Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nine Essential MOOC Links

English: George Siemens at TEDxNYED.
George Siemens at TEDxNYED. (Wikipedia)
A few of us from today's NGLC presentation "MOOCs: open online courses as levers for change in higher education" by George Siemens on MOOCs were passing around a few URLs, and I thought it would be handy to have some of them in one place. This is not meant to be exhaustive but please drop us a note in the comments if you have a link to add.
  • Massive List of MOOC Resources, Lit, and Literati
    This is a great hub of research for MOOCs. Lets get this into a wiki! If you review these links, you still get the impression that MOOCs are completely undefined because it includes discussions of Khan Academy which I would argue does not belong on a page about MOOCs. This page is useful because it speaks to the fact that MOOCs are still in a defining process. 
  • Stephen Downe's MOOC.ca page.
    This has links to relevant articles, resources and a call for curators of MOOC lore.
  • David Cormier's Description of MOOCs 
    An enthusiastic vision of MOOCs. I like this simple "Common Craft" definition of MOOCs. 
  • The MoocGuide Wiki. Stephen Downes' also has a Google Docs version of this.
    This is a useful gude on how to roll your own MOOC. There are 42 members to this wiki so it has a good chance of being a living document.
  • Join a MOOC.
    This site has a listing for MOOCs - something I think we really need. 
  • Alt-Ed
    This site is "is devoted to documenting significant initiatives relating to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), digital badges, and similar alternative educational projects."
  • Howard Rheingold's Interview with George Siemen's on MOOCs
    This is a good introduction to MOOCs
  • Inge DeWardes' 3 part article on setting up a MOOC
    I am interested in MOOCs from the instructional design perspective. I think that there are ways to set MOOCs up so that even the so-called "unmotivated" student or students with little experience with online learning can be successful. That will be part of another post!
The 9th resource is the talk that George gave today. Feel free to comment and add to this - if we get more responses, we will move the conversation to the wiki.

Okay here is a bonus 10th:

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Real Trouble With Online Education

E-learning short courses
E-learning ( London College of Fashion)
An editorial piece in the New York Times on July 19th by Mark Edmundson attempts to tell us about "The Trouble with Online Education." Despite the fact that the author does not appear to have taken or taught an online class, and despite not having any listed credentials in the field of education, online teaching and learning, or instructional design, Edmundson, and apparently the editors of the New York Times, feel he is qualified to to make the pronouncement that online courses are not "real" courses.

He asks "can online education ever be education of the very best sort?" In that loaded Gatsbyesque question, does he mean the kind of education the 1% can get at the Ivy Leagues? No, most online classes that I know of or have experienced were not small settings where we sat with a professor in big leather chairs sipping sherry. Not everyone can afford such an education and maybe that is why some folks seem to be threatened by online learning - the barbarians are at the gates! Online classes are classes of a different sort. And here is my real problem with this article: the author does not know what happens in an online class so he assumes it is not what happens in a face-to-face class and this is just wrong. 

Edmundson describes face-to-face classes as places where there is engagement, dialog and the inadvertent creation of academic community "the students will always be running into others who are also enrolled" (I am presuming in the halls or the cafeteria - do his students not work or have families?). But the fact is, I have taken face-to-face classes at colleges (U.C. Berkeley, for instance) where the professor had no time for undergrads, directed all questions to the tutors, and did nothing to foster community. Conversely, I took an online course in 2008 from the University of Manitoba (George Siemens and Stephen Downes MOOC "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge") and I am still in touch with students I met there - in fact, we are basically continuing what we learned in online communities. We are still engaged with one another. What instructor wouldn't want that? In the "very best sort" of online classes, this community and engagement is deliberately built into the courses, and the research says that student engagement is the number one factor in the success of online courses. That said, I did take an online class that was poorly run: the teacher would go days without connecting with the course, the feedback on assignments was minimal and late, and there was little direction. My point is that the teaching modality does not matter if the teacher is engaged.

There seems to be a lot of this going around, there were blog postings I read through the Chronicle of Higher Ed from Siva Vaidhaynathan and Joshua Kim's posting in Inside Higher Ed that both gave negative evaluations of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Classes) despite the authors having no experience with MOOCs or online classes. I addressed those issues in my posting "Why MOOCs Work" but I feel that there is a larger issue here. If you read the three articles together, all contra elearning, they all have this alarmist ring to them that somehow online education is a watering down of face-to-face education. You get a real sense that if the world now accepts online education as it seems that it does, and accepts badges and portfolios in place of traditional certification, that it will detract from the value of the precious face-to-face college. You know the college - the one with the tuition that has risen faster than the price of inflation, faster than the costs of healthcare, and the $250 textbooks. 

Edmundson claims that "Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor." There are too many kinds of online classes out there for this to be true: there are full online courses that include Skype sessions with teachers and tutors; there are hybrid courses; there are classes that are more self-directed; and there are MOOCs; I could go on. What constitutes an online class can be as individual as the instructor who teaches it. 

He claims that "It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue." Again, he is basing this on courses that are filmed and canned but that is NOT the most common teaching modality in online education. Most online classes include discussion forums and students now are using social media and networks such as Twitter and Facebook to engage with one another, with their instructors and experts in their field of study. A glance at the research at sites like Educause would give him an idea about what is happening. 

He says that instructors can't gauge the nuances of a class online. If  online instructors engage their online class with online discussion forums and chat, they can gauge what is happening. In fact, in some of my online English classes I got to know some of my students better than my face-to-face classes because the students will often seek out that engagement, and socialize a lot online, to make that human connection online. 

All of this points to an appalling lack of knowledge about what constitutes online learning. I can't believe that a college professor would accept similar judgements from a student with nothing to back them up but what "seems." All three authors, Edmundson, Vaidhaynathan, and Kim, evoke what "seems" as evidence. It is not like the research is hard to find. There have been hundreds of studies that show that there is no significant difference between the outcomes and success rates between online and face-to-face learning. All Edmundson would have to do is to take a look at WCET's "No Significant Difference" webpage to find a collection of the research that goes back a hundred years. Or to look at any recent study like the one reported in The American Interest called "New Study: Online Classes Just as Good."

The real trouble with online education right now is that online education is currently being defined in unfavorable ways by those who feel threatened by it. Online education is not the same as face-to-face education. Just as you should not believe the hype behind anything "new" (even if it just new to the press) - don't be dissuaded by those who are so embedded in the old paradigm and have so much to gain by its persistence that you miss out on some great teaching and learning opportunities. 

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

15 Time-Saving Tips for Teaching Online

PLANTATION, FL- NOVEMBER 02:  Howie Brown adju...
Online learning saves time for students. Students in online courses have 24/7 access to their course materials, other students, and their instructor. For working students, this is an incredible benefit. But we often hear that online learning takes a lot of an instructor’s time. I have found that it can be, but when a course is set up in advance to take advantage of a learning management system’s features, a lot of time can be saved. Many of these techniques make for a more engaging experience for the students and less stress for the instructor. Note: this is an update of a post from 2009 that adds tips that teachers have sent in since then. Thanks everyone!

Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips. Please add to them!

1. Create a "Welcome Letter" that not only introduces the instructor and the course but gives detailed instructions on how to access the course and where to get help. Here is our example from DE 101.

2. Create a comprehensive syllabus.
  • Utilize a "Week Zero," a module that explains to new students how to be an online student and use the learning management system (LMS).
  • Direct students to tech support and the help desk as much as possible.
  • Create a course “scavenger hunt.”
3. Use a syllabus quiz.

4. Make your course easy to navigate.
  • Keep as much content as you can no more than two clicks away.
  • Use a consistent format week-to-week or module-to-module.
  • Remove buttons or tools you are not using.
5. Schedule your time.
  • Do not work on your online course because you can; work on it because you have scheduled the time.
  • Let the students know your schedule.
  • Access your course consistently (e.g. three times a week) and respond to email promptly (with-in 48 hours).
6. Be strict about forms of communication. E.g. ONLY take assignmnts in drop box; only accept e-mail in 1 acct. etc.

7. Automate your course as much as possible.
  • Take advantage of the time-release feature of announcements.
  • Record and reuse lectures.
  • Let the LMS handle as much of the grading as you can.
8. Distributing and exchanging documents.
  • Use the assignment feature of your LMS instead of e-mail.
  • Have the students attach documents to a forum posting.
9. Centralize question and answers.
  • Use a discussion forum for “Frequently Asked Questions.”
  • Create a FAQ page.
  • Ask students to ask questions in the forum rather than e-mail.
10. Use online groups with a deliverable
  • Let the students do the work.
  • Do not respond to every posting, respond to the group deliverable.
11. Use a "common responses" file to quickly paste in answers to common questions.

12. Allow students to facilitate online discussions.

13. Use a detailed grading rubric to help answer questions in advance.

14. Encourage student-student interaction and study groups.
  • Give them the space to solve problems.
15. Communicate to entire class in general terms using audio and/or video on a regular basis.

What about you? How do you streamline your online teaching process? Leave a comment below if you have any time saving tips.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why MOOCs Work

English: Jim Groom as Edupunk
Jim Groom as Edupunk 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have been reading articles lately written by educators who have not participated in MOOCs but nonetheless seem to have some pretty strong opinions about them such as the "What's the Matter With MOOCs" by Siva Vaidhyanathan from the august (Latin for "dusty, old, and conservative") Chronicle of Higher Ed. And there is Joshua Kim's article for Inside Higher Ed, "Playing the Role of a MOOC Skeptic." I found myself getting a little testy about the issue because I am so passionate about MOOCs. I was in George Siemens' and Stephen Downes' Connectivism and Connective Knowledge class, and I skirted the fringes of Jim Groom's DS 106, his digital storytelling class. If you are not familiar with them, MOOCs are "Massively Open Online Classes" - classes with no limit to who can participate. There are no fees unless you want credit. If you read Vaidhyanathan's article, you will get a real sense about how this can really threaten the establishment. What if you hold a class and nobody pays? If we at the elite colleges give our stuff away, won't that devalue the education for the alumni and paying students? There is a lot of hand wringing like that going on. But that is not how MOOCs work. I want to look at how they do work based on my limited experience (which is better than something written by someone with NO experience).

Now I am going to warn you, I have drunk deeply from the MOOC cool-aid - my experience in Connectivism and Connective Knowledge changed how I work, and how I engage with faculty and students in some very positive, deep, and profound ways. I don't agree with everything that Siemens or Downes has written, they would be the last ones on earth to expect that, but there are no learning theories out there that can contend with, or account for, the rapid changes that are going on in education and technology than Connectivism. Interestingly enough, I think the success of MOOCs counts on an understanding of those principles. George Siemens wrote a great post on those principles in his posting "What is the Theory That Underpins Our MOOCs?"

My staff in the Distance Education department at College of the Redwoods also participated in Jim Groom's DS 106 and this experience is in turn shaping how we do our "DE 101" - our student orientation for distance learning. We are working on cracking that orientation out of the LMS box and turn it into a wider community of learning that we are hoping the students will take far beyond the confines of the orientation - through college and maybe even into their professional lives.

I love George Siemen's article on the theory of MOOCs, but as an instructional designer by trade, I would add these four points:

1. Student MotivationThis is one of the criticisms of MOOCs and the "flipped classroom model": students in those scenarios need motivation to be successful. Students are not born motivated. Lack of student motivation is not an excuse for classes not working. If you are a teacher and your students lack motivation, you need to get into another line of work. Part of what teachers do is inspire and motivate. Many teachers can't help but being motivational because they are enthusiastic about their field. Teachers can provide opportunities for the students to reflect on why they are in the class and be given opportunities to contribute to the class - in my experience, this is often enough to motivate students. I would often get students in my English classes who were used to teachers doing the work for the students. This is not a problem with MOOCs. Students can be taught motivation. As Siemens puts it, we need to foster autonomous, self-regulated learners.

2. Facilitated Connections
True learning occurs when the student chooses the modality in which the learning takes place. In traditional education, that modality is forced (typically, static classroom lecture mode). If the student accepts the choice, he or she is a "good student." What would happen if the learning materials were in different multiple formats; open, accessible and maybe sometimes asynchronous and the students got to choose which version of the material they used and how they engaged with it? Why can't "lecture" also be a video stream, podcast, or recorded event? Then the "live" bit can occur when the students decide to get together and review the materials, discuss them, and then later bring their questions to the facilitator. These reviews can happen in a Moodle discussion forum, Facebook, Twitter, or even in virtual worlds like Second Life.

3. Self-Organization
Teachers need to have faith in the students ability to self-organize - this is how revolutions, religions, and AA meetings work. Humans have evolved to do this very effectively, just ask the wooly mammoth. To this end, students need to be encouraged to use the media with which they communicate as a learning tool. If the students like discussion forums, make that available. If the students are texters or use Facebook, encourage them to take the discussion their. Even if you are not a chronic tweeter, why not have instructions available to students who are? What happened in my Connectivsm and Connective Knowledge class was that discussions took place in a wide variety of fora and then a self- or group appointed "leader" would bring our questions back to the course facilitators for clarification. Often the best thing that the facilitators did was to stand back and let us learn.

4. Content Curation
There was no text book for Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. The course consisted of many of the articles and readings that lead the facilitators to Connectivism, but also the people behind those ideas. What George Siemens and Stephen Downes are really good at is bringing the right people together to talk. They have been exploring these ideas for a while and they were good at breaking down how they arrived at some of their conclusions. Fortunately, the ideas are new enough that the people that helped them out along the way are still with us. So a "lecture" in this course consisted of some weekly readings, a video or two, and a live, weekly presentation by the facilitators or someone like Dave Cormier or another "guest lecturer." These lectures would often start out as a lecture and then evolve into a conversation with the facilitators and students. You would be really surprised at how open people are in your discipline to being a guest in your course via webinar or Skype.

So therefore, getting together with an instructional designer and creating course guides that account for the different media would be really helpful. Fortunately, George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger also thought of that with their "Handbook for Emerging Technologies" which needs to be updated and put back onto a wiki somewhere - maybe at College of the Redwoods or a college near you - so it can be added to and revised.

For Connectivism, the medium is the message - teaching Connectivism any other way than a MOOC is as ridiculous as buying a book about free, open text books from Amazon.Com. I hope that the critics of MOOCs take the time to actually take a course, even as a lurker - they will gain immensely from the experience, and who knows? They might even learn something.
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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Check Please! Crowdsourcing the Menu at the NYPL

New York Public Library
NY Public Library (Photo:Austin_YeahBaby)
The New York Public Library has a fascinating menu collection of over 45,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present. It is one of the largest collections in the world and according to their website, it is "used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts." They have scanned about a quarter of the collection and those images are available online. They can be searched by date but everyone wants to be able to search those menus by dish, ingredients, price, and presentation. It would represent an extremely useful database of information.

How are they making that happen? The NYPL is crowdsourcing the job. They have invited the public to go in online, select a menu and transcribe it. As they put it "We’ve built a simple tool that makes the transcribing pretty easy to do, but it’s a big job, so we need your help." They could scan using OCR (optical character recognition) except that many of the early menus are hand written, use old ornate fonts, or old, "idiosyncratic layouts" that make accurate reading by scanners difficult. Besides that, they still need the information to be categorized in a database and spell-checked, something that would have to be done by hand any way.

If you want to help, you can go to their website and just click on the Help Transcribe button. To follow the project or learn more, you can email them at menus@nypl.org

Note: There is a list of crowdsourcing projects that Susan Robbins posted on the LIS 653-02 Student Discussion Blog.
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