CSEDU Day 1, Session 1, “Information Technologies Supporting Learning”, Paper 2. (#csedu14 #AdelED)

(I seem to be writing a lot so I’ll break these posts into smaller pieces. If I can fit these two talks into one post, I will. Apologies, dear reader, for the eye strain.)

The second talk was “MOOCs for Universities and Learners” presented by the irrepressible Su White (@suukii, material available here), from Southampton, who I have had the pleasure to meet before. Manuel Leon, the third author, is one of the PhD students who will be helping out and is also from Barcelona. Southampton has done MOOCs in the FutureLearn context. There’s quite a lot on offer in Future Learn and Southampton wanted something multi-disciplinary so they chose Web Science, which is also what MOOCs actually are so it was all somewhat self-referential in the good sense of reinforcement rather than the bad sense of Narcissus. The overwhelming lesson, not in the paper, is that getting academics to do stuff for this kind of environment is like herding cats once you start dealing with a team of excerpts. Goodness, they have a MOOC manager. (I don’t even know the poor person but I want to send them a nice calming box of chocolates.) There is a furious level of activity in an engaged on-line community and keeping up with this is very tricky – FAQs really help!

So where is FutureLearn today? There are nearly 30 institutions involved to date. Su sees a strong link with what went before, with OER and student desire for different learning approaches. The team wanted to know what motivated students and they wanted to be prepared and wanted to collect data from real live students. This includes the institution’s motivations and the student motivations. For the HEI, motivation was assessed by literature meta review and qualitative content analysis, with student motivations run with a survey on mostly qualitative grounds. The literature meta review was conducted over more than 60 articles including journal articles and “grey” literature, with a content analysis of the journals, using Herring’s (2004) adaption, after Krippendorf’s (1980) with categorising sources. (Grey literature includes magazine articles but are curated sources where authorship and provenance are both valued.)

I can’t draw the diagram but the perspectives were split between journals and grey literature, with open movements, evolution in distance education and disruptive innovation in the journal side, and sustainability (are MOOCs just a trend), quality (will they offer the same quality we get now) and impact (will the shake and change education) from the non-academic side including true believers and skeptics. A lot came out of this but Su noted the growing cynicism one develops reading the grey literature which appears to fall more into the zone of dinner party argument and that merit deeper exploration, while often not getting to that point. Are MOOCs the next stage in the slow progress from correspondence courses past flexible learning, Web 2.0 to MOOCs?

So what did they do? An online survey to find out the learners’ motivation to study: who are you, what is your education, what is your MOOC experience and (very importantly IMHO) what is your motivation? (I’m a big fan of Husman 2003 so this is very interesting to me.) In the motivations, the target communities were Spanish, Arabic and English, with wide dissemination and then the slide flipped so I lost it. 🙂 From the survey, they had 285 participants, with mostly male but that’s probably a cultural artefact because of the Arabic speakers being 77% male. Overwhelmingly, the platform was Coursera, followed by EdX, Udacity and Khan. They do it because it’s free, they have an interest and they are interested in the topic. Very few do it to get a taste of the University before enrolling – note to University administrators! Learners value free and open, convenience for time scheduling and moving, and over 60% are personalising the experience as part of planning their future.

So many issues and questions! Are there really pedagogic possibilities or is this an illusion? How do we deal with assessment? It’s notionally free but at what cost: reputational damage, cost of production and production values. Are we perpetuating old inequalities: are we giving them an illusion of value? Some stuff can’t be done online and you end up with unequal educators, with star performers creeping into local markets and undermining the value of a local and personalised experienced. Finally, we see the old issues of cultural imperialism and a creeping homogeneity that destroys diversity and alternative cultural perspectives. The last thing we want to produce is 99% the same and 1% other as the final step in a growing online community. The other never fares well inside that context. There are of course issues with the digital competency of the student, dropout issues and the spectre of plagiarism. Su’s take was that some people will just cheat anyway so focusing on this is wasted effort to some extent but certification changes when you make it something that the learner seeks, rather than the MOOC imposes.

MOOCs can be a great catalyst and engine for change – you can try things in there and fold them back into your curriculum. They’ve had 20,000 students and now have a lot of data on students. Hugh David will be talking on Wednesday about what they’ve discovered (taster for tomorrow). Institutions are going to have to become more agile and have feedback into the curriculum at a speed that we have not necessarily seen before. (In one generation, we’ve gone from courses that last for decades to courses that last for years to courses that last for one instance and then mutate? No wonder we’re tired!)

Learners are doing the learning: if they want to be a tourist, then that’s what is going to happen. You can’t force someone to finish a book – we wouldn’t call a book a failure if some people didn’t finish it! Are we being too harsh on the MOOC in how we assess the things that we can measure?

Ok, I can’t keep this short, sorry, readers! The next talk will be in another page.



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