User:Mackiwg/Blog/Blog posts/2011

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How big is a MOOC? Double the number from one week to another

<< Online educators congregate like MOOCers to the eduMOOC light
Revised: 12/07/2011 by User:Mackiwg

"How long is the world's longest piece of string?". Some might answer: "Double the length from one end to the middle." So how big is the "massive" in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)? ... and does it matter?

There are some things which work because they are big. For example, Wikinomics alerted us to research about the economics of mass collaboration by studying encyclopaedias, operating systems, mutual funds, and many other items which are being created by teams numbering in the thousands. We know that thousands of editors don't necessarily collaborate on single Wikipedia articles, but that the functioning of mass open communities and their ecosystems enable things that are not possible with small closed teams. Similarly, MOOCs can register thousands of participants but active and visible participation is but a fraction of the numbers which sign up. What does this mean for teaching and learning?

It is important for the OERu to think about the "massive" in MOOCs and aspects of the model which could be implemented. The OERu eduMOOC study and planning group are considering these questions with the view to identifying the strengths and weaknesses for implementation in the OER university which will provide for-credit options for OER learners. If the OERu aims to provide free learning opportunities for all students worldwide, the requirement for scalable pedagogical approaches is an important consideration.

Large courses are not a new phenomenon. I recall early in my academic career been allocated the responsibility of coordinating the "Didactics" section of the first year course in Education at the University of South Africa which at the time had +12,000 students. Here I learned about the scalability of the distance education model. So it would appear that size is not all that matters but it is likely to be a contributing factor.

Michael Porter (and others), drawing on percolation theory have introduced the concept of a "critical threshold". This is the threshold at which a critical mass is summonsed. Below the threshold, the concept will abort but above the threshold the concept will grow exponentially. The critical threshold is the point at which there is a decisive and sustainable "competitive advantage" above alternate choices. I wonder whether there is a critical threshold of participants for a MOOC to facilitate connectivist learning? If so, at what level of enrolment do the unique characteristics of a MOOC operationalise to trigger the benefits when considering the high attrition rates? 100, 300, 500, 1000 or 2500 participants?

MOOCs are distinctive in that they are free, open, large and online when compared to costly, closed, small and usually face-to-face associated with the dominant form of delivery in the formal post-secondary sector. MOOCs integrate the connectivity of social networking. "Perhaps most importantly, however, a MOOC builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand “students” who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests" (See McAuley, Stewart, Siemens and Cormier. 2010 in The MOOC Model for digital practice.)

Meaningful learning using social networking approaches can conceivably occur with small numbers of learners -- So do we need to worry about MOOC attrition rates? Paradoxically a large percentage of learning in the formal education context takes place in solitude and is very often restricted to student-content interactions in the absence of social networking. This is not too make a value judgement about the nature or quality of the learning, but there is something distinctive about the mix of attributes associated with a MOOC and the notion of a critical threshold of learners. Gaining a better understanding of what these may be will help us in designing better delivery models and options for the OERu.

Hopefully we can avoid the seductive allure of assuming causality between teaching approaches and learning. For instance, a constructivist teaching approach does not guarantee constructivist learning any more than the possibility for deep learning to occur with positivist teaching approaches. Perhaps David Ausubel was onto something all those years ago suggesting two learning continuums. One on the continuum of meaningful to rote learning and the other on the continuum of reception to discovery learning. While not intuitive, rote discovery learning is both plausible and possible.

Tags: oeru, edumooc

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Online educators congregate like MOOCers to the eduMOOC light

<< How big is a MOOC? Double the number from one week to another
Can we MOOC the OERu >>
Revised: 12/07/2011 by User:Mackiwg

Moth attracted by light.jpg
The MOOC phenomenon seems popular among the networked educators. In the case of eduMOOC, over 2500 of us have signed up and are contemplating online learning for today and tomorrow. We are finding and creating paths through the open web searching for answers to the questions which interest us and using the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meeting new ones along the way.

What is the light which attracts us to register for these web events?

We know from previous MOOC experiences that attrition rates are high and active participation is comparatively low when compared to the droves which register. Is it the heat and confusion of the bright light of a new MOOC event which burns away the motivation of sustained an active engagement? Do participants keep their distance and stay clear of the light or perhaps they are attracted by other lights which keep them away?

At each MOOC gathering the usual suspects arrive to ply their trades of self-promotion chasing the allure of personal blog rankings and site visits given the large numbers of folk who congregate at these events. The hobbyists set up their stalls inviting folk to ride their favourite new and shiny pedagogical hobby-horses.

I count myself lucky having had the privilege of witnessing, sharing and co-creating a few pedagogical fads. I'm relieved to know that these fads do not do any major learning damage because the safety policy of any pedagogy is the fact that we learn in spite of teaching. This relationship is often highlighted by citing the Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) accredited maxim that "schooling should not interfere with one's education" -- although we cannot be certain of the origins of the quotation because good ideas get reused :-).

The light which attracts me to eduMOOC is the opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the implementation potential of the MOOC approach for use by the OER university. We have established an open OERu eduMOOC study and planning group to explore these and other questions which may arise. A number of educators have similar interests. Just short of 50 educators have subscribed to our OERu-EduMOOC email list and our project pages in the wiki have recorded +3200 page views (+1600 unique page views) after the first week of eduMOOC. We have succeeded in sharing and discussing the objectives we would like to achieve with our study group.

We are an ambitious group and aim to achieve the following outputs during week 2 of our eduMOOC journey in planning the future delivery model for the OER university.

  1. List and aggregate the resources which will help us answer the research questions we identified in Week 1.
  2. Collaboratively design and develop an eduMOOC survey.
  3. Research and develop critical MOOC case studies to help identify strengths and weaknesses.

Stephen Downes, one of the early MOOC pioneers recommends that learning success in a MOOC requires participants to aggregate, remix, re-purpose and share.

I think that our study group is on track to achieving success. This week we will be listing and aggregating online resources which will help us achieve the objectives of our OERu study group. We will be re-mixing what we find on the web by combining ideas and enriching the resources with our own perspectives. We will be re-purposing these resources by developing critical MOOC case studies and a survey instrument to help inform decision-making on suitable delivery models for the OERu. By the very nature of our open wiki processes and open content licenses - -we are sharing our work with the world. Individual members of our study group will also be sharing their thoughts in their blogs, discussion posts and microblog notes.

Should be a productive week and we will do our best to avoid burnout!

Tags: oeru, edumooc

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Can we MOOC the OERu? - an eduMOOC study group

Revised: 12/07/2011 by User:Mackiwg

MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
My strategic interest in the OER university is to figure out how the formal education sector can provide free learning opportunities to all learners worldwide with pathways for OER learners to gain credible credentials in a sustainable and scalable way.

This is an important challenge which the formal sector must resolve because we anticipate an additional 98 million learners who will be seeking post-secondary education over the next 15 years. The conventional system will not be able to respond to this demand. In a digital world, information is everywhere - therefore it is conceivable that a global network of post-secondary institutions collaborating on courses based solely on OER can provide a scalable and cost effective solution without the need for "new" money by participating institutions.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) phenomenon, pioneered by Stephen DownesDavid Cormier, George Siemens and others, builds on the theory of Connectivism and provides a powerful exemplar for free learning in a digital age. The knowledge, research and experience gained from these large courses can help us answer the question: Can we MOOC the OER university? In other words:

  • What can we learn from the experiences of the MOOC model for designing and implementing the Open Pedagogy and Open Curriculum initiatives of the OERu logic model?
  • Could the OERu concept support MOOCs in the future by providing formal accreditation services for OER learners who wish to credentialise their learning?
  • Further questions to be developed as we progress on this journey ....

The OERu eduMOOC study / planning group

One approach is to explore the answers to these questions is in the context of a live MOOC. A group of interested people are forming an OERu study/planning group as part of the eduMOOC: Online Learning Today ... and Tomorrow. The timing and focus of eduMOOC is ideal. eduMOOC will focus on the current state and future prospects of online learning. This will be followed by the change.MOOC which George Siemens is calling the Mother of all MOOCs. Perhaps our OERu study/planning group as a "moment" can contribute to the MOOC research agenda and feed into change.MOOC.

MOOC's and the OERu concept

A few initial reflections on the state of the art of MOOCs and the OERu concept. Clearly MOOCs are popular events, typically attracting +1,000 initial registrations. MOOCs can cater for large numbers and allude to the scalability of the model. Moreover, many MOOCs use openly licensed materials. Scalability and OER are prerequisites for the future success of the OERu hence the interest of this planning group. (Noted that this does not say much about the nature of the learning.)

Downes, commenting on the Chronicle Article for eduMOOC refers to a three-phase evolutionary journey. The first step is to simply deploy OER in teaching. The second step is to "open" instruction or "open" delivery -- the essence of connectivism and the MOOC implementation. The third step is to open assessment and credentials. Whether the conservationism of the formal sector and OERu network will succeed in "opening" assessment in meaningful ways remains to be seen. However, I do believe that the formal sector can contribute as a node in the evolving ecosystem to complement the innovations of the "informal" / "non-formal" sectors, as in the case of the P2PU Badge Pilot. Perhaps Prior Learning Assessment Recognition (PLAR) protocols and/or work-based learning solutions could bridge the gaps among formal, non-formal and informal learning.

There is a range of opinion regarding the pedagogical effectiveness of an open curriculum, more freedom and less structured approaches usually implemented by MOOCs. For example, David Wiley points out that the less well prepared a person is academically, the more supportive structure they will need to support their learning. In contrast, George Siemens suggests that the "process of clarifying confusion and disorientation – sensemaking and wayfinding in complex settings – is the learning. Our own mini-experiment with the Open Content Licensing for Educators workshop where we provided learners with the choice of a less structured but more open wiki environment compared with a more sequenced learning experience within a learning management system revealed the following results in the course survey: 31% of the respondents preferred accessing the course using the more structured learning management system compared with 20% choosing the wiki model. However, what was interesting is that the largest percentage (46%) preferred accessing the course using both technologies. With reference to the design of open pedagogies for the OERu, this stresses the importance of digital and networked learning literacies and academic preparedness.

Open invitation

The OERu network extends an open invitation to anyone interested in collaborating and contributing to the planning of the OER university to join and participate in this eduMOOC OERu study / planning group. Just add your name to the member list and join us in building sustainable education futures. (Don't forget to register for the eduMOOC course as well.)

Tags: oeru, edumooc

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