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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I received a question on twitter today about one of my favourite fist slamming on the table topics, assessment, and figured i would use the opportunity to put down a few thoughts about rhizomatic learning and how it impacts the way I see MOOCs.
(post/pre-script) This post has taken on a rather anthemic tone… i just thought you might want to be warned
What’s a MOOC?
A Massive Open Online Course, in my mind, is a way of trying to use the internet to get lots of people talking about a specific thing. As has been mentioned by others lots of great learning happens on the internet already. There are discussion forums, and websites and communities everywhere that people go to and learn things with. Those things are often massive, mostly open and obviously online. The massiveness and the openness are critical. They provide enough weight of opinion that things generally agreed upon as reasonable are seen as reasonable – “One should not use power tools drunk” – but things that are the subject of differing opinions – “you should use renewable forest trees” – are represented in this way as well. These same advantages apply to the MOOC, but it’s the ‘course’ bit that makes it different. The word course implies lots of institutional things, potentially, but what is at the core of its meaning is a time based, sequenced series of topics that reflect a certain context. We will cover these topics, over this time, with the intent of achieving that goal over there. It’s an invitation to a conversation. It’s not, in my opinion, as cool as a community, but it offers the potential for community to form because it allows for a rallying point for discussion.
Rhizomatic Learning – What are we teaching?
This means different things to different people. I like to think of it as the practical results of some very particular philosophical views on knowing. The philosophy that informs it (see A Thousand Plateaus) posits, among other things, a world that is uncertain. This has great potential, in that it means knowing can be shaped, it is flexible, responsive, resilient – like the rhizome itself. It is also a world where looking for what is ‘true’ is mostly a question of looking for who has the power to define it as true. Where things are not tidy, where the complex web of ideas is less like a perfect spider’s web and more like water dripping through broken glass. It’s not a mystery novel with a person who-dunnit who you just don’t know about yet, but more like everyday life, full of decisions that have no right answer.
How the MOOC serves this
One of the great affordances of a MOOC is that it has the potential to bring together so many divergent opinions. There are certainly power structures, places where the people who are ‘running’ the course of things have the chance to set a tone or a context for a given discussion. There is also room for dissent… room for multiplicity. We can, as we did in the first MOOC (so called) have people who think that connectivism is and isn’t a pedagogy having a discussion about how it might be applied. These two need not actually agree with each other (or the facilitators, Stephen Downes and George Siemens, who to my knowledge don’t even agree on connectivism) in order to learn from each other.
That’s the beauty of the process, and the power implicit in the potential of the internet. The Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is not ‘a place i have created that holds all my learning’ but rather ‘the traces of my journey, implicit and explicit, where i have carved out my own personal understanding’. We can learn together, differently.
What this means for assessment
What we are learning is contextualized by each individual differently, according to their experiences, their understanding and purposes,
The things that are learned are not definite, but flexible and complex
Assessing what someone ‘knows’ is an act of enforcement of a given point of view, not a(n apolotical) helpful guideline to learning
Why do we teach?
This is the question that I am continually asking myself, and asking others. Why do we engage in the process of teaching? Is it simply the enforcement of norms of a society that we wish to live in? I hope that it is not.
I teach in an attempt to lure more people into the context that I’m familiar with. I want people to have some understanding for how words are used in the contexts that I’m familiar with, how the discussion is shaped, what things some people consider important. I teach to learn from their reactions to those ideas, to further push my ideas forwards.
I teach (as much as one can) in a MOOC because i like having the opportunity to start a conversation about the things that I care about.
So how do we assess in a MOOC?
‘We’ do not assess in a MOOC. I might develop a method by which I assess what I’m doing. I might pay someone (a prof, tutor, consultant) to help push me in a given direction. The MOOC, however, can only have a single model for assessment insofar as it is enforcing a particular point of view. We may create communities of practice, or networks or groups or mentorships that allow us to track our learning in myriad ways, but there is no sense, I think, in which it makes sense to assess, in the centralized – this is what to know – sense, a MOOC.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just came back from the #cali2012 conference in sunny San Diego where i gave an admittedly rambling talk about the future of education as seen through the lens of open learning. I rerecorded the talk when i got home, and will post the video of the talk from San Diego when i comes available. It was an attempt at pulling together all the things i’ve been talking about for the last two years into one talk… I’ll let you judge whether it was too much
The argument goes pretty much like this.
1. Our historical ideas of education were formed when the ‘goal’ of education was more clearly understood.
2. The new tools are challenging our conceptions of education further
3. Two trends – analytics and MOOCs present an interesting landscape on which to have that discussion
4. The combination of the two presents an innovative new business model, not a new learning model
5. We need to decide why we are teaching before we can decide how to adapt the technologies
6. Simple learning is foundational, complex learning allows for decision making
7. Rhizomatic learning is a good way to prepare people for the uncertainty of decision making
note: The dead-head sticker reference is to the Udacity/Pearson connection not only changes the business model of ALL of education, it makes false claims to ‘educational’ innovation. While i certainly am impressed with the business innovation involved in this (truth be told, in a weird coming together of the planets, i predicted it at the end of last year) it is not innovative education. It is premised in the idea of taking content and shoving it into someone else’s brain.
post-script: I think i’ve pushed these ideas out as far as I can… and am feeling a bit unsure about some of what’s in here. Time to stop pushing the limits and focus on clearing up individual points of the argument i think.
This is the last ‘blogging prompt’ blog post for the course as the course wraps up immediately after the last class next week. I like to think of these posts as prompts rather than questions or content as they are meant to start thinking down a particular line rather than control what people are going to think. There is some tendency, always, for people who are being assessed by someone else to think they are supposed to agree with that person. The goal with this course has been to provide opportunities for people to take a given line of thinking and map it up against their own experience, be that the work that they do in an official teaching role, as a professional, as a parent or as a friend.
This last prompt is meant to pull together all the things that we’ve talked about and talk about the identity, at least partially, of this mysterious ‘adult learner’ and what that person might care about whether you use educational technology with them or not.
Conversations Learning contracts – This addresses the power structure of a course. The design of a course should provide enough structure to help build a context for learning. It shouldn’t, in my view, simply lock down the content so that what constitutes ‘learning’ is measured in how much we can prove that content has been transferred from the instructor to the learner. The technologies provide a whole new way of accessing information which frees us from relying on a static set of books or the contents of my head as resources. The learning contract is meant to broader the possibilities. This measures, hopefully, the amount you’ve worked, not ‘what you’ve learned.’ It’s my job as an instructor to make sure you’re learning.
Cheating as learning – If we think of the ‘content’ of a course as the thing we are engaging in the learning contract for, then ‘taking’ that content from someone else is cheating. If we say that we aren’t concerned about the specifics of the content you are picking up, then taking information from others becomes sharing. In this sense cheating and sharing are actually the same activity, just with a different power structure surrounding it.
Keeping track of digital stuff – One of the side effects of giving people freedom to create their own content is the taking the textbook based, pre-defined content out of the course. One of the challenges that this presents is that you can’t just ‘look back at the textbook’ to see where you are. You can’t simply follow the assignments or the syllabus to remember what is going on. When you add the vastness of the internet to this, one of the prime literacies required for learning using technology is the ability to keep track and organize your work. If the facilitator is not controlling it… you need to.
Evaluating technology – I don’t think it makes sense to talk about technologies until everyone has a passing comfort with them. With three weeks of using our class based educational technologies (blogging, twitter and googledocs) under our belt, the search for new technologies starts to make more sense. The use of nodes of trust, and the ubiquitous online top ten list (or top 100) makes that process even easier. At the end of the day, though, we are still just going to the internet and trying stuff out.
Collaboration – And there are too many things to try out. Too many lessons to learn and in to many ways. Collaboration in a classroom provides more scope for learning, and, I think, a more rounded view of what a person is learning. If we can share how 20 people (or 2000) see given topic or idea (be they technological or not) we get to see it from many perspectives. That broad scope, I think, makes for the best kind of teaching.
Responsibility – The key glue to all of this is where the impetus to learn stems from. If we allow for all this freedom and control, it can’t be driven by the ambitions of one educator. We are only in a classroom for a few hours, and learning in any context is a lifetime event. A classroom that creates a scenario where people are only interested in learning when they are told to learn and what they’ve been told to learn encourages passivity. A classroom that supports student responsibility as a core principle is one that encourages active, ongoing, life-long learning.
Throughout this course we have all reflected on educational technology and our own feelings about it on our blogs. The next step, I think, is in synthesizing the ideas of ourselves and others and starting to make early judgements about how our own learners will respond to educational technology. If you think about the different people in our class, and the journeys that they have been on, different answers to that question will present themselves.
I don’t believe in ‘learning styles’, but in people. People have complex lives, they have eye surgery, and deaths in the family, and anniversaries, and the prom and a hundred other things going on. (Not to mention a beer at the beach). If you put 20 people into a classroom the web of complexity gets wider, add in access to almost every bit of knowledge ever produced on the internet and its a wonder we make it out of class at all.
Given all this complexity, what have we learned? How would you use educational technology with the adult learner?
In reading blog posts this week, i can see a real turn in the way that people are speaking. We’re hearing less about what the technology is, and with people’s challenges with the technology and more about what the changes in technology mean to their work. This week I’d like to talk a little bit about the responsibility that the student has when the community is the curriculum.
Responsibility vs. Obligation
These are very similar words, in a sense, but there is a motivational difference between the two that I think is very important to the educational experience. Collaborative learning presumes that people are coming to a learning environment in an attempt to come to a new understand, or to get a sense of a new context. If this is true, and you are working with others that are also there for that reason, i see it as your responsibility to help each other. It is also your responsibility to help yourself, in ways that make sense to you. If I, as an educator, create an obligation, then we are working from my own context and history and not yours. If i help structure an ecosystem that allows you to bring your own sense of responsibility, then you are working from your history. I would argue that the latter is more relevant. Responsibility is and should be student driven.
Some key points about responsibility…
Give your colleagues good feedback, help them learn by sharing new connections between their ideas and ideas you’ve had. This may ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with what they are saying, but this isn’t important. Good feedback creates new connections. New connections can come in many formats, it may be a link to a new thinker, it may be something you overheard or just a thought you had. Share them.
Improve collaborative work Our group work belongs to all of us, and it is the record of what we’ve done together. If everyone spends an hour going in, cleaning up links, making new connections, fixing formatting… our work gets much better. Imagine you were working on a house together and you saw a part of the house unpainted. Get brush. Paint.
Detail your learning journey I’m going to learn WAY more from the ways that you have learned than from the final product of that learning. What wrong turns did you make? What were the important lessons that allowed you to move forward? What good ideas did you have that you didn’t have time to follow up?
Be responsible to your own learning If there’s something you don’t get, doesn’t make sense to you, or you don’t like, talk about it. But make sure you’re informed. The syllabus of a course like this (or in our case the learning contract) is a part of our ecosystem. Read it. Digest it. It sets the ground rules of the language we are using. Many times simply reading what other people have said or done, or reading the foundational documents, is enough to clear stuff up. These things belong to you.
Push yourself As an educator, I do my best to push my students. I like to think that coming together and giving bunches of hours of our time to learn together is worth caring about. There’s no sense committing 30-100 hours of your life to something and not get something out of it. Find new connections, new ideas, do things that are hard.
Do things that are hard… and come tell us about it.
I’ve had a number of students state their concern with how exactly they are meant to be collaborative in their teaching. If you see the video that I posted last week, you’ll see that i emphasized collaboration and interaction quite heavily. We’ve all seen the term ‘collaborative’ and ‘interactive’ used in any number of ways… so i thought i might try and break it down a bit.
Rhizomatic learning – student centredness
The expression ‘student centred’ means different things to different people. For me it refers to a responsibility on the student’s part for the creation of things they are going to learn. I want my students to have control of what they are doing, as much as possible, so that they can feel like the learning is something that they own… however uncomfortable that can sometimes be
One of the things that the internet and associated collaborative technologies allow us is the possibility to connect in more direct ways. We do not need to go through the process of deciding what we want to talk about, months in advance, in order to get the books ordered on time. We don’t need to decide what’s going to happen before the students walk in the door. We can have access to any number of different kinds of content… and, more importantly, to the people and ideas behind that content.
We can let the community be the curriculum.
How does this help me plan for collaboration dave?
What i’m going to try and lay out is a continuum that runs out from the least to the most student control on the content. I would posit that the ‘content’ of a course is just an excuse, or at least, just a foundation, for getting accustomed to a context of a given field or discipline. We do need to get a sense of how language is used, and how concepts recombine in any new discipline, but definitions will hardly allow us to do that. We need to try things out, to test drive them, to see how they work out in conversation to really round the edges of our understanding. The content is part of that ecosystem, but not the goal of it.
A Collaboration Continuum – from a content perspective
Nameless person/company’s content that talks about your context
This is the least valuable, and potentially collaborative kind of content you can present to a class. Without the meat of who wrote a given piece of content, you can’t get any sense of what kind of thing the content is attached to. It can be very important as a foundation for other work, but it doesn’t allow for connection.
Wikipedia (in a certain sense)
Other people’s content that talks about your context
This is a serious improvement form the last category. The internet is full of people with expertise (albeit outweighed by those without it) in whatever context you’re working in. Finding relevant people in a field, checking out their work, using their work to triangulate to other people and ideas… this is what knowledge building is all about. This could be a research article printed in the library, a blog post, a tweet… it doesn’t matter. It’s content, and it has a person attached to it. That’s a step in the right direction.
Content you made to talk about your context
Some people might disagree with me on this one, but i’m a huge believer in making my own content. It may simple be the remixing of other people’s content (at some level, that’s all we do) or you might be writing everything from scratch, either way, being able to craft content directly to the students that you have, when you’ve actually met them, offers a host of possibilities.
Content that you make collaboratively with others (maybe your students, maybe not) to talk about your context
This is where the magic really starts to turn on. At this point you have the potential to not only pass along the conventions of your field, how something works, or whatever, you can engage your students in the creation process of the knowledge that they are engaging with. Whether the students are themselves actually working with it, or whether they are around for the process, it allows them to not only see ‘the content’ but see how people engage with the content in a practical way.
In class projects
Content your students make individually to talk about your context
The next level of responsibility is empowering students to work on their own to make their own contributions to the process. The more other students see knowledge negotiation happening from their peers, the better. This might be as simple as a blog post or video.
Student created OER
Content your students make collaboratively to talk about your context
This is the most rhizomatic end of the continuum. From here students are not only engaging with the content, making knowledge with it in their own way, they are starting to make connections with that content. Learning how to use it with their peers, to build and make stuff with it, is an important step towards internalizing a context. To being able to work within a context… to learning.
Student collaboration via network feedback
Student supported collaborative projects
How is this helpful?
When you are planning your use of a technology for the classroom, try to keep your student in mind. It’s not necessary to have everything you lay your hand be collaborative, but put the student experience first and foremost in your mind, and think about what some of the collaborative technologies can allow them to do. Can they be part of the knowledge making process? The more that happens, the more they take control of their learning, and the better they learn.