MOOCS: Additional Reflections on Great (and Not-So-Great) Expectations

August 23, 2013

We’re far from finished with our efforts to determine how massive open online courses (MOOCs) will fit into our learning landscape, recently published articles and personal experiences continue to suggest.

A MOOCmate’s engaging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013”; a Chronicle of Higher Education article suggesting that “The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be as Disruptive as Some Had Imagined”; and my own extensive and ongoing reflections on  #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC developed and facilitated by Alec Couros and his wonderful gang of “conspirators” earlier this year) and R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class” (a MOOC developed and delivered under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies) help us understand why MOOCs continue to provoke strongly positive as well as intensely negative reactions among those drawn to the topic.

etmoocThrough her thoughtful and encouraging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013,” Canadian educator-philosopher-writer Christina Hendricks provides one of the most encouraging in-depth surveys I’ve read from a MOOC participant. The article is a great example of what a well-facilitated MOOC delivers in terms of learning that produces quantifiable results; it also draws more attention to the #etmooc community of learning that continues to thrive in Google+, on Twitter through the #etmooc hashtag, and through other online exchanges. The concrete results, from that MOOC that fostered explorations of educational technology and media, include blog pieces that are, in and of themselves, learning objects organized through a wonderful blog hub hosting more than 3,300 postings from a group of more than 500 individual contributors; videos that can be used by other learners interested in exploring educational technology and media; the thousands of tweets that provided learning resources and extended conversations among learners worldwide; and examples of tech tools used to produce learning objects by learners engaged in learning.

Hendricks concludes her “Record” with the suggestion that “[t]hat’s it for my ‘official’ participation in ETMOOC, but I am certain my connections with others will continue…”—as fine a tribute to effective and engaging learning as I can imagine reading.

Steve Kolowich, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, offers a different view with his opening sentence: “In California, the MOOC revolution came to a halt unceremoniously.” He accurately describes how a state legislator and educators at San Jose State University backed away from the strong support they had been expressing for MOOCs just a few months earlier, and cites problems the university had with its initial MOOCs: “…a lower pass rate than the face-to-face version” of a course and “similarly underwhelming outcomes” in other MOOCs offered through the university.

Students who earned university credit will, he notes, “get to count those credits toward their degrees,” but those who opted only for certificates were left with little to show for their efforts, the chair of the university psychology department was quoted as suggesting: “You can’t take that and get a cup of coffee with it.”

That can’t-get-a-cup-of-coffee approach, for me, illustrates why reactions to MOOCs in their still-early stages of development continue to vary so widely from person to person: Those seeing them only in terms of academic credits while ignoring the positive learning experiences they can produce are justifiably unimpressed; those of us who are motivated by a desire for learning and participation in effective communities of learning find ourselves amply rewarded by and enthusiastic about what we experience—particularly in the connectivist MOOCs that can foster high levels of long-term engagement.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoParticipation in the “New Librarianship Master Class” MOOC is offering a view from a position somewhere in the middle of the to-MOOC-or-not-to-MOOC debate. Far less connectivist in its approach, New Librarianship is centered around online pre-recorded lectures and quizzes—but that doesn’t mean that self-motivated learners didn’t find ways to push it a bit toward connectivist interactions. When many of us leapt beyond the confines of the official course bulletin boards and found ourselves engaging with the instructor and each other via Twitter, the levels of engagement began to flow as they did (and still do) through #etmooc. Tweets provided links to related material, inspired conversations through cross-postings on blogs, and even drew comments from people not formally enrolled in the master class—an amazing demonstration of how learning benefits from permeable (physical and virtual) walls. They also reminded us that those initially involved in the development of MOOCs saw these levels of connection/engagement as integral to this type of learning rather than viewing MOOCs as just another way to transfer onsite learning into an online environment.

The writers of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project  2013 Higher Education report note that “George Siemens and Stephen Downs in 2008, when they pioneered the first courses in Canada…envisioned MOOCS as ecosystems of connectivism—a pedagogy in which knowledge is not a destination but an ongoing activity, fueled by the relationships people build and the deep discussions catalyzed within the MOOC. That model emphasizes knowledge production over consumption, and new knowledge generated helped to sustain and evolve the MOOC environment…. As massively open online courses continue their high-speed trajectory in the near-term [one-year] horizon, there is a great need for reflection that includes frank discussion about what a sustainable, successful model looks like” (pp. 11-12).

Pieces like those produced by Christina Hendricks, Steve Kolowich, and many others contribute to that frank discussion; reports documenting the importance of preparing online learners for their online learning experiences point to the obvious need to support learners in whatever venue they decide to learn. All of these efforts have the potential to inspire us to continue deeply diving into the intoxicating waters of training-teaching-learning and helping us become members of dynamic communities of learning—and they make us far better learning facilitators and learning advocates capable of serving the learners who rely upon us.

N.B.: This is the twenty-third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc and the ninth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


Open Education Week and the Open Movement: A Tribute

March 15, 2013

In writing recently about concepts of time, collaboration, and learning, I could have sought formal publication with payment and traditional copyright protections as I’ve done for some of the other writing I have completed on my own and with colleagues. But I didn’t. I chose, instead, to take an open movement approach: I posted the article, without expectation of financial remuneration, on my blog with Creative Commons licensing—a choice dictated as much by the topic and the way it was developed as by any other consideration.

The amazingly quick, positive, and unanticipated results have been magnificent. And they provide a rudimentary case study well worth documenting—one that viscerally displays the benefits of participating in the open movement, in Open Education Week, and open collaboration in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors.

etmoocLet’s step back to the identifiable origins of this experience. My initial source of inspiration for that time/collaboration/ learning piece—and this one, in fact—was my continuing participation in a wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)#etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. Because our latest #etmooc field of exploration is the open movement, I’ve been inclined to explore and write about it with MOOCmates in an open rather than pay-per-piece approach. This has facilitated the rapid development and exchange of still-evolving ideas; quickly inspired expansion of our synchronous and asynchronous conversations via a Google+ Hangout, live facilitated chats and other exchanges on Twitter, blog postings, comments in our Google+ community, and email exchanges; and helped us draw others who were not previously affiliated with the course into our platform-leaping exchanges.

A key moment in exploring our changing perceptions of time in collaboration and learning came when Christina Hendricks, a MOOCmate from Canada, posted a link to an article she had not yet read but suspected would contribute substantially to the conversation: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning,” published openly by Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) in November 2011. I devoured that piece in one sitting the same evening I received it—three nights ago; wrote about it a couple of days later—yesterday; and sent Moravec a link to my own article so he and Ihanainen would know that their work was continuing to influence others.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoNot more than an hour passed before Moravec wrote back, via email, with a brief note of thanks and a follow-up question (yesterday afternoon) that is continuing to expand the conversation as I complete this piece this (Friday) evening at the end of Open Education Week 2013. The conversation shot out additional tendrils this morning: Ihanainen wrote back with additional thoughts; provided a link to an online collaborative document in which he and another researcher are exploring the theme in a way that opens the conversation to anyone—regardless of time or place—who is interested in following and/or participating in it; and included a link to his collaborator’s blog that creates a bridge between the “Pointillist” article and the online collaborative document: “Response to ‘Pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping: Multidimensional facets on time in online education,” posted by Michael Sean Gallagher on November 27, 2011. To read Gallagher’s response and the ensuing exchange of 14 comments appended to that blog posting is to openly eavesdrop in the moment on conversations that originally occurred between November 2011 and January 2012—but remain as alive now as they were when Ihanainen and Gallagher composed them.

This is where we need to further develop what I referred to in my earlier description (yesterday) as “another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning”: we need to take a deep breath, step back a bit, and deconstruct what is happening here so we can build upon it to the benefit of trainer-teacher-learners worldwide.

Here’s that deconstruction and summary: Hendricks and I join approximately 1,600 other learners in #etmooc between mid-January and early February 2013. We start following each other’s work via blogs and other postings and share ideas and resources throughout February and early March—including that link to “Pointillist.” I write about  “Pointillist” on March 14 and immediately connect online to Moravec, who then puts me in contact with Ihanainen, who then leads me to Gallagher’s writing on March 15. We now have a paradoxically in-the-moment asynchronous conversation connecting participants here in San Francisco (me), in Minnesota (Moravec), in Canada (Hendricks), in London (Gallagher), and in Finland (Ihanainen) via postings that at this point extend back to November 2011 and continue into the moment in which you are reading and reacting to these thoughts—yet another example of the sort of rhizomatic learning studied and facilitated in #etmooc and at the heart of the topic of timeless learning—which Ihanainen, Moravec, and Gallagher are calling the “Pedagogy of Simultaneity.”

There’s a real danger here that all this messiness and complexity—these uncontrollable shoots and roots multiplying at a mind-numbing rate from the original #etmooc rhizome—could make the average trainer-teacher-learner run for the hills and never look back. Which would be a real shame. For at the heart of all this is a wonderfully philosophical question that also has tremendous potential repercussions for how we develop, deliver, and facilitate training-teaching-learning in our onsite-online world: what can we do to build upon the best of our traditional models of learning while incorporating the techniques and tools that are quickly becoming available to us, show no sign of slowing down, and may have evolved further by the time you’re actually reading this?

What this comes down to for me personally is that in the moment in which I’m writing this, all these conversations have merged into one vibrant vital moment regardless of when others composed and expressed their thoughts or where they were, physically, when they composed and expressed those thoughts. What it comes down to for you as a reader-learner-participant is that the same moment is as vibrant and vital regardless of the date on your calendar as you read and respond to this and regardless of where you are sitting and what form of technology you are using to read this information. And that, I suspect, is the greatest lesson to be absorbed within this particular moment comprised of what we, as members of a fluid, open, pedagogy-of-simultaneity community, bring to it.

N.B.: This is the twenty-second in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc–and the 200th piece I have posted on “Building Creative Bridges.”


Learning Time and Heads That Spin

March 14, 2013

We may be identifying yet another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning.

Before we take the leap into a bit of virtual time travel to pursue this idea, let’s ground ourselves within a familiar idea: much of the formal learning with which we’re familiar takes place within clearly-defined segments of time, e.g., an hour-long workshop or webinar, or a course that extends over a day, week, month, or semester. We work synchronously during face-to-face or online interactions, and we work asynchronously through postings that extend a conversation as long as the formal learning opportunity is underway and participants are willingly engaged.

etmoocWhat we are seeing as we more engagingly explore online learning in general and, more specifically, through a well-designed massive open online course (MOOC) like #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013, is that this connectivist learning process is far from linear—rhizomatic is one of the terms we’ve been using extensively throughout the course. We are also seeing that our learning process does not have to be limited to exchanges with learners and others who are participating within the formal linear timeframe suggested by a course such as #etmooc that officially begins in January 2013 and formally concludes at the end of March 2013. And that’s where we find ourselves on relatively new time turf.

What now is happening is that conversations can be comprised of those wonderfully synchronous, in-the-moment exchanges that are most familiar to us; those asynchronous exchanges that extend the “moment” to an hour, day, week, or semester-long period that formally defines a course; and those unexpected moments of participation by people not currently enrolled in a course, but drawn into a current extended moment of conversation by having their previously-posted work become part of a current conversation.

The seeds for viewing learning time in this unorthodox way were planted before I joined #etmooc at the beginning of February 2013. While facilitating two offerings of the online Social Media Basics course I have developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I saw that learners from the first four-week offering (completed in June 2012) were beginning to interact with learners from the second offering (completed in early February 2013) via the private Facebook group I had established for any interested participant.

Social_Media_BasicsSome of these interactions took place during live office hours held within the Facebook space in January and February 2013. Some of the interactions took place via asynchronous postings between members of the first and second groups of learners. But most intriguingly, some of the interactions involved learners in group two going back to read postings completed when the first offering was in session—then incorporating aspects of those earlier (past-tense) comments into present-tense conversations that clearly have the potential to extend into future conversations when the next group of learners join the group (and the extended conversation) as the course reaches a third group of learners in July 2013 (or “reached” a third group if you’re reading this after July 2013).

The same backward-forward extension of conversation has crept into #etmooc. Ideas initiated in one setting, e.g., through a blog posting, extend into other platforms, e.g., within the course Google+ community. Cross-pollination and cross-time postings then occur via additional conversation within the context of a blog posting that may have been completed a day, week, or month earlier—but that remains very much in the moment through new postings within the context established within that initial post.

Where this becomes most fascinating and most worth noting is when the asynchronous postings attached to a specific blog posting then lead us to postings completed long before the current course was even in the planning stages—and those earlier postings are drawn into the current moment, as happened recently in an exchange a MOOCmate and I were having.

This becomes a bit tricky, so let’s take it step by step to bring a little order to the learning chaos this so obviously creates. I posted “Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy” on February 20, 2013. A couple of #etmooc colleagues transformed the piece into an extended conversation by adding comments that are continuing to be attached to that February 2013 posting as I write this piece a few weeks later. The conversation also is growing rhizomatically through extensions via Twitter, Google+, and the follow-up blog posting you are currently reading—which makes me realize that we not only have an organically-growing example of what we are discussing, but a conversation that will benefit from a rudimentary level of curation. (I’m providing that curation in the form of “see-also” references added at the bottom of the various postings within my own blog so anyone joining one part of the conversation can easily find and follow those rhizomatic roots and shoots in the form of the other postings).

The latest shoot came in the form of the online reference, posted by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, to an article that Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) posted in November 2011: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning.” It’s all there in the first two lines of the abstract to that wonderfully twisty-turny densely-packed exposition: “A linear, sequential time conception based on in-person meetings and pedagogical activities is not enough for those who practice and hope to enhance contemporary education, particularly where online interactions are concerned. In this article, we propose a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts.”

Perhaps, by this time, your head is spinning beyond the boundaries of time and space; mine certainly is. But there’s no denying that what Ihanainen and Moravec explore in their thought-provoking article—and what many of us are experiencing in online venues ranging from live Twitter chats (that extend beyond the synchronous sessions via retweets appended with follow-up comments) to those Social Media Basics interactions that now include conversations that have extended over a half-year period and will undoubtedly take on extended life through an even longer “moment” when the course is offered again later this year—extends the challenges. And the possibilities. Which provides us with another wicked problem: how our traditional concepts of formal learning are adapting to learning in timeframes that increasingly include extremely extended moments without firmly established beginning and ending points. Our communities of learning are clearly one part of this evolving learning landscape, and we may need to acknowledge that we haven’t yet defined or developed some of the other key pieces of this particular learning jigsaw puzzle.

N.B.: This is the twenty-first in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Openly Meandering and Learning During Open Education Week

March 12, 2013

A little exposure to openness can carry us a very, very long way, as I’m learning through my Open Education Week meanderings.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoInitially inspired to engage in Open Education Week ruminations and activities through my current immersion in #etmooc—an online Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues—I am now finding myself nearly overwhelmed by how the current open movement module of the course is inspiring me to see rhizomatically-extending roots and shoots of “open” nearly everywhere I look.

There is, for starters, the idea that the open movement itself encompasses an incredibly broad set of terms and actions: the “connect, collect, create, and share” elements of Open Education Week; the four tenets of the open movement as cited in an #etmooc panel discussion (reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content); and Don Tapscott’s quartet of collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk he delivered in 2012.

Moretti--New_Geography_of_JobsBut there is much more, as I’ve been reminded through additional reading and reflection over the past several days. A brief passage that I found in Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs, for example, beautifully captures the idea that physically-open spaces within our worksites and coworking settings can facilitate a different—yet not completely unrelated sorts of—open exchanges of ideas and “knowledge spillover”—think Google, Pixar,  the San Francisco Chronicle building Hub space mentioned by Moretti, and so many others that have recently caught our attention. (Not everyone is enamored of these physically-spaces, as the most cursory online search will show, and I certainly don’t believe that physically-open spaces should be universally adopted for all work we do; a little solitude can go a long way in providing us with the time we need to reflect and absorb what we learn.) The open work spaces, however, are far from revolutionary; they’re similar to what we have seen in our more innovative classrooms, for at least a couple of decades, where learners aren’t confined to desks but, instead, interact with each other and those facilitating their learning in collaborative ways. And it’s also the same concept we find in Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place descriptions of how our interactions with friends and colleagues in our wonderful third places (coffee shops, neighborhood restaurants, and other settings which now extend to online communities where we can drop in unannounced and know our social needs will be met through stimulating interactions) produce the sort of creative results fostered by the open movement.

It’s just a short intellectual jump from the open movement and Moretti’s thoughts to the greater world of open-movement exchanges of ideas, as we’ve seen in Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful reminder that chance encounters under the right circumstances between people of varying backgrounds can produce far more than might otherwise be inspired. It’s as if we’ve tossed The Medici Effect into a huge mixing bowl with James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, let them brew a while, and then scooped out a wonderful ladle of open, collaborative thinking to see what new flavors we can discover.

etmoocWhich brings us back to Open Education Week and #etmooc itself: using the online resources available to us and the collaborative, participatory spirit that is at the heart of a successful MOOC and the open movement, we learn to viscerally understand, appreciate, and foster the spirit of open that drives these particular learning opportunities. And encourages us to openly engage within others in the hope that everybody wins during Open Education Week and for many more weeks, months, and years to come.

N.B.: This is the twentieth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Open Introductions: #etmooc, Open Education Week, Wikinomics, and Murmuration

March 9, 2013

Trainer-teacher-learners worldwide are on the cusp of a magnificent collaborative opportunity: participation in Open Education Week, which runs from Monday – Friday, March 11-15, 2013. Ostensibly for those involved in formal academic education programs, this is an opportunity that should appeal to anyone involved in the numerous entities comprising our global learning environment: K-12 schools; colleges, universities, and trade schools; libraries; museums; workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs; professional associations and organizations like the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), the American Library Association, and the New Media Consortium ; and many others. It’s a chance for us to collectively examine the roles we can play together to tackle the wicked problem of reinventing education and developing ways to effectively support lifelong learning in a world where we can’t afford to ever stop learning.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoAt the heart of this endeavor is the open movement—the latest of the five massive themes that we’re exploring in two-week bite-sized segments within #etmooc (an online Educational Technology & Media course), that massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and his wonderful gang of “conspirators.” The course itself is a living example of the spirit of open, and it is quite literally transforming not only those who are directly participating in it, but also those who are learning about it and participating vicariously through the blog postings we are producing and sharing openly, the Blackboard Collaborative sessions that are archived and openly available, the live tweet chat sessions and numerous unfacilitated stream of tweets it is generating, exchanges in a Google+ Community, YouTube videos, and various other rhizomatically spreading learning opportunities that will continue having an impact on learners worldwide long after the current January- March 2013 offering comes to an end.

It’s a movement I first encountered several years ago within the pages of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, and that we all can continue to explore through the #etmooc panel discussion moderated earlier this week by Alberta Distance Learning Centre learning innovation lead teacher Verena Roberts. As has been the case with the handful of #etmooc presentations I’ve been able to attend or view, this one provides great content while also serving as an example of what it discusses. It was held as a Google+ Hangout to make it as accessible as possible; it was live-streamed on Roberts’ YouTube channel; interactivity between the panelists and learners was facilitated across platforms, including a Google Doc that also is openly accessible; and it is taking on a life of its own through tweets, blog postings, and other openly-shared resources.

etmoocTo watch the recording of that hour-long Google+ Hangout panel discussion is to sense the power of online learning and engagement while receiving a full immersion that leaves us with hours of material to return to at our own leisure. We see and hear Mozilla Foundation staffers sharing resources and encouraging us to participate in them, e.g., through the Mozilla Festival and efforts to help define digital literacy. We learn about a magnificent repository of open resources curated under the title “Open High School of Utah OER [Open Educational Resources] Guide” under the auspices of the Open High School of Utah (which will become Mountain Heights Academy in fall 2013). We hear panelist Christina Cantrill, from the National Writing Project, suggest that open is about resources, but “is also about practices.” And we walk away from the session with a clear understanding that four basic tenets of the open movement are reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content without losing site of the fact that we still have an obligation to acknowledge the sources upon which we draw.

For those of us wanting to continue our explorations within the context of the Wikinomics model, we turn to another variation on the open theme: the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk“Four Principles for the Open World”—that Tapscott delivered in 2012. He takes us a bit deeper into the open movement by suggesting that there are four pillars of openness: collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment: “The open world is bringing empowerment and freedom,” he tells us at one point.

The fact that these brief but stimulating explorations of openness take us from Open Education Week’s key themes of “connect, collect, create, and share” to those four tenets (reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content) on to Tapscott’s quartet of collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment confirm that we’re facing the same wicked problem here that we face in digital literacy/digital literacies: settling on a firm definition is a far-from-completed endeavor.

We aren’t, at this point, anywhere near achieving that goal. But Tapscott, by introducing us to the concept of murmuration near the end of his TED talk through a video showing an exquisitely beautiful murmuration of starlings, provides an example from nature that should inspire all of us to start by participating and collaborating in Open Education Week (conversations on Twitter will be organized though use of the #OpenEducationWk hashtag and nurtured through the @OpenEducationWk Twitter account) and then incorporating open practices into our training-teaching-learning endeavors wherever we can. 

N.B.: This is the nineteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Adaptability to Online Education: Replacing Failure with Success

March 8, 2013

Those of us engaged in and stimulated by #etmooc (an online Educational Technology & Media course) and other training-teaching-earning endeavors already have plenty of evidence that the best online learning offerings can produce results at least as good as what comes out of the best face-to-face learning. Our participation in that massive open online course (MOOC), in fact, is providing us with visceral proof that online engaging can be engaging, rewarding, and capable of producing tangible results if the right elements are in place and if we are properly prepared.

etmoocNow, thanks to researchers Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, we have a thoughtful and thought-provoking research-based study showing what can hinder success among certain groups of online learners.

Focusing on failure rates of online learners drawn from a very large sample (40,000 community and technical college learners throughout Washington state, tracked over a five-year period), Xu and Jaggars have produced a paper that includes insights useful to any of us involved in training-teaching learning. “Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas” (published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University), opens with a well-balanced introduction that cites previous research papers comparing face-to-face and online learning; provides observations about why some students may do better than others in online learning environments, e.g., “those with more extensive exposure to technology or those who have been taught skills in terms of time-management and self-directed learning…may adapt more readily to online learning than others” (p. 1); and includes the suggestion that “insufficient time management and self-directed learning skills” could contribute to the online learning failures examined in their paper (p. 4). Reading that section alone gives us a wonderfully concise overview of the challenges we and our learners face, and it serves as a great example of the sort of resources coming out of the open movement—the subject of our latest #etmooc module.

As we move more deeply into Xu and Jaggars’ 32-page paper, we learn more about the writers’ meticulous methodology; the subjects of their study and the types of courses they were attempting to complete; and the possibility that “older students’ superior adaptability to online learning lends them a slight advantage in online courses in comparison with their younger counterparts” (pp. 17-18). They go far beyond the usual basic levels of evaluation and ponder the possibility that peers’ behavior can have positive or negative effects on the learning process: “These descriptive comparisons suggest that a given student is exposed to higher performing peers in some subject areas and lower performing peers in others and that this could affect his or her own adaptability to online courses in each subject area” (p. 21).

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoIn reaching the conclusion that those who struggle with face-to-face learning are even more likely to struggle with and fail at online learning, Xu and Jaggars lead us to an interesting set of conclusions and recommendations that include “screening, scaffolding, early warning, and wholesale [course] improvement” (p. 25).  Acknowledging the difficulties inherent within each of their four suggestions, they leave us with proposals to define online learning “as a privilege rather than a right” and delay learners’ entry into online learning “until they demonstrate that they are likely to adapt well to the online context”; to incorporate “the teaching of online learning skills into online courses…”; to build “early warning systems into online courses in order to identify and intervene with students who are having difficulty adapting”; and “focus on improving the quality of all online courses…to ensure that their learning outcomes are equal to those of face-to face courses” (pp. 25-26).

None of this is revolutionary, nor is it beyond our reach. Preparing learners for new learning experiences before we toss them into the deep end of the learning pool simply makes good sense. Offering them help in developing their online learning skills is something that many of us already routinely do for online learners, and there are plenty of online examples at the community-college level alone for anyone who has not yet traveled this particular learning path. Building early warning systems into the process goes hand-in-hand with the increasing levels of attention we are giving to learning analytics and learning analytics tools; even at a rudimentary level, I’ve been able to increase retention rates in online courses by noting who is falling behind on assignments and sending individual notes to check in occasionally with those learners—the result is that the learners invariably note, in their course evaluations, that they had no idea online learning could be so personal and engaging. And the suggestion that we look for ways to further improve the quality of courses to make them more responsive to learners’ needs is a conclusion that hardly needs response; the wicked problem we face in meeting that challenge is to obtain the resources needed so we—and our learners—will be successful rather than being part of another report on why learners fail.

N.B.: This is the eighteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Learning and Misinformation Management: #etmooc, Digital Literacy, Crap Detection, and Librarians Alphabetizing Spice Racks

March 7, 2013

When a friend and I first read about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel releasing a stream of expletives and walking off of Sean Hannity’s Fox News program in November 2012, we immediately began an online search to locate a video of that explosive moment. I’m admitting up front that our search wasn’t driven by skepticism; we simply wanted to see the altercation with our own eyes. And within a couple of minutes, we not only had determined that there was no footage to be viewed, but that the original source—The Daily Currant—clearly identifies itself, on its “About” page, as “an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.” The site also informs readers that the stories “are purely fictional. However, they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.” But we had to take the extra step of looking at the “About” page, because nothing on the page containing the original story hinted at anything other than a news report posted by on online publication.

Think of The Daily Currant as an online version of The Daily Show on Comedy Central or a subtle version of The Onion. And also think of it as a reminder of the need for finely-honed crap detection skills—one piece of the overall skill set seems to be an integral part of any definition we can create for our constantly evolving sense of what “digital literacy” means in its broadest as well as its most specific sense.

etmoocDigital literacy is a theme many of us began exploring a few weeks ago within the context of a wonderful  massive open online course (MOOC), #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. For a couple of weeks and with the guidance of some wonderful learning facilitators, we struggled with the wicked problem of trying to create a workable definition for digital literacy—a term that appeared straightforward at a glance but that proved to be incredibly nuanced, subjective, and complex as we gave it increased attention.

But there’s nothing nuanced or complex about the obvious need for highly-developed crap detection skills in our onsite-online world—a theme brought into full focus for us through Howard Rheingold’s #etmooc digital literacy presentation on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” last month. Picking up on themes he has obviously covered elsewhere, he talked about walking his daughter through the process of exploring a website that initially appeared to be an official site about a well-known historic figure, but eventually turned out to be a far-from-objective source of information. He also recalled taking an online pregnancy test that confirmed he was going to give birth to a baby girl and that the father of his child was Fabio Lanzoni.

Daily_CurrantWe don’t need the extreme example of the online test that confirmed Rheingold’s pregnancy to see how alert we and those we help in our roles as trainer-teacher-learners need to be. When we find ourselves or our media learners taken in by something along the lines of that Daily Currant story about Rahm Emanuel, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves as well as at the story; remember that what seems improbable to some appears to be completely credible to others; and do a little follow-up in sifting through the deluge of information—and perhaps, along the ways, honing what a colleague referred to as “deluge literacy.” We can, for example, see right through stories about how Pope Benedict XVI actually resigned because he is gay, how Sarah Palin announced her intention to run for president of the United States in 2014, how New York Times columnist and award-winning economist Paul Krugman has filed for bankruptcy, and how Facebook is going to begin charging us if we want to remove our photos from its site—once we know that we’re viewing a satirical website. But those who don’t have the digital literacy skills to make that determination are not only going to believe what seems credible to them, they’re going to forward that misinformation on to others via Twitter and other social media platforms and react through postings on the Daily Currant site itself. (If your crap detectors are going off and you’re wondering whether people actually do post comments indicating they believed the stories, skim some of the comments. A running joke among regular readers of the fake news within The Daily Currant is the fake dilemma of whether to point out the “About” page to those who believe they’re reading real news reports—or whether to egg them on by responding with comments including “Quick, go make a chain status! Everyone must know about this!”.)

When our crap detectors let us down and we fall prey to something displaying truthiness rather than truth, we can at least take solace that we’re not alone—as we recently saw when a Washington Post blogger fell into the trap of believing a Daily Currant story reporting that Sarah Palin was going to begin working for Al Jazeera after leaving Fox News. Adding insult to injury, the Currant writers ran a follow-up story reporting that Palin had accepted a position as a visiting scholar at Harvard, a situation that “will finally put to rest the rumors, first reported in the Washington Post, that she would be joining Al-Jazeera as an on-air commentator.”

I suppose, given all these twists and turns, that we should be grateful some of our best online pranksters are transparent about the reliability of what they are disseminating. One of my favorites, for example, is the Fake Library Stats (@FakeLibStats) Twitter account, where we have, within the past 24 hours, fake-learned that “35% of librarians send overdue notices to their friends & family to whom they’ve loaned a book,” “97% of librarians have alphabetized their friends’ spice racks,” and “98% of all librarians secretly want to weed and then rearrange their friends’ book collections.”

If laughter helps us learn, then we should acknowledge and thank The Daily Currant, The Daily Show, The Onion, @FakeLibStats, and many others for helping us hone that part of our digital literacy skill set covered by the concept of crap detection. And, in the meantime, let’s see if we can track down confirmation that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is demanding that Donald Trump produce a copy of his birth certificate so he can be assured that he won’t be disqualified, as a non-citizen, from running for president if he ever again considers pursuing that path.

N.B.: This is the seventeenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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