#edcmooc week 3 – computer says no

It’s been a very reflective week for me in #edcmooc as we move to the “being human” element of the course. In week three we’re being specifically asked:

“what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

and more specifically:

“Who or what, in your view, will define what it means to be human in the future? Who or what defines it now? These are crucial questions for those of us engaged in education in all its forms, because how we define ‘desirable humanity’ will inform at the deepest level our understanding of how and why education might be conducted and why it matters. Paying attention to online education foregrounds these issues in a new way, helping us look at them afresh.”

Fantastically chin stroking stuff 🙂 As usual there are a good range of readings and videos. David Hopkins has written an excellent critique.

I’ve had quite a surprisingly emotional response to all of this and I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate my thoughts. Maybe it’s because the resources and questions are making me question my own humanity. As educational technology is central to my job and takes up a huge amount of my life, and I am a fairly optimistic wee soul perhaps what’s been nagging away at me is a fear that I am contributing, without thinking of the consequences, towards a horribly dystopian future where we those that can afford it are bio-engineered up to the max, controlled by technology which allows us to think humans are still in control whilst it plots humanity’s demise.

On the other hand, my other reaction is that this is all a load of academic nonsense, which allows people to have never ending circular discussions; whilst in the ‘real world’ the rest of humanity just get on with it. We’re all going to die anyway and our species is just a blip in the history of our planet. For some reason this phrase from Little Britain keeps running through my head, it seems to sum up the wonderful way that humans can subvert technology.

As I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with technology in an educational context. I have to say that overall it has been the human element which has, and continues to be, the most rewarding and most innovative. I’ve seen online education offer alternative access to education at all levels from the most under-privileged to the most privileged. Technology has allowed me to connect with a range of wonderfully intelligent people in ways I would never imagined even less than 10 years ago. It has in many ways strengthened my sense of being human, which I think is fundamentally about communication. I still get very frustrated that there isn’t equal investment in human development every time a new system/technology is bought by a school/college/university, but I’m heartened by the fact that almost every project I know of emphasises the need for time to develop human relationships for technology to be a success and bring about change.

Ghosts in the machine? #edcmooc

Following on from last week’s post on the #edcmooc, the course itself has turned to explore the notion of MOOCs in the context of utopian/dystopian views of technology and education. The questions I raised in the post are still running through my mind. However they were at a much more holistic than personal level.

This week, I’ve been really trying to think about things from my student (or learner) point of view. Are MOOCs really changing the way I engage with formal education systems? On the one hand yes, as they are allowing me (and thousands of others) to get a taste of courses from well established institutions. At a very surface level who doesn’t want to say they’ve studied at MIT/Stanford/Edinburgh? As I said last week, there’s no fee so less pressure in one sense to explore new areas and if they don’t suit you, there’s no issue in dropping out – well not for the student at this stage anyway. Perhaps in the future, through various analytical methods, serial drop outs will be recognised by “the system” and not be allowed to join courses, or have to start paying to be allowed in.

But on the other hand, is what I’m actually doing really different than what I did at school and when I was an undergraduate or was a student on “traditional’ on line, distance courses. Well no, not really. I’m reading selected papers and articles, watching videos, contributing to discussion forums – nothing I’ve not done before, or presented to me in a way that I’ve not seen before. The “go to class” button on the Coursera site does make me giggle tho’ as it’s just soo American and every time I see it I hear a disembodied American voice. But I digress.

The element of peer review for the final assignment for #edcmooc is something I’ve not done as a student, but it’s not a new concept to me. Despite more information on the site and from the team this week I’m still not sure how this will actually work, and if I’ll get my certificate of completion for just posting something online or if there is a minimum number of reviews I need to get. Like many other fellow students the final assessment is something we have been concerned about from day 1, which seemed to come as a surprise to some of the course team. During the end of week 1 google hang out, the team did try to reassure people, but surely they must have expected that we were going to go look at week 5 and “final assessment” almost before anything else? Students are very pragmatic, if there’s an assessment we want to know as soon as possible the where,when, what, why, who,how, as soon as possible. That’s how we’ve been trained (and I use that word very deliberately). Like thousands of others, my whole education career from primary school onwards centred around final grades and exams – so I want to know as much as I can so I know what to do so I can pass and get that certificate.

That overriding response to any kind of assessment can very easily over-ride any of the other softer (but just as worthy) reasons for participation and over-ride the potential of social media to connect and share on an unprecedented level.

As I’ve been reading and watching more dystopian than utopian material, and observing the general MOOC debate taking another turn with the pulling of the Georgia Tech course, I’ve been thinking a lot of the whole experimental nature of MOOCs. We are all just part of a huge experiment just now, students and course teams alike. But we’re not putting very many new elements into the mix, and our pre-determined behaviours are driving our activity. We are in a sense all just ghosts in the machine. When we do try and do something different then participation can drop dramatically. I know that I, and lots of my fellow students on #oldsmooc have struggled to actually complete project based activities.

The community element of MOOCs can be fascinating, and the use of social network analysis can help to give some insights into activity, patterns of behaviour and connections. But with so many people on a course is it really possible to make and sustain meaningful connections? From a selfish point of view, having my blog picked up by the #edcmooc news feed has greatly increased my readership and more importantly I’m getting comments which is more meaningful to me than hits. I’ve tried read other posts too, but in the first week it was really difficult to keep up, so I’ve fallen back to a very pragmatic, reciprocal approach. But with so much going on you need to have strategies to cope, and there is quite a bit of activity around developing a MOOC survival kit which has come from fellow students.

As the course develops the initial euphoria and social web activity may well be slowing down. Looking at the twitter activity it does look like it is on a downwards trend.

#edcmooc Twitter activity diagram

#edcmooc Twitter activity diagram

Monitoring this level of activity is still a challenge for the course team and students alike. This morning my colleague Martin Hawskey and I were talking about this, and speculating that maybe there are valuable lessons we in the education sector can learn from the commercial sector about managing “massive” online campaigns. Martin has also done a huge amount of work aggregating data and I’d recommend looking at his blogs. This post is a good starting point.

Listening to the google hang out session run by the #edcmooc team they again seemed to have under estimated the time sink reality of having 41,000 students in a course. Despite being upfront about not being everywhere, the temptation to look must be overwhelming. This was also echoed in the first couple of weeks of #oldsmooc. Interestingly this week there are teaching assistants and students from the MSc course actively involved in the #edcmooc.

I’ve also been having a play with the data from the Facebook group. I’ve had a bit of interaction there, but not a lot. So despite it being a huge group I don’t get the impression, that apart from posting links to blogs for newsfeed, there is a lot of activity or connections. Which seems to be reflected in the graphs created from the data.

#edc Facebook group friends connections

#edc Facebook group friends connections


This is a view based on friends connections. NB it was very difficult for a data novice like me to get any meaningful view of this group, but I hope that this gives the impression of the massive number of people and relative lack of connections.

There are a few more connections which can be drawn from the interactions data, and my colleagye David Sherlock manage create a view where some clusters are emerging – but with such a huge group it is difficult to read that much into the visualisation – apart from the fact that there are lots of nodes (people).

#edcmooc Facebook group interactions

#edcmooc Facebook group interactions


I don’t think any of this is unique to #edcmooc. We’re all just learning how to design/run and participate at this level. Technology is allowing us to connect and share at a scale unimaginable even 10 years ago, if we have access to it. NB there was a very interesting comment on my blog about us all being digital slaves.

Despite the potential affordances of access at scale it seems to me we are increasingly just perpetuating an existing system if we don’t take more time to understand the context and consequences of our online connections and communities. I don’t need to connect with 40,000 people but I do want to understand more about how, why and how I could/do. That would be a really new element to add to any course, not just MOOCs (and not something that’s just left to a course specifically about analytics). Unless that happens my primary driver will be that “completion certificate”. In this instance, and many others, to get that I don’t really need to make use of the course community. So I’m just perpetuating an existing where I know how to play the game, even if it’s appearance is somewhat disguised.

Utopia, dystopia, technology, education and MOOCs

Stage two of my “adventures in MOOC-land” started this week as the e-Learning and Digital Cultures course started this week. I have signed up for Coursera courses before but for various reasons, I haven’t got very far. However I have a lot more motivation for sticking with this course. For the past couple of years I have toyed with applying for the Masters in Digital Education at Edinburgh so this seems like a good way to get a taster for that course, and also a change to “compare and contrast” what is now being referred to by the Mooc-gnoscenti as a “x-MOOC” (the US big ones!), and the #oldsmooc which is more in the “c-MOOC”(connected/community) or even the p-mooc (project) camp.

Despite the massive number of participants, I’ve actually found #edcmooc a relative oasis of calm and tranquility. Mind you I haven’t explored far in the google and facebook groups/forums. Certainly the design of the course is much more traditional and individually focussed than #oldsmooc. The main content (so far videos and suggested texts which I’ve started to curate here is in the Coursera VLE. There are the usual additional online spaces of a wiki, twitter, Facebook and google groups. #edcmooc is also running alongside the Msc module and the staff are very upfront about their involvement in the MOOC:

“We will be commenting on course organisational issues, and other matters which get voted up in the forums. We won’t be present everywhere, rather we perceive the various discussion spaces as opportunities for you to explore ideas and share interests with each other.”

So unlike #oldsmooc, with that upfront statement some of my strategies for successful MOOC-ing might not work 🙂

The final assessment is the creation of a digital artefact which will be peer assessed. Contributing to online discussions is encouraged but not mandatory. There has been a huge amount of blogging activity already and in terms of openness it is great to see that the collated #edcmooc tagged blogs are openly available.

The first block of the course centres on utopian and dystopian perspectives of digital culture and digital education and how these views impact our own practices as learners, students and teachers. Week one has looked to the past in terms of highlighting both sides of the fence. Currently MOOCs themselves are one of the best examples I can think of in relation to utopian and dystopian visions for education and technology.

I’ve collated some of the responses to this tweet in this storify.

Every week in the mainstream, technology and education press there is at least one post claiming that the education system is broken and more often than not MOOCs are being heralded as the “thing” to save the system. Particularly as Coursera, Udacity etc have been able to raise vast sums of capital, and enroll hundreds and thousands of students, which can only be a good thing, right? Looking to the past isn’t this massive engagement (on a global scale) what we need to do to address the education imbalance?

“The major problem in education today is that hundreds of millions of the world’s citizens do not receive it” (Daniel, 2002)

But are MOOCs really a stable and sustainable way of addressing this? There are are various flavours of “openness” in MOOCs. Increasingly as the business side of thing kicks in and investors want to see ROI charges are being brought in for the bit that really counts – assessment. Will as many people who signed up for the courses this year be able and willing to pay in subsequent years? If they don’t what then? I have yet to see any MOOC business model that isn’t predicated on paying for assessment – so where’s the change to the system there? When can/ will MOOCs break even?

In the UK we are still waiting to see exactly what FutureLearn (the OU UK driven MOOC platform) will offer. I’ve seen mentions of it “exciting” “learner focused” etc, but what will that look like? Do we really need another “platform” ? What will distinguish it from other VLEs? I can’t really see why any university needs to sign up to a mooc platform – they already have what they need in their VLE, and other technologies that are out there. Perhaps it more a case of having to be seen to be “playing the game” or being “in with the in-crowd”. Past experience should tell us that isn’t always the best place to be. Tony Hirst wrote a really insightful post on the possible development opportunities for FutureLearn early this week, and I noticed another one last night which brings in some more thinking and links to other possible models. I suspect tho’ the real reason is the dystopian vendor/commercial lock down one. Recognise this?

. . .the lines have already been drawn in the struggle which will ultimately determine its shape. On the one side university administrators and their myriad commercial partners, on the other those who constitute the core relation of education: students and teachers. . . It is no accident, then, that the high–tech transformation of higher education is being initiated and implemented from the top down. (Noble, 1998)

It’s actually about the early days of WebCT but could quit equally be used in the MOOC context. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I can’t help feeling that the utopian ideals of MOOCs (open, massive, connected, community based) are getting squished by the venture capitalists, the existing ‘systems’ who are just going to repackage what we’ve already got in a slightly different way but if they keep telling us the system is broken we’ll have no option but to buy into their (dystopian) solution, which still equates “quality” with payment.

There’s already been some backlash to the peer assessment being used in some MOOCs. Is there an implicit encouragement of gaming the system ben encouraged in #edcmooc when were told we don’t have to contribute to discussion etc by online activity might help when it comes to the final assessment? The more you engage the more like it is that someone will review your assessment? So are the models being used really scale up to and incorporate some of the more visionary thinking around peer assessment? Some of the new “platforms” are turning to analytics for “excitement” and “insight”, but based on what, the data that is easiest to display – which is usually assessment data. I have a sneaky suspicion that will be monetized sooner rather than later. The more you want to know about your interactions, the more you’ll have to pay for those little nuggets of insight into your own behaviour.

And are the big MOOCs (like #edcmooc) really reaching out to a substantially different student cohort? I’ve already commented about digital literacy (proficiency in English) and overall confidence a learner needs gain meaningful inter-actions in a massive context. Every time I log into Coursera I’m reminded of my foolishness of thinking that I could cope with their natural language processing course. Of course, there was no cost – so not a lot of loss for me in that case. Most of the MOOCs I know about are aimed at pretty well educated people – not the really dis-engaged or disadvantaged and the ones who don’t just need a “nice video” but some real face to face support. Open content initiatives such as OpenLearn can (and are) helping to do that. But MOOCs not so much – yes there are some examples of “flipped classrooms” but most in HE are again with the students who are getting the grades, not the ones struggling to get into college. Wouldn’t it be nice if more of venture capitalist and Universities spent even a third of what they do on “systems” on staff development and enhancing face to face teaching? As John Daniels points out effective education combines people and technology.

Right now as a learner what I really want is a space (not a system) where I can create, connect and share my learning and activities. That’s why I have been really excited by the potential of representation of networked views of Cloudworks. The visualisations created by Tony give me hope that there is hope and that change can be driven from the educator/leaner point of view and not the vendor. My dreams of utopia are still alive.

References:
Daniel, J. (2002). Technology is the Answer: What was the Question? Speech from Higher Education in the Middle East and North Africa, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 27-29 May 2002.

Noble. D. (1998). Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education. First Monday 3/1.

When learning means teaching, and learner means teacher – thoughts on #learnersrights

Like many others I was introduced to A Bill of Rights for Learners in a Digital Age” yesterday. And like a few others was slightly confused by it. I think there is maybe a slight tendency for us the UK to be slightly skeptical of anything claiming to be a “bill of rights”. It’s a bit too American, too explicit for those of us used to having an unwritten constitution underpinning our version of democracy. 

After reading the document, lots of questions ran through my head: what can a learner do with this constitution? how does it protect their rights? who/how/what/why signs up for it? Which brought me to thinking is this really for learners? Or is it actually for teachers/ educational institutions/governments in terms of giving them a framework for providing the “right” context for learning to take place? Is this actually a teachers/teaching bill of rights?  

Perhaps because I’m taking part in #oldsmooc which is about learning design, the subtleties of distinctions between learning and teaching are higher than normal on my agenda. As it has been pointed out on many occasions, learning design could actually be called teaching design as it is in fact in many ways more about the teaching side of education than learning. Sometimes we have a tendency to use learning when we mean teaching, and teacher when we mean learner. This again was highlighted by Stephen Downes in his response to my review of the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration (which isn’t really a declaration but let’s not get caught up in more semantic circles). 

As someone involved in the drafting of “the Bill”, Audrey Watters has written a really useful post on the process and her own thoughts on the the process and terminology used. I found this extremely useful in understanding how, and by whom, the document was written. Audrey’s article highlights another conundrum in terms of the use of “student’ and “learner”. Again bringing me back to my questions about who this is bill is actually for.  

I do think there are some fundamental issues and some which will become increasingly important i.e. ownership and use of data which “the bill” highlights. As with the other announcements from the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy, Audrey is advocating hacking this initial document and getting much wider involvement in its development.  

I’m not sure I’m really adding anything constructive here, but I do think if this is to gain any traction it needs to be clear who this is for. Maybe this needs to evolve into a set of “bills/manifestos/declarations” call them what you will, explicitly directed at students, learners, teachers administrators but with some common underpinning themes to ensure we are all contributing to building successful learning cultures. 

Exploring Digital Futures

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme support aspect of my job is that I get to find out about a lot of really innovative work taking place across a diverse range of UK universities. On the flip side of this, I do sometimes yearn to be part of the development of projects instead of always just being on the outside looking in once plans have been made and funding secured. I also often wonder if anything I write about in my blog does actually make any difference or is useful to the wider to community.

So I was delighted yesterday to spend the afternoon at Edinburgh Napier University at an internal seminar exploring their digital future and technological ambitions. I was even more delighted a couple of weeks ago when Keith Smyth contacted me about attending the event, and said that the series of blog posts I wrote with my Strathclyde colleague Bill Johnston on the Digital University, had been really useful and timely for Napier in terms of them starting to think about how to develop their approach to a digital strategy.

Yesterday’s seminar was an opportunity for staff from across the institution to come together and share their experiences and views on what their real needs and aspirations are in terms of the future (digital) shape of the university. Napier are already involved in a number of innovative projects internally, and are committed to open practice, particularly in regards to their work in learning technology. For example their 3E Framework for effective use of technology in teaching and learning, is available via a CC licence and is being used/adapted by over 20 institutions worldwide who have all agreed to share their adaptations. A great example of how open practice can not only improve internal working practices but also have an impact in terms of helping community knowledge grow in an open, shareable way too. The framework is also linked to a resource bank,with examples of the framework in action, which again is openly available.

Like many institutions, podcasting is a growing trend and their College2Uni podcasts which were originally designed to help student transition from college to university are now being used for wider community driven information sharing initiatives. Plans for an open access journal are also well underway.

But what/where next? What should the long, medium and short term goals for the institution be? Participants were asked to consider “what will today’s ten year old’s expect when they come to University in 2020?” Delegates were divided into six groups set short (i.e. can be in place in a year) as well as longer term aspirational goals. The six themes were:

*Developing digital literacies
*Digital equivalence
*Digitally enhanced education
*Digital communication and outreach
*Digital scholarship
*Digital infrastructure and integration

Again, another wee ego boost, was seeing how the matrix Bill and I have developed, provided a framework for the discussions and planning of the workshop.

MacNeill/Johnston conceptual matrix (revised, October 2012)

MacNeill/Johnston conceptual matrix (revised, October 2012)

It was also a good opportunity for me to highlight work from a number of JISC programmes including Developing Digital Literacies, Assessment and Feedback, and Curriculum Design and Delivery and the growing number of resources from all these programmes which are available from the Design Studio.

There was a genuine enthusiasm from all the delegates a number of suggestions for easily achievable short term goals including single sign on for all uni accounts, more co-ordinated and easily accessible communication channels (for staff and students), experimenting with lay out of lecture spaces, developing a more coherent strategy for mobile devices. Longer term goals were generally centred on ubiquitous access to information, continuous development of staff and student skills including supporting open practices, ways to differentiate Napier and how to take advantage of affordances of the all pervasive MOOCs and indeed the changing landscape of HE. Content maybe more plentiful in 2020 but not everyone has the skills to take an MIT/Stanford/Everyotherbignameuniversity open course without support. There are a lot of skills which we know employers are looking for which aren’t supported through these large scale distance models of education. The need for new spaces (both digital and physical) for experimentation and play for both staff and students was highlighted as a key way to support innovation. You can get a flavour of the discussion by searching the #digiednap archive.

The next steps for Napier, are the forming of working group to take forward the most popular ideas from the session. There was a bit of the old “dotmocracy” with delegates voting for their preferred short terms ideas:

and work on more strategic developments over the coming year. I am really looking forward to working with colleagues in Napier as a critical friend to these developments, and being part of a project from the outset and seeing first hand how it develops.

Massive participation but no one to talk to: #moocmooc day 3

So it’s day three of #moocmooc, and after exploring what MOOCs are, places where learning takes place, today’s theme is “Participant Pedagogy”.

We’ve been given a short list of articles offering a number of perspectives from Howard Rheingold, Amya Kamenetz and Stephen Downes, and been to consider and respond to the following questions:

*How does the rise of hybrid pedagogy, open education, and massive open online courses change the relationships between teachers, students and the technologies they share?
*What would happen if we extracted the teacher entirely from the classroom? Should we?
*What is the role of collaboration among peers and between teachers and students? What forms might that collaboration take?
*What role do institutions play?

We’ve also been asked to:
*Create your own conversation around the topic of participant pedagogy.
*Do this by writing an article on your own blog or, if you don’t have a blog, by starting a thread in the discussion forum within this course.
*Establish the space, provide the tools, and provoke your audience to respond. Announce and link to your post on Twitter w/ hashtag #moocmooc and hashtag #post (to help people search and avoid spambots).

I thought that this task might be enlivened by some face to face discussion around the questions and I’m inviting fellow moocmoo-ers and anyone else who is interested to join me in a google hang out tonight (15 August) at 8pm (BST). As well as getting to know some fellow course members, I’m hoping this will be a good opportunity to try out Google hang outs, which I haven’t done before. I understand you can record conversations to, which again would be useful.

Unfortunately, despite a couple of tweets and a post to the course discussion forums, it looks like no-one is really that interested. So if you, dear reader, would like to talk about participant pedagogy (or anything else really) and try out google hangouts – DM me (@sheilmcn) and so I can get your email address and invite you to the hangout. There is a limit of 10 people which again I think would be about the right number for a this kind of conversation. However I am having rather mixed feelings of irony that there is so much other “massive” mooc participation/activity going on, that so far no-one seems to want to participate in this activity. I’m not paranoid, honest, but am beginning to feel slightly like a Billy no-mates:-)

**UPDATE**
I should have had more faith in my fellow moocmooc-ers. Have had a great chat tonight, despite some technical ‘issues’ at the start (note to self – don’t try to do a google hangout on 7yr old mac, with domestic broadband).