MOOC or MOC?

buttons


A recent article titled "What Do Forbes, NYT, And Sotheby’s Have In Common? They Make Online Courses" states that "There are now a number of non-education-focused organizations and individuals offering MOOCs on the major platforms." They use as examples World BankPwC, and Fundação Lemann offerings on Coursera, and Microsoft, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, and the Inter-American Development Bank courses on edX. Google offers an Android Basics Nanodegree on Udacity. These are massive online courses, but are they MOOCs?

With a few exceptions, many of these courses are more MOC than MOOC. It is accidentally appropriate that the former can be pronounced "mock" as in "not authentic or real, but without the intention to deceive." 

The "O" that is missing is OPEN.

Clearly those corporate offerings are "Courses" and are "Online." The definition of "Massive" varies. Certainly we mean much larger than a face-to-face class (which could have several hundred in a lecture hall) or a traditional online course. I would probably say 1000 to 100,000 students is massive (and there are examples that exceed 100K). 

For me, the "Open" part of the MOOC is the most important part. I guess I am a purist and having taught and taken MOOCs even before the acronym came in common usage, I cling to that original vision. 

I was a learner and facilitator (student and teacher seem inaccurate) in courses offered by Peer to Peer University p2pu.org   which began in 2009 as a community-centered project. It uses a volunteer network and governance model. 

They champion openness which enables participation, replication, and accountability. We strive to use openly-licensed learning materials and always share our methodology and resources openly, so that as many people as possible can take leverage our work.

Openness in a MOOC means four things to me. It is open to everyone - no prerequisites - and access to the resources (videos, notes, documents, images etc.) should be free of cost (but other things, like being able to ask direct questions to the teacher, the correction of the activities, or obtaining a certificate, grade or credit at the end of the course may have an economic cost). Open also often means that it does not make use of a closed learning platform (LMS). The resources might be hosted, as they were in the earliest MOOCs, in different places like websites, blogs, wikis, or multimedia repositories. Open should also mean that the course tries as much as possible to use open content, and it is offered with the intent that it can be reused by others.

These qualities of openness are certainly not true of the vast majority of things offered today as a MOOC . What I will call a MOC is what the most successful companies, such as Coursera or Udacity, are offering.

Profit is not always an ugly word. Let them make a profit if they can. And, yes, they do still offer some course free of cost, but let us not call them "open."

Things have evolved quite a ways from the "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" course created by educators Stephen Downes and George Siemens. When they offered free access to their for-credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada, it got tagged a the first MOOC. Their course is still there, but a lot has changed.

Can a Course Not Have Learning Objectives?


blank sign Most teachers have stated learning objectives for their courses. They describe what we plan to teach and how we plan to assess students.

You may have read this summer about a case involving whether a professor can be required to write those down on a syllabus. A professor at the College of Charleston brought a lawsuit against the school that claimed that he was losing his job for refusing to include learning outcomes (the same as objectives?) in his syllabus.

The answer to the question of whether a course can not have learning objectives is a pretty resounding No. Of course, I'm sure students could point out some truly dreadful courses that did not have clear objectives or outcomes. Whether they are stated explicitly to students, probably in the syllabus, is the real question in that case. My answer to this second question of whether or not a course can not have clearly stated objectives is a resounding Yes.

Faculty need to consciously establish their goals and objectives in designing the course, but they also need to communicate those to students.

I would say that kind of information information should be available to a student before she even signs up for the course, perhaps in a course catalog or online page about the course. The objectives should also be explained in greater detail in the syllabus and in the course itself.

That is an instructional design task. I was very surprised how difficult it was to get faculty that I worked with on course design to understand the difference between a goal and an objective. We can get bogged down and confused in talking about goals, objectives and outcomes. If faculty are confused, certainly the students will be confused as well.

In a bit of an oversimplification, a goal is an overarching principle that guides decision making, while objectives are specific, measurable steps that can be taken to meet the goal.

You can further muddy this academic water by adding similar, but not interchangeable, terms such as competencies and outcomes. In this document I found online and used in some version for faculty workshops, it says: "From an educational standpoint, competencies can be regarded as the logical building blocks upon which assessments of professional development are based. When competencies are identified, a program can effectively determine the learning objectives that should guide the learners’ progress toward their professional goals. Tying these two together will also help identify what needs to be assessed for verification of the program’s quality in its effectiveness towards forming competent learners...In short, objectives say what we want the learners to know and competencies say how we can be certain they know it."

Whatever terminology you use, teachers need to know the larger goals in order to design the ways they will be presented and how they will be measured. Students need to knew as early as possible those last two parts.



 


A 16mm Education

16mm projectorMy elementary school days were the 1960s and back then seeing a film in class was a big deal. Those 16mm educational films often left a bigger impression on me than the books and lessons. A decade or so later and I was the teacher in the classroom and I became very good at threading those old 16mm projectors that often ate up the film.

Television as an educational tool was pretty rare. I recall my fellow students sitting on the floor of the gym in 1962 to watch one small television set as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

A bit more than a decade later I was threading one of those 16mm projectors as a teacher to show my students films. Some teachers took advantage of using films a bit too often. We called them "plans in a can" and they were popular emergency plans in case you were absent without warning or on a day before vacation.

I was pretty frugal in my use of films, but I also taught a course on film and video production, so I think I had legitimate reasons to show films. Before there were home video players, 16mm films were the only way to do it.

The Sony Betamax hit the U.S. in 1975, and my school bought a VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1977 when it was edging out the Betamax for the home video market. That VCR was something I used more and more, though my students were still shooting their own video on reel-to-reel VTRs (videotape recorders).

Sony changed that with their 1983 Betamovie cassette camcorder. My school bought a full size VHS camcorder and so did I. My first home movies of my newborn son were recorded with a video camera plugged into a VHS deck.

But I have very fond and surprisingly vivid memories of those old 16mm films that I saw a s a kid in school.

Many of them have emerged online. I assume that many of these films have had their copyright lapse, or maybe the companies that produced them have gone out of business or just don't care about their use any more.

I recall this film on "Lunchroom Manners" as one I saw in school. I also recall Pee Wee Herman using part of it in one of his shows. Watching "Mr. Bungle" in school settings today reminds me of my own school and the kids look like a lot I did then and my fellow students. Since I have no film and video of my own early days, these are like home movies.







I can imagine teachers in the late 1940s and 1950s showing in a health class films like the 1951  "Going Steady." (It doesn't portray going steady as a good idea.) And I'm not sure how teenagers in 1949 would have viewed the tips in Dating Do's and Don'ts. These were made by Coronet Instructional Films, which produced hundreds of films for the school market.

Public domain films from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive and Archive.org can be a real trip down memory lane for people who came of age in the 1940s through the 1970s.

But the films I saw in school that left the biggest impression on me were the ones about science. Many of them were well made and from Hollywood producers and studios. I vividly recall "Our Mr. Sun," a film directed by Frank Capra who is best known for It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many others.





That film launched the Bell System Science series. My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey then, so I thought then that he might have had some vague connection to these films (he didn't). It was the time time of the space race with Russia and an early version of STEM education that we all needed to know more about science. My father was determined I would be the first in the family to attend college and really wanted me to become an engineer.

With animation and live action, "Our Mr. Sun" was really well-made for the time. Capra had been producing documentaries for the Army during WWII such as the Why We Fight series and this documentary side business continued after the war. I know I saw that film multiple times in school, but this Technicolor beauty was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes and then some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

Another film I recall was on the atom. I grew up in that "atomic age" when the fear of nuclear war was very real. The film I recall was produced by Walt Disney Educational Media. Walt Disney began hosting his own television show for ABC in 1954. In exchange for a weekly hour-long Disney television program, ABC was funding some of the construction of Disneyland. The show was originally named Disneyland but went through later incarnations as Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney etc. All in all they ran for an amazing 54 years.

The "Our Friend the Atom" was a pro-nuclear energy film but it did compare atomic energy to a genie in a bottle, both of which are capable of doing good and evil.







Not all the films were about hard science and another one I recall must have had some impact on my decision to go into the humanities and major in English. Another from the Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra was "Alphabet Conspiracy" which was the story of the science of language and linguistics. The premise was a plot to destroy the alphabet and all language and it featured the very odd Hans Conried.

The growth of television after WWII scared many parents and educators. Kids were watching a lot of TV and, like film and comic books before it, the fear was that it would rot their minds. The same cry was heard with videogames, the Internet and now with smartphones, which contain all those formats.

I wrote my Master's thesis on the influence of television on children in regard to violence and isolation. There is no doubt that all this media influenced several generations, but I'm not sure that it rotted any brains. I suspect it inspired many kids.



This post first appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse


Clicking Links in an Online Course and Student Engagement


tool use pie chart


Overall LMS tool use via blackboard.com



Blackboard's data science people have done a study on the data from all that student clicking in their learning management system and aggregated data from 70,000 courses at 927 colleges and universities in North America during the spring 2016 semester. That's big data.

But the results (reported this week on their blog) are not so surprising. In fact, their own blog post title on the results - "How successful students use LMS tools – confirming our hunches" - implies that we shouldn't be very surprised.

Let us look at the four most important LMS tools they found in predicting student grades. As someone who has taught online for fifteen years, it makes sense to me that the four tools are the ones most frequently used.

On top was the gradebook - not the actual grades, but that students who frequently check their grades throughout the semester tend to get better marks than do those who look less often. "The most successful students are those who access MyGrades most frequently; students doing poorly do not access their grades. Students who never access their grades are more likely to fail than students who access them at least once. There is a direct relationship at every quartile of use – and at the risk of spoiling results for the other tools, this is the only tool for which this direct trend exists. It appears that students in the middle range of grades aren’t impacted by their use of the tool."

Next was their use of course content. That makes sense. Actually, I would have thought it would be the number one predictor of success. Their data science group reports "An interesting result was that after the median, additional access is related to a decline in student grade; students spending more than the average amount of time actually have less likelihood of achieving a higher grade!" That's not so surprising. Students spending more time (slow or distracted readers; ones who skimmed and need to repeatedly return to material etc.) are probably having problems, rather than being more though. The student who spends an hour on a problem that should take 15 minutes is not showing grit.

This is followed by assessments (tests etc.) and assignments. "If students don’t complete quizzes or submit assignments for a course, they have lower grades than those who do so. This was not a surprising finding. What was surprising to me is that this wasn’t the strongest predictor of a student’s grade." Why is that surprising? Because it is what we use to evaluate and give those grades.Digging a bit deeper in that data, Blackboard concludes that time is a factor as a "...strong decline in grade for students who spend more than the average amount of time taking assessments. This is an intuitive result. Students who have mastered course material can quickly answer questions; those who ponder over questions are more likely to be students who are struggling with the material. The relationship is stronger in assessments than assignments because assessments measure all time spent in the assessment, whereas assignments doesn’t measure the offline time spent creating the material that is submitted. Regardless, this trend of average time spent as the most frequent behavior of successful students is consistent across both tools, and is a markedly different relationship than is found in other tools."

The fifth tool was discussion. I have personally found discussions to be very revealing of a student's engagement in the course. I also find that level of engagement/participation correlated to final grades, but that may be because I include discussions in the final grade. I know lots of instructors who do not require it or don't grade it or give it a small weight in the final grade.

An article on The Chronicle of Higher Education website is a bit unsure of all this big data's value. "But it’s hard to know what to make of the click patterns. Take the finding about grade-checking: Is it an existential victory for grade-grubbers, proving that obsessing over grades leads to high marks? Or does it simply confirm the common-sense notion that the best students are the most savvy at using things like course-management systems?"

And John Whitmer, director of learning analytics and research at Blackboard, says "I’m not saying anything that implies causality."

Should we be looking at the data from learning-management systems with an eye to increasing student engagement? Of course. Learning science is a new term and field and I don't think we are so far past the stage of collecting data that we have a clear learning path or solid course adjustments to recommend.

Measuring clicks on links in an LMS can easily be deceiving, as can measuring the time spent on a page or in the course. If you are brand new to the LMS, you might click twice as much as an experienced user. Spending 10 minutes on a page versus 5 minutes doesn't mean much either since we don't know if the time spent reading, rereading or going out to get a coffee.

It's a start, and I'm sure more will come from Blackboard, Canvas, MOOC providers (who will have even greater numbers, though in a very different setting) and others.


A Free Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators

word cloudI came across this "Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators (WAMOE)." Although there are no upcoming dates for the next live offering of WAMOE in D2L Open Courses, the site at https://weba11ymooc.wordpress.com contains all course content and activities that have been used in the MOOC. 

I know that many online educators are interested in learning about how to make their courses more available to students who struggle with web accessibility issues, but may not know where to go for information. This free MOOC, sponsored by Portland Community College and D2L, provides a free professional development opportunity to help eLearning professionals meet the challenges of improving accessibility in online learning.

I believe that using this resource in conjunction with a F2F cohort of faculty on a campus would be an excellent way to approach the topics contained in the MOOC. As with any learners in a MOOC, a hybrid approach to using the online resources is often the best approach to increasing completion of the c"course" and eliminating some of the frustrations of learning on your own.

NOTE: Much of the course content was originally developed by Karen Sorensen and other staff at Portland Community College. PCC also freely shares their comprehensive document titled “Web Accessibility Guidelines.” All course content is open licensed by CC-BY, NonCommercial, Share-Alike 3.0 with attribution to Portland Community College and D2L Corporation.


The Apple User Experience

user design



September is not only the start of a new academic year, but also the time for Apple announcements. Apple has an odd connection to its users. They are devoted, often called "fan boys," who used to line up at stores for new products. I doubt the lines will be very long for their newest announcements. But they have famously been known - especially in the Jobs days - to not listen to users but to tell user what they want and need.

The new iPhones, called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, aren't very new. The most attention has gone to the new iPhones lacking a headphone jack. This helps make them more water-resistant, but it will require Bluetooth earbuds or phones. That is a significant additional cost and it will sap more power from that precious battery. Some of us also plug other external devices using that plug (I do that in my car.) This is the kind of deletion that recalls the removal of floppy disk drives, additional USB ports and CD/DVD drives which force users to move on and trash older media and devices. Is that good user design and a good user experience?

A colleague said to me that Apple's approach is like many teachers: tell the users what they need, rather than base your design on what they want. If you believe that Apple (or teachers) know better what their users need, then it is good design. But anyone who studies or works in user design would say that in both cases not spending more time in assessing what your users want is a flaw.

As an iPhone user, I was not looking for a revised home button with force sensitivity which will vibrate to give feedback - and I'm not sure that I need it. The iPhones are more water-resistant, but we all know that "resistant" is not "waterproof." Don't drop it in the toilet and expect no problems.

The Plus model of the new iPhone includes a dual-lens camera to take more professional-grade photos. But Android phones have had much better cameras without two lenses for a few years.

I don't see the Apple Watch as a hit, but the Apple Watch Series 2 will appear. It has GPS and Pokémon Go is available for it. Does that make you want to run out and buy one?

After the death of Steve Jobs, the cry went up that Apple would stop innovating and some of those who said that feel that they were correct in their prediction. Whatever happened to that Apple TV that Jobs was saying was on its way? The biggest change in smartphones the past few years is that users are using them less and less as phones and more and more as a computer. Your "phone company" contract is really a data contract.

I'm not sure that much more can be done with smartphones as hardware. the more important changes may be in the operating systems, battery life, more AI and new business models for data.