Category: emerging technologies
Over the last year or so, we’ve interviewed more than 200 individuals who have participated in a number of open courses. We are working on a project in which we are using learner narratives and vignettes from these interviews to help administrators, faculty, researchers, and learning designers understand learners and improve their learning experience. Though there are many ways that are used to understand learners (e.g., dashboards) we believe that in-depth vignettes of typical experiences may allow for greater sensitivity of the learners’ lifeworld and realities. We will be using these stories to problematize various aspects of digital learning. Each story will be followed by a longer analysis of the issues raised in the story. For now, below is one such (DRAFT!) story. What do you think? Is there anything else that you’d like to see in this narrative? Is it interesting? If you are an administrator, faculty, researcher, or learning designer, does this story add anything valuable?
Title: Why not?
Theme: Open learning opportunities are oftentimes costless and relatively risk-free.
Mary and her demanding Pomeranian, Kylie, live deep in the heart of Texas. “I have a passion for the law!” the thirty-year-old exclaimed when we called her on her landline. She had seriously considered going to law school and had even passed her LSATS, the law school entrance exams used for US Universities. But having just finished four intense years of a bachelor’s degree, she decided to wait a bit. “Law school just didn’t seem like a good choice at the time,” she reflected. Five years later, Mary has settled into her work as a business consultant. Her interest in the law is still keen, and she’s never completely given up the dream of law school, but it’s been tempered with a bit of realism. “I don’t know if I can afford to spend another three years in the classroom,” she confided to us, “I don’t know if I still have the same passion for the legal industry as I did five years ago.”
During an afternoon enjoying frozen mango margaritas with a friend, trying to cope with the scorching sun, Mary learned about MOOCs. Shortly thereafter, she signed up for a number of courses, dabbling in some and promptly forgetting about others. One day, ContractsX, a course on contract law taught by a Harvard professor, popped up on her screen and she decided to “give it a shot”. What had she got to lose? “It’s a free class, taught at one of the more well-respected institutions. Why not?!” she laughed.
The course was flexible and fit into her busy life. On Saturday mornings she would sit in her office, with Kylie by her side and a warm cup of dark roast coffee in her hand, and use her trusted iPad to watch Harvard Law lectures. These weren’t just any lectures. Professor Fried was a masterful storyteller, a king of his trade. It was through these short, interesting, and memorable stories that Professor Fried taught concepts relating to contract law. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, I’m learning this material from Harvard law!” The fast pace and cramped content made the course challenging, Mary acknowledged, and she didn’t always do as well as she would have liked on the course tests. But, as she was able to go back to review the answers and re-watch the videos, this didn’t stress her too much, and she ended up passing the course with flying colours. Proud of her certificate of accomplishment, Mary enthused, “It makes me want to keep coming back for more!”
Even though it was a personal interest in the law that led her to sign up for this course, Mary has found what she learned in ContractsX helpful when she has to deal with contracts in her own job. She has enthusiastically recommended the course to co-workers and friends. She’s currently taking a number of other open courses and is anxiously awaiting the second version of the Contracts course. While Mary’s dream of attending law school, may not have changed, her confidence in herself has: “I never thought of applying to Harvard. There was no way I would be getting in. But then, five years later, I’m taking a course from Harvard. I wouldn’t say that I’m a Harvard law student, but at least now I could sit across from a Harvard law student and have a clear conversation with them. It’s very rewarding to know that.”
A number of literature reviews have been published on MOOCs. None has focused exclusively on the empirical literature. In a recent paper, we analyzed the empirical literature published on MOOCs in 2013-2015 to make greater sense of who studies what and how. We found that:
- more than 80% of this literature is published by individuals whose home institutions are in North America and Europe,
- a select few papers are widely cited while nearly half of the papers are cited zero times,
- researchers have favored a quantitative if not positivist approach to the conduct of MOOC research,
- researchers have preferred the collection of data via surveys and automated methods
- some interpretive research was conducted on MOOCs in this time period, but it was often basic and it was the minority of studies that were informed by methods traditionally associated with qualitative research (e.g., interviews, observations, and focus groups)
- there is limited research reported on instructor-related topics, and
- even though researchers have attempted to identify and classify learners into various groupings, very little research examines the experiences of learner subpopulations (e.g., those who succeed vs those who don’t; men vs women).
We believe that the implications arising from this study are important for research on educational technology in general and not jut MOOC research. For instance, given the interest on big data and automated collection/analysis of the data trails that learners leave behind on digital learning environments, a broader methodological toolkit is imperative in the study of emerging digital learning environments.
Here’s a copy of the paper:
Veletsianos, G. & Shepherdson, P. (2016). A Systematic Analysis And Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013-2015. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(2).
I was at a small gathering last week, called the Digital Learning Research Network. It was hosted at Stanford and it aimed to explore the messiness of digital learning. This was not representative of Silicon Valley’s uncritical love affair with technology. Many colleagues wrote reflections about it: Catherine Cronin, Kristen Eshleman, Josh Kim, Jonathan Rees, Tim Klapdor, Alyson Indrunas, Adam Croom, Whitney Kilgore, Matt Crosslin, Laura Gogia, Patrice Torcivia, and Lee Skallerup Bessette (to name a few). When was the last time you were at a small conference, other than the ones focusing on blogging, and this many people took time after the event to blog about it?
The messiness of digital learning isn’t a new development. It is something that educational technology evangelists ignore, but as a researcher who has an affinity for qualitative data, and as one who is increasingly using data mining techniques on open social data, I can tell you that mess is the norm and not the exception. I’m not the only one.
For me, the conference questioned educational technology but looked to it for empowerment. It critiqued universities but saw them as places to create a more just and equitable society. It brought attention to the US-centric conversations happening in this space, but recognized that we can learn from one another. It sought research, but did not seek to emulate research-focused conferences. It allowed Dave to share his thoughts but called him out on it when it was time to stop. ;)
I see the conference as the start of a longer and larger conversation. Many of us are doing research in this space and many were missing. Let’s expand the conversation.
Recently, I had the privilege of organizing a workshop for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Athabasca University. The goal was to help the organization work through what they might need to do to put in practice a new strategic plan which calls for student-centered and open digital learning. I used the slides below to assist faculty, instructors, and instructional designers translate theory into practice.
An interesting article this morning from Jeff Young at the Chronicle of Higher Education notes:
One of the obstacles to bringing “adaptive learning” to college classrooms is that professors, administrators, and even those who make adaptive-learning systems don’t always agree on what that buzzword means. That was a major theme of a daylong Adaptive Learning Summit held here on Tuesday. Several people interviewed at the summit, held by the education-innovation group National Education Initiative, noted that part of the problem is a proliferation of companies that make big promises based on making their technologies adaptive, yet all use the term slightly differently.
I would counter that the big (and unsubstantiated) promises are a greater problem than the buzzwords, but the lack of clarity on what these concepts refer to are an issue, too.
The introductory sentences from Online Learning: Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices (the second edition of the Emerging Technologies in Distance Education book I edited, which is forthcoming in 2016), make a similar argument:
Many of these (new) approaches to education and scholarship can be categorized as either emerging technologies (e.g., automated grading applications within MOOCs) or emerging practices (e.g., sharing instructional materials online under licenses that allow recipients to reuse them freely).
The terms “emerging technologies” and “emerging practices” however, are catchall phrases that are often misused and haphazardly defined. As Siemens (2008, ¶ 1) argues, “terms like ‘emergence,’ ‘adaptive systems,’ ‘self-organizing systems,’ and others are often tossed about with such casualness and authority as to suggest the speaker(s) fully understand what they mean.”
A clearer and more uniform understanding of emergence and of the characteristics of emerging technologies and practices will enable researchers to examine these topics under a common framework and practitioners to better anticipate potential challenges and impacts that may arise from their integration into learning environments.
At AERA this week, Amy Collier, Emily Schneider, and I will be presenting a paper that makes a series of arguments regarding learner activities and experiences in MOOCs in relation to clickstream-based MOOC research. One of the implications of our work is the following: learners’ participation and experiences in these courses resist binary and monolithic interpretations as they appear to be mediated by a digital-analog continuum as well as a social-individual continuum. In other words, learning and participation in MOOCs are both distributed and individually-socially negotiated. The following visual (which provides some hints on our results) makes this point clearer:
* and since the work of peer reviewers often goes unrecognized, let it be known, that this insight was prompted by a comment from one anonymous reviewer. So, whoever you are, thank you for your input.
I joined Audrey Watters, Philipp Schmidt, Stephen Downes, and Jeremy Friedberg in Toronto last week, to give a talk at Digital Learning Reimagined, an event hosted and organized by Ryerson University’s Chang School. I presented some of our latest research, and tried to highlight research findings and big ideas in 15 minutes. Below are my slides and a draft of my talk.
Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. Even though I’m the person giving this talk, I’d like to acknowledge my collaborators. A lot of the work that I am going to present is collaborative and it wouldn’t have been possible without such amazing colleagues. These are: Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho, Amy Collier and Emily Schneider from Stanford University, and Peter Shepherdson from the University of Zurich. The Canada Research Chairs program, the National Science Foundation and Royal Roads University have funded this work.
I want to start my talk by telling a story.
This castle that you see here is one of the most recognizable parts of Royal Roads University (RRU). But, don’t let the castle fool you. RRU was created in 1985. It’s purpose was to serve the needs of a changing society by serving working professionals through graduate digital education and multidisciplinary degrees. It has grown since 1985. It has matured, developed a social learning model that is now infused in all courses, developed new areas of focus, forged global partnerships, and continues to explore how to improve what it does through pedagogical and technological approaches.
Why am I sharing this short story about RRU?
Because this story, minus the specific details, is a common story. It’s also a Ryerson story, a story that is played out at the University of Southern New Hampshire, a story that Open Universities around that world have gone through. It is a story that repeats itself over and over for years and years.
What is the essence of the story?
It is often assumed that universities have been static, unchanging since the dawn of time. The short story I shared illustrates that universities are, and have always been, part of the society that houses them, and as societies change, universities change to reflect those societies. The economic, sociocultural, and technological pressures that universities are facing are sizable, and for better or for worse, usually for both, there’s a continuous re-imagination of education throughout time. Throughout time. Universities have always been changing.
As universities are changing and exploring different ways to offer education, faculty, researchers, and administrators engage in a number of practices that I like to describe as emerging. Emerging practices & emerging technologies are those that are not necessarily new, not yet fully researched, but appear promising.
Online learning and openness are example of emerging practices.
Online learning has a long history. But it also has a new history, with the development of multimedia platforms, media that can be embedded across platforms, syndication technologies that enable learners to use their own platforms for learning and so on. So, even though some of the problems that online learners are facing in contenmporary situations are not new (eg dropout), learners abilities’ to congregate in online communities is expanded through newer technologies and that poses different sorts of challenges and opportunities.
Another emerging practice is openness. Openness refers to liberal policies for the use, re-use, adaptation, and redistribution of content. Openness is also a value: It refers to adopting an ethos of transparency with regards to access to information. And this ethos ranges from academics publishing their work in open formats, to teaching open courses, to creating open textbooks. And it doesn’t stop at individual academics or institutions. In 2014 the Premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate creation, sharing, and use of Open Educational Resources. In the same year, SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR have drafted a tri-agency open access policy to improve access to and dissemination of research results (NSERC, 2014);
There is a growing interest in and exploration of online learning and openness, practices which are still emerging. Next, I will share four recent results from our research into these practices that I believe are interesting to consider because they reveal the tensions that exist when dealing with emerging topics.
First, research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinary research into online learning means that individuals from a diverse range of disciplines, not just education, are interested in making sense of online learning. It is hoped that more research into online learning and more research from multidisciplinary groups will help us learn more about online learning and about learning in general.
We have evidence to show that research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but we measure diversity in published research using a nifty measure and found that the period 2013-2014 can be described as more interdisciplinary than the period 2008-2012.
This is a positive trend, but before I explain its significance, let me explain to you how I view technology.
My perspective on online learning centers around the idea that technology is socially shaped . That means that technology always embeds its developers’ worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions into its design and the activities it supports and encourages.
What does this mean for interdisciplinarity? This means that we have both an opportunity and a challenge.
Our opportunity: to use our respective expertise to improve education.
Our challenge: to actually do interdisciplinary thinking and to go into the study and design of future educational systems with an open mind and the realization that our own personal experiences of education may not be generalizable. A lot of educational technology is produced by people of privilege and to develop educational technology that matters and makes societal difference, we need diversity in thinking and experience.
Our second finding refers to the increasing desire to collect, mine, and analyze data trails to make inferences about human behavior and learning. This practice is often referred to as learning analytics and educational data mining. This practice is a reflection of a larger societal trend toward big data analytics. The idea is that by looking at what people do online one can understand how to improve education.
A couple of things that researchers discovered for example are:
Data trails. Nearly everything that learners do online is tracked. Can we understand learners and improve learning by analyzing their data trails?
While these approaches can help us explain what people do, they often don’t tell us why they do they things they do nor how they actually experience online education.
My colleagues and I are interviewing MOOC students to learn about their experiences in MOOCs.
I am now going to tell you about our third result. We find that learners schedule their learning, use of resources, and participation to fit their daily life. This is in stark contrast to the idea of undergraduate education situated at a university and happening at particular time periods.
One retired individual in Panama that we interviewed works on his class early in the morning every day. Why does he do that? He does that because at that time his daughter is asleep. She is homeschooled and once she wakes up she needs access to the 1 computer that they have in the household to do her own schoolwork. In this case a lack of resources necessitates this scheduling.
One individual that we interviewed moved from the UK to the USA to be with her partner. She is currently waiting for her work permit, driver’s license, and so on, and she was enrolled in multiple MOOCs at the same time. She would work on her courses on Monday because she just “wanted them out of the way,” and so she would work on these courses straight throughout the day.
The fourth and final finding that I have for you today, is that MOOC platforms to date have not offered learners the ability to keep notes, so that particular activity, by virtue of being unsupported by the platform goes undetected when researchers only look at data trails.
Unsurprisingly, learners keep notes. A number of students that we talked to described that they keep notes on paper, frequently keeping a notebook for particular courses and returning to them during exams or during times that they needed them. Learners of course also keep notes in digital format. Usually in word documents, but again documents are dedicated to particular courses, but sometimes they are dedicated to particular topics across courses.
To give you an example, of how we believe this activity could be supported in the future and how we believe innovations can contribute to learning, we recommend designers support this practice by pedagogical innovations such as scaffolding notetaking, but also by technological innovations, by developing online systems for notetaking. What is important here is that such systems should support learning by being interoperable, by allow learners full and unrestricted access to their notes, supporting them to be able to import & export their notes between platforms. Such a design is in line with emerging ideas in the field which call for learners to own their data.
Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!
A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe
The Networked Scholars course starts in two weeks, on October 20th, with 2 options for participation.
1. Through the Canvas Network.
2. Through personal blogs and twitter accounts, syndicated, via the…. drumroll…. Networked Scholars Syndication hub. With special thanks to Alan Levine who has been helping a number of people implement this design, all readings and activities will be publicly-available, and this site syndicates blog/twitter feeds used as discussion/reflection spaces. The official Twitter hashtag for the course is #scholar14. If you are interested in this option, feel free to head over to the syndication hub, and connect your blog to the site!
Image: STS-131 Discovery Launch