Friday, April 19, 2013

Times Higher Education piece - what I actually said to Chris Parr about #EDCMOOC ... (Chris' summary quote is fine, it's just I did say a little bit more than that...) and by the way, I'm getting on better with the #OcTEL MOOC despite still being very confused...

  1. You were disappointed by the edcmooc – in what ways did it fail to reach your expectations?
    The content did not match the title or course description. There was too much video content. The navigation was poor. The time estimate per week was heavily underestimated.
  2. What was the best thing about your Mooc experience?
    Contact with others via my own blog and MOOC discussions.
  3. And the worst?
    Not completing the course
  4. Did you involve yourself with your Mooc’s community or study independently?
    Mainly independent - I think a study group would have helped but my schedule didn't really allow it and due to the navigation issues I never spotted the study groups until the rot had set in...
  5. What would you change about your MOOC?
    Improve the yield of completion - use the technology currently in place in the IT industry around tracking helpdesk requests and supply chain issues to improve "picking up where you left off" (progress), improve general user experience and website navigation, use analytics to spot how people are contributing and where problems may lie. Signal core content in a more obvious way. Make the assessment methods clearer in the course description so people don't sign up without understanding what they are committing to. Do not rely on a lot of video content as it is hard to complete for time-pressed learners.
  6. General comments.
    Great project, all kudos to Edinburgh for trying it. But the overall effect for me was knowing that I don't want to do an elearning course they run that I had previously been interested in taking. I think that's a good thing, for me and for them. I think MOOCs are the "book clubs" of education at the moment. Probably there will be a bifurcation into general study group activities on the Internet (particularly for recent or esoteric topics) compared to more "certified" and "instructor-led" MOOCs that use the best of blended learning techniques but on a larger scale.
I was also discussing with (redacted) earlier today the information from The Chronicle about HEI views of MOOCs. I think part of the problem is related to the inability to value, train and reward tutorial/teaching assistants for working on eLearning courses. There are a whole set of skills that can overcome the technical problems with MOOCs that exist already in the IT support sector. What there isn't is much recognition that moving in this direction will mean HE has to start properly paying and rewarding people who "teach" online but aren't tenured... old problem, unlikely to be resolved any time soon. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Quitting #edcmooc

I'm going to delete these MOOC blogs in a couple of weeks because they aren't interesting.

Gave up #EDCMOOC, but may browse the remaining two weeks of content, because:
  • The induction was poor and the first week I was completely confused about what to do.
  • The assessment was not made apparent until week 2, when it turned out to be "whatever you're having yourself" and to involve something which would be very time consuming to do well (a "digital artefact" with the examples produced by full time students in week 2, and I bet they took a good bit of time to create… They mainly involved recycling the confusion of the MOOC participants)
  • The navigation remained unclear although they did add a page to try to help the confused. Why isn't it responsive to your progress? The design involved a great deal of scrolling and remembering.
  • It didn't do what it said on the tin. It wasn't about ELEARNING and digital cultures, it was in fact about linguistic structuralism and ideas of humanism. 
  • There was far too much content and much of it was duplicated or same-y. There was too much video which is time consuming because you can't scan it like text to find out if it is worthwhile. Content needs to be more clearly signalled as crucial, core and optional.
  • The time effort was way underestimated at 3-4 hours per week
  • The forums were full of thousands of people making introductory comments. Hard to find the popular threads where any concrete points were being argued.
  • Because I found the first week so confusing, which took a lot of time, I never got around to trying the study groups. They may be the answer.
  • The introductory hangout was disastrous in signal to noise ratio.
  • There was lots of confusing antonymic argument - black and white is never interesting. 
Bottom line, I wasn't learning anything I found useful, so last night I sewed my veg seeds instead of sitting down to the computer…

One interesting point. Some MOOC proponents believe they are actually marketing tools for the institution's conventional courses. I had considered trying to find time/money to do the Edinburgh MSc based on some of the student work I've seen but definitely would not follow that option up now. I think that's a good thing, both for me and for Edinburgh!

One sad point. There was actually no content I saw other than Clay Shirky's piece, which I'd already read previously, that I have felt the need to bookmark or remember from this MOOC. Steve Fuller's TED talk was a great 15 minute summary of ideas on what it is to be human, but this isn't what I thought we were going to be learning about... 

Would I have been better off just looking at TED talks with the time I spent on #edcmooc? Probably.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

#edcmooc Week 2 "the brothel of non-learning"

So well, I still don't have much clue what this MOOC is about. I spent hours wading through the content (3-4 hours a week my a**e).

Apparently this week we have learned that metaphor is a lens just like determinism. Funny, I thought determinism was an epistemic philosophy whereas metaphor describes an implicit comparison between two unlike things that actually have something in common. I don't know what either has to do with eLearning and digital cultures unless your course team happens to be interested in linguistic structuralism. I didn't sign up for a course in that as I'm not interested in that topic… am feeling a lot of my time has been wasted but keeping going because I don't want to drop out of a third MOOC in a row.

We watched yet more video clips which insisted on viewing the word in antonyms (utopia/dystopia) instead of authentic complexity.  We had to watch some marketing videos about new technologies like Microsoft Surface. These all majored in instant and unrealistic solutions to issues like chronic illness and health information. They reminded me of 1950s TV ads in their strenuous attempts to normalise the strange and make it unthreatening and "must-have".

Then we had to watch clips that I think were supposed to represent typical stories of fear about technology such as being "stamped" or chipped in some way and therefore followed by authoritarian powers or where deeply human processes (like dating) had been in some way mechanised. These were amateurish in production values and storyline. I found them boring, and regarding dating rather silly as this is one of the successes of the Internet, with over 1 in 8 US marriages now arising from online dating.

On the course forums there was comment about people's distress in finding they were small voices in a multitude of similar comments and that somehow this was dehumanising. I found the forums just lots of examples quoted of creative works mostly using technology as a proxy for the innate nastiness of human nature. The basic week 1 concept - dichotomy of utopia/dystopia with the involvement of technology - was not actually a useful way to illuminate how we respond to technology because it was a shallow stereotype, and the connection to learning and digital cultures was unclear. Since the assessment (in as far as it was possible to understand what was being asked) was that you "make a comment" the result was a cacophony of quantity over quality. Where there were quality responses it was impossible to get time to investigate them thoroughly - also dissatisfying.

Back in the content section we were asked to read Johnston on the use of metaphor concerning the Internet based on a literature search she had carried out. Where exactly is Johnston's evidence that people (as opposed to academic authors) do not use the same type of physical metaphors in relation to other concepts that we do about the Internet? I don't personally think of the Internet in metaphorical terms at all. I think of it as physical computer networks that I cannot comprehend which do not need a metaphor, but which tend to reflect  in their final effects unchanging human characteristics (mostly nasty ones) derived from our biology.

Then we watched Anna Mae Newitz describing typical fear storylines about technology in science fiction  
1. Hive mind - is it smart or stupid?
2. Spies are watching you through technology. 
3. Mind control. 
4. Can't stop the signal (broadcasting your thoughts/not able to prevent mind being controlled).

My question: how does this relate to the reality of the Internet?
  • The elite with access to the Internet can find special information/products/recommendations/advice.
  • Things are cheaper and easier to get.
  • We can connect and learn and work despite distance
  • There are also possibilities to do evil - 3d printing of weapons, porn, ubiquitous advertising etc. There is also the shallowness argument (lack of deep thought, analysis due to constant flicking between content).

Netflix might make a good pro and anti argument - gets rid of advertising, gives you choice but the Netflix company gets an enormous amount of information about how people are watching content which could lead to an Eli Pariser like movement towards filter bubbles.

Then we looked at Clay Shirky talking about MOOCs. He mentions self-scoring tests as a key feature of MOOCs. Quizzes would have been great on edcmooc. I am adrift armed only with a sense of scepticism…

Love this: Shirky's MOOC Criticism Drinking Game: take a swig whenever someone says “real”, “true”, or “genuine” to hide the fact that they are only talking about elite schools instead of the median college experience. And this: "The large lecture isn’t a tool for producing intellectual joy; it’s a tool for reducing the expense of introductory classes".

So… My digital artefact should perhaps be about ways of using IT industry and supply chain techniques to improve MOOCs? Starting point Shirky: "For colleges, this means more graduate and adjunct instructors, increased enrollments and class size, fundraising, or, of course, raising tuition."

To counter Shirky we had a self-serving grad student lecturer called Bady who aspires to tenure and supports the status quo. He had no real arguments and in the main just criticises Shirky's writing style. He ends: "Beware anyone who tries to give you a link to WebMD as a replacement for seeing a real doctor." Yet actually a lot of people use the Internet to aid them with useful health advice. Support groups anyone? I personally used it in an emergency medicine situation and it probably saved me about 8 months more severe disability than I actually experienced. Internet 1, Bady 0. To use the gamification metaphors we are supposed to be learning about.

I've saved the worst of week 2 till last. An hour of Campbell Gardner. And I want to admit straight away I fell asleep for 10 minutes in the middle. Here we're apparently contrasting 
"schoolers" and "yearners" - the latter want deep change in education through tools like MOOCs rather than former who produce "blogging assignments" where you continue the same model with technology plastered over. Which is characterised as "the brothel of non-learning". 

I see yet another spat between the trainers and the educators. People want value for money in their learning. Employers now expect their employees to train and retrain themselves in their own time largely (portfolio careers?). This is one of the environmental factors that MOOCs are a response to.

Campbell seemed to be stuck in a metacognitive loop which is all about how clever his students are (and by implication he himself is). My sci-fi metaphor for his talk would have to be the introduction to Kubrick's 2001. Campbell is conflating  tool-using with learning. Apparently it's all about hospitality to provide an ecology of yearning. This is just a plea that in a nice world education should be pointless. Sorry, mate. You've been disintermediated and this model is dead.

The course organisers in their introduction imply that Campbell is describing the "utopia" of open learning. They ask us to reflect on what open learning means to us so here goes:

  • Clear navigation and achievable assessments
  • Well-selected and relevant content
  • An arc of imagination and progress that is clear throughout the course
  • Low cost
  • Flexibility in time and place
  • Interesting networks of connection
  • Economic and intellectual benefit
  • Hospitality doesn't come into it anywhere.

I don't think the list above is rocket science. In one of the optional articles: "It is unclear how much Coursera students actually study. Ng estimates that 40 to 60 percent of those who register in a typical course might attempt the first assignment. Perhaps 10 to 15 percent might finish all the work." This is a very poor yield in supply chain terms. Why write off MOOCs without trying to come up with some guidelines and suggestions to improve the yield? The days of education for the sake of education in a world of limited resources and a hollowed-out globalised professional class are numbered. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

#edcmooc eLearning and Digital Cultures: Meh…

So let's start positive. It's a free course - see It's run by the Edinburgh University eLearning team who have a great track record - I've used examples of their students' work in the past to show why and how eportfolios can be creative and wonderful ways to assess learners' work.

It's made me do a bit of thinking about the variety of views of technology - "dystopian" (source of all evil), "utopian" (saves the human race) and determinist (new technologies, from the printing press to the iPad, control how our societies develop).

I was disappointed by the content in week 1. There were some "cute" short videos (the best of which, of course, is Michael Wesch and students "The Machine is Us/ing Us"). There was a poorly written essay by Daniel Chandler that listed out ideas, mainly from the 1970s, relating to technological determinism. Social scientists seem to have a very simplistic account of determinism along the lines of "you either think it's the solution or the problem". I've always been a total determinist because as soon as you have the theoretical physics concepts of uncertainty and quantum entanglement, it means no-one can predict the future anyway, so the problem of free will  (mostly) goes away. Causality rules! Every letter I type or mistype here is inevitable. But I can't predict which word comes next so it doesn't "matter". 

Technology clearly does affect society, but since humans are irrational (Kahneman and Tversky's Prospect theory) rather like the problem of free will, it's always a complex interactive factor, never a simplistic good or evil thing. I like Jared Diamond's 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, as a more "nuanced" description of the interactions that occur between resources, ideas and technological possibilities in human societies.

Not very much in the course materials that I could find related the ideas mentioned back to eLearning. The level of comfort learners have with technology varies wildly and can relate to issues of literacy, and preferences towards different types of content. Taking account of this human variety is crucial in creating courses that help learners achieve their aims.

They did at one point ask for utopian and dystopian views of technology:

  • Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) bothers to have BOTH a dystopian and a utopian view of technology (and society). NB a lot of "utopian" fantasy writing also relates to issues of gender. Let's not go there yet...
  • It's actually quite hard to come up with something that's pure utopian (tends to get a bit PollyAnna-ish, no? Since technology is about power and humans will always "misuse" power) but I suppose Robert A Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966).
  • Franz Kafka's Amerika (1927) struck me as a novel about technology taking control of society in an oppressive way though it's usually read as a novel about emigration/being an immigrant.

Suggestion for Edinburgh: provide a way to add to lists of works tackling utopian and dystopian technology (and maybe a third list for the interesting ones that deal with both?). We could have listed them and voted them up and down! I expect the response will be "you do it!" but guess what guys? Ye are being paid for this, we are volunteering.

The kind of writing encompassing technology issues that I actually like takes a more complex approach. Such as Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Or the slightly mawkish but, very relevant to eLearning tale, "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes (1959). Yes I know I keep sending you to Wikipedia but what better way to find out if your taste might be like mine without wasting time?

Watching the Google hangout recording was a bit annoying (but then I hate video - it's such a waste of time compared to text you can scan…). First of all there was over 6 minutes of pointless introductory chat from Jen. Followed by Christine waffling on for 6 minutes about the forums without providing any really useful strategies. Then Sian at 17 minutes mentioning the point which I would have considered the entry point for most people… that life is more complex than dystopia v utopia. Do we not know this by about age 16? Now we have Jonathan Knox on digital natives and digital immigrants. Which we also already know - surely - is an over-simplification. So we have oversimplified utopias, determinisms and views of learners. OK, I think we got it - it's complicated! We knew that. We thought you were actually going to teach us something about how to deal with the complexity. 

Now at 24 minutes we have Hamish - he's going to explain the assessment! Should that not have been the first thing on the first page of the course introduction? Waffles on, my broadband gives out, now he's back but still not actually giving any useful information… Apparently it's all intentionally vague to be open to creativity. Well, there's a thing. 

Then every time you tried to vote up the comments, the hangout video restarted. Then the URL for the Chris Swift #EDCMOOC school wasn't copyable and it took some searching to find. Then Google kept trying to make me sign in to the wrong username. So I gave up trying to interact with the comments, which were, in the main, inane anyway.

Something useful at last! Jen suggests reading Martin Hand - Making digital cultures - structures of narratives of promise and threat - utopia and dystopia - to update the dated stuff we've been reading so far. Hamish suggests something else but he takes so long to say it my attention wanders and I miss it. Sian seems to have some sensible things to say and is less waffly than the others. A glossary is suggested. I think Edinburgh should have done this and not be asking participants to do it. Now Jonathan's having a waffle about structured narratives. FFS. Jen's using open source movement as an example of utopia. Fair enough. Another 9 minutes to endure. Sian explains reification backwards by explaining a term that is not reified. The rest of the hangout contained nothing useful except that next week will be… more nuanced! With tasty metaphors!

So there you go. Week one down. Hope things improve. Although I did enjoy the unreferenced Abraham Maslow quote in the Daniel Chandler essay: "to someone who has only a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail".