This entry is part of a reflective series of posts/questions relating to online learning, MOOCs, and openness. See the first one here.
Coursera announced today that it is adding a dozen or so universities as partners. In an article in the New York Times, Sebastian Thrun notes that MOOC courses are still experimental and argues: “I think we are rushing this a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.”
This perception of online education as “better than” or “as good as” other forms of education (I imagine that Sebastian Thrun is referring to face-to-face education here), is rampant. I believe it is rampant because our field has not done a good job disseminating what we know and what we don’t know about online education. At the same time, individuals do not tend to go back to the foundations of the field to investigate what others have discovered.
The result: A lack of understanding that there’s a whole field out there (here?) that has developed important insights on how we can design online education effectively. The list of references at the end of this post are merely a few of the resources one can use to get started on what we know and what we don’t know about comparison studies (i.e. studies that compare learning between delivery modes).
The point of this entry is to argue that there’s no point to reinvent the wheel. There’s no point to make the same mistakes. And above all, past research has shown that there’s no point to study whether online education is as good as (or as bad as) other forms of education because what one will discover is that:
- There are no significant differences in learning outcomes between face-to-face education and online education.
- When differences are found between the two, the differences can be attributed to (a) pedagogy, or (b) and a lack of controls in the experimental design.
It is important to point out that the effectiveness of an educational approach is influenced greatly by other variables, such as instructor support or pedagogical approach. Therefore, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to compare face-to-face and online education because when one is not a replication of the other, they are vastly different, are based on different learner-instructor interactions, and offer different affordances. While researchers have tried to minimize differences and compare face-to-face learning and online learning in experimental ways, the interventions end up being meaningless for the types of powerful online/face-to-face teaching we might envision. Comparing delivery mechanisms therefore, blinds us to the important variables that truly impact how people learn.
The important and informative questions to ask are not comparative. Rather they focus squarely on understanding online education:
- How can we design effective and engaging online education (e.g., MOOCs)?
- What is the nature of learning in a MOOC?
- What is the learning experience in a MOOC like?
These questions are difficult. They won’t be answered by comparing survey responses and they won’t generate one simple answer. They will however generate answers that will be different depending on context. And that’s what’s exciting about doing research on online education.
- Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U. S. Department of Education. http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
- Twenty Years of Research on the Academic Performance Differences Between Traditional and Distance Learning: Summative Meta-Analysis and Trend Examination http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no2/shachar_0610.htm
- Clark, R. E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 43(4), 445-459.
- Clark, R. (1985). Evidence for confounding in computer-based instruction studies: Analyzing the meta-analyses. Educational Communications and Technology Journal, 33(4), 249-262.
- Kozma, R. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.
- Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42(3), 15-28.
- 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
- Veletsianos, G. (2011). Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies. Educational Technology, 51(2), 41-46.
- Veletsianos, G. (2010). A Definition of Emerging Technologies for Education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 3-22). Athabasca University Press.
“Technology, Education, and Learning Institutions in 2025” is a signature course that I will be teaching for the School of Undergraduate Studies at UT Austin in Fall 2012. Thus, I was excited to learn the other day that George Siemens and colleagues will be teaching an open course entitled The Current/Future State of Higher Education. While the audiences and purposes of these two course may differ, it’s exciting to know that other groups are thinking that it’s important to lead a course that asks participants to think critically about the potential futures and alternative narratives of education. Anyone can make predictions about the future of education (e.g., predictions about the demise of higher education institutions are a dime a dozen). Yet, it’s hard for newcomers to differentiate between wishful thinking, “real” change, incremental change, and potential change. Thus, a well-rounded understanding of educational systems, and the multiple purposes they serve, is important.
Signature courses at UT are interdisciplinary seminar courses for incoming students emphasizing “discussion, critical thinking, short research projects, student presentations, and writing on interdisciplinary topics of contemporary importance.” Importantly, all UT signature courses carry the Writing Flag, meaning that they must meet certain writing requirements in order to ensure that students hone in on their writing skills. To this end, students in this course will write papers describing potential and alternative educational futures and institutions. To instill a sense of commitment, responsibility, encouragement, and hope , I approached the editor of Educational Technology and asked if he was willing to work with me on dedicating a special issue on student’s informed perspectives on the future of education. While we discuss the future of education, I think it’ important to hear from students and learn from what they have to say. Since Educational Technology magazine goes to about 2,000 readers in more than 100 countries around the world, I think that this is a great way to get some of these voices in the mainstream. Our guiding prompt will be the following: If you were going to design an educational system of the future today, what would it look like? This is a question that others have asked as well (e.g., Levin, 2002)
This is how I described the course to potential students:
What will education look like in 2025? What role will technology play in future learning institutions? What will schools and universities look like? Will we invent new forms of education that reside outside of schools and universities? What is the purpose of education and how will it change in the next 10-15 years? Will we still use lectures halls? Will online education be the norm? Are we reaching a point where “anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time?” Or, are Google, Facebook, and Twitter “infantilizing our minds,” distracting us from meaningful learning and purposeful living? Together, we will answer these questions. Just as societies, governments, and other social groups adapt and change over time, so do institutions of learning, the work that they do, and how they do that work. We live at a transient time for education, at a time where entrepreneurs, politicians, philanthropists, college professors, and university presidents are defining what education may look like in 2025. Together, we will investigate major trends influencing education, and understand how education and learning institutions are changing with the emergence of certain technologies, social behaviors, and cultural expectations.
I’ll be posting my syllabus, readings, videos, and additional learning resources here in due course.
I was in Vancouver at AERA 2012 last week, where I had the opportunity to present some of my recent work and catch up with colleagues. A few of the conversations I had centered around the increasing interest our field is receiving. This is a great time to be involved with educational technology, though there’s a lot of discussion about what higher education may look like a few years down the road. At the same time however, contemporary discourse on how technology can “transform” education concerns me because it is largely guided by techno-enthusiasm, techno-determinism, and a desire to improve “efficiency,” on models grounded on marginal costs and revenues. This is not a new concern – I wrote about it in the past as well. However, George Siemens does a great job describing what current thinking in the edtech corporate world looks like. My perspective is that, if we want to improve education for all, we have to engage with educational technology critically, involve educators in designing innovations, and use the research that a lot of us have done on learning, education, and technology.
To this end, I decided to share a a list of papers from my research library that offer a critical perspective on the use of technology in education. This is not a rant against the field. Rather, this is an attempt to highlight alternative ways of thinking. Alternative perspectives are important, because they help us question our assumptions and worldview. I thought it was about time for this, as the last entry that I wrote on this issue was about two years ago. If you have any additional work that might fit into this category, please share it in the comments section, and I will update the blog entry with those. Alternatively, you can add papers to this group on mendeley (feel free to join as well).
Amory, A. (2010). Education Technology and Hidden Ideological Contradictions. Educational Technology & Society, 13(1), 69- 79.
Bayne, S. (2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, 8(1), 5-13.
Friesen, Norm. (2010). Education and the social Web: Connective learning and the commerical imperative. First Monday, 15(12).
Friesen, Norm. (2011). Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E‐Learning, (February), 1-20.
Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007). Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich: technology, politics and the reconstruction of education. Policy Futures in Education, 5(4), 431-448.
Njenga, J. K., & Fourie, L. C. H. (2010). The myths about e-learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 199-212.
Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (November 2010), no-no. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00406.x
Peck, C., Cuban, L., & Kirkpatrick, H. (2007). Techno-Promoter Dreams,Student Realities. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 472-480.
Piña, A. A. (2010). Online diploma mills : implications for legitimate distance education. Distance Education, 31(1), 121-126. doi:10.1080/01587911003725063
Ravenscroft, A. (2001). Designing E-learning Interactions in the 21st Century: revisiting and rethinking the role of theory. European Journal of Education, 36(2), 133-156. doi:10.1111/1467-3435.00056
Sahay, S. (2007). Beyond Utopian and Nostalgic Views of Information Technology and Education: Implications for Research and Practice. Information Systems, 5(7), 282-313.
Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x
Selwyn, Neil. (2011). Editorial: In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 713-718.
Selwyn, Neil, & Gorard, S. (2004). Exploring the role of ICT in facilitating adult informal learning. Education, Communication & Information, 4(2-3), 293-310. doi:10.1080/14636310412331304726
Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 41-49. doi:10.1007/s11519-007-0001-5
Weston, M. E., & Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techno-Critique : The Naked Truth about 1 : 1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change. The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(6).
As part of my research on digital scholarship and the experiences/practices of scholars in online networks, I am working with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the newly-established Visualization Lab at the College of Education to understand learner and scholar participation patterns on the social web. Below is our first visualization, which shows interactions between three types of users who are contributing to a hashtag (red, blue, green). It’s a directed graph, with nodes representing users, and edges representing interactions between users. The thickness of the edge represents # of interactions (thick = more interactions). When nodes of a different color interact with each other, the edges take the color of the two node (e.g., when a blue node interacts with a red node, the edge is purple). What does this visualization tell us?
We are still trying to make sense of this, and we are slowly learning from the tutorials that Tony Hirst has created. This is what (i think) this says: First of all, we know that the majority of the people contributing to this hashtag are not having a conversation with each other (#nodes making up the dataset are 3 times the group shown above – this is not shown on the graph). Second, it looks likes there’s a few “central” folk through which conversations occur. Finally, even though interactions happen between red and blue nodes, it looks like the majority of the interaction is happening within those two groups. And that’s important in this situation because one of our hypothesis was that the red group was joining this community to interact with the blue group (if that was the case, we would be seeing more purple in the image above). We definitely need additional ways to evaluate some of these statements, but that’s what it “looks like” from the image above. And here’s where I think data visualizations start becoming really valuable: You can quickly see patterns and ask questions, and continue from there. We have some ideas and hypotheses, but we also want to let the data bring up phenomena that we haven’t thought about. I don’t yet feel confident that I fully understand what I am seeing here, but I am quickly learning a lot! So my question to you is: how would you interpret this? What questions do you have of what you are seeing here?
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:
Austin hosted SITE 2012 last week, which, in addition to providing a great opportunity to see friends and colleagues, it allowed us to share our most recent work on Adventure Learning. In this recent reformulation of the approach, we discuss what learned from five small-scale projects, and how those lessons have helped us refine the approach for small projects in which the students are tasked with being the explorers:
George Veletsianos, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Brant Miller, University of Idaho, USA
Karla Bradley Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
Jan U.H. Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
R. Justin Hougham, University of Idaho, USA
Abstract: Adventure Learning (AL) is an approach to education that aims to engage learners in hybrid learning experiences that bring content alive through meaningful connections to place and personal lives. In this paper, we present and discuss five small-scale AL projects enacted at Texas and Idaho that have informed our understanding of how the AL approach can be conceptualized and used within a variety of formal and informal learning contexts. Through the diverse and varied AL projects described in this paper, we have learned invaluable lessons that will inform future work and inspire possibilities for using AL in additional venues.
This blog entry was supposed to go out next week, but I am sharing it today because it is relevant to the entry that George Siemens wrote today.
I gave a talk to Curt Bonk’s class a couple of weeks ago and the central premise of that talk was that we should be designing experiences, not products. This is not a new idea. It goes back to the beginning of my career and it’s a passion that I share with a lot of folks, most notably Aaron Doering and Charles Miller at the University of Minnesota (who incidentally just landed in Sydney for their most recent Adventure Learning project). For example, see Raising the bar for instructional outcomes: Towards transformative learning experiences (2008) and Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (2011). A central tenet of the 2008 paper is the following:
There exist “strong pressures to produce mediocre instructional products based on templates and preexisting content.”
That was in 2008. Now consider 2011/2012: Interest in open courses and in large online classes has exploded. The edtech entrepreneur is eager to leverage online education and capitalize on efficiency, by focusing on the delivery of pre-packaged content. Scale and efficiency are key in that if one is able to efficiently deliver content (read: low cost) to large numbers of people, s/he can charge a small fee that will yield high profit. This isn’t a new idea either. David Noble talks about the commodification of education, the attempt to market and sell education as a commodity.
Sebastian Thrun, who was one of the faculty members teaching the Stanford AI class last Fall recently “showed emails from a student who took the AI class, when he could get Internet access, amidst mortar and rocket attacks in Afganistan; and another, a single working mother, who refused to quit the class because it gave her a sense of accomplishment.” Are these statements describing exceptional courses? Are they describing experiences that pull students and engage them to their core? Or are they describing exceptional people? When you provide access to exceptional people (like the two individuals above), they will amaze you, because, well, they are exceptional! How do you design courses that are exceptional, that adapt to all learners, and provide support structures for individuals who are not exceptional? You provide opportunities for personally relevant and meaningful transformation. How do you do that, you ask? Here’s my (free) advice to any hopeful edtech startup: Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (pdf).