Tag Archives: MOOCs

Society or Student: What Should Education Serve?

Hap Azizby Hap Aziz

As educators, politicians, employers, technology futurists, and others debate the challenges facing education in the United States, the very basic question of what an education should provide is not often a key component of that debate. When the discussion turns to “common core” or “competency-based learning,” the terminology exposes the bias that there are subject areas or skill sets that are important for our students to master… and that, of course, implies that there are facets of human endeavor that are less important, at least from a public policy and funding standpoint.

At the Learning Impact 2013 conference in San Diego, this was one of the themes woven throughout Dr. Yong Zhao’s keynote address. His comments were provocative but very compelling along this line of reasoning: The greater specificity in education content (exercised through design control from some central, external entity accountable to societal demands), the less likely that students will be able to navigate a creative, entrepreneurial path in life. It is this premise that Dr. Zhao used to buttress his premise that the United States, despite having students that often score near the bottom in world-wide academic performance, produces inventors and innovators and entrepreneurs in much greater proportion than do countries with top test-performing students such as China, for example. While many people in the U.S. have high regard for the Chinese education system, it is instructive to know how non-Americans assess China:

“China must have entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.”
– Wen Jiabao, Former State Premier

and

“The next Apple or Google will appear, but not in China unless it abolishes its education.”
– Kai-fu Lee, Founding President of Google China

Part of this is a cultural mindset, and in October of 2010, a Gallup poll found the entrepreneurial mindset to be much more prevalent in the U.S. than in China (or even the European Union).

The question on entrepreneurship and culture, Zhao argues, is very much related to the success-or failure-of an education system to squash creativity and independent thought. The reason our workforce is more entrepreneurial is due, at least in part, to the fact that the American education system does such a poor job of educating students in those categories that our society most values.

This is what Steve Wozniak comments about the top-ranked Singapore education system:

“Apple couldn’t emerge in societies like Singapore where ‘bad behavior is not tolerated’ and people are not taught to think for themselves.”

Author and CNN Travel contributor Alexis Ong remarks:

“Wozniak’s comments are really a scathing indictment of the Singapore education system, its strictly regimented curriculum and by-rote study techniques that sustain the city’s “formal culture.”

Consider that Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and Larry Ellison all dropped out of college. If we accept the metric that college completion equals education success, then these tech giants are failures by the established education standard. Certainly I’m not arguing that students cast off the repressive chains of education to have a successful and fulfilling life. However, it is extremely important that we as a society understand what we want our education system to accomplish, and if we consider the system to be broken that we understand the actual problem in order to fix the system rather than further remove the ability of creative thought from our students.

I’m not confident that we are paying adequate attention to actual challenge in our seemingly singular pursuit to improve learning outcomes at all levels of the education process. In an article titled “Laptop U” published in The New Yorker, Nathan Heller writes extensively on the topic of MOOCs (massive open online courses), and how many educators as well as legislators see MOOCs as a solution to several types of education challenges. While he acknowledges there is controversy surrounding the use of MOOCs, Heller provides the reasoning of supporters that MOOCs “are designed to insure that students are keeping up, by peppering them with comprehension and discussion tasks,” and they will have high production values (apparently to better engage students).

Yet there is discouraging data. A study cited by Inside Higher Ed concludes that the “average completion rate for massive open online courses is less than seven percent” (strongly suggesting that students are not, in fact keeping up). Early data from Coursera indicates an overall completion rate of seven to nine percent (although Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller argues that this is misleading, as most students enrolled in MOOCs have no intent to complete). Regardless of statistics, it appears that the MOOC strategy is to funnel more students through massively standardized model (whether through implementing common core curriculum or creating large-scale technology-mediated courses). Voices for customizing the education experience to fit individual students and cultivate unique talents and characteristics is a very faint part of the discussion.

The current “crisis” in American education shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Zhao points out that students in the U.S. have scored below the students of other countries over decades. This is not a new phenomenon. However, government spending on education has increased dramatically year over year since the 1960s (some data charts here), and people are demanding accountability for these expenditures. He who pays the piper calls the tune, after all. It is likely that as long as funding dollars continue to be poured into education with little evident or immediate improvement, those in charge of administering the funds will determine what the funds will buy in terms of technology, policy, and curriculum design.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, common core, cost of education, education, education course content, education technology, government funding, Hap Aziz, MOOCs, online education, standards

The MOOC that fits – Will be the MOOC that Survives.

JT Hudnut headshotby Jason T. Hudnut
Chief Coordinating Consultant:  www.theturnpiketeacher.com

The world of the Massive Open Online Course, better known by the catchy and humorous acronym: MOOC, both fascinates and intrigues me.  With 20 plus years as an educator under my belt, I have seen many versions of teaching as it translates from pre-school to higher education and then again  from public, charter, private, and even to parochial settings.  So the future of how we as educators reach our students has been a thought that wanders in and out of my curious mind on many occasions. I am struck by a comment suggested by Hap Aziz in his article: “Rethinking the Class Paradigm:  The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs”, posted on February 28, 2012 on this blog.  Mr. Aziz states, “Very few educators would argue that there is no difference between teaching cohorts of 20 students or cohorts of 200, 2,000, or even 20,000 students.” I obviously agree with this, but I wonder if we could, as educators, adapt…or better yet…evolve into an instructor capable of reaching and teaching any number of students under our guidance.

Mr. Aziz references Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College, in his article : ”Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning” for The U.S. New & World Report.  Mr. Kim states, “Authentic learning requires a two-way dialogue between student and instructor. College teaching at its best is much more than the delivery of content: It’s about the co-construction of knowledge with students and faculty…” Kim continues, “Education is one of those things in life (like friendship) that is based on the relationships between individuals, and therefore is limited in how far it can scale.”  These concepts absolutely nail it for me.  The dialogue between student and instructor and the relationships between the individuals involved in the academic setting has been supporting keystone as I continue to stack the building blocks of my philosophy of education.  It is my desire to reach the student, not only through the curriculum, but within and beyond the strength of the relationship we have developed in the realm of a mutual respect and trust.

The respect that should flow between teacher and student allows us to accept that a learned knowledge from the instructor is being properly evaluated, translated and presented to a willing pupil.  The trust that must be built in this bond lays on a foundation that should already determine the fact that each participant firmly believes in the ability of the other.  The student trusts and respects the knowledge and ability of the instructor.  The instructor, in return, should trust and respect the willingness and ability of the student to learn.  Now…can we, as instructors, translate this relationship with one student to a larger group?  We certainly do this for a class of 20 students, and maybe for a case load of 200 individuals.  We do it over a period of time for 2,000 pupils.  I believe, that we can build up our academic muscles and reach 20,000 students with the same principals of trust and respect, or by whatever means may work for the individuality of each instructor.

Mr. Aziz is absolutely correct though.  To do this, the paradigm needs to shift.  I really was sold on his assertion that suggests, “MOOCs are not courses as much as they are communities.” But I fell in love with his concept of,

“…entering into the scale of a small city.  And when it comes to a city, we understand that no single person (or even small group of people) is responsible for running the whole city. It’s not just the mayor or the city council members. There are hundreds, and even thousands of other official and semi-official roles to be played in the smooth running of a city: police, firefighters, garbage collectors, teachers, and more with whom I interact as a citizen (student) of my city (MOOC) depending on what kind of assistance I need or interaction I seek.”

YES!!!  That is the ticket; a MOOC should be run like a city.  All of the individuals involved have roles to play.  Aziz paints a world where he speaks of meaningful services meet the needs of the community.  He proclaims, “This is where the education community needs to rethink how MOOCs are built and administered, and ultimately what the role of the instructor is to be.”  I believe, this proclamation, as illustrated by similar conversations within the academic community, prove that this shift has already been ushered in.  We, as the educators of today, and even as the former students of yesterday, have given birth to the needs of the future and the evolving of academia.

Doug Holton, of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL., makes a poignant claim in his article: “What’s the “Problem” with MOOCs?” published for EdTechDev: developing educational technology on May 4, 2012. Holten asserts,

“Especially disturbing is that none of the major MOOC providers have hired anyone trained in Instructional design, the learning sciences, educational technology, course design, or other educational specialties to help with the design of their courses.  They are hiring a lot of programmers and recruiting a lot of faculty, who may have various motivations for participating in these open education experiments.”

If the shift we are seeing is to make any noise at all, here are the first rumblings to echo throughout the halls of our universities, colleges, school yards and all the way down to the dark corners of the software developer’s office cubicles. Now is the time to look at a blending of our talents.  The masses can be reached.  We must bring the talents of those in the classrooms, who are designing, implementing and delivering curriculum, together with the genius of those in the Information Technology field who are able to design, implement and deliver the software that will build the “Massively Open Online Communities” that Hap Aziz has envisioned.

Martin LaGrow gives us a wonderful reflection of Mr. Aziz’s thoughts in his response article: “Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOCs as a Community,” also for this blog, on March 13, 2013.  Mr. LaGrow’s words, “In a sense, the MOOC is a product of evolution.” Jump right up and off of the page and fall straight into my wheelhouse.  Yes sir, the MOOC is an evolution.  And the MOOC is not finished developing and adapting to the environment that we have built to house it.  LaGrow continues to ask, “…how can higher education leverage the strengths of the MOOC without also applying the limitations of the classroom?” I also wonder how this will play out.  I already pontificated on my philosophies of respect and trust.  Perhaps we should not limit our inquiries to the world of higher education.  The proving grounds of today’s collegians fall to the high schools and lower schools that first planted the seeds for the desire to acquire knowledge.  These institutions are changing more and more with the explosion of alternative education and the race between public, private, charter, and parochial schools to outdo each other and keep their enrollments up and funding flowing.

In any case, we all must agree, it is a changing world.  The way we teach and the way we learn is evolving.  MOOCs were only a distant concept just decades ago.  They were simply a dream of the Silicon Valley prophets of yesteryear.  Today, MOOCs are a reality.  Tomorrow, they will be a necessary ingredient in the delivery of a significant variety of knowledge on this planet.  It is a testament to Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”.  The MOOC that fits- will be the MOOC that survives.  Whether it is as a course or a community, that is the question.

Sources:

Aziz, H. (2013).  Rethinking the Class Paradigm:  The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs. Retrieved from https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/rethinking-the-class-paradigm-the-rise-and-potential-fall-of-moocs/

Holton, D. (2012). What’s the Problem with MOOCs?. Retrieved from http://edtechdev.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/whats-the-problem-with-moocs/

Kim, J. (2012). Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2012/06/29/open-online-courses-are-not-subsitutes-for-classroom-learning

LaGrow, M. (2013).  Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOC’s as a Community. Retrieved from https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/rethinking-the-class-paradigm-moocs-as-a-community/

1 Comment

Filed under education, education technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, instructional design, Martin LaGrow, MOOCs, online education, virtual classrooms

Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOCs as a Community

Martyby Martin LaGrow

In his February 28th post called ‘Rethinking the Class Paradigm: The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs,’ Hap Aziz posed the question, “Is there truly a way for a single instructor to teach a class with 30,000 students,” and went on to suggest that the answer is no—a MOOC should not be perceived as a course so much as it should be a community. If this perception does not change, he predicted that “the whole MOOC movement will come crashing down by not being able to meet some very important learner needs.”  So what are the limitations of the MOOC as we have come to know it, why do those limitations exist, and what do we do to overcome them?

In a sense, the MOOC is a product of evolution. However, it is not a haphazard mutation. It is evolution influenced by the application of technology to education. The problem with this kind of evolution is that our preconceived notions are carried over from its predecessors—along with their limitations.

The first e-books are a great example of dragging physical limitations into the technical sphere. To increase consumer acceptance of the new technology, the e-book experience was designed to be as much like the book experience as possible. The end product was a book—a book that was functionally no more exceptional than a standard book, even to the point of turning pages. The technology was limited in its scope and provided little improvement over the actual book experience (or none, as some opine). It even brought its own limitations—expense, the need for power, and the dangers of reading in the bathtub! The e-book has since all but disappeared, absorbed into the tablet trend, as any tablet in existence can provide a far richer e-book experience while performing other functions as well.

When higher education ventured into online learning, much the same approach was taken. Educators took their paradigms about the classroom and shifted them into the online modality. When this was done, often the limitations of the classroom carried over, the limitations of technology were added to the mix, but the benefits of technology were not adopted, creating a shallow academic experience. After all, what was an in-person classroom? A synchronous group of 15-25 students, perhaps, an instructor, some lecture component, assigned readings, the submission of papers and perhaps quizzes and tests. Not surprisingly, this was the shape that most online courses took (any many still do today). The classroom paradigm has been transferred online with mixed success. When designed and facilitated well, the limitations are mitigated by a sense of community. As noted by the Illinois Online Network (ION),

“Online learning has its most promising potential in the high synergy represented by active dialog among the participants, one of the most important sources of learning in a Virtual Classroom. However, in larger classes…the synergy level starts to shift on the learning continuum until it eventually becomes independent study to accommodate the large class. At this point, dialog is limited as well as interaction among participants and the facilitator. The medium is not being used to its greatest potential (source).”

Enter the MOOC.

The MOOC is the next evolution of online learning. The limitations of the classroom, once passed down to online courses, are now also in the DNA of the MOOC. Often, the MOOC is little more than a standard online course opened up to a much greater number of participants, inheriting the issues of its predecessor without embracing the new opportunities that the structure provides. If ION is correct, then the MOOC that fits this description is the worst of both worlds.

If, however, MOOCs are removed from their historical roots, and considered to be Massively Open Online Communities, as Hap suggests, the limitations of the class may be released along with the paradigm. This view is also espoused by Doug Holton of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Center in Daytona Beach.

“The question is, are MOOCs an example of imposing an existing worldview (traditional instruction, courses, and instructors) on a new medium for learning?  Is it necessary for all the ‘students’ in a MOOC to be learning the same topic at the same time (synchronous learning)?  That appears to be a common defining characteristic of all MOOCs.  Does there have to be a single, unchanging instructor?  Does it have to be a ‘course’ at all, with a finite beginning and end?  Most students forget much of what they learn once a course ends…Many topics are constantly changing and evolving (like science and engineering and technology), and one’s learning may be out of date sometimes within months, if not years, after a course ends.  Much of what we learn comes from outside the classroom anyway – what we call lifelong learning and informal learning (source).”

Holton gets to the heart of the issue. What if the finite classroom model, which is the basis for online classrooms and thus the grandfather of MOOCs, is flawed? After all, what is a course? It is usually a set of predetermined objectives that are stated, accomplished, and measured upon completion. It does not necessarily represent authentic learning. It does not model the professional realm, or the communities for which students are being prepared, in which they will be expected to continuously learn, contribute, and foster relationships. These are the things that a MOOC does well. The question is now, how can higher education leverage the strengths of the MOOC without also applying the limitations of the classroom?

1 Comment

Filed under eBooks, Hap Aziz, higher education, Martin LaGrow, MOOCs, virtual classrooms

Rethinking the Class Paradigm: The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs

HapBlogThumbnailby Hap Aziz

There has been quite a bit of attention paid to MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) in the past year; most of it positive, though the criticisms have been getting more exposure recently (check out “When MOOCs melt down” in The Chronicle of Higher Education). The momentum for MOOCs appears to be positive still, with the Horizon Report > 2013 listing MOOCs as one of the game-changing technologies in higher education just around the corner. The chorus of doubts is growing, though, and without some fundamental rethinking of how MOOCs should operate, I might consider myself in that camp of uncertainty. Some of my concerns are regarding the practicality of running MOOCs in the way most likely to yield worthwhile results for the enrolled students–as well as for the organizations or individuals responsible for running them. This entry I posted in December of last year touches on that theme.

The concerns I have, though, aren’t all about practicality; they are also about sustainability and viability of the model. This article from U.S. News published a little over half a year ago leads the reader into the premise that there are differences between traditional online courses and MOOCs (primarily scalability), and it is in these differences that the weaknesses of MOOCs are revealed. The truth is a bit more difficult discern in this case.

Scalability is certainly an issue, even in the traditional classroom teaching and learning environment. Very few educators would argue that there is no difference between teaching  cohorts of 20 students or cohorts of 200, 2000, or even 20,000 students. The author of the article (Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College) asserts:

Authentic learning requires a two-way dialogue between student and instructor. College teaching at its best is much more than the delivery of content: It’s about the co-construction of knowledge with students and faculty…

Education is one of those things in life (like friendship) that is based on the relationships between individuals, and therefore is limited in how far it can scale.

The line of reasoning here is that changing the scale of online courses exponentially does not require some fundamental change(s) to the underlying structure of the courses and the relationships within the courses. This isn’t isolated thinking, however. When I attended the ELI Conference in Denver earlier this year, I was quite interested in seeing what other educators were doing in the field of MOOCs so I attended several sessions. Invariably, the sentiment among the presenters was that MOOCs were like super-sized online courses. One phrase that stuck out in my mind was the statement, “when teaching a class of 30,000 students….”

Is there truly a way for a single instructor to teach a class with 30,000 students? Especially if education is based on relationships between individuals?

No, the paradigm needs to shift. MOOCs are not courses so much as they are communities. In fact, if we think of 30,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 students all interacting in a single online community, we realize we are entering into the scale of a small city. And when it comes to a city, we understand that no single person (or even small group of people) is responsible for running the whole city. It’s not just the mayor or the city council members. There are hundreds, and even thousands of other official and semi-official roles to be played in the smooth running of a city: police, firefighters, garbage collectors, teachers, and more with whom I interact as a citizen (student) of my city (MOOC) depending on what kind of assistance I need or interaction I seek.

Running a MOOC should be much more like running a city than running a course. And the citizens of the MOOC all have roles to play in keeping the MOOC running smoothly while providing meaningful and timely services to the other citizens. This is where the education community needs to rethink how MOOCs are built and administered, and ultimately what the role of the instructor is to be. If we develop MOOCs the same way in which we develop smaller online courses with merely a few dozen students, we’ll find that the whole MOOC movement will come crashing down by not being able to meet some very important learner needs.

 

7 Comments

Filed under EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, Hap Aziz, instructional design, MOOCs, online education

The Practicality of the Massive Open Online Courses Model

HapBlogThumbnailby Hap Aziz

Earlier this year, Dr. Joshua Kim (Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College) wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed titled, “Why Every University Does Not Need A MOOC” in which he examined the question of whether or not all higher education institutions should develop MOOCs as part of their teaching and learning portfolio of offerings. The core point of his article is that institutions should not necessarily try to follow the MOOC model as developed by a handful of pioneers. This is a risky endeavor, he reasons, and the key to success is in looking at other models of educational program development. Specifically, Dr. Kim recommends that institutions exercise introspection and examine what unique program offerings they might bring to market in order to appeal to a highly diverse learning community.

The argument has some merit, and indeed we see examples of institutions creating programs that have a “twist” to attract students: Lone Star College’s partnership with the oil and gas industry and the Mississippi Corridor Consortium’s partnership with Toyota for an education-to-work program are just two examples. Certainly, the idea of finding opportunities to engage students in learning that leverages an institution’s own collective expertise and “DNA” is not a new idea… and it is not an idea mutually exclusive to MOOCs, to be offered up in their place. In fact, it isn’t difficult to imagine these innovative programs being offered, at least to some degree, in MOOC format. Where I think Dr. Kim’s argument fails is that he blurs the distinction between program viability and demand as opposed to engaging delivery mechanisms and opportunities. Ideally, institutions should be looking to combine both of these elements.

That is not to say that the use of MOOCs will guarantee any measure of success. This is hardly the case–given the current levels of student preparedness, the revenue models under which different institutions operate, and lack of experience that many (if not most) institutions have in implementing non-traditional modes of online education, developing MOOCs can drain an institution’s resources while driving no change in the status quo of enrollments, retention, and student success.

The question of whether or not to implement MOOCs is preceded by the more basic question: “Under what circumstances can MOOCs thrive at my institution?” This is much more difficult to answer. What are the programs to be considered at MOOC candidates? How do we assess students for enrollment? And perhaps the elephant in the room for many institutions, especially those that are tuition-driven: how do we sustain the model without negatively impacting our revenue? While I cannot offer comprehensive answers (that discussion is just beginning in higher education), I can see some potential pathways for exploration:

  1. We should be looking at MOOCs as a delivery option for large enrollment courses with longer refresh cycles. At least while an institution embarks on the MOOC path, the economy-of-scale issue is a top-of-mind consideration to be addressed. Building MOOCs that will “be around for a while” with less need for revision while help in budgeting, and attaching MOOCs to courses that already may have more faculty (and even instructional design) resources associated with them will be helpful as well.
  2. MOOCs should not necessarily replace traditional on-ground and online courses, but rather they should be offered as a supplemental environment. As an additional learning environment, the existing student support mechanisms can still be utilized, which might mitigate some of the concern over the participation of tech-novice students. And keeping MOOCs associated with course that are funded traditionally is one way of covering their development and maintenance costs.
  3. We should seriously consider collaborative efforts between institutions and team mentorship (not “teaching”!) from an instructor pool. Again, the sharing of resources is a consideration, but a big “win” with this approach is the potential for extending and enhancing the learning community. Ultimately, if we are able to provide more types of support for our students, we widen our pathways to improved student success.

Are MOOCs for everyone? Certainly not, at this point in time. However, taking a measured look at how MOOCs might be integrated into an institution’s existing model of instruction is a conversation that will be coming up more and more in higher education.

Leave a comment

Filed under colleges and universities, cost of education, education technology, face-to-face instruction, Hap Aziz, higher education, instructional design, learning outcomes, MOOCs, online education