How-to Use Social Media Platforms to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments

This post describes and provides examples of three social media platforms used as a pedagogical tool to create meaningful learning assignments in face-to-face and online courses.

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‘Social learning’ by MKHMarketing, creative commons

Social media platforms such as blogs, Wikis and Twitter hold great potential as vehicles for student learning. These tools can support meaningful, rich learning outcomes when assignments are developed to align with course objectives. Yet social media has an image problem—in education at least; it’s viewed as frivolous, a distraction, a time waster. In this post I outline how three social media platforms, when used in pedagogically sound ways support student learning and skill development in for-credit course work.

Social media is the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, blogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media” Definition via techtarget.com

Social media In Higher Education
Social media applications are used by instructors in several contexts: 1) as a tool for communicating with students, 2) as a subject of study, e.g. UC Berkeley’s course “Analyzing Big Data with Twitter”, and 3) as a pedagogical method for instruction and learning. The latter is what we focus on in this post but it’s instructive to acknowledge the other uses. 

Most educators were first introduced to social media via Facebook, with students checking-in during class time. But some of these same educators have discovered the value of social media applications, as teaching and learning tools. Twitter for example—instructors can send Tweets to students with class updates, reminders and/or links to course-related resources as described in “Class Twitter Account”. Other options include Facebook or Google+ that can serve as a platform for a course (club, study group, etc.) where notices can be posted, messages exchanged, and resources shared. In these instances, social media applications act as supplements to a course that enhance learning.

Three Platforms—Three Instructional Strategies
Different from above however, is using a social application such as Twitter or Wikipedia as a pedagogical method to support learning objectives of a course. Below I share examples of instructor-developed assignments requiring that students’ apply course concepts using a social media application as the vehicle. The learning outcomes vary depending upon the course and assignment, but instructors find students learn not just course concepts, but develop additional skills that include critical thinking, advanced written communication and digital skills.

Wikipedia-logo-en-big1) Wikipedia: A professor of Museum Studies at the University of Memphis teaches a one-credit hour, face-to-face course “Wikipedia as a Research Tool” to freshman students. The focus of the course is less on Wikipedia, and more on the concepts of user-generated content, open authority and public access. He uses the Wikipedia platform for the primary assignment where students create a Wikipedia article or substantially edit an existing page—a process involving considerable research, edits, responding to feedback and criticism. Students seem to learn just as much from the process itself, as about their topic. You can read a selection of student comments in “My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 2“.

The professor shares his experience in a series of three articles on his blog, including resources available through Wikipedia Outreach.

blogicon2) Blogging: I share two examples of faculty using blogging platforms for assignments: 1) a professor teaching an online, under graduate course, Mythology and Folklore and, 2) a professor teaching a face-to-face, graduate level course, Communicating Science through Social Media.

In Mythology and Folklore students are required to set up their own blog the first week of class, which they use for weekly assignments throughout the course. Students ‘publish’ their writing each week, which allows the instructor to review the work, and classmates to read other’s work. Credit is given for students commenting on two or more posts in select weeks. Instructions for each assignment are detailed; the professor describes how to make each blog post clear, encouraging students to put their writing into context for potential readers (e.g. using an ‘author’s note’ as applicable).

Students are also required to add bibliographies and images. The instructor includes a detailed section on her course site describing the concepts including digital copyright, Creative Commons and public domain, along with instructions and resources for each. You can read more about this professor’s instructional methods on her blog, “Anatomy of an Online Course“. Students seem to engage at a higher level in this course, given they are writing for an audience; skills developed go beyond comprehension and writing skills.

The second example, a graduate level course takes blogging to the next level, as described on the courses’ blog site Mind the Science Gap:

“Mind the Science Gap is a science blog with a difference. For ten weeks each semester, Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan will be posting weekly articles as they learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate.

Each week, ten students will take a recent scientific publication or emerging area of scientific interest, and write a post on it that is aimed at a non expert and non technical audience…And they will be evaluated in the most brutal way possible – by the audience they are writing for!  As this is a public initiative, comments and critiques on each post will be encouraged, and author responses expected…”

I followed this blog for the first semester the course was offered. I posted comments to students articles on a consistent basis. It was rewarding to watch the students’ writing develop and improve over the semester. Yet the purpose of the course was not about blogging, as the professor describes:

“This course is not designed to teach the art of science blogging (although inevitably this will be a by-product), and because of this, no previous experience with blogging and social media is needed.  Rather, through the medium of the blog, it is designed to teach participants how to collate, synthesize and translate scientific evidence into information that a non-expert audience can access, understand and act on.”

Note: This course started as an experiment, and unfortunately won’t be continuing given it is, “extremely time-consuming, dependent on feedback from readers and other science communicators” writes the professor in a recent post.

search3) Twitter
A digital humanities professor created a unique assignment using Twitter—the Twitter Essay. A challenge given Twitter is known as a micro-blogging platform due to the 140 character limit of messages, or ‘Tweets’. The instructor shares the assignment details in this article—he writes:

There is pleasure in the act of composing with these constraints, an intentional and curious engagement with how sentences, words, and letters make meaning. Composing a text-message or tweet is most certainly a literate (and sometimes even literary) act. And, interestingly, the average text-message or tweet distorts grammar much less than the naysayers would have us believe.

Student Learning Curve
Almost all of the professors mentioned the learning curve students experienced when becoming familiar with the features of the social media platform. Contrary to what we expect, young people are not always proficient in all social media platforms. Thus educators planning on using a social media application would do well to provide links to tutorials, step-by-step instructions, and build time into the course to accommodate for technical learning.

Conclusion
Though social media platforms can be a valuable learning tool, there is an upfront time commitment required on the instructor’s part. Planning for the assignment, involves not only the writing of the instructions and materials, but requires familiarity with the platform, evaluation of the alternatives and then the selection of method that fits the needs of the class. Though, the time investment on the instructor’s part appears worth it, not only for the students benefit, but for the quality of learning students experience as a result.

Need-to-Know News: Minerva and The Future of College, Amazon Moves into Purdue & Inoreader

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“The Future of College”,  The Atlantic

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.

1) Minerva and the Future of College?  Should we Be Worried?
The Atlantic’s feature story this week covering the newest entrant into the higher education sector Minerva, really fired up educators’ Twitter feeds. “The Future of College?” is primarily about Minerva’s philosophy and pedagogical strategy as a for-profit, (wanna-be) elite and semi-virtual university. The school is a radical departure from a traditional university—no administrative buildings (except for one office for employees on the 9th floor of an office building in San Francisco), no libraries, sports teams, or tenured faculty. Nor is the school run like a MOOC. Minerva’s inaugural class is made up of thirty-three students, thus classes are intimate, seminar discussions via tele-conferencing technology. MOOCs are used as content only at Minerva, and Ben Nelson, founder of the school shares in an interview with author, Graeme Wood, “We are a university and MOOC is a version of publishing….The reason we can get away with this model is because MOOCs exist. The MOOCs will eventually make lectures obsolete.”

It’s statements like these made by Nelson in this interview and others that are rather jarring to educators’ ears. Reading the 185+ comments in response to the article, one gets a sense of the concerns—tenure, scholarship, and for-profit.

Insight: Minerva is not a solution to the challenges facing higher education. This model seeks to be exclusive and elite—a barrier to access.  It’s not affordable for everyone—it doesn’t accept financial aid—a barrier to cost. It does have potential to deliver quality, given the excellent professors Minerva has hired, including Stephen Kosslyn, a cognitive neuro-­scientist and former Harvard dean.  However, it is a model worth watching for the instructional methods implemented, how open content is leveraged, and to follow the educational outcomes of graduates. We will see.

2) Amazon Coming to a Campus Near You?

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Screen shot from Purdue’s storefront on Amazon.com

Speaking of education and business endeavors, Purdue University’s storefront with Amazon went live this week—the “co-branded experience” as described by Purdue with Amazon for the rental and sales of textbooks and other school supplies. The initiative was in the works last year according to details of a press release from Purdue. There is an Amazon webpage which serves as the Purdue’s storefront at purdue.amazon.com, and there is a significant Amazon presence within the campus bookstore. It’s hard to miss, with amazon-staffed service centres and the yellow, very large Amazon storage lockers where students can drop off and pick up textbooks. You can’t miss those eyesores.

If any students are wary about commercialization of their school with a public company such as Amazon taking over its bookstore, this line prominent on the Purdue’s store page may alleviate some concerns—“Your purchases are now supporting Purdue, which will use proceeds to support its Student Affordability and Accessibility initiatives.”  I guess that will work.

UC Davis piloted the program back in November, called davis.amazon.com. UC Davis gets 2% of all sales generated. The amount that Purdue receives may be more, as according to Purdue, “Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university“.

Insight: As much as we don’t like to consider the student of education a ‘customer’, it’s hard not to with the growing presence of for-profit entities in education.

Introducing INOREADER—Read Smart, and Share
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One of the loyal readers of this blog, Laura Gibbs, a faculty member and online instructor at The University of Oklahoma, shared her newest find and its application of a tech tool—Inoreader. She raved about it on Google+ and described in detail how she uses it to organize her student’s blog posts for the online classes she teaches. Google Reader is no more, and I too have been searching for a customizable reader application with a clean interface. Look no further than Inoreader. It is impressive. Very. Thanks Laura.

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:

Review of Instructional Design Models Applied to K-12 Learning Environments

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Over the last few months I’ve conducted extensive research into instructional design models used in the process of course design. I’ve researched the history of instructional design [also known as 'instructional systems design'] and its applications from the 1930’s to present. I’m writing, or least attempting to write, a book for educators that describes how to develop effective, relevant courses in our digital age using a dynamic instructional design model. The first chapter covers the history of instructional design with a focus on education learning environments as opposed to business or military settings. And though I’ve found considerable literature about design principles, methods and models applicable to higher education, there is dearth of published writings on instructional design models specific to K-12.

K-12 Educators Need Instructional Design Skills
Even in current literature there appears to be few resources for K-12 educators that provide instructional design models with accompanying principles to guide the development or re-design of courses for K-12 learning environments – whether it be for blended, face-to-face or online courses. However, the gap is justified by the fact that teachers for the most part, have access to already developed curriculum materials either via textbooks for specific subjects created by the publisher, materials created by instructional designers within a school district, or lesson plans/curriculum available via various platforms, i.e. Open Education Resources, Open Connexions, Discovery Education, museums for education, etc.  However, I suggest that there is a need for K-12 educators to be equipped with skills in instructional design. Teachers need this skill set to adapt  curriculum in order to provide relevant learning experiences for their students. Furthermore, with the proliferation of technology tools and applications that teachers have access to and are even encouraged to use, i.e. the flipped classroom method, or iPads, suggests that teachers need to know how to use these tools effectively—to be able to assess if, and how a given education tool supports the desired learning objectives. And if it does, how to incorporate the tool using a sound pedagogical strategy.  I’ve encountered several examples of instructional design advice for K-12 teachers that are well-meaning, but fall short on pedagogy and instructive guidelines for implementation.

The lack of a current instructional design model for K-12 and higher education is partly what has motivated me to create one – however the purpose of this post is to review existing models specific to K-12 and examine the principles of each to identify what may be useful in today’s learning contexts.  I also encourage readers to share any design experience or advice that might be helpful to other readers.

Instructional Design Models Defined
Before reviewing details of the models, I’ll share a definition – what a course design model is, and why a design model is even worth considering.

“Models, like myths and metaphors, help us to make sense of our world. Whether derived from whim or from serious research, a model offers its user a means of comprehending an otherwise incomprehensible problem. An instructional design model gives structure and meaning to an I.D. [instructional design] problem, enabling the would-be designer to negotiate her design task with a semblance of conscious understanding. Models help us to visualize the problem, to break it down into discrete, manageable units.” - Martin Ryder, University of Colorado Denver, School of Education

Design Models Frequently Referenced for K-12 Learning
Though the definition and application of course design models vary widely, some educators have classified models into different types as the following article, Comparison of Alternative Instructional Design Models does:

“Instructional Design models are classified into three types, classroom, product and system (Gustafson & Branch, 2002). Classroom models are of interest to, and are usually designed for, professional teachers from K-12, community colleges, vocational schools, and other related areas. These models take into consideration the environment of teachers… The output of these models is small, a unit or module of instruction used within the school year.” - Marlene Fauser, Kirk Henry, and David Kent Norman

In principle I disagree with this classification and description. Instructional design models should be flexible enough to be applied to all learning environments – K-12, face-to-face, blended environments, higher education, etc. However, there is value in analyzing the models, and identifying previous and current applications in various settings—in this instance K-12.

Gerlach/Ely Model
In 1971 Vernom S. Gerlach and Donald P. Ely developed the Gerlach & Ely instructional model; a prescriptive model that is most suitable to instructional planning/designing when the learning objectives and instructional content are predetermined.  Its key feature is that the steps of content selection and specification of objectives are completed synchronously (diagram below), making it applicable to a K-12 environment.

Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model

Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model

ASSURE
The ASSURE model developed by Heinich, Molenda, Russell & Smaldino uses an acronym to describe its fundamental principles: Analyze Learners, State Objectives, Select media and materials, Utilize media and materials, Require learner participation, and Evaluate and revise. Sharon Smaldino’s following statement [teacher and one of the model's creators] describes the philosophy of the model, “To ASSURE good learning, I believe it is not one single thing that a teacher or designer should consider, but I do believe that there are areas of emphasis“.  instructional Design.org

ASSURE-Model

ASSURE-Model

Morrison, Ross and Kemp Model
This model is the most flexible. The circular nature suggests that design is fluid, with no specific beginning point, which the authors describe as adaptable. There are nine core elements that make up the model, and the diagram indicates that each element is mutually supporting.  The textbook, Designing Effective Instruction written by the developers of the model (Morrison, Ross & Kemp) indicates that the focus of the model is for classroom instruction.  The most recent edition of the book [now in its sixth], discusses the role of technology in the classroom and describes how to incorporate technological tools in instructional planning.

One of the benefits touted for this model is its flexibility due to the circular nature and lack of starting point, though I view this as a significant flaw in the design as it ignores key principles of creating effective instruction which does require at least a logical sequence based on how people learn.

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Kemp, Morrison and Ross Model of Instructional Design

Closing
I realize that I have only included a few of the many models, however the ones I’ve mentioned appear to be referred to, and implemented widely.  Stay tuned for more posts about instructional design as I work through the research and writing of my book.

References:

Need-to-Know News: Role Reversal of Teacher & Students, A Revealing MOOC Scorecard & New Take on Robo Grading

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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The lab manual and its iPad version were created by Columbia medical students themselves. The manual is accessed on the iPad during the lab–the screen covered in plastic.  The digital version also includes interactive quizzes.

1) Role Reversal: Students and Teachers
The Wall Street Journal published a report this week, Unleashing Innovation in Education dedicated to innovative programs and events happening in higher education and K-12. There are numerous articles and videos of interest—a breadth of topics, and a variety of media used to report the stories makes this a  good read. One in particular caught my attention— medical students creating their own textbook; it illustrates the changing dynamic between student and teacher.

Here’s the reversal, students are now actors in their learning, not observers, and teachers at times become the observer as well as the actor.  We can see this play out with these young medical students who created a digital textbook/manual, Columbia Clinical Gross Anatomy Dissection Manual. They saw a need to replace the textbook assigned for their anatomy class —”Grant’s Dissector” published over 60 years ago.  The students, not happy with their spiral-bound Grant text, decided to create their own. And they did so, over the summer by taking thousands of pictures of the dissecting process. One of their professors advised them along the way. The students used Apple’s iBooks program to create the text, and embedded interactive quizzes within.

Insight: This example showcases the shift that is happening with students and learning. Students not only want to get involved in learning and be part of the curriculum, but expect to be able to do so. The role of the educator shifts in response, evidenced in this example by the professor that guided and advised the students during the process. The role of the professor is not minimized, but is changing. Instructors now need to adopt a variety of teaching styles in order to adapt to the student and situation.

2) MOOC Scorecard Says Much
Another article in the WSJ report worthy of review is An Early Report Card on Massive Open Online Courses.  It covers the background of MOOCs well, the key players, the platforms etc. But most telling is the MOOC scorecard graphic which outlines student demographic data released by Canvas Network, Cousera and Udacity.  Though it’s not a meta-analysis by any means as the numbers are stand-alone for each platform, nor is it statistically significant data that is generalizable, however there are patterns and themes that stand out. One in particular is the education level of students in Canvas Network data —over 75% of MOOC students in the sample held at least a four-year degree. This falls in line with other reports I’ve read outlining similar data on specific MOOC courses, which I described in a previous post.

Insight: MOOCs may not be best format for undergraduate and high school students. They still [in most cases] need guidance, feedback and instruction from a skilled educator. Learning in an open course requires a skill set that undergraduates develop while they are in college. This is where they should learn how to learn, get support and guidance from instructors, whether that be face-to-face or in small online environments.

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Figure 1 from Stanford report displaying image of linear regression representing over 40,000 student code homework submissions. Colours correspond to performance on a battery of unit tests.

3) Robo-Clustering for Student Feedback
Automated essay grading, where a computer grades an essay with programmed software is controversial. It’s been hotly debated among educators in the blogosphere over the last several months. Here’s another robo-type approach that’s not automated essay grading per se, but automated clustering of assignments which allows instructors to give feedback to students en masse.

From what I gather from reading the report by the program developers [Stanford professors] here’s how it works—student assignment submissions are entered into a database and clustered by similar response patterns. The professor then reviews and provides feedback on one assignment from a given cluster; this feedback is then broadcast to the rest of the students in the same cluster.

“Clustering submissions along key metrics is a natural way to reduce the amount of work required. The hope is that homework submissions within the same cluster are similar enough, that feedback for one member can be propagated to the rest of the cluster.” (Huang, Piech, Nguyen & Guibas, 2013)

The researchers suggest the application can be applied to other grading scenarios, i.e. AP exam grading, or to brick-and-mortar classes which give the same homework assignments over multiple sessions. I can [sort of] see the value of this program, though it seems a stretch to think it will be applicable to broader education contexts anytime soon—but the data sure makes beautiful artwork (see figure 1).

MOOCs, Milkshakes and Clay Shirky’s book ‘Cognitive Surplus’

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The ‘Milkshake Mistake’ described in Clay Shirky’s Book

I’m a big fan of professor and writer Clay Shirky. The insights he shares about digital culture via his writings are sharp and thoughtful. I read Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizers last year and found it relevant and instructive despite its publication date of 2008. On its heels is Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Collaboraters (2010), which is accurate not only in the predictions made of how society behaves today with our abundance of time, connectivity and tech tools, but of most value was how it changed my views about MOOCs’ role in education.

I realize that the education community [myself included] may have been thinking about the purpose of xMOOCs all wrong. We’ve been caught up in the details of the MOOC itself— the pass rates, the content, the delivery, the grading, etc., and in turn the applicability of MOOCs to higher education. Yet its the profile of the participants and their behaviours that we should have focused on, not the MOOC characteristics. It was Shirky’s story in Cognitive Surplus about ‘Milkshake Mistakes’ that prompted this revelation. I’ll elaborate further, but first a brief overview of the book.

Overview of Cognitive Surplus
Shirky examines how North American society spends much of their leisure time, which during the 1960’s was on television; millions of hours on passive media consumption. Yet with the expansion of the internet and the reduced barriers to access, there has been a dramatic shift to more active media consumption. Shirky describes in Cognitive Surplus how the collaborative energy (time) that individuals collectively contribute to causes; community and global, are changing how societies function. Wikipedia, patientslikeme.com, and pickuppals.com are examples Shirky shares that illustrate his point. Groups that come together to participate in online spaces created to provide knowledge, support, and/or community action via the internet. Shirky describes the internet as the ‘connective tissue’ that binds people together.

From Milkshakes to MOOCs
The instructive story about milkshakes comes early on in the book—chapter one. The vignette is a marketing story from an article published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Finding the Right Job for your Product (2007).  Shirky’s example is not about comparing education to a product, but illustrates how thinking differently about a user’s experience should be the focus, not the product or tool.

CognitiveSurplusCoverThe journals’ article uses the milkshake story to make a point about product development, how McDonald’s was seeking to improve sales and market share of its milkshakes. The story describes how several marketing experts in an effort to solve a product problem were focusing on the milkshakes, and to a lesser degree its customers. They were examining how to improve the milkshake’s appeal; the flavor, sweetness, consistency, even its packaging.  However, one marketer examined the situation differently. He analyzed how customers used the shake, when and why. The results were interesting, he determined that the milkshake customers where commuters, buying the shake for breakfast on their way to work. The shake fit their breakfast bill; easy to consume in the car, not too hot, a one-handed meal, it was somewhat tasty. This was McDonald’s ‘aha’ moment—finding a solution about the product that wasn’t about the product, but about what the customers were using the product for. The example illustrates how assumptions about traditional practices [what is eaten for breakfast], can get in the way of thinking about new solutions.

Shirky uses the McDonald’s example to help the reader think about media differently, “we talk about the effects of the web or text messages, it’s easy to make the milkshake mistake and  focus on the tools themselves” (p 12).  We need to focus on user behaviours, and the solution we are looking for and not the tool, or product itself [i.e. technological tools] to solve problems. Below is an excerpt from the article that highlights the point, and I’ve added words to demonstrate the applicability to education.

“The odds of getting it right will be much higher when we frame the market’s [education’s] structure to mirror the ways that customers [students] experience life [learning].”

Application to MOOCS
There are parallels to how many educators perceived and analyzed MOOCs initially. Many thought MOOCs would challenge and potentially replace traditional higher education. The focus was on the MOOCs details: the significant student drop out rates, the content delivery methods (the varying quality of recorded lectures), the course rigor (or lack thereof) the peer-review grading platforms etc. All these factors were made in comparison to traditional methods of higher education. The yard stick for the MOOC was the traditional, face-to-face college course. This was the problem. Granted, this made sense given the number of universities that rushed to apply the MOOC model to undergraduate education for purposes that were somewhat unclear, but appeared valid.

Yet have we not been preoccupied with the details of the product, the MOOC as per the Milkshake example?  Perhaps we should be looking at MOOCs from a different angle—who is taking the courses and why, the behaviours of the students, and then analyzing the results before making predictions that MOOCs will disrupt traditional higher education. When drilling down and examining MOOCs students and their behaviours we find this:

  • Many students sign up, but few become active, and even fewer complete the course.
  • Many of the active students, if not the majority of MOOC students have a college degree, and in some cases more than one.
  • Many are working professionals, are over the age of thirty.
  • Many students are outside of North America, countries including, UK, Australia, India and countries within the Russian Federation
  • Course completion rates are low – usually around 10%
  • MOOC students cite reasons for taking the course as personal, interest, to brush up on their skills or to learn something new.
  • A small minority of students participate on class discussion boards within classes (ranging from 4 to 10% of active students). Those that do participate, do so actively, are articulate and appear motivated. *

Granted much of this data was not available until many courses were underway – and we needed the early adopters to even be able to have data to analyze. However several programs continued to develop even after this data on MOOCs became available. San Jose State University for example, implemented a pilot program with Udacity offering three courses for undergraduate students, including a remedial math course. Now looking at the behaviour patterns of MOOC participants, does it seem logical that a remedial math course would be successful? No surprise the results from this program were dismal. Another Colorado State University-Global Campus offered students the chance to take a use a MOOC for credit, as long as they passed the proctoed exam (at a cost of $89). Apparently there were no takers.

Fortunately a few schools and even MOOC providers have been paying attention to MOOC participant behaviours. Coursera implemented a professional development program for teachers, offering a series of courses for education professionals. Likewise some companies, Microsoft for example, have recognized the opportunity and partnered with Udacity to create specific courses for working professionals in skill areas that are in need at the company. Georgia Tech may be on the right path by offering an Online Master’s Degree of Computer Science. The profile of the potential students is more in keeping with the MOOC profile of students.

Conclusion
Overall the MOOC phenomenon has been a catalyst for conversations about change within higher education institutions. Such discussion and analysis about education practices and methods is needed. However, to further the conversation and move discussions and actions in a positive direction, thoughtful analysis and consideration of the students; their behaviours and educational needs is required before applying the technological tool [or product] to fix the problem. Think of the Milkshake Mistake  —McDonald’s needed to create a new breakfast product, not a new version of the same milkshake.

* References: I’ve included the links here to papers, and blog posts that have been published by professors of institutions offering MOOCs that shared results of demographic data on participants collected from surveys completed by students on a voluntary basis.

Related:

Clay Shirky’s Ted Talk, How cognitive surplus will change world. TedX.com

Four Excellent Resources for Course Designers

This post features a collection of carefully selected resources specific to course design for online and blended courses.

designI’m in the process of building a bank of resources accessible from this blog geared to educators seeking skill development in facilitating and designing online courses. Previous posts featured resources specific to teaching online courses, and in this post I share four instructional design resources. Resources include a brief description that highlights the value of each and an icon indicating its type.  For the list of previously featured resources and/or for the icon legend please refer to the resources tab of this site.

Toolbox1) An excellent site created by Contact North to serve faculty and instructors of post-secondary institutions in Ontario, Canada is The Ontario Online Learning Portal. It is an open resource that provides numerous tools and information on the latest research and trends in online education. Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.21.52 PMThe site also hosts a series ‘Game Changers‘ which features case studies from institutions around the world that are implementing innovative methods in online education. The most practical resources for course designers can be found in the ‘Tips and Tools’ section. Here educators will find tools in downloadable formats such as the template to plan online learning, and 10 Principles to Select Technology.

Icon representing a website with a depth of resources2) Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition site is THE mother of all instructional design sites. Of all the ID sites I list here, I frequent this site the most, as do many others according to the list of accolades on the ‘about‘ page. It does feature advertising in the most annoying places on its pages, however the depth and breadth of the content make it worth the [minor] aggravation. A warning though, one can get lost on this site in the labyrinth of pages, though the tabs at the top of the page are an excellent guide to topics as is the site map with its Table of Contents.

Website Link3) This site—instructionaldesign.org, is a good reference site providing the basics of instructional design [ID] and learning theories. It includes a glossary of ID terms and a list of several instructional design models. What I find most valuable is the comprehensive listing of learning theories.  Each theory is described in-depth; listed with each theory are its principles, application, and examples of the principles in real-world settings. It also includes references and links to related websites.

pdf4)  This PDF paper, I found on Avetica weblog, which appears to be a blog based upon a student’s research project [thesis perhaps?] about online learning [there is no 'about' page, so I"m not quite sure]. I found this paper Summary of Quality e-learning: Designing pedagogically effective web-based environments for enhancing student online learning in higher education on the blog, and it is worthy of review and consideration for anyone involved in instructional design. It describes a model for online course design I have not seen elsewhere—IDOL, developed by Siragusa (2005) after completing a study on effective design principles and learning strategies for higher education students.

“Teachers and instructional designers can use it to design, develop, evaluate and refine their e-learning environments. The IDOL model (Instructional Design for Online Learning) is accompanied with 24 dimensions/ recommendations that accommodate varying pedagogical needs of learners as well as varying modes of course delivery; entirely online to online learning provided as a supplement to face to face learning. The model is based upon Reeves and Reeves’ (1997) model for creating pedagogically effective online learning environments. IDOL contains 24 pedagogical dimensions which are divided into 3 categories: analysis, strategy and evaluation”. 

Related Posts: