Category Archives: MOOCs

does the team cMOOC? from june, 2011

I discovered this un-posted set of notes while clearing out an old set of nvALT files. It was an innocent time, that summer of ’11, just before xMOOCs drove their railroad through our pastoral cMOOC glen. The MOOCs refereed to in the post are all cMOOCs: MOOCs that enact a constructivist pedagogy. I’ve changed my references to MOOCs to cMOOCs to keep things up  to date. But the posters are all referring to cMOOCs.

Does the team cMOOC?

When I need to learn something on my own, I put on my darkest shades and sit lotus-fashion until l fall over out of hunger. I don’t confuse my mind with anything beyond my navel.

I have a couple of projects to get back to and move along but for the last day or so, I’ve been having a blast looking at the cMOOC debate on preparedness, connectivism, and epistemology.

Here’s the Wiley post that Siemens is responding to.

I am cited as being the dissenting voice in the current, broad-based love affair with MOOCs. … So, for some reason I’m not fully certain of, I feel the need to set the record straight.

’I was mis-represented!” and it’s clear he was the dismissive voice. So Wiley reviews his position on the application of MOOCs.

Now turn to (the Siemens blog post](

Succinct: “the fact that people don’t have the skills to participate in distributed networks for learning and sensemaking is exactly why we need MOOCs.”


The problem David sees is the solution I envision. This has been a sore spot for participants in each of our CCK courses. When the course begins, we inform learners that the process of clarifying confusion and disorientation – sensemaking and wayfinding in complex settings – is the learning. Grappling with pieces that don’t connect and finding a way to connect them is what the course is all about. In the process, learners may move toward a target where knowledge is defined and educators know what learners need to know or they may move more informally in directions that interest them without a goal of accreditation. Many (no idea if it’s most or not) learners that continue in the MOOC seem to settle into the flow of the course and begin to connect pieces. They don’t do this in isolation, however. We have high levels of support in terms of weekly live sessions, Twitter/blogs/The Daily, peer support, and in the learning analytics course we did in January, Dave Cormier started offering a “learner concierge” forum where irritated and confused learners could go with the expectation of getting help.

And let’s get this straight:

With my involvement with MOOCs, I’m not stating “I have found the answer, follow me!”. Instead, I’m stating “I’m experimenting, join in”.”


The concepts we’re exploring with MOOCs – distributed teaching, sub-networks, peer teaching, learner content creation, social networks, new methods of aggregating information, local institution accreditation – are important in reframing the higher education system of the future. MOOCs may or may not have a future. But the ideas we’re playing with and trying to understand will be foundational in any education system in a technology-infused world.”

And for massiveness:

Sub-networks and learner-defined spaces of interaction are a function of the number of participants. If we only had 25 participants, activities and sub-networks wouldn’t make much sense. We need a level of “learner density” in order for the innovation to develop that we’ve witnessed in previous courses.”

And some notes from the comments.


simply lecturing in a webinar is not really teaching – even though this can be a good point of contact for learners.

[Looking back, that foreshadowd the development of xMOOCs, webinars on sticks.]

The comments move into the status of connectivisim: What is it? A phenomenon? theory? movement?

So is there any productive place for cMOOCs?


Yes, absolutely. Technologically savvy, academically well-prepared people will likely benefit greatly from participating in MOOCs. And I see no problem with the rich getting richer when the world is not zero sum, and those gains don’t come at the expense of others. However, should we start to focus on MOOCs as an answer to large-scale, broader problems in education, we will do so at the expense of the less well prepared – exactly the people many of us in open education are interested in helping.”

This position (“the rich get richer” are fighting words – all gains come at the expense of others) kicks off the comments.

From Keith Hamon, who seems to be reading Bartholomae and Berlin at the moment,

I challenge him to give me an example of a class that does not favor the sufficiently prepared learner. One of the commonplace complaints of teachers at any level from kindergarten to graduate school is that their students were not adequately prepared by some earlier teachers for the current coursework. Well, of course MOOCs favor sufficiently prepared learners. All classes favor sufficiently prepared learners.

But the issue I would take is more like that of Siemens: It ain’t about getting rich, but richer. That is, even the academically remedial may well be able to take something away from a cMOOC – and contribute to it. If nothing else, becoming a little less remedial. (Yeesh, this ghettoizing language is annoying.)

And and and it seems that the thing that makes a cMOOC untenable for the dummies is “lack of structure.” Not sure what he’s referring to their. Might use a face to face tutor to create a structure for a remedial learner: bring in a curator.

Students in spring’s Weblogs and Wikis reported the cMOOC moves I introduced in the course were difficult – but that’s because they were new (we’re all remedial) but if students started this way of learning earlier in their academic careers, it could be really powerful.

At issue: What does it mean to be prepared – and that’s at issue for a number of reasons, including that of colonialization addressed by Wiley

By “well prepared,” I mean someone who has had the necessary prerequisite learning experiences and who has succeeded in those experiences. A person who is well prepared is ready for the current learning experience in terms of prerequisite knowledge and skills.

Wiley falls back on the general lack of academic preparedness (Where? US? numbers please, or a link) as witnessed by the “Hence the huge rise in remedial courses (e.g., in reading and mathematics) in high schools, community and technical colleges, and universities. ” OK: confusing academic preparedness with reading and math – and still not providing numbers or seeing that the rise has been there for effing ever.

A little backhander from Wiley as he tries to move the debate back to the academic turn:

I’m sure I’ll use the connectivism technical jargon incorrectly, but perhaps we might say that a prepared person is someone whose personal knowledge network shares a large number of nodes with the knowledge network made available through the MOOC.

Connectivism – the uppitly little sprite! – uses jargon. True Academic Study (Spoiler: Vygotsky is going to come up) has technical terms, like this: “operationally defining the ZPD is the degree of node overlap between a person’s knowledge network and the knowledge network they’re trying to assimilate with the help of the MOOC.”

A point to concede is Wiley’s response to Siemens’s claim that “When the course begins, we inform learners that the process of clarifying confusion and disorientation – sensemaking and wayfinding in complex settings – is the learning.”

Learning to work your way out of confusion and disorientation can be a technology problem, as it was for LMSs with poor user interfaces. And better LMSs, combined with an increased amount of exposure to online systems, can significantly decrease that problem. However, when the problem is a lack of sufficient relevant prior knowledge, and this lack is what impedes a person from being able to orient themselves and way-find or sense-make, you don’t fix that problem with better user interfaces.

But that isn’t what Siemens is referring to – not as I read it. Learning to organize stuff on a cMOOC can be defined as a technical issue – and perhaps it is at time – but it’s also a cognitive / ontological / rhetorical / semiotic issue – and that’s where the learning takes place. Want to investigate that? Move a day’s collection of stuff to a more remedial-friendly mode (paper, or for the really lame, speech!) and have people work in that mode. See what happens.

Again, points taken when Wiley brings ZPDs into play with

People who aren’t sufficiently prepared (and I continue to believe that’s most people on the planet for most subjects) are clearly outside the realm of what they can learn themselves…

[But most of the world is not autodidactic, as drop rates in xMOOCs demonstrates. xMOOCs don’t provide scaffolding.]

Vygotsky himself clearly states that this help can come from more capable peers. So, doesn’t that mean that MOOCs can succeed in supporting learning, at least theoretically?

Yes, MOOC-like networks can support learning when a few conditions are met. (1) There must be a sufficient percentage of learners who already understand the domain sufficiently well to answer other learners’ questions, and (2) there must be a sufficient percentage of this sub-group of learners who have the time and the willingness to answer questions in the MOOC. “Sufficient” in these conditions is a relative statement comparing the number of questions that will need to be answered with the number of qualified willing volunteers.

And so the cMOOC is a case of COIK

The problem? MOOC-like courses only support student learning if most of the people in the course already know the material. This is another, perhaps clearer, way of stating my original objection that George responded to in his post.

The assumption is that everybody is underprepared – so, a simulation is called for. Might be worth a look (Wiley why not lay it out in language. Make me understand whether running a sim is worth it). but Wiley’s assumptions are wrong from the start.

Knowledge in a cMOOC (and perhaps all knowledge worth having) is bootstrapped by learners – which might be the same in all courses. [Can’t say that about xMOOCs, where knowledge is always already a commodity.]

What’s coming clear are the pedagogical / ideological isoglosses: those lines of contention as to the value of a MOOC, and those assumptions behind the design and engagement in a cMOOC.

Comments? Keith Harmon via Dave Courmier’s blog

hint of essentialist epistemology that I sense in his argument. For me, Wiley is working out of the assumption that knowledge is a collection of nuggets that a teacher can transfer from herself to her students. I find this reductionism untenable. To my mind, knowledge is always a function of dynamic, complex networks, forged through the interactions of individuals with their discourse communities and their worlds. Knowledge is a fluid pattern that emerges through the dance we have with others and with the universe. It is not a chunk of information that a teacher writes on the blackboard for the students to write in their notebooks.

So,the last word to Courmier, who articulates what I’ve been seeing in MOOCs I’ve been in, and points to actually testing the ideas this fall.

I don’t think that the MOOC favours “sufficiently prepared” learners. It actually really irritates and confuses lots and lots of people who are considered VERY prepared learners. And, well, i guess I’ll find out how that works out when we do our “MOOC on Basic Skills for university” in the fall. It’s specifically intended for the people I think David is talking about. Success in a university is partially about knowing what some things mean (see the videos we’re making). They need to know what a syllabus is, what a professor is, what social contract they are getting into. But the path of their success is something that will be very individualized. I can’t tell 30 people, at one time, what is going to make them the most successful. There are broad generalizations that are helpful… going to class is better than not going to class… but they really need to find their own strategy.

As a side note: Comp-Rhet people have been addressing the preparedness-remedial crap … landgrab colonialization BW debate for over 40 years. Start with Mina Shaugnessesy, then Coles, Mike Rose, Bartholomae, and Berlin. We’re also taking up the issue in literacy issues – because from one angle learning on a cMOOC is learning the literacy of the mass and the groups you’re learning in – and that learning has to be bootstrapped: you can’t learn the local literacy before you jump in the pool. drink from the fire hose.

Hopefully not going too pastoral on you, I’d place moving into a cMOOC on par with entering university for the first time: new circle, new sense of what’s valued and how, new habits of mind and practice, new epistemic roots.

And if you have questions, talk to Keith.

from the archive: culture shot: MOOCs turn and face the strange #moocmooc

Culture Shot: MOOCs Turn and Face the Strange. Remarks to Students about MOOCs

This is a revised and updated version of a presentation I prepared for Culture Shots, a series of 10 minute addresses to students, sponsored by the English Dept at BSU. Originally written in November, 2011, it was updated in summer, 2012, to reflect the popularity of xMOOCs such as those delivered thorough Coursera.

In high school, in the early 1970s, I had a handle on rock and roll. I knew what it was. I collected albums. I read the Rolling Stone. I thought my taste was pretty far-reaching, from CSN & later Y, Pink Floyd, Beatles (just then breaking up) to Todd Rundgren, Stones, Led Zepplin (but not “Stairway to Bloody Heaven”), Yes, of course, and Steely Dan (and I even knew where they got their name. You can Google it now, but then, you had to be in the know), and, most proudly, Zappa. I dissed Boston, hated anything disco – and disco was so new on the horizon that to be an early hater of disco was to be a prophet.

But in 1973, after graduating, I saw a poster of David Bowie for the Aladdin Sane album. Typically, I had missed the real start of things with Ziggy Stardust, and came in one album late to the show. But seeing that image of Bowie, and listening to that album, like hearing Roxy Music a few years later (Again, I was late to the show. Virginia Plain was released in 1972, but I didn’t hear it until a party attended by five or six French students in early 1974), then the Sex Pistols and Gen-X and XTC a few years after that, then Laurie Anderson’s O, Superman in 1981: Each time, it was like landing on another planet. The music, the scene, each time fell out of the rock and roll purview I had carefully fashioned in high school. I had no model for this. No paradigm. It was scary to turn and face the strange.

Of course, I was mistaken about how knowledgeable I was about rock and roll in the first place. You always are. It takes a shake up, a turn, to light up the territory and show you the landscape you overlooked.

The advent of the Massive Open Online Courses is similar to these musical ruptures. I mean the real MOOCs like Change2011, not the wanna-be-pseudoMOOCs on Coursera. The real thing is where the shake up is. The punk-pop Coursera simply follows the classroom model of manage and deliver that real MOOCs are designed to undercut.

MOOCs are still experimental, and still rough around the edges, but fast maturing. One pseudoMOOC I took during the summer of 2011 tried to domesticate the MOOC, wrap it up in traditional clothing. I’m not sure how that went in the end because I stopped participating when the discussion became tediously hung up in definition wars. “A MOOC isn’t a course because a course has a predefined structure…” “No, it’s not a course because the focus is on student interaction …” Fine. Knock yourself out. Missing was the focus on doing something – on participants making things. That’s why I left. I had heard the discussion before and knew how it all turned out.

Because MOOCs aren’t really about adhering to familiar concepts and definitions. They are scary. Strange. I like them because they are. They force a reconsideration of the conventions of teaching and learning.

It’s not enough to just like MOOCs, however. A harder argument to make is that MOOCs are pedagogically effective because they are strange – and that’s the argument I’m making here. That the strange rather than the familiar provides a better spur and situation for learning. To learn, you gotta be shaken at your boots.

But the shake up also shakes out loose parts.

The shake up of the MOOC, it’s my hope, will shake out educational designers – one loose part.

The strangeness of the MOOC, I hope, will shake out outsourcing to learning management platforms like D2L – another loose part.

The seeming chaos of the well-curated MOOC will shake out the educational management types. It can send them apoplectic.

I also hope the strangeness of the MOOC will ice the current move to privatize state education – but that’s too much too hope for.

MOOCs are part of the Open Education Movement. Free learning. Not so much learning object clearinghouses, although they can be looted by smart MOOC moderators to let students to put them to their own uses.

Stephen Downes gives us a loose and pedagogically sound way to get a handle on how a MOOC proceeds. His is the equivalent of the c 1976 punk DIY manifesto:

This is a chord.
This is another.
This is a third.
Now form a band.

Stephen’s DIY, and my starting point, is

Feed Forward

Your job as a student on a MOOC is to learn. How you do that is up to you. You are responsible not only for what you learn but how you learn it. So substantiating what to do in each point will vary. But the principle is this:

Aggregate stuff. Go read, view, listen to, look at, play with stuff that addresses the topic. And aggregate what you find. Pull it together. Maybe annotate it. Bookmark the aggregation, or make a list. Two things are happening. You’re reading the content, but you’re also organizing the content as related.

Remix. Make notes on the stuff you found – that’s a remix. Or reorganize it. Again, you’re doing things with the stuff you’ve aggregated. Material things. Do things with digital or other materials.

Repurpose. Create something by using the stuff you’ve aggregated. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, or even highly original. Just something that wasn’t there before constructed with some of the stuff in front of you.

Feed Forward. Share. Put it out for others to use, re-use, consider, build on, or ignore. You can re-use your own stuff, too. That’s what I’m doing here: re-working an oral script into a blog-version, mainly so that it can be shared.

Missing in my re-mix is the teacher’s pet of the Professional Education set: Reflect. That’s good. That’s intentional. It’s another loose part. Reflection is an educational panacea. We teachers add it to the mix so we can assess that you students have read the book or done the project – that’s all. We don’t consider whether the reflection actually serves you as a learner – We just assume it does. Reflection, ill-timed, might get in the way of learning. You wanna reflect? Do so. That’s up to the you, anyway.

Missing, in fact, is teacher-led evaluation and assessment full stop. And that’s good. That’s your concern as a student, and removing evaluation from the procedure places it back on your plate. Assessment doesn’t need to be part of the pedagogy, and you don’t need to be burdened with our assessment procedures. That’s a management issue – not a learning issue.

For me, as a teacher, the shaking loose of evaluation is a sea-change, one of those ruptures, like Bowie and punk. A few years ago I was of the mind that to really learn something meant not only being able to do it but to understand that doing. Reflection seemed to provide a validation of that. But now, after participating in three MOOCs, I’m no longer interested in assessing that supposed inner understanding. Reflection isn’t accurate, anyway – no more than a memoir is an accurate account of what happened, or what or how we thought. It’s a post-event construction to explain what we think we did, what we think happened. Over the last few years, I’ve changed my standards. Being able to do something is great. Show me how you learned something by sharing what you leaned. Sharing becomes the evaluation.

Is this learning by doing? No, because you are not necessarily doing what you will be doing later in your life. You may be well out of your area of expertise, current and future. You might make a video – not because you need to know about video or will be expected to do video in future. No, you make a video to learn something about the subject you’re studying. Leaning about planting a garden? Make a video about planting a garden.

Is this community service learning? No. It’s not ethical to ask students who are paying with their time, attention, and effort to volunteer their learning to a community who doesn’t fund education properly. Let the businesses start funding education better and we can talk about community service.

Will the MOOC solve the Crisis of Education? No – and it doesn’t promise to. It’s not meant to. MOOCs are about people learning, not about managing learning. The Crisis of Education is a managerial crisis that I hope MOOCs, as part of the OER movement, will shake out.

MOOCs can reduce much of the administrative bureaucracy, perhaps most of the administration. Under a MOOC, the administration’s role collapses into certifying students – something administrators should be good at and excited about doing.

Learning, like writing, is an indeterminate activity. Management likes determinate activities. They like pop music, and cringe when something challenges that.

What MOOCs can mean is a sea-change for universities. Let us the teachers go back to our role as curators. Let you the students learn, and let the managers certify what you have learned.

In the short term, running courses as massive, open, and online will gain some press and notoriety. Gaining real expertise and respect from other universities – and that is the validation we should be seeking, not internal validation by our system managers – will depend on how we handle MOOC-like courses long term.

See also
What’s right and what’s wrong about Coursera-style MOOCs, Tony Bates

Broadcast Education: a Response to Coursera, Sean Michael Morriss, at Hybrid Pedagogy.

back on a mooc with #moocmooc

#MOOCMOOC is getting started today, and it looks promising, with a modest enrollment so far (early in the day). Here’s the starting point. The platform, Canvas, also looks interesting – not quite roll-your own, but a far cry (thank god) from D2L. The platform can make all the difference. And the duration, a week, is ideal – not just opportune, coming at the end of summer, but an easy span of time to commit to. Sort of an end-of-summer romance.  Remember those?

So far MOOCMOOC seems to be firmly a cMOOC, and yet there are a number of participants who are more familiar with xMOOCs. It will be interesting to see how that possible tension plays out. Jamming together the prim and proper, managerial, xMOOCs-wil-save-our-skin types with the cMOOC let-me-learn-in-peace,-thankyouverymucn types – it will be curious to see just what each will bring to the table, and how each will engage the activities. If MOOCMOOC is about testing a hypothesis,

The Experiment

This MOOC is an experiment. Not a “will it work?” experiment, but a “let’s test an hypothesis” experiment. The hypothesis is the MOOC. The tools we’re using to test it is MOOC MOOC.

then, here’s mine:

My thinking is, and I hope I’m off the mark, that the cMOOC types will actually experiment by producing and testing, while the managerial, xMOOC types will discuss definitions, sustainability, the salvation of education by shrewd and wise management. That is, they will want to discuss their positions rather than testing the MOOC waters by production, curation, remixing, giving back. Hope I’m off base.

And of course I understand that this is not stated as a formal hypothesis and that engaging in a MOOC is not a formal experiment, and what I’m really doing isstating my area of interest and curiosity. But as I was composing my intro to MOOCMOOC, I realized the reason I’m looking forward to this MOOC is that it offers the opportunity to play around a little: experiment, improvise (as Pete Rorabaugh mentions), step outside the teacherly role  for a while. A MOOC might push boundaries of learning, but it can also become – or be taken as – a reason for learners to push boundaries, to side-step the complacent, the given, to step a little out of line. It may be out of their control, but when an institution, a university, provides that opportunity publicly, as in MOOCMOOC, it’s bound to aggravate the powers that wanna-be.



updating for weblogs and wikis, spring 2012

Success with a MOOC/PLE approach in Weblogs and Wikis last spring was mixed – ok, lackluster. It created some management problems for me that prevented the kind of rss aggregation and re-distribution that I was hoping for. But more significantly, the approach as I implemented it didn’t provide enough scaffolding and guidance. Students had too many options and so took few of them. The materials they produced were interesting, really interesting, but that production was so diverse that it made synthesizing generalizations difficult. We never really reached a critical mass. I still like the weekly set of readings and tasks, but need to help students get on to them more quickly and posting more frequently. Better six short posts that build than one long post that wraps up what never got started. It’s a workflow thing.

So, this semester, the same idea of PLE and even MOOC principles – but more guided in reading, viewing, listening, and more guided activities. Two texts: Jill Rettberg, and not a wiki text this time but Paul Levinson, New New Media. Levinson’s book is very much in the bloggy X-Factor realm: It’s all about Paul in the center of the social media sphere. Makes reading it annoying, but blog-like. Levinson sets aside the typical scholarly distancing (good) but does so less by getting in close to the subject (Shirky does that) so much as focusing on his position. The up side is that he touches on topics I’m trusting I can help students sink their teeth into: Facebook, the Dark Side, Twitter, Digg, and maybe SL.

Readings and tasks: I will set these pretty firmly so we can compare notes on Monday and Wednesdays, then taper off on meetings to just Mondays as online interaction picks up or as students start taking on their own 5 – 7 week projects. Yes: Still including a self-designed project, this time to explore a social media phenomenon as suggested by Rettberg, Levinson, or me.

What else? Removing the requirement for social bookmarking, but may have students join Digg. Lots of posting – and requiring the use of the #en3177 tag. Students are on their own for setting up their blog, Twitter account, Digg account, etc. I’ll introduce these in class, but simply assign getting signed up and started. Make it an activity, with the assignment to post about X, Y, and Z to kick everything off.

getting organized in #eduMOOC

Started #eduMOOC this morning. Intros are over; the weekly schedule is on google; most likely many of the discussions will be going on at google; a few people have posted to their blogs (advice on getting organized and learning in a MOOC, mainly); at least one participant has set up an iEtherPad, and a question has been posted to Quora. So far, participants and administrators are starting and looking for topics, posting their interests, and linking to resources. People are looking for others of the same interests. And getting the fire hose under control. Similar to this.

I find Ray’s reflections on getting eduMOOC set up interesting. Ray had concerns similar to mine about getting the online spaces organized so participants could find each other – only to see that participants (Wayne Macintosh at the OER university) started to set up study groups (should be interest groups rather than study) on their own. Ray is also posting about set up strategies and considerations balancing access, experience, and interests here. These posts are interesting for what they reveal about getting a MOOC organized. I played out the same concerns when I was setting up the MOOC for Weblogs and Wikis, and while I settled most of them before I started, I had to re-fit them a couple of times as it became clear what students did not know about the web.

Ray’s comments are also interesting in what they reveal about eduMOOCs pedagogy. The administrators are really working at getting a shared space ready for participants, suggesting that eduMOOC is coming more from a centralized learning supply house pedagogy rather than a PLE-distributed knowledge pedagogy, as in #PLENK2010. eduMOOC seems to leam more towards social constructionism / constructivism than connectivism. Not that that’s a problem, and not that the designed pedagogy of a MOOC confines participants to that pedagogy. One of the beauties of a MOOC (and part of the reason The MOOC is Not an Answer) is that participants can must follow their own pedagogy to an extent.

But after reviewing materials this morning, I signed up with the OERu Planning Group. I have an interest in OER, but what attracted me to this group was that Wayne had set up a place for creating some shared goals and posted some common actives to get things started. Looks like participants will be posting to their own spaces, while the planning group provides a filter and aggregator. And the aggregator is what’s important now.

getting past the lms

A good example of what PLEs and MOOCs seek to overcome / bypass / sidestep/ kick sand in the face of: LMS policy. This is a good example from U Toronto. They publish their LMS policy in the guise of a FAQ. An example:

What are the advantages of using the Institutional LMS as a foundation or primary environment for online learning?

Consistency, Security, Accountability and Sustainability 
The Office of the Vice-President and Provost has emphasized the value of consistency of online learning infrastructure in order to ensure that the experience of both faculty and student is of high quality, to make certain that learning systems are robust, secure and sustainable and also to facilitate most effective use of available human and physical resources to support online learning.  Just as the university takes fiscal responsibility seriously, it must also take responsibility for the integrity of IT systems and security of data as an underpinning to online learning activities and our commitment to our students.

Student Experience
The student learning experience within technology-enhanced environments is a key consideration and coherence and reliability of online systems is paramount. Students may be disadvantaged if they are required to learn how to use and navigate multiple systems. The university provides a robust, fully supported centralized Learning Management System (LMS) and anticipates that divisions and departments will take advantage of that system to provide a consistent portal entry point and common interface for students.

The emphasis in both the question and response is not on learning but on managing, and managing of courses and teachers by the Provost rather than managing the students by the teacher. Who asks this question? Management. A teacher would ask, What advantages for teaching and  learning does your LMS make possible that other ways of working do not? A more pointed teacher would ask, What alternatives to Blackboard does this institution support?

And that question is addressed under FAQ #4: If a faculty member wishes to use Web 2.0 and/or Cloud-based Technologies to enhance a course, what steps can be taken to reduce risk and ensure the security of student data?

In FAQ #4, the institution’s interest clearly dominates, and the attitude is clearly off-putting. The answer is not focused on learning or teaching, but on risk, and cast not in a shared language but one of legalities:

Full reliance on a third party service that is not supported by the institution or division, nor through an contract relationship will involve a high level of risk and is not recommended as a primary learning environment, in particular for fully online courses. However, if faculty members wish to take advantage of the benefits of Web 2.0 or Cloud-based technologies as an adjunct activity to enhance a course they should comply with the following directives to reduce the risk in use of third party systems:

The question assumes the LMS will still be the primary technology, the other options – which may be more pedagogically sound and even easier to use and manage are not even supplemental but “adjunct”, a word heavily loaded in the academic world. The answers, of course, is pure commonsense, but cast in legalese, as is the paragraph above, warn faculty off, while side-stepping some valuable information: That having students post their work in open environments is not considered a FERPA violation – a mention made in the Educause source linked to on the page:

Content created by students when using such tools to fulfill course requirements (e.g., creating blogs on WordPress, posting videos to YouTube) should not be considered “student education records” under FERPA. However, copies of such records that are maintained by instructors in their own filesdo constitute FERPA-protected “student education records.”

Even while the FAQ links to this information, it’s left out of the administration’s response. That makes it a curious omission.

Two more observations on language that is shaped to keep teachers in line. A line from question #1 above:

Students may be disadvantaged if they are required to learn how to use and navigate multiple systems.

This is a common management-level gesture at altruism. I’ve never seen evidence of this, but given how it’s phrased (may, or may not; and “be disadvantaged” – a phrasing the invokes an unnamed handicap and places students in a ghetto), it’s not a matter of evidence. A response: It might take an hour to adjust, but learning multiple systems are to students’ advantage, not their disadvantage.

And a line from question #4 concerning opt out:

Should students choose not to participate in such an external environment a viable alternative assignment or activity must be available to them.

This is based on the claim that “Students cannot be compelled to create accounts on non-university systems or with non-university services” so they are to be given an opt out. Not sure why the administration wants to push an opt out rather than suggest that students who don’t want to engage in web 2.0 stuff take another section of the course. Surely the administration is want to offer students a choice. Surely. But the underlying comment for the faculty member is “You can’t force them to do this, so be prepared for more work!”

What would be helpful in this FAQ is the voice of an administration willing to support faculty and students in their learning rather than coerce faculty – and students who apparently can be compelled to create accounts on university systems – into the LMS. Administration has a good rhetorical opportunity here, but they miss it.

It looks like I’m singling out U Toronto, but this bogus FAQ fell in my lap this morning when I was cruising Diigo. Plenty of institutions are using the same arguments to keep teachers in the LMS. (Fewer are likely using a FAQ as a guise, but appropriating the FAQ for policy is becoming common. It’s being used locally to shape and control the arguments concerning banning tobacco on a state campus.)

But back to MOOCs in general and eduMOOC specifically, perhaps the limiting dimension of teaching and learning enforced by an enforced LMS is one of the problems that MOOCs might address – if they become more accepted by the institutions. The embedded LMS is certainly one of the barriers they are going to have to overcome.


cat on the counter #mobiMOOC

Over on mobiMOOC, we’re just getting started. Intros all round, a survey, an opening set of questions to address, an Elluminate session and slides, and a practice run on sending images to the mobiMOOC Posterous. Right now, it’s a lot of Bird Here phatic communication and discovering baselines: areas of knowledge, levels of expertise, comfort zones, purposes … Lots of people with g-phones, netbooks, some with iPads and laptops. The range is interestingly broad.

I’m still getting organized. My main input is email from the googlegroup, and a view of the weekly wiki page. So far, the email works, but the group’s thread requires a lot of filtering, and I’d rather work in DT than my mail application. I miss a Daily Newsletter (in the manner of PLENK2010) and the hashtag. And I’ll probably switch over to the RSS feed to keep up with things. Being disoriented at the start of the MOOC is normal (new organization, new facilitators, new countries of origin – UK and Belgium). A good reminder of what it’s like.

I’m also still considering how to handle sharing. The google groups set up encourages posting to the list, but I’d also like to have my stuff closer at hand for later this summer. So, I’m posting on the blog to start with.

This came over the mobimooc google group as a starting point:

2. Pick one of the following mLearning tools: qr-codes, pictures taken via mobile device, movies via mobile device, … and show us how you would use it for learning via either a descriptive picture, movie taken with a mobile device.

The interesting part of this activity is the request to show how we use the mobile technology rather than just explain or describe how we use it. Proof of pudding.

Three ways to use mobile pictures.

1. JIT learning. I needed to repair a plumbing fixure, so I took a shot, brought it in to the local Fleet Farm and got the parts and advice I needed to make the repair. In this case, I used it to learn something I needed to do.

fix this.jpg

2. I occasionally grab the notes I’ve taken on the blackboard. I’ll then either add the notes to the wiki or refer to them to get us started on the next class session. I wouldn’t simply post these and ask students to refer to them. Bad handwriting notwithstanding, it’s my job to curate this stuff.


3. Exhibits and examples. I typically spot images to use in FYC and in other classes while I’m out taking care of daily nuisances like repairing plumbing or buying cat food. I noticed this conflation of a banner image of a cat on a countertop over the Friskies at Target. I’m not sure what to do with this image yet (it says a lot about how marketing people view cat owners) so it goes on Flickr for later – and for possible use by others.


This is what I like about MOOCs: They get me thinking about stuff that has become second nature.


summer to do #1: (m)OOC Proposal

Sumer is ycumen in, lhude sing cucu.

I’m heartened by how Weblogs and Wikis is going and can see moving further – especially given the local climate change (BSU President Wraps Cuts in “Recalibration,” Promotes New Modalities. BSU Drops 15+ Faculty in a Weekend. Departments Cut Programs to the Bone – and Deeper. Campus Brain Drain Begins as Recent Hires Flee. Campus Responds to Tsunami with a Shrug.) Yhe time is ripe for revolution: mOOCs, PLEs, and OER.

Looking outside of the local climate:

That last one’s a little tame, but I’ve always like Brown.

My proposal for the University: One or more courses – ENGL 2152 (A&E)? Tech Writing? Web Content Writing, even E-Rhetoric – open to 100+ students as a MOOC/PLE. One course a semester. Just designing and proposing the course is enough for the spring and summer. We would easily get 100+ students in Tech Writing and A&E.

Proposing a (m)OOC for either of these would get campus blood boiling because of how it would have to address The Usual Suspects of sentence-level concerns (It Can’t be Done!) and Quality Control. The university would have to work hard to get (m)OOC-level enrollment in WCW or E-Rhetoric: we would have to promote it out of state, out of system, and online in general. Tears before bedtime for Marketing, as they would loose control of how the courses would be promoted.

That’s invigorating.

Loudly sing cuckoo.

en3177 update

In a course revamp for ENGL3177: Weblogs and Wikis, inspired by PLENK2010, and incorporating connectivist and MOOC ideas, I’m using FeedWordPress to syndicate student feeds to a new Daybook (experimental at time of writing).

An aggregator is at the heart of a working PLE – and also at the heart of a MOOC. I’d like to use Steve Downes’s gRSShopper but I’m not sure my host will run it, and I want to wait for a RC or at least a later beta.

So I took an alternative route, inspired by Jim Groom’s new design of his Digital Storytelling course. (Earlier version here. And collaborative notes on course design are here. Damn, he’s good.) I set up a new iteration of WordPress on my domain, then added the FeedWP and two extra  plugins. Set up went well – and I’ll be donating to radgeek’s tipjar. Adding feeds works well. As a test, I syndicated feeds from a few public sites, and a flickr feed: all good. I set up to trim the extract to 250 words: worked. FeedWP provides a lot of options, and while it’s well-designed, a lot of options means a couple of (enjoyable) hours experimenting.

But I want to filter posts by hash tag, so that students can syndicate to our aggregator only what they want to. That has been problematic. (Seems like Jim is having a similar issue). There’s a filter in the FeedWP Categories and Tags panel that looks like it should work, but I haven’t had much luck with it. So while I sort it out, I’m trying an alternative solution.

I’m using a Google Alert and will syndicate that. Let Google to the heavy lifting of finding the hash tagged stuff, then feed it to the Daybook in one flow.

– Students don’t have to register with the Daybook site, but I will ask them to anyway.
– I don’t have to register every stream (blog, flickr, twitter, tumblr, facebook …) on the Daybook. Google should find all the hash tagged stuff, wherever it’s published.
– Should be easy to set up new hash tag Google Alerts.

– All the posts come in as a big firehose stream. I may have to find a way to help readers sort them. Careful tagging will help, but seriously, who’s really careful about tagging?

Extracting a daily newsletter from this set up looks problematic, too, but I’ll deal with that when I get there.

MOOCs and the stock university course #plenk2010

A first consideration of adapting MOOC techniques to the stock university situation.

Have a look at these notes on Stephen Downes’s presentation.

The more I’m immersed in the PLENK course and material, the more possibilities I see for driving MOOC teaching techniques and approaches into the stock university courses I teach.

For instance, we have new a sophomore level Argument and Exposition course (A&E. Gotta like the double joke in that course title) for learning research practices. Downes’s example of how to find a niche and set up a PLE suggests that I can adapt MOOC practices into a course project. The course wouldn’t be a MOOC (maybe a Minimal Open Online Project), and I would have to evaluate the students in the end. But this approach gives students the opportunity to develop tacit practices – both of research and of the subject they are studying with their PLEs. What they create along the way – the blog posts, delicious links, google feeds, and the artifacts they create and post – along with some periodic reflective posts or discussions, provide plenty of material to evaluate the learner, and plenty of material for my supervisors to evaluate the course.

Students will be on their own when it comes to the kinds of activities they take on, the kind of artifacts they create. They may have to learn how to edit and upload videos, they may have to figure out how to share a scanner, and I can see having to have students create their own support network in for the course itself, but that’s part of the beauty of the thing.

What’s in it for us?

  • Not less instructional time, but both students and I get to spend our instructional time differently than we have for the past bunch of years.
  • Less classroom time and more learning time for students.
  • Less lecture prep time because less lecture and more practice time for all.
  • Students might start to learn what it means – tacitly –  to take control of their own learning. Need to measure this.
  • Relatively safe experience in facilitating a MOOC-like course. The course provides my own scaffolding for a more complex move in the future.
  • If it works, a pretty impressive demonstration of an alternative to using D2L.

What’s needed?

As Stephen mentions, The Daily is vital to the movement and maintaining participation in the course. The Daily motivates. The Daily holds participants accountable. I could probably monitor student feeds in my own google reader account, but I’ll probably have to install gRSShopper on Dreamhost.

What else is needed?

Probably an intensive first week or two in getting students to re-conceptualize how the class will progress, and get them comfortable with the approach. Probably need to survey what kinds of online work students already do and get them comfortable sharing that expertise. Probably have to provide some early support for getting RSS feeds together. Probably have to really work on getting students to take responsibility for their learning, for creating and submitting stuff regularly  – and it needs to be regular so that they have a better chance of passing the final evaluation.

Seems worth it so far.