On December 5th, Coursera sent an email inviting individuals to participate in a survey intended to investigate whether participation on Coursera “has had any career, educational, or social impact in [their] life.” The email also stated: “Your survey response will be used as part of a research study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, and Coursera, examining the impact of MOOCs.”
Research studies examining the impact of MOOCs outside of individual courses and studies that use methods other than clickstream data, are worthwhile and needed. I applaud Coursera and its partners for the effort to address this research gap.
However, the lack of information pertaining to the research is concerning.
By clicking on the email invitation, potential participants land on a page that describes the research study as follows:
Both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington have offices in place to support researchers in conducting research in ways that protect human participants (the UPenn IRB is here and the U of Washington site here). Importantly, these offices are not just regulatory: they provide help and support. The UPenn site for example states that the mission of the IRB includes providing “professional guidance and support to the research community.”
At the very minimum, potential participants should be informed about the study and should provide their agreement to participate in the study. This process is called informed consent. The University of Washington IRB website describes it as follows:
Researchers are required to obtain the informed consent of all participants in human subjects research prior to enrolling those individuals in a study. The individual’s consent must be voluntary and based upon adequate knowledge of the purpose, risks, and potential benefits of a research study. All potential participants should also be informed of their right to abstain from participation or to withdraw consent to participate at any time without reprisal. After ensuring that a person has understood the information, the researcher should then obtain the person’s consent, preferably in writing. [more details here]
This information should be written in language that a layperson can understand and should be included in the screenshot above. In online surveys, consent is usually gained by asking participants to click on a button that indicates that the individual agrees to participate in the study.
This is all missing from the Coursera survey.
Granted, Coursera is a business entity, and it is not bound by the same requirements imposed upon researchers to conduct a survey. Businesses conduct surveys and market research all the time, and none of this applies. But this isn’t just market research. The email and survey introduction have a clear statement of intent: The data will be used for research. Even if Coursera is unaware of the existence of ethical guidelines, Facebook’s emotion contagion study and other news stories on ethics (e.g., Harvard’s hidden cameras efforts) should have provided a moment to pause and ask: Are we doing all we can to ensure that we are treating each other, and our research participants especially, in an ethical and caring way?
Update #1: This special issue will include an “experiences from the trenches” section for individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. You can find the requirements for those papers here.
What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?
Special Issue – Call for papers
Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journal published by Taylor & Francis
While during 2011-2012 the mass media were largely exuberant about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), claiming that these courses will revolutionize and democratize access to education, in 2013-2014 anti-MOOC sentiment rose amidst concerns pertaining to completion rates, sustainable business models, and pedagogical effectiveness. Heated debates on the status quo and future of higher education have ensued since then, and even though there is “no shortage of prophecies about [MOOC’s] potential impact” (Breslow et al., 2013, pp. 23), the academic community has yet to develop an in-depth understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs. The aim of the special issue is to add to our understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs by providing answers to the question: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?
Learner experiences arise from the ways learners interact with and respond to content, activities, instructional methods, instructors, and the context within which learning and instruction happen (Parrish, 2005). At a time when researchers and online learning providers are embracing the use of learning analytics and big data to examine learner behaviors, activities, and actions, very few researchers have sought to gain a deep, qualitative, and multidimensional understanding of learner experiences with open forms of learning. A nuanced appreciation of how users experience open learning, including the successes and obstacles they face, will assist learning designers, researchers, and providers in making greater sense of the open course phenomenon as well as enable them to improve open online learning.
This CFP arises has its foundations on a 2013 call in which Veletsianos argued that “we only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning” (Veletsianos, 2013). While there’s been an expansive amount of research on MOOCs, the existing literature predominantly focuses on learner behaviors and practices, while investigations of learners’ lived experiences are largely absent (Adams et al., 2014). The availability of large-scale data sets also appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs, and, while significant insights are developed via that research route, the field will benefit tremendously by gaining a better understanding and appreciation of learners’ experiences.
To address these issues and to support the development of the field, we invite authors to submit manuscripts investigating the learner experience in massive open online courses. Manuscripts can be of three types:
- Empirical. Such manuscripts should follow rigor guidelines appropriate for the research methods used.
- Systematic reviews of the literature and literature meta-syntheses.
- Theoretical manuscripts, contributing to the development of theory pertaining to learner experiences in open courses.
We are interested in hosting a forum for leading edge contributions to the nascent field that help us make sense of learner experiences, and allow practitioners and researchers to benefit from these contributions. Towards this aim, recommended topics of interest for this special issue include, but are not limited to, the following research questions:
- What is it like to learn in massive open online courses?
- What are learners’ experiences in open courses?
- Why are learners participating in open courses in the ways that they do?
- What are learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions like?
- How do learners respond to various instructional design decisions and instructor roles?
- How do learners perceive their relationships with each other, content, instructors, institutions, and MOOC providers?
Interested authors should submit 500-word abstracts and 200-word bios by December 19 at email@example.com. Submissions should include short descriptions of the following:
- Identified gap/problem addressed
- Methods or modes of inquiry
- Data sources
- (in-progress or final) results
Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 6,000 words, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:
- March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- May 1, 2015: Notification of acceptance/rejections
- June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
- 2015: Special issue is published
Special Issue Editors
Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology
Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada.
Dr. Vrasidas Charalambos
Executive Director, CARDET (www.cardet.org)
Associate Professor of Learning Innovations & Associate Dean for e-learning, University of Nicosia, Cyprus.
Adams, C., Yin, Y., Vargas Madriz, L.F., & Mullen, S. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: The tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35, 202-216.
Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., DeBoer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D., & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into edX’s first MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8, 13-25.
Parrish, P. (2005). Embracing the aesthetics of instructional design. Educational Technology, 45(2), 16-25.
Veletsianos, G. (2013). Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning. Madison, WI: Hybrid Pedagogy Publications. Retrieved from http://learnerexperiences.hybridpedagogy.com.
I started responding to Jeffrey on Twitter, and realized that 140 characters ensured that my response would be cryptic at best. So, in relatively longer form:
- An early decision decision taken was that #scholar14 was going to be modular. There are 4 weeks in the course. Each week is a standalone module. A participant can do week 1 to explore some of the main ideas around scholarly practices on the Web. Week 2 focuses on the challenges and tensions that might arise when doing so. Week 3 is somewhat of a case study looking at issues of community, caring, and vulnerability when academics are online. Week 4 is an activity that can be applied to any of the weeks (i.e. one can do the activity for week 1 if they only completed week 1 or for all weeks if they followed along for all weeks). I made this design decision for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was to help people jump into a week without feeling that they needed to go through past weeks. I am assuming a certain level of familiarity with the material here, but i tried to limit the extent of prerequisite knowledge required to participate in each week.
- Mini activities. Al lot of the activities developed are small and relatively independent. One can choose to do multiple throughout the week or just 1. For instance, week 2 includes 5 discussion threads on relevant topics. I could just pick 1 of those, or 3 if I have the time. Here’s an example of a discussion thread/activity: “Giant publisher (Elsevier) sends takedown notices to academic social networking site (Academia.edu): Publisher demands that social networking site remove research papers from its servers. Here’s a notice sent to an academic. Elsevier wrote an note explaining their perspective. Share your thoughts/reflections on the case with the rest of us on the discussion thread dedicated to each case. Feel free to join discussion threads, ask questions, and help your colleagues gain a greater understanding of the topic.”
- Live events. These serve as opportunities for gaining a more intimate overview of the ideas in the course, based on conversations with guest experts. They are recorded and archived.
- Multiple pathways. The #dalmooc folks are doing a dual-layer MOOC on a much larger and experimental scale, and are learning quite a lot from it. In my case, content, updates, and interactions pertaining to#scholar14 exist outside of the platform as well, and I think that provides opportunities to join the space that makes the most sense to an individual. I believe that we need more (and better) scaffolds to support this. For instance, Jeffrey is reaching out on Twitter, and he might be doing so because that’s proven to be a supportive place in the past vis-a-vis a new environment created just for the purpose of a course, like the canvas platform for example. Others connected their blog to a space developed to aggregate content… multiple options are available, in the hopes that these provide flexibility and options.
What do you think?
- What are some other ways that individuals could join an open course when time permits?
- How can we design more flexibility into a course without losing its essence?
The first week of Networked Scholars is almost over. It’s been a busy and interesting week with an “Ask Me Almost Anything” discussion thread with Michael Barbour, who answered all questions thrown at him by course participants, and a Google Hangouts on Air session with Laura Czerniewicz (below).
I just sent this note to all participants, and as others might find it helpful, I’m sharing it here too:
I hope you are having a great weekend. It’s a cloudy and rainy morning here in Victoria, BC, and I’m finding myself at a local coffee shop listening to The Doors and thinking about our course.
Our first week is nearly over, and I wanted to share with you some of the interesting ideas and things happening in our course:
- Jenny Mackness wrote a wonderful reflection for the first week of the course. You can read it here: http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/academic-blogging/
- Some participants are planning a real-time chat via Google Hangouts today. I love it! Feel free to use the discussion thread created to find study buddies or to reach out via #scholar14 if you are looking for a friend to chat with about the course or about a particular reading/week.
- The Research Excellence Framework is a system put in place to assess the research output of UK’s Higher education institutions. Laura Pasquini shared the following article which suggests five recommendations for using alternative metrics in in assessing research quality: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/10/23/alternative-metrics-future-uk-research-excellence-framework-thelwall/
- The Networked Researcher is a summary of Cristina Costa’s PhD thesis: http://www.slideshare.net/cristinacost/the-networked-researcher
The materials for week 2 are available, and as we are entering a week looking at challenges and tensions in networked scholarship, remember that you don’t need to do all the activities listed. We have a live session scheduled again, a few of readings, and some activities that I am hoping will spark lively debates.
“xMOOC vs. cMOOC” is one way that is frequently used to describe the philosophical design of a MOOC. Tony Bates does an excellent job summarizing the philosophies behind the two. While this categorization is helpful in describing the foundations of the types of MOOCS that exist, I’m increasingly becoming more and more uncomfortable with this categorization as used to describe particular courses. I see MOOCs as a phenomenon more than anything, and when the xMOOC and cMOOC terms are used to describe courses, it seems that we are missing what actually happens in these courses, we are missing the details.
— George Veletsianos (@veletsianos) October 4, 2014
While the xMOOC and cMOOC labels are worthwhile to help individuals make sense of two opposing viewpoints, there is a spectrum the lies between the two. Between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, we see:
- MOOCs that blend aspects of xMOOCs and cMOOCs (e.g., #dalmooc, #scholar14)
- MOOCs that vary in their learning design (see the MOOC learning design project) and pedagogical practices (see Toven-Lindsey, B., Rhoads, R. a., & Lozano, J. B. (in press). Virtually Unlimited Classrooms: Pedagogical Practices in Massive Open Online Courses. The Internet and Higher Education)
- MOOCs that vary in size, openness, synchronous vs. asynchronous blend, and pacing.
- MOOCs that vary in instructional quality (see for example, Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2015). Instructional Quality of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education, 80, 77–83).
There is wide variation between MOOCs, and it behooves us to examine how and why particular MOOCs differ, and how the differences impact learner experiences and outcomes.
The course is happening at an opportune time, providing ample material for us to examine. Academics are often encouraged to blog and participate online to increase their reach and impact. However, when scholars are online they face tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. For example, some are concerned about navigating personal-professional boundaries on social media and others are worried about the degree to which online activities may be cause for termination, as revealed by the recent Kansas Board of Regents policy on “Improper Use of Social Media” and the ongoing case of Dr. Steven Salaita. It seems that these stories are never-ending: The Conversation included an article today entitled: To tweet or not to tweet: academic freedom and social media.
What do academics do on social media? What tensions do they face? Why do they continue being on these contentious spaces when a number of their senior colleagues advice them to “get off Twitter and write those papers?” These are questions that I am hoping we will explore together starting on Monday.
I have also finalized our guest experts for the course, and I’m happy to report that we have a wonderful group of colleagues from three countries joining us to discuss issues pertaining to networked scholarship. The live events are scheduled for the times/days listed below, so if you would like to join us, please add them to your calendar, and join our Google Hangout on Air events. If you can’t join us live, we will be recording and archiving the events so that you can watch them later at your convenience.
October 23 at 9am PST: Dr. Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town (South Africa) – Google Hangout on Air link
October 29 at 4pm PST: Dr. Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho (USA) – Google Hangout on Air link
November 6, 10:30am at PST: Bonnie Stewart from the University of Price Edward Island (Canada) – Google Hangout on Air link
To convert these times to your local time zone, please use this tool: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html
See you soon!
Image: The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing
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
— Bonnie Stewart (@bonstewart) September 22, 2014
A few weeks ago, I notified individuals who filled out my Networked Scholars open online course survey, indicating that my open course was open for registration. I’m excited to see that some colleagues have discovered the course, but it’s time to post the news here too, even though some . I’ve really appreciated the feedback from people regarding the design and content of the course, so if you any thoughts about this, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I am trying to create a memorable and worthwhile learning experience and hearing from you is a significant way to go about doing that. If you have any other thoughts about the course or about what you think makes open online courses engaging, effective, and memorable, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
2. Through your blog and twitter accounts. The readings and activities will be publicly-available, and you could use your blog/twitter as a discussion/reflection space, so you don’t necessarily need to sign up to Canvas to access this course if you don’t want to.
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) September 22, 2014
I hereby confirm the rumour. We will be using an approach similar to Connected Courses and the distributed syndication model. The official Twitter hashtag for the course is #scholar14. If you choose this route, you can indicate your desire to participate through Canvas (see #1 above) or you can just wait and start participating via your social media accounts when the syndication platform is ready (I’ll write another blog post when we are ready to launch).
First, I want this course to be about learners and their needs, and not just what I think are significant areas to understand. Therefore, I will be asking you to articulate participants to articulate their needs and evaluate their own progress towards their accomplishments. For example, you might already know some of the challenges that academics face when they participate on social media (e.g., see Kansas Board of Regents policy regarding social media use) so you might want to spend more time investigating the relationship between academic freedom and social media. That’s absolutely fine! Or, you might be interested in investigating how you can be more effective in using social media to engage with practitioners. That’s great too! I wrote a little bit about this here.
Second, even though I have experience with and do research on networked scholarship, there are a number of other people who have experience with these topics. Diversity is important, and for this reason, each week I will be hosting a live Q&A panel on Google Hangouts on Air with other individuals discussing the topic of the week. Even though this panel will be live and you will be able to view it in real-time and ask questions, it will also be recorded for those of you who can’t make it.
That’s all for now. I am looking forward to the course.