Business Models for Online Education

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).

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

Continue reading

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

on edited book chapters

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to think about authoring and editing contributions to edited books. In this post, I’ll releate these incidents and then try to draw some conclusions.

1. Olaf Zawkler Richter and I have been working for the past 16 months on an edited book tentatively titled Towards a Research Agenda in Online Education. The chapter topics were chosen through a  systematic examination of the top issues in the distance education literature during the past decade. We then contacted the “grandest guru” in each of these research topics and asked them to write a chapter summarizing the issues and outlining a research agenda in that area. Of course, they weren’t all willing to do so- no coincidence that the most accomplished people are also the busiest!. But we were very pleased with the list of authors who agreed to author a chapter for us. Of course they didn’t all come in on the due date, but we  were pleased with the results. Olaf and I edited each chapter and each was sent back for revisions, and soon the book was ready for a publisher.

Both Olaf and I were committed to publishing in an open access press and  perhaps this choice of publisher influenced the the high participation rate of our ‘gurus. Thus. we choose Athabasca University Press for submission. The manuscript was reviewed internally and then sent for external review. Last week (about three months later) the reviews came back. One of the reviewers was particularly hard on some chapters and his comments were described by one of our authors as “boorish and ad hominem”. Nonetheless they were useful and will result in edits to most of the chapters.

So hopefully in the New Year, I will be announcing the availability of this book through AUPress. Continue reading

Interesting network analysis of a c-Mooc

Thanks to Stephen Downes for this link on OLDaily to a short 15 second video from CBlissMath  illustrating the connectivity of participants in a c-MOOC. In this case the MOOC was CMC11, which described itself as a connectivist MOOC that focuses on sharing and building knowledge on connectivism and PLE’s. Unlike x-MOOCs such as sponsored by CoursEra, MITx and others, c-MOOCs (origionally designed by Downes, Cormier and Siemens) explicitly focus on the development of networks of participants and objects(see Rodriguez for more on c and x- MOOCs).  The x-MOOCs seem to follow a content centric model that some would call an instructivist pedagogy (or what Jon Dron and I referred to as Cognitive-Behaviourist pedagogy, in an IRRODL article from last year).

However what the video using Gephi network software illustrates is the large number of totally unconnected nodes that seem to make up the majority of the MOOC participants. Now, I realize there is some limited value to the participants of being a 100% lurker (I’ve done it myself on more than one MOOC), but it is especially ironical when the c-MOOCs, focused on connectivty, seem to demonstrate less connectivity (or at least engagement) than the x-MOOCs – especially if one counts as engagement submission of assignments or exercises to be marked by machines. I’ve long argued that such learner-content interaction can (and often is) a critical and if done well, a perfectly satisfactory form of learning  and ca even be considered equivalent to other higher costs forms of learning (see our Interaction Equivalency site)

In a recent post Phil Hill identified four barriers that MOOCs have to overcome – one of which was high drop out rate. Daphe Koller co-founder of CoursEra has argued  in an Inside Higher Ed post that “The [students] who drop out early do not add substantially to the cost of delivering the course,” she says. The most expensive students are the ones who stick around long enough to take the final, and those are the ones most likely to pay for a certificate.” So in both models of MOOC (as evidenced by the ;’massive’ in the acronym) adding a few hundred or a few thousand non participating students is easily done at extremely low cost. This does however demonstrate accomplishment or learning.

But distance educators have for decades struggled with ways to interpret high drop out rates associated with most forms of distance education. We have rationalized that “the student got what they wanted, even if they dropped out”, blamed the students for not being committed or being deficient in a variety of academic or personal skills or aptitudes, and made excuses about the definition of drop out (as compared to campus students). But it does raise the issue of personal as well as financial costs. Do non-engaged participants walk away with a sense of personal failure, a conformation of their not being smart enough to take a course, guilt that they hadn’t “made the time” or expended the necessary effort,  or did they indeed get what they paid for (in the case of MOOCs,  nothing!).

Lots more research needs to be done, but undoubtedly these demonstrations of scalability, unmatched since the impressive efforts of the Open Universities in the 1980’s, are hopeful signs that evidence a potential solution for the greater than inflation cost increases in higher education that we have seen for the last twenty years. However, lets not ignore the decades of research on drop out that these same open universities and distance education scholars have been gathering to insure that we are not just inventing more options for those minority of gifted and privileged students who can and do succeed under any form of higher education.

Follow the Sun 2012 Schedule now online

Last year I was asked to do a keynote talk for the FollowtheSun conference that had been founded three years ago by Prof. Gilly Salmon, then at the University of Leicester in the UK. The idea was to be a part of  an online conference that mirrored a typical academic/professional conference with keynotes, trade show, demos, poster sessions etc. My presentation went OK, but I wasn’t sitting up and participating for 48 hours!

I’ve been interested in online conference for many years (insert plug for 2011 book by Lynne Anderson and myself Online Conferences: Professional Development for a Networked Era), but the idea of 48 hours, continuous seemed a bit much, even for a conference junky like myself.

However this year, George Siemens and I were asked to gather a team and host the North American section of the conference from Athabasca University.  As many of you know, George is not very good at saying ‘no’ and I’m not much better, so together with colleagues Marti Cleveland-Innes and Bob Heller and other staff at Athabasca, we have organized two 8 hours sessions of the conference. We managed to persuade the other sponsoring teams (from University of Leicester, UK and the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, to make this an open conference, thus allowing free registration for all. Ironically the largest expense during the first two Followthe Sun conferences was the administrative cost of collecting the registration fees from delegates!

Thus, on March 28 and March 29 between 9:00 and 5:00 PM Mountain time (check out other times from other continents here or local times here), we have lined up two full days of really top quality speakers, demonstrations and expert panels. You can check out the schedule and most importantly Register at

If you haven’t had enough “conference’ from the North American sessions, well, you can begin 16 hours earlier  from Australia and the UK, and just keep right on conferencing for 48 hours straight!!  The sessions will be delivered via Blackboard Collaborate (the old Elluminate platform) and hosted by some well known figures in the elearning world, including  George Siemens, Grainne Canole, Gilly Salmon, myself  and others.

The theme of this year’s conference is Knowledge Futures, and we have tried to keep away from having keynotes be the usual ed tech evangelists. Rather we have selected disciplinary experts who will present, and our discussants will further elaborate, the ways in which knowledge, and thus teaching and learning, is changing across multiple disciplines.

Please check out the full schedule to make sure you hear a keynote in a discipline with which you are interested. These keynotes come from Psychology, Law, Communicatiuons, Ethnomusicology, English Language, Nursing and Midwifery, Sports Psychology, International Relations, Engineering, Computer Science and GeoScience.

I was really pleased to be able to have my friend Erran Cramel from American University in Washington volunteer to windup the conference by reflecting on this type of global event in light of his new book” I’m Working While You’re Sleeping, which as the title suggests, focuses on global business and organizations that “never sleep”.

Please check  out the full program and more importantly – REGISTER at

A problem with educational research publishing is that most of the most highly rated peer-reviewed journals are closed access, and though most are accessible to me through our library, I try as much as possible not to contribute to journals that are not available as open access. Especially in education, there are too many potential readers in schools, universities in developing countries and ordinary Canadians who just don’t have access to expensive closed publications. Thus, I strongly support the recent boycott of Elsevier (largest journal publisher in the world) but I extend a personal boycott it to all closed research publications (with the occasional exception).
However a year ago, I had an idea to research the impact of what for us in education was a new and i think very promising research methodology known as design-based research (DBR). The DBR model matches researchers with teachers in real educational contexts, to develop interventions (pedagogical technical, administrative etc.) and then test them in real contexts using a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques and then extracting broader design principles explaining how and why the intervention works or fails to improve teaching or learning.

I was fortunate enough to recruit Atahabasca University doctoral student Julie Shattuck and together we analysed the 5 most widely cited DBR articles over each of the ten years since the methodology was first promoted. You are welcome to read the results published this week

Terry Anderson and Julie Shattuck (2012) Design-Based Research : A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41: 16-25,

Once the article was written we were faced with the question of where to publish. I thought the article would have considerable interest -especially in the US, as this is where the majority of cited DBR articles were published. Thus, I wanted to go beyond the open and distance education audience that I normally write for. I immediately thought of Educational Researcher. This is arguably and usually cited as the most widely read and prestigious peer reviewed journal in the educational world (ISO Impact factor of 3.774), so I really didn’t think we would get accepted.
However, although Educational Researcher is published by Sage (a commercial publisher) it is sponsored by The American Educational Research Association (world’s largest professional educational group) and is distributed in paper to all its members and most importantly freely in PDF format on the web. So the prospect of a very large audience in a very prestigious journal and close to open access publication was irresistible.

The submission process was very picky and exacting, with editors demanding very strict adherence to APA format, page length etc. before they would even send it to review. Not to my surprise, two months later, it was returned with requests for revisions which I must say all reasonable and likely to improve the paper. However, the returned manuscript must go through a second review, so we didn’t get our hopes up. Then last summer, to our surprise, a very quick second review and minor suggestions for revisions and we were accepted!! 5 months later everyone is able to read the article online and I await my paper copy in the mail!
So thanks to Julie, the reviewers and editors at Educational Research and celebration time!!

One Small Step for Athabasca

I participated in an interesting meeting of the Athabasca University Academic Council (our senate equivalent) this morning and the most contentious item concerned our option for ‘challenge for credit” alternative, that is offered in most of our undergraduate programs.
By way of background, Athabasca undergrad programs are offered as continuous enrollment and mostly self study programs that follow the old correspondence model. We offer support from an individual tutor, a study guide (that roughly serves as an interpretation of the study materials), a FEW interactive options (little used) via Moodle and a course pack that typically consists of a reading package and a text or two.  Students are given 6 months (can be extended with $$$ to a year), as much access (phone and email) as they want to an assigned  tutor, tutor marked assignments and an invigilated exam. We have recently been offering ‘optional’ networking and support via our elgg based social networking system (the Athabasca Landing) but the take up by tutors, faculty and students has (to date) been modest.
Credit for challenge (as opposed to seat time or completion of course activities), is an old idea first institutionalized by the University of London in the 19th century. Continue reading

The Publish or Perish Book

Well, after surviving end of term marking, coupled with two online keynotes and a real f2F one at Canadian MoodelMoot I’ve finally found some time to skim through two books that arrived on my desk that I want to share with you.

Product DetailsThe first is The Publish or Perish Book (P 0r P) by Anne-Wil Harzing. Harzing is one my heroes because she created and released  PorP Open Access program that uses Google Scholar to evaluate journals, articles, and authors based upon the number of citations of the work, collection or journal in other scholarly works. Continue reading

Lisbon 2011

Wow, its back to the future for me this week. I haven’t been doing face-2-face lectures for years, but this week is campus all over again.

I was honoured to be asked to do a week long PhD seminar at the Universidade Nova de Lisbo here in Lisbon Portugal. The seminar has attracted students and staff from Nova and a few other universities and especially the Univesidade Aberta – Portugese Open University .  The seminars are being web cast and sent out via H323 video conferencing, with a twitter feed (mostly in Portugese), all of which have worked flawlessly, so nothing shabby about the technology here!.

Nova University is relatively new to online learning, with no tradition of distance education (that being the almost exclusive domain in the past to The Open University). But as everywhere, they are interested and expanding access through this technology. The lectures were fun in that was able to recycle some of my earlier powerpoints, but was able to expand and hone all of them for a new audience and to dust off some of my earlier work and thinking.  I do five sessions:

I’ve also had some great meetings with my host Patrica Fidalgo, who is a PhD student at Nova and who we met at last summer’s TEKRI doctoral seminar at Athabasca University. This very successful seminar at Nova shows the value of one PhD student making things happen in her own school. Maybe you should think about attending this year’s week long seminar on social networking at Athabasca in Edmonton???

I’ve spent a few hours seeing the city and its many historical sights, and looking forward to a day off on Saturday before hoping the flight to Estonia.

Até mais tarde!