Where are the Women?

This week I am privileged to be a keynote speaker at the 21st International Congress of the Brazilian Association for Distance Education in Bento Goncalves, Brazil. The scholarly stimulation, hospitality, weather and fine Brazilian wine have been great – but something is wrong. Only 1 of the 12 keynote speakers and none of the 10 officials who addressed the opening ceremony are women.

This inequality reminded me of the ICDE World Congress held at Penn State in 1997, when a very brave women marched to the stage during the closing ceremonies, grabbed the mic and demanded to know if it was really possible for a woman to talk from the stage at this event! Seems like not much has changed since then.

In this post, I provide a list for distance and online education conference organizers of female distance education scholars who I have personally heard give high-quality keynote addresses. I approach the task with some trepidation because I am sure that I have omitted more than one very qualified scholar from this list and hope to be able to edit it with the help of the crowd.

But first a rationalization for producing the list.

First, women have always and continue to be in the majority of distance education students in every country in the world from which I have seen comparative data. Given our need to focus on the learners, it is quite likely that female scholars and researchers have greater or least an equal number of relevant insights into learner needs and behaviours.

Second, women scholars have very close to half of the peer-reviewed publications in our field and a disproportional number related to many of the key topics upon which these conferences tend to focus upon. In a 2010 paper titled Gender and collaboration patterns in distance education research. (Open Learning, 25(2), 95-114), my friends Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Christina von Plummer reviewed 695 peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2008. They found that just slightly less than half (48%) of the single author publications were written by women (the gender of multiple authored papers was not provided). Stereotypically, women scholars were more likely to use qualitative methods and significantly more likely to focus on important subjects including student support and interaction.

So why so few keynote speakers? An obvious answer is an underlying sexist selection process since many organizations (including some distance education organizations) are dominated by men. It could also be that women are less able to travel due to heavier childcare and domestic responsibilities. Women might also be less willing to self-promote themselves so as to gain keynote invitations. Because of these and likely other reasons, a vicious circle develops in which women don’t get asked and thus don’t gain either the exposure nor the opportunity, to develop the skills needed to be effective international keynote speakers.

So what’s to be done? As a small contribution, I provide a list below of very competent female scholars and researchers. I have heard each of these persons give one or more keynotes speeches and I can attest that they each did a fine job. If they didn’t they wouldn’t appear on this list! In addition, all of these women have published regularly in peer-reviewed open and online or distance learning journals.

First, a few caveats. All of these women have spoken in English. There are likely many others addressing audiences in other languages. Secondly, I know all of these women personally and count them all as both friends and acquaintances -so the list likely shows my biases. Third, I had some difficulty in condensing the areas of scholarship into one or two words -many have eclectic research agendas. Finally, I am sure the list is incomplete and I welcome readers to nominate themselves or a deserving colleague as a comment to this post.

The list (in no particular order) follows:

Name Nationality/Residence University or employer Area of expertise
Insung Jung Korea/Japan Int. Christian U. Quality Issues
Grainne Conole Ireland/UK U of Bath Ed Tech
Belinda Tynan Australia/UK OU UK Leadership
Elizabeth Murphy Canada Memorial U Learning and Stud. Support
Allison LittleJohn UK Glasgow/Caledonian MOOCs, OERsBlended
Jan Herrington Australia Murdoch Authentic Learning
Elsebeth Sorenson Denmark Aalborg Coop and collab Learning
Darcy Hardy USA Blackboard K12 DE
Lani Gunawardeni Sri Lanka/USA U of New Mexico Cultural issues
Mpine Makoe South Africa UNISA Mobile, Phenomenology
Marti Cleveland- Innes Canada Athabasca COI, Blended
Kumiko Aoki Japan OU Japan Learning, mobiles
Asha Kanwar Canada/India COL OERs, Development

 

 

My Retirement Week

I am just recovering this week from a busy, celebration filled week last that I want to share with my blog friends.

The week started by a quick trip to Barcelona, where besides being able to watch FBT Barcelona win the final Champion League match, I was honoured being made a Senior Fellow in the European Distance & E-Learning Network.  I think I am the first person born outside of Europe to receive this honour, so it was a great way to start the week.

The EDEN conference was good (as usual) and it was fun to revisit Barcelona, after Sue and my two month stay there in 2013. No, the Sagrada Familia is not finished, but wonderful new towers are now in place – no photos as I decided to leave my iphone somewhere in the Barcelona airport 🙁

Then back home to do a keynote at our Centre for Distance Education annual conference.  It was a small conference and was I able to mostly re-use themes from previous presentations.  The talk was about the multifaceted topic of Interaction in Distance Education, which I realize has been the major theme of my whole academic career. The picture below shows Mohamed Ally and me with the wonderful painting of the town of Athabasca, that I received as a retirement gift. It was then on to the big event of the
leaf graphicday, the Retirement Party I had organized for myself (with help from many friends)!!

I had watched Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt  as he sat watching the clock on his final day of work, and I wanted to go out with a bigger splash than that! So I invited all the faculty at Athabasca, many friends, my Edmonton relatives, some Unitarians and whomever else I thought might like to come. Now, planning a party with such an open invitation (somehow I forgot the RSVP part!) meant we really didn’t know how many people would come.

We rented the Riverdale House, which is a smallish meeting room above the rink shack at the community league a few houses from where I live.  The idea was to spill out into the park and community gardens, around the House, when we filled up the building. Now, I ordered “no rain” since June in Alberta is the rainiest month – and  we only got a few sprinkles. What I had forgotten to do, was order the outside heat and it was a bit of a chilly evening.

My friend Don brought a sound system, and we heard and laughed at many good stories. Then we did a “jam” with wishot-219hoever brought an instrument. I had my hammer dulcimer, but not having played for a week while in Spain, jet lag and the pressure of the event, meant I was not in top form!  The BBQs made some great food and there was a fair bit left to donate to the Youth Emergency Shelter.

I also dug out a box of what remains of my old toy business and a book case full of books that I had authored or done chapters in, to create a “From wooden toys to online learnin” display.

ishot-217

My main motivation in the party was to bring together the many Alberta friends from far different walks of life and provide them a chance to meet each other. they are all interesting folks- well at least interesting (or boered) enough to come to a party For me!!! – and to a degree I think it succeeded.

Of course, I was asked what next?  As I said in a previous post, I’ve got a number of projects on the go, a couple of keynotes booked for this fall and I hope time for time for bike riding, blogging, skiing, music and developing new hobbies and ways to serve.

 

At risk of using this blog more than I usually do to ‘blow my own horn’ I want to end this post with two of the many very kind (and often too generous) emails and cards (thanks) that I received. My first Doctor student, Stuart Berry wrote on his blog:

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you have had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you have had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my proposed research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons that at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged by you to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.

Stu

Comments like Stu’s make me really appreciate the opportunity to be a teacher.

I’ll end with the email from Athabasca Medieval Studies professor Marc Cels.  Marc didn’t realize this, but Susan and I are great admires if Hildegard of Bingen. In fact in 2003 we made a special stop in Bingen on a driving trip through Germany.  He wrote and attached the picture of one of Hidegard’s visions below:

I regret that I won’t be able to attend your shing-ding this evening as I’m feeling under the weather. I really wanted to come to give you a proper send-off and to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for AU, your sage advice, your example the you have given us, and your particular assistance to me and our colleagues at the Centre for Humanities. I wish you well with your next projects and hope that retirement will allow you to focus on what you enjoy and to put aside what distracts!

You’ve acted as a sort of DE Guardian Angel or Patron Saint at AU, so I offer you an electronic icon of the woman who I think should be the official patron saint of D.E. (I just haven’t gotten around to writing the Vatican): Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). I assign students of my medieval history course a sample of her writings and book illustrations. This German abbess is famous for receiving divine revelations (the ultimate form of DE!) and sharing them broadly, having founded several monasteries or convents with busy scriptoria. Though a woman and a nun barred from the cathedral schools and nascent universities, she provided herself with a good education, excelling as a composer of music, writer of plays, poet, mystic, philosopher/scientist, preacher and a critical commentator on the affairs of her day (by a copious correspondence). Her advice was sought out by popes and emperors. The image is from her book of visions, the Liber Scivias, and I believe the manuscript was illustrated by the “Visual Designers” under her direction, so this is close to a self-portrait. It shows the mystic receiving a divine vision and recording it on her tablet with the help of her discrete clerical secretary.

So, you see, the perfect model for a DE scholar! Thanks again for being our flesh-and-blood model, Terry.

Hildegard_von_Bingen

Providing audio feedback to students: Review of a review

I’ve always been interested in studies that help us differentiate both pedagogies and educational technology use, based upon time requirements. These studies of course should include all the actors – too often student time is taken as a free given.

Thus, a recent publication by Gusman Edouard tweaked my interest.

Edouard, G. (2015). Effectiveness of audio feedback in distance education. INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY, 45 http://itdl.org/Journal/Apr_15/Apr15.pdf#page=49

I should note, right away, that I am a big fan of audio feedback and have been more or less exclusively using audio to mark graduate students essays for the past 5 years. I get very positive feedback from students and I am sure the feedback I give is much more extensive than that produced when I use using text comments or summary assessment of their work. Finally, I am convinced that it also saves me time, as I not a very fast typist.

The article asserts thatthe proponents of audio feedback claim that it is superior to written comments in many ways.” They then take a critical look at this claim. The key questions in this paper are:

  1. Is there enough research to support the claim?
  2. Does audio feedback improve learning?
  3. Can it help to save time?

The article provides no original data but does cover some of the research that I am familiar with on this type of technology use. Also note that the aim seems to have a critical edge, asking if there really is evidence to support claims about audio feedback in distance education. As you will see, I think this attempt to be critical underlies quite sloppy research.

You’ll note the first question is really a non-question in that there are many claims not “the claim” and that the two most important (to me at least) are the later two questions. I’ll skip over comments on improvement of learning as Edouard’s conclusions are widely supported however, in education, students and teacher perceptions are often used and mostly cited as evidence in this study.

However the time questions really peeked my interest. Continue reading

Differences between students using PLE and LMS systems

I don’t usually comment on articles in “closed” journals, but making an exception in this case. I hope you can find it in a library data base, or one of the authors uploads it to a public site or you can “rent ” it from Wiley for 48 hours for $6! The article:

Casquero, O., Ovelar, R., Romo, J., & Benito, M. (2015). Reviewing the differences in size, composition and structure between the personal networks of high- and low-performing students. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 16-31.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12110.

This is one of the few studies that use a quasi-experimental design to measure differences in network formation and structure between low and high achievers in two types of online learning contexts. The first context was based on traditional LMS (Moodle) activities and design with the the usual content display and threaded discussions.  The second used a variety of tools including iGoogle, Google Groups and FriendFeed and an array of  digital resource repositories such as Delicious, Flickr, YouTube, Scribd and SlideShare. The instructor and learning activities were the same in both contexts. Coincidently, this second model is similar to my own courses in which I use the LMS for grade management and some static content display. However, unlike the mix of tools used in this PLE, I use our in-house Elgg environment (Athabasca Landing) which enhances privacy and student control of data.

As has been found in very much studies of interaction in formal courses,  the students who are most active (highest participation levels), score higher marks. This correlation is often used by researchers to justify their interaction interventions. However, as always correlation doesn’t imply causation. Involved, motivated students always both participate and score higher than those who don’t – no matter what learning activities are designed.

In this study  social network analysis tools were used to measure the individual networks developed as evidenced by comments and contributions. As expected higher performing students had more highly developed, denser and more extensive  social networks – again demonstrating motivation and participation. However, more interesting was that the PLE students interacted more and also built more expensive personal networks. The authors note:

 in public spaces, such as open forums, all the individuals are equally exposed and equally positioned to access the information flow. As a result, the present study demonstrates that when public spaces based on indirect interactions are set up in online courses, students’ selection procedures for interaction are not focused on the individuals, but rather on those shared resources and the will to collaborate

Obviously, the information flow in Moodle forums can be rich, but the more extensive opportunities to contribute, and as importantly to browse and consume information produced by others, increases with heterogeneity and richness of sources of that flow.

One problem in this and other networking studies is the sample selection. As in far too many studies of online learning, in this study the 120 participants were all taking a course on Networking and Web 2.0. I have never seen data on how many online research studies use students studying some component of online learning as the subject matter.  This is sort of like studying people’s reaction to smoking indoors, but only reporting the attitudes of smokers.

In any case this is an interesting study and provides further evidence for expanding the learning contexts beyond the confines of a teacher constructed LMS. Network growth, social capital accumulation, transparency, persistence and network literacy are all enhanced when these ‘connectivist’ learning outcomes are aimed for, and instantiated in a course that grows beyond the LMS.

New report on Emotional Presence in online education

I awoke to a new report this morning Measuring and Understanding Learner Emotions: Evidence and Prospects. The report is the first paper from the Learning Analytics Community Exchange which is a 2.5 year  EU funded project focused on learning analytics and data mining for educational use. I must say I was delightfully surprised to see the first output from a group using data analytics to focus on emotions!  Bart Rienties and Bethany Alden Rivers from the Open University in the UK have done an excellent job of reviewing work in this important area and developing a conceptual model for its further development.

Of course I was pleased to see that they built on the now venerable Community of Inquiry model developed over 15 years ago by Randy Garrison, Walter Archer and myself. I was equally pleased to see the enhancement of our model to include Emotional Presences as first argued by my colleague and Director of our Centre for Distance Education, Marti Cleveland-Innes.  Marti had asked me years ago why we didn’t include emotional presence in our original model. I rather glibly replied that the COI model was developed by 3 men from southern Alberta (Canada’s cowboy country) and that REAL men in our limited world didn’t do emotions!! More rationally, I argued that emotional presence was subsumed both theoretically and empirically by a number of the indicators of  social presence that we had described in the initial model. However, these arguments  didn’t preclude her continuing arguments and this paper shows she is not alone.

Rienties and Rivers add the emotional circle to our original Venn diagram as below.

expanded COI Model

The 28 page report then goes on to briefly review types of research techniques that have been used to define and measure emotional presence. The same challenge we undertook using transcript analysis of educational computer conferences  to validate the original model. The research methods covered include three established research methodologies:

  • content analysis
  • natural language processing
  • identification of behavioural indicators

and four others that the authors describe as using “new data” as opposed to “existing data”. I can’t really understand the difference either conceptually or methodologically, except I guess to suggest that the later methods require generation of original data for research purposes.

  • quantitative instruments
  • offline interviews and purposeful online conversations
  • wellbeing word clouds
  • intelligent tutoring systems

In any case the paper reviews and provides nice table summaries of studies done using each method.

This work is a treasure trove for researchers looking for both new methods and an expanded (yet time proven) conceptual model to guide research in online and blended learning.

One of the values of the original COI model was its simplicity. Peter Shea and his colleagues have argued for a “Learning presence” which takes into account the learners self-efficacy, confidence and capability to learn.  While not denying the value of “learner presence” it takes the model into psychological realms that our more sociological orientation had avoided in the initial formation.  Adding any additional presences, adds complexity and besides the aesthetic value of a simpler, three circle Venn diagram, Occam’s Razor calls for simplicity of explanation whenever possible.  So can learning in educational contexts be adequately described and measures without reference to emotions? I think it can, but this review convinced me that something is lost when the emotional aspect of human experience in education is ignored.

Given the application of the model to formal education, I was surprised to not see a bit more emphasis on teacher emotion. I know from my own experience, the emotional challenges that I deal with when teaching either online or in a classroom.In any case, this review is not the last word, but a great starting point for further research in “emotional presence”.

 

Great Firewall of China

I’m on research and study leave (aka Sabbatical) this year and I see that I have been ignoring my blog as well as a number of other “normal responsibilities”. But I have been learning and enjoying. After a 6 week road trip through Eastern Canada and the USA, my wife Susan and I  are just ending a 4 week visit to China.

Our VERY gracious hosts for this trip have been the faculty and students in Distance Education and Educational Technology at Beijing Normal University. Education universities here in China still use (in English) the rather old fashioned term “Normal University” – (not implying that other universities are not normal, nor that the education ones are more normal in the modern sense of the word). Beijing Normal University BNU was founded in 1902 and is China’s 2nd oldest and one of the 3 or 4 most highly respected Universities in China.

I was charged withdoing lectures in 6 classes for PhD and Masters students, 2 lectures for Faculty and students and along the way, accepted invitations to talk at 3 other Universities. In addition I was asked to do a literature review on Interaction in Online Learning. Given the overwhelming interest in various types and modes of interaction in online education in the literature and in my own career, I didn’t think this should be too great a problem. With the help of a grad student from Canada, we did Google Scholar searches for the 10 most cited articles in each of the past 10 years, that included the words Interaction and “distance education” or “online education” or elearning in the title. We then began classifying them by types of interaction (student-student, student content etc.), methodology, context and tried to get a sense of results of recent scholarship. To increase efficiency we stored our spreadsheet of results and first outlines of the paper on DropBox.

Well, major surprises when I attempt to to continue the work in China.  I had heard that some Google services weren’t available, so I changed my browsers to use Microsoft Bing for searches -which worked OK, but much less coverage from Google Search). But I began to realize how Gogglized my life had become. Fortunately Google Mail works most of the time, but Google Scholar was also disabled along with Maps, Image search, Google Books, Google Earth, YouTube and most everything else Google that I use.  Wikipedia lists 2,701 banned sites but I am told that sites come and go with irregular frequency and certainly no accountability. I was particularly sad to loose Google Scholar because I have it set to let me access all of the full text works from closed works that are not available on the Internet but are available to folks like myself with university access to a number of journal databases. I am able to logon to my university library account directly, but when this hotel internet, (shared with MANY University offices) gets used during daylight hours, Internet speed gets VERY slow.

I knew that Google and the Chinese government had a major dustup, but I was surprised to see how many other services were blocked. no Twitter, no Slideshare, No DropBox, No FaceBook,  and likely a number of other services. For the first week, I couldn’t access CBC.com but now it is available – perhaps the Chinese Government  has gotten over the outrageous behariour of either our Prime Minsiter or Jian Ghomeshi, even if I haven’t!)

I also came to realize how Googlized other aspects of my life have become. As Editor Erimitus of IRRODL.COM, I was very surprised to find that this open access journal is basically unusable here in China. We had installed an automatic translator app, in large part becuase of the growing interest in China and many other developing countries in distance education research. But I had forgotten that it used Google Translate (banned). Further investigation found that we used Google analytics, google API’s that are built into the Open Journal System we use and one other Google service – on each page view!  As result the IRRODL site works SLOWLY, one has to wait while it calls and eventually times out on 4 different calls to banned services, making it functionally useless. sigh…

Most of new Chinese friends are aware of the problem, but have a number of standard responses. First, the blocked services have invigorated a number of Chinese social networks and commercial services. Many of these web services such as wechatRenrenDouban  and Jiepang  have millions of users (they have achieved critical mass) and arguably are as good or better than English language services. Secondly most academics use their library databases and seem quite resigned (no protests in the streets here) to doing without some of the systems that have become part of my personal learning network. Finally, there are MANY services which provide services for $5-10 month. I asked a friend if they were not worried that the government would come down on them for bypassing their control systems. He was quite confident that the government didn’t mind, as they were doubtlessly monitoring his VPN access and getting the potential miscreants using fewer services makes their monitoring job easier!

So, it has a been a great visit to China. We’ve seen many of the top tourist sites, squeezed into quite a few over crowded buses, subways and elevators and had many conversations with fascinating students, academics and ordinary Chinese- well at least those who speak English.

I can understand the Chinese motivation to get out of the domination of new media by Western (and mostly USA) services. We’ve been struggling with that in Canada for decades. But heavy handed blocking seems to make academics compete in research endeavours with one English language arm tied behind their back!

Online Distance Education – Towards a Research Agenda

Last week my colleague Olaf Zawacki-Richter and I did the closing keynote at the European Distance Education Network Annual meeting in Zagreb Croatia.  The conference was great and it was my first visit to Croatia- but hopefully not my last.

Our keynote celebrated the recent launch of our new open access book from Athabasca University Press (available at http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120233.  Our slide show presented the  methods by which we identified the most published topics in the major distance education journals. Olaf has updated this list covering 5 major journal’s from 2000-2011. I was pleased to see that Canadian researchers were the most prolific!

Once we identified the 17 most researched issues, we contacted the scholar(s) who we believed was the most qualified to write a chapter on that topic. We asked them to highlight the issues, the major unresolved questions and their suggestions for a research agenda that would advance our knowledge and practice related to this issue. I’m pleased to say that we had a very good response and I think the book will be very useful for students and scholars for some years to come.

The Table of Contents is:

Foreword  Otto Peters
Introduction Research Areas in Online Distance Education  Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Terry Anderson

Part I Macro-level Research: Distance Education Systems and Theories

  • 1 Internationalization and Concepts of Social Justice: What Is to Be Done? Alan Tait and Jennifer O’Rourke
  • 2 Globalization, Culture, and Online Distance Learning  Charlotte N. Gunawardena 
  • 3 Distance Education Systems and Institutions in the Online Era: An  Identity Crisis  Sarah Guri-Rosenblit
  • 4 Online Distance Education Models and Research Implications Terry D. Evans and Margaret Haughey
  • 5 Methods of Study in Distance Education: A Critical Review of Selected Recent Literature
  • Farhad Saba

part II Meso-level research: Management, Organization, and Technology

  • 6 Organization and Management of Online and Distance Learning Ross Paul
  • 7 The Costs and Economics of Online Distance Education Greville Rumble
  • 8 The Use of Technology in Distance Education Gráinne Conole
  • 9 Innovation and Change: Changing How we Change Jon Dron
  • 10 Professional Development and Faculty Support Margaret Hicks
  • 11 Learner Support in Online Distance Education: Essential and EvolvingJane E. Brindley
  • 12 Quality Assurance in Online Distance Education Colin Latchem

 

part III Micro-level Research: Learning and Teaching in Distance
Education

  • 13 Major Movements in Instructional Design – Katy Campbell and Richard. A. Schwier
  • 14 Interaction and Communication in Online Learning Communities: Toward an Engaged and Flexible Future – Dianne Conrad
  • 15 Quantitative Analysis of Interaction Patterns in Online Distance Education – Allan Jeong
  • 16 From the Back Door into the Mainstream: The Characteristics of Lifelong Learners – Joachim Stöter, Mark Bullen, Olaf Zawacki-Richter, and Christine von Prümmer
  • 17 Student Dropout: The Elephant in the Room – Alan Woodley and Ormond Simpson
  • Conclusion Towards a Research Agenda – Terry Anderson and Olaf Zawacki-Richter

The complete book and individual chapters are available for free download, but of course we love paper purchasers ($39.95 for a 500 page text!) Thanks to all authors and to EDEN hosts!

MOOCs Unfairly Maligned

The Chronicle of Higher Education continues to amaze me how badly they can cover a story. This morning’s edition contains an article with a jarring headline reading “Passive MOOC Students Don’t Retain New Knowledge, Study Finds.  The study by Littlejohn and Milligan and is under review for IRRODL and thus no one – neither the Chronicle authors nor the Scottish news article authors (the second hand information upon which the Chronicle article was based) have had a chance to review the final copy. Nonetheless, the study found that indeed many professionals did not appear to apply their new knowledge to professional practice in substantive ways and showed  little  reflection on learning- despite the overall favourable impression of the content and the MOOC course in general.

There was no mention of students retaining new knowledge – or not as implied by the heading.  But more fundamentally, the students learning experience was not optimal compared to what?   I doubt there is a professional alive who has not attended a professional development event in ANY format to which these same criticism could not be levelled- and for some of the ones I have attended the content itself has been terrible and I’ve paid real money for the privilege of attending.

MOOCs are not a “perfect” way to learn, and only starry eyed proponents or venture capitalists would (or at least have) argued they are.  The popular press and the “experts” at the Chronicle have spent the first 2 years of the MOOC gushing about how terrific they are and now they provide equally bad commentary denigrating them.  I’d likely cancel my subscription to the Chronicle, if like MOOCs, the mini electronic email edition I get each work day wasn’t free!