Part 2 in our Teaching by Design Series focuses on learning outcomes. An analogy I like to use to illustrate the importance of well-written learning outcomes for course design is the importance of the photograph of the finished product on a jigsaw puzzle box for assembling the puzzle. You could assemble the puzzle without the photograph to guide you, but it would take you more time than assembling the pieces with the photograph in front of you.
Graduate and Professional Student Involvement in the MOOC Experience
At the University of Minnesota, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) has discussed various ways in which MOOCs and other emerging technologies are transforming higher education. It is still unclear how these changes may affect the future of academics and researchers. MOOCs exemplify how a rapid change can substantially impact a system and raise new questions. To discuss the impact of emerging technologies, GAPSA held an Open Space Technology event, trained in the practice by staff from the University-wide Center for Integrative Leadership, on April 17th, 2013, with Provost Karen Hanson. Students at the Open Space discussed various topics including:
- the generational differences between faculty and students,
- the inevitability of technological change,
- the differences between face to face and online environments,
- methods to measure student improvement and student motivation,
- intellectual property concerns,
- and the fear and possibilities brought by these changes.
Since then GAPSA has been in discussion with various organizations such as the Center for Integrative Leadership, TEDxUMN, OIT, and Extension, about developing a unique MOOC platform. The idea is to help students learn more about the components of a MOOC and how they are or may affect learning in many spaces. In this post, we discuss our current outline for a an interdisciplinary problem-solving MOOC, other GAPSA MOOC-related projects, and invite other graduate and professional students to join us in this project. This is an overview of a project that has been evolving over the past months, and involves a series of collaborative relationships across the University. It will continue to change and grow, and may look quite different from what is outlined in this article, in the final product(s).
Creating More Interdisciplinary Problem-Solving Spaces Through MOOCs
MOOCs provide new possibilities for how “massive” environments develop; how “open” content can increase the availability of resources; how “online” environments help students to learn remotely and effectively about any subject; and how “courses” can vary in structure. With cMOOCs starting in 2008, and xMOOCs starting in 2011, it is likely that other types of MOOCs will be available to students in the near future. One of the ways by which to expand the MOOCs typology can is developing action-oriented MOOCs that address grand challenges or wicked problems. We also seek to create hybrid learning environments that incorporate some of the best elements of a face to face environment with an online environment.
GAPSA hopes to provide a virtual space to host discussions that are of current relevance to the university community. Every year new topics may be selected to address pressing issues. While these discussions are currently taking place at the University of Minnesota these spaces are usually limited to 50 or less participants. As open courses, MOOCs can allow for greater participation and for crowd-accelerated innovation.
Instead of developing a specific xMOOC or a cMOOC, GAPSA would create a MOOC framework that can be utilized for multiple topics. These topics will be framed through a broad lens so that seemingly unrelated stakeholders feel included in the discussion, and see potential opportunities to engage. These MOOCs will be short or mini-MOOCs lasting from 4-6 weeks. By the end of the MOOC, participants will ideally be invited to further develop specific projects from ideas generated in the session and apply for funding in order to move the conversation to action.
As online spaces, these problem-solving MOOCs will allow for asynchronous conversations, and extend the time available for discussion. Providing financial incentives for the best projects or ideas that are developed at the end of the course will hopefully increase participation. We believe the idea of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, merged with online learning and civic dialogue about polarizing issues has great potential. In these MOOCs, an issue will be first discussed by subject experts via online videos or a live webinar to help frame the discussion then participants will gain access to shared readings and course materials, before participating in different group problem-solving activities.
Through the use of various Art of Hosting techniques including circles, appreciative inquiry, world cafe, open space technology, collective mind mapping, pro-action cafe, collective story harvesting, action learning, polarization mapping, idea generation, journaling, consensus decision-making, chaordic stepping stones, design thinking, and other group-based practices we hope to help participants collaborate in action-oriented groups to address a specific societal problems. Many of these techniques will be modified to meet the objective of the MOOC environment.
These MOOCs will be framed with a broad lense to encourage greater participation. These MOOCs will only last a few weeks yet have the potential to impact the university community, the broader conversation around the subject, and provide students with the opportunity to participate as panelists, participants, or as moderators throughout the project. These MOOCs will also benefit from the potential that a university network and a network of students can provide.
This MOOC platform includes the following characteristics:
- Organic: ability to address societal and community problems soon after they become relevant
- Experiential: ability for students to participate in different roles throughout the process.
- Asynchronous: transferring elements of civic engagement & interdisciplinary courses at the U to an online platform
- Idea Generating: Partner individuals in groups to address challenges from different angles
- Inter-Disciplinary: Increase collaboration between academic units
- Concise: Develop a MOOC that lasts only a few weeks with a clear objective
- Current: Include presenters and area experts via presentations
- Massive: By being larger than a regular course, better project ideas may be developed
- Entrepreneurial: By obtaining funding for project it hopes to promote an entrepreneurial spirit
Interested in Joining to GAPSA MOOCs Work Group?
In moving forward with this idea, GAPSA is interested in recruiting various graduate and professional students who would benefit from working in this project, starting with development and testing in Fall 2013. These MOOCs will provide students with the opportunity to learn more about MOOC development, and to participate as subject area experts. In addition to this project, GAPSA is also developing various projects to provide students which additional opportunities to use emerging technologies in ways that may benefit their future careers. GAPSA MOOC team members will help to design a unique MOOC environment that encourages the use of crowdsourcing, and novel ways in which to have a constructive online conversation. The team will also work with TEDx in organizing one short course or workshop per semester. Participating in this project will provide for research opportunities, the possibility of being part of an innovative project, and to become more involved with GAPSA and the University community, while working to address graduate and professional student concerns. These MOOCs will discuss topics such as the cost of higher education, mental health in higher education, and other complex subjects.
- Work closely with the GAPSA Executive Board
- Transfer various face to face methods to an online environment
- Contact students and faculty members who participate as area experts
- Work closely with TEDxUMN, Center for Teaching and Learning, and the UMN Libraries
- Collaborate with other student and administrative groups in the university.
- Planning multiple events in collaboration with CIL and TEDxUMN
- Research projects and analysis
Estimated time commitment: 5 hours or more per week.
To join this conversation and help us move this idea forward, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you! Alfonso Sintjago and Brittany Edwards
Meeting Challenges and Offering Opportunities
In addition to developing a unique MOOC platform, GAPSA is also committed to promoting “openness” in multiple ways at the University of Minnesota. By promoting openness, we hope to help reduce the cost of education and increase the diversity of education resources available to faculty and students. As GAPSA is experimenting with what is possible through MOOCs, we encourage others to also experiment, and consider ways in which MOOCs can be of benefit to their organizations. A MOOC should not be limited only to an xMOOCs or cMOOCs but as there are many types of university courses emphasizing different student learning experiences, so too should educators consider others ways in which MOOCs and “openness” can help improve education.
Promoting greater “openness,” GAPSA has collaborated with the UMN libraries and other bodies to increase awareness of Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Access Journals (OAJ), and the potential of open textbooks. There are also many other ways in which openness can benefit the University of Minnesota and its students, including through Open Innovation, Open Science, and Open Hardware. GAPSA is also promoting a new system of Open Governance. Through increasing awareness by promoting legislation at the state level, discussing the benefits of openness with faculty, and helping to organize an awareness campaign, GAPSA has and will continue to promote openness.
Another way in which GAPSA is promoting emerging technologies is through a partnership with TEDxUMN
to offer two video workshops where students will have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a TED Talk and use videos to share their ideas. Sharing ideas via video is a powerful way through which to reach a broader audience. By partnering with TEDxUMN students who may not feel ready to deliver a TED Talk can practice the different elements to improve their video presentations. Videos can be an effective way to reduce social distance and are a key MOOC element helping students access and revisit recorded lectures at their convenience. In addition to creating a MOOC platform we believe that it is important for students to learn how different MOOC ingredients such as online videos, and peer-grading can be useful to them as students and future professionals and instructors.
Brittany Edwards, HHH Alum, OLPD Grad Student, GAPSA President
Leah Lundquist, HHH Alum, CIL Program Manager
Alfonso Sintjago, PhD Candidate CIDE, GAPSA Executive VP
Ah, summer. For the CTL summer staff, this is time for shifting into shepherding new projects to completion for the coming academic year , for reading and reflecting that will lead to course revisions, and for collaborations and consultations with peers as we revise existing programs, resources and workshops.
One project draws on all of this summer work as we move forward in making our face to face "Making a Difference in Teaching and Learning Seminars" - or MAD Seminars - into virtual space.
My three-part goal for the start of June MOOC-sparked blogging?
1. To read through the 120+ resources tagged “MOOC” that are in my Diigo account. (That soon-to-be annotated Diigo collection of the remaining bookmarks tagged “MOOCs” lives here.)
2. To select 5 links to recommend as spurs to thinking about course (re)design – whether we’re teaching in campus classrooms still equipped with blackboards & chalk trays, or in rooms with some wireless access where we might conducted courses with inverted or hybrid or other eLearning/media rich elements, or from within fully MOOC’d or OOC’d capacities.
3. To write a post that sketches why/how the select resources would be useful to course (re)design – again, whatever the course delivery location, mode or platform. A bit of thinking aloud / allowed in the company of thoughtful peers.
I. How Might We Learn from MOOCs in Setting Up ”Learning Management Systems” More about Learning than Course Management?
To whatever degree we incorporate eLearning, the courses we design need a “hub” – a place from which, minimally, we are ableto share resources with students, to collect assignments for teacher & peer feedback & assessment, to house & support assessments, and to serve as a springboard for fostering conversation among participants.
How might you (better) use an LMS as a course hub? Why might you make the selection of a hub a first move toward incorporating aspects of eLearning into courses you teach? These are the questions to explore in thinking through ideas from the following two posts:
- The MOOC as Three Kinds of Learning Management System
- Is a MOOC a Textbook or a Course?
- both by Justin Reich, co-founder of EdTechTeacher, director of Facing History and Ourselves, and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Justin Reich reminds us that Coursera is a commercial courseware provider, part of an education market that includes other entities - edX, Udacity, Futurelearn (UK) and Open2Study (AU) - providing what are, essentially, a type of Learning Management System. Akin, therefore, to Moodle, Blackboard, and Desire2Learn – even to uses of blog platforms like WordPress as LMSs. He sets out three categories for understanding – and appreciating and borrowing from – the ways courseware provider platforms can help us understand ways of using learning management systems:
- as platforms for course development that supports student learning as part of an official university course
- I think here of how I use Moodle (or Blackboard or D2L) now, whether for a primarily face-to-face, hybrid or online course.
- Here, teachers might look at an existing MOOC to discover ways others have folded together discussion before and after the viewing of short presentations, or to consider when and where and why course designers have opted to advance discussions by having students synthesize comments as well as advance new questions, or by taking on that role, or by sharing that role across modules.
- as home to self-contained online courses/modules that students can take from start to finish without teacher interaction
- I think here of the modules I’ve completed to learn about eLearning practices and resources in the context of this campus, or to muck about in exercises highlighting upgrades to Moodle. I also think about the potential here for setting up a MOOC platform to function as a course textbook – a bit more need to play around to determine whether I could meet my goal of making a course “textbook” of ereadings and other digital resources fully accessible to adaptive software as part of universal, accessible design.
- Here, teachers might look to MOOCs to discover the small modules within MOOCs colleagues have created to populate these platforms and courses with stand alone segments that support student learning of core concepts that may have been “covered” in prerequisite courses (taken long ago, if at all, by participants) or that would provide important but not essential contextualizing or further information related to the core concept.
- as digital teaching platforms “pre-populated with content and learning objects, but designed to be used by students in a classroom with a teacher”
- I think here of colleagues who curate LMS and blog-platform spaces in order to share Open Educational Resources they have shared, as well as of smaller university-linked OOCs that provide via ongoing “enrollment” options a high level of open access to content generated by developers and participants.
- Here, teachers might consider ways of “wrapping” a course around a MOOC or smaller OOC created by colleagues, integrating an existing MOOC into an on-campus course as part of an inverted/flipped approach to course design to support hands-on student learning.
II. How Might We Draw on eLearning Frameworks in the Design of Courses to Support Learning?
To whatever degree we incorporate eLearning – after or while selecting an LMS that can function as the hub for integrating various digital artifacts, from word documents to videos t0 discussion forums, the courses we design need to be mindfully designed for learning, with course aims, activities and assessments aligned to support learning in the particular atmosphere in which our particular course is to be offered. Grainne Conole – who was part of the design and development team for the #oldsmooc - Open Learning Design Studio’s MOOC on ”Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum”* – offers two design frameworks that are remarkably helpful for the broad range of course (re)design we instructors might be taking on this summer:
- Current Thinking on the 7Cs of Learning Design
- A New Classification for MOOCs
- both by Grainne Conole, Professor of Learning Innovations, University of Leicester
Atop the four-segment course design scheme she advocates, Conole situates Vision / Conceptualize - with attendant considerations of “why, who and what you want to design”; selection of key learning principles and pedagogical approaches to guide course design, and development of a generalized yet nuanced understanding of learners coming to the course.**
So, how to begin Conceptualising -
- as a first stage of thinking about course design? And how to do ideas from MOOC design link into design considerations from the start – as a spur for conceptualizing? Within her “New Classification of MOOCs” post, Conole offers a dozen design dimensions that can be used – I would propose – to build courses, especially eLearning/media rich courses, as well as to assess effectiveness or discern educational purposes of a particular MOOC.
These dimensions – plus two – are noted along the left column of the chart below with additional explication set out in Conole’s post (to be updated at the end of this week). For course design purposes, I’ve linked this listing to two other considerations Conole addresses: what Types of Evidence a course evaluator would find of the particular dimension within the work completed by teachers or learners, and to what degree the particular dimension is found within the course.
So, for example, in starting to redesign my own “Teaching in Higher Education” along the dimension of Open, I see that the teaching materials are semi-open at the moment: Anyone with the link and a university password can access teacher-prepared materials, which are hidden behind the password in order to comply with document copyright attached to course readings from proprietary journals. The student materials are also semi-open as these are share by students with audiences they choose from within the Google suite of applications. Our online discussions are sometimes conducted via blog posts and replies but more usually the same access as the course materials. So, open? Low to Medium. Do I see a change ahead? For teacher-generated materials, yes – a move to High. Which may also make those materials more “Massively” available via social media dispersion. Which has me re-thinking how I use media – which ones? why? for which purposes and audiences and tasks?
And so I’ve begun moving along the dimensions set out below to begin thinking about my on campus, media rich, sometimes hybrid course in new ways, in ways influenced by wanting to make the teacher-produced materials available beyond the course, and available as OERs that others can use and adapt beyond the course. (Ah, to begin putting the Creative Commons licensing information on those artifacts…)
III. One Resource for Further Consideration in a Summer with Reading and Course Design
- The European Foundation for Quality in eLearning’s “MOOC Quality Project” with a 12 week summer series of posts
by “world renowned experts on MOOCs,” beginning 8 May and running through 31 July.
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
*The #oldsmooc is an example of MOOCing that one might call informal or non-formal -
- with badge-earning opportunities rather academic credit;
- with ”learners” engaged in self-directed learning for personal and/or professional reasons rather than or “students” fulfilling in a specific curricular requirement or program of study interest;
- with course materials created by teachers and learners alike more often than not being shared openly – often as Open Educational Resources to be further share and developed beyond the particular MOOC; and
- with an emphasis development of personal learning networks via discussions as often occurring in dispersed social media spaces as in discussion forums operating within an LMS hub.
MOOCs offered via commercial courseware providers generally more “formal” in that the platform itself will “contain” the course materials – including “products” created by teachers and students – and make these available only during a designated time frame and only to registered participants. In this case, then, the MOOC can be call formal, and its contents viewed as proprietary.
Given the active/interactive learning and teaching orientation that many TILT readers pursue, in addition to browsing and perusing Coursera or Udacity or Futurelearn course catalogs, check out the List of Current and Future Connectivist MOOCs to find one or two that could “muse” your course (re)design creativity this summer.
** The 7Cs set out in Current Thinking on the 7Cs of Learning Design map nicely onto the backward, aligned course design practices regularly addressed in posts to this blog. Essentially, the process of thinking, writing and drawing through the seven pieces provides a robust foundation from which to begin the building work of backward, aligned design. And, in my experience, walking away from the computer to write and draw – conceptually map or storyboard – ideas makes for a decidedly more rich set of ideas.
by Brad Hokanson, UMinn College of Design
Associate Dean for Research and Outreach
Professor, Graphic Design Program
In the modern university, there are constant pressures to be more productive and to reach more students in an economical manner. Concurrently, technology has advanced to the point where the reach of an individual instructor or course can be greatly enhanced, allowing a larger number of students to learn and develop skills. At the same time, the quality of learning, one of the essential elements of the university is often disconnected from productivity.
Teaching faculty often believe that an increase in class size will result in a diminution of quality and a restriction on the ability to offer active and engaging instruction. They often believe that with large classes, instruction must be didactic and lecture based, focusing on the delivery of information. In my own classes, I have found there are great opportunities for educational enhancement that come with scale and with increased use of technology in helping students learn. The promise of educational technology is to improve all education, particularly in terms of higher order skills.
This writing seeks to chart some of these advancements and their potential, and it focuses on my principal course, Creative Problem Solving. It is an entry level course that deals with the development of creativity and problem solving skills. Students from a broad range of disciplines have taken the course, and creativity is seen to be an important skill for the 21st century for all fields of study.
The course is not about creativity, although that knowledge has become a strong part of the class. It is about becoming more creative, and that skill, like other personal traits, is something that makes the course worthwhile for all students.
At the center of the course is a focus on the development of the individual learner. From the beginning the course has had a focus on the learner, with themes of creativity, critical thinking, and constructing one’s own knowledge. Students learn to be creative through their own efforts and specifically by being creative.
A large part about becoming more creative deals with divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to invent a wide range of responses for a given challenge, often overcoming internal censorship or restraint. Inherent, though, in the field of creativity is the concept of convergent thinking, on selecting the best answer and improving that answer for the best results, which are also central aspects of critical thinking.
Students do learn for themselves, constructing their own knowledge from their experiences; we as teachers can help them through the learning activities of our courses. In helping students develop creativity, we’ve tried to get students to challenge their own assumptions and to continually develop new sets of ideas for any situation. Central to the development of creativity is the active participation of the learner; the projects they complete require personal involvement; they must eat something different, they must talk to someone new in person, and they must engage others in their efforts. By being consciously creative in the solution of modest problems, learners develop their own creative habits, and an ability to address more significant challenges.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach the same class at multiple sizes, and in each case, the change in scale has resulted in numerous, qualitative improvements. From each level of the course, lessons have been learned which, continued, have enhanced the course at the next iteration.
With the initial seminar, learner efforts were personally reported to a small group of their peers; in the lecture/discussion format, materials are collected online, but discussion and critique still occurs in the discussion sections. With the next change in scale, to the “massive” level, online structured peer evaluation will encourage the development of critique skills for all students. Not only will the projects challenge the learner, but evaluation of the projects will help develop their ability of evaluation.
At all levels of class scale, the content of the course is generated by the learners themselves, and they are involved with discussion, critique, and idea development. And logically, the knowledge developed springs from their own construction.
One of the leading details that makes the course scalable is not that it’s about the distribution of information, but rather that we’ve developed a way to scale active learning through the use of technology. Currently, we collect images for every assignment, images of the learners doing inventive and creative tasks. In a small class, showing images of the work was seldom done, whereas with 100 students, it has become a necessity…made possible by course management software.
Similarly, with 15 students, there was no need to utilize rubrics to guide teaching assistants [as there were no teaching assistants]; with 100 students and four teaching assistants leading discussion sections, rubrics are essential components of our teaching effort. Logically, with 1000 students, it will be necessary to have structures for peer evaluation of the work…which will also help students learn to critique themselves and others.
My upcoming project is called SMOOCH, which stands for Semi-Massive Online Open Course, Here. It uses MOOC technology and theory to present a course on Creative Problem Solving. We will be targeting the entire University of Minnesota entering class for a for-credit, online course in Summer 2014. Students will be able to take the course as part of their Fall 2014 tuition and will develop the most essential skill of the 21st Century, creativity.
With each change in magnitude, the methods and the processes of the course have changed. It has gone from a very personal course to a more dispersed learning experience to one which reaches learners through virtual connections. And with each leap in size, a different opportunity has become available. With scale, it is worthwhile to use other ways of teaching, discussion, critique, and evaluation. These include:
- Shifting from a small intense seminar to a moderate sized course generates a much wider range of student input and production. The scale can also allow for multiple concurrent discussions or deeper group activities, either in person or online.
- Larger lecture courses have a different dynamic and must also be thought of as a designed learning experience. With a larger course, it becomes effective in terms of cost and effort to utilize more technology.
- Additionally, the very large course would also necessitate the use of peer-evaluation in the course; this will help each learner to develop their own metacognitive skills of critique and analysis.
It is also worthwhile to ask what can be learned from changes in technology and scale for use in our smaller classes. What we will learn from creating SMOOCH should benefit the seminar; the large lecture and use of broad based data can inform our more moderate sized courses. The shifting of some of the details of education to the learner, such as self evaluation, of carrying discussion to greater depths, or of using a more diverse media for accessing information can all have a beneficial effect on the individual learner in the small class.
Four are up and running, with the largest enrollment session of the bunch (Jason Hill’s course on sustainability and food systems is nearing 15,000 enrollments) set to open on 14 June. Plenty of enrolled students have already begun MOOCing about with first four courses in UMinnesota Coursera – 55,000 or so when I logged into my design team account today:
- Professor Peggy Root, College of Veterinary Medicine, “Canine Theriogenology for Dog Enthusiasts,”
- Associate Professor Michael Oakes, School of Public Health, “Social Epidemiology,”
- Professor Chris Cramer, College of Science and Engineering, “Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics,”
- Assistant Professor Karen Monsen, School of Nursing, “Interprofessional Healthcare Informatics,” and
- Assistant Professor Jason Hill, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, “Sustainability of Food Systems: A Global Life Cycle Perspective.”
Signing up to explore these initial MOOCs is easy enough: A click on any of the hyperlinks above will take you to the course Welcome page, where clicking the “Enroll for Free” button will begin an easy process of registering with email address and password. Moving from exploring to completing a MOOC, that’s not such a straightforward process according to drop out, stop out, completion data.
I write this post from my vantage point as part of one design team (the soon-to-launch sustainability course), as a participant in a good range of MOOCs offered outside of Coursera, and as a teacher planning an OOC (minus the massive) venture. Across these experiences and platforms, I’ll say these two things about what I’ve observed and experienced:
- About being part of a design team, whether or not in the instructor role: It is no easy task to create or run a MOOC. It is, thankfully, a rewarding team process from developing an initial idea and outcomes to setting out pedagogy, completing production, and engaging with participants.
- About being a participant: That pairing of not-so-easy with rewarding provides an apt naming for the duo of feelings most participants will experience within a MOOC, whatever the type of MOOC. It is rewarding to have access to a new world of ideas – whether as an active participant or a somewhat active lurker – via the course materials and resources, and to have access to participants dispersed across the world via the discussion forums. It is not so easy to wrangle this distributed collection of information and dispersed ideas into some semblance of sense making without first or simultaneously learning how to build a robust team at home to support the learning and thinking.
Why is the University offering MOOCs? On this point, Provost Karen Hanson notes, “The University of Minnesota works constantly to improve teaching and learning, and has for a very long time looked to new technologies to play a role in improving learning outcomes and providing flexibility and better access to education.
For example, in the early and mid-twentieth century, educational programming was being delivered using radio and television. In the early days of the Internet, we began offering courses online to currently enrolled students. MOOCs represent another new frontier to explore, and the Coursera project is a small pilot we will use to assess the value of MOOCs to our long-range eLearning strategy.”
Remind me again, What’s eLearning? What’s a MOOC?
Two things to set out here: First, an overview of how the UMinn Provost’s office locates MOOCs within the context of eLearning, the umbrella term for teachers and institutions making use of “new technologies” to support learning and teaching. Second, a quick sketching of two MOOC-types, one at either end of what needs to be(come) an emergent continuum with its full breadth and history honestly recorded and conveyed.
What is eLearning? Remember film strips and educational television? Early chat rooms, MOOs and MUDs? Setting up a discussion board using a mainframe computer, or maybe your first venture to WebCT, the precursor to Moodle? These are all examples of technology being used to support learning and teaching. ”The University of Minnesota defines eLearning simply as the use of technology to support teaching and learning. It is not a niche activity, but rather:
- Encompasses the full lifecycle of students—undergraduate, graduate and professional, and continuing education.
- Serves students whether they are resident on one of our campuses or learning at a distance.
- Comprises a spectrum of approaches, from technology-enhanced classrooms and instruction to online courses and learning platforms.”
What is a MOOC? As an aspect of eLearning, the short MOOC definition might be this one from Educause:
As its name suggests, a massively open online course (MOOC) is a model for delivering learning content online to virtually any person—with no limit on attendance—who wants to take the course.
A MOOC makes use of multiple technology tools to create a platform for the course to be offered. As participants in Coursera, you’ll navigate from and see just one platform – the one designed by the business entity hosting its array of MOOCs. As participants in the many MOOCs hosted outside of the business-based models, a participant might begin MOOCing via blog pages and move into a Moodle space for mucking about in resources, discussion and assignment sharing. In both models, individuals will build conversations in other Web 2.0 spaces – Twitter, Facebook, blogs like Tumblr and WordPress, image sharing spaces ranging from Slideshare to Flickr, and on to video postings via YouTube and Vimeo.
A MOOC is different from an online course in other basic ways: Anyone can register for and participate in a MOOC. With registration, the participant will have free access to all instructional materials and resources, as well as access to interactions with all others participating in the MOOC. No fees. No academic credit.
For MOOCs originating outside of Coursera and other proprietary platforms, an instructor often shares course materials beyond the MOOC itself. In these cases, course materials posted within a MOOC that becomes its own open educational resource (OER), or might be simultaneously curated and shared via social media as OERs that are licensed via Creative Commons with permissions for further sharing and mashing up with attribution.
The same open idea can be applied to what participants create – will they continue to have access to content and discussions and assignment postings with feedback beyond the course (sometimes for a stipulated period of time)? Will they have options to post many if not all of their personal writing and course assignments in a public Web 2.0 place that can serve as a public portfolio of work and thinking? In terms of “access” – will these materials be accessible in term of disability access guidelines? Will I / How will I make it possible for students to have real audiences – within the course, alongside the course, and after the course?
What’s the difference between a Coursera MOOC and a MOOC MOOC?
Talking about MOOCs brings in multiple layers of alphabet souping – for this post, I’ll just stick with two ends of a continuum: So, with MOOC as the heading – as in MOOC as massive open online course – there will be cMOOCs at one end and xMOOCs at the other. This diagram by Martin Weller provides the anchor:
Here’s how a recent newspaper article – featuring Carol Yeager, one of the cMOOCers I know – sets out the history of MOOCs – you’ll not notice either the c or x in this description:
The first self-described MOOC was “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” created by Stephen Downes and George Siemens at the University of Manitoba, Canada, in 2008. In 2012, elite American universities began to pick up on the idea of free, open online courses. Two Stanford professors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, offered “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” that year, and more than 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in the course. The duo started Udacity, a website and platform on which many MOOCs from several colleges and universities are now offered. Similar sites like EdX (initiated by MIT and Harvard) and Coursera (out of Stanford) also began in 2012, and offer MOOCs taught by distinguished faculty from a number of top-notch universities.
For cMOOC think dynamic seminar and participants. (I image Rod Carew as a batter, and Ryan Giggs as a proper footballer as the iconic analogies here. Or Daft Punk and house DJs.)
For xMOOC think powerful lecturer and students. (I imagine Harmon Killebrew as a batter, and Wayne Rooney as the footballer in this iconic pairing. Or Coldplay and sports arena organista.)
The cMOOCs, then, make use of the “c” to signal connectivist roots and connectivism as pedagogical practice for an approach to learning and knowing; additionally, Stephen Downes names this informal/nonformal space an immersive learning environment. Carol Yeager describes the cMOOC space as “an aggregation of people who connect and build their learning among and between one another through various aspects of social media.” Hence, per Weller’s outline above, a distributed peer network of learners with a shared interest taking part in a MOOC facilitated by skilled orienteers relative to the topic.
An xMOOC, to offer an alternative endpoint for the continuum, harkens to the platforms created by faculty at US Research institutions – the Russell Group equivalent in the UK, the red-brick high stakes research based institutions of the world – and offered via platforms specifically designed for delivery of academic content. One blogger cites this xMOOC description:
xMOOC is based on the teaching model where the teacher teaches, and the students learn and consume the knowledge from the course, like watching the videos, or reading a book, an artifact, and be assessed on what has been taught or covered in the videos. … [It] is STILL based on the instructivist approach – which is based on behavioral/cognitivist learning theory, where the learners master the content, probably with the transfer of knowledge from one person or a number of persons (the professor(s)) or the machines (robot or virtual teacher), or information source to that of the learner. (Mak 2012)
More likely than not, you’ve heard scads about xMOOCs and little about cMOOCs. Even more likely, what you’ve heard about xMOOCs has come via The Chronicle or Inside Higher Education or a local newspaper’s opinion page. All too often xMOOCs are cast together as part of a movement or moment that will fix or save or rescue or transform higher education.
Unless we remember the whole big span of eLearning, the MOOC discussion can make an teacher in higher education feel like this:
But as UMinnesota Provost Karen Hanson notes MOOCs are merely (okay, that’d be my word) a part of the eLearning picture. The Coursera-like platform is but one option, with a stretch of possibilities (yet) to be discovered and discussed. That discussion – on the UMinnesota campus as elsewhere – will need to address how any eLearning venture improves undergraduate teaching and learning; enhances learning, creativity, and retention across the broad range of students on campus; improves access to ideas, information and learning on and beyond campus; and is – or is not – a right fit for a particular teacher and her learners in a particular course, department, college.
I find myself liking President Eric Kaler’s idea that we attend to eLearning “to galvanize our creativity” as teachers. Or, as Martin Weller shows the idea – to make use of MOOC-like practices within the eLearning stretch to experiment. To try an inverted or flipped classroom as part of our teaching. To engaged students in trying out new technologies – movies, podcasts, pecha kuchas, digital stories, slidecasts – to sort, synthesize and share the ideas that become insights worthy of open distribution.
And, yes, there are lots of reasons to not try out a MOOC – whatever the alphabet soup that accompanies it. It is a reputation risk to just jump out there. To see how MOOCs can be a reputation enhancement, go back to the start of this post and have a go at one of the UMinnesota MOOC, then correspond with one of the members of the teaching and design team that brought that MOOC together in order to learn why there was a willingness to take the reputation risk – and to hear about the rewards of risk.
And, most of all, these three things if MOOCing about is new to you:
Explore the UMinn MOOCs so you can see and experience how these courses are set up and what participants are doing. What a MOOC is or might be is best comprehended by seeing, navigating, experiencing, doing a MOOC from somewhere on the active lurker to contributing particpant scale.
Or, check out the List of Current and Future Connectivist MOOCs to find one or two that could be a muse to your creativity this summer.
In each case, think small – maybe you’ll discover a new tool, or find a structure that would allow you to flip a class session or two, or be a participant in order to try your hand at creating something that makes use of Web 2.0 technologies or that becomes an open educational resource.
And, do investigate local resources – this blog post (and some we’ve offerend on flipped / inverted classrooms), the U’s first eBook with its focus on technology and learning, or the nicely sequenced set of Digital Campus resources on eLearning for instructors wanting to fine out more and in the company of supportive electronic and human resources. All of these resources are open to people beyond the University of Minnesota.
This is post #2 in a summer series on MOOCs, which opened last week with a discussion of liminal participants & skilled orienteers. During the next two weeks, we’ll take closers looks at the range of MOOC models emerging. From there, on to some of the educational theory behind MOOCs within the eLearning and learning in higher education contexts.
- Both “Reasons” images are from Martin Weller’s slideset “5 Reasons to to a MOOC, 5 Reasons to NOT do a MOOC” – at http://www.slideshare.net/mweller/moocs-march-2013.
- MOOC the Movie image by Giulian Forsythe; available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8028605773/. Creative Commons Licence: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
MOOCs – those Massive Open Online Courses that deliver learning content online – are the focus of several upcoming Techniques in Learning and Teaching posts. In part, the series is prompted by the May through June launching of five initial University of Minnesota MOOCs via the Coursera platform. Home to what are known as “xMOOCs.” Additionally, the series is prompted by numerous broader conversations about learning, teaching and higher education that bear thinking through as we all step back from this year’s teaching to reflect on next courses and possibilities.
With next week’s attention to the U’s Coursera offerings, the posts will set out some basics about xMOOCs – purpose, practices, pedagogy. With posts three through five in the series, the writers will explore a broader set of purposes, practices and pedagogies emerging in the MOOCs and higher education landscapes: cMOOCs, and pMOOCs, and xMOOCs. Oh, my!
Today, the series opens with a focus on metaphor for learning and learners in the eLearning contexts that includes MOOCs.
That I’m thinking about learners should surprise no one who’s read my previous. Similarly unsurprising would be my assertion that language matters in framing our thinking about learners and learning, especially as we venture with them into eLearning. In writing this post, I draw on my own experience with MOOCs of many types and in roles from full participant to active lurker to design team member to creator of my forthcoming OOPs with its MOOC roots.
In the space of this post is move us toward a sturdier metaphor to draw on as we imagine and design courses. Specifically, I will suggest why to move away from the Digital Natives-Digital Immigrants binary, and propose that the emerging Liminal Participant-Skilled Orienteer framing is sturdier – as more supple and less hierarchical, more dynamic and less binary – metaphor.
All credit for the sturdier metaphor belongs to the creators of the Oxford Brookes’ not so massive OOC – First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education – now in its second iteration as #FSTL13. By the end of May, I will have participated in some way in both offerings.
Of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – a broken metaphor
Marc Prensky’s construction of digital natives and digital immigrants as distinct generations and as speakers of distinctly different languages never worked for me. On hearing it a dozen years ago, I had several concerns while watching the connotative impact on my undergraduate students: most of them speaking accented world English or English as a second or third or fourth language, they found a metaphor that didn’t invite living in multiple rich worlds. I also had concerns about the impact of the language on my colleagues who were struggling but finding ways to bring computer and internet possibilities into their pedagogical considerations but found younger techs dismissive of the teachers who’d experienced multiple pre-digital technologies.
Also, I didn’t see “digital” as beginning with the emergence personal computers and the internet. For me, digital touches back to alphabets, to the abacus, to Morse cod, to Braille’s character encoding via patterned variations of six dots, and to generations of typesetting technologies living in newspaper backrooms. For me, technology shifts were present in everyday facets of family life: the carpentry tools of my grandfather, the farming machinery of my uncles, the industrial painting mechanism at my father’s workplace.
Prenky’s schema presumes the more contemporary understanding of digital in the company of these definitions:
- digital native as “a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts.”
- digital immigrant as that individual “who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life.”
Whether attached to digital or not, this binary fixing via natives and immigrants never works for me. It presumes the “native” language is superior, the speaker fluent, and the rules neutral. It seemed then, and still seems to me now, to exist without a sense of personal practice, cultural histories or social hierarchies. The binary fabricates a generational rift rather than mining the resources of intergenerational differences spurring exchanges.
Were we to cast the speaking of digital as parallel to the speaking of a language, it would be safe to say that digital is no one’s first language. No one is a native speaker of digital, of technology, of computers. And not all speakers of digital speaks or understands or lives out its grammars in a singular way. As with any language, no single generation creates, engages, changes or owns the social, cultural and political aspects of life that encompass development and use of a language.
In learning, hearing, speaking and teaching languages, I’ve watch my students and my colleagues’ students wrestle with etymologies, accents, rules of construction that work and those that need to be broken in order to work for particular audiences and contexts. Language learners – in first or tenth languages – build understandings of language by speaking with others across generations and countries and continents. Guidance from other speakers helps us in learning to create semantic mashups to make meanings and to make ourselves understood.
We languish as learners when we create castes of speakers – native and non-native, fluent and English language learners, citizens and immigrants – rather than move as travelers and guides along continuums where any one single language is differently spoken and heard, used and created.
Therefore, I propose the digital native-digital immigrant is a broken metaphor. In accepting the idea that digital can be a native language, we are open to privileging speakers “born into” the language – semantically, culturally, economically – over those who were born before or some other way outside of the language. As a teacher, I remind myself that I came to academic language having first experienced several other languages even within English: the dialects of home, of working class, of friends, of public school, of community life, of dissertations, of academic articles, of popular publications – and as often of the many networked, electronic spaces I’ve travelled beginning with holes punched on salmon-colored cards or into rolls of yellow tape that I fed into devices that produced data printouts or columns of typesetting I could interpret and share.
Why re-think the natives-immigrant construct in higher education? Consider this nested question: How often do you wish that the students in a course you were teaching were
- more skilled in developing good web browser search strings?
- more deft in evaluating even the academic sources they find online?
- more conversational in their posted responses to peers in discussion threads?
- more willing to figure out how a new tool or platform works by experimenting and applying previous experience before emailing you those Help me! or Dumb technology doesn’t work! messages.
Or perhaps consider all the times that you wished more students (and colleagues) did not assume that a teacher’s age was a factor in determining whether, how and which technologies would play a role shaping a course. I find that I walked away from this divided metaphor from the start for one primary reason: it works to characterize and group people into moments and modes we can analyse. Not so much a continuum along which we travel but a set of dyads with one serving as a primary residence.
A social justice community engagement continuum exercise I’m familiar with asks participants to hear a question then map themselves onto a space in the room that reflects where they stand in response to the question. At one end of the continuum is “charity;” at the other “radical social justice;” and at points between a range of namings that reflect skills and beliefs across the full stretch. The one time I facilitated this exercise with a colleague, Eric, the service learning students in our workshop cohort pointed out that Eric and I never stood in one place; rather, we wove about from one end of the continuum to the other. As a continuum mapping skills and beliefs, we did find that we would have to move about in order to reflect how we thought and might act in response to the social, cultural, political and community contexts of each “mapping” prompt. The continuum required thinking about context, community and collaboration. This is how I find myself poised when I think through animating the liminal participant – skilled orienteer journey.
Thinking of daily life, I certainly think of many ways in which I am a participant during an ordinary day. Among them: I interact with peers, I create insights by interaction in classrooms with students, I make use of multiple virtual platforms to speak with colleagues and family members and people I “know” only virtually through an affinity or interest we share. Across these participations, I sometimes find myself relying on others to orient me to features or dynamics or practices within the places where we interact – and sometimes I am the orienteer for others.
In the combination of participant and orienteer, we’re given a “yes, and…” framework for the improvisation that is at the heart of discovery-based, constructivist and transformative learning. This combination reminds me that in working with technology – whether simply getting out of a stuck place that comes in the form of a frozen screen or in the form of having so many options for moving and thinking that not moving or thinking emerges as a best or only choice – I am as likely to operate as a practitioner and as am to become an orienteer – and even more likely I will be somewhere along the stretch in the midst of a community, a cohort or a collaborative that will inhabit the full spectrum.
But what of skilled? and of liminal? First, skilled, which I should be able to address in a way my granddaughter would call “easy peazy lemon squeezy.”
Skill marks gaining agility in navigating new, novel, unexpected and ordinary situations – we can discern, try out, evaluate and explore directions we could take and select ones we will take. We can filter the “noise” around us to make a way through new situations. As the #FSLT12 team noted of experienced learners in MOOC spaces – those skilled in learning – “were judicious about planning their route and orienting their participation.”
With skill we come into reflection – the meta-processing of learning to learn that helps us see why something worked or did not, to discern what helped, to review how others approached the circumstance, to reflect on how we shifted in our ways of seeing, and to draw on this emergent understanding to organize next ways of doing things. This reflection brings us into a closer relationship with other participants – whether as peers-colleagues or learners-students – in order to construct meaning.
By making use of navigation and reflection skills, we develop the skills required to make sense of community. We come to think about audiences around us, to make choices about how best to communicate ideas to multiple audiences, and to “realized reciprocal relationships” as essential for participation and orienteering.
A skilled orienteer twines together two capacities. With the first, she navigates, reflects, makes sense of learning and of community; with the second, she interacts with others who are new to the context – who may otherwise be left feeling overwhelmed by encountering new learning junctures, numbing technology requirements, numerous pathways, or knotty rules of engagement.
In higher education, the orienteer is likely to encounter a new student, new teacher, new user of a particular technology, or someone facing new knowledge that troubles previously organized beliefs, practices, analyses. That person could well be the liminal participant.
Liminal – that other modifying word in this twin-track metaphor of liminal participant and skilled orienteer – suggests someone or something on the verge something: perhaps discovery, perhaps discouragement.
I learned liminality as a helpful concept while researching why, when, how women leave domestic violence as a masters degree student in Women’s Studies and English. I understood liminality as troublesome experience while in PhD school trying to pass through rituals of mastery and inclusion – exams, prospectus, dissertation writing – by absorbing tacit cues and clues. In each case, liminality had to do with being a place between, with being both in the middle and midst of change while also being momentarily pinned somewhere between what I had believed and what I would come to believe. In the middest. This portal could be a gateway to change or a precipice – depending on whether and which guides stepped up.
Liminal is can be sticky in two ways – stuck places can freeze learners, and “aha! moments can free learners. In either case, sticky is new and learners can be bewildered into inaction at that liminal, threshold place. Moving from of a threshold moment is not a simple ladder climb or even a fun spiral of movement adventure. It’s “more like an octopus” – and who really knows in these first experiences of liminality how to move from one arm of an octopus to another, how to makes sense of anxiety whilst “oscillating betwixt and between mastery and troublesome knowledge”? (Thank you Jenny Mackness for these phrasings.)
A liminal participant then is someone who needs partnering with a skilled orienteer.
As a teacher, sometimes my skilled orienteer is a student, sometimes a peer or a friend or family member or even someone embedded in my personal learning community where I make sense of ideas by reading and hearing others I meet only virtually. Ideally, this skilled orienteer for my liminal participant self will sometimes be my own self in critical reflection. The skilled orienteers for my students will as diverse and distributed, as local and global, as real and virtual.
At some point in my day tomorrow I will be a liminal participant in a virtual space with colleagues and also in a face-to-face curriculum planning session with a consultee. During the course of this same tomorrow I will be a skilled orienteer when I log on to a current MOOC session and when I talk with a MOOC teacher about assessments to be developed for the course. In each of these conversations the participants will be entering into novel and reciprocal relationships to make meaning. In each of these interactions, participants will be expected to learn and to lead. Anticipating these liminal moments, we can anticipate, build in opportunities for participants and orienteers to meet so that each will gain new skills to carry them forward, perhaps crossing into new thresholds of knowing in and beyond course platforms. In each of these liminal moments and roles, we can struggle with the learning rather than the metaphor. In each of these liminal interactions, we can learn to move among many places rather than reify boundaries.
Resources – Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants
Dave White and Alison LeCornu. “Visitors and Residents: A New Typology for Online Engagement.” First Monday 16.9 (Sept. 2011): http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049. White and LeCornu address the digital-native construct and present the visitor-residents construct as a replacement continuum accounting for “people behaving in different ways when using technology…without categorising them according to age or background.” Still, “residents” are semantically, socially and legally privileged over “visitors” in many contexts in ways that can constrain this metaphor as well.
Resources - Liminal Participants and Skilled Orienteers
Ideas in this section draw on the following work by the #FSLT12 team:
Jenny Mackness. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge.” Jenny Connected 7 December 2012: http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/threshold-concepts-and-troublesome-knowledge/.
George Roberts. Various presentations on MOOCs and OOCs at Slideshare.net, primarily “OOCs for the Rest of Us.” March 2013: http://www.slideshare.net/georgeroberts/oocs-for-the-rest-of-us.
Forthcoming: Marion Waite, Jenny Macknes, George Roberts, and Liz Lovegrove. “Liminal Participants & Skilled Orienteers: A Case Study of Learner Participation in a MOOC for New Lecturers.” Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: 2013.