On the Make: Co-learning, Making, and Sharing in the Connected Courses (#ccourses) MOOC

November 12, 2014

Let’s create and play a trainer-teacher-learner’s version of blog-hopping (specifically crafted for connected-learning students and aficionados) by seeing how many blogs we can link together into a cohesive asynchronous discussion. Our goal is to see whether the process leads us through the act of making something (e.g., a virtual, sprawling, multi-site learning object) that contributes to our understanding of our own learning, co-learning, and the learning process—and perhaps even to other people’s learning.

ccourses_logoThis particular learning object is already a work in progress thanks to interactions among a few of us connected via the Connected Courses (#ccourses) massive open online course (MOOC). It started with a self-contained set of reflections, by long-time learning colleague Alan Levine, on what constitutes “a make” (something created as part of the learning process to facilitate the learning process itself) within a connectivist MOOC (#ccourses, in this case). It grew a bit through #ccourses co-learner Maha Bali’s reflections inspired by Alan’s article and something I had written about the development of communities of learning similar to what we’re seeing in #ccourses. It continued growing rhizomatically as I posted individual responses to Alan’s and Maha’s posts and then realized that my own comments, if carried over into the article you’re now reading, could provide the foundations for what paradoxically is a self-contained lesson/make on “makes” that, at the same time, is interwoven into other makes—some of which are yet to come.

Alan deserves the credit for unintentionally inspiring this admittedly complex yet intentionally playful attempt at showing how a blog can be a make. He begins by suggesting that blog posts are “part of the regular things to do” in the connected-learning process and he explicitly says that he does not “see blog posts or comments as ‘makes.’” Maha responds by acknowledging how engaging and supportive of the learning process a collaborative make can be, then circles back to suggest that “for some people, blogging is ‘their thing,’” just as other learners may immerse themselves in equally engaging and productive makes. Our colleague Kevin Hodgson, for example, has produced course-related cartoons that are very much his version of a make and inspire the rest of us to absorb Connected Courses lessons through those playful makes. And, she continues, “every blogpost of Simon [Ensor]’s is a make.”

I initially inadvertently extended our make-in-progress by commenting on Alan’s blog. As a big supporter of experiential learning, I assured him that I agree that some level of making is essential in the learning process, and I obviously do believe that blogging can fit that category when we see our blogs as more than personal reflections. Blog postings, I suggested, can also be self-contained lessons (particularly through the use of hyperlinks that lead our co-learners to other learning resources). I’m ultimately not very concerned about what my co-learners and I make; an instructor’s recommended “makes,” in fact, often simply don’t support my own learning goals. I am, however, concerned that we make something that is seamlessly integrated into the learning experience so we have learned something useful, quantifiable, and rewarding to ourselves and others who learn with and from us.

The theme seemed to grow without much effort on my part as I turned back to Maha’s blog to assure her that I agreed about Kevin Hodgson’s cartoons and Simon Ensor’s blog articles being makes for them as learners and for others who see and are inspired by their work.

As we’re seeing through the current Connected Courses two-week module on co-learning, we have countless ways to creatively and effectively engage in making. I would even suggest, as I wrote to Maha, that participating in the “Case of #etmooc [the Educational Tecnology & Media MOOC]” panel discussion earlier this week was a form of making in that it produced a learning object—that online archived recording that is stimulating plenty of conversation and will continue to be a learning resource for anyone interested in knowing how sustainable communities of learning can develop out of well-designed, well-facilitated connectivist MOOCs.

It all very nicely wraps around and draws upon some of the other learning objects we have accessed during our co-learning explorations this week: the Howard Rheingold/Alec Couros interview about building communities of learning, the video of Dean Shareski discussing educators’ “moral imperative” to share, and Rheingold’s “Toward Peeragogy” article for the dmlcentral blog.

If some of the makes that Alan so rightly admires are grounded in collaborative efforts that shape new learning objects from mashups of open educational resources and other freely-shared items, then makes like the one you’re reading—drawing upon a variety of resources to create a unique learning object springing from the learning process itself—most certainly should qualify as makes. The beauty of this type of make is that, like the idea of MOOCs serving as a new form of open textbook, it is never completely finished. If you build upon this in your own blog or contribute through a comment to this piece, you’re contributing to the make—and, more importantly, to the rhizomatically-expanding set of learning resources available to us all benefiting from co-learning through connected learning efforts.

N.B.: This is the fourteenth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and other MOOCs.


Co-learning, #ccourses, and Keeping the Lights On: #etmooc and the Connected Courses MOOC

November 11, 2014

We may have a new corollary to one of the most famous lines from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life (“Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’”): Every time #etmooc is mentioned, a learner gets new learning wings.

ccourses_logoWhich, apparently, is exactly what happened as the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) webinar about #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course—and the development of online communities of learning drew to an end last night. No more than 15 minutes after “The Case of #etmooc” concluded, an audience member posted the following tweet: “Just watched the live #ccourses webinar about #etmooc. Impressed = signed up for my 1st MOOC. Excited to learn.” And if that means another teacher-trainer-learner finds the pleasures and rewards of participating in connectivist MOOCs and the sustainable communities of learning they are capable of spawning, then we have yet another example of what well-designed and well-facilitated MOOCs along the lines of #etmooc and #ccourses can and do offer.

There was something wonderfully circular, encouraging, and tremendously important there for all teacher-trainer-learners to absorb. The hour-long session began with #etmooc’s Alec Couros, two of his #ccourses co-facilitators (Howard Rheingold and Mia Zamora), and several #etmooc alums discussing what made #etmooc different from other MOOCs and, more broadly, from other learning experiences we had had up to the time we joined that course. As part of the current two-week-long #ccourses exploration of co-learning within connected learning opportunities, the session also served as an example of co-learning in action since the lines between learning facilitators (Couros, Rheingold, and Zamora) and learners (the #etmooc alums) quickly blurred—all of us were learning plenty from each other (and probably thinking about what we would next be doing to share those learned lessons with others). And it circled back to the idea of how interwoven our communities of learning are when Zamora surprised at least a few of us by telling us that she learned about connected learning by observing us in action while #etmooc was in progress. Turns out she had signed up for #etmooc when it was first offered in early 2013, but had little time to become actively involved: “I watched from afar,” she said. “I learned something from all of you…because I watched, because I lurked.

“Transformation,” she continued, “happens in places that you cannot even see it happening, not even in yourself….Watching community build is also a powerful learning process. I think that’s what #etmooc gave me as a sort of out-of-the-gate kind of experience for this” experience of helping develop and facilitate the equally dynamic Connected Courses MOOC.

etmoocAnd have no doubts: one of the most significant results of that hour-long session last night was that transformations were occurring. We could see that our explorations of what transformed #etmooc into a vibrant, vital, sustainable community of learning were also helping solidify #ccourses as another learning community that is likely to continue far longer than the formal period during which all of us are interacting within the current course structure. We could see that the same sense of openness—the commitment Couros and his #etmooc “co-conspirators” maintained to injecting a very human, personal element into that massive open online learning environment—was and is in play in the Connected Courses MOOC. We could see that the playful interactions among the session panelists reflected the playfulness that flows through #ccourses and just about every other successful, inspiring, and memorable learning experience we have—a reminder that we need to carry that level of playfulness, as much as possible, into the face-to-face and online learning environments we help create and nurture.

Most importantly, we could see that all-too-rare occurrence in learning: the transformation of a group of learners from students to collaborators to long-term friends—“which is really amazing,” #etmooc alum Susan Spellman Cann observed during the conversation. “I did not expect that from a MOOC.”

Among the reasons cited for the transformation from student to collaborator to friend were Couros’s tremendous skills at facilitating conversations, his natural inclination to make participants feel welcome into that developing community of learning, and the playful introductory activities that included a crowdsourced communal “lip dub” that quickly drew #etmooc participants together while using the educational technology and media tools explored at that point in the course.

As to the underlying question of what #ccourses facilitators and participants (and members of other learning communities) can do to create communities that outlast courses: there was an acknowledgment that connected learning endeavors have a tool we haven’t thought to develop in our more traditional learning environments—the learning environments (e.g., Google+ and Twitter communities united around a hashtag such as #etmooc or #ccourses) that don’t shut down as courses usually do when content within a learning management system is closed and archived beyond the reach of course participants.

It’s not as if “we’re turning the lights off now” when a connectivist MOOC delivers its final lesson, #etmooc and #ccourses co-learner Rhonda Jessen observed.

“Opening up the doors…was really cool,” our co-learner Erin Luong added.

And as long as we keep those lights on and those doors open, we’re likely to see an extension and continuation of learning communities unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And many more wings.

N.B.: This is the thirteenth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and other MOOCs.


Learning When No One Is at the Center of the Room: Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses)

November 10, 2014

Frequent flyers, at one time or another, have the disorienting experience of having to consciously look for reminders of where we are; our minds simply can’t keep up with the frequent leaps between cities, states, and, occasionally, countries. Frequent learners engaged in co-learning (what Edward Brantmeier describes as the act of changing roles so teachers and learners become “joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and…wisdom”) within the world of connected learning may be facing a parallel challenge in at least a couple of ways; when interacting with connected-learning colleagues, we need to remind ourselves which of our wonderfully overlapping communities of learning we are currently engaging (Is this #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course? #xplrpln—the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC? #oclmooc—the Open and Connected Learning MOOC? #ccourses—the Connected Courses MOOC? Or all of the above?), and we have to remember that the line between teacher/trainer and learner is increasingly dissipating in the best of teaching-training-learning opportunities.

ccourses_logo“The Case of #etmooc”—a learning opportunity that is less than two hours away as I write these words—shows us just how all-encompassing, rewarding, and intricately interwoven co-learning can be when it is effectively supported. The one-hour webinar, which initiates a two-week-long exploration of co-learning within the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) and will be archived online for viewing, promises to be an example of how co-learning works to the benefit of everyone involved. Start with the idea that #ccourses facilitators are using the session to examine how co-learning in #etmooc contributed to the creation of a community of learning that still continues more than 18 months after that connectivist MOOC formally concluded. Continue with the fact that the learning facilitators have transformed several of us who are current #ccourses learners into co-learners by inviting us to join them in the formal discussion and recording of the session this evening. Then consider the idea that one of those #ccourses facilitators, Alec Couros, was among those who introduced so many of us to connected learning and connectivist MOOCs while deepening our appreciation of co-learning through all he and his “co-conspirators” did to bring #etmooc to fruition.

etmoocAnd that’s not all. Among the co-learners are colleagues from #etmooc, #xplrpln, and #oclmooc. But not just any colleagues. We’ll be with Jeff Merrell, an #etmooc learner who crossed the co-learning line last year by playing a key role in designing and facilitating #xplrpln. And we’ll be there with several of the #etmooc learners who, having sustained the #etmooc community since the course ended, reunited earlier this year to design and deliver #oclmooc. If it’s beginning to sound as if “The Case of #etmooc” is another homecoming party for many of us, a celebration of how co-learning in online environments fosters training-teaching-learning opportunities unlike any we could have imagined a decade or two ago, and an invitation to the ball, then #etmooc, #xplrpln, #oclmooc, and #ccourses are doing exactly what great learning opportunities should do: providing learning spaces where no one stands alone at the front or in the center of the room, where new long-lasting cohorts of learners/co-learners gather and coalesce, and where everyone with the least amount of interest is welcome. And the best is yet to come since so many of us continually engage in the overlapping roles of teacher-trainer-learner: we will, no doubt, continue to adapt our ongoing co-learning experiences in ways that invite our own learners to, sooner than later, become co-learners in our jointly-shared endeavors.

N.B.: This is the twelfth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  


Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Communities Dealing With Violations  

October 5, 2014

We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.

ccourses_logoThese two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.

Posts by two of our colleagues—Alec Couros and Alan Levine—recently made us aware of what happens when others violate that trust. Couros describes how he and others had their trust violated through an unethical practice known as “catfishing”—a form of Internet fraud in which “individuals or groups create false identities to lure victims into online, romantic relationships.”  There are the obvious victims: the men or women who fall for the fraudulent online postings. There are also the less obvious victims: people like Couros and Levine, who discovered that their photographs have been used as part of the fraudulent online accounts that entrap people who haven’t fully developed first-rate digital literacy skills, including what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.”

oclmooc_logoAn experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.

This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.

I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.

Librarian_in_Black--Sarah_HoughtonSarah is a trusted and cherished colleague who tirelessly addresses issues—like face-to-face and online harassment—consistently, directly, and often with a sense of humor even when she is documenting the most distressing, disgusting situations imaginable. Many of us—after moving beyond the initial shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her profession; we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted to be sure that others knew that when they disrupted our community, we would do all we could to stop the disruption. When she addressed the controversy brewing around efforts to create a code of conduct for conference attendees, we were right there with her to be sure those posting anonymous obscene responses were drowned out by calls for positive action. And when Sarah recently wrote a deeply personal article about the toll violations have taken on her, we were quick to publicly and vocally outnumber the first anonymous respondent who was naïve enough to believe that abusive comments online would be allowed to stand unchallenged on our virtual community’s turf.

That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.

N.B.: This is the ninth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  


#etmooc: Singing Happy Birthday to a Course

January 22, 2014

It’s not often that I’m invited to attend a birthday party for a course—but then again, it’s not often that I find myself immersed in a learning opportunity that produces the sort of sustainable community of learning that #etmooc has.

etmoocThat wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others offered to great acclaim in early 2013—was something that many of us heard about from colleagues or simply stumbled across during our general online explorations of MOOCs last year. The results (as have been so wonderfully documented in numerous blog postings including one written by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, on the course Google+ community that continues to thrive nearly a year after the course formally ended, and in live tweet chats) inspired course colleagues Rhonda Jessen and Susan  Spellman Cann to organize and facilitate a first-anniversary online gathering of #etmooc alums via Twitter last week.

The results were predictably positive. Some of us who were drawn together through #etmooc and have remained in contact online were there, as were others who have not been as active in the post-#etmooc community—but clearly remain transformed, as teacher-trainer-learners, by what we all experienced. The full Storify transcript of the anniversary session compiled by Jesson and capturing more than 400 tweets from approximately 75 participants in that hour-long session is just the latest example of what a well-organized and wonderfully-facilitated MOOC can inspire—the transcript itself is a learning object that others can use and review if they want to bypass the meaningless exchanges about how few people “complete” a MOOC and look, instead, to see the sort of long-term learning that the best of MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—produce.

One of the many keys to the success of #etmooc as a learning experience and a sustainable community of learning is that it started as an opportunity to explore educational technology in a way that encouraged learners to become familiar with the material by using the resources being studied. If we wanted to see how blogging could be integrated into learning, we blogged and saw our work collected and made accessible through a blog hub that continues to thrive to this day as a resource with nearly 4,000 posts that would not otherwise exist for anyone interested in teaching-training-learning. If we wanted to see how Twitter could easily be incorporated into the learning process, we used Twitter as a vehicle to further our learning and, furthermore, saw those exchanges reach into other communities of learning. If we wanted to see how live interactive online sessions could draw us together and become archived learning objects, we participated in live online sessions through Blackboard Collaborate or viewed archived versions so compelling that they felt as if they were live rather than taped learning sessions.

xplrpln_logoAnother key to its success is that the learning has never stopped. In setting up the anniversary celebration—in essence, an #etmooc birthday party—Jessen and Cann encouraged all of us to continue documenting our MOOC successes by blogging about what we had learned and accomplished as a result of our participation. I look at the numerous blog postings I wrote and stand in awe of what Couros, his co-conspirators, and my MOOCmates inspired. I look at how participation in #etmooc led to participation in another connectivist MOOC–#xplrpln, the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that was a direct offshoot (from Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott  at Northwestern University) in fall of 2013. And I continue to hold far more gratitude than I can ever express for the ways these experiences have made me a better trainer-teacher-learner as I continue exploring ways to facilitate learning opportunities that benefit learners and those they serve in a variety of settings not only here in the United States but in other countries.

That’s what draws me to the work I do, and that’s what makes me believe, each time I think about the field of learning and how it connects us to each other, that it’s one of the most rewarding and transformative of endeavors any of us can undertake.

N.B.: This is part of a continuing  series of posts inspired by participation in #etmooc and other MOOCs.


#etmooc and #lrnchat: When Communities of Learning Discuss Community—and Produce Results

September 27, 2013

There was no need this week to read yet another book or article on how to effectively create and nurture great communities. Participating in live online sessions with colleagues in two wonderful communities of learning (#etmooc, using the #etmchat hashtag and a Google+ community for online exchanges, and #lrnchat) provided experiential learning opportunities among those trainer-teacher-learners: participating in discussions to explore what makes our communities attractive or unattractive, and contributing to the conversations in ways that produced immediate results, e.g., a name for a new learning community that is in the early stages of formation in Australia.

#lrnchat_logoThe first of the two communities—#etmooc—is relatively young, having grown out of the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues earlier this year, while #lrnchat appears to have been in existence at least since early 2009 and is currently facilitated by David Kelly, Clark Quinn, Cammy Bean, and Jane Bozarth.

While #etmooc draws together a worldwide group of trainer-teacher-learners interested in improving their ability to effectively and engagingly incorporate technology into the learning process, #lrnchat has the somewhat broader goal of serving as a community “for people interested in the topic of learning [and] who use the social messaging service Twitter to learn from one another and discuss how to help other people learn”; those first-rate #lrnchat organizers also routinely post session transcripts that in and of themselves are great learning resources for others involved in training-teaching learning.

Participants and discussion topics sometimes, as was the case this week, overlap in #etmchat and #lrnchat sessions in fortuitous ways. Those of us who joined the #etmchat session on Wednesday and then joined #lrnchat on Thursday were able see these two overlapping yet significantly different communities explore (and, in many ways, celebrate) the elements that have made both communities dynamically successful. (Stats posted this afternoon by #lrnchat colleague Bruno Winck, aka @brunowinck, suggest that the one-hour session produced 642 tweets and 264 retweets from a total of 79 participants.)

What was obviously common to both groups was the presence of strong, dedicated, highly-skilled facilitators who kept the conversations flowing, on topic, and open to the largest possible number of participants. There was also an obvious sense of respect and encouragement offered to newcomers as well as to those with long-term involvement—a willingness to listen as well as to contribute, and a commitment to extending the conversation to others not immediately involved. (Retweeting of comments was fairly common in both groups, indicating a commitment to sharing others’ comments rather than trying to dominate any part of the conversation solely through personal observations). What we continually see in both groups is an invitation to engage and a willingness to listen as well as contribute rather than the tendency to create and foster cliques that exists in less effective and less cohesive communities.

A sense of humor and a fair amount of humility also appears to support the high levels of engagement visible in both groups—those who are most inclined to offer the occasional ironic/sarcastic/snarky comment just as quickly turn those comments back on themselves to draw a laugh and make a point that contributes to the overall advancement of discussion—and learning—that both communities foster.

There also is more than a hint in both communities of creating learning objects through the transcripts and conversational excerpts (e.g., through the use of Storify) generated via these discussions. And that’s where some of the most significant results are produced, for embedded in those transcripts and excerpts are links to other learning resources that many of us may not have previously encountered.

etmoocFollowing those links during or after the conversations continues our own personal learning process and, as was the case with #lrnchat yesterday, actually produce something with the potential to last far longer than any single discussion session. One of those unexpectedly productive moments of community-sharing-in-action yesterday came when, from my desk here in San Francisco, I posted a link to a Wikipedia article about third places—that wonderful concept of the places outside of home and work that serve as “the heart of community” and the third places in our lives, as defined and described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (1989). A colleague in Melbourne (Helen Blunden), seeing that link, quickly followed it to familiarize herself with the concept, then realized that “Third Place” would serve nicely as the name for a new learning and development community she is currently forming in Melbourne—which means that when members of #3placemelb (Third Place Melbourne) interact online, they’ll be the latest offshoot of a learning tree with roots in Oldenburg’s book first published in 1989; a well-developed trunk that has branches representing a variety of settings, including libraries; and continues to sprout twigs in online virtual communities such as #etmooc and #lrnchat, blended (onsite-online) settings, and that latest growth in Melbourne—all because great communities seem to beget additional great communities through collaboration rather than competition.

N.B.: The #lrnchat sessions currently take place every Thursday from 8:30-9:30 pm EST/5:30-6:30 PST; #etmchat sessions are generally announced on Twitter via the #etmooc hashtag and are also promoted in the #etmooc Google+ community.


On Learning, Testing, and Being Tone Deaf

September 20, 2013

There are plenty of reasons to believe that multiple-choice and true-false tests are among the worst ways to measure whether learning is successful; in the best of circumstances, they tend to measure only the lowest levels of learning achieved, and in the worst of situations they leave respondents without any acceptable responses from which to choose. Yet we seem to remain tone deaf to concerns and criticisms voiced by educators for decades and continue to rely on them.

From Skley's Flickr photostream at http://tinyurl.com/machqej

From Skley’s Flickr photostream at http://tinyurl.com/machqej

The multiple-choice/true-false approach is pervasive in much of what we encounter day to day within and outside of the world of learning. Surveys often incorporate these methods to make tabulation of the results easy—after all, it can easily be argued, we can’t afford to engage in more personalized labor-intensive methods of collecting data (e.g., reading short- or essay-length responses)—although there are signs that mechanizing the testing and grading process in ever-more sophisticated ways is increasingly becoming possible.

But relying on mechanical methods so obviously produces mechanical results that I believe we need to question our own assumptions, be honest about what those assumptions are producing, and seek better solutions than we so far have managed to produce.

A couple of recent experiences helped me understand the frustrations and weaknesses of multiple-choice/true-false testing at a visceral level: taking two very good and very different massive open online courses (MOOCs), and responding to a survey that relied solely on multiple-choice responses which, because they were poorly written, didn’t provide any appropriate responses for some of us who would have been very willing to participate in the project to which the survey was connected.

etmoocLet’s look at the MOOCs first: #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). #etmooc, as a connectivist MOOC (where learning, production of learning objects including blog posts and videos demonstrating the skills that learners were acquiring, and online connections between learners were among the central elements and testing was nonexistent) nurtured development of a community of learning that continues to exist among some of the participants months after the course formally ended. The New Librarianship Master Class, grounded in the more traditional academic model of documenting specific learning goals, relied more on standardized testing to document learning results and offered less evidence that learners were using what they were learning.

The frustrations that some of us mentioned after struggling with standardized questions that didn’t really reflect what we had learned and what we would be capable of doing with that newly-gained knowledge resurfaced for me last night as I was trying to complete in an online research survey. Facing a series of multiple-choice questions, I quickly realized that whoever prepared the options available as responses to the survey questions had underestimated the range of experiences the survey audience had—was, in fact, tone deaf to the nuances of the situation. Opting for results that could be scored mechanically rather than requiring any sort of human engagement in the tabulation process, the writer(s) forgot to include an option for “other” to catch any of us whose experiences didn’t fit any of the options described among the possible multiple-choice responses—which, of course, meant that at least a few of us who might otherwise have been willing to provide useful information abandoned the opportunity and turned to more rewarding endeavors. (And no, there wasn’t an opportunity to simply skip those questions-without-possible-answers so we could stay involved.)

Abandoning a potentially intriguing survey had few repercussions other than the momentary annoyance of being excluded from an interesting project. Being forced to respond to standardized tests that don’t accurately document a learner’s level of mastery of a subject is obviously more significant in that it can affect academic or workplace advancement—and it’s something that is going to have to be addressed in those MOOCs that don’t take the connectivist approach—which raises a broader question that need not be answered within the confines of pre-specified options on a multiple-choice test: why are we not advocating for more effective ways and resources to encourage and document learning successes in both onsite and online settings? Expediency need not be an excuse for producing second-rate results.


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