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Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN)

Higher education is digitizing. All aspects of it, including administration, teaching/learning, and research. The process of becoming digital has important implications for how learning occurs and how research happens and how it is shared. I’m happy to announce the formation of the digital Learning Research Network (dLRN), funded by a $1.6m grant from the Gates Foundation – more info here.

From a broad overview, the goal of the grant is to improve the depth and quality of research in digital learning. I’m defining digital learning as anything that has a technology component: online, blended, and in classroom with use of technology. Additionally, this learning may be formal, self-regulated, structured/unstructured, and “lifelong”. Much of this research is already ongoing – a quick skim of conferences such as LAK, ICLS, IEDMS and others confirms this. An important challenge exists, however, in that existing research stays in journals and conference proceedings and often doesn’t make it into practice as quickly or with as much impact as is needed. With dLRN, our goals are to:

  1. Increase the impact of existing research in solving complex organizational and systems-level learning challenges
  2. Work in cross-disciplinary and multi-lens research teams to ensure nuanced solutions are generated for real, intractable problems
  3. Connect and amplify existing research
  4. Promote research as practice and practice as research mindsets in college and university systems engaged in researching digital learning and teaching
  5. Model openness in research activity and data
  6. Increase the speed of the research cycle and adoption of effective practices with a particular emphasis on under-represented students
  7. Build on existing research in learning sciences, online, blended, and distance learning, as well as data mining and learning analytics
  8. Evaluate the broader organizational influences of digital learning, teaching, and research

More specifically, dLRN will do the following:

Foster Innovation, specifically in increasing the capacity of member universities to transition to the digital environment. The past several years of activity in MOOCs and online learning have pushed thinking about teaching and learning (and also hype and nonsense!). An important opportunity now exists to evaluate how existing universities are rethinking on-campus and in classroom learning based on MOOCs. Specifically, what are the lessons that campuses are learning based on MOOC experimentation? Additionally, how are universities position online and blended learning in relation to on-campus learning?

A second aspect of innovation for this grant will result in the development of a network of partner universities who are focused on increasing participation from sectors of society that currently are not entering higher education. These sectors include first-in-family degree completers, learners who have some university experience but discontinued, and individuals who are returning to education to re-skill to prepare for a new job market.

Internationalize the research network to include global partners to advance exploration of research topics and pursue research funding internationally. This work will not be funded by this grant as international universities will be responsible for developing resources required for their participation. However, the inclusion of international research systems will ensure that the work being conducted as part of this proposal reflects the diversity of international audiences. We expect these partners will amplify the value of this research and increase application and impact both nationally and internationally.

Develop Personal Knowledge Graphs. I’ve been whining about this for a while. The focus on higher education has to date been centered on course content and curriculum. Moving forward, in order to develop personalized and adaptive learning, universities will need to develop personal knowledge graphs (PKG) and profiles. PKG would involve collecting and mapping what an individual knows – based on formal learning, workplace learning, and informal learning – and using that graph as a base for providing focused learning materials to address knowledge gaps in order to achieve a qualification or degree. In a workforce defined by rapid changes, PKG will enable learners to more rapidly reskill and upgrade in order to participate in the knowledge economy.

Universities/organizations and people involved:

Carnegie Mellon University (Carolyn Rose)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Stephanie Teasley)
Stanford University (Candace Thille)
SRI (Barbara Means)
Teachers College, Columbia University (Ryan Baker)
University of Arkansas System (Michael Moore)
California Community Colleges (Pat James)
Georgia State System (Myk Garn)
Smithsonian Institution (Chris Liedel/Jacquie Moen)

Getting involved:

An important aspect of this is involving international universities. I’ve had several conversations with universities in UK, Australia, and Canada. While we don’t have funds to support these systems, if your institution is interested and able to self-fund involvement, please let me know: gsiemens at gmail. At minimum, I expect that international partners will be able to translate their work into regional and national grants in their own jurisdiction.

We will also be looking to work with doctoral students who are interested in digital learning. For this, I’m looking more at students that are interested in this research area and are willing to devote time to participating in research and connecting with other researchers. (We will be announcing three post-doc positions at LINK Lab soon for those that want to get more deeply involved in research).

Finally, we expect to have a full slate of open online events including research discussions and case studies starting early 2015. As much as possible, we will be sharing research openly.

Brilliant folks that need to be read.

Folks like Mike Caulfield, Bonnie Stewart, and Kate Bowles, deserve far more attention for their thinking and writing than what they are currently getting. It’s really not fair to lump them together, but they represent for me an intersection of humanity, tangible change, and deep thinking in education. Build your next conference around these three and I’m there. Just send me the registration link.

A recent sampling of their thinking:

From Kate:

I really think the measure of our capacity to call ourselves a community relates to our responses in a whole range of situations for which there can’t be laws or even social demands, but only instinct….and that’s where I think we are with our transactions, our struggling social communities, our networks, the places and persons that we care for. At some level we have to accept that every side is circumscribed, every speaking position is taken, and every single thing that now can be said will trigger someone else’s despairing fury that this is the same old, same old, mounting up to what’s most wrong in the world.

From Bonnie:

Participation makes us visible to others who may not know us, and makes our opinions and perspectives visible to those who may know *us,* but have never had to grapple with taking our opinions or positions seriously…Participation enrols us in a media machine that is always and already out of our control; an attention economy that increasingly takes complex identities and reduces them to sound bites and black & white alignments.

From Mike:

But what I *know* I’m right about is that these problems exist, and they are serious.
Minority voices are squelched, flame wars abound. We spend hours at a time as rats hitting the Skinner-esque levers of Twitter and Tumblr, hoping for new treats — and this might be OK if we actually then built off these things, but we don’t.
We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop that doesn’t allow us silent spaces to reflect on issues without news pegs, and in which many of our areas of collaboration have become toxic, or worse, a toxic bureaucracy.
We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop where we react to the reactions of reactions (while fearing further reactions), and then we wonder why we’re stuck with groupthink and ideological gridlock.

Moving from openness advocacy to research

Openness in education – including content, teaching, pedagogy, analytics, or any other flavours – is a 15+ year trend that is starting to cross over into the main stream. I’ve been involved in numerous faculty/leadership meetings with different universities and colleges over the past year and openness has become one of those concepts that everyone agrees with, supports, and promotes. In a way, it’s like “diversity”, given lip service, recognition in planning documents and policy statements, but often not reflected adequately in practice.

A few weeks ago, David Wiley posted a statement on his site about a recent OER report:

The Babson OER Survey is incredible. If you care at all about OER, you absolutely need to read it…Many people think my prediction that “80% of all US general education courses will be using OER instead of publisher materials by 2018″ is crazy talk. But it isn’t. It’s not crazy at all. OER align better with faculty’s top adoption priorities than traditional materials do, and the majority of current non-users will try OER between now and 2017.

I’ve been thinking about this report and, if David is right about the scope of adoption, we have a serious issue. Openness in education is more advocacy than research. Sure, we’ve had the odd Yochai Benkler paper and a few publications from advocates of openness and a few researcher/philosopher/advocates (like Peter Suber and John Willinksky). But, overall, advocacy has driven adoption of openness (OER, MOOCs, open pedagogy, etc). This is rather odd. I can’t think of a trend in education that is as substantive as openness that has less of a peer reviewed research base. Top conferences are practitioner and policy/advocacy based. Where are the research conferences? Where are the proceedings? When they exist, they are often small clusters embedded in other conferences and publications. IF, as David argues, adoption rates of OERs in courses will approach 80%, the lack of a research community in this space seems like a significant limitation.

What I’ve learned in my first week of a dual-layer MOOC (DALMOOC)

This last week we launched our open course on Data, Analytics, and Learning on edX. The course is structured in a dual layer model, an approach that Matt Crosslin has nicely articulated. We have 20,000 registered students, with 32% having actually logged in and taken part in the course. 180 countries are represented, with the top being US, India, and UK, representing 25%, 11%, and 4% of students.

I’ve run numerous MOOCs over the past six years. I’ve used a range of platforms, including Moodle, D2L, Canvas, Drupal, Downes’ gRSShopper, and others. In the process, I’ve used roughly any tool I can get my hands on, including Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Netvibes, blogs, Wikispaces, Diigo, and so on. The largest group of learners in a course that i have run is ~5,000. The current course on edX is unique in the number of learners involved and in the dual-layer approach. Our goal was to enable learners to select either a formal structured pathway and a self-directed “learner in control” pathway.

I’m biased toward learners owning their own content and owning the spaces where they learn. My reason is simple: knowledge institutions mirror the architecture of knowledge in the era in which they exist. Today, knowledge is diverse, messy, partial, complex, and rapidly changing. What learners need today is not instructivism but rather a process of personal sensemaking and wayfinding where they learn to identify what is important, what matters, and what can be ignored. Most courses assume that the instructor and designer should sensemake for learners. The instructor chooses the important pieces, sets it in a structured path, and feeds content to learners. Essentially, in this model, we take away the sweet spot of learning. Making sense of topic areas through social and exploratory processes is the heart of learning needs in complex knowledge environments.

Though I am biased toward learner-in-control, I do recognize the value of formal instruction, particularly when the topic area is new to a learner. Even then, I would like to see rapid transitions from content provision to having learners create artifacts that reflect their understanding. These artifacts can be images, audio, video, simulations, blog posts, or any other resource that can be created and shared with other learners. Learning transparently is an act of teaching.

My reflections after week one of DALMOOC:

1. The first few weeks are identical to any other MOOC I’ve run. It’s chaos. Learners are unsure about how to position themselves in relation to the content and the interaction spaces. This is a critical sensemaking and wayfinding process. In a MOOC, we not only learn content, but we also learn the metcognitive processes and digital space markers that enable us to be active participants. This can be stressful for learners.

2. Learners really, really like content. I view content to be as much a by-product of the learning process as a pre-requisite. Lectures can be helpful in framing a topic. What is important though, is that learners create artifacts. An artifact represents how we understand something and then allows others to provide us feedback and shape, fact-check, and refine our thinking (have a look at a Private Universe – a detailed account of what happens when students only answer questions we ask rather than create artifacts that reflect how they understand a topic area).

3. There seems to be a growing number of professional learners in formal platforms (edX & Coursera). These learners have clear goals, want a certificate, and have expectations of the experience. In one forum interaction of DALMOOC, a learner mentioned that he/she had taken 30 MOOCs and this one was the most disorienting. Another learner said this was the worst MOOC that they had ever taken. Early MOOCs were easy to run because expectations hadn’t normalized. It’s different now. Learners engage with MOOCs with views of what should be happening and are comparing courses to what they’ve taken recently. The standards of quality content are higher than they were in the past.

4. The most important learning shift is not yet happening. Learning in complex knowledge environments requires navigating distributed spaces (wayfinding), acting with partial information, sensemaking, and becoming comfortable without reading everything. This shift is difficult – it’s as much a world view shift as a learning task, as much about our identity as the learning content. It’s not easy and it’s unsettling and frustrating.

5. Learners act differently in different spaces. If you are in the course, skim the edX discussions. Then log into ProSolo. Skim the interactions there. Do the same with social media (our G+ and Facebook pages as well as the #DALMOOC twitter timeline). The tools and spaces are linked here. The conversation in edX, when discussing the course, is ~60% critical. In Prosolo, it’s largely positive. I find the negative comments in edX about structure a bit confusing as I view choices as giving learners the ability to be where they want to be rather than where designers and instructors force them to be. I chuckled at Matt’s tweet:

6. We need to get better at on-boarding learners to engage in digital distributed spaces. My comments above reflect real experiences of learners who are finding the course format confusing. It’s not sufficient to say “well, what you really need is a world-view shift”. As designers, we have to support and guide that transition. We are not doing that well enough. Even though early Hangouts that we did in the course emphasized learner autonomy and the importance of developing a personal digital identity that is under the control of the individual learner, this message is understood through practice not to proclamation. It’s a challenging proposition: a learner understands the design intentions of the course by engaging in the activities but these activities are confusing because they do not understand the design intentions.

7. Technology glitches are tough. We are using a number of new tools in DALMOOC, including Carolyn Rose’s Bazaar and Quick Helper, a visual syllabus, Prosolo, assignment bank, and so on. We’ve had some glitches with most of those, as can be expected in a new tool being scaled to a large number of users. Learners may forgive a glitch or two. But each additional glitch or tool creates additional stress. A few learners have said “I feel like a guinea pig” and “I feel like I’m just beta testing software” and “I feel like a rat in a maze”. We need some tolerance for failure during experimentation. There is a line though where even the most committed learners feel overwhelmed.

8. Learners use discussion forums for different reasons. I’ve generally used them for discussion. Learners in edX use them for a range of reasons including quick search/help, venting, and as a way of orienting to the course. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much in MOOC forums about social relationship formation. MOOC providers have done a bad job of building learner profiles. I can’t get to know my peers in edX or Coursera. This is an issue. Distributed social media improves this, but the social connectedness in edX forums is almost non-existent.

Overall, the first ten days of DALMOOC have provided an excellent learning experience for me. I’ve included a short presentation below on Sensemaking and Wayfinding Information Model (SWIM) that focuses on how learners engage in and navigate open learning spaces, largely reflective of the experiences of learners in this MOOC.

Innovation in open online courses

In a few weeks, our edX course Data, Analytics, and Learning (#DALMOOC https://www.edx.org/course/utarlingtonx/utarlingtonx-link5-10x-data-analytics-2186) will start. We (Carolyn Rose, Dragan Gasevic, Ryan Baker, and I) have spent the last several months thinking through the course structure and format. This is a short overview of the innovations that we want to explore during the course. The innovations build heavily on community and network approaches that I and others (Stephen Downes, David Wiley, Alan Levine, Jim Groom, Dave Cormier) have used in previous open courses.

Since MOOCs gained popularity with top tier universities, significant effort has been put into finding new ways to present learning content. Videos, simulations, and graphics now contribute to formal MOOCs often costing several hundred thousand dollars to develop. In terms of content presentation, DALMOOC will pale in comparison to existing well-funded courses. Our focus has been on improving the social experience of learners. In particular, we are looking to solve the following problems with MOOCs:

  1. Students often flounder in MOOCs as there is limited social contact between learners and limited timely support.
  2. Learners have limited engagement in developing knowledge together. Many MOOCs reflect a structured and linear process of content presentation. There is little alignment with the architecture of knowledge in a participative age.
  3. Learners have a difficult time getting to know each other or finding like others as major platforms do not focus on developing learner profiles
  4. The connection between learning and application is hampered as MOOC resources do not always persist after a course has ended and there is limited search functionality in MOOCs.
  5. Courses are not adaptive and serve the same content to all learners, regardless of prior knowledge

To address these challenges, we have adopted/developed the following approaches.

Timely help resources: Through the use of a tool developed by Carolyn Rose’s team called the Quick Helper, course participants will have access to timely help resources. When a student would like to ensure their request for help is seen, they may click on the Quick Helper button, which will guide them to formulate a help request. A social recommendation algorithm will then match the help request to three potential helpers from the community. They will be presented with these three choices, and will have the option to select who will be invited to their help request thread. The Quick Helper will then send an email to each selected helper with a link to the help request thread and an invitation to participate. The intent with this approach is to provide timely help to students and to engage other learners in helping answer questions asked by peers.

Social embeddedness Social has become an abused term. Everything now has social attached. Aside from this hype, the value of social learning is clear in academic literature. In order to improve connections, we will also be using a social competency based software (ProSolo) that will give learners the opportunity to identify learning goals, connect with others around shared goals, and create a pathway for recognition of learning. A second aspect of ProSolo is the creation of learner profiles so students can find others with shared interests. DALMOOC has been designed to model a distributed information structure. As such, learners will be encouraged to participate in roughly any space they would like: blogs, facebook, twitter, edX discussion forums, etc. I have a bias for the value of learners owning their own learning spaces. A key challenge that arises as learners engage in different spaces is one of fragmentation. Learning is a coherence forming process and knowledge is a state of connecting information pieces. As such, we will be adopting an aggregation approach similar to what Stephen Downes pioneered with early MOOCs: gRSShopper. Content will be aggregated and shared in a daily email to learners. By aggregating learner content and providing persistent profiles, we anticipate higher levels of learner engagement.

Another social layer is the inclusion of group work using synchronous chat activities supported by intelligent conversational agents. This intervention builds on the work by Carolyn Rose’s group on dynamic support for collaborative learning using an architecture called Bazaar also developed by her team. Group work is difficult in MOOCs because of high drop out rates. To address this challenge, we are using a lobby tool developed by Rose’s lab that enables groups to form on the fly, on an as needed basis. When students reach a point in their trajectory through the course when they are ready to engage in discussion, they will click on a live link to enter the lobby program, which will match them with other learners who are also ready to engage in that activity. This is a benefit of MOOCs – with many learners online simultaneously, scale works for quick, weak tie, group formation.

Persistence. The content of the course will remain available for students to access post-course, particularly the summary emails and learner profiles in ProSolo. Learners will have the option to search context relevant resources in ProSolo. We hope that this will assist in creating a persistent practitioner community where learners will access resources post-course and continue to engage with each other on social media and in ProSolo.

Adaptivity. While adaptive learning is a rapidly growing area of research interest, it isn’t being done well yet. Early projects like CMU’s OLI focus on content focused courses with an emphasis on supported mutli-step problem solving. Adapting a course on learning analytics is more challenging as the problems are much less well-formed. “Right answers” are not always clear, and more importantly, ideal learning trajectories are more individualize. To compensate for this weakness, we’ve taken an idea from DS106: the assignment bank. The assignment bank focuses on adaptivity at the level of application. All learners experience the same instructional content. Each learner is able to challenge herself by selecting assignments with various gradients of complexity.

Matt Crosslin – lead designer on DALMOOC – has been blogging on the design decisions we have made throughout the course. His blog is a great resource.

There are numerous other research opportunities with MOOCs, including adaptive pathways during the course, personalized learning, self-regulated learning, alternative credentialing approaches, automated assessment, evaluating the impact of socially created artifacts on learning, alternative approaches to lectures and content presentation, and so on. Those are topics for future exploration. For DALMOOC, our focus is on timely help, social learning, persistence, and adaptivity through assignments. Even this seems like a slightly heaving set of alterations to the traditional MOOC. As with previous MOOCs that I’ve taught, the intent is to provide learners with a range of tools, technologies, and approaches and provide learners with the opportunity to sensemake and wayfind through complex information spaces. All the fun (and deep learning) happens in that process.

LINK Research Lab: Fall Speaker Series

At LINK Research Lab, we have a full slate of speakers for fall, including topics on distributed learning, synchronous instruction, success for under represented students, learning analytics, engagement, design based research, openness, flipped classrooms, health and the built environment, mentorship, and wonder. The full schedule is here. We will be streaming the events online and are exploring options for asynchronous interaction as well. If you’d like to be informed of event details, recordings, and links to live sessions, please register.

Bundling and Re-bundling

I’m at the Knewton Symposium – an event focusing on the future of digital learning. This is the second year that I’ve attended. It’s a small event (last year had ~20 attendees, this year it’s closer to 60+). Knewton brings in a range of speakers and leaders in education, ranging from startups to big edtech companies and publishers to faculty and advocates for some type of change. The conversations are diverse, as can be expected when publishers and open education advocates as well as VC firms and academics share the same stage.

The narrative of educational change is more stable than it was even a few years ago and it’s reflected in this symposium. In 2011, everything was up in the air: universities were dead, faculty would be replaced by MOOCs, California would solve its education crisis by partnering with a small startup, and so on. Now the narrative has coalesced around: 1. economics and funding, 2. access and affordability, 3. innovation and creativity, 4. data and analytics, 5. future university models. While I’m interested in all five of those narratives, particularly the way in which these are being framed by university leaders, vendors and startups, and politicians, I’d like to focus here on one aspect of the conversation around future university models: unbundling.

Unbundling is an appealing concept to change mongers. The lessons of the album and mp3′s is strong with these folks. MP3s lead to newspapers which lead to music and media in general. Since change mongers (a species native to Silicon Valley but now becoming an invasive species in numerous regions around the world. Frankenfish comes to mind) do not have much regard for nuance and detail, opting instead for blunt mono-narratives, unbundling is a perfect concept to articulate needed change.

There are a few things wrong with the idea of unbundling in education:

1. Unbundling is different in social systems than it is in a content only system. An album can be unbundled without much loss. Sure, albums like The Wall don’t unbundle well, but those are exceptions. Unbundling a social system has ripple effects that cannot always be anticipated. The parts of a social system are less than the whole of a social system. Unbundling, while possible in higher education, is not a zero sum game. The pieces on the board that get rearranged will have a real impact on learners, society, and universities.

2. When unbundling happens, it is only temporary. Unbundling leads to rebundling. And digital rebundling results in less players and less competition. What unbundling represents then is a power shift. Universities are today an integrated network of products and services. Many universities have started to work with partners like Pearson (ASU is among the most prominent) to expand capacity that is not evident in their existing system.
Rebundling is what happens when the pieces that are created as a sector moves online become reintegrated into a new network model. It is most fundamentally a power shift. The current integrated higher education system is being pulled apart by a range of companies and startups. Currently the university is in the drivers seat. Eventually, the unbundled pieces will be integrated into a new network model that has a new power structure. For entrepreneurs, the goal appears to be to become part of a small number of big winners like Netflix or Google. When Sebastian Thrun stated that Udacity would be one of only 10 universities in the future, he was exhibiting the mentality that has existed in other sectors that have unbundled. Unbundling is not the real story: the real issue is the rebundling and how power structures are re-architected. Going forward, rebundling will remove the university from the drivers seat and place the control into the re-integrated networks.

Congrats to Paul-Olivier Dehaye: MassiveTeaching

In a previous post, I commented on the Massive Teaching course at Coursera and that something odd was happening. Either Coursera deleted the prof from the course or the prof was running some type of experiment. It now appears to be primarily the latter.

The story has now been covered by The Chronicle (here and here) and Inside Higher Ed (here). Thoughtful reflections have been provided by Rolin Moe and Jonathan Rees. Participants on Twitter have also had their say. The general consensus is that “wow, this is weird”. Coursera has deftly pushed everything back to the University of Zurich, who in turn has pushed it onto the prof, Paul-Olivier Dehaye. Commenters have been rather cruel (I know, shocking to have mean people on the internet), going so far as to question Dehaye’s sanity. OT: Favourite comment of the day: “Moocs are demonic, and unhuman.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. Dehaye has not publicly commented. Coursera very quickly washed its hands of the situation. What Dehaye did was inappropriate and might have crossed a few ethical boundaries. That’s an important angle, but not one that I want to pursue here. Three substantial concerns exist:

1. Coursera has been revealed as a house of cards in terms of governance and procedures for dealing with unusual situations. While Coursera promotes itself as a platform, something that I wrote about a few years ago, it is more Frankensteinian than functional. MOOCs were developed so quickly and with such breathless optimism that the architects didn’t pay much attention to boring stuff like foundations and plumbing. What is the governance model at Coursera? Is there anything like a due process to resolve conflicts? And a range of questions around content ownership and learner data.

I have a colleague who taught on Coursera recently. He was unable to get access to data that had previously been promised. In a university, there is a counterbalancing process to these types of conflict or disagreements. At MOOC providers, the company rules. This is fine at Facebook, but Coursera is essentially a leech on the education system – getting teaching for free while exploring new ways to monetize the process. (Wait. Doesn’t that make them the Elsevier of teaching and learning? Content and teaching free. Monetize the backend.)

My point here is that the governance structure that underpins university is lacking in MOOC providers. It is not a balanced and equitable system. There are many fissures in the MOOC model and as providers become more prominent in education these fissures will become more evident. If companies like Coursera and edX expect to be able to make decisions on behalf of faculty and partner universities, conflict is inevitable. A transparent process is required.

2. University of Zurich has an obligation and responsibility to its faculty. Where a university’s reputation and identity can be launched internationally in a MOOC, leadership should have some quality control process in place. Is the university so poorly informed about online learning that simply giving a faculty member keys to the kingdom without some guidance and direction was assumed to be a good approach? There is much blame to be shared and it should fall in the following order: 1. Coursera, 2. U of Zurich, 3. Dehaye

3. Criticism ranging from a poorly designed course to poor ethics has been directed to Paul-Olivier Dehaye. Most of it is unfair. There have been some calls for U of Zurich to discipline the prof. Like others, I’ve criticized his deception research and his silence since the course was shut down. Several days before the media coverage, Dehaye provided the following comments on his experiment:

“MOOCs can be used to enhance privacy, or really destroy it,” Dehaye wrote. “I want to fight scientifically for the idea, yet teach, and I have signed contracts, which no one asks me about…. I am in a bind. Who do I tell about my project? My students? But this idea of the #FacebookExperiment is in itself dangerous, very dangerous. People react to it and express more emotions, which can be further mined.”
The goal of his experiment, Dehaye wrote, was to “confuse everyone, including the university, [C]oursera, the Twitter world, as many journalists as I can, and the course participants. The goal being to attract publicity…. I want to show how [C]oursera tracks you.”

There it is. His intent was to draw attention to Coursera policies and practices around data. Congrats, Paul-Olivier. Mission accomplished.

He is doing exactly what academics should do: perturb people to states of awareness. Hundreds, likely thousands, of faculty have taught MOOCs, often having to toe the line of terms and conditions set by an organization that doesn’t share the ideals, community, and egalitarianism that define universities (you can include me in that list).

The MOOC Mystery was about an academic doing what we expect and need academics to do. Unfortunately it was poorly executed and not properly communicated so the message has been largely lost. Regardless, Dehaye has started a conversation, raised a real concern, pushed buttons, and put a spotlight on unfair or opaque practices by organizations who are growing in influence in education. Yes, there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed. But let’s not use those ethical concerns to silence an important concern or isolate a needed narrative around what MOOCs are, how they are impacting higher education and faculty, and how control is being wrested from the people who are vital counter-balancing agents in society’s power structure.

Paul-Olivier – thanks. Let’s have more of this.

I was wrong

I’ve made statements late last year to the effect that “corporate MOOCs will be the big trend in 2014″. I was wrong.

Recently, with CorpU and Reda Sadki, I ran an open online conference on corporate MOOCs. We put together a strong line up of presenters and topics and I expected reasonably strong turnout as the topic was timely. While we had a large number of signups, we only had 15-30 people attend each session. The sessions were generally one-way information flow (from the presenter). Attendees appeared to be reluctant to share experiences and views. I’m not sure if this was due to corporate interests in preserving and not sharing information or if we just didn’t hit on the right topics.

The recordings of most sessions are available here (we had a few requests to not record sessions by presenters). Some excellent presentations!

Aside from not having the engagement I was hoping for, I was interested in several points raised during the event:
- Corporate MOOC completion rates are in the 70-80% range
- Coursera is heavily focused on providing branded “turn key” content for corporation training
- Systems like WorldBank are developing MOOCs as an integrated part of their overall online or digital learning strategy
- Several corporations, notably Google and SAP, are deep in the rabbit hole of MOOCs already and are reporting position experiences for both employees and customers who have taken their courses
- Consulting services such as Parthenon are deeply engaged in MOOCs and helping organizations plan for and deploy them.
- The costs of MOOCs are significant in terms of capital and time and effort of people. It’s not as simple a process as many assume when they start.
- Military organizations are exploring MOOCs and alternative teaching/learning approaches and are reporting promising early results. But we can’t tell you everything. It will be declassified in 2050.
- Organizations are primarily using MOOCs for internal learning, marketing, connecting with customers, and “teaching” suppliers.

Something weird is happening at Coursera

Something weird is happening at Coursera. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but have boiled it down to two options. Both are problematic.

A bit of background

About two months ago, I posted a short article on a DesignJam that we hosted at UT Arlington. The designjam brought together numerous folks who had some interest in teaching and learning online, often at a massive scale (i.e. MOOCs). Paul Olivier Dehaye commented on the post and described his interest in running a dual-track MOOC, blending instructivist and more collaborative. He was referring to the Massive Teaching course on Coursera that he was to run in June. I’ve been continuing to refine my thinking on this since the designjam, but I had not been following Paul’s course. Today, Apostolos Koutropoulos posted about social experiments and confusion at Coursera. I did a bit of backtracking on Paul’s tweet stream.

and

and finally, in response to a tweet asking Paul what was happening, he replied

Two options:

1. Coursera has removed a faculty member from a course for some reason without explanation
2. Paul is running a fairly elaborate social experiment

I am uncomfortable with both. If Coursera has removed the course or the faculty member, some explanation is required, both for the sake of the faculty member and the student. The transparency of MOOC providers is rather poor. If Facebook randomly deleted people, it would cause angst. Coursera doesn’t state the conditions under which a faculty member can be removed or a course cancelled. Universities and faculty spend enormous time and resources developing and running courses. Students devote significant hours as well. Everyone deserves an explanation.

If Paul is running an experiment, well, that raises a range of ethical issues around active experimentation with learners. Kate Bowles links to paper and a Google doc that raises additional questions. Given heightened concerns about ethics in social media and experimentation on users, MOOC providers and faculty need to be clear on any research and analytics being conducted.