Better Future for a MOOC

Audrey Watters recently wrote an “introductory” post about the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

The acronym MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The meaning of “massive” is obvious; a MOOC can range from several hundred to several thousand participants. But it isn’t just the size of the classes or even their location — online — that make MOOCs different.

MOOCs redefine academic courses in several ways. They are open, for one, which means that anyone can participate. The content of the course — readings and so on — is freely and openly accessible. The content that participants create is also open. Students blog, for example, and share their learning with one another.

via Are MOOCs the Future of Online Learning? | MindShift.

Having participated in a MOOC, recently – Learning & Knowledge Analytics – LAK11, (which, I admit, I have yet to complete – and that is the beauty of it), I can tell you that the experience is enriching. However, as Audrey Watters rightly says, there needs to be a “strong commitment” to learn.

The one major advantage of a MOOC, to my mind is the accessibility of the course. Learning content that would have been otherwise unavailable to people around the world is now on your screens and at your disposal in a way that you could not have imagined. A very recent example is the MOOC being offered by Stanford University on “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” A free course from Stanford University, yes you read that right. But here’s something that may not completely be wonderful about a MOOC. According to the info pagefor this course:

It is their objective to offer identical homework assignments, quizzes, and exams in both versions of this course. Students taking the online version will therefore be graded according to the same grading criteria as students taking CS221 at Stanford. However, to receive Stanford credit, the course has to be taken through Stanford; and students have to be registered at Stanford University. Online student will only get a certificate in the name of the instructors, but no official Stanford certificate.

That is the logic of free. I have yet to see a MOOC that offers any kind of certification. If you have read Audrey Watters’ article, you will have seen that a MOOC is necessarily an informal learning. So you’d participate in a MOOC more for the love of learning than certification itself.

A few thoughts on the way forward for MOOCs:

  • It would be nice for MOOCs to have industry participation. For all the cries of talent shortage that the industry makes, it is ironic that would not want to participate in such a progressive and contemporary learning initiative.
  • It would be even more worthwhile, if they endorse such courses. It would help provide additional motivation to the participants to take up MOOCs as supplementary qualifications.
  • MOOCs use well-developed technology platforms for delivery; an ePortfolio would be helpful, something that the participants can carry in lieu of of a formal certificate.
  • Since MOOCs usually have thousands of participants (not all of them quite serious learners), a method of filtering folks that you would like to follow and engage with. Also, a method to identify and discover folks who are actively engaged in the course.

These notes, to an extent, invalidate the very idea of informal and open learning. However, I believe the MOOC has the potential to address some of the gaps that education needs to fulfill.

Finally, the one irony of a MOOC, I cannot but help noticing, is the accessibility of a MOOC. By virtue of it being an online course, those who could be best served by the value of a MOOC, are the ones who do not have access to the Internet.

Digital is Different

“The most important thing is not to optimise what you do, but to find out and decide what you should be doing… find out where you should really be and to make sure that you are climbing the tallest peak, not just a false summit…If you get stuck on a small mountain, you get to the top and look around and you find you’re on the wrong mountain. A mile away is a mountain that’s twice as tall…Learn how to search the landscape very widely, and to make sure we find the tallest mountain to climb – that we find the right thing to do. And having done that, if we find ourselves on top of a false summit…In other words we’ve got to get down the mountain, and cross that desert, and come up on the tallest peak. And that’s called letting go, killing a product at its peak.”

(Via Brave New World: Rethinking the Future: The Digital Divide)

This might sound quite abstract by itself — as a ‘thing to do’, but when you read the full article, you will know that it makes perfect sense. Martyn Daniels asks why the publishing industry is still stuck on the print model of the product and tries and retrofit this model in the digital world.

Digital is different and needs to be approached differently — not just as a medium but the social context of what digital is, how it is consumed, and how it is produced. There are no more ‘passive consumers’, and the more we treat them as such, the more we are alienating them from consuming our products. While Martyn makes a specific case in publishing, I suspect it is true across industries; education being no exception.

Hat Tip: Eoin Purcell

Open-source or Open-ness?

Michael Feldstein analyses a Blackbord response to the pilot study by the University of North Carolina for Sakai, which will lead to a further investigation of Sakai as a replacement for Blackboard. While it’s a long post (and it should be, for it is an excellent analysis), one thing that caught my attention was about Support Risks (quoted below)

Blackboard’s Response to Open Source: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt: “If Blackboard can’t help you fix your problems, you’re out of luck, because nobody else understands their code or has the right to look at it. If your Moodle vendor can’t help you, you can go to another vendor, or find another adopting school that knows how to fix the problem. You can also fix it yourself. You don’t have to, but unlike with Blackboard, you can. Likewise, if Blackboard were to go out of business (ask WebCT or ANGEL customers if this sort of thing ever happens), you would’t be able to find somebody else to support and continue to develop your platform. Not true with open source support vendors.”

(Via e-Literate.)

This is a very interesting situation to be in, for almost all product companies, in a way, against their open-source alternatives. And I keep coming back to the iTunes App Store model for the iPhone (and therefore the proposed Google Wave/Android App Store). So, it may still work if the product company retains the core platform (Apple in this case), but does open up the platform — to an extent — to allow extensions to the core platform.

I suppose it’s really the confidence of the customer that is at play and at risk here than anything else. It is not necessarily open-source and the cost of free that is in play, but the experience of being locked to an obscure roadmap that’s making more folks consider open-source.

Your take?

Creative Use of “Boring” Tools

Michele Martin, in her Bamboo Project blog, links to a great post from Sarah Horrigan and laments how instructors use learning systems, specifically VLEs.

It’s Not the Tool That’s Boring. It’s You.: “That’s the thing about technology and learning. People are quick to blame the tool, rather than looking first at their own behavior with it. It’s PowerPoint that’s the problem, rather than how it’s used. Or they hate web conferencing because it’s ‘dull.’ And don’t even start with social media–blogs, social networks, Twitter et. al are just a ‘waste of time.’”

(Via The Bamboo Project Blog.)

It may be a worthwhile debate to discover if most VLEs out there have somehow contributed to the boring aspect of online learning. Sarah talks of how we look at a box vs. how we would have looked at it when we were younger. There may be more to enabling engaging learning through VLEs — these systems (and the people who made these systems) will need to first engage with the instructors with a “map” of how interactive and engaging learning can be made possible — beyond PowerPoint and Lecture Notes. What were they (those who built the systems) thinking when they built the systems? What vision of online learning did they have? How would they like the instructors to make best use of the systems?

The onus, to create interesting learning online, I believe, is not just on the instructors.

Power of Free

Interesting article in The Guardian today, found, not surprisingly via PersonaNonData. Michael’s article of course, talks of Author As Brand. My interest, however, was in the power of free.

“Coelho discovered the power of free when a fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online and book sales there climbed from 3,000 to 100,000 to 1m in three years. ‘This happened in English, in Norwegian, in Japanese and Serbian,’ he said. ‘Now when the book is released in hard copy, the sales are spectacular.’”: Coelho finds the perfect alchemy of print and digital | Media | The Guardian

The Harper-Collins ‘compromise’ strategy is interesting — putting out a Coelho novel out for free, every month.

Is free a driver for all things e?

I believe there is definite potential there. Whether as a teaser for premium online services or a related purchase in the real world. In reading the entire Guardian article, you will notice, there is continuous effort (from Coelho) to engage the reader, which I think is a perfect strategy (for sales and “adoption”). And the effort doesn’t cost money — to either the publisher or the consumer. Which makes it more interesting as a strategy!

The power of free on Social Networks.

As a subscriber on GoodReads, I have seen how Coelho engages with his reader, so the contents of this article do not come as a huge surprise. What does come as a surprise is the low level (or lack of) engagement by the publishers on most social websites; it is very easy to engage with sites like GoodReads (am sure they would be mighty pleased). Simple promotions that cost a fraction of conventional promotions can be held at such places and reach more than ten times (wild-guessing, here) the audience that they would have, More so, depending on their privacy policies and such, publishers can reach a very targeted audience.

While Facebook, MySpace and Orkut have been labelled as the playground for college students, the demographics of these sites is definitely changing. Consider this:

Facebook visitors are “maturing”: In June of 2007, nearly over 35% of Facebook traffic came the 18-24 year old segment, compared to around 22% in June 2008. With the bulk of this traffic shifting towards the 25-35 year old group, this movement could be a result of the site’s original base of college students. (Via Facebook vs. Linkedin – Network, Socialize, Be Professional?)

There is more than just photos of college antics and on Facebook. And Facebook, is just an example; like GoodReads, there are other such social networks that publishers may find worthwhile participating. In fact, anyone who wants to promote content, cannot ignore the reach and focus of using social networks.

Facebook Pages, then, is something else that comes to mind. And much more.

A Nice Coffee Shop

Social software does work for learning!

“Paul Aoki, director of the language learning center at the University of Washington, Seattle, signed up at LiveMocha primarily to see if his students might benefit. He says he thinks the site’s social networking component makes it useful. ‘It seems to be a pretty powerful opportunity for people around the world to connect with language partners,’ he said.”: Learning From a Native Speaker, Without Leaving Home – New York Times