Tag Archives: Stephen Downes

Expert Panel brings Clarity to MOOCs in Business+MOOCs Hangout

Clear as a [cow] Bell

    ‘Clear-as-a [Cow]-Bell’, by hynkle

The discussion on the Business+MOOC: the Hangout video recording with its expert panel is a must see for individuals within organizations considering implementing a MOOC and/or wondering how it might fit in with the orgnization’s strategy. Even if you are not a business person, but want to learn more about MOOCs, you’ll find the discussion enlightening. The recorded session brings clarity to what a MOOC can accomplish and what it can’t, as well as raising issues for further deliberation. Hosted by Jay Cross, the discussion features educators, business leaders, and the ‘rock stars of MOOCdom‘ as named by Cross. In this post I’ll list the panel members, highlight key themes of the discussion, provide links for further reading. I’ve also embedded the video recording at the end of the post. The session recording is an hour-long, which I realize is a significant time commitment, but it is highly recommend for those wanting further clarity about MOOCs. Note: the session formally begins at the 09:30 minute mark.

Why we Need Clarity
With any new phenomenon like the MOOC, it’s expected that there will be numerous misconceptions about what it can accomplish. There is a tendency to want to be part-of-the-action and get involved. This is a normal reaction. Though, better decisions can be made when there is full understanding of what the phenomenon can do for a given organization; how it might [or might not] fit in with the overall strategy. Numerous organizations may be considering the MOOC format to address a need or problem, yet its needs may be met more efficiently and effectively by another method or tool. These are the types of issues discussed in the session. Is a MOOC applicable to workplace training or education needs? What about to a business wanting to promote a service or product?

The Business+MOOC Panel
Host: Jay Cross
Educators:  Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Terri Griffith and George Siemens
Business People: Jos Arets, Bert De Coutere, Lal Jones-Beyy (from Coursera) Mark Finnern,  Jerry Michalski

Highlights of Hangout: Themes and Statements 

  • Definition of MOOC (Cormier), Massive: means scale, requires mass to facilitate connections within a network, Open: goes beyond ‘free’, means no barriers, not in a closed environment (i.e. within a business, only for employees), Online: changes the nature of learning, Course: provides a format and structure, a ‘flag pole’ for learners.
  • The user/learner is in control, not the business or course organizers. For this reason outcomes cannot be controlled and may differ from those intended. Organizations can’t control the message.
  • Learners need to be self-directed, intrinsically interested in the topic, and responsible. In other words MOOC format will not work for compliance training, or required skills an employee needs to learn for the job.
  • Scale is needed. A MOOC is not a MOOC with thirty, forty or even fifty participants.
  • Why is certification required? The point was raised, is providing a certificate for proof of MOOC completion not contradictory to the MOOC concept? The certificate model can be viewed as a carry over from the traditional education model. Discussion included using peer feedback and review as evidence of a learners skill level for potential employers. Another option—individuals demonstrate competencies for potential employers through simulation exercises, workplace contracts, etc.
  • Difference between and xMOOC and cMOOC (Downes). Coursera model is an xMOOC which is massive, though different from a cMOOC; is a format that is structured around established learning outcomes of a given topic.
  • Design Model for MOOCs. What is the course design model for a MOOC? This point was raised though not explored due to time constraints, but was put on the table as an important topic for future discussions.

Further Reading:

The recorded session of the Hangout is below. Fast forward to the 09:31 minute mark within the recording, this is where the session officially begins. There may be more panel discussions on this topic offered by Cross in the future—stay tuned to Cross’ Web page to keep posted. Enjoy!

One Essential Resolution for Educators in 2013 – A Personal Learning Environment

This is part one of a three-part series for educators that describes how to create a rich, robust learning network and virtual space—a personal learning environment that supports professional and personal enrichment for lifelong learning.


PLE, Francesc Esteve, FLICKR

I plan to embrace 2013 with a new focus and direction, an emphasis that is different from a resolution. Resolutions don’t work, yet I still look forward to each New Year with a sense of anticipation, energy and a new plan. This year is no exception. I’ve spent much time considering carefully where I want to invest my time and energy, and it begins with a personal learning environment (PLE). A PLE is the hub of personal and professional development, and what better time than the New Year to commit to a renewed focus on one’s personal development.

This year I’ve selected three areas to focus on, of which I’ll write more about in the coming weeks, but the fulcrum of all projects is my personal learning environment. In this post I’ll share briefly what a personal learning environment is, why it is an essential dimension to any educator’s personal profile, share examples of other educators PLEs, and in parts two and three will explore how-to create a personal learning environment specific to educators.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE) Defined
A personal learning environment is a concept, not a thing or an event, but encompasses formal and informal learning experiences and interactions with various resources and people through a network of Web 2.0 platforms. It becomes a system that each individual [learner] manages, creates and builds, a learner centered, self-directed environment.

Personal Learning Environments (PLE) are systems that learners create and control to manage and direct their own learning. In this environment learners do the following:

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning, both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning  [modified from Wikipedia]

Part of the PLE is a Personal Learning Network, which is an essential sub-system of the PLE. It is the people, the personal connections within one’s PLE that are sources for new knowledge, collaboration partners, and serve as ‘nodes’ within the personal network that contributes to the wholeness of the PLE. Individuals become interdependent within a PLE, not independent [learning in a vacuum] or dependent [consuming knowledge only, and not creating knowledge].

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning (Photo credit: Stephen Downes)

A Model for Life-Long Learning
The concept of a personal learning environment is based on the premise of lifelong learning, and [obviously] not a new idea given the history of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom by Socrates and his followers. Yet a model for life-long learning was formalized as recently as 2007 by the Eurpoean Union with the launch of the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013, with its primary goal to support the development of quality lifelong learning across four phases: K-12, higher education, vocational training and adult education. The focus of the adult education phase is on the development of a network between people, institutions and other countries in education and training.

Examples of PLEs
Despite several excellent projects resulting from the efforts of the Eurpoean Union, describing how to create, build and interact within a personal learning environment is somewhat difficult to outline as I’ve discovered as I write this post. Mostly because PLEs are personalized, open, dynamic and unique to each person. Furthermore, environments take time to develop and are dependent on the motivation of the learner, and the direction and goals of him or her— all of which contribute to unique systems.

Below is an excellent example of a PLE where the learner describes the functions within her PLE, and the tools used for each.


Michele Martin’s PLE, The Bamboo Project Blog, April 2007

Click here to view more examples of visual representations of PLE’s from other lifelong learners. The visual images are representative of the model or framework of each learners’ PLE, showing the Web 2.0 platforms used to catalogue, curate, develop, create, connect, record and/or save an individuals work, personal connections and knowledge created.

Next Steps for PLE
Over the next two postings I will provide guidelines and suggestions for how to develop a PLE, though my experience is limited, I will share how I have started to develop my PLE,  share resources and tools that may be of support to readers wanting to further develop their own. I would welcome any feedback or suggestions from readers, so please comment and share on your experience with PLEs if you are able to. Happy New Year!


What-the-heck Happened in 2012? Review of the Top Three Events in Education

This was an extraordinary year in the education sector providing bloggers and journalists  with much content to write about: ed-tech start-ups, big data, open courses attracting thousands of students and even some institutional drama  in the mix. Several bloggers I follow have done an excellent job in summarizing the years’ events; my review is on a lighter note, a digest if you will on the three most significant topics [in my opinion] of 2012. Each event includes a synopsis of the topic with links to blog posts and articles summarizing and exploring what-the-heck happened in 2012.

THE MOOC! The movieimage by Guilia Forsthye

THE MOOC! The movie, image by Guilia Forsthye

1) The xMOOC movement caused a certain level of mania, hysteria and irrational decision-making by numerous educators and their institutions in 2012. It also sparked controversy, discussion, change—just what is needed to address the challenges facing education. Audrey Watters of Hack Education wrote a stellar summary, The Year of the MOOC, chronicling developments over the entire year. From another perspective, Tony Bates wrote a thoughtful piece, ‘Why MOOCs?’ in his year-end post Online learning in 2012: a retrospective. 

With the influx of several universities partnering to create massive platforms for MOOCs, [MITx, Coursera and Udemy], co-founder of the original MOOCs, Stephen Downes [with George Siemens] clarified the terminology for MOOCs [which educators are surely grateful] before things started to get really difficult to follow, “I am now referring to the MOOCs offered by Coursera, Udemy and MITx (among others) as xMOOCs, to be compared with cMOOCs, which is what we offer in our connectivist classes.” (Downes, 2012).


2)  Ed tech Start-ups were HOT this year, and fueled by the significant sums of money investors were willing to part with. A few attracted millions of dollars including Udacity, Coursera and Knewton, of which collectively have taken in well over fifty million dollars to date.There are numerous other smaller start-up companies wanting to take advantage of the current quest within the education sector for improved access and quality, and to lower costs.  Edudemic wrote a good review, 25 Start-ups Worth Knowing. The best article I read this year about an ed-tech start-up, was Simplicity and Order for All, about Jack Dorsey founder of Twitter and a new platform ‘Square’. Dorsey is quirky, artistic and brilliant. The article sheds light on the motivation behind an idea—what sparks and drives the innovation in the first place.

EdSurge, a newsletter about ed tech start-ups published a list of the Top Educational Tools of Q2, 2012 based upon web traffic from readers.  Another helpful resource, from Jane Hart founder of Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT), is the Top 100 Tools for Learning, which Jane has published for the past four years. Click here the 2012 edition; it’s a worthwhile read as Jane includes a slide share presentation that describes each tool.

iStock_000008045233XSmall3) Big [Educational] Data, data, data everywhere also sparked much discussion and a quest to find new and novel ways to use the tremendous amount of data that educational institutions are keepers of. Though as more discussions and reports are generated, policies and decisions made, questions began to surface that included, ‘how can we use the data effectively’? And ‘what are the ethics behind big data in the collection and reporting of’?

I wrote several posts within the last few months about learning analytics, a branch of big data, including this one about instructors and students, How instructors can improve student engagement with learning analytics. George Siemens is a leading scholar in this area, has conducted several key notes, written several papers, and in October of 2012 posted content from the Second International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge that he was involved with.

Looking Forward to 2013
The year of 2012 was tumultuous but exciting at the same time. Though I’ve covered only a fraction of the year in this post, the links to the blogs provided will direct you to more comprehensive coverage.

What will 2013 bring?  What are your predictions for next year? I have a few of my own which I’ll share in early January. Thank you to you, my reader, for taking the time to read this blog and, to those of you that have shared your own insights with comments. I wish you Happy Holidays and restful season.  I look forward learning from you, and with you in 2013.

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

Will the Real MOOC Please Stand-up

Marginal Revolution University created by  professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok is the latest entrant into the MOOC market and is the real thing. It’s a Massive Open Online Course that appears true to the pedagogical principles described by MOOC founders Stephen Downes and George Siemens — connected learning where knowledge is constructed in real-time through a dynamic network. Coursera, Edx and Udacity are pseudo MOOCs. They are courses, and are certainly massive, often drawing thousands of students, yet they are trying to apply traditional, old-school methods to a new format [MOOC] that ends up looking nothing like the old or a new educational experience.

How MRU is Different
The pedagogical principles in MRU’s course look to be grounded in the learning theory of connectivism developed by Downes and Siemens. Connectivistm is based on the concept that knowledge is not acquired but constructed and adjusted by the learner through connections that occur when the learner interacts with nodes in a network. Nodes can be a video, online discussions, Webinars, or conversations on Twitter, Facebook or through blogs. MRU emphasizes connected and dynamic learning, and their motto embodies it – learn, teach and share which also mirrors principles of the connectivist model.

A Catalyst for Learning
Knowledge is not static in the connectivist model which is what MRU clarifies in its orientation video. Knowledge, the narrator explains is often uncertain and that the content presented in the course is merely a starting point for further investigation. and not the definitive answer. In other words, the professors of MRU are taking themselves out of the equation. They infer that the course content is the catalyst for further exploration, which is how Downes introduced CCK11, a MOOC course, change.mooc.ca now in its thirty-fifth week.

“What is important about a connectivist course, after all, is not the course content … [sure] you can’t have a conversation without it — but the content isn’t the important thing. It serves merely as a catalyst, a mechanism for getting our projects, discussions and interactions off the ground. It may be useful to some people, but it isn’t the end product, and goodness knows we don’t want people memorizing it.”  Stephen Downes (2011)

This is just the beginning for MRU, Cowen and Tabarrok also want course participants to contribute to the curriculum, to help build the course, and they hope for a ‘bank’ of user-generated content. This is yet another parallel to connectivist pedagogy, an emphasis on knowledge construction and learner contribution. And whom do the creators envision as course participants? — Professors using it as their own material, national and International students, or ‘curious’ adults (Tracy, 2012).

Screen Shot of ‘How To Interpret the Videos’

The Content
I spent a couple of hours on MRU’s website, watched several course videos and couldn’t help but be impressed. I appreciated the simple, short videos narrated with power points which are similar to Khan Academy videos. The inclusion of an orientation or how to use section introducing the philosophy of the course is also helpful as it outlines what to expect and how to use [the content], learn, and contribute.

I have completed a course through Coursera’s platform, and though I enjoyed the experience, I appreciate MRU’s format; it appears more flexible and open with potential for expansive learning. I felt Coursera was in a box; it did not seem conducive to exploring and expanding beyond the walls of the course. Coursera’s course design, and not brick-and-mortar classrooms in this case created ‘walls’.

Why MRU?
What are the motives of these two accomplished economics professors? After reading more about each, and exploring their blog, Marginal Revolution, the drivers don’t appear to be monetary but stem from a passion for education, economics and sharing. And they do share, with an award-winning blog that has an estimated quarter of a million readers with content that goes beyond finance and economics. Noted also is that Cowen and Tabarrok have declined substantial offers to take their blog from its advertisement-supported WordPress platform to traditional media sites (Tracy, 2012). Cowen’s statement from a recent interview captures the essence of their mission for MRU:

You can think of this,” Cowen says …“as a marginal attempt—a marginal revolution, so to speak—to get education to be more about learning. (Tracy, 2012)

What Next?
The future of MRU is open according to its founders, dependent on the response from users [consistent with the connectivist approach]. There will be more to come no doubt, not only because George Mason University is part of this initiative and a supporter, but because the format is unique, and I believe is just what higher education needs.

Watch the introductory video featured on MRU’s website.

Further Reading
Interview: Star Economists Launch the Upcoming Marginal Revolution University, Wired Academic
A Blog Hopes Its New Online Course Will Be More Than Marginal, Marc Tracy
Marginal Revolution University,  Website
Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, Stephen Downes

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)

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.