How Interactive is Your Online Course? Self-Assess with this Rubric

Online instructors and course designers can enhance existing online courses and create active, engaging courses by considering five elements included in an adapted version of Robyler and Ekhamil’s “Rubric for Assessing Interactive Qualities of Distance Courses” described (and embedded) below. 

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Interactivity is a much discussed topic in online learning. It’s considered the essential ingredient for quality learning. It’s also considered the missing element in online learning—an element that critics claim make face-to-face learning superior. There is no question that interactivity is a necessary component of online, for-credit education. Three out of seven principles presented in Chickering and Gamson’s seminal paper “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education(1987) stress interaction and active learning: Principle 1. encourage contact between students and faculty, 2. develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, and 3. encourage active learning. Chickering and Gamson’s principles are just as relevant to online education as they are to face-to-face instruction. Also worth noting is that several institutions use these same principles as a foundation for their best practices in both traditional and online education today.

Few would argue that interactivity is necessary for quality online education, yet many educators are unsure how to make an online course interactive. Adding to the challenge is the fact that there are few resources outlining strategies and examples on how to go about developing a course that stresses active learning.

The Rubric
Fortunately there is an excellent, instructive tool that serves as a starting point, “How Interactive are YOUR Distance Courses? A Rubric for Assessing Interaction in Distance Learning”.  I like this resource because of the clear language it uses, the specificity of behaviours and its self-scoring capabilities. The rubric below is based on concepts of the original rubric published in Robyler and Ekhamil’s paper. The revised rubric adds a fifth element ‘Evidence of Instructor Engagement’ to the existing four, where each element defines interactive qualities of an online course. The updated version further develops each element—an improvement over the original; the elements are now worded so they are specific to interactive qualities brought about by: 

  • course design (element 1 and 2)
  • technology support function (element 3)
  • facilitation of the course (element 4 and 5).

The three-page Rubric embedded below is a PDF in Google Docs (hover your cursor over the right corner to expand the Rubric). If unable to view the embedded file, click here to go directly to the doc on Google Drive.

Are we measuring Interactivity or Interaction?
There is a critical distinction between interactivity and interaction in the context of online education. It’s important to clarify—one concept involves technology and the other human behaviors. Wagner in Interactivity: From Agents to Outcomes (1997) describes interactivity as involving attributes associated with a technological application that delivers an interactive experience to learners, e.g. an interactive timeline embedded within a course home site, or a multiple choice quiz that gives automated feedback. On the other hand interactions usually involve human behaviours of individuals or groups that influence one another (Wagner, 1997). Discussion within a forum where there is exchange between students is an example, an email exchange between student and instructor, or a live video conference chat are others. As Wagner discusses in her paper, the differences are noteworthy, and relevant today as the term interactive is often used without clarification when describing online education courses in discussions for assessment and accreditation purposes.

Conclusion
Creating and facilitating an online class that is interactive—that promotes student activity and engagement is challenging and complex. There are many variables involved; several beyond the control of the instructors and course development team. The rubric presented here does provide a good starting point for considering some of the factors that contribute to creating active and meaningful learning experiences for students. If you have or use resources or strategies that are helpful for creating active learning, consider sharing by leaving a comment so other readers may benefit. Thank you!

References

Does Class Size Matter in Online Courses? Three Perspectives: The Economist, Instructor & Student

Multiethnic Group of Business People with Speech Bubbles

What is the ideal class size in an online, for-credit course? Fifteen, twenty students? How about forty?  A group of researchers at Stanford University set out to answer this question by conducting a study with over 100,000 students across 102 undergraduate and graduate courses. They presented their findings at the American Economic Association (AEA) Conference this month (2015) in “Virtually Large: The Effects of Class Size in Online College Courses”. They also shared their research at the  (APPAM) conference in November and at the CESifo conference on the Economics of Education (Bettinger et al., 2014). This study takes a unique perspective on the topic of optimal class size for online, for-credit classes in higher education—it incorporates principles from a model in microeconomics—economies of scale. The researchers examined educational productivity by measuring class size effects on students outcomes and persistence

Why Class Size Matters
There’s a need for educators and administrators to address the size of online classes. Class size impacts course design strategies, institution policies, instructor compensation models, workload assignments and best practice guidelines. Below I share findings from (the scant) research on online class sizes. I highlight the findings from three perspectives: 1) economic perspective, 2) faculty, and 3) student perspective. Given the different approaches of the studies their limitations and varied results, it’s constructive to consider the studies collectively; consider the numerous variables that affect student outcomes in addition to class size when planning and strategizing for online education programs.

Consensus?
Conclusions about the effects of online class size vary; depend upon the perspective of researchers and the research question. But there is consensus that there are numerous variables that affect student learning (online and face-to-face) besides class size. Variables that include: peer effects, students technical skills and education level (undergraduate vs. graduate student), instructors experience with the technology, workload, and the technology itself  (Gilbert,1995; Lazear, 1999; Orellana, 2006).

Three Perspectives on Online Class Size

1) Economist Perspective of Online Class Size
There is significant literature on the economics of class size and student achievement for K-12, though research on cost-benefit analysis of class size for face-to-face and online in higher education is scant. There are a handful of studies examining effects of class size in F2F settings including “The Effects of Class Size on Student Achievement in Higher Education” (Kokkelenberg et al, 2005). Fewer papers exist on effects of class size from an economics perspective for online, for-credit courses which makes “Virtually Large: The Effects of Class Size in Online College Courses” an important study. It’s yet to be published though I found a preliminary copy on the Web (posted via CESifo conference). 

The study used data from a research partnership between DeVry Education group and Stanford University (also reported in the New York Times in 2014) over a two-year period that tracked over 100,000 students from DeVry University and focused online, for-credit college-level courses. Variables analyzed in the study: student GPA history, class size, course discipline, and student persistence.

The primary research question of the study: does increasing online class sizes affect student GPA, credits received in the next term, and persistence in the next term?

The study concluded that for online classes that range from 16 to 40 students, increasing class size as much as 25 percent does not significantly affect student grades, credits earned in the next session, or enrollment in the next session. The preliminary paper discussed the implications for the results, suggesting impact on cost savings for institutions with an online program with large numbers of students and classes. For instance, establishing class size limits of 40 students as opposed to 30 students could have positive financial implications through instructor compensation.  The researchers acknowledged limitations of the study, which was the sample of relatively small online classes.

2) Instructors Perspective of Online Class Size

Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses” by Anymir Orellana (2006) approaches the research from the perspective of higher education instructors. Purpose of the study—to determine faculty perception of optimal class to achieve high levels of interaction appropriate for a given course as measured by a rubric, RAIQ (Rubric for Assessment Interactive Qualities in Distance Courses (Orellana, 2006; Roblyer & Wiencke, 2004). The paper shares results on instructors perceptions about optimal class size needed for student interactivity and includes robust discussion about other factors that influence the instructors perceptions.

Findings indicate that even though the actual class sizes of the studied online courses were not related to their actual interactive qualities and that most respondents perceived their online courses as moderately and highly interactive, respondents still believed that they needed smaller classes to achieve higher interactive levels. (Orellana, 2006, pg. 236).

Orellana discusses instructor perceptions at length and cites research from various viewpoints. He brings up the issue of instructor workload as a factor influencing instructors perspective on the ideal class size. He cites studies that indicate online teaching requires a significant investment of time (more than F2F) and thus instructors stress the necessity of smaller classes. He quotes from one paper the idea of the “more-work myth” claimed among distance educators as a reason for small class sizes (Orellana, pg. 232).  Orellana also cites studies that state small classes aren’t always appropriate for courses that emphasize collaborative and group learning (pgs. 231-232). Valid points. Factors influencing the more-time-needed viewpoint of instructors could be due in part to extra hours required for course development and the learning time required for teaching in a new mode.

Orellana stresses the need for institutions to address the workload issue for online course instructors. I’ll add to that—I suggest that class size is not the primary issue, but that the support and professional development by their institutions that provide the skills to online instructors is. Orellana also  suggests readers regard recommendations about class size from consortia with caution (pg. 246).

3) Students Perspective of Online Class Size

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How do students perceive class size in online classes?

A thorough analysis of the effects of class size in online learning is not complete until the students perspective is considered. The study “Class Size as Related to the Use of Technology, Educational Practices, and Outcomes in Web-Based Nursing Courses” analyzed data from undergraduate (n = 265) and graduate (n = 863) students enrolled in online nursing courses (Burruss et al, 2009). Variables in this study included active participation and learning, student-to-student interaction, faculty-to-student interaction and the level of connectedness students experienced when engaging in learning activities.  The most significant finding of was the different perceptions between undergraduate and graduate students on the effect class size had on fostering social presence. For instance, undergraduate students found medium size classes promoted more social presence than did small classes, yet graduate students found less social presence in medium size classes compared to small classes.  Despite the students perceptions, undergraduate and graduate rated their online course experience as satisfactory—irrespective of class size.

The differences in perceptions between undergraduate and graduate students is worth examining further. This phenomenon indicates the learning needs of the student groups vary and instructors should adjust their teaching strategies accordingly as an alternative to adjusting class sizes.

Closing Thoughts

As the literature demonstrates, there are several factors to consider when determining guidelines for class sizes in online, for-credit courses. Doing so requires an analysis and consideration of a variety of perspectives and variables, many which are unique to an institution’s program. Online instruction and learning size is complex and significant. There is no formula; no optimal class size that will guarantee meaningful learning.

References:

Three Trends That Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2015

Vector 2015 Happy New Year background

There is no shortage of predictions for the upcoming year of 2015. Micro-credentials, digital wearables and mobile learning are just a few of the many. Yet predictions are notorious for misleading and even wildly inaccurate assurances. But analyzing trends across industries in conjunction with developments within a sector—the education sector in this instance, is far more constructive and strategic than considering stand-alone predictions. There are themes and patterns worthy of educators, administrators and stakeholders investment of time and consideration. This post examines and explores three trends that meet the worthy criteria. The three: 1) Skill-specific education also known as competency-based education (CBE) is expanding to institutions and generating new education technology products and platforms, 2) Social learning facilitated by technology and the acceptance of MOOCs is a new and viable instructional method, and 3) Learning-on-the-go supported not just by mobile devices and internet connectivity, but by the availability of sophisticated applications with few barriers will expand learning to students seeking flexible access to education.

Sources for Trends Affecting Education in 2015
There’ve been several articles and reports written and shared by organizations, education entities and news agencies that highlight trends, developments, and hot topics to watch for in 2015. Not all are specific to education, but reading between the lines there are subtle implications that suggest which potential developments will affect if not change how people learn. The sources chosen for this post are few but solid. A key source and excellent resource for the education community is the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition Wiki which provides insight into educational technology trends. Its content is used for the annual NMC Horizon Project which uses the Wiki for the panel of experts to exchange ideas and engage in discourse. Another report rich in data is the 2015 Digital Trends Report created by GSW a communications agency working within the health sector. Additional sources include Innovating Pedagogy 2014 published by Open University, EDUCAUSE Review November/December 2014, among others. Collectively these sources and events over the past year (2014) in education provide a window into new developments in teaching and learning to watch for in 2015 .

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example of how competency education works

1) Skill-Specific Education
The most significant innovations in education programs of this past year are those that focus on a specific skill set or knowledge area. These programs fall under the banner of micro-credentialing or competency-based education (CBE) and will be more disruptive to traditional education than anything we’ve seen to date. Traditional education in this context is defined as for-credit education measured by instruction time and grading of students work by teacher/instructor/faculty. Outcomes of traditional education typically are credentials in the form of a degree, diploma or certificate and are recognized by employers and institutions. On the other hand, skills education facilitates student’s learning technical skills or knowledge in a specific topic area that is measured by criteria-specific performance. Typically assessment is an observable outcome(s) that demonstrates mastery in the form of an e-portfolio or interactive transcript. Examples are competency-based degree programs such as the one offered at Purdue, or nano-degrees offered by Udacity, mirco-credential programs offered by edX or Coursera, certificates by Alison, and Mozilla’s Open Badges program. 

We can expect more institutions offering competency education programs and employer involvement in skill-specific education this year, as in the example of AT&T giving funds to Udacity and Georgia Tech for development of online programs. We’ll also see companies serving as advisors for curriculum and program development for courses of study at institutions.

Drivers of Skill-Specific Education

  • Pressure on education institutions from Department of Education and/or other government entities to offer more accessible and shorter education pathways (to a credential) to accommodate non-traditional learners. The non-traditional segment is a new and growing market of adult learners with prior skills and experience
  • Expanding non-traditional student population who seek open, flexible learning
  • Skills gap identified by employers
  • High cost associated with higher education

Developments in Skill-Specific Education

  • MOOCs on institution-affiliated platforms focusing on skill specific training in partnership with companies (edX offering Teacher PD)
  • Courses focusing on skills with input from employers who have a hand in developing curriculum, e.g. Nano-degrees (Udacity), and professional courses for a fee — targeting professionals (edX and Coursera)
  • LMS platform providers creating specific platforms that accommodate competency specific learning e.g. Helix LMS (Phil Hill on Helix LMS)
  • Digital badges, e.g. Mozilla Open Badge Project
  • Brandman University’s competency degree program incorporates digital badges for students to demonstrate skills to potential employers
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Gaming is just one area of social learning that is being used as pedagogical method. Screen shot of slide 42 from “2015 Digital Trend Report”

2)  Social Learning as a Pedagogical Method
Social learning is not a new concept, but social learning as a method of instruction is. We are beginning to see social learning adopted by education institutions as a method for learning through peer collaboration for instance, and in Human Resources departments as a method for employee training. Also technological advancement in the form of applications—mobile apps that support learners not just through collaboration but by learning core concepts through innovative software design. Gaming too has become more social, as well as learning management platforms (LMSs) which are incorporating features that support and promote interactivity and social connections among students.

The aim [of social learning] is to engage thousands of people in productive discussions and the creation of shared projects, so together they share experience and build on their previous knowledge  — Innovating Pedagogy 2014, The Open University

Drivers of Social Learning

  • Advancements in technology have lowered barriers to learner connectivity
  • MOOCs uncovered a new demographic of learners—non-traditional students with a thirst for knowledge and learning
  • Dissemination of knowledge—learners can now access knowledge through networks rather than institutions
  • Companies seeking alternatives to traditional employee training and development leveraging social platforms and tools
  • Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies in education institutions

Developments in Social Learning

  • Features within Learning Management Platforms that facilitate social interactivity
  • Smart phone applications (apps) that support learning with and from peers and/or tutors, e.g. P2P Chat
  • Businesses using social media platforms for employee learning and development, e.g. Cisco introduces Project Squared a service delivered via an app or the Web that offers an online gathering place for getting work done.

3) Learning-on-the-Go
Mobile devices along with low barriers to connectivity and the choice of hundreds of new apps specific to education puts access to education in the hands of learners making learning-on-the-go a reality. Learning-on-the-go, also known as mobile learning or m-learning is also not new, yet recent advancements in network capabilities and applications makes learning exclusively from a mobile device a reality.

Mobile Learning

Ideas from Mobile Learning

Brandman University for example recently launched a competency based degree on a mobile platform where students have access to 30,000 pages of course material from a tablet or smart phone.  Other education institutions are following suit by making education accessible to students from their mobile device for untethered learning— students aren’t bound by a physical institution or even a desktop computer.  Numerous apps for mobile devices also support access to knowledge sources via video tutorials, lessons on topic-specific modules, or to access tutoring support, study resources etc.

Drivers of Learning-on-the-Go

  • Non-traditional students looking for flexible learning that fits their busy schedule
  • Low barriers to owning mobile devices
  • Higher quality applications and infrastructure systems that deliver user-friendly learning options

Developments in Learning-on-the-Go

  • Education institutions offering degree programs fully online with mobile friendly resources
  • Sophisticated applications available for mobile devices that provide quality education options
  • Apps that satisfy a variety of education needs including degree programs, developmental education programs, one-on-one tutoring, academic advising

Conclusion
Though we can’t predict exactly what will happen in 2015, we can make informed decisions and be strategic for the upcoming year. Nothing is certain in the future except change as the saying goes, yet being proactive rather than reactive will put educators in the best position for a successful and effective 2015.

References

Seven Must-Read Books About Education: The 2015 List

Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly  — Francis Bacon

Book selloutTwo thousand and fourteen was a great year for books. I read all the books on last year’s list, “Seven Must-read books about education for 2014” and wrote reviews for each. The books were thought-provoking, refreshing, well worth the investment of my reading time. I’ve complied a selection of titles for 2015 and share the top seven related to education. Collectively the books provide unique and broad perspectives on education. Three titles fall outside the education discipline though each provides insight worth exploring. The list is based upon reviews of several published lists featuring best books overall and best-selling education books of 2014 by The New York Times, NPR, The Chronicle of Higher Education etc. as well as readers comments on GoodReads and Amazon. Like last year, I’m aiming for thought-provoking reads, and quality over quantity.

1. Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, (2014). Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III & Mark A McDaniel

“Make it Stick” made The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Top 10 Books on Teaching. Though two of the three authors are college professors, the book emphasizes the practical application of learning techniques rather than teaching strategies. Authors present recent research on memory, cognitive functioning, how the brain encodes, consolidates information, etc. The subject might suggest a dry read—but reviewers claim it’s engaging, even lively. The book delivers practical advice on effective learning techniques that trump traditional methods of cramming, rote memorization, etc.

“From the perspective of a professor with a good 20 years of experience, this book is a gem. The authors use research to demonstrate how students learn best and how teachers can structure courses to facilitate student learning. While I’ve read many books on teaching, few are as helpful as this one”  Elizabeth Theiss (Goodreads)

2. Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, (2014). Nir Eyal (author),  Ryan Hoover (editor)

“Hooked” is not about education, but product design. The design concept is typically not considered among educators let alone applied when creating learning environments, yet it’s a critical component in developing learning for online spaces. Up until now online learning has focused on delivery of content, level of engagement of learners, completion rates, etc.  There’s been little consideration of usability of learning platforms, of creating and structuring content, or guidance for students that provide intuitive pathways for learning. Design principles—principles that guide product design to create user-friendly, intuitive products can and should be applied to online learning. There’s science behind the book too, it incorporates behavioural theory and research.

3. Mastery, (2013). Neil Greene

I chose to include this book for a few reasons, first—the publisher is Penguin Books, my favorite book publisher. I’ve yet to read a Penguin book I didn’t like. Second the format of the book is intriguing as the author Robert Greene examines the lives of several masters—Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonard da Vinci, and contemporary experts such as tech guru Paul Graham. The book is also the sequel to New York times bestselling book “48 Laws of Power”. As the title implies, “Mastery” is about mastering a subject through a three-phase learning technique that includes, 1) apprenticeship, marked by intense learning, 2) the active level, set apart by practice and final phase is mastery.  This book sounds review-worthy.

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Social Network Theory and Educational Change, Alan J. Daly, Harvard Education Press (December 16, 2010)

4. Social network Theory and Educational Change, (2010). Alan J. Daly

This book intrigues me. After reading the description it appears to be about implementing change in education settings by using the theory of social network analysis as a framework. Worth considering since the focus is on examining the relationships between teachers, leaders, and students, considered ‘nodes’ in the network, and the patterns of communication and information flow between them. The author, a professor of education, uses a case study approach to illustrate application of the network analysis model. 

 5. Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), (2014). Christian Rudder

Not just a book about big data and what it tells us, “Dataclysm” explores the idea of the vision itself.  Highly acclaimed, it made NPR list of Best books of 2014 under the ‘eye-opening reads’ category, The Globe and Mail’s Best Book for 2014, Amazon’s top book of 2014, and was a New York Times Bestseller. As education moves online and institutions and companies gather millions of data patterns of students, Big Data is a BIG topic that both students and institutions need to examine closely for different reasons. “Dataclysm” made my list this year so I can learn more about data that’s collected and the implications for design and development of online education and its students.

“Most data-hyping books are vapor and slogans. This one has the real stuff: actual data and actual analysis taking place on the page. That’s something to be praised, loudly and at length. Praiseworthy, too, is Rudder’s writing, which is consistently zingy and mercifully free of Silicon Valley business gabble.”  Jordan Ellenberg, Washington Post

6. Peeragogy Handbook version 3, (2015). Howard Rheingold et al.

I was introduced to this book last year by a reader, and placed it on my must-read list for 2015. The book’s premise is technologically enhanced peer learning, and is a guide to help peers around the globe attain their educational goals and improve their projects. In keeping with the thesis is its authorship; it’s collective, anyone can contribute. From the Peeragogy Handbook website:

“The “Peeragogy Handbook” isn’t a normal book. It is an evolving guide, and it tells a collaboratively written story that you can help write. Using this book, you will develop new norms for the groups you work with — whether online, offline, or both.

Version 3 of the handbook launched January 1, 2015 and is available as a free PDF download on peeragogy.org.  A Peeragogy Workbook is also available for download in a PDF format here. The softcover format is available on Amzaon.com for $20.

7. Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, (1964). Marshall McLuhan

I’m a big fan of Marshall McLuhan’s work; the man was a genius. McLuhan was a philosopher, author and professor of communication studies. Reading his works and listening to recordings of his talks, one hears him speak of the effects of the internet long before we had the internet. I’m eager to read this book where he argues a society is affected and shaped by the medium, its characteristics rather than the content that’s delivered over it. How intriguing!

Closing I look forward to another year of good company with some great books.  I track my book list and reviews on the Goodreads platform, which you can find here.  If interested in viewing the previous books I’ve read on education along with their reviews click here for my education virtual bookshelf on Goodreads.

How (Not) to Design a MOOC: Course Design Scenarios From Four xMOOCs

designThis post examines four MOOCs completed as a student then de-briefed from a course design perspective—I share insights into what worked and what didn’t for the purpose of helping educators create better online learning experiences.

I recently completed two MOOCs on the edX platform that are part of a mini-series on education policy. The courses are great examples of how higher education institutions misuse the MOOC format by using traditional teaching methods that end up falling flat. I debrief the two MOOCs from a course design perspective and share why they were sub par, uninspiring. I also describe two other MOOCs that provided exemplary learning experiences. The two pairs of MOOCs provide instructive examples of contrasting course design approaches.

This post follows “How to Make Bad Discussion Questions Better: Using a Case Study of an edX MOOC” the first MOOC of the mini-series “Saving Schools: History, Politics, and Policy in U.S. Education”. I used actual discussion questions from this MOOC’s forums as examples of how not to write questions to foster student discussion. I rewrote the questions, providing better and best formats that would be more likely to encourage meaningful dialogue.

The second edX MOOC, “Saving Schools: History, Politics and Policy in U.S. Education: Teacher Policy” wrapped up this week (December 4). Both MOOCs followed an identical course structure that included: recorded video lectures that relied on the interview format featuring one (sometimes two) faculty member(s), two assigned readings per week (from the same source), one discussion question each week, and a final exam. This format is typical of xMOOCs; one that tries to mimic the in-class experience.

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Click to enlarge. Screen shot of instructions for the final assignment, a digital artifact, in E-learning and Digital Cultures. At the end of this post my Digital Artifact created for the course assignment

Exemplary MOOCs
The other two MOOCs used a non-traditional design approach. They took advantage of what the MOOC format could offer by acknowledging its uniqueness and providing content from a variety of sources outside the MOOC platform. They also utilized a range of assessment methods, and included social media that encouraged interaction. Both MOOCs, Introduction to Sociology and E-learning and Digital Cultures (from Coursera), inspired and promoted thought. The learner was a viewed as a contributor, not a recipient.

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Introduction video of Professor Duneier introducing his course on Coursera (2012). Duneier pulled the course from Coursera after concerns over licensing his course for other institutions use.

E-learning and Digital Cultures featured YouTube videos not lecture videos to demonstrate course concepts, along with articles, mostly from academic journals. The learning experience closely resembled a cMOOC experience (the original MOOC format developed by Downes and Siemens)—one that leverages sources on the web, shares student blogs and views students as contributors. Introduction to Sociology featured two video formats; one featuring Professor Duneier, not lecturing, but sitting in an armchair (above) talking, sharing course-related experiences. He acknowledged learners (some by name) and encouraged student interactivity. The other was live (and recorded) using Google’s Hangout platform with eight students and Duneier leading a seminar discussion.

Course Design Shortcomings of the edX MOOCs
The purpose of the following discussion about the edX MOOCs is not to criticize the course designers or faculty, but to consider the MOOCs as learning opportunities. Doing so aligns with one of the goals of edX, to use the platform to advance teaching and learning.

Learning/instructional methods: The MOOCs relied upon mostly traditional methods of instruction—lectures, multiple choice assessments. Content was instructor-centered, limited to lectures (featuring faculty member), textbook readings (from a book written by same faculty member), and articles from one source, Education Next, of which the same faculty member is editor-in-chief.

  • The edX MOOCs would benefit from inclusion of open resources, with links to outside sources showing various perspectives as well as social media platforms where students could engage live with content experts or static content. Also to share content sources, and/or their own content creations (blog posts, etc.)
  • Learning was confined to a virtually, walled classroom—inside the MOOC platform.
Target objectives

MOOCs that provide a focus and structure for students by including goals or focus questions, allow students to shape and customize their own learning accordingly

Course Objectives: There were no learning goals outlined for the MOOCs. There didn’t appear to be a focus for each week, or guiding questions to provide structure. Granted, learners should create their own learning objectives when working within a MOOC, though a stated focus or general goals for the course allows learners to establish and shape their own learning goals. E-learning and Digital Cultures provided an overview of the course which outlined the focus for each unit of study, and each week included focus questions to consider. 

Rigor: Course rigor was low. Disappointing given the institution behind the MOOC was Harvard. It’s worth noting at edX’s launch in 2012, the Provost of MIT at the time L. Rafael Reif emphasized the rigor and quality of courses on ex’s platform ”(edX courses need) not to be considered MIT Lite or Harvard Lite. It’s the same content” (MIT News).  Yet the discussion questions as outlined in my first post, the biased readings, lectures, the application activities for students did not add up to a rigorous learning experience that encouraged critical thinking. Several factors may have contributed. Suffice to say that the course design team would have benefited from someone with a high-level of expertise in effective course design principles, knowledge of learning theories and instructional methods.

Content: As mentioned the majority of the content was limited to the faculty member in the lectures, two or three chapters of a book authored by the same faculty member, and essays from the one source.

  • Biased resources did not contribute to learner’s considering multiple perspectives. Though in the second MOOC there was an effort by course facilitators to incorporate other perspectives in the discussion forums.
  • Lecture videos were long — typically 12 to 15 minutes. Research on MOOC videos suggest ideal length is 4 to 6 minutes (Guo, 2013).
  • Repetitive Content. Content from the readings were also included in the lecture, and frequently two interviews in the same lecture covered the same content.
  • Delivery methods of content were repetitive, uninspiring.
  • Content came across as telling, not interactive.

Application activities: There were few activities for learners to engage in except for discussion forums. Unfortunately the questions in the first MOOC did not encourage robust discussion, though they improved in the second course. There were two or three multiple choice questions after each video. Several questions could be considered common knowledge. I could have answered the majority of them without watching the videos.

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Screen shot of a forum discussion question from the MOOC “Saving Schools: History, Politics and Policy in U.S. Education”. A close-ended question, and one not likely to stimulate thoughtful discussion. In my previous post, “How to Make Bad Discussion Questions Better” I provide examples for more effective questions formats.

Conclusion
The pairs of MOOCs illustrate how varied approaches to MOOC course design significantly impacts engagement levels, perceptions and learning outcomes. The edX MOOCs examined here, typical of the majority of MOOCs, relied upon learning methods that failed to leverage the benefits of an open platform, failed to view as students as knowledge sources and contributors. Over time the MOOC format will no doubt settle into something quite different from what we’re experiencing now. A format that will find it’s purpose, engage learners and build bodies of knowledge that benefit all.

Further Reading:

“I am Malala”: A Review of the Book and Its Implications for Education

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I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Little, Brown and Company, 2013

“I am Malala” is the true story of a fourteen-year old girl’s campaign for women’s right to education. In 2011 Malala was shot  by the Taliban in a bus on her way home from school. Two men boarded the school bus—“Who is Malala” they asked and fired gun shots; two lodged in Malala’s head. The series of events that followed, described in Malala’s voice, are remarkable—the politics, the media frenzy and her recovery. The shooting triggered a complex series of negotiations involving prominent political figures from Pakistan and England. It’s a powerful book. Malala’s story is remarkable in light of women’s role in her culture and the groups fighting to oppress women—in this case the Taliban. It was the Taliban that claimed responsibility for shooting Malala calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.” (Walsh, 2012).

Overview
The first half of the book Malala describes Pakistan’s history including the history of her ancestors and the northern region of Pakistan, Swat where she lives. Malala also shares stories of her family, giving the reader a glimpse into the culture of Pakistan from a young woman’s perspective. Many of the stories involve Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai. She describes his involvement in local politics, in the community and his vocal support of education for boys and girls. There’s no doubt Malala’s passion and courage to stand-up for women’s rights stems from her father’s actions and character. Ziauddin Yousafzai defied Taliban orders by running a private school that encouraged girls to attend. Malala describes the challenges and frustrations her father faced when starting the school. The motto over the school’s door read “We are committed to build for your the call of the new era”. Her father believed the school’s students could fight the enemy with pens, not swords.

Some reviewers claimed the book was poorly written, disjointed. It’s a valid point. The first half of the book does jump around, sometimes repeating facts. But I see this as a sign of authenticity; it’s written in a 14-year old’s voice, from her perspective. The first half of the book provides context for the second half. I could appreciate more about what happened to Malala after her shooting because of the background she included.

Education’s Value
In Western culture it’s unthinkable that women be excluded from education. Malala and her story are symbolic of education freedom and the book delivers a message to the world. Education, considered a right for many is used as a mechanism for oppression in some countries.

Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human. —  Malala Yousafzai

Malala’s story emphasizes education’s value. Looking deeper it challenges readers to examine the role of education, its purpose and function within a society. Withholding education from certain groups within a society hinders progress, threatens peace and perpetuates poverty. These principles also apply to Western cultures where education is the starting point for eliminating poverty, reducing crime and violence in impoverished neighborhoods. There are parallels; it’s thought-provoking.

MOOCs and Education for Women Without Access
Daphne Koller founder of Coursera when launching the MOOC platform often spoke about MOOCs as a vehicle to bring education to those without access and MOOCs “democratizing education”. Though the chances that MOOCs will bring education to women In countries like Pakistan and empower them is questionable. How can MOOCs democratize education if a country’s government is unstable, when there is oppression of women and other groups? Or where there is no internet or access to computers or mobile devices? What about language barriers? MOOCs do have potential to deliver education to those without access, yet there are significant barriers to overcome.

Curriculum for “I am Malala”
George Washington University and the Global Women’s Institute developed a university-level curriculum based upon “I am Malala” to work across various academic disciplines. The tools focus on themes such as how education empowers women, global feminism, political extremism and youth advocacy. One of the goals of the program is to encourage college students and eventually high school students to get involved, to facilitate dialogue among various groups, and to influence public opinion about access to education and women’s rights.

Closing
“I am Malala” is a compelling read. Malala as an individual is a remarkable women who is a hero for women’s right to a quality education. With her father, Malala created the Malala Fund that supports education for women including the Global Partnership for Education. The book is a good starting point for learning about the complexities of women’s rights in some countries and education access. “I am Malala” delivers a message to each reader about the value of education. Education empowers.

The Wisdom of Jerome Bruner in “The Culture of Education”: Book Review

Education is not an island, but part of the continent of culture  —Jerome Bruner

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THE CULTURE OF EDUCATION, Jerome Bruner, Harvard Univ. Press, 1996

The Culture of Education presents nine thought-provoking essays on the subject of cultural psychology and its implications for education. The essays embody Bruner’s experience, knowledge and wisdom of the science of learning, and culture’s influence on teaching and learning.  A scholar of psychology, Bruner defines cultural psychology as a system that describes how humans make sense of their world. A cultural approach to education describes how the mind works—the science of learning with culture. In Bruner’s words the theory of education lies at the intersection “between the nature of mind and the nature of culture”.

The essays are still relevant in today’s context with the abundance of educational technology. Bruner provides a unique construct for thinking about technology. He describes how humans make sense of the world—where learning and thinking are dependent upon cultural settings and the use of cultural artifacts. Thinking of educational technology as artifacts of culture, and learning as dependent on culture—puts technology in a different perspective. Technology as part of culture suggests education needs to embrace technology, as according to Bruner learning is always dependent upon the cultural setting and its resources. Technology in education settings, as many have already argued, needs to be closely linked with pedagogy (Anderson & Dron, 2011Okajie et al., 2014).

In the first essay, Culture, Mind, and Education, Bruner devotes significant discussion upfront to contrasting theories that describe learning. Bruner is critical of the information processing theory or what he calls ‘computationalism’—comparing the mind to a computational device. Bruner proceeds to methodically outline how the psycho-cultural approach addresses learning via ten tenets that each include, to varying degrees culture’s influence and theory of the mind—cognitivism.  Bruner argues each tenet elegantly; none better than number seven—the institutional tenet.  The institution refers to all types of institution, each embodying a distinct culture reflected in symbols, stories and power figures. Complex structures within institutions Bruner argues, leads to coercion, power struggles which are especially detrimental for entities responsible for education. Bruner concludes that any efforts towards improvement (reform) by education institutions must involve teachers; teachers are critical and central to reform efforts.

Several of the essays quite practical in nature, focus on how to teach effectively. The second essay Folk Pedagogy brings in to the open the idea that teachers do not always approach teaching and learning effectively. Teachers (and students) bring with them to the classroom pre-conceived ideas of how learning happens, explained in part by ingrained cultural beliefs about how the mind works.  Bruner outlines in his methodical manner four models of the mind based on pre-conceived ideas, and the related education goals of each. Bruner suggests that by examining and evaluating each carefully, we are then able to rethink our approach to education. Pedagogy is not innocent Bruner states—it’s a medium that carries its own message (page 63).  The latter statement is an example of how powerful and deep Bruner’s ideas are.  The remaining essays are just as stimulating as the first two. Each presents a dimension of education worth examining. Each challenges the reader to think about teaching and education from a different viewpoint, sometimes several.

Closing Thoughts
The Culture of Education deserves a place on every educator’s bookshelf. Bruner is a remarkable scholar, author and man. At ninety-nine years of age his contributions to the study and advancement of education are numerous. As recently as 2011 Bruner participated in Arizona State University’s Inside the Academy program via an interview. The Culture of Education is just one of Bruner’s many works well worth studying; it’s an indispensable guide to finding answers to today’s toughest questions about education.

Educational encounters, to begin with, should result in understanding, not mere performance. pg. xi