This is part of my ongoing reflection on moocs. See the rest of the entries here.
I have signed up to a number of MOOCs as a student (and led one of the #change11 weeks), and have spoken in general terms a couple of weeks ago about how education research can help improve the type of education offered through a MOOC. In this post, I will give specific suggestions, focusing on the University of Pennsylvania MOOC: Listening to World Music, offered through Coursera. I am signed up to this course, which started on June 23, and I just submitted the first assignment. I decided to post these thoughts early because of two reasons. First, the beginning of any course is an important moment in its success and I find that it takes a lot of planning and reflection. Second, MOOCS are discussed as being experiments in online education. The Atlantic even calls them “The single most important experiment in higher education.” I agree that they are experimental initiatives, and as such would benefit from ongoing evaluation and advice. Where I disagree with is the notion that they are a departure from what we know about online (and face-to-face) education. This post is intended to highlight just a couple of items that the Coursera instructional designers and learning technologists could have planned for in order to develop a more positive learning experience.
1. Length of the video lectures.
The syllabus lists the length of the video lectures (e.g., video 1 is 10:01 minutes long and video 2 is 10:45 minutes long.) However, this length is not provided on the page that students visit to watch the videos, which is where they need that information. I’ve annotated this below.
2. Opportunities for interaction.
The platform provides forums for students to interact with each other. Learners are of course instrumental and will figure out alternative, and more efficient and effective ways to communicate with each other, if they need to. For instance, in a number of other MOOCs students set up facebook groups, and I anticipate that this will happen here as well. What Coursera could do to support learners in working with each other is to integrate social media plugins within each course. I am surprised that this isn’t prominent within the course because you can see from the images below that Coursera uses social media plugins to allow students to announce participation in the course:
For instance, it appears that the course uses the #worldmusic hashtag, though it’s not integrated within the main page of the course, not does it seem to be a unique hashtag associated with the course.
3. How do you encourage students to watch the videos?
Let’s say that we added the length of each video next to its title. Now, the learner knows that they need about an hour to watch the video. Some learners (e.g., those who are intrinsically motivated by the topic) will watch them without much scaffolding. But, how do you provide encouragement for others to do so? Here’s where some social psychology insights might be helpful. By providing learners with simple descriptions of how the majority of their colleagues are behaving (i.e. appealing to social norms), then one might be able to encourage individuals to watch the videos. For example, the videos might include a dynamic subtitle that informs learners that “8 out of 10 of your peers have watched this video” or that “70% of your peers have completed the first assignment” and so on. This is the same strategy that hotels use to encourage users to reuse towels and the same strategy that Nike uses when it compares your running patterns to the running patterns of other runners, as shown in the image below:
4. Peer-grading expectations.
This course is different from others that I’ve participated in because it includes an element of peer-grading. This is exciting to me because I’m a firm believer in social learning. One minor concern however is the following: I don’t know how many peers I am supposed to evaluate. I thought I was supposed to evaluate just one, but each time I finish my evaluation, I am presented with the option to “evaluate next student.” Do I keep evaluating? How many do I need to evaluate before I can move to the next step? I don’t know. In other words, it’s always helpful to inform the learner of what s/he has to do. For instance, in my case, I just stopped evaluating peers after having evaluated 4 because I don’t know how much I am expected to do. Perhaps there’s no minimum… and this information would be helpful to me as a learner.
Overall, my experience with this course is positive, though there is a lot of room for improvement here, which is to be expected. For example, I haven’t touched much on the pedagogy of the course, but there’s a few more weeks left… so stay tuned!
Nike photo credit. Thanks to my colleague Chuck Hodges for directing my attention to the Nike example.
If you are trying to explain to colleagues why networks are important, why an understanding of participatory cultures is important, and why education should concern itself with social media and network literacies, then look no further than the success that the good people over at #ds106 had in raising funds through Kickstarter to support their project. Within a day they reached their goal and raised more than $4,500. Huge congratulations to everyone involved!
At the same time this is an opportunity to discuss notions of power and social capital. Can everyone do this? How many projects don’t reach their goal every day? This is not a shot at #ds106 or the people involved: #ds106 is an amazing project with a creative and passionate team of people and they deserve all the accolades they can get! Put in other words, will people read and comment on your blog just because you have one? Will people support your kickstarter project, just because you have one? What do educators, researchers, scholars and students need to know about social media and networks so that their tweets, facebook updates, and linkein profiles are not lost in a desert of digital sand?
Imagine being a student at a small university whose library does not have the funds to subscribe to a journal that you need for your final paper. What do you do?
Imagine being a faculty member and you come across a very promising paper relevant to your work, but you can’t access it because there’s a 6-month lag between the time a paper is published and the time it becomes available at your library. What do you do?
A standard approach is to search Google or Google Scholar for the article, as a number of us self-archive our publications as soon as they become available. Another option is to email an author directly and ask for a copy of the paper. I find that most are not only willing, but excited to share their work and talk about it. I love sharing my research and I truly enjoy talking about it, so I’d be delighted to share it with anyone who lacked access but needed it. I believe this falls under fair use licensing.
Through my research on the practices of digital scholars (i.e. individuals who use emerging technologies for purposes relating to networked participatory scholarship) I have discovered another way that individuals use to access scholarship that they need. If you take a look at the image above, you will see that individuals employ digital tools that we use in our day-to-day lives (a forum) to circumvent obstacles that prevent them from doing their work. In particular, individuals request articles that they do not have access to, and those who have access respond with a copy of the article. What you see here is the creative use of networked technologies to enable practice and success. And it does not just happen in open forums like the one above, but I’ve also seen it occur on Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, in one situation, the author was requesting access to an article s/he wrote because the publisher (!) did not provide him/her with a final copy of the paper. We can debate the moral and ethical dimensions of this activity, but to me this practice highlights ideas relating to empowerment, networked skills, digital participation, reciprocity, and participatory cultures as they pertain to scholars’ digital practices. [Update 11/26/2012: In addition to the platform above, other spaces where exchanges happen are: The pirate university http://www.pirateuniversity.org/ and #IcanHazPDF on Twitter. Andy Coverdale has also discussed this topic.]
Such practices aren’t foreign to teachers, as they are akin to using proxies or usb keys to bypass school filters. For example, here’s a video by Alec Couros that demonstrates this activity:
I’m always excited to participate in dialogue regarding my work. In this post, I will respond to a couple of questions/comments posed to me as a result of a recent paper I published in IRRODL with Cesar Navarrete, who is a doctoral student at the Learning Technologies program at UT Austin.
The paper is: Veletsianos, G. & Navarrete, C. (2012). Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments: Learner Experiences and Activities. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 144-166. [PDF]
In this paper we try to make sense of student experiences and practices in an online social network using within an online course. The abstract reads: While the potential of social networking sites to contribute to educational endeavors is highlighted by researchers and practitioners alike, empirical evidence on the use of such sites for formal online learning is scant. To fill this gap in the literature, we present a case study of learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using the Elgg online social network. Findings from this study indicate that learners enjoyed and appreciated both the social learning experience afforded by the online social network and supported one another in their learning, enhancing their own and other students’ experiences. Conversely, results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing. Additionally, learners needed support in managing the expanded amount of information available to them and devised strategies and “workarounds” to manage their time and participation.
The first question/comment is from Jenny Mackness who says: “I was surprised by the finding ‘students did not appear to mix social and educational participation’. In my experience, students have always mixed social and educational participation, e.g. in the coffee bar – or in my own work, wiki discussions will sometimes veer off into more personal, social discussions. Do you think your students did not mix social and educational participation in your Elgg environment because of the constraints of tutor presence/control, assessment and so on. I’m wondering where else they might have mixed social and educational participation. Did you ask them whether there were any ‘back channels’?”
Thanks for the question, Jenny! I agree with you that students tend to mix social and educational participation. We did not observe this on occurring in this study though. I believe both of these tendencies can be true, and sometimes even co-exist. One or two students sought social, non-educational interactions, but their attempts were not reciprocated. The majority of them just didn’t mix the two. Following up from this, it is interesting to ask why. We did not ask students about it but I can say that (a) just because we didn’t see it on the social network, it doesn’t mean that it did not happen (i.e., it might have happened on email), and (b) a lot of reasons might explain why: the fast pacing of the course might have been a factor; students might have been focusing on completing the course and its requirements; or students might not have felt that Elgg was the appropriate place for them to do that. It’s highly likely that it’s a combination of all of these. What’s important, I believe, is the implication that just because students are on an online social network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will engage with each other in the types of social interactions that we see occurring elsewhere (e.g., twitter, facebook, etc).
The second comment is from Stephen Downes who says: “We haven’t heard a lot about Elgg recently but it remains an important model for online learning. One weakness of the case study is that it takes place in a traditional institution.” Results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing.” Then again, this might just be a feature of the (very) small group studied. I think the discussion of Elgg is valuable, but would place the case study as just one out of (we would hope) many data points.”
Again, thank you, Stephen, for the comment! I may be misunderstanding part of the comment, but I wouldn’t say that the fact that this study took place at a traditional institution is a “weakness.” That was actually part of the reason why we did the study, as the majority of the work that we have seen focuses on the use of these technologies outside of the institution, and individuals tend to think that findings will easily transfer to institutional settings. If you mean that the results were influenced by the fact that the course occurred in a traditional institution or that the institutional setting influenced how the technology was used, you are absolutely correct, and that’s an implication of the study. Finally, I agree with you in that this is just one case study of the use of Elgg and online social networks in an institutional setting. A collection of case studies can help us make sense of this phenomenon, and these are slowly appearing (e.g., in our paper we cite Arnold & Paulus (2010), Brady et al. (2010), Dron & Anderson (2009b)).
Reddit is one of the communities that I follow for professional and personal purposes. For professional purposes specifically, it serves as a site for my online ethnography on networked participatory scholarship and digital scholarship. As part of that work, I am trying to make sense of the meaning of open digital participation for learning, teaching, scholarship, and education. One of the most informative and enjoyable aspects of Reddit is the IAmA subreddit in which individuals with interesting stories answer user questions. For example, one individual shared intimate details of his/her work and experiences with for-profit education, and another discusses teaching high school science and the misconceptions surrounding the teaching profession. The other day, Salman Khan (of Khan Academy) answered questions on the site, and I thought some of you might be interested in reading the Q&A, not just for Khan’s answers but also for the types of questions that were being asked. Though my vision of education differs from Khan’s vision of education, I appreciate that numerous students and teachers have found value in his efforts and I welcome any initiative that opens up conversations about what the future of education should look like. In any event, here is the Q&A with Salman Khan.
* Reddit logo courtesy of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reddit_logo.svg
In my blog post explaining scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter, I alluded to Networked Participatory Scholarship (yet another acronym!). I have mentioned this on and off over the last year and a half, but I am now happy to announce that Royce Kimmons (who recently became a doctoral candidate – woot!) and I published a paper explaining pressures that exist for educators’ and researchers’ to participate in digital scholarship and online social networks. Our work complements recent research in the field by suggesting that the rise of digital scholarship is not simply due to technological advances. Digital scholarship also relates to social and cultural pressures (e.g., scholars’ questioning scholarly artifacts, such as peer-review, and experimenting with new forms of teaching, such as open courses and MOOCs). For this reason, we prefer to think about digital scholarship in terms of practices, as “scholars’ participation in online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and otherwise develop their scholarship.”
Here’s the abstract:
We examine the relationship between scholarly practice and participatory technologies and explore how such technologies invite and reflect the emergence of a new form of scholarship that we call Networked Participatory Scholarship: scholars’ participation in online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and otherwise develop their scholarship. We discuss emergent techno-cultural pressures that may influence higher education scholars to reconsider some of the foundational principles upon which scholarship has been established due to the limitations of a pre-digital world, and delineate how scholarship itself is changing with the emergence of certain tools, social behaviors, and cultural expectations associated with participatory technologies.
We conclude by noting that, “Whether they recognize it or not, scholars are part of a complex techno-cultural system that is ever changing in response to both internal and external stimuli, including technological innovations and dominant cultural values. Though such an understanding may lead to a certain level of trepidation regarding the shape of scholarship’s uncertain future, we should take an active role in influencing the future of scholarship and establishing ourselves as productive participants in an increasingly networked and participatory world.”
A copy of the paper is also available:
Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Networked Participatory Scholarship: Emergent Techno-Cultural Pressures Toward Open and Digital Scholarship in Online Networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766-774.: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.10.001
Image courtesy of: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/onecm/5862945226/. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
I have just had an article published with the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, entitled Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. The paper focuses on a qualitative analysis of 45 scholars’ (anonymized and edited) tweets to acquire a deep meaning of practice, and is part of my research into Networked Participatory Scholarship. Those of you interested in how faculty members use social media, the relationship between social media and identity, digital scholarship, scholarly use of online networks, and the rise of the digital scholar, may find this worthwhile.
Citation and link to pdf: Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349.
If you have been participating on Twitter for a while, some of the findings won’t be surprising, but the paper can serve as a starting point for deeper conversations on the why and how social media is used by scholars, academics, and faculty members. Nonetheless, interesting implications to point out include the following:
“Even though social networking technologies in general were developed for purposes unrelated to education, they have been co-opted and repurposed by scholars, in part, to satisfy educational and scholarly pursuits.”
“Is Twitter fostering more social opportunities and community-oriented approaches to education and scholarly participation? Or, do the individuals who espouse these kinds of beliefs happen to make use of Twitter for scholarly pursuits?”
“Are scholars altruistically sharing information for the benefit of the community in which they belong? Or, is information sharing a self-serving activity? Are scholars sharing information in order to assist the profession grow intellectually, or are they attempting to develop a ‘brand’ around themselves?”
“Twitter is often dismissed as a platform of meaningless soliloquies and dull updates…Rather than representing meaningless chatter, [Twitter] updates may introduce opportunities to explore shared interests, experiences, goals, mindsets, and life dispositions/aspirations.”
The themes relating to participation and practices highlighted in the paper are the following: Scholars participating on Twitter (1) shared information, resources, and media relating to their professional practice; (2) shared information about their classroom and their students; (3) requested assistance from and offered suggestions to others; (4) engaged in social commentary; (5) engaged in digital identity and impression management; (6) sought to network and make connections with others; and (7) highlighted their participation in online networks other than Twitter.
Enjoy, and if you have any input, I would love to hear it!
It’s digital scholarship week at #change11 and I am in the midst of following the activity on Twitter and a number of blogs. At the same time I am preparing my annual activity report that details the work that I’ve been doing over the past year. In this report, one will find evidence on research, teaching, and service. Evaluation norms for these include: citations, average teaching scores compared to departmental/university averages, journal impact factors, evidence of impact on education and the profession, etc.
One of the issues that often comes up, and one that Martin raises in chapter 11 of his book as well, is the lack of established frameworks to evaluate digital scholarship, digital artifacts, and academics’ digital participation. That’s not to say that all digital participation should be evaluated or that all digital participation is even worthy of evaluation. The lack of frameworks, in addition to indicating that academia may not value digital artifacts, also signifies the difficulty of assessing the impact of scholarship. This is not a new problem, as academia has struggled with figuring out methods with which to evaluate innovations. A similar issue is facing Design-Based Researchers. Collins, Joseph, and Bielaczyc (2004, pp. 40) for instance, note that Design-Based Research generates mountains of data that independent researchers can use in answering their own questions about teaching and learning. But “this would require the community to honor such reanalysis of data with the same status as original research and it would require research journals and tenure committees to take such work seriously.” While other fields have found value in the analysis of secondary data (e.g., bioinformatics), education has yet to make advances in this domain.
Food for thought: Institutions are complex entities that serve numerous stakeholder. How do we create frameworks that value the important work that is being done on digital spaces, while also valuing the cultural norms and values of the institution?
Collins, A., Joseph, D., & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). Design Research: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 15-42. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls1301_2