An Essential Read for Online Education Decision Makers: “Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education”

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By Gary Miller, Meg Benke , Bruce Chaloux, Lawrence C. Ragan, Raymond Schroeder, Wayne Smutz & Karen Swan

“Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education” published in 2014 by Stylus Publishing in association with The Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan Consortium) is the first book in a planned series about distance education.

Overview The book is current and relevant; “Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education: Meeting the Challenges of Technology and Distance Education” is an invaluable if not essential resource for leaders and decision makers in online education, though anyone involved with the development or implementation of an online learning strategy for a higher education or K-12 institution will find it an excellent resource. The themes are familiar—e-learning effectiveness and quality, support for faculty success, student success and retention, and the impact of online learning programs has on an institution’s traditional programs. What sets this book apart and makes it exceptionally valuable is the diversity of perspectives from the authors—seven leaders in distance education representing five higher education institutions and the Online Learning Consortium.

The book aims to guide and support leaders as they make decisions about online learning including how to overcome barriers and implement change. The purpose of the text is to provide readers with new perspectives on online program implementation and skill development for approaching education transformation proactively. 

Each author brings experience and a perspective to the topic of online learning that gives readers insight into a variety of models and organizational structures for setting up their own online education programs. Organizational structure and culture, influence on traditional institutions are discussed at length, as are standards of quality for online education including the framework for the Five Pillars of quality online education.

Highlights The book is divided into sections categorized by three principal themes: Part One: “Leading Change: Making the Match Between Leadership and Institutional Culture”, Part Two: “Ensuring Operational Excellence” and Part Three: “Sustaining Innovation”. Each features three or four chapters dedicated to a topic that addresses current and real challenges institutions face as they seek to adapt and transform within the constraints of institutional culture, policies and administrative issues. Each offers instructive insights and practical alternatives for consideration. Below I’ve included highlights of one chapter from each section.

In Part One, Chapter Two:The Impact of Organizational Contextoutlines in detail five very different programs of online education in higher education institutions. The five examined: 1) The Pennsylvania University World Campus, 2) University of Illinois at Springfield, 3) Empire State College, 4) Rio Salado College and 5) the American Public University System.  The leaders’ views are examined within each of the programs’ institutions on the leadership challenges, culture shifts, attitudes of faculty and impact of business models. The leaders’ responses in comparison with each other is instructive and enlightening.

In Part Two, Chapter Six: “Supporting Faculty Success” suggests that the skills and competencies required by faculty are contextualized to the culture, practices and administrative structure of the online initiative of the institution. I agree with the authors— culture and administrative structure pose a significant barrier in many instances. There is gap between what is needed and what most institution  provide in the way of support and skill development for faculty and instructors teaching online. This issue, the chapter emphasizes, is central to effective online education delivered by an institution.

The challenge for the institutions is to understand and address the needs of the online instructor and create appropriate programs and support services and policies that help develop the competencies necessary for online teaching success (p. 109)

In Part Three, Chapter Ten: “Policy Leadership in e-learning” discusses the multiple challenges e-learning growth has had on policy at the federal, state and institutional level. Policy remains a barrier and threat to the growth and success of e-learning the authors’ state, and they outline five policy issues that pose real barriers to online education now, that have emerged within the past ten years. The five identified and discussed are: 1) tuition, 2) transfer credit, 3) state and campus budgeting and allocation, 4) federal and state financial aid, and 5) student support services.

Closing No doubt, one can see the value this book holds for leaders of e-learning education.  What’s also helpful to the reader is the organization of the book, which makes it  unnecessary to read it from beginning to end; readers can choose to read chapters of interest and relevance. Though I suggest that all chapters are relevant to anyone involved in online education programming.

Resources:

Need-to-Know News: #MassiveTeaching Mess, University of Texas Online Courses, Pearson’s SOOCs

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.  This post was updated on July 22, 2014 to reflect clarification on the type of online courses offered by The University of Texas at Austin.

1) Massive Teaching Mess
Much has already been written about the most bizarre MOOC on Coursera to date, “Teaching Goes Massive: New Skills Required” (#massiveTeaching) developed by University of Zurich’s professor Paul-Oliver Dehaye. The MOOC has been labeled as a pedagogical experiment (though some say also a psychological), and the professor called  a “lunatic”, “brilliant” and/or “stupid” (via student comments within the course forum).

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“Teaching Goes Massive” (screen shot) on Cousera. Course content is no longer accessible, even to previously enrolled students  (most courses provide access to content after course is complete)

I was an enrolled student and found the course odd from day one. First, there were no course goals or focus questions provided whatsoever indicating what direction the course would take. After numerous student comments, Dehaye posted his version of course goals:

Learning Goals
– Pedagogical
– Technical
– Legal
– Business
– Societal

Brief to say the least. In fairness to Dehaye, he did state from the beginning that the entire course was an experiment, and that several experiments would be taking place within the course, “The other experiment which has been running from the start is the “Structure the Discussion Area” experiment…” and “A third experiment, which is only just starting, was initiated by courageous course participant _____ here” (excerpt from course-generated email from Dehaye on Day 2). What happened next was the catalyst for the publicity of the course, Dehaye removed all of the course content from the course site. It disappeared, no videos, announcements, no links—nothing. Then there were strange Twitter messages posted by Dehaye, and finally a of day or so later Coursera removed Dehaye from the course sending this message to enrolled students:

“We understand that the course included experimental components designed by the professor that have resulted in some course interruptions,” the statement read. “We are working with the university to make arrangements so that the course can continue to its conclusion in an appropriate manner.” Coursera

Takeaway: I agree with what appears to be the consensus, Dehaye did not do much to further constructive discussion about MOOCs, privacy or pedagogy in higher education. Though George Siemens generated quite a bit of discussion by congratulating Dehaye in his blog post. However, it was unclear what kind of statement or message Dehaye was trying to send. It had potential to be effective, but was lost.

2) University of Texas at Austin Online Courses – Correction

An earlier version of this post misrepresented the course offerings of University of Texas at Austin by suggesting the course “Topics in Globalization” would be available for credit via the edX platform.  The school is not offering college credit via its MOOC courses on edX, but is offering courses for credit on their online platform via UT Austin’s University Extension program.  Several courses are available on this platform that are for credit, that include American Government, Psychology Live and US Foreign Policy. For a full list of courses click here.

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Screen shot of University of Texas at Austin’s web page featuring information on the offerings of its online courses. Visit  online-education.la.utexas.edu

3) Pearson’s SOOCs
When reading the article on Pearson’s blog, “Will SOOCs eat MOOCs for breakfast?”, I started with a good chuckle given the cartoon featured in the opening. After reading the full post though, I wasn’t sure if the entire article was a continuation of the joke, or if it were serious. But apparently Pearson is serious. The idea of SOOCs, the article suggests, evolved during the this year’s EdTech Summit in Europe.

An evolution on the idea of MOOCs is the “selectively open online course” (or SOOC) – simply, a MOOC with an entrance requirement designed to reduce the “unwanted diversity.” This could be proven competency (e.g., pass an entrance quiz), a credential (e.g., have a degree), or membership (e.g., be in the university’s alumni network). The theory is that a more uniform student body will lead to improved peer-to-peer collaboration and higher learner outcomes.

It goes on….

Higher quality is also likely to increase learners’ willingness to pay for an online course, which in turn will increase a university’s willingness to invest in better professors, facilities, and/or pedagogy. The Harvard Business School, long a stalwart of pedagogical innovation, has taken bold steps to build its own SOOC…

Takeaway: This article (sadly) highlights the misconceptions and lack of awareness that still exists about online learning and higher education. Never mind that closed, online courses have been offered at public and private higher education institutions for well over ten years, and that the mere name SOOC, contradicts the concept of ‘open‘. Sigh.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: Move over edX — Make Room for Unizin, University of the Future, & Tech Lessons from Teens

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

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1. Big Changes for Universities with Unizin
Launched this week, Unizin is BIG news in higher ed. Unizin is a membership-based consortium for universities that provides its members with a digital, cloud-based platform and IT services specific to higher education institutions. It moves the discussion far beyond MOOCs; and though MOOCs have sparked discussion in higher ed, they’ve not moved the direction for the traditional model of higher education very far. Yet Unizin may be the platform to bring about the positive effects of technology applied to higher education institutions that MOOCs have yet to do. The platform includes a Learning Management System (Canvas), has capabilities for learning analytics, and facilitates the sharing of resources and content between universities and faculty. For member institutions, each will have control over their own content, and have access to the tools and services to support digital learning for residential, flipped classroom, online courses/degrees, badged experiences for Alumni, or even MOOCs.

Insights: Why it’s a BIG deal. Unizin is a proactive approach to the pressures facing higher education institutions. It not only puts universities in control, but provides a vehicle for individual institutions to achieve economies of scale, by joining forces and sharing cost burdens for licenses, services for infrastructure, and leveraging input and even content and knowledge between institutions. After reading the in-depth analysis of the Unizin deal over on e-literate by Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein, I can see great amount of strategic planning, thought and expertise behind the consortium, which I won’t go into detail here, but encourage interested readers to refer to.  What I will say is that one of the founders of Unizin, Brad Wheeler, CIO for Indiana University, sees the opportunity and need for a robust digital infrastructure platform for higher education institutions of which they are in control of. He outlines a viable strategy that aims to keep institutions relevant, while preserving its values by describing four different models in the paper, Speeding Up on Curves. It’s well worth the read.

Finding Path to Scale  — take advantage of the economics to get there, (don’t go because it’s fun), strategies have focused on independence, recently dependence, but to get there, it’s interdependence that is the path to scale.  Brad Wheeler: The Path to Scale, Vimeo

2.  University of the Future? What the Students Say
Laureate International Universities, commissioned Zogby Analytics to survey students at higher education institutions within the Laureate’s network around the world, about their attitudes and visions of the university of the future. The questions focused on course design, scheduling, job preparation, placement, internships and more.  The results are surprising. The survey included 20,800 students from 37 institutions in 21 countries, making it one of the largest international survey of student attitudes.

Highlights:

  • Students see flexibility. More than 52% of the respondents believe that courses will be offered at all times of the day or night, and 44% believe that courses will be offered without fixed schedules to accommodate students who work or prefer learning at non-traditional times.
  • Collaborative learning. More than 54% of students predict that courses will be primarily collaborations between students with an emphasis on group projects. Additionally, 43% believe that students will be able to access personalized instruction or tutoring online.
  • Focus on Jobs. 61% of students believe that courses will be designed by industry experts, and 64% predict courses will be offered in multiple languages. More than 70% think career-oriented skills (not just subject matter) will be emphasized.

Insights: When considering the strategic goals of Unizin, and Brad Wheeler’s paper Speeding Up on Curves in conjunction with the visions of the university of the future, you can see a match. This as a positive sign for Unizin given it’s focus on building on infrastructure to support the models for educating students that bends the traditional one, and goes beyond the MOOC.

3. Ditch the Email: How to Use Tech Like a Teenager
The Wall Street Journal published a great article this week about tech and how we (adults) use it. Did you know that only 6% of teens exchange email daily, according to the Pew Research Center? And that many of the new apps out there do a far better job at managing clear and efficient communication? Apparently true. There’s Facebook messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp and Kik.

Also, teens are far more privacy savvy than we give them credit for—over 58% of teen social-media users say they cloak their messages, according to Pew.  Parents (adults), it seems, don’t know it all after all.

That’s it for now. You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

What Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’ Tells Us About Education Technology in 2014

imgresThe Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989) published posthumously, is one of Marshall McLuhan’s best works. It’s quite remarkable how this book published over twenty years ago, provides the reader with a contemplative perspective on the role of technology in 2014. While reading, I found myself thinking about educational technology quite differently—thinking more about the effects, nuances, and implications technology has beyond education. Effects on relationships, learning (and teaching) in the context of our culture and long-term implications for society in general. The book is about far more than education, it delves into technology and its influence on communication patterns, family structures, and entertainment. The book prompts reflection and forward thinking at the same time.

McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher and educator of communication theory, and considered a public intellectual of his time. His work on media theory is still studied today. The Global Village was a culmination of his years of work on media, a collaborative effort between McLuhan and long-time friend and colleague Bruce Powers. It summarizes McLuhan’s lifelong exploration and analysis of media, culture and man’s relationship with technology.

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McLuhan designed the tetrad as a pedagogical tool to of examine the effects on society of any technology/medium by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously.

McLuhan and Powers introduce a framework for analyzing media via a tetrad. A tetrad is any set of four things; McLuhan uses the tetrad as a pedagogical tool for examining an artifact or concept (not necessarily a communication medium) through a metaphoric lens, which according to McLuhan translates to “two grounds and two figures in dynamic and analogical relationship to each other”. You can see how the idea can stretch one’s cognitive processes. The framework began to make more sense to me when reviewing the tetradic glossary at the end of the book which examines twenty or more ideas and artifacts through the tetrad framework, including periodic tables, a clock, cable television, and the telephone.  McLuhan designed four questions to explore a medium under analysis using the tetrad framework:

  1. What does the medium enhance?
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Wouldn’t it be challenging in a media and communications class, or even in an education theory class to have students apply the tetrad structure to current technological tools and applications? How might the iPhone be viewed? Or Twitter? Though provoking to say the least.

The more I read of McLuhan’s work, and about McLuhan himself, the more I believe this man was a genius. He predicts not only events, but how media tools and advancements in technology affect society as a whole—that no one could have imagined or even considered in the 70’s and 80’s. Yet McLuhan could almost see into the future, see how our society is shaped and influenced good and bad by technology.

Worthwhile [short] Clips to Watch on McLuhan’s Views on Technology

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‘Technology is not just a happenstance…’ video clip via marshallmcluhanspeaks.com

Further Reading:

Three Bold and Fresh Ideas for Education in ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’

“The function of the What’s-Worth-Knowing Questions Curriculum is to put two ideas into clear focus. The first is that the art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge…The second idea is that question asking…has to deal with problems that are perceived as useful and realistic to the learner.” Teaching As a Subversive Activity (p 81)

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by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, first published in 1969

“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” puts forth ideas about education that are radical, controversial, bold and fresh. It suggests eliminating syllabi, formal curriculum and textbooks from education settings. It introduces ideas of student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching, and leading students to learn by asking questions, not by teachers giving lectures. The book was first published in 1969—considered radical among educators then, and today.

Hands down it’s on of the most challenging, thoughtful, practical books I’ve read about transforming education. I read it on the heels of “A New Culture of Learning” the book by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas published in 2009 (my review here). The books complement each other well; Brown and Thomas write about learning in a digital age though don’t provide specific strategies. Postman and Weingartner do. The principles in “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” are applicable and relevant today just as they were forty-five years ago—how to change education where students learn how to think, to detect ‘crap’, and to learn how-to-learn that continues beyond high school and higher education.

In this post I highlight and share with readers three themes from the book, still relevant in today’s digital culture: 1) facilitating ‘crap detection’, 2) What’s-Worth-Knowing? and 3) bold proposals. There are more than these three within the book’s 218 pages, and I plan to address at least two in future posts. One readers may find interesting is the authors’ perspective on teacher education—the methods associated with teaching content. Postman and Weingartner suggest that content and method, are considered separate processes in teacher education programs, which is according to them, the wrong approach. This idea is compelling. Look for this post in the weeks to come.

Overview
To provide some context for the book, I found it helpful to dig more into the background of Neil Postman, one of the co-authors. He’s an American educator, author, critic of media and culture. Postman is known mostly because of his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985), a book about the corrosive effects of television on culture and politics. He’s written several books on education, technology and children’s development.

Postman’s style of writing is blunt. The subtitle of “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”, ‘A no-holds barred assault on outdated teaching methods—with dramatic and practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today’s world‘ gives the reader a glimpse into not only the content, but the authors’ tone. I adapted to the writing style; I tried to view the remarks about education not as criticisms but as a perspective. Though some readers of the book have dismissed the ideas because of the harsh criticisms of education practices, sometimes teachers (one can read the book reviewers comments on Amazon to get an idea). Saturday Review Magazine captures the implications of the authors’ tone and the books content in its review of the book featured on the back cover:

 “It will take courage to read this book…but those who are asking honest questions—what’s wrong with the worlds in which we live, how do we build communication bridges across the Generation Gap, what do they want from us? These people will squirm in the discovery that the answers are really within themselves”

The Three Themes

1) Cultivate learners to be experts at “Crap Detecting”
Crap detecting may sound harsh. Though what the authors suggest is that “schools serve as the principal medium for developing in youth attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism“, where schools cultivate students that are discerning, can view problems from multiple perspectives, identify what’s valid and not, and most importantly why it is so.

Is this not an essential skill for all youth in a digital age, determining what information is ‘crap’—information that is not valid or worthy of examination, yet determine what is relevant, deserves consideration, sharing and building upon (remixing)? I’d say so. The authors use a quote from an interview with Ernest Hemingway to emphasize their point:

Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify [to be a great writer]?” Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.”

It seems to us that in his response, Hemingway identified an essential survival strategy and the essential function of the school’s in today’s world.  page 3

I can’t add much more to that—relevant in 1969, and in 2014.

2) The Inquiry Method — What’s Worth Knowing?
In “A New Culture of Learning”, the concept of inquiry based learning is the fulcrum of learning in the digital age. The premise is that only when students are interested in following a path of inquiry, based on something they are passionate about, will they be motivated to learn. It’s up to educators then to harness the passion and leverage the abundance of resources to guide their learning.

This idea of inquiry learning is not new. In fact Postman may have been one of the first educators to fully develop and implement the method in a public school setting. Postman started, along with another educator, a model school dedicated to the inquiry method. The program named the “Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study” was located within the New Rochelle High School in New York. The “open school” experiment survived for 15 years. 

Two chapters discuss the inquiry method and go in great detail; chapter three, and an extension the questioning technique in ‘Whats-Worth-Knowing?‘ described in chapter five. The latter chapter stimulates much thought. Authors challenge the reader to imagine a classroom without syllabi, textbooks, and curricula. Then suggests:

 “…suppose that you decide the entire curriculum consists of questions. There questions would have to be worth seeking answers to not only from your point of view but, more importantly , from the point of view of the students.”

The next challenge—on a blank page that exists within the book (it really does in the hard copy), authors instruct readers to take a pencil and list questions that might be starting questions to use with students. Though authors warn, these are starting questions given that:

“…the ecology of the inquiry environment requires that the students play a central, but not necessarily exclusive role in framing questions that they deem important”

It’s a provocative exercise. I came up with six questions, though after reading the rest of the chapter, I cut it down to four.

3) Bold Proposals
I won’t cover all of the strategies, proposals and ideas presented by the authors for education transformation, given the detail of each, and for the sake of your time. There are many.  But here is where the practicality comes in where “A New Culture of Learning” left off. As I said in my previous post, “A New Culture of Learning” didn’t provide practical solutions, or ideas for application for the new ways to learn. This book does. Some seem preposterous, some not. But perhaps it is time for preposterous ideas, though one’s perspective will determine just how preposterous the ideas are. In future posts I’ll discuss ideas put forth in the book for educating teachers and about pedagogy. In another I will share a summary of the authors’ ideas for inner city schools, classroom learning and teacher roles.

Conclusion
“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” is on the top of my list of best books for educators. If read in conjunction with “A New Culture of Learning”, one can gain an in-depth view of what education transformation really is, or what it could be, and what’s needed—which is dialogue and action that is bold and fresh.

Further Reading:

A Not-so-New Recipe for “A New Culture of Learning”

book3dA New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change“, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown has stellar reviews from numerous reviewers including high-profile academics such as Cathy Davidson of Duke (CUNY in the near future), Howard Gardner of Harvard, and Henry Jenkins of USC. Though the content might be considered provocative by educators, few of the themes are startlingly new or groundbreaking. Though there is great potential in this book—as a catalyst for conversation about change in an education culture for instance, or as a window into learning in a digital age. Granted, given it’s publication date many ideas were new in 2011, including the concept of collective learning which describes MOOCs to a tee (pg. 72). Noted, the book was published one year prior the New York Time’s declaration of 2012 as The Year of the MOOC.

Brown and Thomas are well-regarded academics and authors—John Seely Brown is co-chairman for the Deloitte Center for the Edge, a visiting scholar at USC, and former director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Douglas Thomas, is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and is considered an expert on the culture of computer gaming.

This is not a how-to book. There are few practical examples describing how education institutions can create a new culture of learning; yet the book is an excellent primer on how and why education and learn is changing. For this reason the book holds great potential as a catalyst for conversation within education institutions. If decision-makers and stakeholders read the book it could serve as a starting point for discussions about existing education methods and approaches. It could stimulate discussion on change and its impact on students, the institution, employees and faculty. The volume lends itself to such use, as the physical book is slim at 118 pages, with wide margins that encourage the writing of notes and ideas. No question, it’s concise. Apparently this was intentional. The authors hired an editor to strip the book down to its essential points and ideas.

What is a New Culture of Learning?
Authors Seely and Brown define throughout the book what a new culture of learning entails:

So what frameworks do we need to make sense of learning in our world of constant change? The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries” (p 19).

The authors describe and elaborate on the themes quite well by using real scenarios; in the instance of information abundance, they provide interesting stories that emphasize the new ways of learning where learners access and vet information within a massive network. Yet there is a disconnect. The stories describe highly motivated learners, learners that seek information and learn on their own terms not within a structured or formal environment (except for one story of a group of University students set up their own study group on Facebook).  Intrinsic motivation is also a pattern observed in xMOOCs participants in 2014, where the majority of learners hold, at the very minimum, an undergraduate degree. These xMOOC students are self-motivated learners, and already know how-to-learn. If one of the ingredients to a new culture of learning is intrinsic motivation, how then can educators develop this intrinsic motivation within their students, and at the same time leverage the massive network (the Internet) for learning?

Learning as Inquiry
The authors do suggest a solution—students learn through inquiry, rather than by instruction. This approach, the authors state, will help learners find a passion for a topic, encouraging them to seek out tough problems and work harder to solve them.

“We propose reversing the order of things. What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their intention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them? (pg 81).

The idea of problem based learning is similar to this approach of learning via inquiry. Start with a question. An example outlined in the book describes a physics teacher using an inquiry approach to teach a physics concept with a student that loves basketball. The teacher might write out a questions such as “What is the best way to shoot a basketball?” (p 82). Yet Brown and Seely don’t get to the details of how this approach translates to the classroom. What happens when all students aren’t interested in basketball or any sport for that matter? How does inquiry based learning look in context of existing curriculum?

Though the idea of learning through inquiry that Seely and Brown present is sound in principle, and there are examples of educators using the inquiry method with students, some at the K-12 level, though fewer at the post-secondary level. Many have suggested this inside out approach to education, which starts with a question not the answer. With inquiry based learning [also known as problem based learning] teachers are learning along with students, students are engaged, and are doing.

“It is crucial to recognize that inquiry-based teaching should not be viewed as a technique or instructional practice or method used to teach a subject. Rather, inquiry starts with teachers as engaged learners and researchers with the foundational belief that the topics they teach are rich, living and generous places for wonder and exploration…Inquiry is not merely ‘having students do projects’ but rather strives to nurture deep, discipline-based way of thinking and doing with students.teachinginquiry.com

Closing Thoughts
“A New Culture of Learning” is about learning in the 21st century, it’s about information abundance, and learning in the collective. It’s also a book about change, a changing culture that influences learning. Perhaps nothing new, nothing we haven’t read or heard before, but the message will be new to some, educators or professionals that haven’t considered how digital culture, the connected network we’ve created influences students, their learning. If you are looking for a conversation starter for educators you interact with, looking to implement and champion change in an education institution, this book is for you.

Further Reading

An Unique Approach to a xMOOC — Learner-Centric Course Design

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Applied Sustainability” Fanshawe College

Not all MOOCs are created equal. I know of one, Applied Sustainability, delivered by a community college in Ontario, Canada that defies what many have come to expect from a Massive Open Online Course offered through a university-sponsored platform such as Coursera, Open2Study or edX. What makes Applied Sustainability offered by Fanshawe College unique?  It’s the learner-centric course design that makes it different, where the focus is on students and their learning. This approach contrasts with an instructor-centric design—an approach which emphasizes content delivered by faculty with a learning strategy that follows accordingly. Though both formats are applicable in given learning situations, few student-centric course designs in xMOOCs exist, which is what motivated me to share a learner-centric design example with readers. It’s a worthy endeavor for educators to explore and consider different approaches to course design for MOOCs, to improve upon what already exists, and bring xMOOCs to the next level.

How Fanshawe’s MOOC is Unique:  Fanshawe’s MOOC takes the form of an educative journey that engages students in the learning process with active, and practical learning assignments that make learning meaningful, relevant and specific to each student.

The interview approach supported the practical focus of the MOOC – as the interviewer was learning along with the student, as opposed to having an expert deliver a presentation.”  MOOCs at Fanshawe

This approach contrasts significantly with the course design model that the majority of MOOCs delivered on university platforms feature.  The pedagogical methods used in xMOOCs  are remarkably similar to the traditional classroom format—course content delivered via the subject matter expert. xMOOCs typically are associated with top-tier higher education institutions, and are led by faculty members, sometimes referred to as ‘super professors‘, or ‘talking heads’, labeled (not so kindly) by MOOC skeptics. The instructors deliver content that mirrors the classroom method quite closely, but without the accessibility and feedback capability that instructors offer. Fanshawe’s format is closer to the original version of MOOCs as its co-creators [Downes and Siemens] introduced in 2008, where the focus was on learning within a network where knowledge is co-created, not from one expert i.e. the super-professor, but from many sources including the learners within the course.

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Image from Presentation Slide featuring student project, posted during Webinar with Contact North, with Wendy Wilson describing the MOOC’s development strategy

“For the students, the most significant benefits they reported on the first offering of this MOOC were the changes they made in their thinking, behaviour, and habits concerning sustainability – for some it was truly life changing.The wide range of students from around the world appreciated the truly applied nature of the course.”

Course Description: Applied Sustainability: The course is designed to emphasize the practical and the personal elements of sustainability, with each of the six modules featuring on-site video interviews in locations and with experts involved with different aspects of sustainability. The themes of the modules focus on: water, waste and wastefulness; homes; streets and neighbourhoods; cities and regions; policies and certifications; and a final section on our community, your community. Applied Sustainability, Desire2Learn

Below is a brief outline the characteristics of Fanshawe’s MOOC that make it unique. For readers interested in learning more, the Pockets of Innovation series on Contact North’s website provides further background and description—Designing and Offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at Fanshawe College.

Characteristics of the Learner-Centric Design

1) Diffusion of subject matter expertise: Rather than one subject-matter expert leading the course, there is an interviewer who travels to visit numerous subject matter experts in the field. The interviewer acts as the ‘host’ of the course, going on exploratory journey along with the students to learn about applied sustainability by conducting interviews with experts in the field.

“Three short videos (8 to 10 minutes) highlight three specific themes through visits to facilities directly related to waste and water such as the Greenway Wastewater Plant and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (pictured below). Staff interviews, facilities tours, and demonstrations of their ongoing work are presented.  The interview approach supported the practical focus of the MOOC – as the interviewer was learning along with the student, as opposed to having an expert deliver a presentation.  Topic-related links are provided to articles, report summaries, videos, TED talks, and other resources.”

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Presentation Slide posted during Webinar with Contact North, featuring Wendy Wilson describing the MOOC’s development strategy

2) Reliance on open resources, with a collection of curated resources. Students accessed content on the course topic (sustainability) primarily from the experts in the field, on the field trips with interviewer, and by exploring list of curated resources provided on the course site. The resources are from a variety of sources, with very few coming from scholarly or peer-reviewed sources.

3) Customization of learning experience. The Fanshawe MOOC provided options for students to customize their learning by offering four options for course participation. The four levels of achievement—Green, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

“… At the Silver level, students take part in weekly discussion on such topics as the use of rain barrels and antibiotics in agriculture.  The Gold level involves completion of a weekly task, such as undertaking a three-day waste audit at home, posting a photo of the accumulated waste, and reflecting on personal consumption and disposal habits. The Platinum level of achievement requires the completion of one project over the length of the course, assisted by a project manager from Fanshawe. The project-options include creating a Green Gaming Journal by using a blog, Tumblr, YouTube, or a podcast to comment on the green elements of a video game with ecological themes, such as SimCity. Another choice involves using QGIS, an open source geographic mapping system, to map a neighbourhood and analyze issues such as park vs residential space usage.”

Conclusion
We can credit MOOCs for generating discussions among educators and stakeholders about technological advancements and education, specifically how technology can be used to improve access, quality and cost. Yet we need to move discussions about online education forward, and one dimension which needs attention is how to create learning experiences for students that are relevant and meaningful. The current format of most xMOOCs are not much different from the traditional instructor-focused model, yet student-centered course design is a viable option very worthy of our time and energy.

Update: After this post went live, two other institutions reached out to share MOOC, learner-center models.  Open2Study, customizes courses for the MOOC format; you can read more from the comment posted. Another, Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning is developing a ‘flex-MOOC’ framework, which appears to have much potential.

Further Reading:

What Will Education Look Like in 2025? What the Experts Have to Say

“Experts predict the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ — less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives for good and ill” 

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Word Cloud from Pew Research Report ‘Digital Life in 20205′

The Web is 25 years old this month. Quite astounding really if one thinks how entwined with and dependent our lives are on the internet.  Pew Research published a weighty report this week in honor of the Web’s anniversary, Digital Life in 2025. The results are thought-provoking, even controversial.  I urge readers to read the full report at some point, though in this post I highlight a host of predictions specific to education, made by numerous experts and scholars. Pew’s report includes thoughts and visions from hundreds of experts, including faculty from some of the best public and private research institutions in the world.

Brief Overview
To appreciate it fully, readers may find the background of the report helpful. The report is the work of Pew Research group and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.  The Digital Life in 2025 looks to the future of the internet, collectively assessing how life might look in 2025 with input from hundreds of experts on how the Web will influence various aspects our lives, including privacy, relationships, education to name just a few. This report is part of a series, its forerunner The Web at 25 in the U.S. looks at the present and past of the internet. A good read that provides context for the future and emphasizes the incredibly swift adoption of an invention that has changed institutions, values and culture.

The Purpose of the Report: To look to the future and identify patterns and themes that may affect aspects of society and everyday life in 2025 by examining a collection of predictions from internet experts and engaged citizens. In this post I focus on predictions specific to education.

Who had input: Pew gathered feedback via a web-survey, collecting 2,558 responses. Respondents fall into three categories, 1) targeted experts identified by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project; experts that have extensive experience with internet research and/or input during its formative years, 2) targeted technology groups gathered from listervs of internet analysts and associations, and 3) the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project that includes individuals who closely follow technology trends and related research. Many of the experts are faculty members at leading public and private higher education institutions within the United States and beyond. Input from non-experts is included to give insight into how everyday people are influenced by the abundance of digital information and constant connectivity.

“Make your prediction about the role of the Internet in people’s lives in 2025 and the impact it will have on social, economic, and political processes. Good and/or bad, what do you expect to be the most significant overall impacts of our uses of the Internet on humanity between now and 2025?”  One of the eight questions from the survey 

The Fifteen Theses: More-Hopeful and Less-Hopeful 
Upon analysis of the responses, Pew identified recurring themes, summarizing each into fifteen theses. Eight are considered ‘more-hopeful’ where experts view the effects of the internet as positive overall, while six are grouped into the ‘concerned’ category, the word used by Pew authors to describe the ‘less-hopeful‘ theses, and one thesis is categorized as neutral. After reading the less-hopeful theses, I might describe the category somewhat differently than ‘concerned’ as Pew does, given thesis #10 for example, “Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others”. Though I can see why Pew wanted to put a more positive spin on the darker predictions given there is a continuum of negative viewpoints.

“These experts expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment. Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.” 15 Theses About the Digital Future, (Anderson & Raine, 2014)

Predictions about Education
Education is mentioned throughout the report.  At the top of most experts lists is the idea of sharing and accessing knowledge within a global community; several experts “expect the evolution of online tools to expand the ways in which a formal education can be delivered, disrupting the status quo.”  Though thesis number eight addresses education specifically. It’s a bold statement that could be viewed positively or negatively depending upon your perspective, though it is categorized in the more-hopeful theses section: “An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

Selection of Comments from Thesis #8:

Adrian Schofield, manager of applied research for the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, wrote, “The Internet will be the core means of creating, analysing, storing, and sharing information in any form that can be digitised… Learning will no longer be dependent on the quality of parents and teachers in person. Scholars and students will have access to the best materials and content available globally.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “I suspect we will start to see some really extraordinary changes in the way people learn over the next decade that will continue beyond that. Especially in higher education, the current institutional structures are at a breaking point. The Internet is both a large part of the problem and a part of the solution…”

All public education will be by master teachers who connect through the Internet to all students across the country — local teachers will become tutors only.” — Anonymous (U.S. based)  

The following comments though included in thesis #8, appear quite concerned, not hopeful at all.

Celia Pearce, an associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, wrote, “… The US education system will continue to decline; as a result, we will continue to see a poor match in labor demands and labor pool, along with a continued growth of economic disparity in this country, as well as outsourcing to tech-related jobs abroad.”

Joan Neslund, an information resources professional, agreed, writing, “Education will totally change with global classrooms. The United States will no longer rule the world; we will have a difficult time keeping our heads above water. Corporate greed has killed us. Students won’t think about the technology behind what they do; they will focus on the methods and collaboration that will happen.

On the other hand some educators don’t believe much will change at all, in fact things will pretty much stay the same.

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “The transformation of the educational sector will prove far, far overblown. Especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look an awful lot like schools in 2013.”

Anonymously, a professor at the University of California…”The educated, capable, innovative populations from which local and national leaders have traditionally been drawn will be less involved with geographically oriented communities and institutions — to the detriment of those communities and institutions…”

What Does This Mean for Educators
Granted Digital Life in 2025 is a set of predictions, guesses really, but educated guesses given the expertise of the respondents. The Pew Internet Research Series holds great value for educators—it demonstrates that change is coming, is inevitable. Though it doesn’t provide a blueprint by any means, it does provide glimpses into what education might look like, could become in a few short years, for better or worse. Will your institution be ready?

Further Reading