MITx and HarvardX deserve huge congratulations for making data associated with a number of their MOOCs publicly available. Four months ago, I wrote that the “community would benefit from access to the data that HarvardX and MITx have, as other individuals/groups could run additional analyses. Granted, I imagine this might require quite a lot of effort, not least in the development of procedures for data sharing.” It seems that the researchers at MITx and HarvardX have tackled the issues involved to make the data available, and have developed thoughtful procedures to ensure de-identification. While some of the steps taken may limit analyses (e.g., the de-identification process document notes that “rows with 60 or more forum posts were deleted,” thus eliminating highly active users), this is a big step in the right direction and it should be celebrated.
Now… can we have some qualitative data? If any institutions are interested in making those available, I’d love talk to you, give you input, and work with you toward that goal.
One of the highlights of academia is working closely with students and seeing them grow, take on challenges, struggle, and create meaningful change in the world. This happens in classrooms, on the web, in design/development projects, in research endeavors, and so on. Kasey Ford, who was one of my advisees, recently completed her MA thesis examining #PhDChat, an online social network, and we have published a study out of that work in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education. I’m excited to share the abstract below:
#PhDChat is an online network of individuals that has its roots to a group of UK doctoral students who began using Twitter in 2010 to hold discussions. Since then, the network around #PhDchat has evolved and grown. In this study, we examine this network using a mixed methods analysis of the tweets that were labeled with the hashtag over a one-month period. Our goal is to understand the structure and characteristics of this network, to draw conclusions about who belongs to this network, and to explore what the network achieves for the users and as an entity of its own. We find that #PhDchat is a legitimate organizational structure situated around a core group of users that share resources, offer advice, and provide social and emotional support to each other. Core users are involved in other online networks related to higher education that use similar hashtags to congregate. #PhDchat demonstrates that (a) the network is in a continuous state of emergence and change, and (b) disparate users can come together with little central authority in order to create their own communal space.
Ford, K., Veletsianos, G., & Resta, P. (2014). The Structure and Characteristics of #PhDChat, an Emergent Online Social Network. Journal Of Interactive Media In Education, 18(1). Retrieved April 16, 2014, from http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/jime/article/view/2014-08
Below is a visualization of users mentioning #PhDChat, with users grouped into clusters. Users with frequent or exclusive ties, represented in this study as replies and mentions, are clustered together. Thus, each cluster represents users that are most closely associated to one another based on their frequency of interactions.
BCNET is a not-for-profit, shared information technology services organization focusing on British Columbia’s higher education system. The organization aims to to explore and evaluate shared IT solutions and hosts an annual conference. I delivered one of the keynote talks for this year’s conference, and shared examples and stories of online learning initiatives. I framed these examples in terms of research on online learning and the context of the historic realities of educational technology practice. These stories illustrate the multiple realities that exist in online education and highlight how emerging technologies and open practices have (a) broadened access to education, (b) reinforced privilege, and (c) re-imagined the ways that academics enact and share scholarship. I am including my slides below.
I spent part of last week in Dallas at the annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference, organized by SLOAN-C. I describe my presentation at the conference in this post, but the sessions below were all relevant to my work:
Jim Groom’s keynote. Jim’s Domain of one’s own work resonates with me. Providing students with digital tools that will enable them to learn the ways of the web is significant, but the idea also resonates with me in the context of digital scholarship, which is one of my research strands. In particular, I see Jim’s project being applicable for PhD students who should be equipped with the tools, skills, and experiences to understand networked, open, and digital scholarship. I’ve met Jim briefly in the past, but we never had a chance to chat much, so it was great to be able to spend some more time together.
Amy Collier’s and Jen Ross’ plenary. The session focused on giving insightful descriptions of the messy and compromised realities of learning in contrast to the narratives of efficiency and ease suggested by numerous educational technology providers.
Andy Saltarelli’s study of belongingness and synchronicity in cooperative learning settings. What’s not to like about rigorous, theory-driven, large-scale evaluations of the socio-psychological constructs that make a difference in online learning contexts?
The session on distributed flips, or re-using MOOC resources in face-to-face/blended courses. MJ Bishop, Mike Caulfield, and Amy Collier came together to share their research on the topic. Mike was unable to join unfortunately, but he shared his thoughts here.
Rolin Moe organized a number of fantastic panels on issues pertaining to the field and I was excited to participate in the one focused on academics in educational technology, along with Jen Ross, Amy Collier, Jill Leafstedt, Jesse Stommel, and Sean Michael Morris. We had a wonderful conversation, but 50 minutes are never enough to cover this topic. The Sloan-C organizing committee should consider making this session a longer (free-to-attend) workshop.
Below are my notes from the AERA 2014 session Rigor and Realism: Doing Educational Science in the Real World. The ideas are significant for learning technologies researchers focused on impacting practice and developing real-world innovations/interventions. While I share many of these values and discussed a number of them in past work (e.g, here and here), what appears below are Catherine Snow’s ideas.
Rigor and Realism: Doing Educational Science in the Real World
The Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture: Catherine Snow, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education, Harvard University
Some educational researchers are adopting new models for doing educational research, models that start from problems of practice, prioritize the challenge of utility to educators, and presuppose partnership relationships between researchers and practitioners. In attempting to implement such approaches, we often find that attention to the conditions of real-world practice may compete with attention to the constraints of rigorous design. That familiar problem can be exacerbated by the conflicting epistemologies of real-world decision-making vs. rigorous scientific knowledge-building. This conflict, in its multiple forms only some of which will be discussed, is a dilemma rather than a problem; it demands careful consideration of approaches to balancing the desirable features of rigor and of realism when they conflict.
Notes from the presentation and twitter feed
A conflict exists between rigorous research and the demands of educational systems. Educators and researcher must work together as partners.
Researchers have to acknowledge the realities of practice.
Researchers should start with urgent problems of practice – not simply gaps that exist in the literature
Education research/science can be highly rigorous, but it needs to be relevant. If it’s not impacting students in schools, it doesn’t matter. Focus of ed research is often quality, but we have to make the case for utility. It should be about utility and relevance.
Education research should move from questions of “whether” to questions of “how” ( GV side note: especially relevant to learning technologies, as noted by past research – e.g., don’t ask whether online learning works, but ask how does it work, how do we make it better, under what conditions, for whom, etc).
Recruiting the next generation of scholars into this work may endanger their potential to publish and get grants
We need to modify practitioner preparation to provide guidance about the challenges of collaboration with researchers (e.g., teach value/limitations of research)
Numerous colleagues are invested in this model (e.g., WT Grant, iterative design work, design-based implementation)
Progress is slow. Are there really exciting initiatives that would make a huge difference that might change both edu research and practice?
- Build the partnership model into the preparation of doctoral students by institutionalizing and acknowledging relationships and acknowledging relationships. Schools of education need to embrace this approach and faculty members need to be supported even if it doesn’t have immediate payoff in journal articles. A way for schools of education to become relevant and keeping us from the constant danger of becoming second rate departments of Arts and Sciences rather than 1st grade institutions of social change
- Promote accountability by developing reliable and feasible measures of classroom practice that might eventually take the place of student outcome measures
- Take the wisdom of practice seriously and develop a mechanism for systematizing and curating it. Journal review process is elegant and effective in maintaining standards for a certain kind of knowledge, but why do we dismiss anecdotes that teachers tell us? Because there is no epistemological structure for evaluating and curating that knowledge. What does that structure look like? Even though practitioners generate knowledge, it disappears. Developing a mechanism to capture and curate knowledge would be a hugely powerful mechanism. We acknowledge wisdom of practice but don’t take it seriously. We need to raise the level of the wisdom of practice to a more respectable level, by making it indeed more respectable. Urgent agenda because of internet sharing of uncurated practices. There currently isn’t a way to curate teacher knowledge ( GV side note: Curation of internet resources is prevalent, and a number of individuals are arguing for a system of publish then filter – lots of connections to openness, digital participation, and digital/media literacies re: curation)
As a field we need an exciting agenda of research that is cumulative, rigorous and realistic
I recently wrote a paper which examined the activities and practices arise when researchers and educators use social media and online networks. This is part of my ongoing work to understand open scholarship, networked participatory scholarship, and scholars’ practices online. In this paper, I used ethnographic data and my own experiences to try to make sense of scholars’ online participation. Some of the interesting findings are the following:
- numerous scholarly practices are occurring in the open (e.g., sharing drafts of manuscripts, sharing syllabi, supporting doctoral students)
- participation in online social networks is not limited professional endeavors; For example, they share “their vulnerabilities and struggles (e.g, with a divorce) and [seek] help with personal issues and causes that they are passionate about (e.g., equal rights legislation).” Importantly, engagement with and and sharing about issues unrelated to the profession is a value that is celebrated by this community. It is not uncommon, for example, to encounter blog entries discussing the positive outcomes of social sharing and Twitter profiles proudly declaring that updates are composed of a mix of personal and professional tweets.
- scholars have appropriated social technologies and utilized peer-to-peer networks to access and share research papers that they do not have access to (e.g., PirateUniversity.org, ThePaperBay.com, the Scholar subreddit, the #ICanHazPdf hashtag)
The last point is particularly significant. In the paper, I argue that the use of social networks and peer-networks to share knowledge that is often behind journal paywalls suggests that individuals are willing and able to circumvent and defy restrictions to the sharing of knowledge and research. In fact, open scholarship is a value that is close to the hearts and minds of numerous scholars who use the Internet for professional purposes. Kroll (2011) described the sharing of copyrighted manuscripts as “an act civil disobedience toward the scientific publishing enterprise” and since I published this paper, Elsevier has started taking action against this activity by sending takedown notices to academia.edu. How does one respond to actions that are in direct conflict to strongly-held values and ideals? That is a question that every academic needs to consider.
A copy of the paper, along with its citation and abstract appear below:
Veletsianos, G. (2013). Open Practices and Identity: Evidence from Researchers and Educators’ Social Media Participation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(3), 639-651.
The ways that emerging technologies and social media are used and experienced by researchers and educators are poorly understood and inadequately researched. The goal of this study is to examine the online practices of individual scholars in order to explore and understand the activities and practices that they enact when they use social media for scholarship. Using ethnographic data collection methods and basic interpretive analysis techniques, I describe two emergent phenomena evident in scholars’ social
media participation: scholarly practices enacted openly in digital spaces and the self that is disentangled from academic matters. These phenomena raise issues related to “sharing,” scholar identity, participation and social media as a place of gathering.
Note: As with any qualitative and ethnographic work, the results should be seen in context and shouldn’t be generalized to “all scholars participating online do X.”
I was at the Educause Learning Initiative conference last week (#ELI2014), where I had some interesting conversations and discussions around online learning, MOOCs, research methods, and the future of higher education.
Amy Collier and I presented early results from our qualitative studies looking at learners’ MOOC experiences (if you have not yet responded to our call to share your lived experiences with us, please consider this invitation). Our talk was entitled “Messy Realities: Investigating Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs.” Our thinking is guided by the notion that even though surveys and big data yield insights into general behavioral patterns, these methods are detached and can distance us rather than help us understand the human condition. As a result, the phenomenon of “learning in a MOOC” is understudied and undiscovered. During the session, we shared what we have been finding in our studies, highlighting the messiness of learning and teaching in the open.
Karen Vignare and Amy Collier were also very kind to extend an invitation to a number of us to share our work with individuals participating in the leadership seminar they organized. It was fantastic to hear Katie Vale (Harvard), Matt Meyer (The Pennsylvania State University), Rebecca Petersen (edX, MIT), and D. Christopher Brooks (EDUCAUSE) discuss their work, and once again, I felt grateful that we are having these conversations more openly, more frequently, and with greater intent.
Below are my rough notes from my 5-7 minute presentation. I appreciate parsimony (who doesn’t?), and in the words of D. Christopher Brooks, this is the litany of things I think:
I am a designer and researcher of education and learning. I study emerging technologies and emerging learning environments. I’m also a faculty member , and I have been teaching in higher education settings both face-to-face and online since 2005.
To contextualize my comments on MOOCs, first I want to describe my experiences with them:
– I have facilitated one week of the #change11 MOOC was organized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2011. This MOOC had a distinctively connectivist flavor with each week being facilitated by 1 person.
– I have enrolled in a number of MOOCs, and have even completed a small number of them.
– I have repurposed MOOCs in my own courses. For example, I have asked students to enroll in MOOCs and write about them.
– I have published an e-book with my students, sharing stories of student experiences with MOOCs.
– Finally, I am actively involved in studying learners’ experiences in MOOCs in order to understand the human element in these emerging learning environments.
I have recently come to the realization that I have an ambivalent relationship with MOOCs. My relationship with MOOCs is one of the most ambivalent relationships I have had with anyone or anything. This relationship is more ambivalent than the love-ignore-hate relationship that my cat has with me!
On the one hand, I appreciate the opportunities for open learning that MOOCs provide. I also appreciate how MOOCs have brought us together to discuss issues around technology, teaching, and learning. At the same time, I cringe at the narratives around big data, I cringe at the hype, at the ignorance around what education is and should be about.
I want to talk about two topics today: MOOC research and the MOOC phenomenon.
On MOOC Research
– We don’t know much about MOOCs
– The things that we know about MOOCs are mostly the result of surveys, learning analytics, and big data research
– The existing research and the existing methods that we use are informative, BUT they simply paint an incomplete picture of MOOCs. We should be asking more in-depth questions about learner and instructor experiences in MOOCs
– Qualitative and interpretive research methods can and will help us better understand MOOCs, open learning, and open scholarship
– Descriptions of learner behaviors are helpful, but these descriptions only provide a glimpse and superficial summary of what students experience and what they do in digital learning environments. To give you an example, emerging research suggests that students may be “sampling” courses; a behavior that we don’t frequently see in traditional online courses or traditional face-to-face courses. Nonetheless, “sampling” is not how participants would describe their experiences or the ways they participate MOOCs. To illustrate, consider family-style Mediterranean meals that consist of numerous dishes, where participants sample a wide array of food. If you ask a person to describe this meal, to explain it to someone else, or to simply tell you about the meal, they will likely describe the meal as a feast, they might describe the tahini as lemony, the variety of flavors as intriguing, the whole meal as satisfying. Different people will also describe the meal differently: Tourists might describe the meal as fulfilling, heavy, or even extravagant; locals might describe the same meal as appropriate, or better than or worst than meals that they have had at other restaurants. “Sampling” may be an appropriate descriptor of the act of eating a family-style meal, or exploring a MOOC, but the descriptor does not fully capture the experience of sampling.
On the MOOC as a Phenomenon
MOOCs. The acronym stands for massive, open, online courses. That is not what MOOCs are though. MOOCs are a phenomenon. They represent something larger than a course and should be seen in conjunction to the rebirth and revival of educational technology. They represent symptoms, responses, and failures facing Higher Education. For instance, MOOCs are a response to the increasing costs of Higher Education; represent the belief that the purpose of education is to prepare students for the workforce; represent the belief that technology is the solution to the problems that education is facing; are indicative of scholarly failures; seem to represent the belief that education is a product that can be packaged, automated, and delivered; and, are a response to failures by researchers, designers, administrators, and institutions to develop effective and inspiring solutions to the problems of education (alternatively, they might also represent the failure of existing systems to support creative individuals in enacting change)*.
The MOOC is an acronym that elicits strong feelings: excitement, fear, defiance, uncertainty, hope, contempt…. To address these feelings we have to address the failures of higher education and the underlying causes that have given rise to MOOCs. For this reason, instead of talking about MOOCs at my own institution, I discuss innovations and approaches that I value, including networked scholarship, openness, flexibility, social learning, and the design and development of new technologies.
* NOTE: Rolin Moe and I are working on a paper refining and delineating these. If you have thoughts, concerns, or input on any of these issues, we’d love to hear form you!
HarvardX and MITx released a number of reports describing their open courses. The overarching paper describing these initiatives, entitled HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses is really helpful in gaining a holistic understanding of HarvardX and MITx learned about their initiatives.
My (preliminary) thoughts:
- It’s exciting to see more data
- It’s exciting to see education researchers involved in the analysis of the data
- The researchers should be congratulated for making these reports available in an expeditious manner via SSRN
- We need more interpretive/qualitative research to understand participants’ and practitioners’ experiences on the ground
- I am wondering whether the community would benefit from access to the data that HarvardX and MITx have, as other individuals/groups could run additional analyses. Granted, I imagine this might require quite a lot of effort, not least in the development of procedures for data sharing.
The course reports appear below, and these are quite helpful in helping the community understand the particulars of each course:
- 3.091x Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 2.01x Elements of Structures – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 3.091x Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry – Spring 2013 MITx course report
- 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 7.00x Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 8.02x Electricity and Magnetism – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 14.73x: The Challenges of Global Poverty – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 8.MReV: Mechanics ReView – Summer 2013 MITx Course Report