IT departments – the institutional fall guy for MOOCs?

The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy

(Image from IMDB

As Martin Weller pointed out earlier this week there are a growing number of MOOC metaphors being created. As I’ve been following the tweets from today’s “#moocapalooza ” (a hashtag I think invented by David Kernohan) a.k.a. Open and Online Learning making the most of MOOCs and other Models Conference I think I need to to add the Fall Guy to Martin’s list, particularly after reading this tweet.

I’m going to try and not too much in this post, and I apologise for taking this tweet at face value and out with its original context, but . . . Isn’t this just another one of those MOOC myths that twist the reality of what happens within institutions to suit the “education is broken we must build something else” mind set? As Martin Hawskey and Lorna Campbell both said in response to David’s tweet it’s not the systems that are the problem.

I’m going to stick my neck out (not too far) and say every technology you need to run a MOOC is available within every University. I’ve not seen anything in my adventures in MOOC-land that has made me think “oh wow, wish we could have one of those back in the non-MOOC world”. There are VLEs, blogs, wikis aplenty. And IT departments do a sterling job in keeping these running for all that “non MOOC stuff” that Universities do. You know, the dull and boring things you need to do “traditional” teaching.

Yesterday during a webinar on analytics and assessment and feedback, Rachel Forsyth (MMU) shared some of their learning system analytics data. Since the beginning of this year they’ve had over 8 million hits on their mobile interface which allows students to access key information like assessment marks, timetables and reading lists. At key points of in the year they have over 100,000 assignments being submitted electronically. I suspect many institutions are working at this scale. So I don’t think it’s a question of IT department’s not being up to delivering MOOCs, I think it’s more that they have quite a lot to do already and adding another potentially x000,000 of users is not something that can be undertaken lightly, or without any cost implications.

Investing in internal IT resources isn’t seen as a key part of MOOC development strategy. Why would it be when Coursera etc have been able to get money to build systems. In many ways using an external platform like FutureLearn is a very sensible option. It means that experiments with MOOCs can take place without putting additional strain on existing resources. We all know, or should do by now, that there’s no such thing as a free MOOC and that includes the infrastructure they sit within. So let’s not let another myth develop that the HE sector don’t have the technology or the ability to deliver MOOCs. They do, it’s just that it’s already working at capacity delivering their day to day business.

In a galaxy far, far, far away . . .

Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a parallel universe? I do. Particularly this week when the “Major players in the MOOC Universe” infographic was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It was retweeted, google+’ed everywhere almost instantly. But this wasn’t a view of the MOOC universe I know of, there were quite a few bits missing. A bit like the “World Series” this was an almost completely U.S centric view. The big bang MOOC moment certainly didn’t happen slightly north of this universe.

Despite the efforts of informed commentators such as Audrey Watters, to correct the new revisionism of the history of MOOCs, the U.S centric vision seems to be winning out. Martin Weller’s response to Donald Clark’s take on MOOC developments eloquently states a number of my concerns about revisionism and the development of MOOCs and the so called MOOC wars.

But I can sort of see myself in this universe, all be it, in a very small dark corner. I can see, and know who the “big shiny lights” are in the centre, and dream of being part of the rebel alliance, and becoming an apprentice of Obi Weller Kenobi . . .

Yesterday though I felt almost like I had crossed into the 13th dimension. I entered a place where no-one had heard of MOOCs. Yes that’s right – they hadn’t heard of MOOCs. My colleague Lorna Campbell and I had been invited to the Scottish eLearning Alliance Local Authority SIG meeting to give an overview of our work. Lorna spoke about open educational resources, and as is my want of late, I did a bit about MOOCs. Unsurprisingly for increasingly cash strapped local authorities the free part of open was very attractive. Those in charge of developing and running training programmes are always looking for new ways to enhance their offerings. However as the discussion progressed it became clear that there is still one key missing ingredient that all the open content and courses in universe(s) don’t include, and that is time. You need time to engage with learning. Although online provision of education/resources has fundamentally changed access points, it hasn’t meant that we need less time to engage.

As you know dear reader, I have done my fair share of MOOCing over the past few months. It’s probably been the best (well actually it’s been the only) PDP I’ve done in my eight years with Cetis. But I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have been able to combine professional and personal development. I have been able to legitimately use some work time to contribute to a number of courses, and in turn in my own small way contribute to some of the wider discourse and dialogue. So although I was delighted to read that Coursera are now going to be providing course for K12 teachers, I couldn’t help but have a slight sinking feeling of this being staff development on the cheap. Will teachers be given some legitimate study time and recognition to take part or will it just be the really motivated ones (who probably aren’t the ones who really need this time of development) that will just “find the time” to take part? Will there be state wide flipped classrooms for teacher staff development ? Wouldn’t it be great if there was?

There’s also a huge assumption that everyone has the (digital) literacies needed to engage successfully with any kind of online learning. This was a key concern for some of the people at yesterday’s meeting. There’s a reason distance learning providers such as the OU have developed extensive study skills resources for their students. A MOOC on MOOCing isn’t daft idea, it just sounds slightly daft when you say it out loud.

Anyway I guess to end this slightly rambling post, that we need to remember that despite the hype in “our” universe(s), there’s a whole set of parallel universes that haven’t heard about MOOCs yet. They could very well benefit from MOOCs and from open education in general, but education is more than resources and courses. It’s about human interaction and time. In our rush to create new universes let’s not forget these universal principles and cherish the time that a University degree gives to students and indeed the time that any educational experience deserves.

Dear Sheila . . . The MOOC Agony Aunt Column

After much cajoling and numerous requests . . . well OK, one from Martin

I’ve decided to start a new, possibly weekly, feature for all of you out there who are grabbling with the numerous challenges of MOOCs. Whether you’re an instructor or student, this could the place you’ve been looking for to get some words of wisdom based on my vast experience MOOCs (cough, cough).

The questions (and answers) have started flowing already on twitter.

And in a more considered reply to Grainne’s question

Remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” it stands for “massive”. So on the instructor side of things, be prepared for a massive amount of extra (unpaid) hours reformatting and structuring your course. All content and activities have to be MOOC-ified and will only work on a MOOC enabled platform, other online systems just can’t cope with all the new and exciting MOOC pedagogical approaches you’ll be using. Then, when the course is running remember that if you have an introductory forum for students to “share where we are all from and why we’re here” you may feel the inclination to read them all and that will take a massive amount of your (again unpaid) time. So be strong, keep smiling and keep with the programme. By the end of week 2 most of your learners will have realised that they have far more pressing things to do and so the contributions will have dropped off to a number that is manageable for you to at least have a cursory glance over whilst your having a nice cup of tea and biscuit.

From a student point of view, remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” is stands for “massive”. It will take as much time and effort as one of those old fashioned distance, or even those that take place in real time in a real place (like a University) courses, to complete. But just remember you don’t actually have to participate, and can drop out at any time and go and do all that other stuff that you need to, and have a nice cup of tea.

Grainne, Owen – hope that helps and gives everyone else an idea of the scope and scale and contribution this feature could bring to the MOOC-ology or is it MOOC-oshpere?

As the comments/tweets flow in, I’m am also hoping to enlist the support and guidance of my former colleague Christine Sinclair (part of the #edcmooc team) but more importantly former agony aunt writer for the Jackie magazine.

Badges? Certificates? What counts as succeeding in MOOCs?

Oops, I did it again. I’ve now managed to complete another MOOC. Bringing my completion rate of to a grand total of 3 (the non completion number is quite a bit higher but more on that later). And I now have 6 badges from #oldsmooc and a certificate (or “statement of accomplishment”) from Coursera.

My #oldsmooc badges

My #oldsmooc badges

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

But what do they actually mean? How, if ever, will/can I use these newly gained “achievements”?

Success and how it is measured continues to be one of the “known unknowns” for MOOCs. Debate (hype) on success is heightened by the now recognised and recorded high drop out rates. If “only” 3,000 registered users complete a MOOC then it must be failing, mustn’t it? If you don’t get the certificate/badge/whatever then you have failed. Well in one sense that might be true – if you take completion to equate with success. For a movement that is supposed to be revolutionising the (HE) system, the initial metrics some of the big xMOOCs are measuring and being measured by are pretty traditional. Some of the best known success of recent years have been college “drop outs’, so why not embrace that difference and the flexibility that MOOCs offer learners?

Well possibly because doing really new things and introducing new educational metrics is hard and even harder to sell to venture capitalists, who don’t really understand what is “broken” with education. Even for those who supposedly do understand education e.g. governments find any change to educational metrics (and in particular assessments) really hard to implement. In the UK we have recent examples of this with Michael Gove’s proposed changes to GSCEs and in Scotland the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been a pretty fraught affair over the last five years.

At the recent #unitemooc seminar at Newcastle, Suzanne Hardy told us how “empowered” she felt by not submitting a final digital artefact for assessment. I suspect she was not alone. Suzanne is confident enough in her own ability not to need a certificate to validate her experience of participating in the course. Again I suspect she is not alone. From my own experience I have found it incredibly liberating to be able to sign up for courses at no risk (cost) and then equally have no guilt about dropping out. It would mark a significant sea change if there was widespread recognition that not completing a course didn’t automatically equate with failure.

I’ve spoken to a number of people in recent weeks about their experiences of #oldsmooc and #edcmooc and many of them have in their own words “given up”. But as discussion has gone on it is apparent that they have all gained something from even cursory participation either in terms of their own thinking about possible involvement in running a MOOC like course, or about realising that although MOOCs are free there is still the same time commitment required as with a paid course.

Of course I am very fortunate that I work and mix with a pretty well educated bunch of people, who are in the main part really interested in education, and are all well educated with all the recognised achievements of a traditional education. They are also digital literate and confident enough to navigate through the massive online social element of MOOCs, and they probably don’t need any more validation of their educational worth.

But what about everyone else? How do you start to make sense of the badges, certificates you may or may not collect? How can you control the way that you show these to potential employers/Universities as part of any application? Will they mean anything to those not familiar with MOOCs – which is actually the vast majority of the population. I know there are some developments in California in terms of trying to get some MOOCs accredited into the formal education system – but it’s very early stages.

Again based on my own experience, I was quite strategic in terms of the #edcmooc, I wrote a reflective blog post for each week which I was then able to incorporate into my final artefact. But actually the blog posts were of much more value to me than the final submission or indeed the certificate (tho I do like the spacemen). I have seem an upward trend in my readership, and more importantly I have had lots of comments, and ping backs. I’ve been able to combine the experience with my own practice.

Again I’m very fortunate in being able to do this. In so many ways my blog is my portfolio. Which brings me a very convoluted way to my point in this post. All this MOOC-ery has really started me thinking about e-portfolios. I don’t want to use the default Coursera profile page (partly because it does show the course I have taken and “not received a certificate” for) but more importantly it doesn’t allow me to incorporate other non Coursera courses, or my newly acquired badges. I want to control how I present myself. This relates quite a lot to some of the thoughts I’ve had about using Cloudworks and my own educational data. Ultimately I think what I’ve been alluding to there is also the development of a user controlled e-portfolio.

So I’m off to think a bit more about that for the #lak13 MOOC. Then Lorna Campbell is going to start my MOOC de-programming schedule. I hope to be MOOC free by Christmas.

How to succeed at Mooc-ing without really trying

Heard about MOOCs but far too busy doing more interesting things to sign up to one? Not sure if they’re for you?  Feeling pressure to be part of the “mooc crowd”? Keep signing up for MOOCs but keep getting that cba (can’t be a****) feeling after the first week? Fear not, here’s a handy list of tips to ensure you too can get maximum impact, increase your twitter followers, and look like you are at the heart of the next Mooc that takes your fancy.

The quickest way to get noticed in MOOCs is via twitter, so start using the course hashtag as early as possible. Post some random musings (the more bizarre the better), the week before the official start date. The first week will be filled with “hello I’ve just signed up for xxx” – go for something more eye catching. With 6 million participants on a course you want to make sure you stand out from the crowd and most importantly get retweeted. If you don’t think you’re going to get @StephenFry or @PeteCashmore to retweet posts, fear not there are other strategies.

Only sign up for MOOCs where you know someone who is part of the course team.  @ them at every opportunity (with the hastag of course). They’re bound to reply and retweet at least some of your messages. Remember in the first week in particular the people running the course  are desperate to show signs of activity and engagement. 

Alternatively start a tweet off (my polite description for a fight) with the official course twitter account. @ them slightly left field questions that are impossible to answer in 140 characters, but which they can’t be seen to not to answer. Reply to everything with more obtuse comments. Undoubtedly a couple of your followers will pitch in too creating the impression of even more noise engagement.

Dazzle people with analytics. This is getting slightly tricker now more people know about @mhawskey’s twitter archive and tags explorer which have been proven to make even grown Mooc-ers cry:-) But try and get a graph/diagram from somewhere. Sign up for bottlenose and take a screen grab of their sonar view of the course hashtag. Will distract people for days . . .

If you can’t dazzle with analytics, get someone else to.  Set up a challenge that is just too tempting for @psychemedia not to have a go at.  

Follow these simple techniques and by the end of the first week you will have been featured enough to be seen as in integral part of the course, and can go and back to doing something more interesting instead.

More advanced strategies including FB and  google+ to follow.

Designing a MOOC #moocmooc day 5

It’s coming to the end of the week long #moocmooc course and today’s activity is to design our own MOOC. Once again the course team have encouraged collaboration have used a google doc as collaborative space to share ideas and form ad hoc teams this Google Doc.

I’ve had a fascinating morning exploring ideas, designs, existing courses that people have shared. I really liked this existing wiki “Preparing your online self”,not least because had been thinking along those lines myself. In yesterday’s activity reflecting on what we have learned so far I did say that some kind of check list for both learners and teachers who don’t use social networking, web 2 “stuff” (in particular twitter) would be useful. From my existing network I knew that Grainne Conole had shared an outline for her upcoming Learning Design MOOC, so it was useful to have another look at that too.

I’ve also been thinking more about what I would want as a learner from a MOOC. This week has been pretty intense, and deliberately so. There have been many mentions of the sense of being overwhelmed, and I think there is a natural tendency to want to scaffold and be scaffolded that is really hard to let go of for both a teachers and learners.

In today’s introductory essay “Inventing Learning” Sean Michaal Morris (@slamteacher) wrote:

“I like to imagine that MOOCs are a creative act, almost a sort of composition in and of themselves. They’re a composition that begins with one person or a team of people who design the course; but no MOOC is truly finished until the participants have had their say. To be creative in course design is to be both author and audience. We are the author of the themes and ideas behind the course, and the audience to how students / participants interpret, mold, revise — and what they fashion from — those themes and ideas. This is true in a classroom. This is true in a MOOC. . . Perhaps what frightens us most about MOOCs is the loss of control. In the new model of online pedagogy, the classroom has exploded; or rather, theories of classroom practice . . .”

So I revised my earlier thoughts of producing a pre MOOC MOOC instead I would use the wiki guide highlighted earlier as a suggested pre course activity and came up with this

Mainly because Twitter has proved invaluable this week. I’d maybe expand this slightly by adding: choose a topic, ask some questions, start following people and follow back and instructions that when things started to get a bit overwhelming:

Don't panic button

Don't panic button

If you want to go down the cMOOC route like #moocmooc, then you have to be willing to let go, embrace chaos and interaction, diversions – all the things Dave Cormier talks about in his rhizomatic approaches. If however you want to be a bit more traditional, then the xMOOC model is probably a safer approach. That’s why the big guns have taken that approach. It’s controllable, scalable, doesn’t take staff away from their comfort zone, and isn’t (from the courses I’ve seen so far) really providing any challenging pedagogical approaches.

This may change and I’m looking forward to what the eLearning and digital cultures Coursera MOOC from colleagues at the University of Edinburgh will look like. An outline of their approaches is available here.

But for now, for me it’s back to twitter.