5 Things I would Like My Students to Be Able to Perceive

Our students will go out into the world and will be exposed to many things but, if we have done our job well, then they will not just be pushed around by the pressure of the events that they witness, but they will be able to hold their ground and perceive what is really going on, to place their own stamp on the world.

Balance is one of the most useful outcomes of valid perception.

I don’t tell my students how to think, although I know that it’s a commonly held belief that everyone at a Uni tries to shape the political and developmental thought of their students, I just try to get them to think. This is probably going to have the side effect of making them thoughtful, potentially even critical of things that don’t make sense, and I realise that this is something that not everybody wants from junior citizens. But that’s my job.

Here is a list of five things that I think I’d like a thoughtful person to be able to perceive. It’s not the definitive five or the perfect five but these are the ones that I have today.

1. It would be nice if people were able to reliably tell the difference between 1/3 and 1/4 and understand that 1/3 is larger than 1/4. Being able to work out the odds of things (how likely they are) require you to be able to look at two things that are smaller than one and get them in the right order so you can say “this is more likely than that”. Working on percentages can make it easier but this requires people to do division, rather than just counting things and showing the fraction.But I’d like my students to be able to perceive how this can be a fundamental misunderstanding that means that some people can genuinely look at comparative probabilities and not be able to work out that this simple mathematical comparison is valid. And I’d like them to be able to think about how to communicate this to help people understand.
2. A perceptive person would be able to spot when something isn’t free. There are many people who go into casinos and have a lot of fun gambling, eating very cheap or unlimited food, staying in cheap hotels and think about what a great deal it is. However, every game you play in a casino is designed so that casinos do not make a loss – but rather than just saying “of course” we need to realise that casinos make enough money to offer “unlimited buffet shrimp” and “cheap luxury rooms” and “free luxury for whales” because they are making so much money. Nothing in a casino is free. It is paid for by the people who lose money there.This is not, of course, to say that you shouldn’t go and gamble if you’re an adult and you want to, but it’s to be able to see and clearly understand that everything around you is being paid for, if not in a way that is transparently direct. There are enough people who suffer from the gambler’s fallacy to put this item on the list.
3. A perceptive person would have a sense of proportion. They would not start issuing death threats in an argument over operating systems (or ever, preferably) and they would not consign discussions of human rights to amusing after-dinner conversation, as if this was something to be played with.
4. A perceptive person would understand the need to temper the message to suit the environment, while still maintaining their own ethical code regarding truth and speaking up. But you don’t need to tell a 3-year old that their painting is awful any more than you need to humiliate a colleague in public for not knowing something that you know. If anything, it makes the time when you do deliver the message bluntly much more powerful.
5. Finally, a perceptive person would be able to at least try to look at life through someone else’s eyes and understand that perception shapes our reality. How we appear to other people is far more likely to dictate their reaction than who we really are. If you can’t change the way you look at the world then you risk getting caught up on your own presumptions and you can make a real fool of yourself by saying things that everyone else knows aren’t true.

There’s so much more and I’m sure everyone has their own list but it’s, as always, something to think about.

Rules: As For Them, So For Us

In a previous post, I mentioned a game called “Dog Eat Dog” where players role-play the conflict between Colonist and Native Occupiers, through playing out scenarios that both sides seek to control, with the result being the production of a new rule that encapsulates the ‘lesson’ of the scenario. I then presented education as being a good fit for this model but noted that many of the rules that students have to be obey are behavioural rather than knowledge-focussed. A student who is ‘playing through’ education will probably accumulate a list of rules like this (not in any particular order):

1. Always be on time for class
2. Always present your own work
3. Be knowledgable
4. Prepare for each activity
5. Participate in class
6. Submit your work on time

But, as noted in Dog Eat Dog, the nasty truth of colonisation is that the Colonists are always superior to the Colonised. So, rule 0 is actually: Students are inferior to Teachers. Now, that’s a big claim to make – that the underlying notion in education is one of inferiority. In the Dog Eat Dog framing, the superiority manifests as dominance in decision making and the ability to intrude into every situation. We’ll come back to this.

If we tease apart the rules for students then are some obvious omissions that we would like to see such as “be innovative” or “be creative”, except that these rules are very hard to apply as pre-requisites for progress. We have enough potential difficulty with the measurement of professional skills, without trying to assess if one thing is a creative approach while another is just missing the point or deliberate obfuscation. It’s understandable that five of the rules presented are those that we can easily control with extrinsic motivational factors – 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are generally presented as important because of things like mandatory attendance, plagiarism rules and lateness penalties. 3, the only truly cognitive element on the list, is a much harder thing to demand and, unsurprisingly, this is why it’s sometimes easier to seek well-behaved students than it is to seek knowledgable, less-controlled students, because it’s so much harder to see that we’ve had a  positive impact. So, let us accept that this list is naturally difficult to select and somewhat artificial, but it is a reasonable model for what people expect of a ‘good’ student.

Let me ask you some questions before we proceed.

1. A student is always late for class. Could there be a reasonable excuse for this and, if so, does your system allow for it?
2. Students occasionally present summary presentations from other authors, including slides prepared by scholarly authors. How do you interpret that?
3. Students sometimes show up for classes and are obviously out of their depth. What do you do? Should they go away and come back later when they’re ready? Do they just need to try harder?
4. Students don’t do the pre-reading and try to cram it in just before a session. Is this kind of “just in time” acceptable?
5. Students sometimes sit up the back, checking their e-mail, and don’t really want to get involved. Is that ok? What if they do it every time?
6. Students are doing a lot of things and often want to shift around deadlines or get you to take into account their work from other courses or outside jobs. Do you allow this? How often? Is there a penalty?

As you can see, I’ve taken each of the original ‘good student’ points and asked you to think about it. Now, let us accept that there are ultimate administrative deadlines (I’ve already talked about this a lot in time banking) and we can accept that the student is aware of these and are not planning to put all their work off until next century.

Now, let’s look at this as it applies to teaching staff. I think we can all agree that a staff member who meets that list are going to achieve a lot of their teaching goals. I’m going to reframe the questions in terms of staff.

1. You have to drop your kids off every morning at day care. This means that you show up at your 9am lecture 5 minutes late every day because you physically can’t get there any faster and your partner can’t do it because he/she is working shift work. How do you explain this to your students?
2. You are teaching a course from a textbook which has slides prepared already. Is it ok to take these slides and use them without any major modification?
3. You’ve been asked to cover another teacher’s courses for two weeks due to their illness. You have a basis in the area but you haven’t had to do anything detailed for it in over 10 years and you’ll also have to give feedback on the final stages of a lengthy assignment. How do you prepare for this and what, if anything, do you tell the class to brief them on your own lack of expertise?
4. The staff meeting is coming around and the Head of School wants feedback on a major proposal and discussion at that meeting. You’ve been flat out and haven’t had a chance to look at it, so you skim it on the way to the meeting and take it with you to read in the preliminaries. Given the importance of the proposal, do you think this is a useful approach?
5. It’s the same staff meeting and Doctor X is going on (again) about radical pedagogy and Situationist philosophy. You quickly catch up on some important work e-mails and make some meetings for later in the week, while you have a second.
6. You’ve got three research papers due, a government grant application and your Head of School needs your workload bid for the next calendar year. The grant deadline is fixed and you’ve already been late for three things for the Head of School. Do you drop one (or more) of the papers or do you write to the convenors to see if you can arrange an extension to the deadline?

Is this artificial? Well, of course, because I’m trying to make a point. Beyond being pedantic on this because you know what I’m saying, if you answered one way for the staff member and other way for the student then you have given the staff member more power in the same situation than the student. Just because we can all sympathise with the staff member (Doctor X sounds horribly familiar, doesn’t he?) doesn’t that the student’s reasons, when explored and contextualised, are not equally valid.

If we are prepared to listen to our students and give their thoughts, reasoning and lives as much weight and value as our own, then rule 0 is most likely not in play at the moment – you don’t think your students are inferior to you. If you thought that the staff member was being perfectly reasonable and yet you couldn’t see why a student should be extended the same privileges, even where I’ve asked you to consider the circumstances where it could be, then it’s possible that the superiority issue is one that has become well-established at your institution.

Ultimately, if this small list is a set of goals, then we should be a reasonable exemplar for our students. Recently, due to illness, I’ve gone from being very reliable in these areas, to being less reliable on things like the level of preparation I used to do and timeliness. I have looked at what I’ve had to do and renegotiated my  deadlines, apologising and explaining where I need to. As a result, things are getting done and, as far as I know, most people are happy with what I’m doing. (That’s acceptable but they used to be very happy. I have  way to go.) I still have a couple of things to fix, which I haven’t forgotten about, but I’ve had to carry out some triage. I’m honest about this because, that way, I encourage my students to be honest with me. I do what I can, within sound pedagogical framing and our administrative requirements, and my students know that. It makes them think more, become more autonomous and be ready to go out and practice at a higher level, sooner.

This list is quite deliberately constructed but I hope that, within this framework, I’ve made my point: we have to be honest if we are seeing ourselves as superior and, in my opinion, we should work more as equals with each other.

The Part and the Whole

I like words a lot but I also love words that introduce me to whole new ways of thinking. I remember first learning the word synecdoche (most usually pronounced si-NEK-de-kee), where you used the word for part of something to refer to that something as a whole (or the other way around). Calling a car ‘wheels’ or champagne ‘bubbles’ are good examples of this. It’s generally interesting which parts people pick for synecdoche, because it emphasises what is important about something. Cars have many parts but we refer to it in parts as wheelsI and motor. I could bore you to tears with the components of champagne but we talk about the bubbles. In these cases, placing emphasis upon one part does not diminish the physical necessity of the remaining components in the object but it does tell us what the defining aspect of each of them is often considered to be.

Bubbles!

There are many ways to extract a defining characteristic and, rather than selecting an individual aspect for relatively simple structures (and it is terrifying that a car is simple in this discussion), we use descriptive statistics to allow us to summarise large volumes of data to produce measures such as meanvariance and other useful things. In this case, the characteristic we obtain is not actually part of the data that we’re looking at. This is no longer synecdoche, this is statistics, and while we can use these measures to arrive at an understanding (and potentially move to the amazing world of inferential statistics), we run the risk of talking about groups and their measurements as if the measurements had as much importance as the members of the group.

I have been looking a lot at learning analytics recently and George Siemens makes a very useful distinction between learning analytics, academic analytics and data mining. When we analyse the various data and measures that come out of learning, we want to use this to inform human decision making to improve the learning environment, the quality of teaching and the student experience. When we look at the performance of the academy, we worry about things like overall pass rates, recruitment from external bodies and where our students go on to in their careers. Again, however, this is to assist humans in making better decisions. Finally, and not pejoratively but distinctly, data mining delves deep into everything that we have collected, looking for useful correlations that may or may not translate into human decision making. By separating our analysis of the teaching environment from our analysis of the academic support environment, we can focus on the key aspects in the specific area rather than doing strange things that try to drag change across two disparate areas.

When we start analysis, we start to see a lot of numbers: acceptable failure rates, predicted pass rates, retention figures, ATARs, GPAs. The reason that I talk about data analytics as a guide to human decision making is that the human factor reminds us to focus on the students who are part of the figures. It’s no secret that I’m opposed to curve grading because it uses a clear statement of numbers (70% of students will pass) to hide the fact that a group of real students could fail because they didm’ perform at the same level as their peers in the same class. I know more than enough about the ways that a student’s performance can be negatively affected by upbringing and prior education to know that this is not just weak sauce, but a poisonous and vicious broth to be serving to students under the guide of education.

I can completely understand that some employers want to employ people who are able to assimilate information quickly and put it into practice. However, let’s be honest, an ability to excel at University is not necessarily an indication of that. They might coincide, certainly, but it’s no guarantee. When I applied for Officer Training in the Army, they presented me with a speed and accuracy test, as part of the battery of psychological tests, to see if I could do decision making accurately at speed while under no more stress than sitting in a little room being tested. Later on, I was tested during field training, over and over again, to see what would happen. The reason? The Army knows that the skills they need in certain areas need specific testing.

Do you want detailed knowledge? Well, the numbers conspire again to undermine you because a focus on numerical grade measures to arrive at a single characteristic value for a student’s performance (GPA) makes students focus on getting high marks rather than learning. The GPA is not the same as the wheels of the car – it has no relationship to the applicable ability of the student to arbitrary tasks nor, if I may wax poetic, does it give you a sense of the soul of the student.

We have some very exciting tools at our disposal and, with careful thought and the right attitude, there is no doubt that analytics will become a valuable way to develop learning environments, improve our academies and find new ways to do things well. But we have to remember that these aggregate measures are not people, that “10% of students” represented real, living human beings who need to be counted, and that we have a long way to go before have an analytical approach that has a fraction of the strength of synecdoche.

CSEDU, Day 3, Final Keynote, “Digital Age Learning – The Changing Face of Online Education”, (#csedu14 #AdelED @timbuckteeth)

Now, I should warn you all that I’ve been spending time with Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) and we agree on many things, so I’m either going to be in furious agreement with him or I will be in shock because he suddenly reveals himself to be a stern traditionalist who thinks blended learning is putting a textbook in the Magimix. Only time will tell, dear reader, so let’s crack on, shall we? Steve is from the Plymouth Institute of Education, conveniently located in Plymouth University, and is a ferocious blogger and tweeter (see his handle above).

Erik introduced Steve by saying that Steve didn’t need much introduction and noted that Steve was probably one of the reasons that we had so many people here on the last day! (This is probably true, the afternoon on the last day of a European conference is normally notable due to the almost negative number of participants.)

When you’re a distance educator, the back of the classroom can be thousands of miles away” (Steve Wheeler)

Steve started with the idea that on-line learning is changing and that his presentation was going to be based on the idea that the future will be richly social and intensely personal. Paradoxical? Possibly but let’s find out. Oh, look, an Einstein quote – we should have had Einstein bingo cards. It’s a good one and it came with an anecdote (which was a little Upstairs Downstairs) so I shall reproduce it here.

I never teach my students. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein

There are two types of learning: shallow (rote) learning that we see when cramming, where understanding is negligible or shallow if there at all, and then there is the fluid intelligence, the deeper kind of learning that draws on your previous learning and your knowledge structures. But what about strategic learning where we switch quickly between the two. Poor pedagogy can suppress these transitions and lock people into one spot.

There are three approaches here: knowledge (knowing that, which is declarative), wisdom (knowing how, which is procedural) and transformation (knowing why, which is critical). I’ve written whole papers about the missing critical layer so I’m very happy to see Steve saying that the critical layer is the one that we often do the worst with. This ties back into blooms where knowledge is cognitive, wisdom is application and transformation is analysis and evaluation. Learning can be messy but it’s transformative and it can be intrinsically hard to define. Learning is many things – sorry, Steve, not going to summarise that whole sentence.

We want to move through to the transformational stage of learning.

What is the first attempt at distance learning? St Paul’s name was tossed out, as was Moses. But St Paul was noted as the first correspondence course offered. (What was the assessment model, I wonder, for Epistola.) More seriously, it was highly didactic and one-way, and it was Pitman who established a two-way correspondence course that was both laborious and asynchronous but it worked. Then we had television and in 1968, the Stanford Instructions TV Network popped up. In 1970, Steve saw an example of video conferencing that had been previously confined to Star Trek. I was around in the early 70s and we were all agog about the potential of the future – where is my moon base, by the way? But the tools were big and bulk – old video cameras were incredibly big and ridiculously short lived in their battery life… but it worked! Then people saw uses for the relationship between this new technology and pedagogy. Reel-to-reel, copiers, projectors, videos: all of these technologies were effective for their teaching uses at the time.

Of course, we moved on to computer technology including the BBC Model B (hooray!) and the reliable but hellishly noisy dot matrix printer. The learning from these systems was very instructional, using text and very simplistic in multiple choice question approach. Highly behaviouristic but this is how things were done and the teaching approach matched the technology. Now, of course, we’ve gone tablet-based, on-line gaming environments that have non-touch technologies such as Kinect, but the principle remains the same: over the years we’ve adapted technology to pedagogy.

But it’s only now that, after Sir Tim Berners-Lee, we have the World Wide Web that on-line learning is now available to everybody, where before it was sort-of available but not anywhere near as multiplicable. Now, for our sins, we have Learning Management Systems, the most mixed of blessings, and we still have to ask what are we using them for, how are we using them? Is our pedagogy changing? Is out connection with our students changing? Illich (1972) criticised educational funnels that had a one-directional approach and intend motivated educational webs that allow the transformation of each moment of living into one of learning, sharing and caring.

What about the Personal Learning Environment (PLE)? This is the interaction of tools such as blogs, twitters and e-Portfolios, then add in the people we interact with, and then the other tools that we use – and this would be strongly personal to an individual. If you’ve ever tried to use your partner’s iPad, you know how quickly personalisation changes your perception of a tool! Wheeler and Malik (2010) discuses the PLE that comprises the personal learning network and personal web tools, with an eye on more than the classroom, but as a part of life-long learning. Steve notes (as Stephen Heppel did) that you may as well get students to use their PLEs in the open because they’ll be using them covertly otherwise: the dreaded phone under the table becomes a learning tool when it’s on top of the table. Steve discussed the embedded MOOC that Hugh discussed yesterday to see how the interaction between on-line and f2f students can benefit from each other.

In the late ’80s, the future was “multi-media” and everything had every other medium jammed into it (and they don’t like it up ’em) and then the future was going to converge on the web. Internet take up is increasing: social, political and economic systems change incrementally, but technology changes exponentially. Steve thinks the future is smart mobile and pervasive, due to miniaturisation and capability of new devices. If you have WiFi then you have the world.

Change is not linear, it’s exponential.” Kurzweil

Looking at the data, there are no more people in the world with mobile phones than people without, although some people have more than one. (Someone in the audience had four, perhaps he was a Telco?) Of course, some reasons for this are because mobile phones replace infrastructure: there are entire African banks that run over mobile networks, as an example. Given that we always have a computer in our pocket, how can we promote learning everywhere? We are using these all the time, everywhere, and this changes what we can do because we can mix leisure and learning without having to move to fixed spaces.

Steve then displayed the Intel info graphic “What Happens In an Internet Minute“, but it’s scary to see how much paper is lagging these days. What will the future look like? What will future learning look like? If we think exponentially then things are changing fast. There is so much content being generated, there must be something that we can use (DOGE photos and Justin Bieber vides excepted) for our teaching and learning. But, given that 70% of what we learn is if informal and outside of the institution, this is great! But we need to be able to capture this and this means that we should produce a personal learning network, because trying to drink down all that content by yourself is exceeding our ability! By building a network, we build a collection of filters and aggregators that are going to help us to bring sense out of the chaos. Given that nobody can learn everything, we can store our knowledge in other people and know where to go when we need that knowledge. A plank of connectivist theory and leading into paragogy, where we learn from each other. This also leads us to distributed cognition, where we think across the group (a hive mind, if you will) but, more simply, you learn from one person, then another, and it becomes highly social.

Steve showed us a video on “How have you used your own technology to enhance your learning“, which you can watch on YouTube. Lucky old 21st Century you! This is a recording of some of Steve’s students answering the question and sharing their personal learning networks with us. There’s an interesting range of ideas and technologies in use so it’s well worth a look. Steve runs a Twitter wall in his classroom and advertises the hashtag for a given session so questions, challenges and comments go out on to that board and that allows Steve to see it but also retweet it to his followers, to allow the exponential explosion that we would want in a personal learning network. Students accessed when they harness the tools they need to solve their problems.

Steve showed us a picture of about 10,000 Germans taking pictures of the then-Presidential Elect Barack Obama because he was speaking in Berlin and it was a historical moment that people wanted to share with other people. This is an example of the ubiquitous connection that we now enjoy and, in many ways, take for granted. It is a new way of thinking and it causes a lot of concern for people who want to stick to previous methods. (There will come a time when a paper exam for memorised definitions will make no sense because people have computers connected to their eyes – so let’s look at asking questions in ways that always require people to actually use their brains, shall we.) Steve then showed us a picture of students “taking notes” by taking pictures of the whiteboard: something that we are all very accustomed to now. Yes, some teachers are bothered by this but why? What is wrong with instantaneous capture versus turning a student into a slow organic photocopying machine? Let’s go to a Papert quote!

I am convinced that heh best learning takes place when the learner takes charge,” Seymour Papert

We learn by doing“, Piaget, 1960

We learn by making“, Papert, 1960.

Steve alluded to constructionist theory and pointed out how much we have to learn about learning by making. He, like many of us, doesn’t subscribe to generational or digital native/immigrant theory. It’s an easy way of thinking but it really gets in the way, especially when it makes teachers fearful of weighing in because they feel that their students know more than they do. Yes, they might, but there is no grand generational guarantee. It’s not about your age, it’s about your context. It’s about how we use the technology, it’s not about who we are and some immutable characteristics that define us as in or out. (WTF does not, for the record, mean “Welcome to Facebook”. Sorry, people.) There will be cultural differences but we are, very much, all in this together.

Steve showed us a second video, on the Future of Publishing, which you can watch again! Some of you will find it confronting that Gaga beats Gandhi but cultures change and evolve  and you need to watch to the end of the video because it’s really rather clever. Don’t stop halfway through! As Steve notes, it’s about perception and, as I’ve noted before, I’m pretty sure that people put people into the categories that they were already thinking about – it’s one of the reasons I have such a strong interest in grounded theory. If you have a “Young bad” idea in your head then everything you see will tend to confirm this. Perception and preconception can heavily interfere with each other but using perception, and being open to change, is almost always a better idea.

Steve talked about Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow, the zone you’re in when the level of challenge roughly matches your level of skill and you balance anxiety and boredom. Then, for maximum Nick points, he got onto Vygotsky’s  Zone of Proximal Development, where we build knowledge better and make leaps when we do it with other people, using the knowledgable other to scaffold the learning. Steve also talked about mashing them up, and I draw the reader back to something I wrote on this a whole ago on Repenning’s work.

We can do a lot of things with computers but we don’t have to do all the things that we used to do and slavishly translate them across to the new platform. Waters (2011) talks about new learners: learners who are more self-directed and able to make more and hence learn more.

There are many digital literacies: social networking, privacy management, identity management, creating content, organising content, reusing and repurposing, filtering and selection, self presentation, transliteracy (using any platform to get your ideas across). We build skills, that become competencies, that become literacies and, finally, potentially become masteries.

Steve finished with in discussing the transportability of skills using driving in the UK and the US as an example. The skill is pretty much the same but safe driving requires a new literacy when you make a large contextual change. Digital environments can be alien environments so you need to be able to take the skills that you have now and be able to put them into the new contexts. How do you know that THIS IS SHOUTING?  It’s a digital literacy.

Steve presented a quote from Socrates, no, Socrates, no, Plato:

Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

and used the rather delightful neologism “Darwikianism” to illustrate evolving improvement on on-line materials over time. (And illustrated it with humour and pictures.) Great talk with a lot of content! Now I have to go and work on my personal learning network!

This is not actually Socrates. Sorry!

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.

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.

You want thinkers. Let us produce them.

I was at a conference recently where the room (about 1000 people from across the business and educational world) were asked what they would like to say to everyone in the room, if they had a few minutes. I thought about this a lot because, at the time, I had half an idea but it wasn’t in a form that would work on that day. A few weeks later, in a group of 100 or so, I was asked a similar question and I managed to come up with something coherent. What follows here is a more extended version of what I said, with relevant context.

If I could say anything to the parents and  future employers of my students, it would be to STOP LOOKING AT GRADES as some meaningful predictor of the future ability of the student. While measures of true competency are useful, the current fine-grained but mostly arbitrary measurements of students, with rabid competitiveness and the artificial divisions between grade bands, do not fulfil this purpose. When an employer demands a GPA of X, there is no guaranteed true measure of depth of understanding, quality of learning or anything real that you can use, except for conformity and an ability to colour inside the lines. Yes, there will be exceptional people with a GPA of X, but there will also be people whose true abilities languished as they focused their energies on achieving that false grail. The best person for your job may be the person who got slightly (or much) lower marks because they were out doing additional tasks that made them the best person.

Please. I waste a lot of my time giving marks when I could be giving far more useful feedback, in an environment where that feedback could be accepted and actual positive change could take place. Instead, if I hand back a 74 with comments, I’ll get arguments about the extra mark to get to 75 rather than discussions of the comments – but don’t blame the student for that attitude. We have created a world in which that kind of behaviour is both encouraged and sensible. It’s because people keep demanding As and Cs to somehow grade and separate people that we still use them. I couldn’t switch my degree over to “Competent/Not Yet Competent” tomorrow because, being frank, we’re not MIT or Stanford and people would assume that all of my students had just scraped by – because that’s how we’re all trained.

If you’re an employer then I realise that it’s very demanding but please, where you can, look at the person wherever you can and ask your industrial bodies that feed back to education to focus on ensuring that we develop competent, thinking individuals who can practice in your profession, without forcing them to become grade-haggling bean counters who would cut a group member’s throat for an A.

If you’re a parent, then I would like to ask you to think about joining that group of parents who don’t ask what happened to that extra 1% when a student brings home a 74 or 84. I’m not going to tell you how to raise your children, it’s none of my business, but I can tell you, from my professional and personal perspective, that it probably won’t achieve what you want. Is your student enjoying the course, getting decent marks and showing a passion and understanding? That’s pretty good and, hopefully, if the educators, the parents and the employers all get it right, then that student can become a happy and fulfilled human being.

Do we want thinkers? Then we have to develop the learning environments in which we have the freedom and capability to let them think. But this means that this nonsense that there is any real difference between a mark of 84 and a mark of 85 has to stop and we need to think about how we develop and recognise true measures of competence and suitability that go beyond a GPA, a percentage or a single letter grade.

You cannot contain the whole of a person in a single number. You shouldn’t write the future of a student on such a flimsy structure.

Spot the Computer Science Student and Win!

CS Students get a pretty bad rap on that whole “stereotype” thing. Given that I’m an evidence-based researcher, let’s do some tests to find out if we can, in fact, spot the CS student. Here’s a quick game for you. Hidden in this image are 3 Computer Science students.

Which ones are they? (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

I’ll make it easy for you to reference them – we’ll number the rows from the top (A) to the bottom (H) and the images from left to right as 1 to … well, whatever, because the rows aren’t the same length. So the picture with the cactus is A2, ok? Got it? Go!

Who did you pick? Got the details? Now scroll down.

Of course, if you know me at all, you probably know the answer to this already.

They’re ALL Computer Science students – well, they’re found in an image search for “I am a Computer Science student” and, while this is not guaranteed, it means that most of these students are in CS. Now, knowing that, go back and look at the ones you thought were music majors, physicists, business students, economics people. Yes, one or two of them probably look more likely than most but – wait for it – they don’t all look the same. Yeah, you know that, and I know that, but we just have to keep plugging away to make sure that everyone ELSE gets that. Heck, the pictures above are showing less pairs of glasses per person than you would expect from the average and there’s not even one light sabre! WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE STEREOTYPES???

This is only page 2 of the Image Search and I picked it because I liked the idea of some inanimate objects being labelled as CS students as well. Oh, that’s right, I said that you’d win something. You know never to trust me with statements unless I’m explicit in my use of terminology now. Sounds like a win to me!

(Of course, the guy with red hair is giving the strong impression that he now knows that you were looking at him on the Internet. I don’t know if you wanted that but that’s just how it is.)