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MOOC to cultivate networked textbook Part 2 – experience U a practical example

Because we had nothing else to do, we launched a new (maybeM)OOC this week. It’s called Experience U and it’s intended for first time university students. You can check it out at http://xpu.ca. It will hopefully help address the many, many questions that students have in preparing themselves for the university experience. I tried to run it before, 2 years ago, but i clearly didn’t have the concept clear in my head. I’ve been interested in running a MOOC with high school students, but have been struggling for an approach.

In my last two blog posts I’ve covered the idea of using a MOOC to cultivate a textbook and the different ideas of openness, both, i think, are lessons that inform the structure of this project. From the textbook perspective (from hereon in I’ll call it ‘the guidebook’) it gives us the organizers something to work towards from an artifact perspective. It provides focus for the team. It provides a fall back if the M part of the MOOC doesn’t quite come together. It gives a good solid reason to keep coming back year after year. From an ‘open’ perspective, I’ve spent so much time thinking about open source (even though in cases like gmail and collaborate i overlook it) that I missed the other side of open. The ‘widening participation’ side of open. That’s why we’ve chosen to run the course in facebook this time.

The Open Course (maybem)OOC
We’re running the official part of the course for five weeks starting April 25th. We’ve got some pre-canned videos that do an overview of the topics for each week and are going to do a live session that we are going to post. We are also going to have an assignment that students can optionally do each given week.

We originally had some pieces in a wordpress blog and were going to do a few other things… but we’ve changed our mind. Facebook only. I think the more complication we throw at it the more difficult it’s going to be to keep everything going.

Video response
We’re going to try and answer every (most) questions we get with a video response by a student. A student for a student as it were. We’re doing this in part, obviously, because we’d like people to share those videos around, but we’re also looking for that daily content that can lead to people getting absorbed enough in the process to start getting some of the culture of university. I’m hoping that this excess of student voice might provide that for some of the participants.

Getting the word out
This is tricky. We’re running a few facebook ads, some newspaper ads (yes, i know that’s odd) and stuff for this. I got a grant to run this project and am near the end of the funding and am hoping to prove that it has value enough to get more support down the line. The simple fact is that my social networks aren’t so connected to the target market for this course… So it’s making that part interesting.

The Networked textbook
We’re designing a flexible html5-ish design for the guidebook that should be responsive to any screen/platform. We’re going to pull in some of the videos were using the answer straight up questions, but I’m also hoping that we can pull from assignments and discussions to build a richer artifact that both reflects a successful project (he says) and can be helpful to students anywhere on their way into university for the first time.

Having built a hundred webpages to help people do things… having the MOOC there next year as a curation engine is really encouraging. I’ve gotten to the point where i hate building information pages because I always seem to come back to them a few years later to find a pile of deadlinks and outdated info. The goal here would be to run that MOOC ever year and rebuild that guidebook along with it.

Conclusion
Another experiment with the internet to see what we can do with it. I’m slowly getting comfortable with the idea of it all going on on facebook… which, frankly, i was pretty resistant about when we started. My staff convinced me. I always say that you shouldn’t confront people who are only partially invested with two unknowns. Facebook is a comfortable space for the students i’m hoping to work with… this time i go to them.

What do you mean… open?

So I’m writing this book… (with some friends see http://xedbook.com)

And then i go to write the part of the chapter I’m working on about ‘openness’ in education and I ask myself “self, what does open in open education.* mean anyway?”

And then i fell down the rabbit hole. A rabbit hole full of paths from the Open University’s saving by Margaret Thatcher in 1970, to the table around which ‘open source’ was coined in 1998, and any number of debates on neo-liberalism. Fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

This post is a mixture of my own research and lots of v. interesting input I’ve gotten from colleagues on Twitter. I’ll make my best effort to mention those people who contributed… feel free to let me know if I’ve forgotten you.

Introduction
The story that I’m trying to tell here is about the values that underpin the word ‘open’. I know many of the people involved in open education/learning/educational resources as deeply principled people who are engaged in the idea of openness for reasons that are important to them. In examining these values i have found two strands: one openness that speaks of valuing the creator/teacher/artifact, and another sense of openness that speaks of the user/learner. Most of us, I would imagine, borrow from both sides. But this story is particularly about how the ideas of around ‘open source’ influence a pull towards valuing the creator over the user, and how that pull might affect the field of learning going forward

The brief retelling of how we got ‘open source’
The first article sent to me when I started this little personal quest was the meme hustler – Tim O’Reilly’s crazy talk by Evgeny Morozov. Any of you familiar with Morozov will know that he makes his business in attacking dominant narratives and confronting the status-quo. In this particular post (which is very long, and, I think, worth the skim if you can look passed his anger) he takes on Tim O’Reilly for shaping the techno-discussion of era (and maybe more in the future) through his unique blend of brand development, crafty conferences and publishing supports. Now… I’ve always had suspicions about O’Reilly (see 2006 post) so I’m a little biased… but I’ll leave you to your own interpretations of Morozov’s broader argument, of specific import to this story is the thread of research i never made it to in ’06, and that is the original table around which the term ‘open source’ was coined and put into circulation.

So there’s (still) this thing called the Free Software Foundation. It’s founder/luminary in residence is a man named Richard Stallman. Google him… it’s worth it. Anyway… Stallman was a giant figure in programming in the 80′s and 90′s working on, among other things, a free as in freedom version of the operating system for computers. His views were very much about things being built with the rights of the users being foremost in his mind. He warned that if the users freedom weren’t paramount the software (and the people who designed it) would control things. hem. Facebook. hem hem. Google. hem.

From my understanding, Stallman doesn’t actually have a problem with people making money for a living. His interests in free are famously represented as being about ‘free as in speech’ not ‘free as in beer’. It’s the freedom of choice. He very much wanted everyone to contribute their software in like manner… he valued freedom in a way that was not connected to whether he made money or not, whether the not-free software might be better or more powerful. He judged the ‘value’ of the software to be used by freedom first and other considerations second. The GPL (his free license) and his influence on free software dominated that end of the industry.

After a long battle with Microsoft, Netscape lost the browser wars (yes, we used to say that) and at one point in 1998 a bunch of folks get called together by Eric Raymond (of Cathedral and the Bazaar fame) to talk about what should be done in the light of Netscape releasing (making free) the code to its browser. My interpretation (and there are lots of others out there) is that they were trying to find an angle on it that they could leverage for themselves. Broadly speaking people had decided that Richard Stallman’s ‘free software’ approach was too confusing for business. They needed a new narrative that they could use to profit from the free software model.

“The meeting’s agenda boiled down to one item: how to take advantage of Netscape’s decision so that other companies might follow suit?” Raymond doesn’t recall the conversation that took place, but he does remember the first complaint addressed. Despite the best efforts of Stallman and other hackers to remind people that the word “free” in free software stood for freedom and not price, the message still wasn’t getting through. Most business executives, upon hearing the term for the first time, interpreted the word as synonymous with “zero cost,” tuning out any follow up messages in short order. Until hackers found a way to get past this cognitive dissonance, the free software movement faced an uphill climb, even after Netscape.

[Christine] Peterson [who coined 'open source'], whose organization had taken an active interest in advancing the free software cause, offered an alternative: open source.

Looking back, Peterson says she came up with the open source term while discussing Netscape’s decision with a friend in the public relations industry. She doesn’t remember where she came upon the term or if she borrowed it from another field… http://oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/ch11.html

A shift in values
Take this quote that Morozov cites from O’reilly in 2001

I want to return to the idea of freedom zero as my choice as a creator to give, or not to give, the fruits of my work to you, as a “user” of that work, and for you, as a user, to accept or reject the terms I place on that gift. If that is power, so be it.

In Stallman’s words

The two terms[free software and open source] describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values.

In reading this (and this certainly meshes with my feelings in the ’06 post above, in Morozov’s polemic and with stuff like this) I see a value switch from a socio-cultural ideology (freedom) to a something else. A move from valuing the freedom of the user to valuing the freedom of the creator of the software. You might also say, and many people have, that it is a replacement of ideology with ‘practicality’. The removing of ideology from the equation. I don’t happen to believe this. I don’t think that you can ever be ‘without ideology’. We use some standard to judge what we should do, whether a project is worthwhile or which of two things should go first. For some it’s money. For some it’s whether it will help other people…

If you’re interested in more side by side detail about the difference, here are the two philosophies written side by side:

The value shift is a subtle one for most of us… it certainly has been opaque for me before i started doing this research. It is further confused by the fact that the ‘user’ in the Stallman case was still likely a programmer, where the user in O’reilly’s case was more ‘customer’. All that being said, I still think there’s a critical difference. The value set attached to the free software movement is fundamentally about user freedom first, product/producer second. In the open source discussion, the product/producer comes first, and the user may, as O’reilly suggests, take it or leave it. The purpose behind the creation and initial spreading of a word may not have forever impacts on its meaning, but Raymonds words are telling “In conventional marketing terms our job was to rebrand the product and build its reputation into one that the corporate world would hasten to buy.” Both Morozov and Stallman credit Open Source as being focused on making a better stronger product. Stallman particularly worries that this is not what you want as your first value.

What the hell does this have to do with education?
Frankly, I’m not sure that Stallman would still be right about his approach in a day and age where 99.9% of computer users are blind users of software. Pure consumers who will never understand code. It may have been better had things gone differently and we had stuck to understanding code and the machines that are so deeply embedded in our lives… but i’m pretty sure that opportunity is gone. Hopefully not so with education.

At many conferences and in many discussions I’ve heard people suggest that the ideas of ‘open source’ have had a deep impact on the open in open education. And my concern starts when that particular model of ‘openness’ is applied to education. In that same twitter conversation David Wiley, coiner of the term open content, suggests that the open of open content is by analogy to open source but different…

How is it different? Does it value the user or the creator? As I’ve said… I care less about this in software (as i think the battle is over) but I care a tremendous amount about it in education.

Lets take a look at Wiley’s recent work with Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons. In their 2012 article on openness in education they claim the following

We discuss the three principal influences of openness on education: open educational resources, open access, and open teaching. From David Wiley and Cable Green in Educause

  • The OER influence of openness makes a strong case for “extremely efficient and affordable sharing”. A business case for the effectiveness of open resources and how they can effectively replace (or partially replace) existing options.
  • The Open Access influence is about the ability of a researcher to openly share their research and have access to the research of others.
  • “”Open teaching” began as a practice of using technology to open formal university courses for free, informal participation by individuals not officially enrolled in the course. In the university context, open teaching involves devising ways to expose the in-class experiences to those who are not in the class so that they can participate as fully as possible.
    • posting syllabi in publicly viewable blogs or wikis, where everyone can view them;
    • assigning readings that are freely and openly available, so that everyone can access and read them;
    • asking students to post homework assignments and other course artifacts on publicly viewable blogs or wikis, so they can catalyze further discussion of relevant topics; and
    • using a wide range of traditional and social media, including e-mail, microblogging, and blog comments, to carry on the course discussion.

In each of these cases, we see a strong focus on the creators of the content being central to the openness. The first two of the three ‘principal influences of openness’ are clearly about the creators, and the third allows the user to participate as much as they can by interacting with the content that is given made available in the open. While I certainly would not suggest that the statement is as strong as the ‘take it or leave it’ take that O’reilly offers for users of open source software, I sense a creator focused ‘offering’ to the outside world.

I’m not trying to pick on David (and he can certainly take care of himself anyway :)) but i’m going to continue to focus on the relationship between his work and open source. Here is one of the other resources that David sent me during this discussion around the meaning of open. He quotes “Wiley (2010) assumes common understanding of the term educational resources, and argues that open is a matter of (1) cost and (2) copyright licensing and related permissions”

We have a definition of open that has, as its values, the price of a thing and the ways in which it’s creator can license it. Here is the tie, I think, to O’reilly and Raymond. In an earlier paragraph, the long history of the meaning of openness as imprecise is cited from a 1975 book called “Open Learning: systems and problems in post-secondary education

“Open Learning is an imprecise phrase to which a range of meanings can be, and is, attached. It eludes definition. But as an inscription to be carried in procession on a banner, gathering adherents and enthusiasts, it has great potential”

Later in the same paragraph Wiley suggests that the meaning of open has changed little in the last 40 years. This would mean, in effect, that openness is about making content available to students for free. I don’t want to spoil the point I’m making by taking too close a reading on someone i look up to as a luminary in our field… but i think there is a pattern of discussion here that focuses on the creator, not the user. To fully make the point, however, we would need to establish the Stallman end of the equation, the ‘user focused openness’, and to do that we must cross the pond.

Open as in “Open University UK”
I have long heard from my colleagues in the UK that there is part of the openness discussion missing and that it involves the Open University.


This from the excellent Professor Martin Weller author of cool books and many papers, much of which deals with openness in education. So I decided to dig in a little.

Discussion with Dominic Newbould
During my debate on twitter I was sent a few messages from Dominic Newbould, 30+ year veteran of the OU who dropped this on me.


I asked him if he would mind having a chat with me to give me a sense of what he meant. We had a broad ranging discussion (lots of interesting (to me) detail for a future blog post) about the history of the OU and what openness meant to the institution from the early inklings in 1963 to launch in 1969 and through the time he spent there from 1975 onwards. The part of that discussion of direct relevance here are the four kinds of open

  1. Open = accessible, ‘supported open learning’, interactive, dialogue. Accessibility was key.
  2. Open = equal opportunity, unrestricted by barriers or impediments to education and educational resources.
  3. Open = transparency, sharing educational aims and objectives with students, disclosing marking schemes and offering exam and tutorial advice.
  4. Open = open entry, most important, no requirement for entrance qualifications. All that was needed were ambition and the will/motivation to learn.

This position is supported by a quote from a recent JISC review of openness in the Open University
“The university was given the mission to be “open as to people, places, methods and ideas” by its founding chancellor in his inaugural address” http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/topics/openeducation/JISC_OU_CaseStudy.pdf

Or, to go a little further down the page on that 1975 book quoted by Wiley

“open has many meanings, and the aura of the most of them seemed generous and ‘charismatic’ – open-handed, open-ended, open-hearted, open house, open choice. ‘Open’ as contrasted with ‘closed’ carried suggestions demolishing or lowering established barriers between subject areas; of enlarging and enriching the areas of activity and experience graded as educational. It symbolized a shift in the relationship between teacher and pupil towards that of student and adviser.

Perhaps the most commonly used sense of ‘open’ has been the idea of creating opportunities for study for those debarred from it for whatever reasons, be it lack of formal educational attainments or shortage of vacancies, poverty, remoteness, employment or domestic necessities. Open Learning: Systems and problems in post-secondary education Mackenzie, Postgate and Scupham, 1975

Here then, we find a version of openness that takes as its starting point the user/learner. I certainly sense a shifting of goals in the Open University from its original incarnation to what it became and is becoming… but no matter. What we’re looking for here are core values. How does your openness influence the decisions that you make. Important to remember the comments that Stallman made about the difference between free software and open source “Different Values Can Lead to Similar Conclusions…but Not Always”.

MOOCs and beyond
I don’t mean this article to make any claims on what ‘values’ drive David Wiley or anyone else to make decisions. What I’m speaking to is the way we’ve spoken about openness and the values that one can extrapolate from that. When I coined the term Massive Open Online Course in 2008 the open part of it was the most important element. I don’t think my exact view of openness coincides with the ones that Stephen and George had (designer/facilitator of the first MOOC, so called) or necessarily exactly matching up with my UK friends or anyone else. Openness was very much about ‘demolishing established barriers’ of all sorts. It is a political act, regardless of how unpopular that position is to many.

I do think that with all the talk and work going on right now around the idea of openness and the way so many people are trying to use the word for their own devices that we need ways to talk about the strands of openness that appear in our work and see where they come from.

I think there is something fundamentally troubling about a creator focused value system for open learning. While I understand the ‘value’ of open content, and believe in it’s value, I think the fundamental decision making process needs to be from the position of the user, not the content.

I think the content becomes the neutral ground, the thing that we can all agree on across our politics and our feelings about what a just society could be. The other side, the ‘what do we want to encourage our learners to be’ the social justice side of this is much, much harder.

How do we want to open our society? That, in the end, is the open learning/education that I want to talk about.

you?

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Appendix.
Other research referenced in the twitter discussions but cut out of the blog post.

Note: The Margaret Thatcher part of this post I removed as I started writing it before she died, and have no interest in making my post about her. Here is the quote i was going to use and spoke about on twitter.
“quite apart from the political considerations, the unit cost per graduate produced in this new institution could well be substantially less than in the orthodox university system.” Margaret Thatcher on why they shouldn’t close down the Open University, 1970.

25 year old book on open education

Jim Groom Keynote on openness… which is classically awesome jim.

On the value of Open Access and it’s incredible importance.
“I recently met a physician from southern Africa, engaged in perinatal HIV prevention, whose primary access to information was abstracts posted on the Internet. Based on a single abstract, they had altered their perinatal HIV prevention program from an effective therapy to one with lesser efficacy. Had they read the full text article they would have undoubtedly realized that the study results were based on short- term follow-up, a small pivotal group, incomplete data, and were unlikely to be applicable to their country situation. Their decision to alter treatment based
solely on the abstract’s conclusions may have resulted in increased perinatal HIV transmission.” http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/84/5/339.pdf

Briefest, laziest history of Open the word
The word itself seems one of those rare birds that hasn’t changed much in the last thousand years or so. Open as in ‘the gate is open’, ‘public’ that kind of stuff. According to The Online Etymology with the exception of some racy connotations, it pretty much has always meant what we think it means… not shut. My favourite bit is “Meaning “public knowledge” (especially in out in the open) is from 1942, but cf. Middle English in open (late 14c.) “manifestly, publicly.”

MOOCs to cultivate networked textbooks part 1

I’ve been banging up against this idea both for a paper and for the xedbook… and I’ve finally decided that I’m going to need to blog it out before it makes any clear sense to me. I have some vague ideas and bits of evidence, but I’d love to send it out to you guys for feedback and counterarguments if i could.

I’ve been hanging around the open education space for about 8-10 years now depending on how you count. I was doing open education with Jeff Lebow in Korea before I knew it was called that. There are certainly many that have been at it far longer… but I think I’ve been at it long enough to get a sense of some of the strengths and weaknesses of open projects over time. One of the critical problems that i’ve seen with many open projects is how fragile they are. A person could argue any number of reasons why this might be true…

1. They are easier to start, and therefore you lose less in letting them go
2. They are dependent on a different set of encouragements (not profit) and therefore don’t transfer to new leaders very well
3. They normally depend on core people (or person) and are susceptible to the life changes of those people

Regardless of the reason why they fall apart… they tend to. The piece I’ve been particularly looking into is what happens to the open textbook projects. I can see that many projects look like they have slowed down a bit… like they may be fading… but there is no clear indication of this that I can find. So I’m just going to post the things i’ve been able to find here and hope that some of you can fill in the blanks.

What makes a project open?
Openness is increasingly being seen as synonymous to ‘without financial cost’. I see the relationship between money and openness as extremely important, but not insofar as they are the same. Money is a driving influencer in how many of our projects make their way to completion. For the creation of textbooks, their updating, quality control etc… our capitalist structures claim that the ‘market’ will keep them honest. Simply put, if you don’t do a good job, no one will buy your product. With an open project, people can often engage with your product without buying it. The encouragements that keep you honest end up being things like responsibility, reputation, structures… certainly things that are harder to count.

For me openness is about transparency. When I teach my classes, i openly blog about my design process, the challenges i’m facing in it, and take and incorporate feedback that i receive from those discussions. I think of those as open practices. Practices such as transparency,

A word on why we care about content
This is by no means a full review of every open textbook project out there. I’ve been following stories… both of projects that i’ve heard of over the years, bits of articles i’ve read… stuff like that. I’m increasingly convinced that the battleground of education over the next few years is going to be about content. I know there’s a bunch of career based stuff out there and financial lots of things, but the way the content gets delivered, from the straight up texts, to the quizbanks and cutesy little communities (textbook based LMSs) that go along with them… they are currently the lifeblood of education. Some estimates suggest that 75-90% of content in the classroom comes from textbooks. That’s a lot of content.

The open textbook seems like an obvious choice. Lets get all the peoples together and get them to work on a textbook for each of our fundamental programs in higher education. The Open Course Library project is an excellent example of this. They are going to be pulling the content together for the Colleges in the State of Washington, The idea of pulling together enough money to build the initial run of textbooks (or source other textbooks) to get the cost of textbooks under $30 for each class is a noble one. The folks at BC Campus in Canada are beginning work on a similar model

On the surface, the whole thing makes sense. Lets centralize the cost for creating content, so that students don’t have to spend the $1000+ dollars a year in textbooks. Tuition is rising, lets lower the cost of books and provide some relief to students. Also, if the textbooks start online and lots of great people get involved, they’ll be better than their paper counterparts. Save the trees etc…

I totally agree. The only problem is, there is all the world of difference between starting a project like this and keeping it going. It is possible to pull great people together for the event of creating a text… and tougher, i would argue, to keep those things going over the long haul.

The Second Edition
An earlier project from BC Campus is an interesting illustration of some of the challenges presented by open textbooks. Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe Seems like a solid textbooks talking about digital education. Lots of interesting people from the field writing about educational practice… published in 2008. All but chapter 16 (it has the non-commercial tag) CC Attribution Share alike. Some of the examples no longer work, as one might imagine Chapter 27 – Social Media for Adult Online Learners and Educators needs to be updated a bit for the changes of the last five years (though i may still use it in an upcoming class).

One does not need to look far for the second edition, it’s there on the homepage of the book… It’s now published by a company operating inside the government of british columbia called ‘Open School BC’ and they will sell the ‘second edition’ of the book to you for between $54 and $134. I have no fundamental problem with people selling books… (although i do have a problem with the name ‘open school BC’ seems to be a clear stealing of the open brand there, though i’m open to being corrected) but here we have a project where if someone had converted their curriculum to using the open textbook in 2008 they would have to totally revise what they were doing in 2011. The two projects, from a classroom curricular management perspective, have nothing to do with each other.

You buy in to one kind of textbook, lets say with the best intentions of having your students use a free textbook and getting access to the really smart people in it and three years later, kapow. gone. The second edition kills the plan.

Wandering openness
I have never been to a meeting about open textbooks when someone doesn’t mention Wikipedia. Hey! it worked for wikipedia! They have a cagillion pages and all of them are uptodate! While, broadly speaking, this is true (though i think wikipedia is starting its slow downward spiral) I think the first timer advantage is huge in this case. Lets all remember that wikipedia wasn’t even planned to be wikipedia… it was a side project that essentially got out of control. Lots and lots of people jumped on board and it became the document of record for trivia nuts and barroom debaters. This will not happen for textbooks.

When i look to the open course library project, I see this potential problem looming on the horizon. Here is the Syllabus for the Principles of Accounting course that is the first of the 42 projects that are phase 1 for Open Course Library. I copied the document (as per copyright as far as i could tell) into a googledoc because the courses are actually in an Angel installation. Near the top of the document you have

Purchase the textbook http://www.cengagebrain.com/micro/wasbctc

To a broken link that goes to a publishers site. Now lets be clear about this, OCL does not claim to be a ‘free/open textbook’ project… their interest is in keeping costs under $30. But the problem here is the same… that link above is not linked because it’s broken. And, a little further down in the document we see another looming problem that will probably have to wait until another blog post…

Tools: Online website: Cengage Now (provided with the purchase of the book)

In two lines we see the whole project of Accounting here falling apart. The textbook is gone and the tools are hidden in an LMS attached to a textbook that is no longer at the link provided.

Then I looked at the philosophy 101 course… which led me to this website An awesome resource on finding free or near free versions of ancient texts for philosophy. 7 broken links.

These projects leak if they aren’t constantly supervised.

MOOCs as a possible solution?
From an article in the chronicle comes the problem…

Her [Jennie K. Mayer's] concern is that chemistry students at this level need supplemental materials to explain basic science concepts. That means plodding through the dizzying array of information out there. A single instructor, particularly a harried adjunct, is unlikely to have the time to sort through the good and the bad, much less to test experiments that just might blow up the lab.

People need help pulling the openness together.

If open textbooks are a solution, they have this problem… As Cable Green (I think, the quote isn’t clear if it was him or the author of the article) suggested in a 2011 article in the chronicle

its [Open Course Library's] success depends upon the academic community to continually review, revise, and improve the courses, and then post them back online for others.

And the solution that I’m proposing is something that structures the review of a textbook. A MOOC, offered yearly and supported through foundation/government funding, that offers the course for free, online. You can accredit it or not with whatever testing you like, that would totally depend on who’s funding you were using and what your perspective on that sort of thing is. But the MOOC would provide the structure to address the how of how you would get people to review the textbook. Students using the textbook, facilitators delivering the content, would keep people continuously moving through the content, updating where necessary, adding value through community interactions and links to supplementary materials.

It would help address the three concerns that I layed out at the beginning of this post.

1. It would provide the structured, planned start to a project that means putting effective (and hopefully flexible) long term planning in pace.
2. It would provide a set of encouragements (facilitators payed to review it each year as part of delivery, community of people like Jenny Mayer who interact with the content, students being annoying about errors and inconsistencies) that keep the material organized
3. A way of refreshing core members through yearly participation

The key is to utilize the scale of education to your advantage. There are thousands and thousands of people teaching first year accounting. Some of them are passionate about it… some are not… but most/all of them are using textbooks.

Imagine the American Accounting Association co-sponsoring the creation of an introductory textbook with the states in the US. Imagine the yearly MOOC where they taught introductory accounting online. Is it only for advanced students who have excellent learning literacies… sure. But the text isn’t.

What are the specific affordances? that’ll have to wait for part two

We need a structure to help focus the networks on an ongoing basis. The affordances of a MOOC might be the answer.

Where do you see online education in 20 years?

I was doing an interview today and I got sideswiped by this question… It’s not like i haven’t thought about the future of education, I’ve consciously worked on it at a times. What I haven’t done, is thought about it in the last six or eight months since we started working on the MOOC book. As people have, for whatever reason, started taking that word seriously, I’ve found that my ideas about the futures of education generally and higher ed in particular are shifting. So… as my poor blog has been deserted for months while i procrastinate from writing a book with friends I thought i might jot down my response to my very interesting interviewer today.

Where do you see online education in 20 years?
Well, first let me say that I would rather speak in futures rather than a single future. I’ve had some interesting opportunities over the last few years to do some futures work with different classes and I’ve found that exploring a number of possible futures tends to draw out some of the different overarching trends that might be at work to shape the future.

Case 1 – MOOC kills higher education
This one may not be so terribly far away, but it is the thing about the way MOOCs are growing that I see as the most potentially damaging to higher education. As I wrote in my black swans for 2012 (i keep linking to this, because i will never be this right again) we could easily have 1 million (or 100 million) students taking first year physics online with MIT. We really aren’t that far from this being not only a possibility but a reality. I think that introductory courses are obvious targets for the x-style MOOCs. All were really looking for is a general understanding of a given topic, you could do the testing in a Pearson test centre, pay $350, bang you’ve got a first year credit.

While this may seem unappealing the impact to higher education, particular at bigger schools, could be catastrophic. With the decline of public support for schools, the students increasingly become a bigger piece of the funding pie. If those students decide to not enrol in first year courses f2f but decide to do them online (because its cheaper, because they could be in a 500 person auditorium or in an online class and it wouldn’t make a difference) the business model holding together higher education would be in jeopardy. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that if you have 500 students, 3 student TAs and one professor, the school is going to make more money than if that same prof is teaching a class of 20.

Lets say you pay $1000 for a class… 1000 X 500 = 500,000
or, with the smaller class you get… 1000 X 20 = 20,000

The cost of the TAs isn’t making up for that extra $480,000. This is a simplification, of course, but you wont have to lose many of those first year courses, or a particularly large percentage of any of them before it starts to hurt the bottom line.

So uh… that’s a cheery one.

Case 2 – Analytics university
This one always kind of freaks people out. Terry O’reilly in his excellent CBC show “The Age of Persuasion” a few weeks ago told a story about a man storming into a department store to complain to the manager. It seems that his daughter was receiving coupons for various articles for pregnant women by mail. the man was understandably upset and asked what they were on about. The manager apologized profusely. Three days later the manager called the man backed to see if there was anything he could do, and the man, to the manager’s surprised, apologized to him. It turns out his daughter WAS pregnant. The store’s computer had identified a change in purchasing behaviour from her points card and had grouped her with the group of women most likely to be pregnant.

This is the state of analytics right now… where will it be in twenty years? I have heard talk in the last year of LSAT essays being graded by computers and giving the same grade as human readers. I have heard publishers talk about using analytics to not only tell if students are likely to pass a given course but also to send email updates to their parents about their progress.

A hands free, teacher free university run entirely on analytics is probably not even 20 years away. I have alot of concerns about a system that can tell me what kind of student i am, what i should study based on the kinds of responses i’ve given to previous questions and tells my mom how i doing… I really do. But it is interesting to think about. I think my biggest concern is that it always seems to me the analytics is alot better at comparing you to things that already are… and are thereby not only prone to overly defining who people are into categories but also stifling the idea of people creating things that are new.

Case 3 – Corporate takeover
This example comes right out of the futures discussions that I had in Singapore in 2010 the market driven credential. Imagine IBM looking at a shortage of widget managers 10 years out given their current employment patterns. What would happen if they recruited 20 14-year old teenagers right out of school and started their training right away.

As the process of ‘managing’ learning continues to become easier to uh… manage, I can totally see corporations identifying the types of students they want and targeting them as early as possible. They may not reach right into high school, but they could certainly take them in after high school. Why have them learn to do things an entirely ‘wrong’ way just to have to retrain them again when they start at your company

Case 4 – Community university
Imagine being able to immediately connect with the 1500 other people in the world currently thinking about the same thing you are thinking about. Imagine being able to reach out and find the one that could help you understand the thing that you are trying to understand… to form connections with that one magical person who needs something you need.

In a sense… that’s what we have now. It’s hard to remember what the world was like before the internet, before wikipedia, before a reliable search engine. Remembering the name of the younger sister… you know, the one from the sitcom… that was hard. What was harder was trying to learn something new. Imagine the next generation of this kind of access. Imagine not only being able to eventually find some of the content from some of the people who have ever chosen to write about a subject you’re interested in… imagine leveraging the scale possibilities of the internet to actually access them all in real time.

Why not?

Futures
These examples are all extremes… for which i don’t apologize. I enjoy writing for drama of course :) but more importantly i find it helps me think about the things that are important to me… and it helps remind me where we are.

so… where do you think online education will be in 20 years?

Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words

I got a very simple request from someone a few weeks ago to give a 300 word description of rhizomatic learning for an upcoming book. I thought “hey, 300 words, that’s not a big deal”. Moron. It’s been a bit of a challenge, and I’m mostly only sending it off because I”m a couple of days passed the deadline, not because i think it pulls together all my feelings about the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been grappling with the idea.

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain. It is also, as anyone who has ever had one in the garden will tell you, extremely resilient. As with the rhizome the rhizomatic learning experience is multiple, has no set beginning or end, – “a rhizome creates through the act of experimentation.” http://rhizomes.net/issue19/suhr.html ?

The web is an ideal place for this kind of learning. By exploring a community or a context, you can get to know how language is used, what the customs are and how decisions are made. You can get a feel for knowing in that field. The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem. The public negotiation of that ‘acquisition’ (through content creation, sharing) provides a contextual curriculum to remix back into the existing research/thoughts/ideas in a given field. Their own rhizomatic learning experience becomes more curriculum for others.

Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.

Feel free to chime in.

Why I think (OPEN) courses should be about content creation

I’ve been tangled in a number of projects and have left my blog sadly neglected. I have mentioned a few times on the blog that ‘content creation’ or ‘knowledge negotiation’ are integral to the rhizomatic learning process but have not addressed the issue of content creation directly. I have been having such a difficult time writing lately that I don’t expect this to come out very smoothly… i just need to get it written :)

I made a hastily written comment on the OERU googlegroup newsletter around the first of november.

“Does any of us, in this day and age, want to be part of an educational experience like a MOOC where content creation by students is left out?”

What I meant by that, and didn’t really explain very well, was that given the connective technologies we have and given the possibilities for learning, why would we go through the effort of pulling a course together if only to transmit content. More on this later…

Here’s the response I received from Rory Rory McGreal UNESCO/COL Chair in OER at Athabasca

Sure, I would. I would love to learn more Irish history without writing about it. I would also like to learn fly fishing without creating content. How about a MOOC on learning the regulations pertaining to hazardous materials where you just want to know what they are. How about language learning where you want to learn how to understand signs or menus?
There are many contexts for MOOCs that do not require content creation. I would think that most courses should contain a mixture of both. Is it even a course if all it is is people making their own content? link to thread

This was a reply from Rory in a broader discussion on a topic I didn’t explain very well so it’s probably safe to say I’m taking him out of context. Sorry Rory! It’s been stuck in my month for a month, however, so I might as well get it out. I want to talk a little bit about how these learning topics that Rory is interested in might help tease out some ideas around

1. what it means to remember/repeat and how that applies to convention,
2. what it might meant to come to know and
3. how ‘creating content’ is about learning in a connected world

What it means to remember/repeat and how that applies to convention
Many of my courses over the years have started with students asking me ‘what they were supposed to do to succeed’. We all do this to some degree, our goals and objectives being at a variety of different levels from “learn to speak english comfortably” to “Have the ability to respond to questions of the future tense of the verb ‘to be’ in informal conversation.” I am comfortable with some forms of the former and not comfortable with most forms of the latter. A good chunk of pedagogical literature will tell you that if you make it clear what success looks like, students are happier, more successful and probably thinner. For a variety of reasons, that do go beyond my natural inclination to be a contrarian, I have never found this to be a good way to help students learn.

My problem with specific objectives in a course is that it means that, sometimes before a course has started, I have decided exactly what it is that people ‘need to know’. I have looked across a field and chosen the conventions (of truths if you believe in such things) that are critical for someone to be able to remember/repeat to give them the proper grounding for me to be able to say that they have learned. While there is great value to understanding language and how it is used in a given context, I’m not convinced that this is a great path to getting to nuance. It seems like we want to think of ideas and concepts as fixed at the beginning, as being definable, and then slowly learn that they aren’t. I have had friends in fields as diverse as medicine, chemistry and education say that the more they learn, the less they are sure we understand. They have to unlearn their certainty. They begin to see passed the conventions as they learn. I would like to suggest that we skip the certainty part.

what it might meant to come to know
I think of the process of coming to know, then, as the process of being comfortable inside the uncertainty of a given idea. To be able to repeat a given item of dogma or formula is not knowing, it is remembering a convention. As we dig into those formulas, inside the math or the medicine or the literature, multiple interpretations, multiple factions – sometimes completely contradictory – begin to emerge. We can, certainly, ‘choose’ a faction like we choose a sports team and pull for it… and inevitably we do this in different parts of our lives. But the process of coming to know is about understanding the places where difference exists. About being able to speak about the uncertainty and still be able to act.

If anyone has ever been to a doctor to get diagnosed and treated for something, you know what I mean. Sometimes many things are tried in an attempt to find problems. There are exceptions, things are tried, sometimes they work. Some prescriptions almost always work. Sometimes a common antibiotic can send someone into two days of hallucinations (ask @bonstewart :) ) It’s uncertain.

how ‘creating content’ is about learning in a connected world
There are many good reasons for creating content when we are learning. It provides an excellent method of personal curation of ideas, of being able to keep track of your work. It allows for others (beyond an educator) to be able to see and respond to your work. For some it provides encouragement to work a little harder, to polish a little more. It could also provide an excellent opportunity to explore other skills around publishing in numerous formats. These are all quite nice… but not what I’m on about at all.

When all participants create content, you have the potential for multiplicity. You can have a discussion from multiple viewpoints, from different contexts, from different life experiences. When different contextual beliefs are combined with difference in ability, race, gender, culture, race etc… a myriad of possibilities and viewpoints can come to the fore. When the course is opened up to the world, your chance for this increases manyfold.

How is learning different from this video?
I have been learning from Leigh Blackall for many years. He pointed to a very cool video today.

It’s a video automatically created from the wikipedia article on Networked Learning. If you can do this sort of thing from a wikipedia article, it’s a trivial process to have it produced from any other medium. I think it’s awesome. I think books are also awesome. But to go back to my original comment “Does any of us, in this day and age, want to be part of an educational experience like a MOOC where content creation by students is left out?” There are lots of educational experiences… like that video, like reading a book about Caesar’s Gallic Campaigns – but i don’t see them as an experience ‘like a MOOC’. Why have a giant networked learning process an OPEN process, if we’re just going to treat it like a bounded paper book.

  • I would love to learn more Irish history without writing about it.
  • I would also like to learn fly fishing without creating content.
  • How about a MOOC on learning the regulations pertaining to hazardous materials where you just want to know what they are.
  • How about language learning where you want to learn how to understand signs or menus?

There are conventions and subtleties to each of these examples. How would a MOOC about Irish history where you didn’t create (and see others creations) be different than reading a book about it? How can you learn to fly fish without a river, a flyrod and stabbing your hands a hundred times trying to get the fly on. (not to mention fish). What would the regulations MOOC be that would be different than reading the manual? All I can say is that a stop sign means something very different driving in South Korea than it does here in PEI… and in both drivers test they said it meant “a full stop”.

When we are silent, and our fellow learners are silent, we can acquire a great many things (other than naps). We can certainly get one person’s sense of what the conventions are. A great lecturer is a beautiful thing, and can bring many people to new layers of understanding. Having someone organize content for you, so that you can get first understandings in a new field or context is very, very handy… but I think that, for me at least, the affordances of the new connective technologies force a fundamental rethinking of ways of learning.

In this day and age
We have the capacity to connect with each other, to share experience and perspectives and to learn both from and in spite of each other. I’m certainly not suggesting that we should live in some fantastical utopia where everyone’s opinions should be shared and equally valued. Quite the contrary. One of the most difficult thing about learning with shared content is the vast amount of crap you need to sift through. Just like life.

The power relationship between a content giver and a content receiver is such that the legitimation of knowledge is controlled by the giver. I think we had to do things that way for a very long time because ‘memory’ and ‘paper’ forced us to move perspectives around in locked boxes. In this day and age we no longer need to shove subtlety into neat little truth boxes. We can learn things as they are, rather than as other people would try and force us to remember them. Learning to choose amidst uncertainty.

Learning – what are we trying to pass on

I’ve been a bit distracted by my day job for the last month or so, and with the book we are trying to write (see http://xedbook.com) I’ve been neglecting my thinking here. I find that if i don’t have a 1000 words of writing in my head I don’t tend to sit down to write on my blog. I will risk it here tonight in order to get things moving again. I have an event at the end of the month in Sweden where i’ll be talking about rhizomatic learning that I’m very much looking forward to and I’m hoping to have my thoughts organized.

Why we teach
I wrote a post early last year where i said that

Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to.

I still think this is true. I think that we define ourselves as a culture and as a community by the way we shape our schools and by the things that we want to have come out of them.

I had a great chat with my mother tonight about MOOCs. She watched a presentation i made (IN FRENCH!) to the ItyPA MOOC folks this week. She asked me if I really thought that a MOOC was a reasonable way to teach a 6 year old basic skills.

My answer, as any reader of this blog will likely understand, was long and convoluted. I tend to think outloud (voice or text) and my mom tends to be relatively patient with me. I said that most basic skills that any kid ‘should’ learn should come from his immediate environment, from his parents/friends… that basic math should be learned fighting over candies.

The ‘purpose’ of our public schools, however, include a very important social justice function. They are also a place where we have a social safety net to scoop up the parts of people’s learning that, for whatever reason (and there are lots), doesn’t happen in their home environment. And this isn’t just about ‘reading books’ there are lots of people’s home environment that are super book heavy, but not super ‘work’ or ‘play fair with others’ or ‘share’ heavy. Schools hopefully raise our community lowest common denominator on all these fronts – books and sharing.

Remembering is not enough
The next step up the ladder passed textual literacy, basic social skills and counting out jelly beans is the ‘knowing stuff’. I’m all for knowing stuff. Knowing stuff is great. It provides context, it gives me stuff to bore people with, it passes the time. I think, however, our relationship to knowing stuff and more particularly to knowing ‘particular things’ has changed a great deal.

There was a time where keeping track of certain ‘innovations’ see Mouldboard plow was of critical importance to every community. A plow that allows us to eat more is something we all totally want to make sure we remember how to do. I like eating… too much sometimes. But if a community loses track of its critical items of knowing, it’s in alot of trouble. A midwife who knows how to deliver a baby in a variety of scary situations is a wonderful thing. (speaking of knowledge we lost track of)

But that relationship is changing. We have ways now of reaching out to get information when we need it, of storing information for the future.

And here’s where things get complicated.
There are a vast number of things that you can’t write down, record or ‘directly pass on’ about what we know. That midwife could tell you a great many things about delivering babies, every single thing she could remember, and that’s not going to make you a midwife, no matter how well you store that information. In the words of my plumber

Book smart guy just raved on bout how easy plumbing is always does his own Thanks 2 You-Tube 10 min & $75 later ur rented snake is un stuck https://twitter.com/peiplumber/status/254301553756889090

So, my plumber and I agree, that a youtube video and rented tools do not a plumber make. He and I, at least, agree that it is not the recordable content that makes you a plumber. I also don’t buy the 12th century distinction between ‘work of the hands and work on the mind’ i think plumbing is like anything else… there’s the stuff we can write down and talk about and there’s the complex stuff we understand.

The decisions we can make.

So what are we trying to pass on then?
Any education system that judges itself on things people remember and can prove to you they can remember are, basically, training people to do bad plumbing. The days when ‘simply remembering stuff’ was valuable has passed entirely. We no longer need people in a factory line who remember to turn the button with their right hand. Anything that can be automated by memory, will be.

I want us to be passing on the ability to choose. The will to understand. The work ethic required to engage at something for long enough to understand it. The sense of responsibility to believe that you should do that for yourself. I don’t care about the content or the rules associated with it… those we can find.

A crafts-person, whether they are working on a cabinet, or as a manager in a company, as a business owner or whatever, has to be more than someone who can follow a rule. Rules can be automated, as of yet, judgement cannot.

20 questions (and answers) about MOOCs

I was asked by the excellent Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach to speak to her PLP class about MOOCs, and, while we had what i thought was an excellent forty minute chat, there were tons of comments that i never had the chance to address. As i look over the questions they asked, I see that in answering their questions i have a chance to lay out many of the thoughts that I have had about MOOCs while they have been all the rage here on the internet in the last few weeks.

I opened the discussion with a quick personal intro to my contribution to the MOOC discussion and then we moved to Q & A. Feel free to skim along and pick up the part of the discussion that interests you.

Intro

Edtechtalk and community – 2005
In 2005 Jeff Lebow and I started edtechtalk. We started a live webcast about educational technology and about the possibilities of the new crazy things that were coming out. What to do about youtube? or Moodle? or or…

What i discovered was that, simply by engaging in random discussions with new people we happened upon – I was learning. I was starting to come to grips with new ideas. I seemed to have answers to questions when i was in meetings.

Rhizomes 2006
This lead me to new ideas about what it meant to learn and what it meant to know. Rhizomatic learning, in the sense that I mean it, was something i started talking about. I will not bore you with that here, but it very much came to me as a way of understanding what kind of learning was happening in the edtechtalk community. What i would now, six years later, call teaching with and for uncertainty.

CCK08 2008
In the summer of 2008 I invited George Siemens and Stephen Downes to come to edtechtalk and tell us about the new course they were teaching. They had 25 people registered (paid), at the university of Manitoba, but they had opened the class for online registration to whomever wanted to come along. Hundreds (and then a couple thousand) people took them up on it. We started talking about what it meant to have lots and lots of people learning together… somewhere in there, i called them a massive open online course… for which i have been often chastised :)

PLENK2010 – 2010
In the summer of 2010 we (sandy McAuley, Bonnie Stewart, George and I) did some research on MOOCs for SSHRC. And, that fall, a bunch of us taught a course on PLEs called PLENK2010(we’re good at catchy names). It was during this research in the summer, and the course that fall, that i really started to understand how I felt that people should use MOOCs. How they should shape them to their own needs. We explained it as Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus. I did this for PLENK2010 and figured out how I feel about PLEs.

xMOOCs – 2011/2012
At the end of 2011… I made a prediction about how MIT would soon be teaching 10 million students first year physics. A couple of days later, MIT announced MITx. Since then over a dozen the worlds top schools have banded together in different ways to offer really, really big MOOCs. They are, however, a little different than what we were doing in the beginning. They are not, as our original MOOCs were, about exploring a topic together, about creating space for connection, but rather about exposing the expert content available at those institutions. Still… lots of interesting developments here.

Q & A.
That, broadly speaking, was the intro that i gave to them (with more babbling). On to the Q & A. I have removed all the excellent commentary made by the members of the chat, and hope they link to their own thoughts in the classrooms. I only really got permission to reproduce their questions, and don’t like to overstep.

Pete: Does the MOOC really have to be “massive”? Is a “small MOOC” more like a PLC?
I think for the particular qualities that i find interesting in MOOCs to happen, it does need to be massive. I think there is great value in open courses, and great value in online courses – just not the same value as when those courses are massive. The huge numbers allow for a different level of uncertainty to present itself. Opinions from other cultures and contexts have a better chance of permeating the discussion. With a larger number of options you get a better chance of finding like minded (or new minded) people to engage with.

I like to think of my meeting Viplav Baxi as a good example of this. Viplav was one of the real gems of the CCK08 course. He wrote interesting posts and drew v. cool diagrams that brought his Indian perspective to the for. We have gone on to do other projects with Viplav… and I’ve had the opportunity of meeting him in Delhi earlier this year. This is simply not happening without the MOOC.

MICHAEL VALENTINE: Do you think you can really get a Harvard/Yale/Oxford quality education by being a part of 100 000 people online following a course?
I definitely think the quality of the education you are going to get is going to be different. You aren’t going to get the personal connection, the mentorship and the advantages of knowing recognized experts in your field as individuals. That’s a huge loss. That being said, the MOOC is not really meant as a replacement for those things… It’s like asking yourself whether having 30 people in a classroom for an hour with one professor is the same as spending all day with them 1 on 1. There’s no comparison. They are different.

Amanda Rablin: Do you feel that they can get out of hand with lots of people? Does the pedagogy change…. or is the sharing enhanced?
There’s no doubt that it gets out of hand. In some ways, that can be exciting, because there are possibilities that you can’t foresee. The sharing can also be enhanced, but it very much depends on how people approach the course. We have seen some MOOCs with lots of sharing and others with less. Why? Not sure yet. With lots of people you have more people who are simply trying to push their own agenda, more people who complain and more people who have vastly differing expectations – these are the things that tend to contribute to excess noise. You also get more and different people sharing… which is really exciting. win some lose some.

Moderator (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach): I wonder why so many academics get in such an uproar about both connectivism and MOOCs?
I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. There is this perception that people are suggesting that a MOOC should replace the traditional classroom. I don’t know who has ever said this… but the perception is out there.
  2. The MOOC pushes the agenda of online education, which many academics distrust… considering how bad many versions of online education are, i don’t really blame them.
  3. Online education is often used as a way to teach more students for less money. (often, not always) The MOOC could be the ultimate instance of this.
  4. There is a small subset of academics who hearken back to an imaginary past of wonderfully profound discussions in small classrooms of wonderfulness. They imagine this as the experience of every student and see the MOOC as threatening this. It’s nonsense of course, but that doesn’t stop them from posting it in the NYT.

Jane Krauss: Can every kind of learner take advantage of moocs? And if not what are the obstacles and remedies to same?
I think that there are many different obstacles to MOOCs depending on where a given participant is coming from. A participant who is not particularly interested in a topic is going to struggle in a MOOC. Same for someone who ‘just wants to be told what to do’. The MOOC favours independence and goal setting… these are literacies that our schools mostly try to discipline out of us.

Moderator (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach): I wonder if the fact that people are calling things MOOCs that aren’t MOOCs at all will in anyway damage understanding or the learning.
I think the biggest ‘damage’ is cause by people treating them as if they were normal online courses and not an opportunity for connection and knowledge building. That message would likely make a whole group of dropouts far more likely to engage…

Laurie: Does messy and uncertain need more time than the usual gatherings?

I have found that messy and uncertain take longer to get started, and then become much more powerful later on. If participants get accustomed to messy and uncertain learning experiences they seem more likely to take on projects on their own initiative and more likely to push ideas further. I think this helps people grasp a given context quicker.

Moderator (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach): I wonder where you see this going as a learning construct in the future?
I think we’ve got another opportunity to convince people that they can think and learn for themselves without the structures that tell them that they are ‘good enough’. Companies, particularly the for profit companies, mostly make their money from telling people that they are good enough – you’ve passed the test. I hope that we are able to sneak some of that message in while this particular wave is cresting. I hope that universities can move towards the part of their identity that is about helping people become more and less about accreditation.

Kim Bullock: If a group splinters off and becomes organized from a mooc why would they return to the large group space/
A participant in one of our early MOOCs once approached me to tell me how bad his experience had been. He explained that he had done five weeks of the course, had met someone he had never encountered before, and had gone off and written a paper with him. Because of this, he had not completed the course and considered it a failure.

I see it as a win. Participants set their own standards of success in a MOOC. Many aren’t accustomed to seeing learning this way.

Ron G: Will the business end of education take away the purpose of MOOC’s
We all need to make a living in some way or other. The ‘purpose’ of MOOCs if there is one, is to create a context where learning and knowledge creation can occur. I think that can coexist with alot of business models. It’s just up to the participants to create it.

Moderator (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach): I wonder… What your passions are Dave –deeply–around this and more?
For me the MOOC is a venue where i get to explore uncertainty in learning. I care a great deal about the emancipatory power of uncertainty.

Pete: Could a MOOC work for high school students?
Maybe. Certainly things like Youth Voices have been successful over time. I think you’d need to provide more structure for a high school setting. In retrospect, this project could have been a MOOC. http://livingarchives.ca

Shawn Kimball: I wonder if this can work for the average learner. Most people have never done more than a basic webinar and not really liked not having F2F. What would be a good progression for beginners to be more ready for MOOC than having to be fully comfortable with “all” technology communication?
I don’t know about ‘most people’ but there are people who dislike different delivery models for different reasons. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that MOOCs are for everyone. I would say that i don’t think the ultimate deciding factor would be comfort with the technologies… I’ve seen many, many people overcome this challenge when they wanted to. It’s the ‘wanting to’ that’s the real challenge. We are accustomed to being passive learning… encouraging people to put that behind them is the big challenge for MOOCs.

Amanda Rablin: How can you add some structure/guidance to the messiness or do you just accept it as a beautiful living thing
We’ve tried more and less structure for our MOOCs. Check out the way the current http://edfuture.net is being built. Much more structured than I would probably do it… and a nice example of how that structure could be done. Also… the folks at http://thesummeroflearning.com have a nice MOOC structure we can learn from.

Moderator (Pat Smiley #2): I know enough about a MOOC to be dangerous. The earlier “version” of a MOOC seems more focused on truly building community knowledge. Dave, I liked the 5 steps you listed for success in one of your short videos: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, Focus. Does this still hold true?
That still holds true for me. You need to find out what’s going on, announce yourself, get to know people, find the ones you want to work with and then get YOUR work done.

Pete: Is/Will there be an accredited MOOC?
People have been accredited to take MOOCs… by various institutions. It works very well as an independent study credit for instance. I do very much believe that there will be a robo-graded MOOC in the next three years or so. 100,000 students. no teachers.

Pete: Is it *possible* to conduct a MOOC that includes rigour or will the participants just drift away when things get challenging?

The rigour is not the responsibility of the MOOC but of the learner. If the learner needs help to apply rigour to their MOOC experience, they might find it by finding a community that could provide it or working with a professional of somekind (professor, consultant, tutor). In my mind the MOOC is not responsible to the learner… the learner is responsible.

Amanda Rablin: How can we deschoolify learners so that they are more open to learning in a moocy kind of way?
I think this is a critical point. I don’t think that deschoolification is going to be easy or quick… but we need to be patient with it. Many, many of the things we learn we already learn in a moocy way. Cooking is a nice example. We have access to lots and lots of information about it, friends and family to learn from and with and we slowly work our way through it if we’re driven. And we find our our tastes and conclusions if we want them…

Jane Krauss: Moocs and grading – incompatible?
I think you could grade effort in a MOOC. I also think that robo-mooc-grading is on the near horizon.

Final thoughts
MOOCs are happening. They are both an opportunity for many around the world to get access to things they’ve never been able to access before and a threat to what some of us would call education. It is another place for us to discuss the most important question in our field…

why do we teach?

I try and teach to support people’s ability to deal with uncertainty. MOOCs work for that.

Sherry Turkle – the flight from conversation… a response

In today’s New York Times post Sherry Turkle talks about the value of conversation AND solitude and the limitations of digital connection. It’s a difficult piece to read, not for its overfocus on context/stories/facts or for its technical language, it lacks both, but for the way it which it will polarize the reader. You probably know already whether you will like it. She critiques the new technologies of connection for both cheapening conversation and eliminating solitude. In this piece I’m going to try and unravel one of these arguments from the whole and address the way that Turkle hearkens back to an imaginary past where people had long, meaningful conversations with each other about what was important to them… she creates a simulacrum.

The unravelling – solitude good, but not relevant
The points that are made in the article about solitude are very compelling. I think she’s entirely right about the slow dying of solitude, and the need for free thinking space. I think that I as a person and as a parent need to model the value of alone time, of thinking time, of device free time. This is not new, the radio and the TV have started this process… and my Galaxy SII has continued it. All true. It is not, however, either the title or the direction of the article. It is an entirely separate stream of very reasonable arguments that seem, at first, to support her main thesis… That conversation is being turned away from, when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

So. Out with the solitude arguments. The author’s long walks on the beach and her advice to take free quiet alone time is well noted and not relevant to the argument.

To conversation

The piece is difficult in that it claims a great deal of research (presented in Alone Together) but cherry picks out a few anecdotal examples meant to illustrate her points. This confuses things, as it seems to draw on the history of research… where one would expect someone trying to see the whole story, and yet we only hear of the examples of people connecting superficially.

  1. A boy who wants dating advice from a computer, because it has more data to work with
  2. a nursing home resident who is comforted by a mechanical seal
  3. another 16 year old hoping to learn how to have real conversations some day
  4. a business person sitting down with all their technology and putting on headphones

These are all visceral examples… we see the future of relationships ruined, a poor old lady in a nursing home deceived, and, most importantly, the end of conversation. The idea, one supposes, is that we are replacing the excellence and ‘good for you’ challenge of the messy face2face conversation between humans with other fill ins. I will leave aside those of you who take comfort in music, dogs, cats, chocolate and the thousands of other things we use to comfort ourselves and let you all defend your non-human ways of connecting. I want to look at how she describes what conversation ‘used to be’… or at least, what it can be.

What turkle says about conversation
With each of these quotes, we are left to understand that these are the kinds of conversation that our two young people, our nursing home resident, our business person and ourselves will be having.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Face-2-face conversation mostly doesn’t and never has unfolded slowly. It teaches power. In many conversations people express their own personal power over each other, whether it be in their right to speak, to speak first, to control the direction of conversation and it’s content. Equally true i would say. There are a very few people with whom i EVER have slow patient conversations with. I have met some of them online and never in person. My partner is one of them. They are rare and beautiful… but not common. I leave it to you to tell me if they were EVER common.

Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

Self-reflection requires confidence (and maybe trust). It requires the courage to look deeply into yourself and see the good and well as the bad. To think about it and share it is difficult. Connected, probably, to her points about solitude but not about conversation. Blogging has been doing self-reflection very well… for years. I share my self-reflections as many other people do with my blog through twitter or Facebook.

If there were anything challenging about social media its the massive amount of self-reflection that i see… sometimes i have to turn it off being overloaded with it. Finding self-reflection in face2face conversation can be very difficult… I’ve collected some very, very good friends over my life, and that’s one of the things that I look for. It is hard… and again, not that common.

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” ” Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?”

This is used as an explanation for why people turn to social media… that they need to find someone to connect with. Certainly in our case, baby-loss was one of those things. If it hasn’t happened to you, it is very difficult to listen to someone else talk about it. People find like-experienced people through social media… they connect, and share. It’s good. Finding someone who can talk to you, who can listen to you is very important. And easier if you have a wider network. I have seen sad tweets from friends, and called them to setup some time to talk… or at least called them just to talk. Social media is part of my life… on and offline line.

When was this point in the past when we HAD confidence in each other? I can’t imagine. Was there some magical past when we could look next door, when we needed someone to comfort us, and someone was available to listen to us? Not in my past.

Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

Absolutely. But this isn’t because of texts or emails or facebook… it’s because of life. ANd has ALWAYS been because of life.

The simulacra
Sherry Turkle has been at this for a long time. She has a cutting eye for seeing the in-between space of how technology influence our own lives. In this new york times piece she does an excellent job arguing for solitude. I yearn for it… and agree with her. When she turns to conversation, she loses me entirely. She has either had a uniquely perfect life filled with excellent and constantly available friends, or she has not been honest with herself. She is hearkening back to a past that never existed. Creating an image of perfection, of utopia, before the present time. Baudrillard called this a simulacra. One of the famous examples is ‘main-street’ USA at Disney. A perfect past, from the 50′s, where everyone was friendly, where yards were clean, people had job and all was happy. And a past, obviously, where everyone had profound, slow, supportive conversations with each other. But only at Disney.

Sherry. Look at this website. http://www.glowinthewoods.com/ Tell me how this connection is like what you describe. The technology can make this happen, and it can allow us to be fantastically superficial. Just like everything. Turning off the computer does not equal ‘better’ conversation.