Category: online learning
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
My colleague Charalambos Vrasidas and I are editing a special issue for Educational Media International focusing on learner experiences in massive open online courses. We are interested in empirical and theoretical manuscripts as well as systematic reviews/analyses/syntheses of the literature. Preliminary abstracts are due by December 19th. We have planned for the process to be prompt and aim for the issue to be published within 8 months or so.
As part of the special issue, and prompted by a note by Al Filreis, we have decided to include a section that enables individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. If you have taken an open course and would like to write a short piece about an aspect of your experience, this section of the special issue would be relevant to you. Like all other submissions, these will be peer-reviewed as well.
Individuals interested in this route can submit a 200-word abstract summarizing their intended submission and a 200-word bio by the 19th of December to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 1,200 words long, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:
- March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at email@example.com
- May 1, 2015: Notification of acceptance/rejections
- June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
- 2015: Special issue is published
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com
- 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?
“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
— 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.