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Archive for September, 2014

The interesting MOOC on MOOCs conducted by Dr. T V Prabhakar from IIT Kanpur and Dr V Balaji from Commonwealth of Learning is in week 3. The theme itself is reminiscent of the CCK MOOCs, which did a deep dive into the Connectivist origins of the original MOOCs. It is timely also because India is really on the verge of something special in this area.

Sir John Daniel, one of the experts in Open and Distance Learning, has the following points to make in his video lecture contributed specially for the course.

  • Open and Distance and Online learning did not start with MOOCs or even the Internet.
  • Putting courses online does not automatically improve their quality.
  • MOOCs are a good example of how computers and networks have increased the power and possibilities of ODL but they lack some of the vital ingredients of a good learning system. Many do not include Holmberg’s “guided didactic conversations” between learners and teachers and most do not include student assessment and certification.
  • Everything depends on the design of the teaching learning system around the students’ needs.That must be the next step in  the development of MOOCs.
  • In most cases, MOOCs are still simply information distribution systems
  • Why have MOOCs been so slow in tackling the challenges of interaction and assessment? Because early 2012 MOOCs were by exclusive universities.

In his 2012 article, Making Sense of MOOCs – Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

We also agree with Bates that current xMOOCs pedagogy is pretty old hat but this will now change fast. Even if Coursera gave its partner universities great freedom in course formats in order to sugar the pill of signing the contract, this will quickly produce a great diversity of approaches and much healthy experimentation.

Placing their xMOOCs in the public domain for a worldwide audience will oblige institutions to do more than pay lip service to importance of teaching and put it at the core their missions. This is the real revolution of MOOCs.

In a more recent article for the Montreal Digital Conference to be held next month, Are MOOCs the long-awaited technological revolution in higher education?, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

  • It is unlikely that MOOCs shall be considered a revolution in Higher Education unless they are also able to perform the core functions of that system – “the authority to award degrees, diplomas and qualifications”.
  • Quoting Laurillard who questions whether MOOCs are solving global education problems like access to universities, spiraling student debt and low graduate pay, he presents MOOCs as perhaps being more useful in professional and vocational development.
  • The viability of building and maintaining MOOCs for universities are also called into question. They do not represent a significant return on investment (like the UKOU’s tracking of students who enrolled revealed that 1500 students had prior contact with its free media implying an 8% return on investment in free media) if considered for student recruitment, nor are they likely to make as much money in services like proctoring and assessments as compared to private operators. He sees certification and employee recruitment as the most promising end-uses of MOOCs.

In talking about the legacy of MOOCs, he writes:

This transformation of the methods of teaching and learning will be the primary legacy of MOOCs. It will not be a revolution but it will have a long-term impact on the way higher education operates, much like the important evolutionary stimuli in the earlier history of universities that we examined earlier.

Talking about OERs, he states:

The creation and use of OER developed steadily, but without fanfare, for the next decade. OER were the long fuse that detonated the MOOCs explosion.

On why MOOCs will not be revolutionary for Higher Education,

MOOCs are not revolutionary, both because higher education develops by evolution and also because MOOCs mostly do not lead to formal qualifications. MOOCs are, however, the harbingers of an important transformation that will lead to much greater use of online technologies in teaching, research and academic service.

Not surprisingly, he concludes:

Quality and the quality assurance of ‘post-traditional’ higher education, like the certification of its outcomes, is one of the greater challenges of these new forms of teaching and learning...Our first conclusion is that we should not await a revolution but rather expect digital innovations to transform practice in an incremental manner...Second, the present disruption being caused by digital technologies is a constructive process. We shall see a flurry of evolutionary change as institutions adapt to the new niches that innovations are creating. Third, it is important to let experimentation continue so that the viability of various models for using technology in teaching, learning, assessment and certification can be tested. This is why it was dangerous to present MOOCs as the contemporary revolution in higher education. Fourth and finally, this exciting phase of evolution poses a special challenge for quality assurance, which is caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Daniel is trying to situate MOOCs (specifically xMOOCs) in the Higher Education context, terming them an evolution and not a revolution, experiments that need far more innovation, currently unable to meet global challenges like student debt, unable to perform core functions such as awarding degrees and a logical evolution of the open and distance learning, OER, digital innovations and online learning paradigm. I think Daniel is saying that the incremental innovations in teaching and learning of the xMOOCs will bring about the real revolution over a period of time.

There is also a fleeting aspiration in what he writes:

In the long run heutagogy and cMOOCs may have a greater impact on the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education in an information age than the more common xMOOCs, some of which learners can find trivial rather than confusing.

and from the Musings article:

We quote Illich to emphasise that the xMOOCs attracting media attention today, which are ‘at the intersection of Wall Street and Silicon Valley’ (Caulfield, 2012), appear to have scant relation to those pioneering (Ed: cMOOC) approaches.

As George Siemens writes while distinguishing between x- and c-MOOCs in What is the theory that underpins our MOOCs?:

As stated above, there is overlap between our model at that of Coursera/EDx. However, Coursera/EDx emulates the existing education system, choosing instead to transfer it online rather than transform it online.

Clearly, xMOOCs are an extension geared for the traditional system of education, where at University or online, open and distance. By his own admission, cMOOCs are pioneering approaches that may have a greater impact on teaching and learning in the long run.

The contention lies in whether Daniel thinks that the xMOOCs and cMOOCs are milestones on some kind of a continuum of evolution of higher education, or whether they are, as I firmly believe, two completely different systems altogether. In my opinion, we could better call the xMOOCs something else so that we are able to focus on the potential of cMOOCs in a better way – perhaps call them XBTs or eXtended-Web Based Training, just like the earlier generations were called CBT and WBT.

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People keep on going on about there being so much shortage of good quality faculty. That, they bemoan, is the most important factor behind the problems that we face in K12 or Higher Ed today. It is definitely true to an extent.

I believe the bigger challenge is to find learners. Not students. But learners. Or capable students who take greater responsibility, initiative and interest in their own education as well as the education of their peers.

If we flip the problem, we can perhaps leverage the scale of learners to overcome most of the problems in education. To do this we have to break from the belief that students have to be led. They don’t. They need to be helped to become more capable of learning in an environment mediated by social and technological networks.

This can reshape how we think about teaching and learning. Teachers then need to make sure that students become more capable (instead of becoming more knowledgeable) and that they have help and facilitation when needed. Students have to acquire critical literacies (and heutagogical capabilities) to transform into Learners. The Government needs to reshape the ability of these new generation of capable learners to acquire credentials that can be interpreted (and later perhaps even replace) at par or higher (or differently) than existing credentials. Our institutions and employers need to reshape structures and practices to allow all this wonderful learning led by the ones that are most impacted by it.

This is why, in the FICCI Vision Paper on MOOCs in Higher Education that I co-wrote, my vision for MOOCs (and in general the educational system) was:

Learning through Massive, Open and Online courses (MOOCs) will enable all Indians who want to learn, earn, teach or innovate, the capability to realize their true potential and transform our country.

The vision talks about building capability, not creating trained engineers or research scientists. Replace “MOOCs” with “our Educational System” and the vision would hold, really.

Are we really chasing the wrong problems?

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Do you go to the football field to learn music? Or to the art gallery to learn fencing? Or to a library to learn oratory? You don’t. However, irrespective of whether you are studying history, economics, physics, languages or architecture, you go to that one singular invention – the classroom.

In the age of networks, this notion of a classroom perhaps needs a serious rethink.

What should a modern day learning environment look like? Should it extend the notion of the classroom (and the class) in the belief that this notion is capable of handling the new digital and social learning environment? Or should it be disrupted by something entirely new?

Extensions of the notion of classroom have been notable. The Flipped Classroom has caught the imagination of the world as a way to use digital technology to invert/optimize the use of learning events/activities inside and outside class. There have been many developments in the physical design of learning spaces that promise enhancements in in-class collaboration and learning by doing. Peer instruction has been found to be another way of extending the notion.

Christensen thinks disruption is the best way to go. Many other folks believe that online education using MOOCs and technology such as adaptive learning is that panacea – a panacea that can personalize learning and address individualized issues of knowledge and motivation.

I believe that class needs to be disrupted. And I believe networks are the key to disrupting the classroom. What if you could learn from someone who could teach the way you learn? What if you learned with people and things that directly reinforced what you were learning? What if you did not just learn to do, but also learned to be – to be a practitioner in networks of practice?

One of the interesting observations seems to be that in  the traditional educational system there is invariance to scale or scale-free behaviour. Scale free behaviour is exhibited by some very interesting networks like the Internet in which a few of the participants make the majority of interactions, and a long tail of participants exist with little or no engagement or levels of activity. Perhaps a disruption will truly arrive if we invert these scale free networks or even if we flatten out the interactions (raise the long tail). Perhaps we need to recast the classroom as the network itself?

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There is a teacher in everyone of us. It is useful to acknowledge that a whole lot of things are learnt without someone actually teaching us, and that perhaps someone is right now learning from us without our even knowing it. On the Internet, this is possible at a very large scale. We learn from other people’s review of the computers we buy or the places we visit. We learn to dress by looking at what others wear and talk as we hear others speak. We learn from reading a blog post or the fact that a guru likes a particular URL or that an expert just followed an innovative startup’s twitter handle.

So when practicing teachers and real experts, who really do all of this teaching and coaching professionally, start making their actions, their learning, their idiosyncrasies public, a whole lot of people will end up learning even if they are not in their class. Perhaps their class will also learn much more if they share the guru’s network, the guru’s learning trails across the World Wide Web.

As teachers, it is really about how we learn and how we share how and what we learn. It is not learning how to use technology (which is an important enabler, but not an end in itself), but how to embrace a culture of open-ness, sharing and a much heightened consciousness that we are professional performers of a learning process; that as teachers we are actually enacting the role of expert learners.

For that, we have to re-envision the way we learn. We are a product of much the same system that we subject our children to. We bind our students by its same constraints. We are steeped in the routines that we have perfected in years we have taught the same curriculum again, again and again. We cannot change ourselves by thinking in the same ways the system has taught us. We must re-envision our own futures, standing outside the systems of today.

Why it is so phenomenally important to re-learn how to learn in today’s networked environments? Its possible because, invariant to scale, the network has opened up hitherto unknown opportunities to teach and learn. Not that you can now learn something that was previously hidden from you, but that you can now learn and teach in ways that may be much more than the classroom we are so used to. In fact the classroom analogy does not even exist in the networked environment (the closest it gets is “clusters” or “swarms”) – the network is not a class.

Since networks are not classes, you cannot apply traditional teaching-learning techniques to it (or atleast not as-is). So an entire paradigm becomes near-obsolete when one thinks of networked learning. Which is not what the xMOOCs would have you to believe, but that is entirely their loss.

If you can think network, you can break away from the traditional mode. It is what we must do. Case in point. If there is no class, who are you teaching? Answer: You are teaching a cluster of nodes (students) bound to you in some manner (through your institution perhaps), but they are really part of many different networks as well. By connecting to those students and promoting transactions between them, helping them add new connections to their network, and leveraging their existing networks, you will build upon a fabric of learning, much like a weaver or an Atelier. You will help them break away from the monotone of traditional systems, help them celebrate chaos and let them build their capability to learn.

When you become that networked teacher, you will contribute to a scale of learning that will be unbelievable. What you will do within your own small networks, may become amplified or contribute to global knowledge about learning and teaching. Just the sheer scale of your teaching and learning, your networks, the types of interactions, will fast transcend the power of any certificate or degree the traditional system may have to offer.

The revolution is here. It is you. Seize the day.

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