Thursday, February 25, 2016

Problems in Academia :-)

It's funny because there is a chunk of truth in this. The comic is of course from PhDComics.com


Food for thought, academia! Food. For. Thought.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Plagiarism is dead? Production of scholarly work, and other academic thoughts

The other day I was reading an article on Hybrid Pedagogy titled Plagiarism is Dead; Long Live the Retweet: Unpacking an Identity Crisis in Digital Content. I was an interesting article, which had me nodding in agreement in some areas, and induced an eyebrow raising expressions of curiosity in other parts.  I thought I would pull out some quotes, as I've done in other readings, and react to them, and in some cases respond.  It's an interesting article, and it's food for thought.  I would say that it also pairs well with the Times Higher Education article that Peer Review is not as old you think.


One of the first things that jumped out to me what the following. It should be noted that any emphasis in these quotes is my own:
It is long since time for academic publishers and tenure and promotion boards to re-examine our “business as usual” in the light of ubiquitous knowledge sources and publication tools. Given a multiplicity of wikipedias, what constitutes credibility and reliability for centers of scholarship and thought? For providers of professional credentials? Who is welcome to contribute to a scholarly field and how should the contribution be evaluated as worthy of consideration by others — and credited when re-used? In what sense are collections of knowledge and archived thoughts relevant to have and to share? Are these collections properly physical, or virtual, or both? Is there any sense in trying to assign “credit” to the shapers of our thoughts, and (as I am interpreting the quotation from Pope in the opening) can/should we separate the source of the idea from the format in which one talented author has chosen to frame it?

This is an interesting thought.  It reminds me a lot of Marshall McLuhan's the medium is the message. It is true that certain media are privileged in our society, and the medium that is most privileged in academia is the peer reviewed research article. Even informed opinions that go through research articles to try to build (or take down/attack) a point through the use of rhetoric aren't seen as as high as the peer reviewed article because they aren't research - they are just your 'opinion' (well, research is also an educated opinion/guess given a certain amount of data - but anyway).  If we take that researched opinion and post on it on blog, like this one, it is seen as even less valuable. After all, it's not peer reviewed before it hits the wires - not that peer review is the end-all-be-all of scholarly publishing.

Even in Wikipedia there needs to be a source for your statements. For example, a while back, I was editing the Wikipedia article for my hometown (a small village) in Greece.  This information was first hand knowledge (having grown up there).  Wikipedians reverted back my edits because I did not cite anything.  Had I put this stuff on my blog and claimed it was collected via oral interviews it would have (most likely) stayed on.  Eventually page on Wikipedia for the village was removed and it redirected to the bigger city (nearby) because the village was too small to have its own local government, so administratively it belonged to the city next door.  The road signs still point to the village name, the post office still needs you to put the village name if post is to be delivered, but wikipedians doesn't see this as a worthy page to stand on its own - regardless of its history. This does bring up the question of what is valued, and valuable to, others, and how different powers work to shape what we know.

It is time to move beyond the gotcha games of traditional citation protocols, admit that each of us can absorb and manipulate only a small portion of what is significant to know and say on any given topic, to stop closing our ears to the voice that does not come bearing a research review chapter. Somehow the “gates” of peer review, the weighting of elite versus popular publication modes and media, and scholarly club memberships must be stripped of their power. We need more diverse books, voices, attitudes, journals, and styles.

This is quite interesting, and perhaps this is where you might want to pause and go read both the THE and the DP articles in total.  I am not on the tenure track, I will most likely never will (at this point it doesn't make economic sense for me, for one thing).  However, I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are on the tenure track, and I've had experience with being in conversations (a fly on the wall, really) when matters of academic hiring, tenure, and promotion are concerned.  Even when someone is hired for an academic post (tenure track), even in departments that are supposedly counter-cultural and resist the pressures of traditional hegemonic practices, people in those departments still utter sentences like "I really like candidate x because they have published a lot of articles in high impact journals y and z".  Just like your university's name (when you complete you BA) is seen as a proxy for your capabilities, so too are journal names and impact factors the same.  It's really sad because what people are looking at are not what you write, but where you published it.  You could be writing the most absurd bulls*t, but if it's in a prestigious journal...well...hey...peer reviewers can't be wrong ;-), whereas you could publish some really golden stuff on your blog or a lower impact journal, and people won't pay as much attention to it.  When did we make that switch from substance to façade?
Academic writers are not permitted naked original thoughts — or even naked obvious thoughts. Instead, peer review demands that they first establish their credibility by a thorough repeat of, and genuflection to, all that has gone before. Introductory paragraphs in social sciences journals have become clots of citations crafted to prove that the writer is familiar with the brilliant work of (with any luck) the anonymous peers who are vetting the submission — or at least his or her former teachers and friends.
On the one hand I agree with this passage, but I still have some troubles with it. On the one hand I think that the literature review is important.  I think that anyone who wants to research something should do their homework first and make sure that people who are reading their work should be assured that this person has done some legwork first.  Here is an example.  If someone wanted to research if there is a difference in learner outcomes between learning x face to face and learning x online.  You know what?  There really isn't a need to do this because it's been done ad nauseum, and there is a name for it: no significant difference. If you proposed this as your dissertation topic (for example) you'd most likely be told to go back to the drawing board with your proposal.

That said, excessive genuflection, as the authors put it, to what's come before also makes it hard to read - especially in APA.  Some articles I've written and many I've read have 2 lines of citations in parenthetical citations.  While can be necessary for some things, it might not be for all cases.  Furthermore, these types of excessive genuflections (with APA formatting at least) make it hard for the layperson to actually read what you wrote.  As someone who's been a student for a very long time I've learned to skip the citation when I am reading for meaning so that I can get the idea.  Most people don't skip the parentheticals because they've been trained that it's important info, so they should attend to it.
One source of difficulty here inheres in the competing purposes of content producer versus content consumer. The producer must establish credibility and prove her knowledge base for a gatekeeping audience while simultaneously communicating a coherent thought. The consumer (presumably) is reading for the thought first, and only secondarily wondering if there are similar thinkers out there and whether they may have slightly different nuances on the same topic. While I am not convinced that hyperlinks can overcome their inherent temptations to distract and derail coherence for online readers, certainly respectful links to the actual work produced by the name in the parenthesis or the note would assist the reader to decide what the op.cit. actually said. And here intellectual property rights and subscription costs emerge. While this issue is litigated, academic print may be digitized, but it will remain constrained, archaic, and increasingly detached from real communicative power.

I don't know if hypertext will solve the issue.  As a matter of fact, the non-permanence of the internet is an issue for scholarly citations in my opinion.  There are many times when I've linked to something on the web (just a link, no further info), and years later that link is dead and the file name tells me nothing of what the file was originally.  I think some standardization of citation information is important in order to ensure that when links go dead that the information can be retrieved elsewhere (if it's still around somewhere).  Sometimes even that isn't possible.  When I was working on my Masters in Applied Linguistics I was looking into examples of data-driven learning.  There were some interesting sites created and hosted on Geocities that I used as examples.  Guess what? Geocities is gone, and the links I used in my papers are no longer available.  People can only go by my descriptions of the learning activities, and they can't try them out themselves.

As a side note, one of the issues I think is an central here is this fetish we have with research and publication as the golden standard for job getting, tenure, and promotion.  There are additional important elements in the job of a faculty member, participation in committees to improve the institution and the professional associations they are members of (these take time and effort!), and mentoring and teaching of students (these take effort as well!).  The production (or over production?) of research is not only causing problems described in the DP article, but it promotes paranoid fear of plagiarism amongst faculty (who have no reason to be that paranoid), and it devalues others aspects of the professional lives of faculty.

Your thoughts?



Monday, February 22, 2016

Will MOOCs replace the LMS?


My apologies, in advance, if I seem rude.  One of my teachers in high school (maybe a few of them, in fact!) said that there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Perhaps this is true in the context of a classroom where if a learner (or group of learners) don't get a concept and they wish to ask a question to disambiguate.  Sometimes the questions we pose also demonstrate our understanding of the basic component that build up our question and hence our question can shine a light on things we've misunderstood and give an opportunity for more knowledgeable others to help us correct misconceptions.

However, this is not the case.  Will MOOCs replace the LMS is a really stupid question. I was reading a post over at YourTrainingEdge that was titled Will MOOCs replace the LMS. I actually came to it thinking that it was a bait-and-switch type of situation because the two aren't comparable. a MOOC is a course (and in the corporate sector I would say that the most likely type of MOOC is the xMOOC), and an LMS is a set of technologies that allow one to build courses, offer them, and track learner progress. An LMS is not a course.

The authors start off (sort of) with explaining that MOOCs and the LMS are not the same, in fact they say "Many trainers confuse LMS with MOOC, which needs to be stopped."  Phew!  Now that takes a load off!  So I continue reading for something enlightening... and I come across this: 

Now let’s see why MOOCs are going to replace LMSs in 2016. MOOCs, in my view, are not only for college students or budding programmers any more. The courses offered from top notch MOOC providers like yourtrainingedge, Coursera, EdX, and Udacity have, until recently, been mainly focused on the academic setting. In addition, all of the main MOOC vendors have developed their classes by means of partnership with renowned and prestigious universities like MIT, UPenn, and Stanford. However, evidences show that academic and students might not be the only user base for the MOOCs.

OK, for me this is a massive facepalm.  Basically what the authors are arguing is that self-paced elearning created by a third party will replace you in-house training. That's perfectly fine.  As a matter of fact it's nothing new!  Companies have been purchasing access to courses on Lynda.com, Microsoft, and SkillSoft for many years now - way before MOOCs came along.  The only narrative that is changing is that of prestige.  The self-paced elearning is, perhaps, not as prestigious because it's developed by your own in-house team, or by some nameless instructional designer at Lynda.  However MOOCs...well...those have the names of big name schools and professors behind them (rolling my eyes).

Listen.  I have no problem with partnering with coursera or universities directly to develop courses specifically for your corporation.  I think it's a fine and dandy idea.  What I really dislike is the repackaging of the old, adding some new luster, and calling it a new and improved product.  Let's be honest about what we're selling and how it differs from what's currently being done.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

EDDE 806 - Post III - Presented by Musical Interlude!

Some nice artwork, no doubt by @merryspaniel :-)
Time just seems to fly by this semester.  I don't know if it's because I am busy, or if (as the old saying goes) time flies when you're having fun!

This past week we skipped the usual introductions and check-ins in 806, affectionately known by some as the therapy portion to the live session.  I actually didn't mind it considering that this is the 3rd session and I've started to recognize some familiar names in the chatbox of Adobe Connect.  Some introductions and check-ins are fine, however sometimes they span 45 minutes and it makes the presentation portion seem longer.  I think the balance point is this:  If you have one presentation then you do check-ins, if you have multiple you skip them.

This past week we had two presentations.  One by Mary McNabb (not sure which cohort), and one by Joanne Buckland (also not sure which cohort).  In addition we had a research interlude presented by cohort 6 members Lisa and Peggy Lynn (The graphics on those slides are awesome... as always Lisa does an awesome job with the visuals!).

The presentation by Mary dealt with her research on the Landing.  The Landing is Athabasca University's social network, which runs on the elgg platform, and - according to Mary - it's a response to the isolation felt by undergraduate students in their unpaced (aka self-paced?) online courses.  For those that don't know, AU's undergraduate programs (as far as I know) are all learner-paced.  The learners sign up for a course, they receive all of their materials, and they work with tutors if they have questions.  This is unlike my own undergraduate experience (and I suspect the experience that learners have in most US schools), so it's quite interesting.  As an undergraduate (and a graduate for that matter) student you sometimes need that support network provided by your fellow learners.  The landing was a space to provide that.

So, with that brief explanation of the landing, Mary's project is to study how useful it is for learners and teachers to be able to 'discuss' about the course and its materials on the landing.  From what I gathered, "discuss" here is used broadly, not just in discussion forums, but really engaging with others in a variety of tools that the landing offers.   To do this Mary triangulated (will triangulate?) her results through the CoI framework (the teaching presence part), the CoP framework, and Booth & Hulten's (2003) Taxonomy of discussion indicators.  I'll have to keep this in mind as I am thinking about my own dissertation - achieving rigor through looking at the intersection of various frameworks.  I've known about CoP, and used it, since I was an MBA student - when I took a course on knowledge management.  Booth & Hulten's framework is new to me, so I'll need to look into that.

The other presentation was Joanne's, who also talked about her own dissertation research.    Her research was (is?) a pilot study on the exploration of first semester medical students' help-seeking strategies using an online learning strategy resource. One of the initial problems that she faced was the NSD phenomenon (no significant difference). She wanted to study how students fared with an online learning strategies as compared to the same course (or workshop?) done face to face (which has been the default up to then).  She couldn't do that because of the NSD. This reminded me a little or Rory McGreal's presentation during 801, when we were up in Edmonton for the orientation. He was really emphatic that when we started to think about dissertation that we shouldn't do anything comparing the effectiveness of an online intervention vs a face to face intervention.  NSD had tackled it already, there were many studies available already, and what they showed was...NSD.  It's too bad that university admins think that there is a significant difference in learning outcomes between different media...

Finally, between presentations there was an interesting interlude presented by cohort 6 members.  They are both participating in a 28-to-make MOOC, which seems similar to DS106.  One of the elements that they presented was being the devil's advocate. Take a position other than your own and try to take down/defeat your position.  This way you are making sure you're not setting up a straw-man argument in your dissertation, and you are potentially getting in the heads of your examines who will (undoubtedly) try to poke holes in your argument to make sure that you are able to defend your dissertation.

I think that something similar to DS106, with a small daily challenge, might be an interesting thing to bring into the EdD program.  Imagine starting something when you're up in Edmonton for your orientation, with small daily challenges, that you can build into a portfolio.  These can be audio, video, text, animation, whatever.  They could include research, art, and elements of 'therapy' into it (the "am I on the right path" type of questions).  Just like DS106 you don't need to complete every single daily challenge, but it would be interesting to complete at least 10 in each course you undertake - and another 10 each summer when you're not taking courses - to keep your head in the game.  Part of this can be an intellectual challenge, and part of it can just be relaxing and experimental.  Either way, you are keeping track of your progression from a new student in the EdD program to (eventually) an EdD graduate.  This can also help (potentially) to bring cohorts together.

What do you think?

Friday, February 19, 2016

No more blatantly openwashing

I am a little behind the times in this breakneck-speed of development in the world of MOOCs, but some things (namely EDDE 804) have priority over the comings and goings of xMOOC providers. Close to a month ago IHE had reported in their quick takes section that coursera will remove the option of free for some of their courses.  Blink, and you may have missed it.  I also don't recall seeing much discussion about it in my usual edTech circles.

My original thought was that coursera was just barring access (period) to some courses if you don't pay, however it seems that the actual process is a little more nuanced.  From the coursera blog:

Starting today, when you enroll in certain courses, you’ll be asked to pay a fee (or apply for Coursera’s financial aid program) if you’d like to submit required graded assignments and earn a Course Certificate. You can also choose to explore the course for free, in which case you’ll have full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments. You’ll see the options for each individual course when you click “enroll” on the course information page; courses that aren’t part of this change will continue to show the options to enroll in the course either with or without a Certificate. Most courses that are part of Specializations will begin offering this new experience this week, and certain other courses will follow later this year.

Now, to anyone who does not know how coursera 'graded' courses work, there is no instructor who grades your assignment.  If payment were required to compensate a human being for their time to grade, and provide feedback, on your assignment it would make sense.  However graded assignments are multiple choice exams - done by computer, and peer-reviewed assignments, done for free by your peers.  To some extent this seems to me like a replication of the peer reviewed journal publication model where a lot of work is done for free by volunteers, and then those same volunteers (or rather their institutions) are asked to subscribe to very costly databases to access those journals articles that were written or reviewed by their members for free.

Coursera, in a sense, if becoming a bit like a temporary-access YouTube for educational videos.  If you want something for free, you can come in and access it when it's available  - or if you're lucky it's "on demand" and hence perpetually accessible...until it isn't - and you can watch videos on (mostly) their schedule, because once the course is over...it's over and you no longer have access to videos.  At least EdX (up to now) still allows you to go back and view your past course videos.  In the past, before the new interface, coursera actually had a little download button for the videos in their courses, and I availed myself of the use of that button to keep some archival copies of those videos.  They've come in handy when I've wanted to view them on my tablet or smartphone and I am offline.  Now that capability is gone.

It seems to me that the trend here is to continue to openwash their products while we uncritically accept them as yet another provider of "open" content.  I do get it.  I have an MBA.  I get the responsibility to turn a profit and returning the initial investment (plus some extra for their faith in you) to the investors that put money into coursera.  However, I think you're going about it wrong, and openwashing isn't a great (or ethical in my book) practice.  If you are more honest about what you are doing and completely shed the "open" adjective then we're cool.  But let me ask you this, from a business perspective, how are you different from self-paced elearning outfits like Lynda.com; and how are you going to avoid the same mistakes as FATHOM?  I am not seeing a plan for you...

Thoughts?

Friday, February 5, 2016

EDDE 806 post II - Of research questions and generalizability

Yesterday evening I attended my second formal EDDE 806 session (formal in the sense that I am doing blog posts for it, as opposed to just attending and being a fly on the wall).  In any case, the session was pretty interesting, and Viviane Vladimirsky, a fellow EdD student, on her work on her dissertation.

Just prior to Viviane's presentation, as we were going around introducing ourselves there were two interesting pieces of information shared (and reinforced).  First, when we're working on our dissertation when in doubt ask our committee members what they want to see addressed.  Asking people outside of your committee will just muddy the waters, because in the end, in order to graduate, you only need to satisfy your committee and no one else.  I think this is sage advice because if you ask 10 scholars to give you feedback they will all come back with different points of view (based on their own backgrounds, epistemologies, and biases).

The other piece of information (wisdom) shared was on the importance of research questions (very specific ones).  I gotta say - I am still not sold!  I get the importance of specific research questions in certain contexts, but this week I've been reading (again) about post-modernism in 804 and I guess I am rebelling a little against the notion that we have to absolutely have concrete research questions in order to research.  As I joked in the discussion forum, can't I just be the "data whisperer"?  Can I come in with the broad question (such as "what does the data tell us?"), and a grounded theory approach, and continue on with my research?  To be continued...

Anyway, Viviane's presentation.  Viviane is doing research in Sao Paulo Brazil.  Her project is based on Design Based Research principles and she is working on creating K-12 teacher professional development to improve teacher training using OER, and encourage the uptake of OER in the professional activities of K-12 teachers.  Do do this, she is looking at it from two theoretical frameworks, the Unified theory of acceptance and use of technology, and the Integrative Learning Design Framework (this looks like an instructional design model to me). She also chose DBR because DBR is pragmatic, grounded, adaptive, iterative, collaborative, and the designs can be modified based on emerging insights.  In a sense DBR reminds me a lot of agile instructional design.

When the limitations of this study were discussed the issue of generalizability came up.  Again, because of my post-modern frame of mind at the moment, I don't think generalizability is an issue.  Sure, you can't necessarily compare to a physicist who runs experiments and can come up with something that is generalizable (for the most part), but is that really an issue?  We, as humans, are complex beings and a lot of different factors go into who we are, and how we act.  Findings from one research may not be generalizable, but those findings, taken with the findings of other studies (in meta- studies) can bring us closer to understanding certain things that many be generalizable.  I know that we have to cover ourselves and state the obvious, that findings are not generalizable, but that seems like a given to me (and not something we should be apologetic about - not that Viviane was apologetic, but I've seen others be).

So that was it for the seminar of February 4, 2016.  Did you attend? What did you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Adjunct’s dilemma – how much do you tell your students?


Among the many streams of things happening these days is keeping tabs on some interesting things happening in my various internet circles.  I've resolved to just dip into my RSS stream and look at things periodically over a couple of days and not be as 'vigilant' as I have been in the past.  Too many things to focus on, not enough time for news.  That said, I came across an interesting post by Rebecca how  How much should you tell your students about the constraints/environment you are operating under when you are teaching? What do you think? Rebecca is teaching a course that I had taught before at UMass, and is teaching the introductory course in instructional design I taught last semester.

This is a really good question.  I've only taught credit-courses at UMass Boston (unless you count my internship last semester in Athabasca's  MEd program) and my own experience I've seen (and heard of) institutions that design everything for the instructor, and there is no leeway, and I've seen institutions that give a lot of leeway to their instructors.  Both extremes are problematic for me because they don't take into account the realities of hiring people to teach your courses.  You are, presumably, hiring experts to teach your courses because they are experts. So, the one extreme of giving them no leeway is problematic because it negates that expertise.  On the other hand, a lot of leeway, which at the extreme is actualized as "Here is the description and the learning objectives, you've got 13 weeks, do whatever you want...ah and class starts tomorrow! See ya!", is also problematic because it doesn't give that expert enough time (or guidance) to design an implement a good course.

That said, I think that it is important, for students in all levels, to know under what constraints the instructors are operating.  How much detail you provide really depends on what you are teaching, and who the learners are.  If, for example, you are teaching a group of History 101 students (college freshmen), I'd expect that you are not going to provide them with a lot of detail about the constraints. The reason for this is that a History 101 course has a diverse group of students, both majors and non-majors, people who are really interested in the topic, and people who need to get it checked-off a list of required courses.  Obviously the more interested the learner in the topic, the more detail they might want on constraints and the general environment.

In my own context, graduate courses in instructional design, people are there because they want to learn about instructional design, so there is a baseline motivation.  Furthermore, I would argue, that for a class taken by instructional designer the environment and the constraints are crucial to know.  We, as seasoned instructional designers and pedagogues, are expected to teach and mentor future instructional designers.  If our students know what that we operate under constraints as well (and not the rosey vision of academia that they've formed in their mind), I think they gain greater appreciation for the process of ID, and (hopefully) it gets them thinking about working through an ID process in a more agile way with the tools, skills, and constraints that they have at hand.

I think regardless of the audience (students in the class), it's important to explain to the students what's been decided on by the department's curriculum committee as a must and what is discretionary on your part as an instructor.  The reason for this is really to raise awareness of what we, as instructors, have and do not have control over.  If students complain about me because I always given them feedback late, and my feedback stinks, then that's on me.  If students complain about me, but the complaint is really about the materials assigned for class (and those materials are assigned, and the instructor does not have the ability to change them) then it's important to let the students know that.

From my own perspective - the case of 619 (aka 684):
The course that Rebecca taught last fall was something I had inherited previously from another instructor.  I considered the first semester of me teaching that course as a stop-gap measure for the department. The instructor that had taught it (and other courses) for a long time (11 years at that time, by my estimates).  I inherited a blackboard course with all the materials, I went through it, but I didn't agree with all elements of the design, and I wanted the course to be updated, but I considered myself a one-semester person (in other words I didn't expect a callback).  I kept the course as it was for that semester to get to see it in action.

In a subsequent semester I was called back to teach the course again - but again in a last-moment fashion, so I didn't have time to hit the library databases to find better readings (or heck - redesign from scratch).  I also didn't feel empowered to change the course in total because  I got the vibe from the department that they were pining for this person to return, and that the course was the pinnacle of good design.  Well, semester after semester I got to teach the same course, so I decided to go with a plug-and-play approach to design.  Change readings and different modules as I went along, instead of a wholesale re-design (my preference).  During this time I had conversations with learners in my class about instructional design, and the realities of both working on something from scratch, and having to work off something created by others, within specific organizational contexts.  My own experience teaching, and tweaking, the course I was teaching seemed like a good real life example for them; and I hope it made them more appreciative of the constraints and environments in which ID takes place!

In retrospect, I think that back then I could have gotten away with doing it my way, but being an adjunct means that you are not in a position of power, so you need to tread lightly. If the department doesn't give you the vibe that they are welcome to change (and how much change!), then it's hard for a newbie to really get invested in such a time consuming process.  New course developments carry a development stipend at my institution (subject to approval), but course re-designs do not usually, and if they do it's much smaller than the original course development stipend. This, too, keeping in mind, that a course isn't an island and that it needs to connect meaningfully with other courses in a curriculum. So being an adjunct means that you generally have only a piece of the overall curriculum puzzle, and if you're only hired to teach a specific course, it's important for that department to tell you explicitly what the connecting pieces are that need to be covered, and what the discretionary pieces are where you can discuss more emergent themes.


Well, that's it for me.  At the end of the day, the answer is "it depends on the audience".

Your thoughts?