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.


RSSing Comment Conversations – II

This is becoming really interesting.

Here is a representation of what I wrote hastily in the post below.


(Funny, that I was building this graphic, while Michele wrote her post, asking for one! Sue was also looking for a graphic, a tool actually, to draw her idea out). While this may help bring a larger conversation in context, I believe it also lends itself to create a body of knowledge (BoK). Before that, a few notes about this intelligent RSS and about the graphic:

We all subscribe to blogs, so we sure know how to to do that. We can also mark individual posts to track comments on them. (I know this happens in a few RSS readers – RSSBandit, for example, and I am missing it sorely since I shifted to a Mac).

Here is how I think this “Intelligent RSS” thing might work. (Apart from what RSSbandit is able to do, all the stuff hereafter is imaginary).

  1. In our RSS reader, we set up something called an “Intelligent Topic Feed”, or ITF. We pick a topic, Michele’s topic called “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?” for example, and add it to the ITF called, let’s say, “Facilitating Conversations“.
  2. We set the ITF ‘depth’ to Level 1 (more about this level thing, in a minute).
  3. What the ITF now does is tracks all comments on Post 1 (see image). So all comments on Michele’s post are delivered to the RSS reader. Skelliewag’s idea still holds true and let’s assume that commentators are conversing with each other on the post.
  4. Then, Michele’s post gets a pingback (trackback).
  5. The ITF automatically adds the posts from the new blogs (e.g. the post on Kenfinity and Designing for Civil Society, viz, Post 2 and Post 3 in the image).
  6. The ITF now begins to track the comments on Post 2 and Post 3.
  7. As you would expect, there will be further pingbacks on Post 2 and Post 3. This is where setting the ‘depth’ of level comes in. For example, if I would have set the depth level to 2, the ITF would automatically add all the posts that link to Post 2 and Post 3. This has the potential to become unwieldy, therefore, the option to set the depth.
  8. (While we are imagining things) I could then be asked by the ITF if I would like to add further posts (manual setting) to the topic and I could then track a larger conversation. I could choose the posts that I want to track and leave the others for the “dumb” RSS to pull.

Potentially confusing, but I hope, it isn’t too confusing.

What has fascinated me about this idea is the potential about the thoughts that this ITF can contain. It has a chance of becoming a significant body on a particular topic and can be used as a learning aid.

If the RSS Reader becomes even smarter and is able to create a document about this topic …

RSSing Comment Conversations – I

Michele Martin of the Bamboo Project has asked in interesting question about “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?

The post has some interesting responses…er…including mine. In some form or the other, most commentators do ‘converse’ with other commentators on a post — however it is all informal and unstructured. It is usually like, “I don’t agree with what X is saying though Y has an important argument about what Z wrote above, and my take is….” X, Y, and Z all being commentators on a post, i.e.

Christy Tucker makes an interesting point about the nature of blogs in that:

Part of it boils down to the fact that blogs really are designed more for the conversations around one person’s ideas than around each other’s ideas. Conversations that are really in-depth are often more suited to become actual posts, either on the original blog or on the commenter blogs. And blogs in general are more for parallel dialog than direct dialog;…

And I am in agreement — after all a blog is an individual’s take on topics — if there is a conversation that is to occur between many people then there is always the discussion forum. Sue, on the same post, notes an observation about what happens when a “thread” is implemented in place of comments.

RSS to the rescue?

WordPress has an interesting feature (now Blogger has it too, thought most ‘Bloggers’ haven’t implemented it), where it is possible to subscribe to a feed of the comments on a post (or the entire blog). If we go by Christy’s thought — which I completely agree with — and in-depth responses to posts are presented as posts on the commentators blog, then we have a small problem of tracking the entire conversation. What we have is a multiple posts as responses — and someone who is tracking the topic, now needs to go many places to see what people are responding.

Is it possible for RSS to become slightly more intelligent such that it tracks (a) the comments on Michele’s post, (b) the response posts to Michele’s post, and (c) the comments/responses to the response posts on Michele’s post?

As I write this, I am already imagining the load on my RSS reader — yet, am sure I don’t mind a bit of manual intervention to teach my reader where to stop.

What I am visualising is a very rich body of knowledge on that one topic/subject/thought which can be a relevant educational aid.

Guess we will have to wait for RSS 2.0

Evaluating Web-based Communities

As Web 2.0 lends itself to eLearning 2.0, there is a significant social angle to learning. This means that, as learning happens lesser in isolation, i.e. just the ‘online course’ and becomes more collaborative and participative, it just helps having heuristics to evaluate web-based communities.

If you read this not-very-long article and notice the five heuristics of interactive creativity; selection hierarchy; identity construction; rewards and costs; and, artistic forms, you will notice they almost lend themselves to some key learning theories. In eLearning 2.0 it will have impact on how online learning is designed.

The instructional designer’s role will have to cover a bit more than Bloom’s and ARCS and the lot, in this very pervasive, collaborative and socially hyperactive way of learning.

I guess, the Instructional Designer 2.0 has to come of age before eLearning 2.0 can. eLearning can now, possibly bloom beyond Bloom.