Groups, Clay Shirky and Online Education

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Professors, Pedagogy and MOOCs

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

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

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Screen Shot from The Chronicle’s survey results on peer grading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

Peer Grading: A Student Perspective in an Open and Online Course

In this post I share my peer grading experience as a student in the e-learning and digital cultures course [edcmooc] offered through Coursera. I’ll provide readers a window into the student experience how it works, guidelines provided by the instructors and assignment criteria. I’ll also share the assignment I submitted for this course and share the results—grades and comments provided by four students that evaluated my digital artefact.

Holding Blank Score CardsMy last post delved into peer grading, the pedagogy and the learning theories behind the process of peer grading. I thought readers may find it useful to view the experience from the inside, viewing the process as a student would.

Description of Assignment: A Digital Artefact
Within the five-week course, topics included, a) what it means to be human in a digital world, b) utopian and dystopian views of our world past, present and future, and c) how learning is influenced by technology in today’s digital culture. There was one assignment for the course, an artefact [artifact spelled the British way is with an ‘e’], a digital presentation representative of two or more concepts from the course, as described below:

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Description of assignment for #edcmooc from the course web site. Below this introduction on the page within the course website, were further detailed directions and guidelines, including how long the assignment should be, suggestions for platforms to use, i.e. Voicethread, Pixton, Prezi, etc. possible topics, and assignment criteria which in turn was used for grading purposes.

I learned far more than I expected from the process of completing the assignment, and from the peer grading exercise itself. It was engaging, quite enjoyable, and if we use the activity on the social networks as any indication, numerous students appeared to feel the same as I did. Discussions on Twitter @#edcmooc were prolific and are still going strong.

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Screen Shot of Twitter conversation in #edcmooc happening after the evaluation.

Student Enthusiasm for Peer Grading
Students appeared highly engaged, excited about the results of the assessments, theirs and others during the three-day evaluation period. Students shared on the courses’ Facebook page, they Tweeted, they discussed, and posted questions seeking advice about grading. Peer grading seemed to be taken quite seriously by active students.

Assignment Criteria
Often neglected in online courses are clear and specific descriptions provided about class assignments, the why, the how and the purpose. In my experience working with faculty in designing online courses, writing the narrative to cover these points requires time and attention to detail, but is well worth the time it takes, and instructors in #edcmooc followed these principles to a tee. One example is the assignment criteria:

“These are the elements peer markers will be asked to consider as they engage with your artefact. You should make sure you know how your work will be judged by reading these criteria carefully before you begin.

  1. The artefact addresses one or more themes for the course
  2. The artefact suggests that the author understands at least one key concept from the course
  3. The artefact has something to say about digital education
  4. The choice of media is appropriate for the message
  5. The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action” [Coursera, e-learning and digital cultures]

The GradingHow it Worked
The instructions provided on how to grade were thorough, and once I started the process of grading, the system guided me through following the assignment criteria closely. From the course website, with use of screen shots:

What you have to do
“When you have submitted your own artefact, the system will give you access to three other artefacts created by your peers, on which we ask you to provide feedback, and to offer your evaluation. This feedback will take the form of numbers and comments. It will involve the following steps for each”. Following this paragraph where further descriptions on how to make comments, (provide reasons), how to give and receive feedback, and encouraged further discussion and sharing on social media platforms after the close date of the assignment and included links for further reading on the peer review process and critical thinking.

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Screen shot: The first step we had to do in grading was, upon reviewing the artefact, was to give feedback according the criteria for this assignment.
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Screen Shot: The next step was assignment a grade following the above scale.
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Screen Shot: In the final step we were given the opportunity to write a synopsis,

My Artefact and Peer Feedback
My artefact which I submitted for grading focused on the theme of ‘being human in a digital world’ and included the concepts discussed in the coursehumanism, posthumanism and transhumanism specifically. I used the platform of Pinterest [which I joined some time ago, but didn’t use until this assignment]. I was pleasantly surprised at how effective this tool was; I was able include a fair bit of text to describe and summarize the concepts with image files, or embedded YouTube clips.

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Screen shot of my Digital Artefact on Pinterest. Click the image to view the board.

Peer Feedback
The quality of feedback I received from the student graders was overall very good. I was impressed with the comments, the insight and depth given the assignment criteria.  Also of note what how peer #2 mentioned reviewing the board helped him or her to ‘conceptualize the concepts’. This is an example of how peer grading can enhance learning for students.

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Screen Shot: Peer Feedback
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Screen shot: Final score out of 2.
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Screen shot: Final comments

I wrote in a previous post, A Tale of Two MOOCs @ Coursera, how the e-Learning and digital cultures format was an excellent example of a connectivist learning environment; a student focused learning community where students learn through making connections within a network. The digital artefact assignment and peer grading method were excellent choices in keeping with the connectivist coursestudents not only made connections within social networks throughout the course, but the peer review process served as a means to further conceptualize learning, expand personal connections beyond the class network, and prompted students to share their work with peers after the formal grading process using their real identities. The value of peer grading in this course went far beyond the grade and feedback each student received on his or her assignment; it created opportunities for learning that traditional grading could never provide. It was a brilliant fit for this course.

Links to #edmooc discussions and Final assignment Sharing

Why and When Peer Grading is Effective for Open and Online Learning

Is peer grading an effective assessment method for open and online learning? What about in MOOCs where student feedback may be the only means of determining a pass or fail in a course? This posts examine peer grading and suggests what conditions must be present in order for peer grading to be effective.

Keeping Score for the TeamAfter I wrote the outline for this post I came across this essay, by history professor Jonathon Rees, Why Peer Grading Can’t Work. The title was in stark contrast to my views on peer grading, but I  incorporated Rees’ argument here as it is worth consideration. Rees is also author of a blog I follow, More or Less Bunk where he writes about current issues within Higher Education often with a slice of sarcasm. Our views on online learning couldn’t be more dissimilar, yet I appreciate Professor Rees’ perspective and enjoy reading his posts. In his essay Rees shares his views on peer grading, which he experienced while taking a world history course as a student through Coursera. Rees’ central argument is that peer grading can’t and won’t be effective in grading written work produced within MOOCs, as the majority of students-as-graders are not able to provide quality feedback that can help students develop their writing and critical thinking skills.

In this post I’ll examine the conditions that need to be present for peer grading to work,   factors that can sabotage the process, and I’ll address the points put forth in Rees’ essay.  I’ll also explore briefly what is at the root of the differing views on peer grading, which I suggest is based on differing perspectives on learning philosophies [which I wrote about it in my last post, The Tale of Two MOOCs: Divided by Pedagogy].

Conflicting Views on How People Learn
At the root of the dissension over peer grading is the conflicting view on how people learn. One of Rees’ comments within the essay “Professors in the trenches tend to hold their monopoly on evaluating their students’ work dearly, since it helps them control the classroom better by reinforcing their power and expertise,” supports a cognitive and instructor-focused learning orientation. The concept of peer review, which leaves for the most part the instructor out of the equation, aligns with the social constructivist learning orientation. There is strong support in constructivist theories for the peer review which is grounded in student-centered learning where students learn as much from the review process itself as from the final grade on an assignment.

A paper on peer review published in 2007 described how the idea of peer review is embedded in the philosophies of learning theorists. The authors call out Vygotsky and his beliefs that learning occurs in, and is mediated by, social interaction. Authors do present the downsides of the peer review process, though at the conclusion of their research they determined that students involved in peer review perform better academically than peers graded only by their instructors (Lu & Bol, 2007).


Peer Grading @ Coursera
When developing a course there are numerous assessment methods instructors can choose from, yet the choice of the tool and method depends upon the learning conditions within the course that include—the planned learning outcomes and the learning environment. An analysis of these conditions determine the best assessment strategy [which may include several methods in one course] for the course and its objectives. Peer grading worked well in the Digital Cultures I completed recently with Coursera in consideration of the learning context—the environment, topic and goals of the course. Also the course was not-for-credit and only five weeks in length.

In Rees’ history course, peer grading was used to evaluate essays, which appeared to be the primary method for assessment. Given the topic of Rees course, essays could be considered an appropriate assessment mechanism given the number of students and the availability of the software available that can facilitate peer grading [see link at the end of this post on Calibrated Peer Review]. Rees admitted the guidelines were clearly outlined as to how to grade, and that the grades he received were accurate, yet it was the quality of comments that he felt was lacking,

For me at least, the primary problem with peer grading lay in the comments. While I received five comments on my first essay, for every subsequent essay I received number grades with no comments from a minimum of two peers and as many as four…Every time I did get a comment, no peer ever wrote more than three sentences. And why should they? Comments were anonymous so the hardest part of the evaluative obligation lacked adequate incentive and accountability. (Rees, 2013)

What can Go Wrong: The Loafers and Others
What Rees shares here is a good example of what can go wrong with peer grading in anonymity in a massive course. Though the algorithms within a peer grading system may work, the problem lies in the uncontrollable learning conditions inherent to a massive course. One example is outlined in Lu & Bol’s paper I quoted earlier, which is the phenomenon of social loafing or hide-in-the crowd behaviours associated with anonymity. Students that fell into this group were physically and cognitively lazy, not contributing to the process as required. This phenomenon was referenced in several other research studies within the paper. I suggest another group be added to the mix besides the loafers— students that cannot provide feedback due to the lack of necessary skills, whether it be education background or language.

iStock_000019698408XSmallWhen Peer Grading is Effective
Peer grading has tremendous value for a variety of learning situations in higher education, though it requires a specific set of learning conditions to be present in order for it to work as intended. Listed below are a list of conditions needed to ensure that peer grading  is effective: 

1) When learners are at a similar skill level.
2) When assignments are low stakes [i.e. when a course is taken for professional development of personal interest as was the Digital Cultures course].
3) Where credit is not granted.
4) When learners are mature, self-directed and motivated.
5) When learners have experience in learning and navigating within a networked setting [if the review is completed in an open and online setting].
6)  Learners have a developed set of communication skills.

The break down in peer grading occurs when the learning environment cannot provide the conditions as mentioned above. Also, there are other factors that can sabotage its effectiveness, including an assignment that requires a high level of critical thinking skills, or when there are students in the mix that are non-participative, or have intentions that don’t align with the course. In my Coursera experience for example, with Digital Cultures, one of the artifacts I was to evaluate in the peer grading process [which was a website] was a marketing pitch. This happened to at least one other student, according to the course Twitter stream.

Peer grading has great value. It has proven to be effective in variety of education settings. It can work well in MOOCs that are not for credit, when the assignment lends itself to a peer review, such as the digital artifact we graded in our Digital Cultures course. It can also be very effective in small, closed online classes where students are at similar skill level and receive instruction and guidance in how to grade within the process. Yet there are times when it won’t work, this is where I agree with Professor Rees, the situations where students do need detailed and constructive feedback from an instructor, or mentor that is qualified. Furthermore, there are many students that need remedial support in writing and communications skills, some require support in how to learn online, and how to be responsible for their own learning.

Further fine tuning is needed to address some of these issues within MOOCs. I see the opportunity for two or three tracks within a MOOC for students wanting to participate at varying levels, which would address some of the issues with peer grading by addressing some of the required learning conditions as mentioned. Another suggestion is to offer resources for skill development for students requiring help with their writing skills within the course itself, i.e. links to Purdue’s writing center.  Perhaps, addressing students that receive a grade below a certain level in the peer review after the course closes with suggestions for additional writing skill development would be helpful. There are many options still to be explored. Time will tell.

Update: Response post from Professor Rees on More or Less Bunk, here.


A Tale of Two MOOCs @ Coursera: Divided by Pedagogy

The Web as a classroom is transforming how people learn, is driving the need for new pedagogy; two recently launched courses at Coursera highlight what happens when pedagogical methods fail to adapt.

Divided pedagogy

I wrote recently about the Fundamentals of Online: Education [FOE] the Coursera course that was suspended after its first week and is now in MOOC hibernation mode. Over thirty thousands students signed up for the course hoping to learn how to develop an online course. It was a technical malfunction when students were directed to sign-up for groups through a Google Doc that shuttered the course, along with hundreds of student complaints about lack of clear instructions, and poor lecture quality. The course was suspended on February 2, and there has been no word yet as to when it will resume :(.

On the other hand there is the e-Learning and Digital Cultures course also offered on Coursera’s platform that began on the same day as FOE, yet the Digital Cultures course appears to be a smashing success if we use the engagement levels of students on social media platforms as a gauge. I enrolled in both courses, and the experience in Digital Cultures has been outstanding; the course content is challenging, thought-provoking and the instructors involvement appropriately on–the-side. Several colleagues within my network also taking the course appear to feel the same way.

The Tale of the Two
What made e-Learning and Digital Cultures successful and FOE not? There were variables common to each—the platform, the start date and length of course. The topics where somewhat similar, enough so that there was an overlap of enrolled students. However, at the root of the differences were the instructors’ divergent perspectives on how people learn. FOE ascribed to the learning model that most of higher education institutions follow—instructors direct the learning, learning is linear and constructed through prescribed course content featuring the instructor. In contrast, Digital Cultures put the learner in control, with choices of how to participate, and access to open resources on the Web for content. The evaluation method for the final assessment also provided learners with options; a peer-assessed, multimedia project created on a Web application of choice, based on a theme of interest covered within the course.

How People Learn: Four Viewpoints
In this post I’ll examine four orientations to learning approaches, the processes and  pedagogical principles that emerge from each viewpoint. To support the overall theme of this post is a chart that compares the two courses on four factors reflective of the learning orientations: pedagogy, content, and assessment and course interactions. The table gives readers a snapshot view of how the courses created divergent learning experiences, with the aim of highlighting how the Web as a platform for open, online and even massive learning creates a different context for learning—one that requires different pedagogical methods.

Orientations of Learning: Four perspective on how people learn with a selection of learning theorists aligned with one of the four based upon the principles of the given theory.

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Four orientations to learning; each embodies a belief of how people learn including the processes that bring about learning.  Sources: Smith, M.K.(2003), Siemens, (2005) and Roblyer & Doering (2010).

Our current higher education system is grounded in behaviorist and cognitive theories. The behavioral approach suggests that in absence of knowing the internal processes of the learner, the focus is on the external—the behavior of the learner. The behaviorist learning model follows the pattern,  A → B  → C, where the environment presents the antecedent (A), that prompts a behavior (B), that is followed by a consequence (C). Characteristics of this approach include passivity of the learner, rote learning and methods of reinforcement.

The cognitive orientation goes beyond the external environment, and focuses on the internal where learning is a process managed within the learner’s long and short-term memory. The instructor controls and directs learning through planned instruction, selection of content, and teaches the learner through the building of knowledge [or skills] using a hierarchical approach going from the simple to complex (Roblyer & Doering, 2010).

Constructivism and the idea of social learning, or social constructivism is an approach that gained credibility in late 1990’s at which time numerous research studies suggested students learn more effectively when engaged with their world, build on what they already know, and construct knowledge as active participants. In support of the emerging research on active learning, the National Research Council published a volume by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) How People Learn that synthesized the evidence. Bransford and colleagues emphasize three conditions for effective learning: engaging prior understandings, integrating factual knowledge with conceptual frameworks, and taking active control over the learning process (Cummins, 2006).  

Most Recent Learning Orientation for a Digital World: Connectivism
The three orientations mentioned, have serious shortfalls in context of our current social and digital culture. The focus has shifted to the individual, where the learner is in control. Furthermore, with access to information, social networks and tools that allow learners to consume, share and construct knowledge, the paradigm for learning has changed. In response to these changes, Siemens advanced the theory of Connectivism, which integrates principles from theories of chaos, network, complexity and self-organization all of which drive the need for a new pedagogy (Siemens, 2005).


Pedagogies Exposed
It’s the learning orientations, the belief system the instructors ascribe to that determines the pedagogical methods selected for instruction. Numerous higher education institutions and its instructors have incorporated active learning methods in keeping with the social constructivist orientation, yet methods that align with the cognitive and behaviorist model such as the lecture and traditional assessment methods [i.e. multiple choice assessments] are still going strong. In the traditional classroom, these latter methods can still be effective, yet in the context of open and online learning, these pedagogies don’t work, evidenced by the FOE course suspension, and the more recent situation where a professor dropped out of his own Coursera course mid-way through due to disagreements over how to best to teach the course. How people learn in the open, has changed, and institutions would benefit by adapting accordingly when offering courses in an open, online and massive format (xMOOCs).

Now that technology has allowed institutions to broadcast their courses to the world through xMOOCs, the world thus has a window into the methods and learning orientations of instructors of various institutions (granted, some views may not reflect the values of the institution represented, but the instructors’). We are able to see through this open platform the deficiencies and shortfalls of the pedagogical methods.

Two Pedagogical Methods Examined
The pedagogical methods, the content choices, the interaction methods of instructors, and the assessment methods of each course are summarized in the chart below.

Comparison of Pedagogical Methods of Two Courses on Coursera

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Comparisons of pedagogical methods of two xMOOCs based on my experience as student with both courses [2013]. The methods for the Digital Cultures course created conditions for vibrant learning communities with high levels of student engagement.

The two MOOCs at Coursera discussed here are representative of the clashes between the views on how people learn. And people do want to learn, are motivated; are eager to take charge of their learning, make connections, expand their network and construct knowledge. The Web as a classroom creates opportunities for learning and teaching like never before. As the learner’s needs change, so does the role of the instructor, and if he or she implements appropriate pedagogical methods for the learning context, both will have opportunities to expand knowledge consistent with their own learning goals and needs.


News-of-the-Week: Coursera Professor Quits, Making Degrees Cheaper without MOOCs, and Open Data Day

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

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Screenshot of Coursera’s new interactive tool that shows the global student base, as well as the university partners. From Coursera’s blog. Click on the image to link to the tool on Coursera.

More developments this week in the education news including Coursera’s  press release [and blog post] which announced that its adding 29 schools to its roster, bringing the total to 62 schools under its umbrella, and a UC Irvine Cousera professor drops out of his own course. A new ed-tech venture, Quad Learning Inc, just announced its program which aims to lower costs of a four-year degree with an $11Million initial investment. This post concludes with an overview of the events planned for Open Data Day, which falls on February 23, 2013.

1) Coursera … What Next?
I’ve never been one for soap operas, but apparently it’s the dramas that unfold weekly that keeps its viewers hooked. Look no further than Coursera with new developments happening each week that are enough to keep educational journalist, bloggers and  readers on the edge of their seats. The most recent event is none less than a professor dropping out of his own course. This event is on the heels of the recent fiasco with the Foundations of Online Education course at Coursera, which was suspended within the first week due to technical problems and a barrage of student complaints. The course has yet to re-open.

The Coursera professor that dropped out was from UC Irvine, and he quit the Mircoeconomics for Managers course he was facilitating halfway through over clashes with students. The professor’s statement suggests that he quit due to unresolvable differences on how to teach the course, …”Because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course, I’ve agreed to disengage from it, with regret,” Professor McKenzie. (Kolowich, 2013)

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Screen shot of the Story from MOOC student, Derek Bruff

According to the dean for distance education at Irvine, McKenzie blamed the students, “In Professor McKenzie’s view, for instance, uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning”  (Kolowich). And from a student’s perspective, you get another version—Derek Bruff MOOC student, Storified the event, which you can read here.

My take: This is yet another example of two paradigms colliding, student-centered versus instructor-centered education. I wrote about these two different approaches in a recent post, and my concluding thoughts, “...what we do know is that instructors involved with massive courses, with thousands of students can’t control the outcomes of course, can’t direct the learning in a given direction, and can’t use an instructional strategy or methods that work for traditional courses.” And with the news that Cousera has just partnered with 29 more schools, adding to the 33 they already have, there’s bound to more clashes and drop-outs. With more than twice as many MOOCs, I see twice as many challenges.

Further reading:

2) A New Model to lower costs of four-year Degrees with Quad Learning
Move over MOOCs at Coursera, and edX, there is new program in town that is aiming to make four-year degrees more accessible with a new Web-based platform. But the courses are not about ‘massive’. Quad Learning just received $11miliion in funding which the start-up partners raised through New Atlantic Adventures. An overview of the program,

With tuition rates and debt loads going up, the idea is that a student could complete two years at a community college and then, with Quad Learning’s “American Honors” program, transfer to a top-200 university to finish the last two years of a bachelor’s degree program…the program is working to strengthen relationships between community colleges and state universities and provide clarity around the classes students need to take to be able to transfer. It’s also working on forging partnerships with universities willing to accept their transfer students (Huessner, 2013)

I’m not sure what I’m missing here, isn’t this what community colleges are supposed to be able to do for interested students already? Though apparently it is the Web-based platform that provides more rigorous learning experiences that includes smaller discussions with peers online, and provides other kinds of personalized and digital content through the web-based platform.

Further Reading

3) Open Data Day: February 23, 2013
It’s Open Data day tomorrow, and I’m participating in the Open Science Course Sprint, which is one of the many events that are happening around the globe. It’s my first education hackathon, and I’ll be a remote participant though there are also live participants at Creative Commons office, in Mountain View, CA. The goal is to create an open, online course that helps people learn about Open Science.  See links below for more information. I’m not sure how it will work, but I’m looking forward to it. My plan is to blog about the experience to share with readers.

Further Reading: