Another attempt at Flexible Provision of courses

Our friends from the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) have just had published a very interesting article that seems to be a first step towards helping education and training institutions re purpose their content for multiple audiences.  This is an important, yet very challenging task that requires that courses be created without a single audience in mind. Besides the targeting and language challenges of multiple audiences, the technical challenges are also many and this paper presents a possible  solution.

Just to back up a bit, you may remember the excitement of educational Modeling Languages which evolved into IMS Learning Design. The promise of these efforts was to provide specifications and tools that allowed instructional sequences to be formally described and tagged, thus setting the stage for repurposing, search filter etc.  I was particularly enamoured with the idea that Learning Design would do for education what standard notation from the 11 century did for music. I experimented with some hand coding of content. But the standard had too major problems, notably  lack of markup tools and runtime engines and a very fine level of granularity that required far too much effort to code.  This effort was led by Rob Koper from UNL. Continue reading

Virtual Barn Raising for OERs

The email below resonated with on a number of levels. I spent 15 years in Northern Alberta on a homestead as part of “back to the land ” movement. During that time the group of urban ex-pats in the area held a number of work bees, barn railings or general “help each other out days” – all of which ended in home grown music, wine and smoke!

Thus the idea of real time (F2F or online) work together to  accomplish a specify and time limited task is appealing. I’ll be joint just to see how it goes and to add a word or two on OERs.

If it looks productive and fun, I’ll try to organize a similar event this fall to focus on the lack of quality and in-depth articles in Wikipedia on Distance Education (e-learning, online learning) or whatever popular term is.  I think many of our masters and EdD. students at Athabasca  have much that could be contributed and this format might have the right ingredients for a significant contribution.

Here is the invite letter sent to a Paul Basich, a colleague with the Poerup research project and  UK friend:

Let’s get this done!

You are cordially invited to join us for a free “Wikipedia Barnraising” event on Saturday July 19th, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time, at the Oakland Impact Hub, 2323 Broadway, Oakland, California — or join us online! Lunch and refreshments will be provided for those joining us in person.Since 2012, we’ve been working — with substantial help from many of you — to strengthen Wikipedia’s coverage of Open Educational Resources and related topics. We’ve worked to build a community around this goal — at conferences in the field, through our online “Writing Wikipedia Articles” (WIKISOO) course, and through the formation of WikiProject Open.

At the Barn Raising, we will focus on high priority Wikipedia articles: articles that are widely read, but that — despite ongoing efforts — remain poorly sourced, incomplete, or out of date. (In the wiki world, we often borrow the term “Barn Raising” to evoke the idea of a community coming together to build something substantial in a short time. It’s been described as a way to “make the impossible possible.”)

We welcome online participants from around the world — and we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help everyone work together smoothly.

Please register, whether you are attending virtually or in person:

Barn Raising registration form

This event is open to all. Our goal is to make significant improvements to OER-related articles; so if you are brand new to Wikipedia and/or open education, you might want to take a little time to prepare. We will send out helpful resources for beginners as the date gets closer.

We look forward to seeing you, online or in person, and to raising a wiki barn with you!

Pete & Sara

Greewich Connect connects with us on a number of levels

I was pleasantly surprised to see a recent conference paper (reference below) by folks at the University of Greenwich who are reporting their first year results from a project (Greenwich Connect) that is designed to induce a variety of open and social programs to the university teaching and learning communities.  The surprise was pleasant because we have been attempting a similar project here at Athabasca University- known as the Athabasca Landing. However, it was unpleasant to read that the challenges they are facing are very similar to our own and some days they seem intractable.

The contrast between contexts is as striking as the similarities in challenges. Greenwich is a 2-campus University in the UK, while Athabasca is a 100% online and distance education institution in Canada. However we both share a passion “to enhance the connectedness of learners at a curricula and teaching and learning level” .

Greenwich Connect is a 2 year, $750,000 initiative funded and championed by their Vice Chancellor (President). (see project description) Continue reading

All MOOCs don’t work for all students. Are you surprised?

Both the commercial and the unpaid online blog pundits have been having an armchair quarterback’s field day over MOOC poster boy Sebastin Thrun’s confession that his Udacity MOOC platform doesn’t work.  None of this outcry from the “I told you so” critics is more biting (nor more witty) then the critique by Slate columnist Rebecca Shuman.

Shuman aptly blames Thrun, for blaming the students – they have personal problems, they don’t have access to multiple tablets and they are not Ivy League rich kids – suggesting that the MOOC depends on students who don’t really need them and who can learn under any conditions – as evidenced by their succeeding in crowded lecture halls their whole post secondary career.

But I don’t equate Udacity’s supposed failure with “ordinary” struggling students is evidence for the failure of online learning and Shuman’s contention  that MOOCs can now be dismissed as “neoliberal wet dreams”.  Shuman goes on to claim that distance education (at least in the form of correspondence courses) tells only a sorry tale of failure and that it has “never worked”. She may have trouble convincing the million plus students at the Open University of ChinaAnadola University in Turkey or Indira Gandhi National Open University in India that their education (largely print based ‘correspondence’) doesn’t and has never worked. Truman seems to argue that it is only elite students who can succeed at MOOCs, – discounting the 50+ years of research showing that distance education (including its latest instantiation in online formats) does work for many students- including the second chance, and poverty stricken.  No form of education works for all students -including the ‘tiny, for-credit, in-person seminar”. Doesn’t everyone know of students from campus based schools that have failed to complete their program? Haven’t you ever dropped a course – I certainly have!

But perhaps most appalling is the staggering debt load, the wasted time and energy of both students and teachers and the coddling and cover up of poor teaching that marks much of campus based education today.  That model is as badly broken and just as expensive as MOOCs driverless car ! Continue reading

Accreditation – for Learning Accomplishment or for Presence and Persistence?

Offering degrees and certificates is the currency of higher education. Degree and certificates are very highly valued by students, parents, employers and postsecondary institutions. Despite occasional challenges to the authenticity of this form of learning recognition, attaining this final parchment is seen by both institutions and students as the culminating and arguably the only important manifestation of accomplishment, after years of study in higher education.  The problem is that learning itself, much less wisdom, is not measured very well by these large scale certificates of generalized accomplishment.

One concern is that the degree as a unit of accreditation is much too large- does a four year BA in economics reflect the same amount of learning as a three year BA in classics? Does a BA obtained at a distance equate to the same learning as a BA delivered on a campus? These are very challenging questions to answer. Institutions are clear to set the number of courses required, the degree of specialization and the minimal grade scores for a degree, but these are, at best, very rough indicators of learning.

Efforts by the Mozilla Foundation to support institutional awarding of much smaller credentials (known as badges) certainly addresses part of the problem. The creation of a badge-full portfolio that details a student’s individual skills and knowledge accomplishments potentially provides a much more articulate and public record of accomplishment than a degree. However, these have (to date) been only sporadically adopted by higher education institutions despite student interest (see Santos, C., Almeida, S., Pedro, L., Aresta, M., & Koch-Grunberg, T. (2013).

The credential crisis has been exacerbated by the arrival of vast numbers of open educational resources (OERs) and more recently by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which provide a host of opportunities for learning- but to date only very limited opportunity for credentialing and public acknowledgement of that learning.  MOOCs and OERs allow learners to participate in learning, either alone or in groups, from teachers and institutions around the globe.  After watching an excellent Ted Talk, brushing up on your statistics skills by reviewing a Khan Academy video or enrolling in a 10 week MOOC, there is little doubt that learning can occur. But measuring and accrediting that learning is today, all but impossible. A few pioneering institutions are developing “challenge for credit” or credentialing examinations, but for most institutions this alternate (and potentially competitive) form of accreditation strikes too near to the heart of the current business model for comfortable adoption.

The OERu (http://wikieducator.org/OER_university/), a non profit collaboration of over 35 public universities, colleges and networks from around the globe is attempting to develop a better or at least an alternative model for teaching and credentialing.  Each of the collaborating partners commits to providing a small number of courses, for free and independent study on the open net. Students are free to select and study any of these courses and if they choose to do so, they may apply to the delivering institution to write an examination or to do other work demonstrating accomplishment and in return they receive full course credit for that accomplishment. The content is available free of charge and efforts are made to allow for and encourage students to work cooperatively to locate and help each learn.  The credential process requires examiner time and institutional effort to assess and to register this learning- thus the OERu partners can charge whatever fee for this service that they require. To date, the Open University of Catalonia is the only Spanish institution to join the OERu.

It is yet too early to measure how well this free learning opportunity, but paid for accreditation will be accepted- by students and employers and likely the most challenging, by postsecondary institutions themselves. But it is clear that we need credentials that are meaningful, that reflect real learning accomplishments, and that can be obtained at affordable cost by all students and life-long learners on our globe.

MOOC pedagogy and accreditation

Most of the cacophony of comments and posts about MOOCs and their disruptive potential has focused on their free cost to students, high enrolments, superstar teachers and high prestige Universities.

Relatively little has been published, much less researched, about MOOC pedagogy. A thoughtful article by C. Osvaldo Rodriguez in EURODL mapped the evolution of the so called cMOOCs to connectivist generation of pedagogy that Jon Dron and I wrote about in IRRODL.  Conversely, given the focus on measurable outcomes and dissemination of content, it isn’t too much a leap to suggest (as Rodriguez’s does) that most of the big name xMOOCs are following the mass education model pioneered by open and distance education institution which we referred to as first generation, cognitive behaviourist pedagogy.

But putting labels on delivery models, doesn’t really lead us forward, unless we are also brave enough to venture into issues of effectiveness. However ontological differences between the models make comparisons based on effectiveness challenging. It is easy for traditional and constructivist pedagogues to jump to arguments about educational effectiveness that have at their root, notions of intense interaction with teachers or at least with peers. Of course with 100,000 students one has to change normal definitions of “intense interaction” to even begin to argue about effectiveness from a social-constructivist perspective.  Thus, most social constructivists focus on the opportunities for peer interaction and point to the emergence of meet-ups and online study groups as spontaneous evidence of MOOC effectiveness. I see these as a capacity, but in my experience of adding or even encouraging optional opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction, it doesn’t lead to much take-up  (beyond those exchanging telephone numbers with potential romantic partners).  However, with 100,000 students even a take up of a few percent is not insignificant and may be life-changing for some learners. Continue reading

Open Access Week Update

This year, Athabasca University will again be celebrating Open Access Week, with a series of free and ‘open’ noon hour (MDT) web casts.

The theme for the 2012 Open Access Week is “Set the Default to Open Access”.  Athabasca University is proud to participate in its fourth international Open Access Week, between October 22-28, 2012 to broaden awareness and understanding of open access issues.

This event is sponsored by the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Open Educational Resources (OER), Dr. Rory McGreal and Athabasca University/ The format consists of a series of noon hour webcasts exploring major issues and opportunities of Open Access and Open Educational Resources. Each session will feature an internationally known promoter and developer of open educational resources, research, or ideas.

For more information, visit http://openaccess.athabascau.ca or contact Tony Tin at tonyt@athabascau.ca.

  • Monday, October 22nd OER and Mobile Learning Dr. Rory McGreal The OER university: A sustainable model for more affordable education futures Dr. Wayne Mackintosh
  • Tuesday, October 23rd Open Access and Public Policy Dr. Frits Pannekoek
  • Wednesday, October 24th “Open and Closed” Getting the mix right. Who gets to Decide?? Dr. Jon Dron Dr. Terry Anderson Dr. George Siemens
  • Thursday, October 25th Integrating openness in course design Dr. Cindy Ives  and Much Open Online Content (mooc) Mr. Steve Schafer
  • Friday, October 26th Sleeping with the Elephant – Leveraging AU’s Position through Open Courseware Dr. Martin Connors Contribution of AU’s e-Lab initiative to Open Access and OER Development Dr. Evelyn Ellerman Athabasca River Basin Research Institute Repository: Enhancing open access, education and research Dr. Lisa Carter

I hope to ‘see’ many of you there.

OpenAccess Week at Athabasca

Next month Athabasca will (for the fourth year) be participating once again in Open Access week. The screen shot below  http://openaccess.athabascau.ca  details the events during the week. Every noon hour (Mountain Daylight Time) we present Athabasca scholars – and this year even our President!  The sessions are webcast using Adobe Connect, recorded and are open to all and no charge.

Open Access week is coordinated by the Scholarly Publicating and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) with many sponsors and collaborating partners. It is encouraging to see the growing interest in OERs from around the world.

Please circulate these links and we look forward to communicating with you online Oct. 22-28.

Terry