), I thought it was high time that I read this article ;-).  In this short post Martin writes that completion rates do matter in MOOCs, taking the opposite view of some cMOOC folks. 

He goes on to tackle the analogy that MOOCs are like newspapers and that people don't necessarily read all sections, or even visit all sections.  As someone who doesn't really read physical newspapers that often any more (I only bought one last summer so I could get the Asterix comic that came with it), the analogy only gets me so far.

I don't know what sort of analogy is valid for MOOC participant behaviors.  After pondering this a bit, I don't think that there is one analogy that will encompass all behaviors.  At the beginning of the MOOC I think the analogy of window shopping is most appropriate for everything leading up to the conclusion of the first (or maybe even the second) week of the course.  I think that there are many people who are curious about the course and join it, regardless of their intents for the course.  Coursera and EdX have gotten a little smarter these past few months and query their users to see what their intents are for the course right at the beginning of the course.  Are they interested in just browsing the content? browsing the content and taking some quizzes? doing the assignments? going full force into the course?  I think this is smart, because at the onset of the course you have idea of what the participants in the course are intending to do (assuming that they are truthful in their answers).

This only goes so far, however.  Back in the days of Change11 I had pondered about having a nag-system (for lack of a better term) that would keep track of user logons in the system, and track their patterns of participation.  If they weren't active the system would send them a reminder email about the course, and see if they would like to unenroll, so there would be a perpetual Opt-In function for people who are not active. I think at this point I would also augment the system with highlights of upvoted posts and interesting discussions happening so as to entice people to come in and say something (or at least if they don't contribute something, they will be seen by the system as being active). Lurking isn't bad, everyone lurks from time to time, it's not possible to fully engaged all the time, in each course you take.  You do need time to let things steep.  Especially in MOOCs you might have multiple conflicting priorities and need to put the MOOC on the back burner for a few days. That said, the point of the system is to separate those who are passive participants (aka lurkers), from those who are checked out (and not coming back), and from those who are on leave (not active for a week, but intend on coming back).

Then, at the end, it would be useful to have participants self-assess.  Those who took the initial survey should be surveyed again to see if they met their own expectations, or if they did or did not meet their own levels of engagement in the course.  The other points to ponder are theses:
  • Under whose rubric do we measure completion? The course designer certainly has some ideas about what it means to complete a course, however in an open course you don't control for enrollment, so you might have some people who are very under-prepared for the course, and some where the course is too basic for them.
  • Does completion equate with learning?  These two aren't necessarily the same. Going back to the case where the participants already have the knowledge, but don't know it here's something from my own experience:  I was in two courses, one in coursera, and one in edx.  I signed up to learn something new, only to find out at the end of Week 1 that things seemed a bit basic.  I ended up taking the quizzes for these two courses in advance for subsequent weeks (they were available) and I passed with high 90s without viewing any subsequent lectures past week 1.  I completed the courses, but did I learn anything (new)?  The answer is no.
  • Who does completion matter to? I know institutions who subsidize these want to see some ROI, but ultimate, in an open course (where there is no formal grade or credit for that grade), doesn't the participant sit in the drive seat to determine whether they've completed the course or not (to their own satisfaction)?

Do completion rates matter?  I think they do, however in certain specific contexts.  Not all contexts are the same!  What do you think?




comic from: http://completelyseriouscomics.com/comics/2011-01-29-Pondering.jpg

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Group presentations and meeting faculty

Slowly catching up and getting back to normal, although I suspect with the semester beginning next week at work we'll be on a different sort of normal for the next few weeks.  I thought it would be a good idea to continue my blogging debrief of my orientation experience for Athabasca's EdD program that I did last week in Edmonton.

Part of the orientation experience is presenting the first assignment while you're there.  The first assignment for EDDE 801 is a collaborative presentation.  In May we were informed of which team we would be in, and we essentially had from mid-May to mid-August to choose a topic and then negotiate as we saw fit what we would present in the 60 minutes that we were alloted.  Our team had a choice of Andragogy and Multimedia in education - we opted for Andragogy after a little discussion.  We were given some general ideas of what we were expected to present during this collaborative presentation, but it was open ended.  Part of the reason is that we would be coming back to these topics again in subsequent weeks in the course, so if we weren't completely exhaustive in the presentation it was alright. I think that the emphasis of the presentation is more on process than on content.  The content needs to be there, but the process of getting your materials ready, and getting your team ready, and then presenting, is a much more important part of this assignment. That said, I think we did an awesome job with the topic of Andragogy (of course it should be noted that I am biased ;-) )

The overall planning for the presentation was interesting. We had not met each other in person before, so working together asynchronously, and sometimes synchronously, to get this done reminded me a lot of the collaborations that I've had with the MobiMOOC research team.  I think that the experience of working with others in a distributed fashion to produce something new was really instrumental in preparing me for this first assignment.

The other part of the orientation was to really get to know the faculty of the program. Some were there with us, while a few were remote.  I have to say that the most confusing aspect in this set of presentations over the 3 days where we were learning more about the processes involved in being an EdD student was what to call people. Do you go with Pat, or Dr. Fahy? Terry or Dr. Anderson? (and so on). When in doubt, I guess the more formal is the default form of address, but when you've read their work over the years (and had your own graduate students read it), and you've interacted with them over the web (as is the case with George Siemens) you get a sense that you know them a bit more than one would know them in a typical orientation setting.  That said, while the presentations that they all had were interesting, we did have a handful of the faculty with us for longer than their presentations.  I think more in-depth conversations could were had when they weren't presenting than when they had their powerpoints up on the screen.

While I was talking to Marti (Dr. Cleveland-Innes) I started drifting toward the course I teach (INSDSG 684) and this process I use and model for the students...and I blanked.  What was the name of the people who proposed this process?  I could describe it perfectly fine, but the names escaped me.  Well, that was embarrassing.  Back at the hotel room I was thinking hard and it came to me Con...rad....and....Do...Dona...Donaldson (Phases of Engagement). Things come to you at very odd times.  The orientation was a bit of cognitive overload, so I am not beating myself up too much about this, but you don't want to look like an idiot in front of one of the people who wrote about the Community of Inquiry framework ;-)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Of Cohorts and Residential Requirements

Back in Boston!  I was off to Edmonton last week for my doctoral program orientation at Athabasca University. The orientation is a formal part of the first course (EDDE 801) and it is a requirement.  Not attending the orientation means not being the program.  Those who know me on campus know that I am not a fan of cohorts, and I don't like residential requirements, so it might seem illogical to apply to a program that requires both.  Well, what can I say? I thought I would try something new for a change and go outside of my comfort zone and see what it's like (who knows, maybe I'll re-assess my stance on cohorts and residential requirements).

The incoming cohort each year (this year we are cohort 7) is made up of 12 members.  We actually had 13 members to start off with, but one of us was wooed to go an join the DBA program at Athabasca, so he is gone from our cohort, but I consider him an honorary member. Apparently the optimal size of a cohort is 20-30 students (from one of the team presentations), so our cohort seems to be the minimum acceptable cohort size. So long as we all stick together we'll be fine.  I don't quite know how I feel about the cohort model yet, however  having only 11 more people in our cohort makes it easier to remember faces and names, and get to chat with others to a point where you get to know them and they can be your support network.  Most of my Master's level coursework had around 20 students, and while we started with several classes together (and had an opportunity to get to know one another), the people I remember the most are people I worked in teams with, so fewer people for me means more opportunities for mixing up the teams, and therefore getting to know people better.  Apparently, this year, Athabasca accepted one-third of the qualified candidates into the EdD program.  I guess we could have had an optimal cohort size, but smaller seems better to me at this point in time.

As far as residential requirements go, I am a bit torn about this one (at this point in time).  I am exhausted from the trip. Getting there (and finally resting) was a 24 hour day for me (luckily I had a day to recuperate). Getting back was an 18 hour day.  It's odd, but getting from Boston to Edmonton is not an easy feat! I ended up with 5+ hour layovers in Dallas (which wasn't a bad airport actually). From a travel perspective the residential requirement was a drag.  That said, while I didn't get to hang-out with everyone for the same amount of time, I think I did get a good sense of who everyone is, where they are coming from, and what their goals are.  I think that having those shared in-person experiences, both in the classroom, and outside, are quite important. Edmonton was also pretty nice, so we had a choice about which places to go to each afternoon once the classroom component was complete.  I have revisited my thoughts on residency: I think that a residency can be a good thing, but it needs to be planned and designed right.  A residency requirement that is completely flexible as to when you do it is almost useless because you don't have an opportunity to form bonds with your cohort early enough that it makes a difference in your studies.  I also think that what you do, in the residential component, is important.  If it can be done online (and better) why do it in person?

Things to ponder.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Should faculty be 12-month employees?

I guess today I will be taking off my "Instructional Designer" cap, and putting on my "Higher Education Administration" cap. My career in higher education goes back to the days of me being a  work-study student, working for the department of Media Services, providing all those nice A/V equipment that professors use as part of their course.  Since then I've had a variety of jobs with an ever increasing responsibility load.  Despite the change of departments, change in job descriptions and duties, I always remained outside of an academic department (you know, the ones that have professors and teach courses).  I was always in some support role, and usually one that involved technology.  I have always been a 12-month employee, not an academic-calendar employee (9-month, September to May) like the TT† faculty. If you had asked me back then if I would want to take the entire summer off, I'd probably tell you that you were nuts. Even if we factored in the lower pay, the summer is when business gets done!  You speak to vendors, you try out new products, you upgrade your current bits-n-bobs for new trinkets that will support the teaching and administrative function of the university.  In short, the summer is when you can experiment and not impact a lot of users as you are tweaking your services.  I guess the analog would be that we are the elves working tirelessly to prepare for Christmas.

Then I moved to an academic department, which I really love.  There is only one thing I was not prepared for:  I wasn't really sure what the impact would be of faculty (including the department chair) being 9-month employees.  Faculty are the life-blood of a department, they aren't just warm bodies who teach courses.  They are subject experts who bring their wealth of knowledge, curiosity, and energy to the department.  They are the driver (or supposed to be anyway) of new innovative offerings, of new partnerships, and of course, mentoring the next generation of (insert profession) scholars and practitioners. However, they aren't around in the summer!  We (the program administrators and secretarial staff) are around, and we get done what is within our sphere of influence, however we can't do all things alone. The faculty are part of our team, and they need to be involved in major decisions, such as partnering with other department, working on ties with other Universities, arranging for symposia and so on.  These are important things that can be done in the summer, but because faculty don't work in the summers (they aren't paid in the summer), this important work doesn't get done.

Now, granted, some of you may say that committee meetings and things like that get done in the academic year, but I would argue that September is hectic as the semester starts and it's probably too much work to throw to faculty.  December is the Holiday break (and for us capstone grading!), January no one's around, and May we're back to vacation and final exam grading modes.  This really leaves five months, out of the year, to be super productive.  Anyone who's worked in management knows that you can't just condense a year's worth of work into 5 months.  Partnerships take time to build, paperwork and legal documents (if needed) also need time, Deans and Provosts need to approve some things which means that they also need their time to consult and go over things.

So, my (potentially naive) question is: should faculty be 12-month employees.  Sure, they can choose to take vacation like the rest of us, but should they be on the hook for the summer months to do committee work, prepare proposals and documentation for program offerings, program improvement, and spend the summer (when they don't teach) some quality time with the non-faculty staff planning out the next moves that will make their programs competitive and reinvigorated?

Your thoughts?


† TT = tenured, or tenure track.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Educational Based Research - Part 1


Well, in a week I will be in Edmonton starting off my EdD in distance education at Athabasca University.  I know that most North American doctoral students probably don't think of their dissertation topic this early (I haven't even completed my first course), but I want to be pro-active and work on the thing while taking courses.  So, Rebecca's post on Educational Design Research (EDR) was quite timely.  This isn't my first go around at a dissertation topic, my current topic has evolved over the past couple of years as I was thinking about what I want to do (and which university is best to pursue this).

My initial idea was to blend my background in Instructional Design and MOOCs to teach a language, specifically designing a MOOC to teach Greek as a foreign language to novices. This actually came out of making a MOOC out of my MEd capstone.  This was circa 2011-2012 after my experiences with MobiMOOC, LAK11, CCK11 and before the xMOOCs invaded the scene.  After some thought about this I decided that Greek would be way to much work for a dissertation. There isn't a lot of material out there and available as free OER, or under creative commons, for me to use in designing this course.  If I were to not only design and implement the MOOC, but also a lot of the kickstart materials for it, I might be stuck in dissertation purgatory. So that was scrapped.

Then, I read about the Polytechnic University of Milan switching the language of instruction to English, and I thought that  this would be a good opportunity to refocus the project on native speakers of Italian, in Higher Education, improving their English through a MOOC format.  This had the benefits of having an audience that would need the course (so I wouldn't worry about students joining, in theory), it would be focused in terms of  the target learner (thus cutting down on the variables for any post-dissertation analyses I wanted to conduct and write about), and it gave me an opportunity to brush up on my Italian.  This was when I was thinking about applying to the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens. As we know, I ended up not applying there because there were strikes which prevented me from getting my materials in (and also getting my degrees from the US translated, which required me to go to Greece).  This idea is on the back burner, but I would love to explore it in the future.  I downloaded a lot of CALL and SLA articles during this time frame as an initial literature review which I would love to read and put to use.

Finally, after getting accepted at Athabasca, I thought about who's currently there, what their expertise is, and then further refining what might be a dissertation topic.  It should be stated that my goal with my dissertation is not to do something earth-shattering and wow people with any potential brilliance I might have. The point of the dissertation, for me anyway, is to receive apprenticeship into research, to hone my skills, and to then be certified (by getting my dissertation approved) that I know what I am doing without the training wheels on.  In pursuit of this goal I decided to take the course that I currently teach, INSDSG 684: The Design and Instruction of Online Learning, and make that into a MOOC. This isn't going to be new or novice.  If you look at OLDSMOOC, Learning to Teach Online (UNSW/Coursera) and Teaching Online: Reflections and Practice (Kirkwood CC/Canvas.net) just to name a few (I am sure there are others), you'll see that others are tackling the topic now. But, as I said, I am not interested in novelty, and any research that comes out of those courses will most likely be on the data analysis side (at least for xMOOCs).

So, to address the questions that Rebecca posted on her blog post about this latest incarnation of my topic:

What is your research question? Is it is a ‘design question’?
The thing I wish to tackle with this dissertation is the "conversion" process (even though conversion is not really the right term for this) of a campus course to a MOOC.  This MOOC would need to address the needs of a traditionally online student population paying for the opportunity to learn and be evaluated for 3 graduate credits; as well as a population of professionals out there who need skills, but they are pursuing it more as professional development and don't need (or want to pay) for graduate credits. While I would love to analyze data collected from this experiment in other ways, the dissertation will focus strictly on the ADDIE aspects of the course.

Do enough academics at your institution appreciate ‘design’ as research?
It's hard to say at this point. I have read faculty profiles a couple of time already, but it's hard to really know people until you've talked to them, one way or another.  My instinct tells me that there are enough people at Athabasca University who are interested in design, and considering that this is a "professional"† doctorate, I would think that design research would be interesting to someone.

How will you defend your study to researchers who don’t see ‘design’ as research?
I guess I will cross that bridge when I get to it, but my main take-away point is that all research is designed.  There is a certain know-how and skill required in order to even setup a research design, so design research is really (in a sense) further up-stream.  Furthermore, there is a real need to go back to the established literature of learning (and online learning specifically), design MOOC interventions based on this literature, evaluate and iterate. Otherwise, further downstream it your wonderful data analytics just digital clutter with nothing previous informing it.

How will you differentiate research from practice?
This is also another false dichotomy, in my opinion. You can't separate research from practice in the field of education. I see this with students in courses I've taught (or MEd students I've chatted with outside of the course).  Many of them seem to come into the program wanting concrete answers, absolutes, processes and procedures to be awesome designers, but they don't like research articles that are really focused, or provide caveats and exceptions, and articles that state that "more research is required." They don't seem to get that in order to be good practitioners they need to engage with the research in some fashion and do it continuously. Even the research folks in education can't operate in a vacuum. They need see what's happening in the field so that they can ponder, problematize, hypothesize and test. It's all cyclical, to try to break this into to distinct and separate items is a big issue.


† for what it's worth I dislike the term "professional" doctorate. It sounds like an insult to both those who have worked hard to attain it, and to those who have PhDs, because it makes PhDs sound like they are not professionals. I wonder who came up with this.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Openness means to me

With coursera MOOCs kind of slow this time of year, I decided to try out a MOOC on the subject of "Open" on P2PU. After my first P2PU course, #rhizo14, I thought I would flex the mental muscle a bit and get some P2PU experience.  The topic of this week asks us to ponder what Openness means to us as individual participants.  To be honest I haven't really sat down to write up what I think of Openess.  I've certainly discussed the topic with colleagues and friends over beer or coffee, but it's been on specific topics, like MOOCs.  Many in the xMOOC arena consider "open" to mean "free".  The previous post I wrote should have you convinced, to some degree, that Open isn't free. There is some cost associated with it whether or not you get it gratis.

That said, for me Open is about a philosophy.  It may mean a number of things:

1. free-of-cost:  In some instances, such as all those free MOOCs that you can sign up for (even this one!) you can get something for nothing.  It doesn't mean that there wasn't some cost associated with it, such as labor-hours, or server space and bandwidth, but to you as the end-user, or consumer, it's available at no cost. As an aside, I was download Ubuntu the other day, and right before the download link appeared it asked you if you wanted to donate to the project.  If I ever built and offered a MOOC I was thinking of having a tip-jar link to see if people would contribute, and what they would contribute for (similar to Ubuntu's site indicating what you'd like to support)

2. Open Access: When I think of Open, I often tend to think of Open Access, and Creative Commons. These would be academic articles, professional publications images and media that I can use for free for a variety of tasks (depending of course on the compatibility of the license). The reason that CC and Open Access is important is that our academic output costs us time and effort, however someone else (journals and book publishers) are profiting for it by selling our work back to our institutions. I don't want to open up a whole can of worms here by starting a "down with journals" debate, but I am a firm believer that my work, which I am not compensated for, should be free so that people can read it and let me know if they found it useful, or if there are flaws in my work, so I can improve my work. Sure, these things go through peer review, but you usually only get one or two people to peer review your work. Open Access means that the whole world can peer review your work and make it better. 

3. Looking under the hood: One of the things I do each semester (at least when I teach) is to post my syllabus under Creative Commons to Scribd. I do this for a couple of reasons.  First, the students have access to it before the semester starts so they can mentally prepare for the course if they need to.  Secondly I am hoping that other educators will look at the modules I've designed (or modified if I based it off someone else's work) and take whatever is of use to them as professionals.  I do the same thing. When I come across syllabi on the internet that are similar to the course I teach, I look at what they do, I look at their sources, and if I find something that escaped my radar, but it's useful and it's in someone else's syllabus, I use it in my course.  By contributing my syllabus out there, openly, I am part of this ecosystem that drives toward perpetual improvement

4. Open Data: Now, this is something that I don't think of very often when I think of Open because I am not in the physical sciences.  That said, this past spring I  co-authored a paper for a special issue of a journal. This paper was a typology of MOOC issues (or rough spots) that need further investigation and thought.  This was a meta-analysis of published MOOC literature, but not just academic literature, but also professional and blogs from people who have established themselves as influential MOOCers (like Siemens and Downes for example).  The academic articles came from open access journals and materials that were available on the open web via Google Scholar.  The reason for this methodology was quite simple: this is open data, and if someone wants to verify our work they can do it.  We didn't bother explaining this, so at least one reviewer was wondering why we didn't go with journals like the British Journal of Educational Technology.  While I, and my colleague, has access to this, it's "open" only to a select group of individuals, so it's not really open in the traditional sense. Our article was not accepted, and we did get some wonderful feedback which we will use to improve our article, but at the end of the day, I don't think our methodology of using Open Data will change.

5. Finally, Open to me is a conundrum! I've been trying to get a couple of books out on the subject of MOOCs.  I, as editor, emailed a number of people who would have fantastic things to say about specific subjects on MOOCs and invited them to contribute a chapter.  Some said yes, some said that they only publish Open Access so they would not be able to contribute to a closed access traditional book.  I think that following your belief in open is great, especially when you're well established and can have your pick of where you publish, but as someone new to the game, what does one do? It seems that at the very beginning you may need to publish in closed access, to get the gravitas in the field, to be able to only publish open access in the future.  Furthermore, finding publishers to do open access book is like searching for a life in the cosmos ;-) They exist somewhere, but pretty hard to catch. So, my tactic at the moment is to give up on books, and focus strictly on OA journals.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The cost of Open

This past week on the #rhizo14 facebook group my colleague, and co-author, Rebecca Hogue posted a link to this TED talk by Shai Reshef on the Ultra-Low Cost University. This talk really bugged me for a variety of reasons. On the facebook group I wrote that I was angry when I saw this, but it was really more of a "WTF" reaction to the video.  More disbelief that the incredible amount of BS†, and the attempt to place a reality distortion field around this product.

With a new cMOOC on the horizon for next week titled "Why Open," I thought this would be a good chance to elaborate more on why I had such a visceral reaction to this video. As a side note, if you are interested in the whole Open thing, check out Stanford's Open Online Course starting this fall semester online. The topic is interesting, but after #whyopen, Wiley's #ioe12, and being steeped in this culture for the past decade, I don't know what a 13-week course (traditional semester) has to offer me personally (well that, and I am starting my EdD...so no time at hand even if I wanted to).

Anyway, back to this TED talk. I guess the main point is that People's University, which is an accredited degree granting institution, you can attend university online, for "only" $1000 per year. How is such a marvel done?  Through the use of Open Educational Resources on the web of course! This is a "new model of higher education" which will expand the capabilities of people who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to pursue higher education. The prompt of this presentation is to focus on parts of the world and see people chasing higher education.  I would argue that they are chasing education and knowledge, not necessarily higher education, but I'll get to that later.

So we're shown some tug-at-the-heart stories, an African, a Middle-Eastern, and a lower income US case.  People with a dream to pursue higher education. These people had very good grades in high school, but life intervened and they could not attend college, or didn't have the money, or they are victims of a male-dominated society where women aren't allows to enter a "man's realm" like higher education. Now, only a callous idiot wouldn't feel something at this point. A yell for equality, a hurrah  for pursuing and achieving one's dreams, a "let's set the world right!" attitude should be the normal human response, and that's what the presenter is going for! He is presenting selected case of people to illicit an emotional response and put aside any potential arguments or roadblocks on his idea. Despite my belief that education should be available to all, this presentation and his arguments have holes in them.

My first issue is this: "Going to college" seen as an end in-and-of-itself.  The people showcased at the beginning of this presentation have the dream of higher education, but do they?  Is it the sheep skin (diploma) that matters? Or is it what it signifies?  For instance, my father never went to college. He finished some technical school and got into the workforce early.  However, he is a voracious reader. Over the last 30 years of my life he's read diverse topics including literature, philosophy, legal texts, biology, physics and history. He likes to read, to ponder, and to debate with others. Sometimes he can get under your skin, but the spark for knowledge is there. Would college make sense for him?  Probably not. He has established his career, and he has the skills necessary to be a life-long learner. Getting a diploma isn't something that is necessary for him, but what is important is the end-result: knowledge, both mind-expanding and action-oriented knowledge.  Do these use cases want knowledge for everyday (and not-so-everyday) life? Or do they want the diploma and the bragging rights of having finished college? The presentation seems to indicate that they want the latter, whereas the important bit is the former.

My second issue with this video is the infomercial nature of the presentation. Words such as "disruption" and "power of the internet" just seamlessly flow into this uncritical discourse with statements such as "disrupt the current higher education system and open the gates for all qualified students" and  "we didn't need to reinvent the wheel, we just looked at what was not working and used the amazing power of the internet to get around it." This just makes me think of higher education like it's a shamwow, and Shai Reshef is Vince Offer in this scenario. Words like these are like intellectual fast food.  You may bite into them and get a rush, but they leave you wanting more since there is little substance behind them.

My third issue here revolves around the cost, and the inappropriate comparisons between on-campus and online education. On-campus universities have costs which online ones do not, or so Shai says, so there is no cost to pass on to the students. I guess what Shai is referring to here are physical plant costs like offices, classroom, and buildings; with their associated costs of internet connection, heat, water, cleaning, and human staffing!  I guess you don't need that online...but oh, wait... you do!  You need people who are working for an institution who make sure students are progressing through their studies and receiving proper advising and mentorship, you do need qualified teaching personnel to teach and mentor, you need proctors to proctor exams, you need these people to be connected to the web so that they can undertake all these tasks, and you need them to be housed somewhere to make this happen.  On top of this you need access to reliable, easy-to-use, online platforms, be they PLNs or LMSs, or synchronous conferencing tools.  These things cost money, real money!  How do we get past this?

My fourth issue:  This statement bothers me because it reminds me of silly thinking of the early aughts when online degree programs were coming online: "there are no limits in seats for virtual universities." Perhaps we can cram them all in, as we see with MOOCs it's easy to just hit an enroll button for the course. The technology is here to support us, I don't disagree with that.  However we still need humans to act as trainers, facilitators, mentors, and evaluators of student work.  Those people still cost money, and as established in point #3, that costs money!

My fifth issue revolves around the area of free textbooks and OER. Because OER is available, students do not need to buy textbooks, hence saving a pretty penny! Shai does acknoledge that this is possible due to the generosity of professors who've made their materials available in OER format,  I think the point is really brushed over. It's not just OER that's free though, "even professors, the most expensive line item on the balance sheet of any University comes free to [the University of the People] students."  While I don't doubt that there are many out there who volunteer their time to create OER, Open Textbooks, edit open access journals, and heck even be a mentor, this is only possible because someone else is paying for their salary!  OER seems to often be a happy by-product of someone else's paid work, and people who volunteer do so because they have time available to them.  Time made available from employer flexible employment policies and because their employer is paying them a wage that can (supposedly) sustain these individuals.  I can speculate, with a degree of certainty, that those adjuncts who teach five or more courses per semester to make ends meet don't volunteer for any such endeavors. Their basic needs, according to Maslow, are being met, so that they can now focus on those higher needs like self-actualization though volunteerism.  In essence, and in my opinion, the UoPpl is leeching off the current system that it aims to disrupt!

My sixth issue: P2P learning as a way to reduce professor time.  I think peer2peer learning, peer review and group learning are really valuable, don't get me wrong.  But they are not a substitute for a trained subject expert who will give you valuable insight.  Furthermore, the acceptance into this program means that you are already a self-starter in a sense.  You have some level of metacognitive awareness, motivation, and drive, to help you get started with your educational endeavors. Not every learner entering college, for better or worse, is at the level where they are metacognitively aware, self-starter learners, who will succeed.  Students need mentoring, guidance, and practice at reaching this level, and P2P learning may not be sufficient.  This is why universities have writing centers and tutoring centers, to help learners stand on their own two feet.  This project assumes that people are already there, and that assumption is a fallacy.

Finally, the gates are open for qualified students with an internet connection, for $1000/year. This makes major assumptions. First that students are self-starters (see point #6) and that students have the literacy skills necessary since the UoPpl doesn't use audio or video; that students have a reliable internet connection (there are still parts of the world that do not); that education costs money (in many countries college is free), and that people can spare $1000/year.  In the US, who knows, this is possible.  In other countries, this might as well be thousands of dollars because they can't afford even that!

Having watched this a second time, I really feel like I watched an educational shamwow commercial. A (non-profit) company using free labor to educate the world, and trying to disrupt a system which it cannot disrupt because it needs it for the free labor and resources that it provides it. Long story short: No matter how people try to make "Open" = "Free", open is by no means free!

Your thoughts?



 † the "other" BS, not Bachelor of Science

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Academic publishing...ummm...yeah...

This past week I was able to attend Campus Technology and AAEEBL 2014 in Boston. I count myself lucky that I have two conferences every year that are pretty close to me (the other one being NERCOMP) that allows me to go and see some interesting presentations, engage with colleagues, and talk to vendors (and let's not forget the cool vendor swag ;-) ). This year, unfortunately, I didn't get an opportunity for post-conference beers, dinner, and discussion as I had last year with some pretty interesting people from both the US and Canada. Oh well, next year maybe :) Even though these things are local I don't submit session proposals. I feel more comfortable on the audience end (where I can report and comment on via twitter) than the presenter end.

That said, I did want to comment on one session that I went to that has really made me rethink book publishing.  The session was titled "Are MOOCs the equivalent of college courses" (you can check out the recording of the session here). I thought that this was a catchy title so I decided to attend.  My immediate question was "what do you mean by college course?"  There are 100, 200, 300, 400 level courses (corresponding to introductory, lower-intermediate, high-intermediate, and advanced) undergraduate college courses, there are 500 level courses in some places (lower-graduate), 600 level (Master level), and 700 or 800 level courses (doctoral). While I understand that college courses, for some, might mean just undergraduate, even within that spectrum there is variation.

The session was lead by Jonathan Haber from Degree of Freedom and this presentation was based on his One Year MOOC BA experiment. I had originally heard of this project, but, to be honest, it fell off the grid for me. I think trying to do a one year BA (MOOC or not) is a bit of a flawed process. This approach seems more like how much can one cram in one year and pass with decent enough grades to get a diploma rather than actual learning.  I think a speedrun through a BA might be more realist if you actually took two and a half years to complete the coursework rather than one year.  A BA at my institution is around 120 credits which boils down to around 40 courses. Jonathan (at least according to accredible) completed 33 in one year's span.

The number of courses aside, the thing that really struck me was that he simply stuck with xMOOC providers for all content.  I didn't see any cMOOCs on his list, despite the fact that there is a listing of upcoming cMOOCs available on the web.  I think that it's fairly easy to speed run through a few xMOOCs if you are judicious about taking courses where you can engage in discussion in the forums only as you need to. and concentrate on just passing the quizzes and peer reviewed assignments. I think that if you really  sink your teeth into a cMOOC, and really participate, you won't be able to participate in more than 2 cMOOCs in any given time period, have a job, a family life, and really engage in the cMOOC (as if it were a college course). In this sense I think that the experiment had some flaws.

Anyway, as the presentation progresses and we get some more context Jonathan, the presenter, informs us that he has a book coming out on MOOCs later on this year through MIT press.  Here I am getting my spidey-sense tingling a bit, but I hold off judgement until I read the description for the book.  I had seen the book on Amazon last May while I was looking for any new books on MOOCs that I could evaluate and maybe learn something that I don't know about from my own treks in MOOCland.  The description from MIT press's website about this book is as follows:

In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber offers an account of MOOCs that avoids both hype and doomsaying. Instead, he provides an engaging, straightforward explanation of a rare phenomenon: an education innovation that captures the imagination of the public while moving at the speed of an Internet startup.

Haber explains the origins of MOOCs, what they consist of, the controversies surrounding them, and their possible future role in education. He proposes a new definition of MOOCs based on the culture of experimentation from which they emerged, and adds a student perspective—missing in most MOOC discussion. Haber’s unique Degree of Freedom experiment, during which he attempted to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts degree in one year using only MOOCs and other forms of free education, informs his discussion.

Haber urges us to avoid the fallacy of thinking that because MOOCs cannot solve all educational challenges they are not worth pursuing, and he helps us understand what MOOCs—despite their limitations—still offer the world. His book is required reading for anyone trying to sort out the competing claims, aspirations, and accusations that color the MOOC debate. 

This got me thinking about the currency of books, and how academia values the academic monograph more than anything else. The book is not out yet, and I do have a curiosity to read it, but I doubt that I will get a balanced sense of what MOOCs are, even at the 30,000 foot view.  Looking at Jonathan's Accredible profile (where he has documented his learning) I see a big proportion of Coursera courses. There are some Udemy courses (not a MOOC provider in my mind), some from Udacity, a handful of TheGreatCourses content (which aren't free) and iTunes. There is only one NovoEd course and one Canvas Network course. 

No offerings from Coursesites MOOCs, janux, Peer2PeerU, or cMOOCs as I've written above, or from providers that are outside of North America, like Open2Study, FutureLearn and iversity. There are more of them if you happen to speak other languages like FUN-MOOC, MiriadaX, edraak, rwaq, OpenHPI, polimi, IonisX, MRU, gacco, UPVx, and OpenLearning. To be honest, I too was surprised at the variety of MOOC providers that exist globally at this point.

My point here is that the lens through which this experiment was carried out was really narrow, and I don't know how balances a book about MOOCs can be when it comes through such a lens. Going through the Degree of Freedom blog, I see that Jonathan interviewed quite a few people over the year, and luckily one of them was Stephen Downes. With the exception of this interview, and a couple of blog posts about cMOOCs and xMOOCs, the entire process blog is all about xMOOCs.  I think that beyond Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and Dave Cormier (the first to MOOC I guess), there are others out there that are worthwhile speaking to about this topic including (but not limited to) David Wiley, Martin Weller, the people behind OLDS MOOC, the people behind GamesMOOC, and Alec Couros.

Now, I understand that Jonathan may not have found MOOCs with appropriate content to take as part of his MOOC BA experiment. I know that colleges are very specific about how many and what types of General Education courses students need to take in order to graduate; so the content of cMOOCs, at the time the cMOOC was offered, may not have been appropriate for his path, but at the very least I would expect some investigation of this other side.

So, back to the heart of the matter here: academic publishing.  I expected an academic press to produce something that would be a little more researched, and from what I see from the Degree of Freedom blog, it's a good start, but it's not necessarily book-worthy.  I guess my sense of what goes into a book might be inflated; but then again this leads me to ask the question: In today's world what IS the difference between publishing a book and publishing a well written, academic, blog in your discipline?  What does it mean for tenure and promotion?  While I am not at the tenure (or promotion) stage of my career (and who knows if I will ever be), I am wondering if I should strive to publish a book (or books) or if I should support projects like Open Access Journals, communities like Hybrid Pedagogy, and continue to work on my own blog?  I prefer the latter since it's more open than a book, and I get to openly discuss with others about what I write.  How does one quantify this in an annual faculty review though? I take it a book, like Jonathan's, might give me more currency in the academic department, but would it be time well spent?

Any tenure track or tenured professors out there? Your thoughts?