Education should not be a popularity contest

My smallest spinach plantThe thesis of Academic Rock Stars and Curriculum DJs is that ...new rock stars are being created and nurtured by the breakthroughs in massively open online courses (MOOCs) I would like to offer a slightly different perspective.

1. When drawing comparisons between "music rock stars" and well-connected educators, Microsoft Research's Daniel Reed poses a "culturally simple" question:  
As a student, would you rather take a required general education or specialty elective course from one of several internationally rated instructors and/or lauded scholars, or be constrained to the pedagogical skill and intellectual acumen of the professors at a single university?"

Albeit a simple question to ask, answering it is quite complex.  Many assumptions are embedded in the original question that can lead to misconceptions.  (i) Students who choose a professor at the attending university are choosing a professor who is not connected to the outside world, fails to offer classes that connect students to the outside world, and fails to use blended learning or online blended learning as part of their teaching and learning methodology.  (ii) Choosing an "internationally rated instructor" inherently correlates to an academic's "rock start" (i.e., popularity) status.  (iii) An internationally rating system for instructors is valid, reliable, and unbiased.  And (iv) popular academics are inherently better than unpopular academics.  

2. What Salman Khan of Khan Academy did was fundamentally flip not only the classroom, but also the economic model of higher education.

Salman Khan does not flip a classroom by simply delivering small chunks of information online.  Educators flip their classrooms if their synchronous learning experiences become more dynamic and authentic as a result of their respective learners spending more time outside of class learning new information asynchronously.  This alone does not answer additional questions that relate to the complexity of successfully flipping a classroom.  

  • How much information learners access asynchronously is new and how much acts as a review of something they have already seen? 
  •  How do understandings from information accessed asynchronously enable learners to perform in authentic performance tasks in the presence of the educator, classmates, and other involved actors? And how much of this process is dependent on the course, teacher preference, and student profiles?
  •  How do learning outcomes differ between taking the exact same context and comparing a traditional class with a flipped class? As if...
Final point.  To understand the concept of a flipped classroom is to understand the relationship between the asynchronous and the synchronous forms of communication, the way content is being delivered, and the learning theories that apply to any particular educational context.

3. The business possibilities are endless...

Why discuss business opportunities when the point seems to be about how abstract concepts like MOOCs and the flipped classroom are changing how learning will occur in higher education.  Any business solution is as complex as any solution related to learning.  Ok, so there are more choices for informal learning for educators...y que?

4. The immediate future of MOOCs may be uncertain...

This is where trying to define a MOOC becomes problematic.  Just try defining massive, open, and online, and one begins to see whyWhile we're at it, try defining terms like course, class, syllabus, lesson, lesson plan, etc.  Defining abstract concepts can sometimes overshadow the complexity of understanding these terms in any practical sense.  But realizing the infinite number of possible meanings of these terms, my guess is that "open, online courses" will become more ubiquitous as they become less "massive".  That is, the size and popularity of the MOOC alone will say little about how formative assessment promotes learning.

5. ...one thing is clear – the world of higher education is changing in ways that we never could have imagined.

Is this really that clear?  I think what's clear is that institutions in higher education will embrace or be forced to take advantage of the opportunities that informal learning has to offer.

6. By 2020, we could be on the way to embracing continuous, lifetime learning for everyone in society taught by the world's greatest academic rock stars. 

Gee, I certainly hope not - I prefer jazz over rock any day.  Seriously, lifelong learning exists due to the number of choices that are currently available for informal learning.  These choices will continue to grow, but academic "jazz stars" will be defined by the learner and will not simply be based on a popularity contest.  Learners will search for educators that serve them best and may not be based solely on the educator's number of followers. 

7. New curriculum DJs - who are able to mix-and-match course offerings for specialized degrees - may emerge, selling their digital wares on iTunes.

The future business model of education will be those frameworks that lead to the most engaging, effective, and efficient educative experience for the largest number of learners possible - a claim that warrants a separate post so to cover some of the many variables involved.

The whole point here is not that teaching in many cases is (or could be) free (as in free beer); it is not about the amount learners should or should not pay for an education.  Free education deals more with perception, accreditation, future educational and professional goals of each learner, etc.  Instead, what is more relevant is  how open teaching and learning emerge - understanding the infinite number of ways ideas, materials, and people relate to each other regardless as to when and where these interactions might take place.


I'm back...

Well, after about a week, I finally made it back...sort of.  This past week I had an unfortunate incident with my website host provider (WHP).  I found out the hard way that I was not getting a service I was paying for.  I realized that it was time to change WHPs and I decided to move to GoDaddy.

About two weeks ago, I began to make several structural changes to my website in preparation for a doctoral study that will begin in the coming months.  The past year I've been using WordPress, Moodle, and Dokuwiki for most of my online work.  Although my old WHP includes other applications as well, it wasn't until last week's incident that made me realize I could do most of what I need in WordPress alone.  Although GoDaddy is a little more than my past WHP, I realized that you do get what you pay for.  I decided it was worth scaling back the applications for better service and deliverability.

So, as I waited for my last domain to transfer to GoDaddy (which usually takes 5-7 days), I began to get impatience and decided that it was also time to get a new domain. Since info domains are much cheaper, I also decided to transfer my entire website from the old domain to the new.  Within a day or so, I had most of my website up and running.

Some of the changes to this new site will be the inclusion of open courseware.  Since I am no longer using Moodle for the most part, I've decided to put most of what I do in my face-to-face classes here. Even though most content will be open, some information will remain private, depending on the class I'm teaching.  I've also decided to automatically assign new subscribers to this site as collaborators which will allow everyone to upload posts and to edit and add wikis as they choose.  My goal is to make this site as open and transparent as possible.  For now, Google+ hangouts will be used to conduct periodic online meetings as well. 

If you are new or moving over from my old site, welcome!  Expect many upcoming changes to this site and feel free to comment and contribute as you wish!

Massive or Meaningful and Relevant? (#edumooc)

 As can be seen, it is often pointed out that [size] is a necessary characteristic, but I've been experimenting with what I call Miniscule Open Online Courses, which is where I think that the principles on which MOOCs are based apply to courses run on a much smaller scale e.g. http://goodbyegutenberg.pbworks.com. - 

Adding to this point, I would be content simply calling a MOOC an OOC.

It's difficult enough interpreting the concept of openness given the different opinions on the most appropriate Creative Commons license to use for example, namely whether content should be under a commercial or noncommercial license. For some, openness is all or nothing, for others it's a matter of degree.

The notion of online delivery is another issue for (especially) those new to this type of learning environment. Which technologies should be used? How to engage yet not feel overwhelmed?

The idea of a “course” then leads to issues of start and end dates, identifying explicit or implicit desired results (intentional/unintentional learning), implementing different types and the distribution of assessment, taking the course for credit or no credit, etc.

Notions of openness, delivery, and course attributes are more important than how many participants there are in an OOC - subscribing to the notion that says, “more is better”. One might argue that having large amounts of participants will lead to continued discourse or peer-to-peer learning after the MOOC has completed; that learners will be more engaged if a MOOC has large numbers. But it has more to do with the type of communication that flows between each learner and their neighboring nodes (i.e., those individuals or communities that remain within one degree of separation and any artifacts the learner has direct contact with) than it does simply knowing how many neighboring nodes (NNs) exist in the first place. And who's to say it's better if those NNs are exclusively MOOC participants? And even if all NNs are exclusively MOOC participants, what's the ratio of NNs/MOOC participants, and does that even matter. A more engaging and effective learning experience is possible if we focus on what it means for this type of learning environment to be open, online, and how it's presented as a course.

I believe it's quite possible to have an engaging and effective learning experience when five OOC participants have 30 NNs that include the other four OOC participants and 26 individuals or communities that have nothing to do with the OOC itself. It's also possible that these same five OOC participants can have a fruitful learning experience being part of a 1000 other OOC participants but still choose to interact with the same NNs; that is, to remain on the peripheral of the (“M”)OOC.  If we must stick to the acronym, I'd leave it as a Meaningful (and relevant), Open, Online, Course.  Then have a discussion around what is meaningful and relevant around particular educational contexts.

What any OOC needs is sustainability - at least between the start and end dates, otherwise there is no course. Creating a discourse around openness, delivery, and the course in terms of curriculum, assessment, and instruction (in terms of meaningful and relevant learning given particular educational contexts) will go much further in bringing about OOC sustainability than talking how many numbers lead to “massiveness”.


The official start of eduMOOC is June 27.  Please carefully read this page for important information about MOOCs in general.  Thanks to all who have made suggestions and have contributed to the effort!  A special long-distance thanks to Wayne Mackintosh, director of the OER Foundation for help, encouragement and support of eduMOOC!

Many new resources will be added as we approach the beginning of the MOOC on Monday!  There will be a new space to post your network connections (email, blogs, twitter, etc. addresses).  We are working on details of streaming our weekly live panels to serve many hundreds of simultaneous viewers via both flash fixed and mobile configured streams.  The Twitter back channel (hashtag #eduMOOC) will certainly be especially active during those Thursday (US Central Time/Day) panel discussions.

So, how do you plan to participate: primarily in forums (e.g., Google Groups, Moodle, etc.) or via Twitter and blogs?

Top Criteria when Designing Professional E-learning Courses?

What do you think should be top criteria when designing professional e-learning courses (Both synchronous or non-synchronous)?

The most important thing to remember about providing professional e-learning courses is that there should be a consistent alignment of learning theories (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, critical constructivism, connectivism, etc.), methods (synchronous and asynchronous), and multimedia (web 2.0/3.0 tools, software, etc.) that is conducive to forming a learning community that takes the learner from being dependent, to independent, to finally interdependent. Such a learning community would be "open, diverse, interactive, and autonomous" (to use Stephen Downes's words).

I know, a broad answer (to a broad question), but we need to consider the whole ball of wax.

Note: I'm avoiding a detailed description of the method (synchronous and asynchronous) because it's only a third (actually less in my opinion) of the real issue: aligning learning theory, method, and media. These three impact each other as in it's all or nothing. We can't talk about one without mentioning the other two.

The Web of Identity: Identity Formation in Online Learning

As learners interact in online networks of learning, how do they come to know one another? Building on the work of Goffman (1959) and Foucault (1988), the Web of Identity (WoI) model shows how online learners may use dramaturgical strategies to create and negotiate their personal identities in a continuous flux of presentation and interpretation. Philosophically, the model is highly social constructionist and places a great emphasis on relational dialogue. For practitioners, the implications include finding ways to aid learners to improve their use and translation of WoI strategies. Such skill, theoretically, should help them to enact their unique personalities, lessen their sense of fragmentation, increase their sense of belonging, and gauge authenticity of others. The researchers will then discuss some preliminary research projects on identity in networked learning and future research in the field.

When: Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 11am-12pm Mountain Time (Canada)
*Local times for the CIDER sessions are provided on our website:

Where: Online via Elluminate at:

Please make sure your Mac or PC is equipped with a microphone and speakers, so that you can use the audio functionality built into the web conferencing software. Please note that it is extremely important that you get your system set up prior to the start of the event. Information on installing the necessary software and configuring your PC is available at http://www.elluminate.com/support/ in the "First Time Users" section.

CIDER sessions are brought to you by the Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University - Canada's Open University and leader in professional online education.

CIDER is a Community Partner of Elluminate - http://www.elluminate.com/ - who proudly sponsors our web conferencing needs. To sign up for a free, no obligation three-user version of Elluminate, please visit http://www.getvroom.com

Reading Comprehension 2.0

Explores how the use of digital resources and free web 2.0 tools can improve reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and other related literacy skills.

Jessica Fries-Gaither is an education resource specialist in the College of Education and Human Ecology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. She serves as project director for the NSF-funded Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears and is also involved with the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways (also funded by NSF).

The Physical versus the Virtual

"Given that both E-Books and online courses be used for the sole purpose of learning, which one would you say was a more effective option?"

I don't see this as being "either...or" (it's like asking what's better, a book or a course). An ebook is a resource and an online course is a means of delivery that includes a whole host of possible resources, learning theories, and types of communication (i.e., asynchronous and synchronous communication).

We might ask: 1) What do you prefer, ebooks or physical books? 2) What do you prefer, online, blended, or face-to-face courses?

Heidi says, "...I know my team would not be receptive to e-books as a form of learning".

When I think of ebooks, I think of books found in Google Books, ebrary, etc. where parts or entire books can be accessible via the web. If someone rejects the use of ebooks, I'd be interested in knowing how much of it is a personal preference and how much of it is due to accessibility and know-how of the Internet and technology as a whole. It would be interesting to know Heidi's corporate learning environment, but I would say that if I have limited access to the Internet and/or I do not know much about technology, that's one thing. If I have access to the web, I'm technologically savvy, and I prefer not to use ebooks, that's a different notion.

Would like to hear additional thoughts on the matter.

Curriculum, assessment, and instruction and today's youth

Why is it so vital that curriculum development and instruction are tailored to the youth of today's unique learning styles? (Kelly Clark)
It's vital that the written, taught, and tested curriculum; assessment; and instruction be tailored to today's learner (avoiding a discussion of learning styles at this point) because today's learners learn differently than those in the past. Technology affords learners to network with others which opens up educational opportunities like no other time in history. Learners now have the world as their audience as opposed to only the teacher.
In terms of learning objectives, expressive over behavioral outcomes provide the potential for diversifying assessment and instruction in terms of content, process, and products. Giving learners a choice in their own learning shifts to a more learner-centered paradigm that considers teachers more as curators, way-finders, and facilitators. Finally, today's learner needs to know the what, how, when, where, why, and with whom of education in a way that focuses more on ontology (i.e., Who am I? What is my role in life? How do I impact my own personal learning network?) and not only epistemology. And yes, I think these same questions can honestly and productively be applied to youth of all ages in ways that promote creativity, criticality, and caring.  This is one perspective on why it’s vital that the written, taught, and tested curriculum; assessment; and instruction be tailored to today's learner.  Thanks for asking. :)

Why Learning Online is Better Than Offline

This past Sunday I unfortunately missed a webinar titled Why Learning Online is Better Than Offline (Lasse, 2010), but was able to view the recording - which I would recommend.  Lasse begins by making a distinction between online and offline learning in terms of control (i.e., people, context, demands/goals, learning on demand, etc.). At 25 minutes, 29 seconds, the following comment was made:

of course learning happens in all environments, but if we are talking about intentional learning of a topic, a comfortable environment is critical   

In a formal, more traditional classroom, the impression is often that students are learning what we as educators are teaching through intentionalism.  But how often is this really the case?  Take a simple conversation for example.  How frequently do intentional conversations take off on non-intentional directions (this webinar is an example of that, but more on that later).  It's impossible to predict with certainty what implications will result from what we say, whether we are having a simple two-way conversation or one-to-many exchange as we commonly find in the classroom.  This is precisely why formal education will always have a gap between the written and taught curriculum.

The second aspect of this comment deals with the need for a comfortable environment in order to learn.  This notion overlooks one important aspect of learning which is diversity.  Sometimes a difference of opinion makes us feel uneasy, uncertain, uncomfortable, etc., but a counterargument is exactly what is needed in education.  We expect this in academic writing, why not in other aspects of education as well?  I've learned more when I've had to question my own beliefs, thoughts, or understandings which invariably did not include a comfortable environment.  On the contrary, it was the uncomfortable environment that motivated me to reflect on my own understandings or lack thereof.      

As mentioned above, I got the impression that the "intention" of the presentation was to have more of a debate as to whether online or offline learning was better.  Instead, the conversation shifted to educational term definitions, web tool recommendations, and general teaching questions that had little to do with the debate.  Not saying this is a bad thing, only that learning is by-and-large not an intentional act, but rather an implicature (whether correct or not) based on prediction.

And the discussion continues...

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The e-learning gap

I like this presentation but I agree with Downes in that the title is misleading. For example, in slide two he puts instruction and assessment (i.e., formative and summative) in separate categories, when they are really general terms that refer to many of the other terms mentioned in the same slide. Moreover, instruction and assessment often overlap as well.

The title of this slide reminds me of similar, "empty" phrases that are meant to capture the attention of the audience, but are really open to a wide variety of interpretation: no child left behind, teaching the whole child, etc.

It's not only a skills gap but an understanding gap as well, understanding how current technologies can contribute to curriculum, assessment, and instruction. As a teacher and student, it's also about how technologies can serve as "teacher", "tutor", and "student" when defining roles within educational contexts.

Distance language learning

I´m interested in collaborating with people who are involved with or interested in the design and implementation of language learning courses that are offered 100% online. I'm particularly interested in the following:

1. Curriculum design
2. Student assessment methods, tools, etc. per skill (i.e., reading, writing, listening, speaking)
3. Teacher assessment methods, tools, etc.
4. Teacher workloads: How many hours of synchronous/asynchronous work is involved?
5. Student workloads: How many hours of synchronous/asynchronous work is involved? How many hours of homework?
6. General pay comparisons to those teachers with f2f/blended courses.
7. Technological infrastructure: platform, social software, language learning software/sites, etc.

Please respond to this post or any of the Nings where I embed this blog if you are interested in such a collaboration. Also, I've created a related Ning if anyone wishes to join.