CSEDU, Day 2, Invited Talk, “How are MOOCs Disrupting the Educational Landscape?”, (#CSEDU14 #AdelEd)

I’ve already spent some time with Professor Hugh Davis, from Southampton, and we’ve had a number of discussions already around some of the matters we’re discussing today, including the issue when you make your slides available before a talk and people react to the content of the slides without having the context of the talk! (This is a much longer post for another time.) Hugh’s slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/hcd99.

As Hugh noted, this is a very timely topic but he’s planning to go through the slides at speed so I may not be able to capture all of it. He tweeted his slides earlier, as I noted, and his comment that he was going to be debunking things earned him a minor firestorm. But, to summarise, his answer to the questions is “not really, probably” but we’ll come back to this. For those who don’t know, Southampton is about 25,000 students, Russell Group and Top 20 in the UK, with a focus on engineering and oceanography.

Back in 2012, the VC came back infused with the desire to put together a MOOC (apparently, Australians talked them into it – sorry, Hugh) and in December, 2012, Hugh was called in and asked to do MOOCs. Those who are keeping track will now that there was a lot of uncertainty about MOOCs in 2012 (and there still is) so the meeting called for staff to talk about this was packed – in a very big room. But this reflected excitement on the part of people – which waving around “giant wodges” of money to do blended learning had failed to engender, interestingly enough. Suddenly, MOOCs are more desirable because people wanted to do blended learning as long as you used the term MOOC. FutureLearn was produced and things went from there. (FutureLearn now has a lot of courses in it but I’ve mentioned this before. Interestingly, Monash is in this group so it’s not just a UK thing. Nice one, Monash!)

In this talk, Hugh’s planning to intro MOOCs, discuss the criticism, look at Higher Ed, ask why we are investing in MOOCs, what we can get out of it and then review the criticisms again. Hugh then defined what the term MOOC means: he defined it as a 10,000+, free and open registration, on-line course, where a course runs at a given time with a given cohort, without any guarantee of accreditation. (We may argue about this last bit later on.) MOOCs are getting shorter – with 4-6 weeks being the average for a MOOC, mostly due to fears of audience attrition over time.

The dreaded cMOOC/xMOOC timeline popped up from Florida Institute of Technology’s History of MOOCs:


and then we went into the discussion of the stepped xMOOC with instructor led and a well-defined and assessable journey and the connectivist cMOOC  where the network holds the knowledge and the learning comes from connections. Can we really actually truly separate MOOCs into such distinct categories? A lot of xMOOC forums show cMOOC characteristics and you have to wonder how much structure you can add to a cMOOC without it getting “x”-y. So what can we say about the definition of courses? How do we separate courses you can do any time from the cohort structure of the MOOC? The synchronicity of human collision is a very connectivisty idea which is embedded implicitly in every xMOOC because of the cohort.

What do you share? Content or the whole course? In MOOCS, the whole experience is available to you rather than just bits and pieces. And students tend to dip in and out when they can, rather than just eating what is doled out, which suggests that they are engaging. There are a lot of providers, who I won’t list here, but many of them are doing pretty much the same thing.

What makes a MOOC? Short videos, on-line papers, on-line activities, links toe external resources, discussions and off platform activity – but we can no longer depend upon students being physical campus students and thus we can’t guarantee that they share our (often privileged) access to resources such as published journals. So Southampton often offer précis of things that aren’t publicly available. Off platform is an issue for people who are purely on-line.

If you have 13,000 people you can’t really offer to mark all their essays so assessment has to depend upon the self-motivated students and they have to want to understand what is going on – self evaluation and peer review have to be used. This is great, according to Hugh, because we will have a great opportunity to find out more about peer review than we ever have before.

What are the criticisms? Well, they’re demographically pants – most of the students are UK (77%) and then a long way down US (2%), with some minor representation from everywhere else. This isn’t isolated to this MOOC. 70% of MOOC users come from the home country, regardless of where it’s run. Of course, we also know that the people who do MOOCs also tend to have degrees – roughly 70% from the MOOCS@Edinburgh2013 Report #1. These are serial learners (philomaths) who just love to learn things but don’t necessarily have the time or inclination (or resources) to go back to Uni. But for those who register, many don’t do anything, and those who do drop out at about 20% a week – more weeks, more drop-out. Why didn’t people continue? We’ll talk about this later. (See http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com) But is drop out a bad thing? We’ll comeback to this.

Then we have the pedagogy, where we attempt to put learning design into our structure in order to achieve learning outcomes – but this isn’t leading edge pedagogy and there is no real interaction between educators and learners. There are many discussions, and they happen in volume, but this discussion is only over 10% of the community, with 1% making the leading and original contributions. 1% of 10-100,000 can be a big number compared to a standard class room.

What about the current Higher Ed context – let’s look at “The Avalanche Report“. Basically, the education business is doomed!!! DOOOMED, I tell you! which is hardly surprising for a report that mostly originates from a publishing house who wants to be a financially successful disruptor. Our business model is going to collapse! We are going to have our Napster moment! Cats lying down with dogs! In the HE context, fees are going up faster than the value of degree (across most of the developed world, apparently). There is an increased demand for flexibility of study, especially for professional development, in the time that they have. The alternative educational providers are also cashing up and growing. With all of this in mind, on-line education should be a huge growing market and this is what the Avalanche report uses to argue that the old model is doomed. To survive, Unis will have to either globalise or specialise – no room in the middle. MOOCs appear to be the vanguard of the on-line program revolution, which explains why there is so much focus.

Is this the end of the campus? It’s not the end of the pithy slogan, that’s for sure. So let’s look at business models. How do we make money on MOOCs? Freemium where there are free bits and value-added bits  The value-adds can be statements of achievement or tutoring. There are also sponsored MOOCs where someone pays us to make a MOOC (for their purposes) or someone pays us to make a MOOC they want (that we can then use elsewhere.) Of course there’s also just the old “having access to student data” which is a very tasty dish for some providers.

What does this mean to Southampton? Well it’s a kind of branding and advertising for Southampton to extend their reputation. It might also generate new markets, bring them in via Informal Learning, move to Non-Formal Learning, then up to the Modules of Formal Learning and then doing whole programmes under more Formal learning. Hugh thinks this is optimistic, not least because not many people have commodified their product into individual modules for starters. Hugh thinks it’s about 60,000 Pounds to make a MOOC, which is a lot of money, and so you need a good business model to justify dropping this wad of cash. But you can get 60K back from enough people with a small fee. Maybe on-line learning is another way to get students than the traditional UK “boarding school” degrees. But the biggest thing is when people accept on-line certification as this is when the product becomes valuable to the people who want the credentials. Dear to my heart, is of course that this also assists in the democratisation of education – which is a fantastic thing.

What can we gain from MOOCs? Well, we can have a chunk of a running course for face-to-face students that runs as a MOOC and the paying students have benefited from interacting with the “free attendees” on the MOOC but we have managed to derive value from it. It also allows us to test things quickly and at scale, for rapid assessment of material quality and revision – it’s hard not to see the win-win here. This automatically drives the quality up as it’s for all of your customers, not just the scraps that you can feed to people who can’t afford to pay for it. Again, hooray for democratisation.

Is this the End of the Lecture? Possibly, especially as we can use the MOOC for content and flip to use the face-to-face for much more valuable things.

There are on-line degrees and there is a lot of money floating around looking for brands that they will go on-line (and by brand, we mean the University of X.)  Venture capitalist, publishers and start-ups are sniffing around on-line so there’s a lot of temptation out there and a good brand will mean a lot to the right market. What about fusing this and articulating the degree programme, combining F2F modules. on-line, MOOC, and other aspects.

Ah, the Georgia Tech On-line Masters in Computer Science has been mentioned. This was going to be a full MOOC with free and paying but it’s not fully open, for reasons that I need to put into another post. So it’s called a MOOC but it’s really an on-line course. You may or may not care about this – I do, but I’m in agreement with Hugh.

The other thing about MOOC is that we are looking at big, big data sets where these massive cohorts can be used to study educational approaches and what happens when we change learning and assessment at the big scale.

So let’s address the criticisms:

  1. Pedagogically Simplistic! Really, as simple as a lecture? Is it worse – no, not really and we have space to innovate!
  2. No support and feedback!  There could be, we’d just have to pay for it.
  3. Poor completion rates! Retention is not the aim, satisfaction is. We are not dealing with paying students.
  4. No accreditation! There could be but, again, you’d have to pay for someone to mark and accredit.
  5. This is going to kill Universities! Hugh doesn’t think so but we’ll had to get a bit nimble. So only those who are not agile and responsive to new business models may have problems – and we may have to do some unbundling.

Who is actually doing MOOCs? The life-long learner crowd (25-65, 505/50 M/F and nearly always have a degree). People who are after a skill (PD and CPD). Those with poor access to Higher education, unsurprisingly. There’s also a tiny fourth cohort who are those who are dipping a toe in Uni and are so small as to be insignificant. (The statistics source was questioned, somewhat abruptly, in the middle of Hugh’s flow, so you should refer to the Edinburgh report.”

The patterns of engagement were identified as auditing, completing and sampling, from the Coursera “Emerging Student Pattersn in Open-Enrollment MOOCs”.

To finish up, MOOCs can give us more choice and more flexibility. Hugh’s happy because people want do online learning and this helps to develop capacity to develop high quality on-line courses. This does lead to challenges for institutional strategy: changing beliefs, changing curriculum design, working with the right academic staff (and who pays them), growing teams of learning designers and multimedia producers, legal matters, speed and agility, budget and marketing. These are commercial operations so you have a lot of commercial issues to worry about! (For our approach, going Creative Commons was one of the best things we every did.)

Is it the end of the campus? … No, not really, Hugh thinks that the campus will keep going and there’ll just be more on-line learning. You don’t stop going to see good music because you’ve got a recording, for example.

And now for the conclusions! MOOCs are a great marketing device and have a good reach for people who were out of reach before, But we can take high quality content and re-embed back into blended learning, use it to drive teaching practice change, get some big data and building capacity for online learning.

This may be the vanguard of on-line disruption but if we’re ready for it, we can live for it!

Well, that was a great talk but goodness, does Hugh speak quickly! Have a look at his slides in the context of this because I think he’s balanced an optimistic view of the benefits with a sufficient cynical eye on the weasels who would have us do this for their own purposes.

CSEDU Day 1, Opening Panel, “Shaping the Future Learning Environment – Smart, Digital and Open?”

Only 32 papers out of 250 were accepted for the conference as full papers (12.8% acceptance, highly respectable) and were identified as being of “outstanding quality” – good work, PhD Student T and the CSER team! After the opening address, we went to the first panel, chaired by James Uhomobihi and Markus Helfert. The four keynote speakers are also on the panel but I’ll add more on them during their sessions.However, in summary, we had an academic, a maths instruction evangelist, a psychologist and a representative of engineering society bureaucracy (not as bad as it sounds). Everyone was saying how happy they were to be in Barcelona! (And who can blame them? This is one of my favourite cities and should be on everyone’s bucket list.)

Larissa Fradkin: “Mathematics Teaching: Is the future syncretic?”.

From Wikipedia: Syncretism /ˈsɪŋkrətɪzəm/ is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought.

Everyone was asked to give a position statement, which is a different take on panels for me, very interesting. Larissa had slides and she identified the old problem of the difficulty of teaching mathematics, alluding to the US mathematics wars. Are MOOCs the solution? We were promised a great deal yet much of it has not yet appeared. Well, Coursera materials appear to be useful, or useful in principle, but they don’t work in some classroom so they have to be localised. What is the role of the faculty member in this space? It’s a difficult question and the answer depends on time, teacher interest and student sophistication. We inherit the students that our preceding teachers have produced so text books and curricula have a big impact on the students that get turned out, if educational resources are presented in an unquestioned way. Trudging through exercises and content is one way to get through but what does it do? Does it teach? Does it prepare students for tests? Texts and resources are often, despite what publishers and authors claim, unaligned with the curriculum.

Schmidt’s last study (ref?) shows that quality teachers and quality materials are the top two considerations for inhaling student learning. We can produce well-crafted eBooks and MOOCs with editable and updatable content to give a flexible product – but the “rush to market” product doesn’t meet this requirement. The cognitive tutor was mentioned as AI-enriched educational software, under John Anderson’s model, but they are incredibly difficult to develop. There are tools out there that combine cognitive psychology and AI, CIRCLE and AutoTutor. However, most tool development is driven by psychologists and cognitive scientists rather than discipline experts and this can be a problem.

The speaker finished with a discussion on a semi-traditionalist semi-constructivist approach to rigorous instruction that required much less memorisation, focusing on conceptual understanding and developing more master than a straight constructivist approach. (Not quite sure of the details here but this will be extended in a later talk.)

Erik de Graffe gave his first slide from tomorrow on Team Learning in Engineering Education, starting with the statement “people are not born to work in a team”, which is an interesting statement given the entirety of human society. Students do like working together but the first meeting of the group can be challenging and they don’t know how to start. (Is this a cultural artefact based on the isolation and protection inherent in privilege? Time to get our Hofstader’s cultural dimensions hats on because this sounds a lot like a communal/separate categorical separation.) Erik noted that “team” is a word for animals harnessed together to apply more force in one direction – which is not what we want in a human team. (Although this is perhaps another cultural insight). Erik’s second statement is that communication is highly inaccurate: cog scientists estimate that the amount of information we process from the potential information around us is less than 1%. Most of the information that reaches our sense are ignored and yet we still make decisions. (Given I’m listening to the speaker while summarising another discussion and some slides, I’m wondering if this is the best way to express this while not identifying the difference in task focus and activities that are relevant to the task at hand.) Erik believes that on-line will make this worse. (I really need to go to his talk to see the evidence and caveats in all of this.) Erik then projected his own behaviour in on-line meetings and low attention to the general case – if Erik is in a meeting with you, get him to leave his camera on or he will be off making coffee. 🙂 Erik then moved on to virtual identities that allow people to do things in the alternative reality that they wouldn’t do in real life. Urm. I need to see the talk but this all seems a little dated to me but, hey, what do I know until I’ve seen the talk?

The next speaker, Steve, asked us if we shut the door while teaching (I don’t usually unless the noise get stop bad because it improves air flow, rather than for pedagogical or privacy reasons) but segued into a discussion on openness. Steve then referred to the strange issue of us providing free content to journal publishers that we then pay for. (I wrote a little something on this years ago for SIGCSE.) Steve then referred to the different time in closed and open access journals – the open access journal was “in print” in four weeks, versus the 18 months for the closed access, and the citation counts were more than an order of magnitude different. You can also measure the readers in an open access format. Open access materials are also crucial to scholars – Steve licenses all of his materials under Creative Commons so you can use his work and all you have to do is to acknowledge the source. When you open your content, you become an educator for the world. If people need education, then who are we to not provide the materials that they need? When you become an open scholar, you must prepare for criticism because many people will read things. You be also be ready for dialogue and discourse. It’s not always easy but it is very valuable. (I agree with this wholeheartedly.)

The next speaker, José Carlos Quadrado, President of IFEES, tries to infect people with good ideas about Engineering Education as part of his role. Is the future learning environment smart, digital and open? Talking about smart, an example is the new smart watch, a watch that is also a phone or linked to a device – what do we mean? When you have a smart phone, you have approximately 1.4 tons of technology from the 1980, which makes us wonder if smart means leaner? When we are going digital is this replacing paper with silicon? How do we handle factual authority when we have so much openly available where the traditional peer review and publishing oversight mechanisms are eroding and changing rapidly. (Another slightly creaky perspective although with a great deal of self-awareness.)

Teaching and learning tools have changed a great deal over the same time but have our pedagogical approaches also changed or been truly enhanced by this? There were some pretty broad generational (X vs Z) comparisons that I question the validity of. The notion that students of today couldn’t sit throughout this session is not something I agree with. Again, the message from the panel, with a couple of exceptions, is pretty dated and I have a bit of an urge to get off a lawn. Oh, and we finished with an Einstein quote after a name drop to a famous scientist. Look, I accept a lot of the things that are being said on the stage but we have to stop acting as if natural selection works in 18 months and that the increasing sophistication of later generations is anything more than an ability to make better choices because more and better choices are available. Oh, another Einstein quote.

I realise that I have started editorialising here, which I try not to do, but I am being bombarded with position statements that are leaden in their adherence to received wisdom on young people and those smart young. These issues are just clouding the real focus of the systems that we could use, the approaches we could take and the fact that for every highly-advanced Z Westerner in a low power-distance, highly self-centred approach, we have 100-1000 Pre-X non-Westerners in a high power-distance and communal environment.

We’re in question time. Erik asked about the ship analogy – when ships were made of wood, men were made of iron, and by moving to iron ships, we weakened people. Erik then went on to the question “Do smart phones make stupid people?” which basically nails down the coffin lid on all of the problems I’ve had with this opening. Steve, in response to another question, raised the connectivist argument for networking and distributed knowledge storage, which smart phones of course facilitate. Sadly, this foray into common sense was derailed by some sophistry on young people trying to be smart before they are clever.

There was a good point made that Universities will continue to be involved in quality education but they are no longer the bastions of information – that particular ship has sailed. Oh, there we go, we’ve dipped down again. Apparently we have now changed the way we buy things because we are now all concerned with perception. People are buying smart phones, not because they are smart, but because they want instant gratification. Generation Z are apparently going to be the generation that will reject everything and walk away. Eh, maybe.

Perhaps I shall come back to this later.

CSEDU 2014, Day 1, (6th International Conference on Computer Supported Education) (#CSEDU #CSEDU2014 #AdelED)

Hello again, fearless readers. I’m in Barcelona to present a paper on behalf of the CSER (I’ll talk about this a bit more later but we’re very happy to be here). It’s very early for Barcelona, which is far more of a late night town, but we’ll see how we go with getting delegates into the room. It’s 9 minutes to the session and there are 8 people here. 🙂

As per my recent practice, I’m going to try and live blog the sessions if I can, except for my own, and I hope you find it useful. Here we go again!

Ahhh, Barcelona!

Ahhh, Barcelona!