Need-to-Know News: edX Reveals Surprising Results from MOOC Study & New online model “Skillfeed”

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

Of the numerous developments last week, edX the MOOC consortium revealed startling data in a research paper that details behaviour patterns of students in the Circuits and Electronics (6.002x) MOOC. Educators involved in MOOC instruction or development will find this research insightful. Shutterstock, a company that provides digital images for a fee, launched a platform for tech courses under a subscription model, which may be a direction online learning providers will follow. Finally, I’ve included two new, and quite unique ed tech tools that may be of interest to K-12 and/or higher education instructors.

1) edX’s Surprising Results Reported in First Research Paper on MOOCs

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edX.org

When edX first formed, its president Anant Agarwal emphasized that one of the core reasons driving the consortium’s initiative was research— the platform would be used to analyze and share results of new educational methods afforded by technology. Up until this point there has been little discussion about courses and/or results from the edX platform, Coursera and Udacity have dominated the headlines. Yet edX should be taking a different path given its not-for-profit premise. And this week we did [finally] get a glimpse into what appears to be extensive research going on behind the scenes. The Open Access journal, Research & Practice in Assessment released the paper Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom Research into edX’s First MOOC.

Abstract
“Circuits and Electronics” (6.002x), which began in March 2012, was the first MOOC developed by edX. Over 155,000 students initially registered for 6.002x, which was composed of video lectures, interactive problems, online laboratories, and a discussion forum. As the course ended in June 2012, researchers began to analyze the rich sources of data it generated. This article describes both the first stage of this research, which examined the students’ use of resources by time spent on each, and a second stage that is producing an in-depth picture of who the 6.002x students were …. [and the] pedagogical components [that] contributed to their level of success in the course.” (Breslow, Pritchard, DeBoer, Stump, Ho & Seaton, 2013)

Insights:

  • Over 90% of the activity on discussion forums resulted from students just viewing /reading what others students had written—these students did not post, or comment or contribute in any way to discussions threads. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking about how students use discussion forums, since students that do contribute can enhance and deepen learning and comprehension for students that don’t/or are unable to contribute. Though these silent students may be considered passive, this may not be the case, nor should they be considered lurkers. These students may very well be learning and making sense of course material on their own terms.
  • The demographics of the student body are notable. Over 155,000 students enrolled from over 194 countries, yet the the country that provided the largest percentage of students was the U.S. with 17% of the 155,000, followed by India at 8% of the total, the UK at just over 5%, followed by Columbia (4%) and Spain (2%). Only 622 students from China enrolled (less than 1%). These numbers suggest that language and culture are potential barriers to MOOC participation. The paper provides further details and data.

2) New Online Platform for Tech Skills: Skillfeed

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Screen shot of skillfeed.com home page.

Shutterstock Inc. announced the launch of an online learning marketplace [platform] featuring online instruction via videos for amateurs and professionals working with digital images and media. Skillfeed is similar to Khan Academy, but is for people looking to learn just-in-time skills needed for working with digital media. But, rather than a free platform, or pay-by-course model, it is a subscription based [and quite affordable] model.

[Skillfeed is] “Designed for brushing up on existing skills or developing extensive new ones, Skillfeed offers two types of courses: 1) Comprehensive Courses – Videos of 20 minutes or more, designed to develop in-depth professional skills, such as HTMLor Adobe InDesign, 2) Skill Snacks – Short videos you can watch on your lunch break to pick up new tips and techniques on a range of topics from Photoshop to video editing.”  Press Release, June 4, 2013

Insights:

  • An appealing format that is easy to use for the busy professional or amateur that wants specific and high quality instruction, and is willing to pay for it.
  • This subscription format has great potential—I can see a market for such platforms as professionals look to simplify the search process for quality instructional videos in specific skill areas, and as a source for ongoing professional development.  Skillfeed.com

3) Ed Tech Tools

  • Storybird: “Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. We curate artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspire writers of any age to turn those images into fresh stories.”
  • Text2MindMap: “The simple way to create mind maps online. Text 2 Mind Map has provided a free and simple mind mapping tool online since 2008.”

Have a great week.

How To Create a Personal Learning Environment to Stay Relevant in 2013

“Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience…has created not only promising changes but also disruptive moments in teaching.” EDUCAUSE Review, 2012

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This quote from Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education (Bass, 2012), gives a good a reason as any for educators to develop a Personal learning Environment [PLE]; a space where we can keep up with the experimental modes of learning, instruction, changing pedagogy and instructional methods that surfaced in 2012. In a previous post I introduced the concept of PLEs and touched on why educators may want to consider developing a PLE for 2013. In this post I’ll outline how educators can develop their own PLE, where to start, and I’ll provide specific action steps, and what tools to use. First though, I’ll share three convincing reasons why we should get serious about PLEs—why they aren’t just for students.

Three Reasons Why Educators Need a PLE
Education is in a phase of disruption (not news to anyone)—and it’s not just a blip or a bump, but is what Harvard professor and author Clayton Christenson describes as disruptive innovation. This concept describes what is happening in higher education now. We can see disruption in the new forms of course delivery  (i.e. Udacity, Cousera), teaching methods (i.e. flipped classrooms), and new learning models (i.e. competency based learning). These experimental forms of teaching (MOOCs) and assessing (peer review, assessment centers) are changing how educators teach, and impact the student/instructor relationship. Below are three [convincing] reasons why educators should consider creating a PLE:

  1. We need to disrupt ourselves: The model of higher education is at a turning point. PLEs provide a framework for us to expand our knowledge in our areas of expertise, and in teaching and instructional methods that are and will be appropriate and relevant for the digital era.
  2. The Instructor’s role has changed. The learner is moving to the center of the learning and teaching model, and relies upon a variety of sources for learning. PLEs will help instructors not only stay relevant in his or her field, but will provide an opportunity to learn how to use tools that will enhance instructional methods and adapt to the changing paradigm.
  3. Access to the Internet has changed how we teach and learn—forever. New tools devices, and applications are changing our culture and society. Education is not immune. We need to adapt and respond—PLEs will help us to do so appropriately by responding from a position of knowledge and understanding.

Creating a PLE: Where to Start
Begin with a model: As I wrote about before a personal learning environment is considered to be a concept rather than an entity—and concepts need a framework or model to flesh out the details.  As with any other model, a diagram is helpful in describing, shaping and explaining the concept. However, by the very nature of PLEs each diagram will be unique. If you peruse this site, you will see what I mean, no two are the same.

Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews
Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews (Photo credit: Janson Hews)

There are several helpful articles describing how to create a PLE on the Web, including several with a focus on creating a Personal Learning Network (a component of the PLE). Below are guidelines gleaned from the resources collected, which I’ve compiled into four steps.

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Chris Sessums “Weblog Brainstorming” diagram, eduspaces.net
  1. Decide on upon areas of focus: establish personal goals for learning. A PLE is holistic, and can include professional and personal interests.
  2. Determine which Web 2.0 tools to use: A PLE requires use of Web tools and applications to create a personal and virtual learning space. A PLE is also dynamic—the learner is an active participant and doing the three key functions: Collect and curate relevant content, resources into a meaningful collection in a virtual space, Construct and create to develop new knowledge and understanding. This could be through blogs, Slideshare presentations, Wikis etc. Sharing is inherent to a PLE, learning does not happen in a vacuum, but involves communicating with others. Another phase in a PLE is collaborating, working with peers to create new knowledge through digital objects, documents, etc. Start slow, it takes time to learn a new application and build and develop content and resources.
  3. Establish time each week to developing the PLE. It takes time to develop and grow a robust PLE.
  4. Create a diagram of the PLE. The purpose of the diagram is to provide a framework for learning goals, identify tools and provide a digital footprint and record of the PLE.

Closing Thoughts

  • PLEs are dynamic, they change and adapt to learning needs and goals.
  • Start small – developing a PLE takes time.
  • If you are able, share your thoughts or diagrams – I am sure readers would appreciate hearing from other educators.

To read the follow-up post on Personal Learning Portfolios and how to create on, click here.

Resources:

Photo Credit: Learn, by Marc Brannan, Flickr

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the web.joanvinallcox.ca. Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning 🙂

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Reference
Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127

Bloom’s and Web 2.0

Today I came across a creative rendition of Ben Bloom’s taxonomy on the Educational Technology Guy’s blog. I am not sure what Ben would have thought of how his classification system of cognitive levels of thinking (and learning) would look decorated with icons representing web 2.0 applications, but I think it is terribly clever (created by University of Southern Indiana under Creative Commons). I am a huge fan of Ben’s work – I sound on familiar terms with this innovative and influential educator, but his traditional taxonomy introduced in the 1960’s is on my office bulletin board and I refer to it often when working on courses. The complexity of thinking and learning increases as you go up on the taxonomy, thus ‘creating’ engages the highest level of critical thinking skills.

Bloom's Taxonomy and Technology

Resource for Teachers
Since Dr. Bloom introduced his now famous taxonomy, it’s been revised, manipulated and adapted many times over. See my previous post, Blogs and Bloom’s for an adapted version of the taxonomy. The version above is a tremendous resource for educators seeking to engage learners with applications that have the potential to support learning and achievement of learning goals.

Keep Learning! 🙂
Source: http://www.usi.edu/distance/bdt.htm