Next-Generation of Open Education Resources (OER) on User-Friendly, Approachable Platforms

iStock_box7XSmallOpen Education Resources (OER) have been around for some time yet few educators  make use of the thousands of free resources available online, mainly due to barriers that include searchability and quality concerns. This is about to change. The next generation of OER will be on platforms that are user-friendly, intuitive and make finding and sharing Open Education Resources less time-consuming and more approachable.

Open education resources is the term for digitized materials (images, lesson plans, videos, interactive learning objects, articles, even textbooks) that are offered freely and openly to educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research (Hylen, 2006).

Two new platforms, Amazon Inspire and Smithsonian’s Learning Lab, are what I call the ‘next-generation of OER’; they have the potential to overcome the barriers associated with OER and will transform how educators teach. The platforms are the catalyst needed to bring OER mainstream—not only to reduce costs associated with learning tools but to contribute to a different mindset—a mindset where educators seek out digital resources as tools to improve learning experiences and view OER as an opportunity to expand their professional development (Orr, Rimini & van Damme, 2015).

Amazon Inspire to Launch this Fall
Amazon.com has revolutionized how we shop with its online marketplace and is bringing the technology to education with a new platform—Amazon Inspire. Inspire is in beta, the testing phase, and is designed for educators to share and find OER. It allows educators to upload, download, review lesson plans, worksheets, lesson resources, and other materials via a platform that functions similarly to Amazon.com. It’s currently focused on K-12 education, though my guess is that higher education won’t be far behind; Matt Reed from Inside Higher Ed concurs in a recent article “Amazon OER?” (Reed, 2012).

I’m optimistic about Amazon’s Inspire. When examining barriers to OER educators cite most often, it appears that Amazon’s  Inspire’s features address most. Key barriers include i) timethe time needed to find appropriate resources, ii) technical skills,  not only for accessing OER but contributing to the OER community, iii) concern with quality, and iv) legal concerns; uncertainty about usage rights, educators unfamiliarity with creative commons licenses for instance (Hylen 2006, Mtebe & Rasimo, 2014). Granted, there are other barriers such as institutional policies that need to be addressed for educators to integrate OER successfully, yet overcoming technical barriers will move OER forward (Hodgkinson-Williams, 2010).

Amazon-Inspire-For-Education

Developed in support of the company’s commitment to making digital classrooms a reality, Amazon Inspire, with its rich features such as search, discovery and peer reviews, will provide educators—regardless of funding or location—access to upload and share free digital teaching resources. —Business Wire, June 27, 2016

Platforms with high visibility and robust features including how-to resources will contribute to educators viewing OER as approachable and accessible. Amazon Inspire brings awareness to OER with its high-profile brand. Most educators are likely familiar with Amazon and how it works. Amazon Inspire’s features include:

  • smart-search: enables teachers to explore resources by grade level, state standard or from a particular district
  • simple upload: easy-to-use and intuitive upload interface where educators can drag and drop files and add descriptions and comments
  • ratings feature  [this is especially significant]: It works as an open peer review where users rate a resource and add comments. This feature addresses quality concerns and fulfills a recommendation made by scholars working on OER at the Centre for Education Research and Development at OECD (Hylen, 2006).

There are criticisms from the education community about Amazon Inspire. One is that the format of a ‘marketplace’ associated with a commercial platform such as Amazon, is a detriment to OER. One comment is that a platform that is more conducive to a place where resources can ‘live’ and be adapted, similar to a platform Github for OER for instance, is more appropriate. I respectfully disagree. Moving OER forward needs platforms that are user-friendly with features that educators are familiar with and don’t require an inordinate time to learn. The next-generation of OER platforms, such as Amazon Inspire do just that.

Smithsonian Learning Lab
Another next-generation OER platform is Smithsonian’s Learning Lab. After several years of testing and revising with input from teachers and other educators, Smithsonian launched its new and improved Learning Lab. The platform appears to go even further than Amazon Inspire with features that allow teachers to create and share with students customized assignments, such as quizzes, using curated resources. Educators can add their own resources to their personal profile, and access Learning Lab’s rich bank of resources that are organized into four categories (image, video, text or learning resource). Resources are drawn from Smithsonian’s 19 museums, and nine research centers.

The platform, though geared to K-12 educators, is open to anyone interested in accessing the museum’s resources.  There are resources applicable to higher education (though the search feature is an issue — details below), and Learning Lab is working with a college in Maryland to explore how faculty can use the platform so they can expand its reach and engage higher education specifically.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 11.39.33 AM
Home page of Smithsonian Learning Lab at learninglab.si.edu

Learning Lab invested considerable effort in making the platform approachable based on feedback received from teachers during the testing phase. The result is the tag line “Discover, Create and Share”.  A smart move. Not only for the ‘create’ aspect as mentioned, but teachers can ‘share’ using a customized link, collections or assignments with students or others via email or on social media.

There are several resources that provide users with how-to help; directions and examples in form of short videos and dedicated a help section for ‘getting started’. I do recommend signing up for an account and then learning by experimenting—trying out the various features, it’s fairly intuitive.

All good; however the down side is the search function. Searches generate resources that aren’t always applicable to the search term;  for example when searching for ‘teaching with technology’ results include all resources that have the words ‘teaching’ and/or ‘technology’ associated with given resources, usually words that are embedded in its description. For example my search revealed the video below on ‘molecular astrophysics’ as the word ‘teaching’ is in the description. However, the search did produce several solid, applicable resources.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 1.07.09 PM
Screenshot of one of the resources resulting from search ‘teaching with technology’ on Smithsonian Learning Lab. The search function is still a challenge since the categories and descriptions of the resources weren’t written with the intent they would ever  be ‘open’

According to the director of the Learning Lab, they are trying determine methods to improve the search function for users—ideas include  user-generated tagging capabilities and machine image analysis.

Closing
I’m optimistic about the future of OER with the next-generation platforms. Not only because of the opportunity to reduce costs associated with learning tools, but for the effect on the mindset of teaching and learning. Educators can be empowered by OER, not only by accessing unique resources from platforms that make is straightforward, but by creating and contributing to the their own development, their students learning, and the education community.

OER Resources for Educators

References

‘The List’ for Educators: How to Find Almost Anything in Less than Three Clicks

3433081165_93315c9243_z ‘The List’ that provides educational resources at the finger tips—no searching, in less than three clicks—find instructive, rich content for instructional or personal use.

Something fresh, a collection of links that will direct readers to sites brimming with quality content in a breadth of disciplines. While participating in the MOOC over the past two weeks, Open Educational Resources 12 [OER] and reviewing comments from educators from various sources, I realized that finding open education resources is not only time-consuming, but can be a daunting task. Where does one begin? Even though numerous platforms are striving to streamline the search process for educators, it is a challenge. Resources are often buried deep, may take at least five clicks [if not more] to unearth something relevant. It can feel like being lost in a labyrinth of content.

Once it became apparent that numerous educators have similar challenges, time and a starting point for locating resources, I decided to create a list of links, categorized and organized in such a way that finding a tool, resource or content source is simple, easy and [hopefully] productive. With an upcoming break for the holidays, I hope you might have time to explore and locate at least one resource to incorporate into an online or face-to-face class, find something to spark an idea for instruction, or even for your personal and professional development. Enjoy!

How-to-Find: Movie Clips, Full length Movies, or Instructional Videos

  • MOVIECLIPS: Over 12,000 movie clips, to search for, find, view, discuss and share scenes from favorite movies. MOVIECLIPS has made movies searchable by actor, title, genre, occasion, action, mood, character, theme, setting, prop, and even dialogue. Also, clips are ‘legal’ and free to every user.

    Reel of Film
    Source: Free Images.co.uk
  • Khan Academy: Some educators are not fans of Khan academy [not sure why], yet the collection is an excellent supplemental resource to direct K-12 and college level students to for ‘extra’ help with key concepts, in math, science, U.S. government, finance and more. We use Khan academy as a resource in our college level math  and US Government courses. Feedback from students is very positive.
  • 500 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Westerns. The collection is divided into the following categories: Comedy & Drama; Film Noir, Horror & Hitchcock; Westerns & John Wayne; Silent Films; Documentaries, and Animation.

How-to Find:  e-Books or Audio Books

  • 375 Free e-books [Open Culture]: Download to Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Nook:  An excellent list of books, mostly Literature Classics, i.e. Chaucer, Tolstoy, Austen, Dewey and more.
    6555466069_3246e8b54e_z
    Open, by opensourceway, Flickr

    Open, by opensourceway

  • 450 Free audio books:  [Open Culture] Download hundreds of free audio books, mostly classics to your MP3 player or computer. Includes great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
  • 160 Free Textbooks: [Open Culture] Open textbooks written by knowledgable scholars are a relatively new phenomenon. Below, find a meta list of 150 Free Textbooks, and check back often for new additions.
  • Project Gutenberg is the first online collection of free electronic books. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg continues to maintain the site, and continues to build the database. There are over 40,000 free e-books to download.

How-to Find: Open Access Journals

  • Directory of Open Access Journal. Free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals, covering a breadth of subjects and in six languages. Click on subject of interest, next click to expand subject tree.
  • Education Research Global Observatory ERGO is a project on the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As a signatory to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, ERGO is dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of open access scholarship in education
  • Educational Technology Journals provided by Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Comprehensive collection of links to journals pertaining to educational technology and online learning.

How-to Find an Image: Photos or Illustrations

  • Humanline.com, just launched this tremendous site of high-quality, free images related to civilization’s history, art and science. An educator’s dream! Excellent site.
  • Microsoft Office Online provides downloadable clip art, photos, illustrations and even sound clips for free. Though the selection is somewhat limited, there are several excellent choices.

    MP900443345
    Source: Microsoft Office Online
  • Open ClipArt is the largest collaborative community that creates, shares and remixes clip art. All clip art is released to the public domain and may be used in any project for free with no restrictions.
  • Free Images.co.uk is a  high quality resource of digital stock photographic images for use by all. All images in the collection are free to use on websites, printed materials and anywhere you need photos for illustration and design use.

How-to Find Open Courses

  • The No Excuse List: A list of free courses available on the Internet from a vast list of providers by subject area.
  • The Open University: The first university to offer courses that we now are calling MOOCs. Incorporated by Royal Charter, an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland. Open University offers many short courses, including teacher skills training.

How-to Find: A Resource Using Google Search in 60 seconds by educator David Wiley

Related Reading

Photo Credits: Magnifying, by Clover_1, Flickr  & Open, by opensourceway, Flickr

One Big Happy Family of OPEN – How to Get Faculty to Embrace Open Educational Resources

6555466069_3246e8b54e_zGetting faculty to embrace open education resources takes more than directing them to a good search platform. In this post I suggest a two-pronged strategy to help faculty embrace ‘openness’.

I joined a Micro MOOC this week, LOER12 [Learning Open Education Resources] and discovered that the scope of open education resources (OER) is far beyond what I imagined; the number of dedicated educators and researchers working worldwide to expand, promote, and collaborate to advance the OER movement is extensive. One such group Evidence Hub for Open Education aims to promote and build a community of educators globally that work on Open Education initiatives that collaborate and build a collective memory. One project currently underway is OER mapping of institutional initiatives, an effort to track OER projects worldwide, a starting point for coordinating research efforts. The research in ‘open is a worthy one. Educators working on this project are eager to move open education forward, enhance the impact it has on teaching and learning, and determine its effectiveness.

And there is progress with OER, as evidenced by institutions implementing OER initiatives, such as University of Michigan with its Open.Michigan, an initiative that encourages faculty and students to share their educational resources and research with the global learning community. In the government sector, numerous states in the U.S. see OER resources as an opportunity to lower costs in the cash strapped education system. In California, legislation was signed last month that will provide college students text books at no cost, by way of openly licensed digital textbooks in three higher education systems.

What does it mean to Educators?
But, what do open educational resources mean to educators and institutions who have yet to implement OER initiatives? Should we as educators, be involved in adopting OER, even make a concerted effort to do so? What about higher education institutions? Without hesitation, I say yes and yes. Open education resources are more than digital text books, they have the potential to provide quality, diverse, media-rich courses, content and/or research materials that have the potential to transform education. It’s helpful to view OER not as stand-alone components, but as part of a bigger picture. OER overlaps with MOOCs, with competency based learning with learning analytics and other initiatives emerging in higher education. All are part of the ‘open’ movement.

800px-Global_Open_Educational_Resources_Logo.svg‘Open’ as a  Movement
The open movement is influencing all aspects of education. MOOCs are examples of open learning, defined as an approach that seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. And then there is open source, software applications open for use and improvement, for example the learning platform Moodle. There’s open data and even open access which gives unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. It’s one big happy family of open, that when working together, functions as a collaborative system. Open is changing how we educate, how learners learn and how instructors teach.

So back to the question, how can we encourage faculty, and educators to embrace open as a movement, including OER? I suggest a two-pronged approach.  First, for educators the concept of open needs to presented from a professional development standpoint— promoting OER ‘training’ as personal development that becomes part of the educator’s personal learning network. This is not all my idea, but advice from Stephen Downes, co-founder of the concept of the MOOC. In a post I published recently Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time, I suggested that when training faculty in using the LMS platform Moodle, the focus should not be exclusive to the technical aspects, but include the why, and address pedagogical training. Stephen Downes commented suggesting that training of faculty be approached from a development perspective.

I think it [training in LMS] should be tied to learning. When I teach people about technology, my focus is on how they can use it for their own professional development. The application of that learning to the classroom will follow. (OlDaily, Downes, 2012)

Personal Learning Network
If an educator [or learner] views and uses open education materials as a means to enrich  their own personal learning, or to develop a skill set, or in the case of an instructor enhance his or her teaching, motivation is triggered. The educator then wants to learn how to use the resources, is motivated to search for content that meets his or her course needs. Furthermore, the educator will invest the time needed to find the resources, as he or she is vested and interested in learning. In a report released recently Growing the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education (Allen & Seaman, 2012), several  barriers to adoption of OER were mentioned by faculty including, [lack of] time to learn and use OER (59%), and difficulty in searching. Though there is validity to these issues, in the bigger picture it is about the mindset of the individual and the institution.

Institutional Culture
The second critical part to increasing the adoption rate of open is consideration of the culture within the institution. The survey mentioned above listed ‘lack of support for non-local curriculum’ as another barrier. This speaks to the culture that the faculty works within, which must have the conditions necessary to support the adoption and implementation of OER. If the culture is open to change, conducive to experimenting and learning, to creating and sharing, the chances of success with the concept of open are increased. Though this is not to say that individuals cannot be champions of openness. It is possible, that champions can influence others, though alone they cannot change the entire culture of an institution without support from leadership.

Closing Thoughts
Times of change can create feelings of excitement, maybe even fear yet the rewards can be great. Adopting a culture of ‘openness’ requires a new mindset for teaching and learning. Incorporating OER as discussed here requires a different approach, one that supports educators in creating their own personal development, where each can determine how OER can be used to fit his or her own teaching and learning needs. Educators can become highly motivated through this kind of professional development, and combined with a supportive institutional culture, one that creates conditions for  learning in the open, a win-win situation ensues for students, instructors, the institution and the Community of Open Learning.

Photo Credits: Open, by opensourceway, Flickr, and Open Education Resources, by Jonathasmello, licensed under Creative Commons

How to Create Excellent Courses with Open Education Resources

What are Open Education Resources (OER)?  Where does one find open resources and under what conditions can educators use them? If you don’t have an answer to one or more of these questions, you are not alone. In fact you’re in good company. Thousands of educators across the United States, academic leaders and faculty, were surveyed for a study on open educational resources, Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in Higher Education, (Allen & Seaman, 2012). Though respondents demonstrated a moderate level of awareness of OER, many were unclear on what even qualified as an open education resource. The uncertainty around OER is understandable given its newness, yet is a missed opportunity for educators.

In this post I’ll first define open educational resources and describe how educators can find and use high quality, robust content sources to enhance instruction. I am an avid user of OER. I frequently use OER materials as supplemental content to enhance the general education courses I develop with faculty for our institution’s online program. I’ve also used OER when creating enrichment programs for K-12 programming, and during research as a graduate student. There is a wealth of high quality content, available and accessible at our fingertips.

Definition of Open Education Resources (OER)
Open Educational Resources abbreviated as OER, are openly formatted and licensed documents and media accessed on the Web that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research that anyone can openly use and reuse, without charge. It’s not surprising many are confused about what OER really are, as this term is similar to open education, which refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. There is also open source, which generally refers to a [software] program or application where the source code is available to the public for use and/or modification from its original design.

The three terms all refer to distinct concepts, though the word ‘open’ is the operative word, but open does not have the same meaning as ‘free’. Open in these contexts’ refers to a level of collaboration, and is associated with an object, application or program that is accessible with few barriers. The level of ownership is also included in the term, where the creator [owner] is not working under a model of proprietorship but rather chooses the level of sharing he or she is comfortable with through a license. Usage guidelines are straightforward and I’ll review the different types in the next post.

OER Materials: Examples
OER can be video clips, interactive maps or timelines, e-textbooks, self-contained multi-media lesson units, and even complete courses. I use open resources as supplements to existing courses, and have eliminated the use of text books in two of our fifteen courses using OER. I’ll review two examples of open educational resources below, and conclude with where to find similar resources.

A screen shot of the DNA – Double Helix Game. Click the image go to the game.

1) The DNA Double Helix Game: This resource is used as a supplement to a module within a biology course. The game is used as an application activity, which students complete after they finish the assigned reading The Discovery of the Molecular Structure of DNA – The Double Helix. The game overview page provides information of what students need to know before beginning. The purpose of this activity is to reinforce key concepts by engaging the student in a low stakes activity (it is not graded, and can be completed as many times as the student chooses). This is an example of using an OER as a supplemental or even optional resource.

2)  World Literature: Bhagavad Gita. This resource is comprehensive, with numerous options for educational purposes. The first step to using any OER effectively is to identify the learning objectives of the specific unit or lesson. I will use a three-credit World Literature course that I am working on now for this example. I started by reviewing the instructional plan for this module, of which the Bhagavad Gita is one of the two topics. The objectives of the module [topic] are, 1) Identify three universal themes within the Bhagavad Gita, 2) Describe how the themes apply to current culture.

World Literature Resource from learner.org

Given there is much to choose from within this resource, I determine which content items will fit the needs, then select application activities, which will prompt the student to apply and use higher order thinking skills [which supports objective #2].  For our course, the student will read the Bhagavad Gita, watch a 20 minute prerecorded video of our professor discussing background of the story and introducing the themes. From this resource for content sources, we will 1) have students read the Background and Language sections under the READ tab, 2) review the timeline and map section under the EXPLORE tab, and 3) watch the slide show and listen to expert talk about each.

For the application activity, we want students to apply the content, use critical thinking skills and demonstrate they can meet the learning objectives for this module. For this module, there will be two activities, the first will be a graded discussion forum, where students will be required to respond to a question chosen from the Discussion Prompt section using two paragraphs. We will include one more activity, an assignment where the student will be required to describe and discuss the central themes, as well describing with examples how themes apply to today’s culture.

Where to Find OER
An excellent place to search for OER content is through OER commons, (I found the above sources through OER). It is platform that is open, you do not need to sign up to find content, but if you create an account you will be able to save content into personalized folders. There is a short learning curve to figuring out how to conduct a search. Though the site is easy to use, you can narrow the search by discipline, and grade level, primary, secondary and post-secondary.  Do be prepared to spend some time reviewing what your search turns up, there is a full and complete collection. Help is available through the OER help search tool. This video provides a quick overview of how to search using OER.

Conclusion
What meant to be a short overview, ended up being longer than I’d hoped. But learning how to use OER is important, and the time invested in learning how to incorporate open education resources is time well spent given the potential enhancements to student learning. In my next post I’ll review more options for sourcing OER, provide an overview of the restrictions so you can use OER with confidence, and discuss the potential barriers to using OER.

Resources and Related Reading
OER Commons, http://www.oercommons.org/
Babson Report on OER in US Higher Education, by Phil Hill, e-literate

Coursera: Promise and Potential in Unexpected Places

I’ve held back from giving an evaluation Coursera preferring to wait until I completed an entire course, which I did recently, Introduction to Sociology, which closed on July 20th.  This course had 40,000 students enrolled which is consistent with enrollment for a MOOC, though the number of students completing both exams I’m sure was far lower. If you are not familiar with Coursera, Coursera is a joint effort to offer free undergraduate level courses, which are Open, Online, and Massive, a.k.a. MOOCs, by Princeton, University of Michigan, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania. Recently Coursera, received additional funding and signed on several more university partners including a selection of foreign schools, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto, and a technical university in Switzerland.

In this post I’ll outline why I think Coursera has promise and potential, but not necessarily as a ‘fix’ for Higher Ed, but more for the promise it holds to meet other educational needs, other gaps that have yet to be addressed [or discussed for that matter]. And though Coursera has the right formula for bringing online education to the masses – with its sophisticated and user-friendly platform that could morph into a fix for Higher Ed, I think the potential goes further. Though perhaps radical given the perceived current crisis at hand in Higher Ed, why not explore how MOOCs can meet educational needs at a different level?

Four Potentials and Promises
I propose that Coursera can meet educational needs in four areas, for 1) education for cultural awareness and integration, 2) college preparation and exploration for high school students, 3) education for motivated and lifelong learners [not for credit], and 4) skill/education upgrade for adults seeking a career change, with a credential option. I’ll explore the first two in depth here, and save the remaining two for a later post.

Summary of Coursera Experience
Before I explore the suggestions proposed, I’ll give a snippet of my overall experience with the Sociology course with Professor Duneier. Coursera provided an intellectually challenging and rich learning experience. I learned about key concepts of sociology and applied them to my current work and personal projects. Not only did the course enrich my perception of education [my line of work], but more importantly provided another dimension to my learning experience – an appreciation for the topic, which I gained from my classmates living outside of the United States. I was able to view the Sociological concepts from a diverse point of view.

1) The Potential for Cultural Awareness Education
MOOCs have attracted International students in great numbers – thousands of students from outside North America signing up for courses in all disciplines. In the course, Introduction to Sociology, the International students appeared to outnumber the US students by 4:1, though an estimate, it is consistent with other reports. One report from Inside Higher Ed, indicated that 74% of students enrolled in Coursera are from outside of the US. Think of the potential – students interacting from all over the globe, discussing concepts through discussion forums, forming online study groups, communicating through social media platforms, and my favorite, speaking and hearing others viewpoints through seminar discussions using Google Hangouts, a live web conferencing tool available free through Google +. I wrote about my experience using Google Hangouts in this course in a previous post, click here to read more.

In Introduction to Sociology, each week Professor Duneier facilitated an hour-long discussion with six or seven selected students (logistically it was not possible to involve all students). Students were from all around the world, India, Iran, Congo, United States, Georgia, Siberia, Singapore to name a few. The live discussions guided by the professor focused on the readings for the given week, and were recorded for later viewing for the rest of the class. These discussions highlighted the differences and similarities in how people from various cultures think about, and view concepts and events. Granted this particular class delved into issues affecting societies, however the potential is still great for students within other courses to appreciate similarities, and the differences by engaging in discussion and even hearing [via the recorded session] other viewpoints that are shaped by culture. The common ground is the course – which becomes the vehicle for bridging discussion, forming connections and encouraging dialogue. The potential for a Coursera-type platform is great, as our economies become one global economy, what better way to break down the cultural barriers?

2) The Promise for High School Students
A serious problem [in North America at least], is the lack of growth in the number of high-school students pursuing post secondary education [or completing it once they begin] – not having an idea of what they want to study or career path they want to pursue after high school is part of the problem. What if students were exposed to subjects and college level study before choosing a study path, while in grade eleven or twelve? What better way to explore and view what courses of study are available and even exist than by viewing top-notch courses taught by leading educators – courses such as Interactive Programming in Python, or Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, just two of many available through Coursera? These are not Advanced Placement type of courses, which typically are not always open and available to all students, involve a full-year commitment and have requirements for entry.

My prediction is that high school students, [granted not all] when exposed to Coursera will be intrigued by at least one of the subjects available through the broad and deep course offerings – students will encounter subject areas they never heard of before, and I have no doubt will find one or more of interest. When my two teenagers viewed Coursera, my daughter a senior, interested in Biology, [but not sure], signed up for the Introduction to Genome Science and my son, Game Theory. One of the barriers I believe for students – is not knowing what they can study, not having awareness of the areas of study and career paths available, including the fact that a 4-year college degree isn’t the one and only option. Though my kids may not complete these courses in their entirety, I do feel it will be a worthwhile experience.

With Coursera there are no barriers for students, they can sign up for a course without having to submit transcripts, previous test scores, without having a parent or counselor saying ‘NO you can’t take that you don’t have the grades’ or ‘you don’t have this prerequisite’ etc. Yes, the courses may be challenging and even too difficult for these students, but they can figure this out on their own. These students will gain exposure to an area they knew nothing about. Even if students only watch the video lectures, complete one of the readings, and/or even fail to pass or complete the course, the student benefits, learns and engages in an enriching experience.

What’s Next?
As I’ve shared, I think Coursera is tremendous potential to meet  educational needs at many levels, levels that go beyond revamping the Higher Ed model as we know it, even in areas we have yet to explore. Breaking down barriers will be necessary to move education forward, to meet educational needs in unique ways. We need to bring down barriers to change, barriers to technological innovations and be open to new ways of learning for a global world. In my next post I’ll share more insights into the Coursera experience.

Other Reading:
MOOCs from Here, by Dean Dad, Inside Higher Ed
Who Takes MOOCs?, Steven Kolowich, Inside Higher Ed
Once upon a course in Princeton: My Coursera Experience, David Agogo

Cheating in a MOOC – an Oxymoron

This weekend I read an article in Forbes that suggested students cheating while taking a MOOC is a serious roadblock to providers of the new MOOCs, specifically  Udacity, Cousera and soon to be launched edX. This is misinformation at its finest. Cheating in a MOOC is an oxymoron, a contraction of terms, similar to an ‘open secret’ or the ‘original as a copy’, they don’t fit.

You can’t cheat in a MOOC
You can’t cheat in a MOOC. Well let me clarify, you can cheat while completing an auto-scored quiz or exam, or on an essay that might be peer reviewed, but It’s pointless. In this instance cheating does not serve any purpose. The courses are free, you can’t earn college credit, and are not part of a credential [at this point]. Furthermore MOOCs depend upon the learner being self-motivated, to learn for the sake of learning. Stephen Downes co-creator of the MOOC concept describes the MOOC better than anyone – in his personal blog half an hour,

“One big difference between a MOOC and a traditional course is that a MOOC is completely voluntary. You decide that you want to participate, you decide how to participate, then you participate. If you’re not motivated, then you’re not in the MOOC.” (Downes, 2012)

Misconceptions
Yet as MOOCs become high profile, in part due to Udacity, which launched the course Artificial Intelligence course and attracted over 100,000 eager learners worldwide, and Coursera another high profile MOOC provider, misconceptions abound. A recent article in Forbes Magazine, The University of Disruption (Anders, 2012) featuring Sebastian Thrun founder of Udacity, is no exception. The author discussed cheating, and students [obsessive] pursuit of the ‘A’…

“Another roadblock: making sure that grade-obsessed students don’t cheat by swapping answers among friends or setting up lots of dummy accounts….” (Anders, 2012)

A ‘different’ Learning Theory
However even though Mr. Anders doesn’t have it quite right [by not recognizing that grades shouldn’t matter in a MOOC], his point is worth considering. I suggest that it can be a starting point for future dialogue about how the model of Higher Ed has to change, and how MOOCs will fit into it.

We cannot compare the MOOC way of learning to ‘traditional’ face-to-face instruction. MOOCs are grounded in the theory of connectivism where learners connect through a network, a self creating network of relationships using tools on the Web. Knowledge creation in a MOOC is dynamic, created or constructed and is unique to each learner. Even Mr. Thrun, is vocal about the change needed in Higher Education – he views it as his mission to fix the ‘broken’ system (Anders, 2012).

Continuing the Dialogue…
The good news – there is constructive dialogue, discussion and analysis of MOOCs going on in Higher Ed circles, and it needs to continue. This past week, I participated in a very good Webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which explored many issues that faculty are facing whether teaching MOOCs or not. I hope that we as educators can contribute to the dialogue, shape the future of MOOCs and the role they play in our institutions. Below are a few suggestions that I think we should consider so that we can be part of the conversation.

  • Discuss with fellow faculty, teachers and staff how MOOCs fit into your institution.
  • Enroll in a MOOC – I strongly suggest doing so – I’m currently participating in a MOOC through Cousera [Introduction to Sociology]. I’m learning quite a bit – not just about Sociology but about how MOOCs work [I’ll write a post at the conclusion of the course].
  • Participate in Webinars about MOOCs, listen to podcasts, watch panel discussions. I’ve also listed some links below that may be of interest for further reading.

If you have any ideas of how we can continue the dialogue in our own institutions, I would love to hear from you. It’s exciting times – change is inevitable. Cheating and MOOCs are just one small part of the big picture, but it’s a good place to start.

 Resources: