African Council for Distance Education 2014

June 8, 2014

Zambezi Valley

Zambezi Valley

I was honoured to be invited to do a keynote talk at the 4th conference of ACDE in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. After sitting up for 2 nights on a plane (42 hour journey) I was very glad to reach the Elephant Hills hotel and a soft bed. The hotel overlooks the Zambezi River and the constant myst of the Victoria Falls can be seen about 3 km away.

Mist rising from Victoria Falls

Mist rising from Victoria Falls

The next day I took a tour of the Falls, and they did not disappoint. They reminded me a lot of Niagara – maybe not so tall, but wider and the same deafening roar as millions of gallons of water churn over the cliff. Victoria Falls Victoria Falls

I did my talk the next day entitled ” Using Open Scholarship to Leapfrog Traditional Educational Barriers And it went OK, but the elaborate formal greetings and pomp of the opening ceremonies, meant that my time was really constrained- though I did manage to squeeze in a joke and give away a copy of one of our open access, Athabasca University Press, Issues in Dist. Educ. series books. The afternoon was spent at a very interesting workshop present by UNESCO and Fred Muller in which he challenged the Open Universities of Africa to embrace and develop MOOC applications- rather than fear them as we seem to do.  I was very impressed with over 200 MOOCs put together by 13 European OpenUpEd collaborators as a service- not profit see openuped.eu.

Generally the African Open Universities are focussed on quality production of print packages and support (tutorials, testing etc) in local learning Centres. They suffer from the same prejudice from educated elites, and the faculties of traditional universities, but of course their costs are much lower. It is clear to all that sufficient campus universities will never be built to accommodate the large and growing demand for higher education in Africa.  Many of  the presenters presented compelling cases for more support, but also presented evidence of the changes that their programs are making in the lives of disadvantaged students.  All the participants seem to have a sense that they should be using more net based technologies, but judging from the general absence of laptops by all but a few of the conference delegates, I think that net access and literacy is an issue not only for students but for faculty as well. This has been a very short trip, but the kindness of new friends and of the Zimbabwe people I have met here at the hotel is long!


Greewich Connect connects with us on a number of levels

April 23, 2014

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) Read the rest of this entry »


Where is Higher Education’s Digital Dividend?

April 9, 2014

One doesn’t need to devour political or economic analysis, listen to experts or even chat with one’s friends to realize that the Internet has changed the way we produce and consume information and the myriad ways in which we communicate. Blogs, wikis and Facebook walls have granted to each of us –a multimedia printing press with global delivery capacity – at VERY low cost. Similarly we can engage in audio, video or text conversations with politicians, relatives, co-workers or “followers” at VERY low cost.

Given that education works by nurturing interactions and communication among and between teachers, students and content, it would seem logical that the costs of education, like its component interactions would also have drastically reduced in cost. However, this is not the case. Despite the possibility of a digital dividend students, in every country, are being met with heavy increases in the cost of education. Read the rest of this entry »


Does teaching presence matter in a MOOC?

March 13, 2014

A recent study of a Coursera MOOC is really interesting in that it implemented a random assignment of student to 2 conditions – one with no teacher interaction with the students and the other with teacher and teacher assistant interaction in forums. The study is

Tomkin, J. H., & Charlevoix, D. (2014). Do professors matter?: using an a/b test to evaluate the impact of instructor involvement on MOOC student outcomes. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2566245

The study concluded that teacher presence had no significant relation to course completion, most badges awarded, intent to register in subsequent MOOCs or course satisfaction.  This is of course bad news for teacher’s unions and those convinced that a live teacher must be present in order for significant learning to occur. However, the findings is predicted by my Interaction Equivalency Theory in which I argue that if one of the three forms of student interaction (student-student, student-teacher, student content) is at a high level, the other two can be reduced or even eliminated.  Adding additional forms of interaction may increase satisfaction (though it seems not to have done so in this experiment), but it most certainly also increases costs and thus decreases accessibility.

Tomkin and Charlevoix argue “The results of this study broadly support the connected learning model, at least for these motivated, educated participants. The absence of the professor did not impact the activity of the forums – the participants did generate their own knowledge in this arena. It should be stressed that this MOOC was highly structured, so an alternative explanation is that the enhanced machine interactivity that MOOCs provide relative to textbooks, or older styles of distance learning, may be sufficient to stimulate student engagement. ” p. 75

I see this as one the few tangible outcomes of the “digital dividend” that actually results in cost savings to students.  The student-teacher interaction was morphed into student-content interaction through the digital videos. The study shows there was student-student interaction, however in no teacher interaction MOOC, this interaction was both stimulated and supported by the students themselves.

I’m discouraged by the ever increasing costs of higher education and most notably our incapacity to scale higher education to meet needs (and the capacity) of students in developing countries. I believe we have a moral obligation to help all students become proficient life-long learners who are capable of learning with or without active teacher presence – despite the potential impact on our own employment.

 


My participation in Online Instruction for Open Educators MOOC

October 27, 2013

Jenni Hayman (a friend and grad student here at Athabasca University) called a few months ago to talk about setting up a Canadian MOOC provider/supplier Wide World Ed. She is very enthusiastic, well meaning and anxious to test and develop a sustaining MOOC model (no easy task). She choose for her first MOOC the theme online education and Online Instruction For Open Educators has  attracted a global audience of  around 500 registrants. From the introductions, I see that these are mostly learning designers and teachers with wide levels of experience in online learning.

I wasn’t too surprised to get an email from Jenni, requesting that I join her in teaching this first MOOC along with Bonnie Stewart and Dave Cormier. We would each be responsible for one week of activities during the 6 week MOOC. I decided to focus this week 2 discussion on online learning theory, and just a bit self consciously, assigned 3 of my own papers for content.  We decided to “book end” the week with an opening and closing web conference, as a way to pace the MOOC.  One of the benefits of this MOOC for myself (and maybe the other participants) was to get a chance to see Desire2Learn’s (D2L) new MOOC development and delivery tool.   D2L offers a cut down version of their popular commercial LMS and it seemed to work quite well.  The system does write and read twitter theme with the  #WWEOpen13 tag, but it many ways the tool set and the way that I used during my week, was more site based, with usual asynch threaded discussions, real time web conferences, that were recorded and made available in the MOOC platform and a place for sharing links and resources. Thus I think one could classify the MOOC as an xMOOC, but the smaller size, meant that I could keep on top of the discussions. At least in my week, there was no assigned activities, beyond the readings and discussions.

So Jenni suggested the final web conference should be at 2:00 PM MDT on Saturday.  Saturday dawned, I prepared a few powerpoint slides to use as prompts and I was ready to go. And then….. My good wife decided the 1995 Volvo we are selling really needed to be cleaned and while I was at it why didn’t I clean up my messy garage. Well, the next thing I new it was 3:15 – completely missed my own session!

I’ve been reflecting on this failure to attend for the last 24 hours.  This is my first missed session in 30 years of teaching in classrooms and online. It isn’t just the synchronous, as I’ve used web conferences in my classes  for a number of years.  It might be related to it being scheduled for on a Saturday afternoon, as it has been years since I have scheduled Saturday classes.  And yes, my garage was a long time unswept and I did have to show off the Volvo to a prospective purchaser (he didn’t buy it :-(.  But, I also wonder if it doesn’t reflect that I was doing this task as a volunteer.  I don’t like to think that I’m driven only or even mostly by money, but….

In any case my apologies to Jenni and the class. I will be participating in the final week of the MOOC and of course new registrants are still welcomed to enrol


Online 3 Minute Thesis Contest at Athabasca

September 30, 2013

I’m intrigued by this “speed dating” approach for disseminating and promoting thesis research. A thesis is a LOT of work, and results are usually buried in 150+ page tomes – thus the need for new scholars to be able to present their work succinctly and efficiently.  The 3 minute thesis (originally developed at University of Queensland Australia) seemed like an ideal format for developing communications skills and confidence and be fun for both contestants and the audience.  Other 3 minute thesis contests have been held F2F, however, Athabasca graduate students are located around the globe (literally) and so we needed to use a distributed platform to host the event. Of course, the organization of the event also had to be easy and inexpensive so as to fit into my busy schedule and budget as well.

In this post I detail how this, to my knowledge, world’s first online 3 minute thesis contest worked, with a hope that it inspires similar contests. Read the rest of this entry »


MOOCs and Distance Education Institutions

June 24, 2013

A few months ago I was asked to do a short piece for the Commonwealth of Learning on MOOCs. It is posted on their web site, but I thought I would post it here as well, with some small updates.

Promise and/or Peril:  MOOCs and Open and Distance Education

Terry Anderson

Athabasca University

March 2013

The New York Times declared 2012 to be the year of the MOOC (Pappano, 2012) and certainly 2013 is becoming the year to talk about MOOCs! Questions related to the design and inherent pedagogies, registration numbers, persistence rates, revenue models, neo-liberal agenda, fears and aspirations of all of us in postsecondary education have been ignited by this combination of technology and pedagogy. MOOCs are rapidly becoming the type of disruptive technology described by Christensen (1997) as cheaper, smaller, initially less fully featured and attracting a new set of consumers into an existing market.

Much has been written and much more will by the time you are reading this article, from when I write it in March 2013 – the MOOC terrain is under very rapid development. John Daniel (2012) article, does a good job of defining and describing MOOCs and clearly notes the different models and pedagogy (xMOOCs, cMOOCs) that differentiate pedagogies, practices and profits involved in today’s MOOC offerings. In this article, I attempt to update our map of the terrain and provide a lens through my 2003 Interaction Equivalency Theorem (Anderson, 2003) to help us understand and explain this latest development and/or fad in higher education.

I begin with a short description of the characteristic of the four words included in the MOOC acronym and try to show how each contributes to the complexity of this education phenomena. Read the rest of this entry »


A Publishing Primer for Education Grad students

May 24, 2013

Ask any academic, and they will get into a long discourse about the value of publishing scholarly work, the politics of doing it, the challenges and the outlets.  Although you haven’t asked, I’d like to share my own ideas with particular relevance to publishing work related to distance education.

By way of background, I’ve been in the publish or perish business (as a full time academic) for the past 20 years. During that time I’ve published (solely or in collaboration) over 60 articles and have had my share of rejections as well (ouch!). I also have been the editor of IRRODL for the past 10 years, and so have been involved in the review and production of over 500 articles and many more rejections!

Why Publish?  If tenure or a promotion is at stake, the answer to this question is obvious. If not, publishing allows you the opportunity to share your work on an international scale. You’ve worked long and hard on a project and not only does your work likely warrant celebration and dissemination, the publication begins building your global academic career and increases your social capital, that you can cash in for a whole variety of rewards.  Publication also insures that your work preservers. It is a great treat when you get old (like myself) to revisit some of your earlier work – without having to find a machine that reads 5 ¼ floppy disks! Finally,  a quality review process, will show you how to improve the article and thus directly lead to increased capacity to express yourself in this format. A video addition to this post for an OER course.

Read the rest of this entry »


Business Models for Online Education

March 18, 2013

The latest issue of the Online Journal of Distance Education Research has an article that tries to define a “3rd” university model.

Rubin, B. (2013). University Business Models and Online Practices: A Third Way. Online Journal of Distance Education Administration, 16(1).  http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring161/rubin.html.

This 3rd model for online university is not quite like the traditional campus based university that runs online programs either through faculties or an extension department, with a whole lot of faculty control and craft development.  Nor is like the non-researching for -profit university with an industrial model using adjuncts to teach and professionals to develop consistent and arguably high quality education.  Rather, this third model really has a full time faculty and it tries to empower the faculty, but course design and testing is a shared responsibility between “experts” and the faculty. In the article (see figure below) you’ll see two really contentious issues:

  • allowing faculty to specialize (and be rewarded) in one of the three roles in the academy - discovery research, teaching and destination, or service. Most faculty are vehemently oppsed to models that differentiate their jobs and many see it as a means only to increase either workload or accountability driven change.
  • increasing sharing of control with professions such as learning designers, editors, media experts

Read the rest of this entry »


MOOC pedagogy and accreditation

November 13, 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »