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 

MOOC Development Advice from Instructors that Have ‘Been-There-Done-That’

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“Recommended” istock

I’ve collected several YouTube video clips of faculty and instructors sharing their experiences and giving advice for those developing a MOOC. Readers adapting a face-to-face course to a xMOOC format may find this post helpful. Who better to get advice from than faculty or instructors that have developed at least one MOOC and have-been-there-done-that?

The video clips below are not longer than four minutes a piece; I’ve summarized each and categorized the advice into four categories:  1) Video Production, 2) Pedagogy, 3) Course Design and 4) Instructional Strategy. This should help readers determine which clips are worth watching. The video clips feature instructors that developed one or more MOOCs for one of three platforms, iVersity, Coursera, and Open2Study.  One clip is in German, from a professor teaching a course on the iVersity platform. It focuses on video production techniques specific to a math focused class, and is very worthwhile to watch given the techniques demonstrated.

1. “Reflecting on the MOOC Experience
Categories: Pedagogy, Course Design, Video Production
Platform: Open2Study
Course: “Understanding Common Diseases
Summary: Course instructors surprised to discover some aspects of the MOOC format applicable to their face-to-face courses
Takeaways

  • Required a completely different skill set to teach a MOOC—most challenging: i) teaching in short blocks [condensing the course content], ii) filming lectures—talking to a camera not a live audience
  • Discovered a new teaching method for teaching in their traditional program, by incorporating MOOC format into face-to-face program
  • Instructors spent 5 days filming approximately 40 videos, 6 to 8 minutes each

 

2. “What Makes a Good MOOC with Dr. Charles Severance”
Categories: Pedagogy, Instructional Strategies
Platform: Coursera
Course: Internet History,Technology and Security
Summary: Provides excellent tips for adapting a face-to-face course to the MOOC format
Takeaways:

  • Implement a course design and instruction strategy for the MOOC that is different from one’s face-to-face course, though make it personal—inject humour and personality into course

3. “10 Steps to Developing on Online Course [MOOC]“
Categories: Course Design, Video Production
Platform: Coursera
Course: Think Again: How to Reason and Argue”, Coursera
Summary: Practical steps for creating a low-tech MOOC [with one camera, and small development team]
Takeaways:

  • Break course content down into smaller segments (chunks), plan the course outline (syllabus)
  • Write the scripts for the videos
  • Practice and more practice before recording the lectures

4.  “Making-of MOOC “Algorithmen und Datenstrukturen” von Prof. Dr. Oliver Vornberger”
Category: Video Production
Platform: iVersity
Course: Algorithmen und Datenstrukturen
Summary: Demonstrates various video production techniques for filming mathematical calculations and physical demonstrations
Takeaways: Variety of lecture formats holds interest for students. A video production team can support execution of diverse formats: green screen, whiteboard and demonstrations with white background

5.  “The Making of an Online Course: Ronen Plesser”
Category: Video Production
Platform: Coursera
Course: “Introduction to Astronomy”
Summary: Professor shares how experiments/demonstrations traditionally done in a face-to-face classroom, translate into the MOOC format
Takeaways:

  • A highly skilled video production team helped produce high quality videos
  • Certain demonstrations turned out better in the recording studio than in classroom, and vice versa

Further Reading:

Need-to-Know-News: MOOC Mentors for Hire, Coursera’s MOC$s, Edx Shares MOOC Data and More

The ‘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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Need-to-Know-News

News Snapshot: MOOCs make headlines this week, though MOOCs in-the-news are barely recognizable in comparison to the original Massive Open Online Course offered in 2008 by Downes’ and Siemens’. Accordingly, Coursera will soon need to drop the letter ‘O’ for ‘OPEN’ with its new Specializations program launched this week. Given the price points that range from $250 to $500, Coursera might consider calling the courses in this program MOC$s instead of MOOCs.  Academic Partnerships (AP) also launched a Specializations Credential, though AP’s program has a broader, global scope. Both programs launched within 24 hours of the other’s announcement and not by coincidence; details below.

Another twist on the open concept, you can now pay for a mentor to help you complete a MOOC. Yes for $30 per course you can sign-up for this service and get a MOOC tutor through a company called MOOCs Mentor.  With the paid service customers also have access to the MOOC help line, offering one-on-one assistance 24/7. Also in the MOOC world, Harvard and MITx released a beefy thirty-two page working paper offering summaries of seventeen MOOCs offered on the edX platform. To close this week’s post, I conclude with an overview of a promising new writing and sharing platform I stumbled upon this week, Medium, and a link to a nifty tool.

1) ‘Specialization’ Programs Launch from Academic Partnerships and Coursera
Academic Partnerships launched its Specializations Credential two months ahead of schedule in light of Coursera’s launch of its own Specialization program. Coursera and Academic Partnerships were in talks to potentially collaborate on a program, though Daphne Koller told Inside Higher Ed that for “various reasons the timing wasn’t right” (Straumsheim).

When examining both programs, it’s Academic Partnerships’ program that appears to hold the most potential for its university partners. AP seems to provide the institutions’ with most of the control over the program, and strive to support the institutions efforts to generate revenue from the program through scale. The reach of AP programs is far greater than Coursera’s, given that AP plans to translate the programs in several languages.

“Under development for the past 18 months, Specializations are designed to expand reach and increase revenues for U.S. universities, while filling a void for accessible and affordable higher education globally.” Academic Partnerships, press release

As mentioned, Cousera’s  program costs the student up to $500 per credential, though Academic Partnership has a different pricing strategy. According to email communication with Jacquelyn M. Scharnick, Director of Corporate Communications for AP, the program cost will be unique to each market:

“The cost of Specializations will be indexed to per capita income and local market pricing in each country they serve and, as such, the price will vary from market to market.  Of course, Specializations are designed to help universities achieve scale, so the cost will be competitive.”

"Academic Partnerships country focus for global distribution of Specialization in 2014, includes more than 50 countries internationally based on economic growth, broadband access, college participation rates, and demand for higher education."

“Academic Partnerships country focus for global distribution of Specialization in 2014, includes more than 50 countries internationally based on economic growth, broadband access, college participation rates, and demand for higher education.”

Below is what I see of the core differences between the Specialization programs:

  • Premise: AP is focused on supporting and growing revenue for the University partners, whereas Coursera, a private company is focused on growing revenue for Coursera.
  • Reach: Academic Partnership is committed to global penetration, reaching markets in native languages.
  • Support:  Academic Partnerships has considerable support behind it, given that the Credential is on the agenda at the upcoming conference in March “The Globalization of Higher Education”, which features keynote speakers that include Hillary Clinton, Thomas Friedman and Sir John Daniel.

Insights:  I see MOOCs trending towards a niche of providing vocational education for working professionals, which supports the idea that MOOCs will not replace or even be considered a supplement to undergraduate education any time soon.  Udacity is moving in this direction with its recent partnerships with ed-tech companies. And Alison, another MOOC provider, though often flying under the radar, provides fee certification training in similar areas of specialization. However Alison’s model is different from both Coursera and AP; revenue is generated through advertising on its sites.

2) A MOOC Mentor for Hire
Hard to believe that there is a need for this service from MOOCs Mentor, given that most enrollees of MOOCs are educated, working professionals, however perhaps the company’s founder is on to something, with the recent developments of certificate options and typically very low completion rates.  The company, founded in India in late 2013, has yet to hit the airwaves as far as I can tell. It promotes a toll-free help lines for United Staes and India. Advertised price for a student  I called the number advertised on the website today, which is also the MOOC Helpline number…no answer, or chance to leave a message.

We are a global enterprise with an Indian soul. Established with the aim of facilitating the outreach of higher education among the masses, we saw promise in Massive Open Online Courses as the future of education. Having studied the teaching methodology, we realized that there was a need to incorporate the human touch into the way these courses are taught”.  About Us, moocsmentor.com

Insights:  An enterprising business concept on one hand, yet so counterintuitive to the premise of MOOCs. Yet MOOCs are morphing into an education experience that is quite different as already mentioned, perhaps this concept is a glimpse into the future of education.

3) HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses, Fall 2012-2013
The working paper, a collaboration between HarvardX and MITx provides excellent and insightful summaries of the descriptive statistics of seventeen courses offered between Fall 2012 and Summer 2013 on its registered students and their respective activity levels within the edX platform. The authors provide thoughtful commentary on the potential implications and limitations of the results.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sound interpretation of data from large-scale courses, (MOOCs, is threatened by four common fallacies (pages 5 – 8):
  1. Platforms provide all the data we could wantFALSE. Many variables potentially  interesting to researchers aren’t collected, such as students’ prior knowledge, motivations, etc. Thus putting together a profile of MOOC participants in order to draw conclusive
  2. A small percentage is a small numberFALSE: interpreting the magnitude of numbers is challenging and subject to framing, drawing conclusions based upon an initial frame of reference (i.e. traditonial education)
  3. A course is a course is a courseFALSE. Courses differ dramatically on multiple dimensions. With so many varying factors, not to mention the course topic itself which attracts a wide array of registrants, the metrics of individual courses should not be used to measure one against the other. The comparison is potentially misleading.
  4. Certification indicates learning: FALSE. This one has to be the most insightful of all fallacies. While certificates are easy to count, certificates are a poor proxy for the amount learning going on within a course.  This is a point I’ve mentioned frequently in my blog posts, we cannot use traditional education methods (such as credentialing) as yardstick for MOOCs success. Thankfully the authors do an excellent job of emphasizing this point.

Insights: This report is a worthy read for anyone in higher education, specifically pages one through nine, and thirty-two and thirty-three which hold the most valuable insights.

4) Ed Tech Tools
Medium: Though I just came across this platform, and think it really cool, apparently Medium has been around since 2012; founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.  As per the website:

Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.” Welcome to Medium, medium.com/about

Any stories I might have missed, please share on my Twitter feed.  Thanks!

A MOOC Quality Scorecard applied to Coursera Course

In this post I review a recently completed Coursera course using a quality scorecard approach to measure and quantify five key dimensions of the course.

checkmarkI’m in the final week of a Coursera MOOC, Sports & Society that for the most part has been lackluster and disappointing. I expected a university level course that would provide  learning and perspectives into the social and cultural dimensions that affect sports participation and perceptions across different cultures. It missed the mark. Granted, the majority of Coursera courses are ‘lite’ versions of the real thing—few mimic the workload or rigor of the face-to-face counterparts, which is fine [even preferred when taken for personal development] given the courses are not promoted as such.

Though a lite version does not mean that meaningful and deep learning cannot occur. I’ve completed two other Coursera courses, Introduction to Sociology, and E-learning and Digital Cultures. Both courses provided rich learning with scholarly materials, challenging assignments and opportunities to gain knowledge beyond the course site. Though the Sports & Society course wasn’t completely inadequate, in fact some things were done well, but for all the effort and resources that went into the course, it missed the mark quite significantly in terms of providing conditions for meaningful learning to occur. I see an opportunity to share here with readers what contributed to a mediocre MOOC learning experience. To provide an illustrative framework for this review, I’ve created a MOOC quality scorecard review, that is [loosely] based on a quality scorecard approach and my   course design experience.

Course Overview
I have a keen interest in the topic of Sports & Society, specifically youth and college sports and its effects on youth development – the emotional, physical, and educational dimensions. I won’t get into details here, but I write about this topic on another one of my blogs, school and sports, and research the topic frequently. Coursera’s Introduction to Sociology expanded my interest in the topic, which has led me to several excellent resources on Sports Sociology.

To put this course review into context, following is the course description for Sports & Society. I want to emphasize that they were no objectives, goals or purposes outlined for the course, which made defining the scope of the course a challenge, as well as determining my learning goals.

Course Description: “Sports play a giant role in contemporary society worldwide.  But few of us pause to think about the larger questions of money, politics, race, sex, culture, and commercialization that surround sports everywhere. This course draws on the tools of anthropology, sociology, history, and other disciplines to give you new perspectives on the games we watch and play. We will focus on both popular sports like soccer (or “football,” as anyone outside America calls it), basketball, and baseball, and lesser-known ones like mountain-climbing and fishing.”   

MOOC Quality Scorecard Review: Coursera, Sports & Society

Criterion Scoring
0 points = Not Observed
1 point = Insufficiently Observed
2 points = Moderate Use
3 points = Meets Criterion Completely

1)  Quality of Instructional Methods: Sports & Society:  Score: 1/3

Criteria for scoring
♦ Course includes objectives that provide direction for course ♦ instructor demonstrates expertise in subject area, presents topics that relate to course objectives in cohesive manner ♦ course environment encourages student to make connections/construct new knowledge and/or demonstrate knowledge ♦ instructor presents alternative viewpoints ♦ students encouraged to draw upon personal experience and encouraged to apply/reflect on course concepts.

My Comments
The course felt disjointed, topics were unrelated and did not appear to move towards an objective or goal. It was a passive learning experience, with little encouragement or opportunities to apply content, reflect or share content/resources. The course was instructor-focused, content was primarily delivered via professor lecturing. Instructor did not go into deep analysis of principles, apply theoretical constructs or provide different perspective on topics – for example, neglected to mention other  institution’s in society, and the role/influence each play in sports, i.e. governments, International Olympic Committee, NCAA (in the US for instance) etc. Another, the instructor presented a narrow point-of-view on the topic – Business of Sports, suggesting that big corporations are solely responsible for the commercialization of professional and college sports.

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sports & society, Coursera

2) Quality, Depth & Breadth of Course Materials: Sports & Society: Score: 2/3

Criteria for scoring
♦ Variety of content sources with breadth of perspectives ♦ content goes beyond professor video lecture ♦ numerous links provided to open source content with variety/breadth ♦ students encouraged to contribute to course content and/or have access to venue within course site to share/discuss findings ♦ readings include scholarly sources with peer-reviewed papers via downloadable PDF format and/or open access resources ♦ current content included to provide relevant context/perspective for topic.

My Comments
Video lectures were informative, though primarily featured professor lecturing. There were some references made to the readings. Weekly readings varied, with average number of pages assigned between 15 and 30. It might have been helpful to have  optional readings each week, for students wanting to delve deeper into a topic (there were two or three).  Two of the weekly featured selected chapters from a non-fiction book—one from a book the professor authored. A link was provided for those interested in purchasing the book at a discounted price for Coursera students, which comes across as a tactic to sell the book, more so when it is the only reading for the given week. Only two or three readings were from scholarly sources/peer-reviewed journals (here is an example of readings from week 6, here, (a chapter from a non-fiction book)and  an optional reading here). Few materials encouraged deep analysis or described theoretical principles of topic.

3) Interaction: Student & Social Engagement: Sports & Society: Score: 2/3

Criteria for scoring
♦ Students are provided a venue within course site to interact with other students ♦ forums are monitored to ensure discussion is respectful, non-threatening and safe ♦ Twitter hashtag created for course ♦ students encouraged [not mandated] to engage with other students via platforms outside of course site ♦ instructor/ TA engages within forum discussions that are specific to course topics to promote higher order thinking ♦ live events [Google hangout/webinar] for students to watch/engage via real-time comments, i.e. professor with guest, groups of students discussing reading etc.

My Comments
Four Google Hangout events scheduled, though two were cancelled due to technical difficulties. The two that did work featured guest speakers, and select class members for discussion, and allowed for students to post live comments while watching. These were very good.  Forums had few students commenting and contributing, but this allowed for easy to follow discussions threads. Instructor did get involved in some discussion forums. A Twitter hashtag was not assigned to course to promote interaction or sharing. This is a missed opportunity, as Twitter is an excellent platform to engage students throughout the course, to share content, promote blog posts, encourage chats & connections, etc.

4) Activities & Assessments: Sports & Society: Score: 1/3

Criteria for scoring
♦ Learning activities prompt students to share their learning ♦ activities leverage international perspectives of student body ♦ instructions for assignment include descriptions of the purpose and rationale i.e. why learners are doing the assignment/activity ♦ assessments provide further opportunity to learn ♦ assessments encourage students to find information ♦ assessment(s) align with course outcomes [as per certificate].

My Comments
Little encouragement or opportunity to apply content, to reflect and share.  Assessments were five-question quizzes, two per week—one on assigned reading and the other lecture content. Neither assessments nor activities promoted higher order thinking skills, analysis, evaluation or critical thinking.

5) Interface of Course Site / Instructional Design: Sports & Society: Score: 3/3

Criteria for scoring
♦ ‘Start-here’ section [orientation] included for introduction to course and site itself ♦ course instructions and requirements for each week/module are detailed ♦ clear expectations for assignment completion, peer review process and/or quizzes/tests outlined and accessible ♦ clear guidelines for certificate requirements as applicable ♦ instructional materials are accessible and easy to use ♦ links to technical support.

Comments
Very good interface on Coursera site, easy to navigate. Includes a ‘start-here’ orientation page. Instructions and expectations concise and thorough. Schedule and due dates page was helpful to clarify dates.  Technical support available.

MOOC Scorecard for Sports & Society: Total  9/15

I’ll close with this: I appreciate that Cousera provided this course for free. I also appreciate the time that the professor put into this course; his work and effort, which no doubt was considerable. The score above is based upon my personal viewpoint. The purpose of this post is to provide insight into what could improve the course, and for other educators to learn from one student’s perspective.

Resources:

Need-to-Know News: Minerva’s Model, MOOC Students Reveal Why they Quit and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I share 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 the traditional model of education.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PMNot to disappoint, last week the education sector provided numerous stories worthy of review—I’ll highlight the key themes for readers in this post. One development worth watching is Minerva, a want-to-be Ivy League Online School that is moving forward with a new model for learning. And with MOOCs, never a dull week—I’ll share the top stories here. For those looking for professional development opportunities, I’ve include two upcoming [online] events to consider attending.

Minerva University
I first read about Minerva in 2011 and was intrigued. At the time it sounded viable and interesting—a university that planned to offer rigorous course work through online course work and experiential learning in International locations with small cohorts of students. Yet that was before the MOOC movement, and now looking closer it appears to be an expensive and perhaps even elitist education for select students that must meet stringent, if not unreasonable entrance criteria.

I don’t want to discredit the program completely as it does offer a novel approach to higher education, which is what we need more of – innovative ideas for educating students. As we speak, the school is assembling an impressive team, evidenced by the recent hire, Stephen Kosslyn from Stanford, appointed as Minerva’s Founding Academic Dean. Apparently, Kosslyn’s also in recruiting mode (Rivard, 2013).  Yet there are a few red flags.  One is the selection criteria for students, which according to Minerva’s founder Ben Nelson [former executive of Snapfish], will be gifted students that will need to pass, “psychometric tests to try to find students who are self-confident leaders, and intellectually and emotionally mature”.  This strikes me as odd—how many 18 year-old teenagers do you know that are intellectually mature? Another concern, students will be traveling globally during their studies, which makes me think that some parents might be concerned about their teenager’s health, safety and well-being as they globe trot around the world, and some kids might not be able to adapt.

We’ll see what happens, this for profit venture has already raised $25 million, but apparently needs millions more.  I am a tad skeptical of the viability of Minerva, but what it does do is challenge the model of higher education, which David Brooks from the New York Times suggests is a good thing, The best part of the rise of online education is that it forces us to ask: What is a university for? (2013).

MOOC News

1) US MOOC platforms openness questioned.  A professor at UK’s Open University states that platforms edX and Coursera do not meet the criteria of openness as students need to register first with the platform, then enroll in courses they want to take. A valid point. Though free, Coursera and edX cannot be viewed without creating an account which is counter intuitive to the concept of open.

2) Essay Grading Software Gives Professors a Break. edX, the MOOC platform of Harvard and MIT plans to introduce essay grading software for several courses. It’s the robo-grader that will grade students written work. Automated grading perhaps has its place, but I’m not sure if MOOCs are the place given the trajectory that MOOCs are on within higher education.

3) Top ten reasons why MOOC students drop. Though an unscientific one, Open Culture conducted a survey among MOOC students, and even with 50 responses, the feedback is most insightful.

Top Ten Reasons Students Didn’t Finish MOOC:

  1. Takes too Much Time
  2. Assumes Too Much Knowledge
  3. Too Basic
  4. Lecture Fatigue
  5. Poor Course Design
  6. Clunky Community/Communication Tools
  7. Bad Peer Review & Trolls
  8. Surprised by Hidden Costs
  9. Shopping Around
  10. Want to Learn,  Nor for Credential

Professional Development

This week should bring more exciting news. Stay tuned. I’ll be posting to my Twitter stream during the Sloan Symposium this week as well. Have a great week.

Need-to-Know-News: One HUGE Step Forward for Competency Learning, NEW Open2Study, and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my goal is to share noteworthy stories with readers that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

Open Universities Australia

Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study Platform offering open courses to anyone

There are several interesting developments this week in education, three in particular which I’ll cover in this post: 1) The newly launched learning platform, Open2Study to rival the likes of Coursera 2) Competency based learning, which gets a boost in the US with Prior learning Assessments (PLAs) and 3) more MOOC news to ponder.

1)  Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study
This week Australia’s own Open University launched a learning platform Open2Study, which is similar in some ways to Coursera, but at Open2Study courses focus on career exploration and life skills, in addition to those for intellectual development. Like other xMOOC platforms, its courses are free but all participants receive a certificate of completion, “If you complete at least three of the four assessments and average at least 60% for your subject, you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement” (open2study.com).

“Open2Study isn’t a me-too MOOC; its objective is not merely attracting massive enrolments. It’s the next evolution in online learning, centred on student success,” says Paul Wappett, OUA CEO.

Open2Study provides an engaging and compelling education based on a comprehensive pedagogical model that recognises online learners behave differently, and have different needs from on-campus learners. (PR Newswire)

And, Open2Study does appear to differentiate itself from other MOOC providers; the practical approach will likely appeal to a narrower market, which is a positive move from a sustainability perspective. There is a vocational focus—each course includes a “Where could this take me? section that gives learners information on related careers.

2) US Department of Education [DOE] “Encourages” Higher Education to Adopt Competency Based Programs [also known as Prior Learning Assessments]
The DOE appears [very] anxious to communicate its support available to higher education institutions for programs that promote alternative paths to degree completion as per its press release from last week. The DOE encourages higher ed institutions to expand competency based programs as alternatives to traditional programs [based upon credit hours or seat time], and stresses the guidance available to institutions when accessing title IV financial aid.

“This [competency-based programs in which students learn at their own pace] is a key step forward in expanding access to affordable higher education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know many students and adult learners across the country need the flexibility to fit their education into their lives or work through a class on their own pace, and these competency-based programs offer those features – and they are often accessible to students anytime, anywhere. By being able to access title IV aid for these programs, many students may now be able to afford higher education.” [Press Release, March 19,  DOE]

This approach is a tough-sell to universities—implementing competency programs implies its acceptance of a learning philosophy that differs from traditional education programming. Yet some institutions are embracing it, including the State University of New York (SUNY), which is implementing a program based on Prior Learning Assessments [the concept of PLA is described further in this post]. No doubt, we will likely see more of PLA programs in the future—this is bigger news than MOOCs. PLA is already an approved and funded alternative to time-to-degree programs, and results are impressive for adults receiving credit from PLA programs.

3) MOOC News
This week a professor teaching through the edX platform put forth a unique request, he asked prior students [graduates] to help in his MOOC. He invited interested students to be mentors to students within his Ancient Greek Hero course, though on a volunteer basis. This is an interesting idea—actually a very good idea. And, Cousera continues to grow. This week I received an email from Coursera with the following news:

“Over 3 million students have joined the Coursera community since we began our journey in April last year. Today, Courserians hail from over 210 countries and have signed up for a staggering 10 million courses. As a company barely a year old, we’re truly grateful to have you as part of our growing community. From the Coursera Team” [personal email].

Finally, today I read via Stephen Downes daily newsletter OLDaily, about a MOOC Manifesto published through Connecta13. I agree with Stephen, this MOOC Manifesto contradicts just about everything that MOOCs are, or have the potential to be. It’s another example of how some educators view a new and different learning model through the lens of the old :(.

Closing Thoughts
Never a dull moment in the world of higher education. Have a Happy Easter weekend. Stay tuned for more developments on Twitter @OnlinelineI

Groups, Clay Shirky and Online Education

This post explores the significance of student groups in online learning courses—the value and influence on institutions in light of the principles outlined in Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody”.

Here_Comes_Everybody

Image: penguingroup.com

I just finished reading Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without the Organization. You may wonder how valuable such a read would be given the book was written in 2008, yet reading the book with five years of Internet advancements under our belt, was strangely thought-provoking.  More so when considering the influence and power that groups can, and have wielded in the realm of online education, specifically in courses attracting massive numbers. Here I’ll share the potential that groups hold for learning within online courses, the three principles needed for successful groups, and how student groups are subtly influencing the paradigm shift in education.

Clay Shirky: Author
Shirky is a professor, journalist, author; he studies and writes about the effects of the Internet on society from a cultural and economic viewpoint. Several recent articles written by Shirky have caused some educators to bristle. In a blog post from 2012, Napster, Udacity, and the Academy Shirky compares higher education to the music industry, suggesting that the MOOC model, or some version of it, will replace higher education as we know it. Yet my focus here is not on Shirkys’ views on education, but his insights on group formation which is particularly relevant in light of learning online in massive courses.

Three Principles of Effective Groups
Shirky discusses how society is transforming, with citizens newfound ability to form en masse with the advent of the Internet and the low barriers to group formation. Now, in 2013 there are even fewer barriers to group formation than at the time of Clay’s writing. Now groups can come together with a choice of platforms. Though all groups develop for different reasons, there are elements common to effective groups which Shirky outlines in his book (p 261):

  1. The Promise is what brings the group together, around a topic of interest with a basic desire to participate. Implied in the promise is that each member will participate and contribute.
  2. The Tool is the platform that will help people approach the problem/topic together. Usually a leader [organizer] emerges within a group, or soon-to-be group and chooses the platform for group communication and collaboration i.e. Facebook, Google + Community, etc. He or she will invite members, and/or approve members joining, etc.
  3. The Bargain is the guidelines or rules for participating. Group norms are established, i.e. what is acceptable for communication and not, contributions, etc. The organizer essentially established the tone, which influences the culture of the group. I have seen examples of this in virtually every large online group I have participated in; the organizer dictates through actions and tone, which influences the effectiveness of group collaboration and even participation.

Groups that Collaborate
To collaborate effectively groups need the three components as mentioned. Shirky uses Wikipedia as an example of a large group that demonstrates the three principles. With its tightly knit core group and a commitment to a promise, to create a database of free content maintained by a massive community of contributors, Wikipedia has control built-in by its group norms [the bargain]. An example of the bargain in action, is when one or more of the community of contributors overrides an article written by someone that tries to sabotage its integrity. Enough members care about Wikipedia, which is why it continues to thrive (p 140).

Groups, Learning and MOOCs
Here is where things get interesting. In small, online closed courses, group collaboration is under the control of the instructor—groups actions are structured, guided, even graded as part of a student’s final grade. Group work in this instance can be effective, as instructors can teach students how to participate and collaborate effectively.

But in MOOCs learning through group interactions is not within the instructors control, yet there is even greater potential for rich learning to happen with its large, diverse body of learners. Though MOOC organizers can guide participants and be catalysts for group formation by suggesting participants share, connect and collaborate outside of the MOOC platform. [It's also helpful that instructors suggest tools to facilitate group work. Though this may seem obvious, the instructor cannot assume that everyone is familiar social tools as a vehicle for learning]. Still, learning within a group in this context is dependent upon the self-direction and motivation of its members.

The Power and Influence of Groups on the Institution
Yet for institutions that offer massive courses, there is a risk. When working with massive numbers of students, not only is group collaboration and learning not guaranteed, there is potential for groups to influence actions and decisions of instructors and institutions in ways that may not be expected, or even desired. Groups have the potential to sabotage the learning of others and the course over which the instructor has little control. Already we have seen the influence of groups within Coursera courses. For example with the Microeconomics course where groups of students were challenging the professor which prompted the professor to quit the course before it was over. Or the Fantasy-SciFi that was sabotaged by a group of students participating in the discussion forums that were working under anonymous profiles causing numerous to be vocal about their negative experience. And the Foundations of Online Education with the thousands of student complaints about the  structure and technology glitches, forced it to shut down.

Conclusion
We are just beginning to see the power of groups in online learning courses with massive numbers of students. There is great potential yet to be realized, for the development of new knowledge and problem solving with the collaborative efforts of students worldwide. The power of groups cannot by ignored, the influence they have is great, and the institutions that embrace it and acknowledge that they are no longer in control, will be better prepared to create conditions to harness its potential.

Resources

Professors, Pedagogy and MOOCs

In this post I’ve collected and commented on recent reports outlining several professors perspectives on the development of MOOCs, the teaching experience and how the instructional methods differ from traditional courses.

iStock_000019623568XSmallWhat is it like to teach 10,000 or more students at once, and does it really work? (Kolowich, 2013). Excellent question—and now that Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] offered through providers such as Coursera have been around for a several months, we are starting to get data and insights from the professors in the trenches—those that have developed and facilitated the courses with thousands of students. The Chronicle of Higher Education shared results of a survey it conducted in February with professors from higher education institutions involved in teaching a MOOC. A total of 103 professors responded to an online questionnaire that was sent out to 184 professors that had recently taught, or were in the process of teaching a MOOC (Kolowich, 2013). Results are intriguing, and in some cases startling, for example the responses to a question on peer grading [see image below]:

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 12.26.02 PM

Screen Shot from The Chronicle’s survey results on peer grading. http://www.chronicle.com/the-professors-behind-the-mooc

What I found fascinating was the change in professors’ attitudes towards MOOCs after they had finished teaching their own massive online course. Before teaching a MOOC, 29.7% respondents reported being very enthusiastic’ about fully online courses, yet after the teaching experience, 55.9% reported being ‘very enthusiastic’. Hmm. Even the somewhat skeptical group changed their views after their MOOC experience. To read more results from the survey, click here.

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 12.43.35 PM

Screen shot from “Voices from the Survey”, The Chronicle

Voices from the Survey
Included in The Chronicle’s coverage on the survey results, is a section that shares professors views on online learning, pedagogy and grading.  It is an interesting read. To the right is one of the professor’s comments, which addresses a topic that may be worthy of further research. From the last two  MOOCs I have completed with Coursera, I too have the impression that many active participants hold at least an undergraduate degree. Perhaps after identifying the demographic profile of the average student in a MOOC, course content and methods could be adapted accordingly.  Click here to browse through the feedback from The Chronicle’s report.

MOOC Development at Duke University
Duke University launched its first course with Coursera in June 2012, Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach, and wrote an extensive report upon its conclusion that summarizes the course development and instructional experience. The report is thorough, well prepared, and provides details about the experience from the developer and instructor’s perspective, including the number of hours invested developing and teaching the course (Dukespace.lib).
Included also is extensive data on enrollment rates, student participation patterns, demographics on active students, including their educational background. The data from this course supports what Professor Llewellyn stated in The Chronicle’s survey as mentioned above—that the active students (those students that participated in the survey at least), possessed an advanced level of education as the screen shot shows below right:
Screen shot from Duke University report on first Coursera Course.

Screen shot from Duke University report on development of Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach offered through Coursera in June 2012

The course involved over 600 hours in development and delivery, and the professor of the course, Dr. Roger Barr, invested 420 hours of the 600. The report also speaks of Dr. Barr’s extensive involvement in the discussion forums, as he devoted many hours to answering questions, reading posts and monitoring feedback.

Final Thoughts
What is becoming apparent after reviewing the reports mentioned in this post, and in conversations with several of my peers through Google+, etc, the time involved in teaching a MOOC is extensive, requiring an instructor’s undivided attention. I’ve heard of one or more professors teaching a MOOC while assuming his or her full teaching responsibilities at the university, which put tremendous pressure on the individual. Also apparent is the volume of upfront work that is required—an extensive amount of time is devoted to preparing the content, materials, instructions for students, and the course home page. There is still much more to learn about MOOCs. It is too early at this point to determine how this format will be most effective for learners, and which instructional design methods work best, but we are seeing emergent patterns and results, which are taking us in the right direction.

Further Reading