Massive (and Not-So-Massive) Open Online Courses: Libraries as Learning Centers

March 5, 2013

Completely immersed in #etmooc (the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course) with more than 1,600 other learners from several different countries since early February, I have just received a lovely reminder that we make a mistake by not paying attention to what is happening in our own learning backyards.

SFPL_LogoAlthough far from massive, a new free learning opportunity provided by the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) system for its users is beginning to roll out. It promises to be another great step in libraries’ efforts to brand themselves as learning centers within the extended communities they increasingly serve in our onsite-online world.

Using courses purchased from Cengage Learning’s Ed2Go, San Francisco Public is making these courses available at no cost beyond what we already pay in the tax revenues that support library services. The list of subject areas covered is magnificent: accounting and finance; business; college readiness; computer applications; design and composition; health care and medical; language and arts; law and legal; personal development; teaching and education; technology; and writing and publishing.

The initial list of courses is spectacular, as even the most cursory review reveals. Following the teaching and education link, for example, produces several subcategories of courses: classroom computing; languages; mathematics; reading and writing; science; test prep; and tools for teachers. Following that classroom computing subcategory currently produces links to 13 different offerings, including “Teaching Smarter with Smart Boards,” “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners,” “Integrating Technology in the Classroom,” and “Creating a Classroom Website.”

SFPL’s Ed2Go offerings under the personal development link are organized into 10 subcategories including arts; children, parents, and family; digital photography; health and wellness; job search; languages; personal enrichment; personal finance and investments; start your own business; and test prep.

The offerings appear to be wonderfully learner-centric in that each course listing includes a “detail” page that provides learners with a concise description of the learning need to be met by the course; a formal course syllabus; an instructor bio; a list of requirements so learners know in advance what they need to bring to the course; and student reviews offering comments by previous learners.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Ed2Go roll-out is how it reflects SFPL’s growth as a learning organization that uses learning to serve its community; when I last spoke with colleagues a couple of years ago about their plans to offer online learning to library users, the plan was still in its early-development stages. Discussions, at that point, were centered on short staff-produced videos using Camtasia or other online authoring tools. Members of the library’s Literacy and Learning Area Focus Team have clearly made tremendous progress since that time in finding ways to offer learning opportunities to library users, and they are far from finished.

“We’re rolling it out slowly,” a colleague told me this afternoon. “Training is one of our big pushes right now. It [Ed2Go] is our first start, and we have other ideas down the pike…We’re serious about internal [staff] training, external [non-staff] training—going out to the public.”

The idea of having staff produce videos is still under consideration, as is the idea of having library staff take an even more active role in providing more learning opportunities for the public: “We’re talking about doing out own trainings and putting them online, but that’s down the road. We’re not reinventing the wheel—but we are rounding it.”

As I have mentioned in other articles, the wicked problem of reinventing education continues to receive plenty of creative attention in a variety of settings, including the New Media Consortium’s recent Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas, and the “Future of Education” document that came out of that summit. Seeing increasing collaboration among the various providers of learning opportunities (e.g., our colleagues in academia, in museums, in libraries, in professional workplace learning and performance organizations including the American Society for Training & Development and other professional associations including the American Library Association) helps us understand why offerings along the lines of the massive open online courses and libraries’ freE-learning opportunities are quickly becoming part of our learning landscape—and suggests that those collaborations might be part of what leads us closer to effectively addressing the wicked problems we face in training-teaching-learning.

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


#etmooc: A Midterm Review of Connectivity, Collaboration, and Learning

February 20, 2013

With massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the center of hype, overhype, and plenty of justifiable criticism, a midterm review of one—the highly interactive Educational Technology and Media MOOC (#etmooc, organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others)—shows what a well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC can offer to learners with the digital literacy skills required to benefit from them.

etmoocDiving into #etmooc to gain my first hands-on experience in the burgeoning world of MOOCs—one of two technologies cited in the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report (Higher Education edition) as likely to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months”—has far exceeded anything I expected. In less than three weeks, I have gained a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the differences between two types of MOOCs (the xMOOCs that many mainstream journalists seem to be addressing, and the much more interactive cMOOCsconnectivist MOOCs)—and much more. I have become an active part of a newly formed, dynamic, worldwide community of learners; continue to have direct contact with some of the prime movers in the development of MOOCs; had several transformative learning experiences that will serve me well as a trainer-teacher-learner involved in onsite and online learning; and have learned, experientially, how to use several online tools I hadn’t explored four weeks ago. My MOOCmates and I have already explored connected learning and digital storytelling; are currently engaged in efforts to better understand—and contribute to an understanding of—digital literacy; and will also have explored the open movement and digital citizenship by the time the course ends on March 30, 2013.

#etmooc shows more than 1,600 people registered. Of that group, at least 850 are part of the #etmooc Google+  community; more than 500 have already contributed to the course blog hob—an example of how digital literacy involves acts of creation as much as the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills; and many have engaged in acts of learning and creation through the more than 150 #etmooc videos that have been posted on YouTube. Live sessions on Blackboard Collaborate generally attract at least 75 participants, with many more viewing the programs via the course archives—which suggests that the course is providing content that will be useful to far more people than are currently participating in the live version of #etmooc. And there is an official course Twitter feed that reflects only a small number of the 12,000 tweets collected and archived as of this evening via the #etmooc hashtag—many of them containing links to valuable resources.

etmooc_graphic[2]What it really comes down to is contacts, connectivity, collaboration, and learning. It’s about individually and collaboratively producing significant learning objects including, but far from limited to, Alec Couros’ course introduction; Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning; and the digital literacy sessions led by Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold. Any of the ever-growing list of sessions within the course archive provides stand-alone engaging examples of what online learning at its best provides. Each also inspires connections between the course designers/facilitators, other presenters, and learners; where I had initially expected very little direct contact with those delivering the course, given the large number of participants, I’ve been absolutely floored by the personal responses delivered in the form of tweets, responses to blog postings, and other interactions.

Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.  I also see that New York Times editorial writers have just published an editorial on why MOOCs and other online learning opportunities may not be appropriate for all learners—a valid point of view, but one that only in the most cursory fashion acknowledges the idea that MOOCs are a perfectly fine addition to the learning landscape for those of us who develop the digital literacy and learning skills to take advantage of what they offer—those who develop, in a sense, the very thing we’re studying at this point in the #etmooc curriculum (digital literacy and the skills that support a form of literacy that is increasingly becoming essential to 21st-century learning).

The point here is not what is wrong with MOOCs or how they might pose a threat to our current learning landscape. The point is what can be right about them and how the best of them are already becoming essential elements of training-teaching-learning. It makes no more sense to ignore the important, positive roles MOOCs can play than it would make to propose the abandonment of any other element of our learning landscape—from classroom-based academic offerings to the workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts that are essential to lifelong learning. And participation in high-quality offerings like #etmooc are the best response of all to those curious about how MOOCs might fit into that landscape.

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


Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy

February 20, 2013

The borders between well-designed synchronous and asynchronous experiences are becoming increasingly indistinguishable. And that raises a fundamental question for all of us: in an onsite-online world where interactions travel rhizomatically, how do we as trainer-teacher-learners define, plan, and deliver a learning event or any other event grounded by a specific timeframe and centered around online meetings? The answer may be that as we explore ideas about digital literacy/literacies and 21st-century learning, we’re finding the word “event” becoming less and less important while the word “process” much more adequately describes life in a digital world.

etmoocMy own recent experiences with virtual meetings and my ongoing participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others –suggests how permeable those (perceived) barriers between synchronous and asynchronous interactions have become and how expansively we can define the concept of meetings.

Unable to attend Howard Rheingold’s wonderful live #etmooc session on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” yesterday within Blackboard Collaborate, I “participated” this morning by watching the archived version. I could see and hear Rheingold as if he were speaking to me live, in the moment. Skimming the very lively chat as it was appearing on the screen augmented the impression that I was part of a live event. Following numerous links to related resources provided by those who contributed to the live chat allowed me to gain from the collective wisdom of that community of learning as effectively as I would have had I been participating in the original program. Reviewing the Etherpad transcript that includes links to the numerous resources mentioned in the live chat further engaged me in that synchronous/asynchronous experience. And carrying that newly-acquired knowledge into a live #etmooc tweet chat at noon PT today took me even further.

etmooc_blog_hubIn a very real sense, the separations between the Rheingold recording and the tweet chat are insignificant. Some of the same participants were present for both. The opportunity to learn more about digital literacy by treating both sessions as one continuous “meeting” helps me define what digital literacy actually implies (the ability to move seamlessly within these various digital platforms to create one cohesive experience). And, as MOOCmate Glenn Hervieux observed recently in one of his #etmooc blog postings, participation in #etmooc through its various online gathering places gives participants incredibly rich and rewarding opportunities to “help nourish each other.”

Flexibility, adaptability, and participation—particularly participation—seem to be key elements of this experience as well as of digital literacy, for the less we tether ourselves to time and place, the more deeply we can engage each other—something that became more obvious to me last week during an online meeting I was facilitating for the American Libraries Advisory Committee. We have, over the past half year, made the transition from being a group that met face-to-face twice a year to being a group that meets monthly; we augment those semiannual onsite meetings with monthly conference calls via FreeConferenceCall.com and opportunities to continue our conversations asynchronously online via a site provided by the American Library Association. It wasn’t until we had an unexpected miscommunication last week that I realized how continuous our interactions had become. Part of the group had the impression that the monthly call was beginning at noon ET, while the other half of the group believed that the meeting was beginning at 1 pm—something I didn’t discover until those meeting at 1 pm contacted me via email to find out whether I was going to attend.

The opportunity was irresistible. I joined the 1 pm group; briefly covered the same agenda items with them; shared the comments from the earlier discussions so they had a chance to interact (asynchronously) with who had already participated one hour earlier; and will close the circle by posting minutes of the meeting that includes all the comments. The result: two synchronous meetings, held asynchronously, will become a synchronous experience for any of us who take the few minutes required to read the set of minutes. And we can continue those discussions through our online site over the next few weeks and/or resume them when we meet virtually again in March.

What we can’t afford to miss here is that there certainly is a set of skills needed if we’re going to operate in this sort of synchronous-asynchronous world, and those set of skills can move us a bit closer to seeking broad definitions for digital literacy/digital literacies,” as #etmooc participants are attempting to do at this point in the course.

Rheingold, in his session that complemented what Doug Belshaw provided two days earlier in his #etmooc digital literacy/literacies session, drew from a lifetime of experience and the content of his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (“wh@t you need to know to use soci@l medi@ intelligently, hum@nely & mindfully”)  to move us toward a deeper understanding of a topic many of us have explored only at the most superficial of levels. Trying to summarize the session here is unnecessary not only because the archived version remains available online, but also because #etmooc colleague April Hayman summarized it so beautifully in a masterful display of digital literacy on her own blog.

Those still hungry for more of Rheingold’s work—and who wouldn’t be?—will find plenty of nourishment through some of the links provided by the #etmooc community, including Steve Hargadon’s Education 2.0 conversation with Rheingold; Rheingold’s 10-minute YouTube video on “crap detection”—determining credibility of information on the Internet; his 2008 TED talk on “The New Power of Collaboration; and online excerpts from Net Smart. One additional resource well worth perusing: a reposting of Neil Postman’s 1969 essay “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection”—a wonderful reminder that the issue isn’t solely a product of the digital age or a digital literacy challenge.

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


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