Category Archives: Distance Ed

from coursera to d2l: who’s gonna pwn you first?

This is from CUCFA President Meister’s Open Letter to Coursera Founder Daphne Koller, concerning Coursera pwning student user-assessment data.

Eventually, all students in my Coursera class will learn that data that they now provide to the company for free -perhaps so that it can grade them -,will be the private property of Coursera, which can then sell it back to them in the form of “services,” which could include their own performance record but also different “views” comparing it with that of students at better universities, those with higher test scores and with advanced degrees. The possibilities for renting this information back to its students are endless, not to mention the added possibility of developing other markets for the user-assessment information that Coursera will “own.”

But it’s not just Coursera who collects student data to sell back. Here’s The Register reporting on the British coalition government selling product

At the end of 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove told Parliament that he wanted “to share extracts of data held in the National Pupil Database for a wider range of purposes than possible in order to maximise the value of this rich dataset”.

Ultimately, the government wants the private sector to tout “tools and services which present anonymised versions” of records on Blighty’s kids.

But getting pwnd is closer to home for MnSCU schools through D2L. D2L recently announced that they are creating products to sell student data back to the students “to improve student performance”

Featuring Student Success System™, an analytics engine that delivers fact-based and accurate insights on learning progress, the new Desire2Learn Learning Suite will improve learner engagement and instructor’s insight into each individual’s learning path.

“Harnessing big data and predictive analytics has transformed many industries, yet to date, the analytics to support next generation learning has been missing from education,” said John Baker, President and CEO, Desire2learn. “With today’s release, Desire2Learn will be delivering predictive analytics to millions of learners who will benefit from more successful outcomes. With this innovation, we can now provide valuable insights that will improve completion rates, lead to higher outcomes, and allow for the development of more impactful personal learning experiences.”

Keep in mind where the big data for those predictive analytics are coming from: faculty and students who have been using D2L for the past few years. Not just one university’s data but an entire system’s worth of data.

So D2L is finding its success not in the software platform it manages, which is an atrocious design error on stilts, but in using the data that its customers (schools, university systems) collect on their stakeholders (students and faculty). Years ago (206? 7?), when BSU moved to D2L, I was involved in the discussion locally. Some of us were concerned that D2L would collect and use data, but we were assured by The System that this wasn’t an issue. In the end, we never had a look at the contract with D2L, either. D2L’s disingenuousness is not new nor surprizing, and no one likes to hear that their vendor is parasitic. But they are.

D2L collects and aggregates data on classes to sell to vendors and students and, likely, back to the university.

So tell me why these scenarios aren’t likely, and perhaps even occurring:

– Say that D2L aggregates data on how often students pass reading quizzes in the Pro Ed programs across the MnSCU universities. Presumably, if students do well on the first pass through the quiz, the teacher is effective. If students need to take the quiz multiple times, the teacher is less effective. This wouldn’t be difficult to control for student variables. Evaluate which teachers are more “efficient” by those scores, then sell that information to students and to administrations. Students take the more “efficient’ – or is it the easiest? – teacher, and admins add the measure of “inefficiency” to the faculty member’s tenure and promotion evaluation. The admin, not the faculty, has the data to demonstrate it. D2L gets to claim they are improving the educational experience for students.

– A teacher has students use a Cengage textbook quiz bundle. D2L aggregates and sells scoring frequency data to Cengage. This lets Cengage revise their quizzes and textbook. Students and the state, however, do not receive remuneration on the data. Instead, Cengage releases a revised text, making the old text and quiz useless and requiring that both teacher and students buy new stuff, at a higher price. Students are creating their own increase in textbook prices. Cengage and D2L get to claim that they are improving the educational experience.

Three observable problems:

  • To be useful to D2 – that is sale-able –  the aggregated data must be decontextualized and relabeled as “best practices.” However to be useful to the teachers and students the data has to remain in context.
  • The state pays D2L for the software, a cost we openly pass on to students (We charge a fee for online courses). D2L then sells student performance numbers to back to to the and to others without remuneration.
  • Neither students nor teachers have any control of how the data is used, yet they both have vested interest in both their individual and collective performance.

In order to use the data that would help teachers become better – a better narrowly defined as what can be collected and analyzed –  we have to buy it back from the vendor who charged us for it in the first place. I like a situational irony as much as anyone else, but this one is too expensive for the humor.

I could be wrong about this – I don’t have access to the D2L contract. If I am wrong, if D2L isn’t using the data it collects to create products to sell back to those who generated the data in the first place, I’d appreciate a correction. But until then, I’m steering students I work with clear of D2L. It won’t make a difference, but I get to be smug.

 

the cynicism of profits

Aaron Barlow, over on academeblog.org, and a participant in the upcoming “E-learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC, made some observations on Thomas Friedman’s recent NYT op-ed piece.

That Friedman’s conception of MOOCs is “starry-eyed” is an understatement. Friedman’s piece is textbook stuff: the wholly anecdotal, mind-numbingly-misleading hyperbole of self-declared visionaries.

But Friedman’s puffery gives Barlow the opportunity to present a more worldly and moderate sense of the course.

But, alone, MOOCs are not going to change education or revolutionize it. Any careful study of the history of education will tell you that.

Over the course of the five-week MOOC we are engaging upon, a number of us will be posting here on our experience. I look forward to it, but I am not going into this starry-eyed like Friedman. However, I do recognize that, though the MOOCs may be a fad, even in a fad there can be something of value.

I’m on the course, and I, too, am looking forward to it – not the least because the group from Edinburgh considers it an experiment rather than a revolutionary shot heard round the world.

I wonder if Friedman is in the course. That could be interesting. Typically, revolutions in education are declared for others, not the prophets.

manifesto for teaching online #edcmooc

While registering for an upcoming Coursera course in E-Learning and Digital Cultures (What? Why? I’ll let you know later.), wandered over to the University of Edinburgh to get a sense of the faculty who were teaching it, and bumped sideways into their Manifesto for teaching online. I always like to read a good manifesto, and this one sparked my course-planning tinder.  A few good theses for writing:

Text is being toppled as the only mode that matters in academic writing.

Visual and hypertextual representations allow arguments to emerge, rather than be stated.

New forms of writing make assessors work harder: they remind us that assessment is an act of interpretation.

It’s good to hear proclaimed what I already know and readily assent to, but this last assertion is an absolute challenge.

The possibility of the ‘online version’ is overstated. The best online courses are born digital.

“The best online courses are born digital.” That a) fires a warning volley over Coursera’s bow and b) gives a nod to the value of cMOOCs – points of discussion that are bound to be taken up in the upcoming course.

But it also serves as a rallying cry and starting point for re-birthing E-Rhetoric – something I’ve been wanting to do for the last couple of years. It’s grown long in the tooth, lost touch somehow, and needs a re-w0rking. The manifesto helps get that re-thinking started.

learning esperanto – or not

Photo from http://www.istockphoto.com/

One of the arguments for standardizing on a CMS such as D2L for DE teaching is this: “Using the same interface for all courses means the student has to learn the interface only once.”  The argument I always used against the CMS has been, “A good interface will be designed to suit the content and task, and the task of D2L is to manage students, not enable students to read, listen, or produce. Get a blog, or a wiki.”

But here’s a better one, from Stephen Downes, in Emergent Learning: Social Networks and Learning Networks.

I understand why someone would say this: “To increase the sustainability of portal projects there is a need to ‘work towards establishing common frameworks that will enable applications and services, from different sources, to work together.'” After all, it is precisely that failure that accounts for the indifferent success of community portals, the ‘field of dreams’ scenario, where you build it, and they do not come. But such an enterprise is perhaps best compared with constructing an artificial language: sure, it would make communication easier if evereyone used the standard – but who speaks Esperanto? The growth of community – and hence, community frameworks – is much more organic than that, a product of multiple simultaneous negotiations to create a network of compatible systems rather than a centralized planning department to create a structure.

This argument is similar to the critiques of the formulaic 5-Paragraph Theme, taught in too many US high schools and even university courses. The problem with the 5-Paragraph Theme is this: It’s an artificial genre, created for high-school classrooms, which no one reads (teachers don’t read 5-paragraph themes; they grade them); the form and the exercise aren’t designed to communicate anything other than “I did your assignment.” I have never assigned these little monsters, but I have read hundreds of them. Even when the form is not assigned, even when students are warned against using it, Good Students drag it out as a default. One-size-fits-all-rhetorical-situations – except it doesn’t. Students have to unlearn this artificial language before they can make any progress in writing.

But here’s what I find a puzzle: Institutions are using D2L – a paragon of walled garden, ivory tower teaching – to deliver “real world” – that is, situated – education. Courses that are pitched as bridging a (purported) gap between classroom and workplace are placed firmly behind the walls of the garden, using the same accoutrements, practices, and channels: see here, and here.

Seriously? Situated teaching and learning using generic CMS tools? Some of my colleagues teach some of these courses – well-meaning people who would argue that they are giving learners choices, providing opportunities – and I suppose they are, kind of. Learners will have the opportunity to learn Esperanto. Or not learn Esperanto. We can do better than this.

Assignment: Carefully re-read Prof Morgan’s argument above. What is Morgan’s thesis? How does he support it? Why? What kind silly, trivial argument is he passing off as thoughtful consideration? What is he really trying to say? Now, write a 5-Paragraph Theme in which you make clear just how mis-guided Morgan is by considering the benefits of standardized interfaces in education today. Pose. Posture. Beg the Question. 500 words. Typed. Double-Spaced.

PLEs bridge from Web 2.0 to Web X via #plenk2010

Finally, after two weeks of network limbo in London and Seat Farm Cumbria. I’m back online in a meaningful way – a way in which I can get some work done.  We’re still in Cumbria – outside of Far Sawrey, to be specific – and while Viv is shooting forests, roads, swans, paths, I’m using my mornings to get a GPACW presentation on PLEs together. I present Friday, 4:00 pm local, via Skype, from a wifi site yet to be found.

Drafting this morning, I reviewed readings from last week on Web 3.0, Web X, eXtended Web – just catching up.  So here’s a fast note on Placing PLEs: Two slides from Steve Wheeler’s Web 3.0 presentation. I’ve retitled them for my own notes.

Where we are

Web 3.0- The way forward?.png



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where we are going

 

Web 3.0- The way forward?.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary: PLEs bridge from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. As we move towards the pragmatic web, we will see the concepts behind PLEs develop, drawing on what we learn from the semantic web, then, I suppose, PLEs will, like the state after the Revolution, wither away. The protocols and some of the applications are already being worked with in rough form (augmented reality apps are available on smartphones), and the PLE has yet to reach maturity. Teachers of the world unite.

And to gloss my gloss, here’s George Siemens, from a blog post on Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching:

We are actively networking. Wow, are we ever. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. Podcasts. Mobile phones. We are hyperconnected. […] But connection forming is natural. It doesn’t need coercion. We do it with language, images, video. We create, express, connect. And software is now available that aids this innate activity with unprecedented fervor. We build competence, make sense, learn, and growth through our connections. Tools of connections are driving discussions of networked learning and organizational applicability. Surprising to see how quickly the network theme has spread into education and training.

Even if connection forming is natural (I suspect it may be after reading Linked), we will gain by bringing forward the means and modes of connecting: the tools and their affordances.  That ones of the roles work in PLEs can serve: They allow us to study how else can can connect.

 

 

 

 

nobody speaks esperanto – except those who do

Sidewalk Closed

One of the arguments for standardizing on a CMS such as d2l for DE teaching is this: “Using the same interface for all courses means the student has to learn the interface only once.”  The argument I always used against the CMS has been, “A good interface will be designed to suit the content and task, and the task of d2l is to manage students, not enable students to read, listen, or produce. Get a blog, or a wiki.”

But here’s a better one, from Stephen Downes, in Emergent Learning: Social Networks and Learning Networks.

I understand why someone would say this: “To increase the sustainability of portal projects there is a need to ‘work towards establishing common frameworks that will enable applications and services, from different sources, to work together.'” After all, it is precisely that failure that accounts for the indifferent success of community portals, the ‘field of dreams’ scenario, where you build it, and they do not come. But such an enterprise is perhaps best compared with constructing an artificial language: sure, it would make communication easier if evereyone used the standard – but who speaks Esperanto? The growth of community – and hence, community frameworks – is much more organic than that, a product of multiple simultaneous negotiations to create a network of compatible systems rather than a centralized planning department to create a structure.

This argument is similar to the critiques of the artificial, formulaic 5-Paragraph Theme, taught in too many US high schools and even university courses. The problem with the 5-Paragraph Theme is this: It’s an artificial genre, which no one reads (teachers don’t read 5-paragraph themes; they grade them); the form and the exercise aren’t designed to communicate anything other than “I did your assignment.” I know because I have read hundreds of them.  Even when the form is not assigned, even when they are warned against it, Good Students drag out the form as a default. They have to unlearn it before we can make any progress in writing.

But here’s what I find a puzzle: Institutions are using d2l – a paragon of  walled garden ivory tower teaching – to deliver “real world” – that is, situated – education. Courses (such as here, and here) that are pitched as bridging a (purported) gap between classroom and workplace are placed firmly behind the walls of the garden, using the same accouterments, practices, and channels.

Seriously? Some of my colleagues teach some of these courses – well-meaning people who would argue that they are giving learners choices, providing opportunities – and I suppose they are, kind of. Learners will have the opportunity to learn Esperanto.  We can do better than this.

Assignment: Re-reald Prof Morgan’s argument above. What is Morgan’s thesis? How does he support it? What kind of silliness is he passing off as thoughtful consideration? What is he really trying to say? Now, write a 5-Paragraph Theme in which you make clear just how mis-guided Morgan is by considering the benefits of standardized interfaces in education today. Pose. Posture. Beg the Question. 500 words. Typed.

semiosis & open learning course pedagogy: my spurious connection?

As seen on tv in Walgreen's

Reading Kress, Multimodiality, I was struck by how his model of semiosis lines up with Downs’s and Siemens’s open course pedagogy of connectivism as it appeared in the critical literacies course earlier this summer.

Here’s Kress’s sketch of the sequence by which semiosis moves:

the recipient’s existing
interest shapes
attention, which produces
engagement leading to
selection of elements from the message, leading to a
framing of these elements, which leads to their
transformation and transduction, which produces a
new (‘inner’) sign.

Or, from the perspective of the interpreter:

interest produces attention;
attention shapes the form of the engagement;
this leads to selections being made;
the selections are framed;
there is the subsequent transformation and transductions of the elements in the frame;
and, in that, the (‘inwardly made’) sign is produced.

The sequence reshapes (aspects) of the initial message, the ‘ground’, into a prompt. Interest is the motive force: it is the basis for attention to the ‘ground’ constituted by the exhibition, for engagement with that ‘ground’; it shapes selection, transformation and transduction; and interest becomes evident in the new sign, the map.

And here’s Stephen Downes’s explanation of how the Critical LIteracies Online Course is designed:

1. Aggregate
We will give you access to a wide variety of things to read, watch or play with…. , what you should do is PICK AND CHOOSE content that looks interesting to you and is appropriate for you. If it looks too complicated, don’t read it. If it looks boring, move on to the next item.

2. Remix
Once you’ve read or watched or listened to some content, your next step is to keep track of that somewhere. How you do this will be up to you.

3. Repurpose
We don’t want you simply to repeat what other people have said. We want you to create something of your own. This is probably the hardest part of the process.

Remember that you are not starting from scratch. Nobody every creates something from nothing. That’s why we call this section ‘repurpose’ instead of ‘create’. We want to emphasize that you are working with materials, that you are not starting from scratch.

4. Feed Forward
We want you to share your work with other people in the course, and with the world at large.

Now to be clear: you don’t have to share. You can work completely in private, not showing anything to anybody. Sharing is and will always be YOUR CHOICE.

I wasn’t going to map Kress’s sequence to the course sequence, but I will: The instruction to aggregate let’s the learner draw on interest to shape her attention, to produce engagement which leads to selection, which slides into remixRemix and repurpose put the focus on framing the elements of aggregation, to produce a new inner sign – which can then be shared, or not.

This connection between theory of communication and pedagogy – I’m not sure if it’s spurious or not yet –  also gives the vernacular activities aggregate, remix, repurpose, feed forward a pedagogical strength that I hadn’t recognized before.

That’s my morning started.

#critlit2010 and a reseeing of critical literacy

Boat Ride LineMade a quick leap and signed up for the Critical LIteracies course – and am just getting oriented this morning. Skimmed through How This Course Works – which is how I would like to see a grad course in social media work. Then turned to The present and future of Personal Learning Environments, Ron Lubensky, for a solid OV of characteristics of PLEs.

I’m afraid my understanding of PLEs is limited. I’m fine with critical literacies and pragmatics and semiotics, but I’m still an outsider to the PLE discussion. I’ve been reading about them, and I get the sense of the matter, and I’m motivated to move towards them, but I haven’t really tinkered with the concepts yet. Need to tinker. And that means moving over to diagrams and notes.

But there are others out there on the course who are making their way through things who provide if not models then ideas, strategies, and suggestions. Like #CritLit2010 reflections – third week, from maferarenas. And, on the wiki, the administrators list some soft milestones and activities.

I’ve encountered some of the readings before, and most of the topics and subjects are familiar. What’s new for me is the context – PLEs – and that highlights alternatives that I seem to have missed, or didn’t exist, when I first read them. Ira Shor’s CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CRITICAL LITERACY, for instance, reviews stuff I first encountered as a 3rd-year teacher of freshman comp and tutoring. Then, I focused on addressing critical literacy in the BW classroom using Mac Pluses, and looked to Shor, Friere, Shaugnessy, Rose for theory – and attitude – to generate practice. Then (c. 1988), the classroom was the dominant workspace and it was hard to move mentally outside the room that housed those computers. Then, it was tough to place students in a position where they could use the technology to resist the dominant discourse and forge their own – although some did. Now, with the net, laptops, smartphones, mobility – and the trendy fuck-the-expert attitude students are bringing to the classroom – the observations of the past take on a new spin:

While Fox stipulated goals for questioning the status quo, Robert Brooke (1987) defined writing, per se, as an act of resistance:

[Writing] necessarily involves standing outside the roles and beliefs offered by a social situation–it involves questioning them, searching for new connections, building ideas that may be in conflict with accepted ways of thinking and acting. Writing involves being able to challenge one’s assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in onflict with accepted (expected) thought and action. (“Underlife and Writing Instruction,” 141)

Brooke offered an intelligent argument that writing itself was synonymous with divergent thinking. Still, I question the direct link of composing with resisting. Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general. Think of all the books written from and for the status quo. Further, it is also easy to find composition classes that reflect traditional values and encourage status quo writing (“current-traditional rhetoric,” see Ohmann, as well as Crowley, 1996). Human beings are certainly active when writing, and all action involves development and agency of some kinds, but not all agency or development is critical. Critical agency and writing are self-conscious positions of questioning the status quo and imagining alternative arrangements for self and society (Brookfield, 1987).

This bit was hard to realize Back in the Day, but is less so now, with wikis, twitter, blogs, txting, aggregators: “Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general.” It’s still a task and a half to help students see that their resistance towards one discourse is done by uncritical engagement in another discourse, but that’s what education is about.

And in the same way, I can go through Shor’s list of perspectives and connect each one with enactments, again, something difficult to illustrate in 1988:

Ann Berthoff’s notion (taken up as well by Knoblauch and Brannon, 1984, and John Mayher, 1990) that “Writing is an act of making meaning for self and for others” (70). < The discussions around Flickr posts, mainly.

Related to activity theory and to cultural context, Marilyn Cooper and Michael Holtzman (1989) proposed that “Writing is a form of social action. It is part of the way in which some people live in the world. Thus, when thinking about writing, we must also think about the way that people live in the world” (xii). < Twitter, blogs. Now that we can access writing outside the mainstream of academy and print-published essays, and writing from other cultures, the interaction of context and meaning becomes clear.

They reflected Brian Street’s (1984) and Harvey Graff’s (1987) arguments that all language use is socially situated, against what Street called the myth of autonomous literacy, that is, language falsely posed as independent of its social context. < Twitter, blogs. Ditto.

Next: Can PLEs can be another means of resistance, as we redefine the open in open education?

weblogs projects started

Projects have started at Weblogs and Wikis.

More students are using Tumbler than I expected, but that speaks to some pretty tightly focused projects like Music Meeja and Red Sox Nation.

Social Commentating 101, which is making use of longer posts, is on WordPress.

And a few are tying two platforms together, either tweeting the highlights of their posts on Tumblr, or interlinking between mini-blogging and long-form blogging, as don’t panic and bizefingers.

Anyway, all good choices in media and integration.  And all taking an experimental attitude towards the project – an attitude that I hope will pay off.

teacher in your pocket

What I really like about this Apple email ad is how it quietly suggests that to learn, you need an iPhone. Buy the phone and get the content for free.

Having just bought an iPhone and committed myself for two years of at&t, I couldn’t agree more. I need a good ROI.

Forever curious.
Learn more
From lectures to documentaries to museum tours, iTunes U lets you learn anything, anytime, anyplace.
Now your favorite destination for music and movies is also a great place to entertain your brain. iTunes U in the iTunes Store offers free audio and video content from top universities, famous museums, public media stations, and other cultural institutions. So whether you want to learn from the world’s leading thinkers, get a sneak peek at the latest MoMA exhibition, or simply brush up on your Spanish, iTunes U makes it easy. To see for yourself,watch the tutorial.

This is an interesting ad for a close read. Teacher – and teaching – has been iPhoneized: captured, in the phraseology of knowledge management, to be processed later. The technology dominates, even to the extent that the professor – pictured at the business end of his own concrete tether – is now captured on screen, for access – or not – anytime, anyplace. Play, pause, rewind. The copy, too, glosses over any human construction or creation of content or ideas. Content comes predominantly from universities, museums, public media stations (BBC and NPR I guess). “Learn from the world’s leading thinkers” is the only nod.

Anytime and anyplace because the content is recorded. Perhaps the obvious use of the iPhone (or any 3G phone) for on-the-spot-just-in-time teaching and learning from a teacher/mentor is just too obvious to mention. Anytime anyplace is pretty hackneyed. Come to think of it, so is “entertain your brain.”

But really the ad promises no more than you could get from a local library: books and magazines. A good parody for reading would play on this matter. Use books for iPhones, adjust the copy just a little, or use it against itself, and link visit your local lending library. Get outside. Meet people. Have a coffee. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask someone.

Or call me. I still have to justify my new phone for teaching.