Who’s MOOC-ing?

One of my new colleagues here at Northeastern (1 month in – time to blog!), sent me the following article on MOOC participation in Inside Higher Ed – Who Takes Moocs?

Here’s my interpretation (for what it’s worth):

I think (personally) that these MOOCs etc are hitting a really different demographic: the intellectually curious rather than the under served / locked-out-of-higher-ed that they aspire to

My synopsis would be

  • 10-15% complete the course or are engaged enough to complete surveys – that seems to be a developing standard
    (let’s call it 15% to be generous, of that 15%:)
  • (20%)     2-3% of the total are Grads,
  • (10%)      1-2% are Undergrads
  • (not quite) 2-3% are taking it for concrete career reasons (to get a better job) – the “keep skills sharp group I feel may just be taking a long lunch!)

In over-stressing the “employment skills / career development” aspect to 75% of participants (Stanford) – the self-justification seems palpable
This field (MOOCs) is extremely instructive, and the analytics it generates could be a huge boon to Academia, but the bringing education to the masses / opening up the marbled halls aspect seems over-stated.

The Golden bullet still looks to me to be: open course-ware, open platform, faculty (strategically) answering very high level expert questions  only, comprehensive student support, very LOW price point with TONS of intrinsic motivation – (game-theory-based?)

MOOCS – get 3 of the six 6 but illustrate very clearly to me that without at least a couple more of these important elements – support, strategic faculty and motivation, they will remain an interesting, academic, exercise.


OERu as Game Changer

The Open Education Resource University: a game changer?

One development that could inject new life into the dual-mode model is the Open Education Resource (OER) University that is being explored by a group of public universities from several countries. Open Educational Resources may prove to be the most disruptive element of the impact of eLearning in higher education. How might they help to widen access, cut costs and give dual-mode provision new relevance?

Some institutions are already encouraging the use of OER to avoid each teacher having to re-invent the wheel for each course. For example, once academics at the Asia eUniversity have developed course curricula they do not create any original learning materials, but simply adapt good quality OER from the web to their needs. Similarly, Athabasca University will only approve development of a course once those proposing it have done a thorough search for relevant open material that can be re-purposed.

Some would go much further. In February 2011 New Zealand’s Open Education Resource Foundation convened a meeting to operationalize the concept of the Open Educational Resource University. The idea is that students find their own content as OER; get tutoring from a global network of volunteers; are assessed, for a fee, by a participating institution; and earn a credible credential. The concept has echoes of the University of London External System that innovated radically 150 years ago by declaring that all that mattered was performance in examinations, not how students acquired their knowledge.

Excerpted from Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning’s article  in Open Learning, the journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning: special Issue on dual mode universities (Volume 27 2012, Issue 1 2012)


.. we include that word in our upcoming grant proposal application and I fear that it equates for most people to either clickers, or making virtual reality versions of lessons where people play a game representing the real world. Like NASA flight trainers that don’t involve people getting killed.

Where we employ “Gamification”, I/we are referring to the principles that are intrinsic to good, addictive games where people (think: students who cannot focus on traditional materials for more than 2 minutes), spend hours persevering and are motivated enough to achieve goals that seem at first, almost impossible.
I’m mid-way (no game company pun intended) through “What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy” by James Paul Gee – published 2003.
I think I can best capture the key principles with a few quotes that I will not damage by paraphrasing:

“learning is or should be both frustrating and life enhancing. The key is finding ways to make hard things life enhancing so that people keep going and don’t fall back on learning and thinking only what is simple and easy.”  Gee talks at length of the Semiotic Domains; “sets of practices that recruit one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written languages, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings”.  He stresses the need to place learning actively and contextually in a number of these domains because in doing so, three results come about:

  1. We learn to experience (see, feel and operate on) the world in new ways.
  2. Since semiotic domains usually are shared by groups of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices, we gain the potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even though we may never see any of them face to face.)
  3. We gain resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving in the domain and, perhaps more important, in related domains.

He continues: “Learning in any semiotic domain crucially involves learning how to situate (or build) meanings for that domain in the sorts of situations the domain involves”

One particular domain, which we in H.E. often try to approximate as “Real World” or “Authentic” (as in Authentic Assessment), Gee calls, “Lifeworld”
He offers; “Helping students learn how to think about the contrasting claims of various specialists against each other and against lifeworld claims ought to be a key job for schools”
He then concludes: “I believe it is crucial, particularly in the contemporary world, that all of us, regardless of our cultural affiliations, be able to operate in a wide variety of semiotic domains outside our lifeworld domain”  – which sounds like a solid argument for a diverse liberal arts education if ever I heard one.

One final aspect that game designers nail where academic Instructional Designers have a way to go is the acceptance of, and lack of discouragement that, “failing” engenders;
“When the character you are playing dies in a video game, you can get sad and upset, but you also usually get “pissed” that you (the player) have failed. And then you start again, usually from a saved game, motivated to do better”

Some more key tenets known by game designers, not really given enough thought by (Academic)  Instructional designers:

  • The learner must be enticed to try, even if he or she already has good grounds to be afraid to try
  • The learner must be enticed to put in lots of effort even if he or she begins with little motivation to do so
  • The learner must achieve some meaningful success when he or she has expended this effort

Wouldn’t it be great if we in Higher Ed could develop a product that replaces the words “Good video games” with something like “Good courses” or “Great coursework”:

Good video games give players better and deeper rewards as (and if) they continue to learn new things as they play (or replay) the game.
In Good video games, students are challenged to “think about the routinized mastery they have achieved and to undo this routinization to achieve a new higher level of skill”

Education as addictive as World of Warcraft… wouldn’t that be great!


AND – Pearson try to pursue this concept with Alleyoop – saw this the day after I blogged !

The Open Content Licensing for Educators (#OCL4Ed)

…workshop starts on Monday 23 January 2012.  +800 participants from +80 countries.

There are a number of elements of the #OCL4Ed which could potentially inform our work for the design, development and delivery of OERu courses:

#OCL4Ed course materials are based entirely on OERs
The pedagogy is scalable and can cater for large student cohorts
The learning is free
The development plan for the #OCL4Ed materials was collaboratively executed in WikiEducator commencing with a review of existing OERs leading to a concept course outline.  The drafting of the course materials was supported by open design and editorial discussions in the wiki using the corresponding talk pages in the wiki. (see for example these discussions relating to the introduction page of the Creative Commons unit.)
The WikiEducator pages can easily be integrated into a local learning management system. The #OCL4Ed workshop uses  a wiki course schedule as well as a more structured learning sequence hosted in the LMS.
The development and delivery of the #OCL4Ed course has incorporated elements of  “Academic Volunteers”. The #OCL4Ed 2012.01 course has four volunteer facilitators. Two of the facilitators are “graduates” of the pilot offering of the #OCL4Ed workshop presented in Feb / March 2011.  (An example of what might be possible for AVI.)
It would be possible to incorporate more formal assessment options of the #OCL4Ed workshop materials within a formal postgraduate elective in OER – -for example an OER course within a Masters Degree  in Educational Technology.

OERu planners and developers from our anchor partner courses are invited to join as active participants or observers. Questions for us to consider include:

What can we learn from the #OCL4Ed development experience to inform the design and development of OERu prototype courses?
Can we adapt and modify this approach for capacity development of the staff of OERu anchor partners and future academic volunteers?


Can Apple “fix” textbooks?

Big announcement coming January 19th in New York City – Steve Job’s legacy to “fix” or “save” the publishing industry in the same way that he “saved” the music industry.
Those of us who gave up illegal downloading of music back in 2001-2 have fond memories of the likes of Kazaa, before people with viruses (a.k.a. Music company executives) – started to embed them in Eminem tracks… Those days seemed to have both potential and threat; a whole industry was feeling cornered, lines were drawn and the no-man’s land between was one that even Michael Morpurgo* couldn’t see a way through (* somewhat obscure reference explained below)

Then came iTunes and Jobs’ brilliance was to develop a business plan that solved a social problem and made BILLIONS of dollars for his company before anyone else saw the possibilities.
Fast forward and for Music Industry, read Publishing Industry; for expensive CDs, read (ridiculously) expensive textbooks and for 99 cent songs, read 99 cent chapters…

To be fair to them, the (traditional) publishers have given it a go but they have been labo(u)ring with a model that is no longer sustainable and they seemed to miss, or were in denial about, the cultural and societal shift from the Yahoo model to Google (expert opinion to wisdom of the crowd). As Clayton Christensen observes, it is difficult for a successful industry to disrupt itself. The tipping point in this case had to, and did, come from the outsider – Open Source / Open Courseware / OER / Open Publishers that have sprung up and the demand for that particular “Bag of Gold” (Gardner Campbell)

Here’s what Apple need to announce:
1) we are partnering or soon will with every publisher on the planet (I know that’s ambitious, but this is the big Apple in the Big Apple)
2) we will have a drag and drop, platform agnostic interface that will allow anyone to select chapters from any texts and turn them into a custom text
3) chapters will cost 99c a time – no exceptions
4) texts that are produced will be immediately accessible by any student, on any device, from anywhere, for $10
5) we will get society away from print as that kills trees – hey, they got us off CDs and into e-songs
6) the texts will be able to incorporate OER and self-published elements at no charge

Flatworld Knowledge are the best model I know and already achieve many of the above, but I fear that they may just get swallowed up by a major publisher who assimilates their content and charges 3x the price. (and on a personal level, all the guys I have worked with at Flatworld will be super rich and won’t return my calls anymore)

Apple might just be the one giant player with the power – and the spirit of Jobs – to get this, no pun intended, job done.
January 19th happens to be my son’s 12th birthday –  perhaps I can give him (notice of) affordable textbooks as a gift – I can see his little face light up as he says, “what do you mean no DS games??!!”


ps – Michael Morpurgo wrote Warhorse – Spielberg’s new movie – involves, war, a horse, the trenches in Europe, no-man’s land and some illegal downloads of MP3s…