News and opinion pieces about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) continue to fuel an ongoing discussion with a group of colleagues who have been following the development of these innovative courses. Two recent articles that have attracted attention and comments are “Massive (But Not Open)” (Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Education, May 14, 2013) and “Laptop U: Has the future of college moved online?” (Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, May 20 2013).
“Massive (But Not Open)” reports on the Georgia Institute of Technology’s plan to offer a $7,000 Masters degree in Computer Science to 10,000 students. Working in collaboration with Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity MOOC platform Georgia Tech hopes to teach these fee-paying students by adding only a handful of additional academics, demonstrating the impressive economies of scale of that are possible with this approach. Up until recently, MOOCs have been both open access and free of charge and have not been seen as a threat to the bottom line of traditional institutions of higher education. Initiatives like this that experiment with new business models might cause some concern for university administrators who believed they could afford to ignore the MOOC phenomenon.
Sebastian Thrun’s comment, that ”Udacity was nothing more than a “megaphone” for Georgia Tech” says a lot about Udacity’s version of the MOOC, and it reminded me of William W. Fisher III’s critique in the “Laptop U” article:
Two features that can be found in most of this recent wave of online courses are: first, what could be described variously as the ‘guru on the mountaintop,’ or the ‘broadcast model,’ or the ‘one-to-many model,’ or the ‘TV model,’ ” he said. . . . “The basic idea here is that an expert in the field speaks to the masses, who absorb his or her wisdom. The second feature is that, to the extent that learning requires some degree of interactivity, that interactivity is channelled into formats that require automated or right-and-wrong answers.
Although a bigger megaphone allows for larger scale and reach, we are still stuck in the broadcast model here. Other areas of activity are undergoing a paradigm shift from Push (broadcast) to Pull (accessing an archive) to Co-create (collaborative production). This arrises from changing ideas about knowledge and value creation and the advantages of open practices as much as from digital technologies and networks. We have yet to explore what this could mean for higher education.
Fisher’s hybrid CopyrightX course, described at the end of the “Laptop U“ article, looks like a more interesting model that mixes online and offline activity and involves interactivity with a “live” element. Peter K. Bol’s “Chinese History 185: Creating ChinaX” looks like another worthwhile experiment. In this course, students are involved in building a MOOC. The author refers to Bol’s interest in “open-access scholarship”.
As in publishing, we need to pay close attention to the use of terms like “Open” and “Open-Access” in teaching. What does “Open Scholarship” mean? What values and goals might inform the work of an “Open Scholar”? Why would an academic choose Open approaches to teaching, research and publishing? Are we ready for a paradigm shift in higher education?
In “The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice“, Martin Weller devotes a chapter to “Openness in Education” and provides a helpful overview of how digital technology is enabling the practice of “Open Scholarship” in research, teaching, and publishing (the book is covered by a CC-BY-NC licence and can be read for free online). I came across his work in Change11, a Connectivist MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2011.
“Open Research” is about removing barriers for society to benefit from research, by ensuring open access to and reuse of research papers, data, materials, metadata and code, and by developing the supporting practices and policies (from the Tasman Declaration).
On On 6-7 February 2013 I joined a group of about 60 researchers, students, librarians, lawyers, technology consultants and software developers who met in Auckland for the first New Zealand Australian Open Research conference. In a mix of formal talks, panel discussions, informal meetings, and dinner (of course), participants discussed the advantages of Open Research, especially in the sciences (reflecting the expertise of the organisers and many attendees). You can get an idea of the topics that were covered by scanning the schedule for Day 1 and Day 2. There was an active Twitter Stream during the event (#NZAUOR) and collaborative notes are available online. Following the gathering, a core group drafted the Tasman Declaration on Open Research, which you are encouraged to sign. You can also follow the ongoing discussion on Twitter (@NZAUOpenRes). For more about the conference and declaration, see creativecommons.org.nz.
As the conference website explains, Open Research is about “taking the secrecy out of science,” increasing collaboration, reducing the cost of research, and maximising the benefit of research by enabling the sharing and re-use of data. This approach is consistent with other New Zealand initiatives, such as NZGOAL, the government’s “open access and open licensing framework that promotes the release for re-use of non-personal copyright works and non-copyright material held by State Services agencies”, and data.govt.nz, a directory of publicly-available datasets held by the New Zealand government.
On 12 October, I flew out of Dunedin, New Zealand, headed for a conference in Vancouver (Open Education 2012). As I waited for the plane to board, I flicked through the stream of images from people whose work I follow on Instagram, a photo sharing/social media service (Facebook purchased Instagram for $1bn back in April 2012). As well as sharing photos with my Twitter followers, I noticed that it is now also possible to sent a photo to a Tumblr blog, as well as t0 Facebook, Flickr, foursquare, and to any email address. I hadn’t used Tumblr for a long time, but I thought I would be a good idea to collect and archive my Instagram photos on a Website set up specifically for the purpose. So, I quickly created Marks McGuire’s Journey (not very original, I know), and snapped a photo of the plane that I would momentarily board, which I used to illustrate this post. My intention is to use this blog only for the photos that I take during my one-month trip to Vancouver, Manchester, London, Toronto, Wellington, and home again to Dunedin. I added one further constraint — the captions would all be in the form of a haiku (three lines of five, seven, and five syllables). As I write this post, I am ten days and about 60 instagrams into my journey.
Hybrid Pedagogy‘s week-long #MOOCMOOC (a MOOC about MOOCS — Massive Open Online Courses) is finishing today. The organizers provided a plan for each day, which included readings, other resources and suggested activities. They also created a handy dashboard where we could see the stream of announcements, Twitter messages and blog posts. I contributed to a collaborative 1,000 word Google doc (“A MOOC by Any Other Name“) with 52 others, and I participated in the Twitter discussion by following the #MOOCMOOC hashtag. On Tuesday, we were asked to create a short video that responded to the question: “Where does learning happen?”. I started by writing down some thoughts, but I didn’t manage to finish a video. In the end, I thought the words (pasted below) were enough. It will take me a while to wade through the many twitter messages, blog posts and other online documents that resulted from the MOOC MOOC. Already, participants are collating and curating their thoughts and the work of others who this course enabled them to connect to. A summary of MOOCMOOC stories has already been posted. I’m looking forward to my next MOOC, which will likely be #CFHE12 (Current/Future State of Higher Education). This course will run from October 8 to November 18. Like the best (Connectivist) MOOCs, it will be Open, and it will attract open-minded people.
Where Learning Happens
It can happen out in public places
alleyways and funny spaces
underneath and in between
locations where you’ve never been
It can happen on an airplane
at 30,000 feet above the ground
you’ve found the person sitting
next to you has lived the life you
It can happen walking down the street
you meet someone you haven’t seen
in ages who tells you
before the light changes.
It can happen in mid sentence when
you interrupt the program for
from one sponsor
It can happen at a party
once I met a guy who told me how
sub atomic particles romance
with partners rooms away
that made my day.
It can happen in a pub
an angel at the bar sharing whisky
while a stranger tells
a history of the world
in six glasses.
It can happen when you go to bed
and in your head you find
an alleyway at 30,000 feet
where faster than light neutrinos are
dancing the night away.
And it all makes sense.
Here are the slides and audio recording from a seminar that I presented at the “Open Educational Resources Seminar” at the University of Otago on 28 June 2012. I uploaded the audio (MP3) file (19 minutes, 14 MB) to Soundcloud and embedded it here. The slides (19 MB PDF) are embedded from Slideshare. I also uploaded the audio and slides to UniTube, a repository hosted at the University of Otago. The easiest way to hear and see the presentation is from this post. Just start the audio playing (it takes several seconds to buffer) and then advance the slides manually. I showed 80 slides in under 20 minutes, so that’s about 15 seconds per slide. I tried to design the presentation so that it could make sense as a stand alone PDF. I included links to all of the images, sites, and texts that I quoted. I used images that have a Creative Commons licence, and the presentation itself is covered by a CC-BY (Attribution) licence. I followed a similar process for an earlier talk, “Open Strategies in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges”.
If we think of OERs as we think of physical artifacts, we might focus on their design, production, storage and distribution. We could quantify their number, calculate their popularity, and track their use. However, in open, distributed, networked learning environments, the emphasis is not be on the resources but on the engagement between participants who create, use, modify, and share experiences. Resources can be used to prompt and fuel conversations, and the results of one conversation can be saved and used as fuel for another, but it is the way in which they are created and used that determines their effectiveness in learning contexts. In this talk, I will use examples from several open courses to explore the nature of digital resources and discuss how they are used to enable constructive engagements between networked learners. I suggest that, although appropriate resources are an important part of the learning process, we need to pay more attention to the design of the structures and networks in which they are generated and circulated.
Audio Recording (19 Minutes)
You can download a PDF of these slides by clicking on the link below.
In their eagerness to cut costs in their recent budget, regardless of the effects, the governing National Party made a serious blunder. Aside from a complete lack of vision and leadership, they are trying to argue that increasing class sizes and eliminating specialist technology teachers will improve the quality of education for young New Zealanders.
In a press release from the New Zealand Association of Intermediate Schools, association President and Principal of Pukekohe Intermediate School, Gary Sweeney, reported that more than 300 intermediate school teachers could lose their jobs next year. These are experienced specialists who teach cooking, sewing, art, ICT, woodwork and metalwork. Following an avalanche of complaints from teachers, principals and parents, the government set up a working party in an attempt to deflect some of the criticism. Radio New Zealand continues to follow the story, reporting on the working party yesterday (Monday, 28 May), and, this morning (Tuesday, 29 May), on the Government’s effort to backtrack due to the unintended consequences of spreadsheet decision making.
It is very hard to see how increasing class sizes and eliminating specialist technology teachers can possibly improve the quality of education. The government may well have realized that they have made a mistake. The question now is whether they are able to correct it. The ability to learn from our mistakes, and to correct them, is one of the fundamental skills that we learn at school. Let’s see if our political leaders have learned this lesson.
Last night, I sent the following email to Mr Andrew Hunter, the principal of Balmacewen Intermediate School, where one of my two sons is a student.
Dear Mr Hunter
As a parent and academic in Applied Sciences, I am shocked to hear that the government is planning to cut the funding that currently supports the teaching of technology to Year 7 and 8 students in New Zealand. Removing specialist, experienced teachers in Art, Food, Fabric and Workshop Technology clearly undermines the government’s stated objective of encouraging more students to pursue a career in science and technology. Furthermore, it will limit the ability of schools to expose young learners to the broad range of disciplines and experiences that enables them to develop as a whole person.
By offering well-supported, hands-on teaching in technology subjects, intermediate schools support a thoughtful engagement with the world of physical materials, as well as with the world of ideas. They encourage students to extend the capabilities of their hands as well as their mind at a formative stage in their development. Understanding the properties and potentials of materials is crucial to design thinking, problem solving, product innovation, and creative expression.
We need creative problem solvers who can navigate and operate within an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. Intermediate schools play a crucial role in helping young students realize their potential as well-rounded, well-educated, multi-talented individuals and citizens. By reducing the capacity of intermediate schools to do what they do best, this ill conceived cost-cutting measure undermines not only the education of our youth, but also the future of our society.
Dr Mark McGuire
Senior Lecturer, Department of Applied Sciences
University of Otago