Getting set for #byod4L – what Sheila will be doing this week

After a bit of a respite and a small flirtation with FutureLearn, I’m getting back into the MOOC saddle again with #byod4L. Although not explicitly promoting itself as a MOOC, is kind of is and I’m hoping it will be the kind of MOOC experience I’ve found to enjoy the most – chaotic, crazy, connected, collaborative and fun. As this “open magical box” is being facilitated for a week, it does remind me of my first serious attempt at participating in a massive, open course – #moocmooc in  August 2012.

When I started that MOOC (btw, it does keep surprising me how comfortable I feel using the term as a verb), I knew I had to be very pragmatic about what I could and more importably couldn’t do. There was just so much going on during that week online, and as the majority of the participants with in North America, a lot happened whilst I was sleeping.  I decided to take a very pragmatic approach to try and do one thing everyday (which the design of the course facilitated) and to use my blog and twitter as my primary communication channels.  This worked well for me and is how I have approached other MOOCs that I seriously wanted to engage with. It will be my strategy for this week too.

I know I will miss out of some stuff, but a key part not just successful MOOCing  is becoming self directed, taking control, and realising that you can’t be everywhere, all the time and participate in everything. Remember no-one expects you to, and the facilitation team are dividing their time too as this really useful post from David Hopkins highlights.

I like the five topics for the week: connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating, creating. I think I’ll be most active in the connecting, collaborating and communicating spaces, but not sure if I’ll do enough to get a badge, tho that would be a nice momento of the experience.

I’m also trying to encourage others in my department and institution to engage with the course over the week. We’re having a MOOC meet-up on Friday afternoon to discuss our experiences. Like other places it’s the first week of teaching for our new semester so getting some kind of group work is a bit of a non starter, but I’m hoping that just having an hour or so to talk about experiences/reasons of participation or non participation will be useful itself.

A reminder of byod4l here is a little video I made for #moocmooc about places where I learn. Click on the image below or  this link to go the animoto page where it is hosted.

Places where I learn

Places where I learn

What Sheila’s seen this week

Last week was quite busy, with lots of things that caught my eye and interest both internally here at GCU and out in the land of learning technology.

A post from David Hopkins at Leicester introduced me to a project he is involved in with colleagues from Loughborough college exploring definitions ov learning technologists, by learning technologists. There have been a number of very thoughtful responses which are collated here.

I was pleased to see that a pretty comprehensive draft report of a study on students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment by Helen Beetham and Dave White is available from the Jisc Design Studio. I need to go back and read this in more detail, but I know this will be invaluable to us as we move into our next phase of planning technology provision and support for teaching and learning. Some of the findings from the study include:

*Students are largely ignorant of the range of services, software and support available to
them at university
*Students are so used to seamless access they do not understand when they are crossing
boundaries e.g. between institutionally-paid-for to free-on-the-open-web services
*Students rarely use technology for advanced knowledge-related activities or problem
solving unless they have been required to do so by their course or tutor
*Students want more guidance on academically credible sources and academically
legitimate uses of online content
*Students are familiar with aps, not applications. Academic software and specialist systems require structured introduction in the context of meaningful tasks.
*Students place a high value on experience with work-place technologies and research-like digital practices
*Students learn important and valuable digital practices from other students 

It wouldn’t really be a week without a couple of MOOC “things”, and this week was not exception. The ALT MOOC SIG had it’s first meeting/conference on Wednesday.  Mainly exploring experiences of Future Learn, it was great to be able to join remotely via the live stream. Fiona Harvey’s storify  gives a good overview of the day.  

Later in the week  I also joined  one of the JISC/ALT Digital Literacy webinars, which featured Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox, University of Edinburgh, who gave a refreshingly different  and intellectually challenging presentation on MOOCs and digital literacies. Luckily the fabulous live blogger Nicola Osbourne was there too and I will be going back to her notes to ponder more on the sociomaterial aspects of MOOC participation. 

Closer to home I was delighted to meet some of this years Caledonian Scholars here at GCU and to hear about the innovative teaching and learning  projects they are working on. The Caledonian Scholars scheme is providing a way to encourage and recognise staff in developing innovative ideas and approaches in teaching and learning.

Rounding off the week, my colleague Sabine McKinnon organised a seminar on Friday morning with John Rubin from the COIL Centre  at SUNY University.  Once again it was refreshing to talk about online collaborative learning without using the “M” word, and once again to hear about examples of international projects based here at GCU.  I hope over the coming year we will be able to develop some more collaborations with the COIL centre and add to their impressive list of case studies

The lurking tipping point – socially and academically acceptable?


Lurking, just saying the word leaves a bit of nasty taste doesn’t it? Even though it is being defined in slightly less threatening terms by the Oxford dictionary.  But as the march of the MOOCs continues and we are beginning to gain more insights into learner behaviour, drop out rates etc, lurking seems to be becoming more acceptable.
However I still don’t like the word. Perhaps because it still has connotations of internet trolls, and to be frank “not very nice people”.  I recently tweeted that I don’t lurk on MOOCs, I absorb. Which might be a bit of an airy fairy statement, but I’m much happier being classified as a sponge than a lurker 😉
However, as I’ve been listening to the #altmoocsig live stream today, and particularly Helena Gillespie talking about the UEA experience, I do now wonder if we have come to a tipping point in terms of valid educational lurking?   There is research coming through (particularly the work done by Colin Milligan , Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan) which clearly shows that people are self identifiying as lurkers in a MOOC context.
Participating in a MOOC is still not common and requires a new set of skills and coping strategies (as I have found out), at times it can be so overwhelming that as a learner you either have nothing to say because you are taking in too much, or you actually don’t know where or how to contribute.  I think this post sums up a lot of people’s first experience of a MOOC (particularly a cMOOC)

Where’s the door? How do I get in? [struggle with site, find dashboard, maybe this will help . . . nope. Lost again]  Who else is here? Do I know anybody? [read through introductions, post mine,  try to find it again because there were some pretty good questions in there, can’t find it. Keep reading to get some sort of sense of who’s here too many posts, can’t make sense, can’t connect.  I’m lost again.] (How do I get to know anybody?) What can I do here? [cool idea, massively crowd-sourced writing, whoops, the deadline is past. I’m still lost, can’t find my way in.]  What are people thinking and saying, maybe I can just lurk. [Wander around from blog post to blog post, twitter post, not sure why some of this stuff is here, it seems there are intimate conversations going on, I really feel like an outsider here.]

What I looked forward to, I have come to dread. Tonight I found myself sitting in front of my computer, my head in my hands, feeling like an utter failure.  Saying for the 10th time, that’s ok, you are learning how to do something new, and that means you don’t know how to do it. Keep trying. Just another half hour. Realizing ten minutes later that I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, thinking about making some cinnamon toast – my version of comfort food.

I still wish I could find a better replacement word, but I am glad to see that the positive aspects of lurking are being increasingly recognised.

Where Sheila should have been this week #CD3RIDE13

I should have been at the RIDE conference today, but instead I have to do my civic duty and go to the High Court later today for potential jury selection.  Not that I want to shirk my civic responsibility, but I am disappointed I can’t make the conference and be part of a couple of  really interesting sessions around, yes you guessed it MOOCs.

However here is the presentation I would have given (NB link to prezi  from image below opens in a new window).




In a galaxy far, far, far away . . .

Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a parallel universe? I do. Particularly this week when the “Major players in the MOOC Universe” infographic was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It was retweeted, google+’ed everywhere almost instantly. But this wasn’t a view of the MOOC universe I know of, there were quite a few bits missing. A bit like the “World Series” this was an almost completely U.S centric view. The big bang MOOC moment certainly didn’t happen slightly north of this universe.

Despite the efforts of informed commentators such as Audrey Watters, to correct the new revisionism of the history of MOOCs, the U.S centric vision seems to be winning out. Martin Weller’s response to Donald Clark’s take on MOOC developments eloquently states a number of my concerns about revisionism and the development of MOOCs and the so called MOOC wars.

But I can sort of see myself in this universe, all be it, in a very small dark corner. I can see, and know who the “big shiny lights” are in the centre, and dream of being part of the rebel alliance, and becoming an apprentice of Obi Weller Kenobi . . .

Yesterday though I felt almost like I had crossed into the 13th dimension. I entered a place where no-one had heard of MOOCs. Yes that’s right – they hadn’t heard of MOOCs. My colleague Lorna Campbell and I had been invited to the Scottish eLearning Alliance Local Authority SIG meeting to give an overview of our work. Lorna spoke about open educational resources, and as is my want of late, I did a bit about MOOCs. Unsurprisingly for increasingly cash strapped local authorities the free part of open was very attractive. Those in charge of developing and running training programmes are always looking for new ways to enhance their offerings. However as the discussion progressed it became clear that there is still one key missing ingredient that all the open content and courses in universe(s) don’t include, and that is time. You need time to engage with learning. Although online provision of education/resources has fundamentally changed access points, it hasn’t meant that we need less time to engage.

As you know dear reader, I have done my fair share of MOOCing over the past few months. It’s probably been the best (well actually it’s been the only) PDP I’ve done in my eight years with Cetis. But I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have been able to combine professional and personal development. I have been able to legitimately use some work time to contribute to a number of courses, and in turn in my own small way contribute to some of the wider discourse and dialogue. So although I was delighted to read that Coursera are now going to be providing course for K12 teachers, I couldn’t help but have a slight sinking feeling of this being staff development on the cheap. Will teachers be given some legitimate study time and recognition to take part or will it just be the really motivated ones (who probably aren’t the ones who really need this time of development) that will just “find the time” to take part? Will there be state wide flipped classrooms for teacher staff development ? Wouldn’t it be great if there was?

There’s also a huge assumption that everyone has the (digital) literacies needed to engage successfully with any kind of online learning. This was a key concern for some of the people at yesterday’s meeting. There’s a reason distance learning providers such as the OU have developed extensive study skills resources for their students. A MOOC on MOOCing isn’t daft idea, it just sounds slightly daft when you say it out loud.

Anyway I guess to end this slightly rambling post, that we need to remember that despite the hype in “our” universe(s), there’s a whole set of parallel universes that haven’t heard about MOOCs yet. They could very well benefit from MOOCs and from open education in general, but education is more than resources and courses. It’s about human interaction and time. In our rush to create new universes let’s not forget these universal principles and cherish the time that a University degree gives to students and indeed the time that any educational experience deserves.

Dear Sheila . . . The MOOC Agony Aunt Column

After much cajoling and numerous requests . . . well OK, one from Martin

I’ve decided to start a new, possibly weekly, feature for all of you out there who are grabbling with the numerous challenges of MOOCs. Whether you’re an instructor or student, this could the place you’ve been looking for to get some words of wisdom based on my vast experience MOOCs (cough, cough).

The questions (and answers) have started flowing already on twitter.

And in a more considered reply to Grainne’s question

Remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” it stands for “massive”. So on the instructor side of things, be prepared for a massive amount of extra (unpaid) hours reformatting and structuring your course. All content and activities have to be MOOC-ified and will only work on a MOOC enabled platform, other online systems just can’t cope with all the new and exciting MOOC pedagogical approaches you’ll be using. Then, when the course is running remember that if you have an introductory forum for students to “share where we are all from and why we’re here” you may feel the inclination to read them all and that will take a massive amount of your (again unpaid) time. So be strong, keep smiling and keep with the programme. By the end of week 2 most of your learners will have realised that they have far more pressing things to do and so the contributions will have dropped off to a number that is manageable for you to at least have a cursory glance over whilst your having a nice cup of tea and biscuit.

From a student point of view, remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” is stands for “massive”. It will take as much time and effort as one of those old fashioned distance, or even those that take place in real time in a real place (like a University) courses, to complete. But just remember you don’t actually have to participate, and can drop out at any time and go and do all that other stuff that you need to, and have a nice cup of tea.

Grainne, Owen – hope that helps and gives everyone else an idea of the scope and scale and contribution this feature could bring to the MOOC-ology or is it MOOC-oshpere?

As the comments/tweets flow in, I’m am also hoping to enlist the support and guidance of my former colleague Christine Sinclair (part of the #edcmooc team) but more importantly former agony aunt writer for the Jackie magazine.

Badges? Certificates? What counts as succeeding in MOOCs?

Oops, I did it again. I’ve now managed to complete another MOOC. Bringing my completion rate of to a grand total of 3 (the non completion number is quite a bit higher but more on that later). And I now have 6 badges from #oldsmooc and a certificate (or “statement of accomplishment”) from Coursera.

My #oldsmooc badges

My #oldsmooc badges

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

But what do they actually mean? How, if ever, will/can I use these newly gained “achievements”?

Success and how it is measured continues to be one of the “known unknowns” for MOOCs. Debate (hype) on success is heightened by the now recognised and recorded high drop out rates. If “only” 3,000 registered users complete a MOOC then it must be failing, mustn’t it? If you don’t get the certificate/badge/whatever then you have failed. Well in one sense that might be true – if you take completion to equate with success. For a movement that is supposed to be revolutionising the (HE) system, the initial metrics some of the big xMOOCs are measuring and being measured by are pretty traditional. Some of the best known success of recent years have been college “drop outs’, so why not embrace that difference and the flexibility that MOOCs offer learners?

Well possibly because doing really new things and introducing new educational metrics is hard and even harder to sell to venture capitalists, who don’t really understand what is “broken” with education. Even for those who supposedly do understand education e.g. governments find any change to educational metrics (and in particular assessments) really hard to implement. In the UK we have recent examples of this with Michael Gove’s proposed changes to GSCEs and in Scotland the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been a pretty fraught affair over the last five years.

At the recent #unitemooc seminar at Newcastle, Suzanne Hardy told us how “empowered” she felt by not submitting a final digital artefact for assessment. I suspect she was not alone. Suzanne is confident enough in her own ability not to need a certificate to validate her experience of participating in the course. Again I suspect she is not alone. From my own experience I have found it incredibly liberating to be able to sign up for courses at no risk (cost) and then equally have no guilt about dropping out. It would mark a significant sea change if there was widespread recognition that not completing a course didn’t automatically equate with failure.

I’ve spoken to a number of people in recent weeks about their experiences of #oldsmooc and #edcmooc and many of them have in their own words “given up”. But as discussion has gone on it is apparent that they have all gained something from even cursory participation either in terms of their own thinking about possible involvement in running a MOOC like course, or about realising that although MOOCs are free there is still the same time commitment required as with a paid course.

Of course I am very fortunate that I work and mix with a pretty well educated bunch of people, who are in the main part really interested in education, and are all well educated with all the recognised achievements of a traditional education. They are also digital literate and confident enough to navigate through the massive online social element of MOOCs, and they probably don’t need any more validation of their educational worth.

But what about everyone else? How do you start to make sense of the badges, certificates you may or may not collect? How can you control the way that you show these to potential employers/Universities as part of any application? Will they mean anything to those not familiar with MOOCs – which is actually the vast majority of the population. I know there are some developments in California in terms of trying to get some MOOCs accredited into the formal education system – but it’s very early stages.

Again based on my own experience, I was quite strategic in terms of the #edcmooc, I wrote a reflective blog post for each week which I was then able to incorporate into my final artefact. But actually the blog posts were of much more value to me than the final submission or indeed the certificate (tho I do like the spacemen). I have seem an upward trend in my readership, and more importantly I have had lots of comments, and ping backs. I’ve been able to combine the experience with my own practice.

Again I’m very fortunate in being able to do this. In so many ways my blog is my portfolio. Which brings me a very convoluted way to my point in this post. All this MOOC-ery has really started me thinking about e-portfolios. I don’t want to use the default Coursera profile page (partly because it does show the course I have taken and “not received a certificate” for) but more importantly it doesn’t allow me to incorporate other non Coursera courses, or my newly acquired badges. I want to control how I present myself. This relates quite a lot to some of the thoughts I’ve had about using Cloudworks and my own educational data. Ultimately I think what I’ve been alluding to there is also the development of a user controlled e-portfolio.

So I’m off to think a bit more about that for the #lak13 MOOC. Then Lorna Campbell is going to start my MOOC de-programming schedule. I hope to be MOOC free by Christmas.