Posts Tagged ‘MOOC’

Yesterday I shared this TED talk with our CTO:

Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education (one of founders of Coursera).

And, today one of my colleagues sent me a link to  Why MOOCs won’t replace traditional instruction an essay called Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption by Jonathan Marks from Inside Higher Ed

This got me thinking about MOOCs again.  The Koller video is in favor of MOOCs, of course, and she is certainly persuasive.  I have not taken a Coursera course, but I was impressed about how they were organized. Marks has taken a Coursera course, about which he had many positive things to say.

He is not worried that his job as a faculty member, will disappear because of MOOCs.  He points out that college needs to be a transformative experience for the students at his institution. These students need guidance. This is the same for many of our institutions, mine included. Coursera and other MOOCs do not offer this guidance.     Guidance is not scalable, at least not easily, and guidance is what many of our institutions can and do offer.

In his essay Marks points out:

Guide yourselves” could be Coursera’s motto, and there is nothing wrong with that.

while Coursera’s mission of open access is democratic, its education is elitist, designed for those who already possess the judgment, independence, and discipline to teach themselves well.


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Chapter 2  is adapted from “New Learners? New Educators? New Skills? ” in the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning by George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger and is about Blended Interactions .

I especially liked the section on The Role of Educators in a Networked World.  Four educator were included:

  • John Seely Brown’s notion of studio or atelier learning
  • Clarence Fischer’s notion of educator as network administrator
  • Curtis Bonk’s notion of educator as concierge
  • George Siemens’ notion of educator as curator

It’s best to read the linked chapter on Blended Interactions to read about these in depth.  What I found to be important was that in every case

the established expertise of the educator plays an active role in guiding, directing, and evaluating the activities of learners.

The second part of the chapter introduced me to Techno Expression by Kevin Kelly and Ruth Cox.

Their main advice is to keep interaction in the front of your mind.  The instructor should not  be concerned only with uploading materials.  Even though I have been teaching online and blended courses for many years, I got a few new ideas from here.  One is asking students to review the syllabus, which is always done. But, then, ask each student to write one or two things from the syllabus which address their goals.    Or, they could be given the opportunity to discuss the  overall course outline, particular components of the course which interest them, etc.   This assures they are familiar with the syllabus and that they relate it to themselves. I intend to do this the next time I teach my blended course (in January, 2013).

Other ideas about online interaction are more familiar to me and I use them regularly and usually recommend to faculty I am working with as an instructional designer.  Students should  share information about  themselves, often in some kind of introduction discussion forum or in an ice breaker activity.  Students may work in online groups to solve problems.  And, of course, students will take part in substantive discussion forums about the subject of the course.  In all cases, instructor feedback is essential.  I believe it is essential for student learning and it is essential for retention. Students need to feel connected. Instructors need to do more than read what’s going on in the online sections of a  course.  They also need to post, offering suggestions, help, direction, and more.

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I am an instructional designer and my job is to help faculty who teach online courses, mainly, but also blended courses. I teach a blended course too. I first taught it in a blended format this past summer, have improved it for the fall and hope to improve it again for the spring term. “Creating a blended learning strategy is an evolutionary process.” (Singh and Reed, 2001).

There are many things to consider in this chapter. One which especially resonated with me is this tip:

“Begin with relevant metaphors for learning. Often the language commonly used to describe e-learning dismisses the notion that learning with technology is a valuable experience in its own right. When we speak about “distance learning”, “covering course content”, and “delivering courses” we are imposing an intent and framework for learning that calls for little involvement from the learner.”

Learning with technology is a valuable experience in its own right. This was mentioned several times in chapter 1. I find that this is true. When activities are designed so that students can use technology to learn on their own or with others, the learning is often richer and, I hope, more lasting.

Let me give an example of how this worked in one of my recent activities. I teach a course called Introduction to the Internet & Web Authoring. A small part of it requires that students know something about the development of the internet, that is, its history. I assigned them to visit any (or all) of several websites and read about this, look at images, watch videos, and so on. Then in the face-to-face class I gave groups randomly ordered index cards which included events in the development of the internet. They did not have to know the dates; instead they had to put the index cards in order, a much higher level skill than memorizing dates, I think.  I was thrilled to hear how much conversation about the history of the internet occurred during this activity.  At the end, the students wanted me to post  the correct order because they wanted to KNOW.

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I have signed up for the Blended Learning Toolkit, a course (MOOC) from University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

Part of the course includes posting responses to a blog.  So, I am able to “kill two birds with one stone,” so to speak.  I can participate in the course and I can get back to posting on my blog. Stay tuned for my reflections…

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I was never able to complete the work in the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) run by Professor Bonk.  Partly, I ran out of time. But, I also lost interest. I have recently run across two good articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education about MOOCs though.

The Con

The first is What’s the Matter With MOOCs? by Siva Vaidhyanathan, which appeared on July 6th.

The strangest thing about this MOOC obsession is the idea that something that very wealthy private institutions offer for free, at a loss, as a service to humanity, must somehow represent the magic numbers in the higher-education lottery. It’s new, it’s “innovative,” and it’s big, the thinking goes. So it must be the answer.

MOOCs inform me. But they do not educate me. There is a difference.

Since I have worked in the online environment for many years, one area of this article particularly resonated with me.  I want to emphasize what Dan Cohen of George Mason University said:

We have been working on synthesizing digital media and technology into the classroom and research for two decades and understand how complex it is, and how you can’t just throw a student into a digital environment,” Cohen wrote to me in an e-mail. “We’re trying to do much more than reproducing lectures and quizzes online; we are trying to use the medium to enable new kinds of interpretation and scholarly interaction. So MOOCs seem like a huge step backward.

If you’re thinking about MOOCs, I recommend that you read Siva’s article for yourself.

The Pro

The second article is  MOOC’s Aren’t a Panacea, but That Doesn’t Blunt Their Promise by Jeff Selingo. Selingo had suggested  in a New York Times op ed that colleges should take advantage of MOOCs and replace their own lowest-quality courses with higher quality MOOCs.

In this article, Selingo re-iterates:

As Vaidhyanathan correctly pointed out, I don’t see MOOC’s as a panacea. But unlike Vaidhyanathan, I can imagine how the format might reduce costs, improve learning, increase access, and maybe produce revenue for a few universities. The problem is that MOOC’s probably can’t do all four things at any one institution—and that’s the reason they are not “the” solution to the myriad of problems facing higher ed.

A common theme in the comments on the Vaidhyanathan post was whether MOOC’s should be considered “education” or just “information.” The assumption seemed to be that the current methods of teaching on college campuses were working just fine.

You can’t assume that in sending off a student to a typical college that they’re going to get a rigorous education.

Here’s where I think that Selingo’s article makes sense for many institutions, including mine:

Taken alone, the format of MOOC’s might not improve learning, but coupled with some face-to-face teaching, they could be a worthy experiment. Various studies have found that students who have taken all or part of a class online performed better, on average, than those who took the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

Again, if your institution is considering using  MOOCs, I recommend that you read this article for yourself.

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In the course Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success, Professor Bonk has been using the TEC-VARIETY Model to illustrate key elements for motivating and retaining online learners.

T – Tone/Climate: Psych Safety, Comfort, Belonging

Some examples include social ice breakers and video course introductions.

E – Encouragement: Feedback, Responsive Supports

This can include online self-testing, screencasts, blog and website polling, using student response systems.

C – Curiosity: Fun, Fantasy, Control

Examples include online news, games, track a scholar, scientist, adventure learning, create a cartoon, movie, animation.

V – Variety: Novelty, Intrigue, Unknowns

Examples include “cool” resources, guest experts, webinars.

A – Autonomy: Choice, Flexibility, Opportunities

Examples include online resource choice, watch shared online videos, web exploration assignments.

R – Relevance: Meaningful, Authentic, Interesting

Examples include online cases, online tours.

I – Interactive:  Collaborative, Team-Based, Community

Examples include working in virtual teams, collaborative video annotations, collaborative documents, wikis.

E – Engagement: Effort, Involvement, Excitement

Examples include interactive timelines, virtual timelines, interactive simulations.

T– Tension:  Challenge, Dissonance, Controversy

Examples include ethical debates, photo festivals, game shows.

Y – Yields: Products, Goals, Success, Ownership

Examples include videos, blogs.

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There is a very interesting discussion started by  Lisa (on Lisa’s Online Teaching Blog) about leaving Curt Bonk’s open online class.  Our institution (Granite State College) left Blackboard about a year ago.  One of the reasons Lisa left was due to the Blackboard interface. I can’t say that I blame her.  For a lively discussion of MOOC’s, Blackboard, and more see:


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