While designing my open course focusing on networked scholars, I’ll be posting updates here pertaining to pedagogical and design decisions that I’m making. [Aug 20, 2014 update: Course registration is open]
The course is intended to help doctoral students, academics, and other knowledge workers on how social media and networked technologies may support/extend/question their scholarship. The course will also be “wrapped” by a colleague in real-time and colleagues who teach research methods courses will be sharing it with their students. In short, the audience is diverse, their background knowledge varies, and their needs/desires will vary. So, the question becomes, how do you support all learners to achieve what they aspire to achieve?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about success in open courses. I’m intrigued by discussions of multiple pathways (or dual layer) through open courses and I’ve been reflecting on how to support the different groups of people that might visit (and use) my course. In the GoNorth projects, we had thousands of teachers annually use our digital learning environment and curriculum. To accommodate their needs the curriculum consisted of 3 levels: (experience, explore, expand). This design encompassed varying levels of difficulty and involvement and allowed teachers to adjust the curriculum to local needs. In the edX course Data, Analytics, and Learning that George, Carolyn, Dragan, and Ryan are teaching in the Fall, the learner is given more of that control. The instructors write: ”This course will experiment with multiple learning pathways. It has been structured to allow learners to take various pathways through learning content – either in the existing edX format or in a social competency-based and self-directed format. Learners will have access to pathways that support both beginners, and more advanced students, with pointers to additional advanced resources. In addition to interactions within the edX platform, learners will be encouraged to engage in distributed conversations on social media such as blogs and Twitter.” I like this because of the recognition that learners come to courses with varying needs/wants and that recognition influenced the design of the course.
In thinking about the different needs that students in my course will have, a group of instructional designers and I at Royal Roads have created a scaffold to help individuals define what they want to achieve in the course. This tool will be helpful for self-directed learners and those with enough background knowledge on the topic, but, depending on how it is implemented, it can help novices as well. The scaffold is a Personal Learning Plan (.rtf). I think this might be helpful to others, so I’m tagging it with an open license so that others can use it as they see fit in their own courses. Here’s how it works:
I assume that individuals will enrol in this course to pursue a personal need/ambition (e.g., “I want to learn how education researchers use social media for research and I am at a loss as to where to start”). To support learners in this, I will be asking them to develop a personal learning plan (PLP) as a way to define, verbalize, and be mindful about their goals. A PLP will allow learners to define what they want to achieve by enrolling in the course and reflect on their successes and accomplishments.
Once participants create a PLP they can either keep it private, share it with the instructor, or share it on a discussion board. Sharing it on a discussion board might allow them to be more accountable to the goals they have set and to connect with colleagues that have similar goals. There is one problem here: Let’s assume that the course will be of interest to a couple of hundred people and a hundred of them post their PLPs on a discussion board. That will quickly become overwhelming for everyone. How do we reduce the information available to help learners find each other based on common interests? If learners could tag their post, and the tags became available at the top of the discussion thread, that could help, but alas, that’s not an option available on the platform that I am using. If any of you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!
Below are two fictitious learning plans as examples. These only have 1 row each, but learners could include as many rows as they need.
The first one is relevant to PhD students
|Goal||Action(s) to achieve goal||Measure of success (i.e. How will I know that I was successful?)||How much time do I anticipate spending to achieve this goal?|
|Decide whether of not to start blogging about my dissertation||- Read assigned material- Participate in discussions||- Make a decision by the end of the course||2 hours per week for the next 4 weeks|
The second one applies to an early-career academic (e.g., a lecturer, a professor, a researcher, etc).
|Goal||Action(s) to achieve goal||Measure of success (i.e. How will I know that I was successful?)||How much time do I anticipate spending to achieve this goal?|
|My social media activity is gaining global following. I want to understand the tensions that I might face.||- Read everything associated with week 2.- Participate in as many relevant discussions as possible in week 2.- Join the live panel discussion during week 2.||- I will write a 200-word journal entry describing potential tensions and challenges that I might face.||7 hours during week 2|
Of course, it is entirely possible, and research has shown, that learners don’t know what they don’t know. A personal learning plan isn’t a panacea, which is why every course needs to include a diverse range of scaffolds and supports. But this is turning out to be a long post, so I’ll save those thoughts for a future update.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How does this sound? What might be some problems with it? How could it be improved?
One of the chapters in my upcoming book, Networked Scholars, and one of the modules in my open online course on Networked Scholars, focuses on describing social media as networks of tension and conflict. In participating online, academics face and experience a wide range of tensions and conflicts that have to do with values, beliefs, academic freedom, institutional oversight, and societal expectations. These tensions aren’t just experienced by academics. Teachers face similar tensions as well.
The developing story regarding Dr. Salaita’s revoked job offer is an example of this, and, as numerous others have pointed out, of so much more. The area around academic freedom, social media, and public intellectuals is one that educational institutions need to seriously address. It’s also an area that we need to introduce to our PhD students… not just to show them examples of messy situations, but to help them investigate and understand the role and significance of digital and networked technologies in academics’ day to day lives (hence the reason for the free online class linked above!).
The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.
In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.
Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.
Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.
Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.
It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.
These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).
The implications of this study are the following:
First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.
Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?
The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology.
I will be visiting my colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in mid-June to give a seminar on MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence and pedagogical agents. This is a free event organized by the Moray House School of Education at the U of Edinburgh and supported by the Digital Cultures and Education research group and DigitalHSS. Please feel free to join us face-to-face or online (Date: 18 June 2014; Time: 1-3pm) by registering here.
This seminar will bring together some of my current and past research. A lot of my work in the past examined learners’ experiences with conversational and (semi)intelligent agents. In that research, we discovered that the experience of interacting with intelligent technologies was engrossing (pdf). Yet, learners often verbally abused the pedagogical agents (pdf). We also discovered that appearance (pdf) may be a significant mediating factor in learning. Importanly, this research indicated that “learners both humanized the agents and expected them to abide by social norms, but also identified the agents as programmed tools, resisting and rejecting their lifelike behaviors.”
A lot of my current work examines experiences with open online courses and online social networks, but what exactly does pedagogical agents and MOOCs have to do with each other? Ideas associated with Artificial Intelligence are present in both the emergence of xMOOCs (EdX, Udacity, and Coursera emanated from AI labs) and certain practices associated with them – e.g., see Balfour (2013) on automated essay scoring. Audrey Watters highlighted these issues in the past. While I haven’t yet seen discussions on the integration of lifelike characters and pedagogical agents in MOOCs, the use of lifelike robots for education and the role of the faculty member in MOOCs are areas of debate and investigation in both the popular press and the scholarly literature. The quest to automate instruction has a long history, and lives within the sociocultural context of particular time periods. For example, the Second World War found US soldiers and cilvilians unprepared for the war effort, and audiovisual devices were extensively used to efficiently train individuals at a massive scale. Nowadays, similar efforts at achieving scale and efficiencies reflect problems, issues, and cultural beliefs of our time.
I’m working on my presentation, but if you have any questions or thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them!
You are invited to join us on campus or online for a presentation by Dr. Albert Sangra Morer, Academic Director and UNESCO Chair in Education, Technology and Social Change at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain.
When: Tuesday, May 27, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Face-to-face (Centre for Dialogue, Learning and Innovation Centre, RRU) or online
This event is hosted by the Faculty of Social and Applied Science Dean’s Office and the RRU School of Education and Technology.
Dr. Albert Sangra will present his research on the informal approaches to professional development teachers are taking and what this means for developing a “learning ecology.” The concept of learning ecology can be a useful tool to help professionals create a personal strategy for professional development and relations, Morer says. Currently, there is a myriad of digital resources teachers use to informally develop themselves professionally such as MOOCs and communities of practice. There is a move towards each individual being responsible for taking his/her own decisions on learning, rather than simply accepting those formally proposed, he says.
A key aspect of the updating of professional development is personalization: adapting policies to the specific needs of each individual, according to their learning style. Morer’s research aims to analyze and understand the ways in which learning ecologies are and will be contributing to the professional development of primary school teachers. In this presentation, the design and the current stage of the research will be introduced, as well as its initial outcomes.
Last week, the “Look Up” video went viral. In the words of the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s a video urging people “to take a break from their online lives to experience real connections.”
This week, the “CNA – Speaking Exchange” video is being shared. It’s a video connecting Brazilian students wanting to improve their English language skills with seniors in the United States living in retirement homes (it reminds me of Sugatra Mitra’s Skype Granny project)
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.
The School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads is expanding and we are searching for a faculty member to join us at the rank of assistant, associate, or full professor. This person will be my colleague and will play a key role in the design and delivery of the school’s Learning and Technology programs.
This is a full-time permanent status position. Details about the application process are here:
Please don’t hesitate forwarding the post to anyone you know who might be interested.