Why we shouldn’t fear MOOCs

We are at a significant crossroads in higher education, in the liberal arts especially. A staggering economy for graduates combined with public outcry about high tuition and student loans is all bringing the value of a liberal arts education into question: a perfect storm. What’s most disturbing is a lingering doubtful perception about the return on investment made manifest by many media sources, occasionally influencing elected officials to poke fun at the arts and humanities. While many lament the advent of MOOCs, online learning has been around for nearly two decades. It’s yesterday’s news. But as Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, has elegantly written, the liberal arts DO matter now more than ever. So the current promulgation and growing abundance of freely available content is a powerful incentive and opportunity to re-visit and re-invigorate traditional entry-level curricula in new fruitful directions. History 101 can shed the first 4 weeks of materials, mostly review content that’s easily flipped, and develop new, higher quality activities in class.

Beyond the hype, at the core of MOOCs, especially connectivist MOOCs, is a genuine community sharing of open resources, an extension of the historical mission of 20th century public libraries with print publications, to connect citizens with electronic access to assets of knowledge.  The real value of open online learning is that it has solved the access issue for knowledge-thirsty netizens around the world. There’s a subtle efficiency at play here. What’s to come? Motivated self-directed learners will find ways to imbibe introductory level course materials that will push faculty to redesign richer learning goals in first year seminars. These future students will be there, and we want to attract them. It’s an exciting time for Ed Ttech folks, especially those of us just getting started in earnest with blended learning efforts, to revisit why we used technology in the first place, namely to assist and augment sound instructional design. Open online courses will not destabilize the foundation of higher education. It’s natural to be fearful at first, and it’s even healthy. The natural instinct of self-preservation brings out the best in everyone. But as we let go of this panic, there is much to reflect and build on. As George Siemens points out in a recent interview:

MOOCs are not replacement models. They don’t replace the existing university systems. They augment it and help those universities become more relevant in the digital space. We’ve known in online and distance learning for 20 years or more that students who are at risk, you can’t just give them access. There have to be support systems in place that help those students to succeed.

Not to fear, the ominous specter of online learning, free or otherwise, will not impact the tremendous value of personalized, meaningful relationships between faculty expert guides and students in our classrooms. The abundance of open materials reveals that content is no longer king; relationships and networked connections between faculty and students matter much, much more. As Harold Jarche shared on Twitter:

Relationships cannot be automated; drones and droids won’t even come close. What’s certain, some schools are going to close; but as history will show, institutions that collaborate around the sharing of knowledge and resources with an eye toward the distribution of course redesign efforts have much to gain.

When North Korea met Austin Powers… on Twitter

Last night, I once again was reminded in a very positive way just how connected I am with others on social media and Twitter in particular. Such powerful connections give rise to a sense of immediacy and proximity to real events as they occur. This also provide the basis for experimentation and creativity in ways that align with DS106, my favorite online community for digital storytelling. For example, as I came online after dinner, I started seeing news tweets flash by that North Korea had launched a missile. Indeed, it raced southwards and was spotted by the Japanese on the island of Okinawa.

Other news sources began to light up as well. I got a bit nervous thinking that perhaps something big was going down… yikes – just what is the payload in that rocket?? But shortly afterward, it was confirmed that North Korea had fired a rocket into orbit to launch its first satellite. In the end, all was fine… at least so it seemed. But this got me thinking about this country’s insane leadership and the nefarious ways of dictatorships in general. Something about a missile and evil of course took me back to Mike Myers as Dr. Evil et al. in Austin Powers II, right at the point when Dr. Evil and Mini-Me are launched into space.

This prompted me to send the following tweet to my followers: “Did North Korea just launch Dr. Evil into space? Someone call Austin Powers.” And wouldn’t you know, shortly after publishing it, Austin Powers responded to my tweet, through his own dynamic search of the Twitterverse, by making it one his favorites.

Austin Powers favorites my tweet

This could be a cool assignment for DS106 students: based on a real life event, engage historical figures (real or fictional) on Twitter.  What’s ironic is I didn’t tweet this message at Austin Powers; in fact, I had no idea there was some character out there pretending to be Austin Powers! Could it be Mike Meyers, as in, could the real Mike Meyers stand up, please? This is also what makes Twitter so great- a place to create and co-create meaning with others while also keeping a watchful eye on authenticity, purpose, and one’s very own crap filter.

ISD and Learning Theories revisited: re-discovering my Master’s work from ’04

Back in 2004, I graduated from Penn State with a Master degree in Instructional Systems Design. With the steady increase of educational technology and technology tools in F2F and online learning, the College of Education has re-branded the department as Learning and Performance Systems. I’m really glad they kept the “Systems” piece in the title as this is such a key part of systems thinking and the classic “systematic approach” to design (i.e., the ADDIE model and others). On Friday, I’ll be teaching an “introduction to instructional design” online module. It’s a primer for the instructional technology student apprentices and program (ITAP), an initiative of the NY6 Consortium. Here is the reading list I put together for this short-class: RequiredReadingsTheoryandPractice Below are two video clips I created last week with yours truly starring in a one-man show, a cheerful talking head. You can also check out one of our student technology assistants and apprentice’s site here. Please make this budding blogger’s day by posting a comment!

It was a real treat for me was see that my design prototype is still “live” on an quiet test server at Penn State… Very cool and kudos to my IT pals in the College of Agricultural Sciences for maintaining it over the years. You can check out the Invasive Species website and the ISD primer videos below.

While classic instructional design approaches provide an important and critical lens through which to view any design or re-design of instruction (I think of Carol Twigg’s work in particular when it comes to redesign) constructivist theories continue to influence and energize my thinking and work in academic technology as it did back in 2004 as a graduate student and webmaster at Penn State. What a fun refresher to revisit this old stuff… gets me thinking in new ways that hopefully benefits others, not to me mention me. I guess it’s not that old after all! It might also be time to think about how I could be using this for work to further my research and even studies… à la MOOC or more formally back in grad school?

Overview of Operation Invasive Species (Master’s thesis based on this prototype I designed and built)

An instructional design primer



Learning about openness, the “cloud” and other topics

Back in June, I co-taught a WordPress for Teaching and Learning workshop at the annual SUNY Instructional Technology Conference held in Stony Brook, NY. I attended this conference in Plattsburgh, NY a few years ago. It IS an exceptionally good conference — my colleagues at SUNY put on a great program, the facilities at Stony Brook were great. I had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Masson from UMassOnline. We’d been in touch back in the Spring when he found himself SIGMaster of a SIG on openness. A speaker was needed at the last minute… He sent out an email to the EDUCAUSE Openness Constituent Group listserv. I offered to present on my casual and informal experiences as a MOOCster, having participated on-and-off in various MOOCs last year. While the SIG was cancelled due to low enrollment, here’s a brief description of the presentation: “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) seek to establish open and cost-free learning environments and may push online learning and professional development to the next frontier. What is it like to experience distance learning for the first-time as an open online student? What are the opportunities and challenges of being an open lifelong learner in MOOCs? I will share my observations as a casual observer and ³MOOCster² in 3 different MOOCs taken simultaneously in Spring 2012.”

And here’s a description of the actual meeting:

A culture of openness has begun taking root in the core of academia.
Universities around the world are embracing values of transparency,
collaboration, and open innovation as they move to adopt open source
software, make use of open educational resources and scholarly content and begin to explore open models of governance. Is a comprehensive shift towards openness in higher education a positive trend? What does this shift portend for institutional and educational transformation? How can universities in this area best leverage the opportunities this movement presents and mitigate some of the inherent challenges it poses?

This SIG will present a panel of individuals representing different open
initiatives underway throughout higher education, discuss their evolution
and potential impact, identify common challenges or issues posed, and
introduce consortia focused on promoting awareness, assessment and adoption in this area and opportunities to participate.

Participants should expect to come away with a broader understanding of the following questions:

– What is openness – (e.g. What are the essential values or components).
– How have open communities (open source as well as OCW, OER consortia)
organized themselves differently to deliver quality products and/or
– How can institutions orient themselves to both participate in and partake
of open source communities, products and processes?

Michael Feldstein and others planned to present as well. It would have been a great SIG. Next time.

So back to the SUNY conference, Patrick and I had some good conversations before and after the Chancellor’s keynote. I asked him for book/article recommendations to learn more about openness as it applies to software design and management. Of course, I’m interested in “the Cloud” and “the Crowd” as in crowdsourcing, too. So, I’d like to share that list here as a reminder to me what I plan to read and blog about in the future.

Rosalyn Metz’s Educause Quarterly article, “Cloud Computing Explained”
The Cathedral and the Bazaar
The Success of Open Source
The Wisdom of Crowds
Agile Project Management

Have you read any of these works? Do you have other recommendations?