Should MOOC-platforms be open, portable and interoperable?

While working at the Peeragogy Handbook I’m having some discussions about the business models of xMOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses on platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX. The xMOOCs are, for now, free. The building of the courses is rather expensive – so what’s the return? Also, just like in the media industry, there are questions about the impact on the traditional university business model. Will more people apply and pay for a traditional education because they got really interested after participating in a free online course, or would fewer people want to pay as there are free alternatives (promotion vs substitution effect)?

One of the possible business models might be that the enormous amount of data accumulated during the courses get monetized so that recruiters can make a more efficient selection of candidates. Or maybe testing-for-a-degree will be an added service which would not be free.

However, one should refrain from jumping to conclusions. Maybe major universities also support these xMOOCs because they truly want to spread knowledge worldwide as a service to humanity. Monetizing these efforts would be a way to do this on a durable basis. While peer2peer courses seem to be more of a ‘reciprocal gift’ nature, in the gift economy there might also be reputation and network-building effects which lead to financial returns. All this in itself is not necessarily detrimental to the learning experiences.

Of more immediate concern for those engaging in MOOCs is the openness of the course material. Can the material be accessed and used in other contexts, or are there technical and legal restrictions? It’s interesting to note that the Stanford Class2Go is a platform which explicitly wants to be open, portable and interoperable.

  • It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
  • It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
  • It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

I think these three characteristics are important ones when evaluating MOOCs as part of a broader peer2peer learning project – but this does not mean more closed models should be avoided at all cost.

Radically Local | Flong

” “Commons-Based Peer Production”.
It’s a revolution in how things are made, by whom, and in what quantities.
In some ways, the future looks a lot like the past.
These blacksmiths are making a local solution to a local problem.
And we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that.”

And this was a presentation for the World Economic Forum, in China. 

Just imagine how we can use the web and virtual spaces to work with global teams, in order to produce on a very local level… 
via Diigo http://www.flong.com/blog/2012/radically-local-presentation-at-the-world-economic-forum/

Discovering Makers (and Leanpub, and Readmill)

In an open ended, user-generated virtual environment, you get that exciting feeling that you can build your own world. You just start creating objects and scripting them, following the tutorials and getting help from community members. It’s a kind of ‘makers ethos’ which increasingly permeates the ‘real world’.

Of course, there always was something like DIY, but these days people ‘hack’ about anything. 3D printing, drones, hardware hacking using Arduino, biotech hacking and the DIY building and using of drones – it’s all becoming affordable and increasingly popular. It’s also evolving far beyond the hobby-activities, and something like a new economy is emerging between the ruins of the financial & economics & social crisis.

The individuals and teams working on those DIY-project experiment with new ways of running projects. The boundaries between users and builders, between the providers of infrastructure and builders, between the builders themselves often seem very different from the hierarchical and corporate-like organizational structures.

The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, experienced what the possibilities and limits are of virtual worlds, and currently (Reuters video) he is very involved in how work and collaboration will change in the future (think co-working spaces, companies-in-coffeeshops, exchange of labor through social networks, and telepresence robots). This being said, Rosedale firmly believes virtual worlds teach us something profound which still needs time to be seen for what it can be. It seems to me that the technological evolution is increasingly empowering individuals and small teams to make very sophisticated stuff on a global scale.

I’m two years late in discovering the (free) book Makers, written by Cory Doctorow. How did I find it? I wanted to buy the e-book Model for the 21st Century Newsroom – Redux, but it turned out that the author, Paul Bradshaw, offers it for free, via Leanpub. The Leanpub site offers the possibility to use the Readmill-app, which allows for social highlighting. One of the free books I got access to via Readmill, was Doctorow’s Makers.

The combination Leanpub/Readmill demonstrates this ‘new thinking’ in making things – in this case books. Leanpub has a lengthy Lean Publishing Manifesto. Doctorow himself, in the ‘About this download’ section of his book, attacks the legal departments at ebook publishers – because they don’t believe in copyright law. They say that when you buy an ebook, you’re really only licensing that book. They can claim that because of the confusing and unreadable license agreements people click on, but the buttons on their websites say “buy this book” – which is problematic, as you can give away to whoever you want a book you own, but this fundamental right is far from universally recognized in the weird world of the ebook-publishers.

So the way the book Makers is published, is in itself a demonstration of what that book is about, and of what this new emerging economy is about: the joy and the urge of making, regardless of the economic and financial environment. Here, I’ll let Doctorow explain it himself:

Python in four weeks. Or in eight!

The Mechanical MOOC is in full preparation of the Python programming course. As reported before the mMOOC combines several existing open courses, such as the MIT Opencourseware, Peer 2 Peer University, OpenStudy and CodeAcademy.

During the preparation the learners are introduced to those other platforms. The first instalment was interesting: I was aware of the MIT Opencourseware (the semester-long course Introduction to Computer Science and Programming by Prof. John Guttag), but the mMOOC points out that MIT also offers a four week Python-course, A Gentle Introduction to Python teached by Sarina Canelake. Actually, that course will be the basis for the mMOOC, but they’ll cover it in eight weeks. Indeed, why hurry!

The metaverse is dead. Long live shared creative spaces!

Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world Second Life, is about to launch two non-Second Life products: Creatorverse and Patterns. Creatorverse is an iPad-app:

Patterns will be a ‘new 3D creative environment’. Virtual World-watcher Wagner James Au says on New World Notes that Linden Lab no longer has as mission to make an online world ‘that advances the human condition’ but rather specializes in ‘shared creative spaces’ – not in facilitating the emergence of the metaverse. For those who forgot about the metaverse – which seems these days a bit like an antiquated idea – Wikipedia defines it as thus:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

Second Life is stagnating, at least not growing like Californian tech companies are supposed to growth (that being said, it seems to be profitable). I’ve been fascinated by that virtual world since about 2007, as it allows to transcend geographical and maybe even cultural distances. It enables people to meet, avatar-wise, in shared and persistent spaces. It has a creative and liberal culture – the world is almost entirely created by its ‘residents’. For a while I thought that maybe the future internet would look like a sophisticated Second Life, and that 2D-objects such as websites would simply be a part of that metaverse.

In the meantime I realized that it’s a niche culture. At first it was believed that Second Life, as a user-generated, free culture for (mainly) adults did not go mainstream because of management and marketing errors. There were other attempts to create a open-ended, user-generated worlds, such as Lively (Google), Metaplace.com (Raph Koster), Blue Mars, which failed. Other worlds are still very much alive such as OpenSim (like Second Life, but open source), the very new Cloud Party (browser-based) and Jibe (an embeddable virtual environment, visit Reactiongrid’s new site). I like projects such as OpenSim and Jibe, but those are even more niche than Second Life (and often the users/residents are former Second Life people).

Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Patrick Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Some think that virtual environments will gain traction once they are browser-based (no hefty downloads) and are made easier to use. I’m sceptical: while I feel comfortable in a virtual environment and as an avatar, for many others it’s an uncanny experience, especially in a professional context. I have the feeling that it is about the representation of oneself and others, about identities, not about technical hurdles.

It seems to be different for online games which of course did go mainstream, also for adult audiences – but then again, these are games, not open ended user generated worlds. Minecraft is very popular, but it’s more a game (while there are game environments inside Second Life, the world itself is not a game). As it is explained on the Minecraft site:

I strongly believe that all good stories have a conflict, and that all good games tell a good story regardless of if it’s pre-written or emergent. Free building mode is fine and dandy, but for many people it will ultimately become boring once you’ve got it figured out. It’s like playing a first person shooter in god mode, or giving yourself infinite funds in a strategy game.. a lack of challenge kills the fun.

Still, I do like this notion of virtual shared creative spaces. It is exactly what we’ll need in many different contexts, as globalization increases dramatically and the technological possibilities multiply exponentially. But there is competition. Just suppose you want to link up with other people, elsewhere in the world, for a project or even a joint venture. You don’t have the budget for a high-end videoconferencing system. I guess that Google+ Hangout – with its videoconferencing features, screensharing, chat-possibilities, apps, network, possibility to save the conference and with links with the other Google goodies would do a very nice job. It even is free.
My guess is that you’ll mainly use the Google-stuff. A virtual environment? Maybe to create 3D-objects together, if that would be your line of business or educational project. Or as a fun experiment. Or for a simulation.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of these possibilities. Especially not because I’m a firm believer in the importance of developments such as 3D printing. Creating 3D objects together, or at least experiencing 3D prototypes in a virtual environment might very well be very interesting. But I would not call it ‘the metaverse’.

Help us write the Peeragogy Handbook!

Suppose you want to learn everything about medieval sword-fighting. Or about Python programming in some specific context. Or about alternative currencies – maybe there’s nobody to join or help you in your town or village, but somewhere on the web there’ll be others who want to collaborate in your learning-effort.

We call this peer2peer learning, and just as we have pedagogy (how to teach children) and androgogy (how to teach adults) we have peeragogy (how to teach each other). The word has been coined by Howard Rheingold, who also gave us the expression “virtual community”.

Howard also facilitates the project “The Peeragogy Handbook”. A few dozen people contribute in this project and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Most of us never met each other, and yet, from all over the world, people discuss in our forum, contribute on wikis and  social bookmark services, meet up during synchronous sessions and post on a WordPress-blog.

The link to the handbook is http://www.peeragogy.org. Be warned: this project is very much in beta. As it is explained in the introduction:

(…) you want to learn how to fix a pipe, solve a partial differential equation, write software, you are seconds away from know-how via YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines. Access to technology and access to knowledge, however, isn’t enough. Learning is a social, active, and ongoing process. What would a motivated group of self-learners need to know to agree on a subject or skill, find and qualify the best learning resources about that topic, select and use appropriate communication media to co-learn it? Beyond technology, what do they need to know about learning and putting learning programs together? What does a group of people need to know to use today’s digital resources to co-learn a subject? This handbook is intended to answer that last question and provide a toolbox for co-learners.

Do you want to contribute? You’re very welcome to do so! We need people to write and edit articles, to help out with the technicalities of WordPress or to give feedback. On the wiki you find a project description and also how to contribute. New
contributors can use this guide:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy/wiki/for-newcomers-peeragogy-project-how-get-started. You can comment on the draft by asking to join
http://groups.diigo.com/group/peering-into-peeragogy.

Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

There is a true explosion going on in open online learning. I don’t know whether it’s always “massive” as in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but anyway, there is a lot happening out there.

I don’t have statistics about how many projects there are, nor about the total number of participants and how many “succeed”. One of the issues here is that the definitions are not obvious. When do we say something is “massive”? What does it mean to “succeed”? The other issue is that I don’t care. I just feel that there is so much going on that I cannot find the time to blog about it all. For instance, I did not yet find the time to report about the MOOC  A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour.

You’ll notice that the above link directs you to a site on P2PU, which is The Peer 2 Peer University:

a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The participants conduct virtual world tours and exploration, study and experiment using machinima, World of Warcraft and discuss about the bleeding edge of these technologies.

Of course there is a lot of Second Life in all this, which is normal because it really is a world where about all content is being created by the “residents”, using 3D building and scripting techniques. However, the course also discusses Inworldz and New World Grid – virtual worlds based on the OpenSim software (and as such very familiar for those used to Second Life), the games EVE Online and World of Warcraft (WoW), and I guess other virtual or game environments will be discussed as well (Minecraft).

The course is very distributed, participants work in the virtual environments but also on a number of social media platforms, while the whole things is organized and commented through the P2P U site and a WordPress blog. Also have a look at the social bookmark collection at Diigo.

Lack of time prevented me from participating in this course, but I did read posts on the forums. Subjects being discussed:

– How games such as WoW manage to make missions difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to chase the players away.

– How games incite players to analyze situations and to work together in teams (for raids) and in larger groups (guilds). Leadership skills are being learned and practiced which can be useful in the “real world”.

– How can sophisticated virtual world Intelligent Agents (NPCs or BOTs) be used in learning environments?

– Practical stuff about screen capturing and making video in virtual environments, and about the educational application of these practices. (In general: even for those not participating in the course, you’ll learn a lot just browsing through the posts and bookmarks, watching the videos. One also discovers tools such as Livebinder and in Livebinder this collection of tools about screen capturing and video producing in virtual and gaming environments… )

– Interesting discussions about how educators try to use and promote cutting edge technology in their work, which is not always appreciated by everyone in the institutions.

This MOOC follows on a three-day conference  about best practices for virtual worlds in education (VWBPE).  Here is the video announcing the  VWBPE conference – I like it because it illustrates how original and creative gatherings in a virtual world can be. Which makes me believe that even the further expansion of affordable and free videoconferencing will not make such virtual meetings obsolete.

Becoming Net Smart with Howard Rheingold

I just bought the Kindle edition of Net Smart, Howard Rheingold‘s new book, published by the MIT Press. I participated in various of Howard’s courses: one about literacies of cooperation, another one about mind-amplifying tools, and now I’m involved in a collaborative project facilitated by Howard aimed at creating a peeragogy handbook.  Peeragogy is like peer to peer pedagogy, self-learners collaborating via a variety of social media to create, deliver, and learn an agreed curriculum (which they compose themselves).

More about peeragogy by Howard during his UC Berkeley Regents’ lecture:

UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecture: Howard Rheingold (Presented by Berkeley Center for New Media) from Berkeley Center for New Media on Vimeo.

In Net Smart Howard explains that we’re in a period where the cutting edge of change has moved from the technology to the literacies made possible by the technology. This is not just a book about how to become a more efficient user of digital technologies, there is a bigger social issue at work here: “if we combine our individual efforts wisely, enough of the right know-how could add up to a more thoughtful society as well as enhance those individuals who master digital network skills.”

The author does not hesitate comparing the web’s architecture of participation to the invention of the printing press and the spread of reading skills which amplified collective intelligence five centuries ago. Of course, it also lead to revolutions, bloodshed, manipulation and fanaticism. These experiences make it abundantly clear how important literacies such as crap detection and the avoidance of echo chambers are. In other words, Net Smart is a book which is a must-read for people seeking a balance between their physical and virtual environments, for parents, young people, business people and educators.

It’s not just about learning skills which one can practice alone. It’s about the ability to use these skills socially, in concert with others, in an effective way. Howard distinguishes in his book five literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection and network smarts.

Howard is a talented inventor of new words and concepts. He’s the guy who came up with the notion of “virtual community“. More recently he coined the term “infotention”: “a mind-machine combination of brainpowered attention skills and computer-powered information filters” (also have a look at the Infotention Network).

Watch Howard explaining his book and project for the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) Change11:

 

Is abundance a myth? The Original Affluent Society and Social Media

I stumbled upon the theme of “abundance” in the Toward a Literacy of Cooperation course (#cooplit) and the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 (see previous posts on this blog about both courses) – and I have some issues with the underlying idea that our advanced societies and technology fundamentally alter the situation of humankind from problems of scarcity into issues regarding abundance. In the MOOC there is a discussion of A Pedagogy of Abundance, a meditation by education technology professor Martin Weller on how researchers and teachers are confronted with the avalanche of available content (and of course, this is something happening in many other activities such as news media, music industry etc). In the Social Media Classroom of the #cooplit Kathy Gill posted about Cooperation, Competition and Power:

At its core, however, I believe that zero-sum thinking reflects a dance for power in a world where resources are limited. But today’s economy is moving towards unlimited, not limited, resources. That’s what digitization does to information — it breaks the scarcity barrier. Pre-digital, if I wanted to read “the newspaper” — then you, my partner, could not read it at the same time (unless you read over my shoulder). That’s gone. Ditto for movies and music. And then there is the co-creation that Howard talked about today — wikipedia, SETI at home. Lots of examples in Tapscott’s Wikinomics. Perhaps cooperation is something that humans can achieve only when they have moved to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the U.S., at least, systemic cooperation will require a major cultural shift inside and outside of institutions. And a new definition of “success” that does not rely on wielding “power” over others.

Of course, there is much truth in what Weller and Gill say. But still I’m not so sure we come from a situation defined by scarcity and move to an era of abundance, enabling us to freely cooperate and to stop fighting each other. Howard Rheingold in a comment on Gill’s post gives examples of zero-sum situations such as scarcity of water, but I think there is more. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins articulated the theory of the original affluent society, saying that hunter-gatherers often had far more leisure time than people in contemporary societies. It seems industrialized countries are very good in maintaining a feeling of scarcity, however rich they may be in absolute terms. The structure of desire and the never-ending game of shifting reputation signifiers cause scarcity and competition to stay very important aspects of these societies. This is true – I think – when we think about classical aspects of the consumption society, but maybe also when we think about social media production. What about the effects of shifting reputation signifiers on the competition on social networks? The emergence of new metrics such as the Klout influence index? The time people invest in polishing their online reputation and image, not to mention the work involved in dealing with the noise on the social networks? Which means that maybe, in order to change the nature of often destructive competitions, we’ll need to change the structure of the game. In very (too) general terms I suspect this is related with the production of meaning and with fundamental issues such as how we define what is means to have a good life. It means we should practice the capability of “letting go” of the stream of updates, blogposts and alerts. I guess this has to do what Douglas Rushkoff discusses in Program or be Programmed. He advocates programming, not just blogging in the boxes provided by the big corporations.

Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff

Interesting experience at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) #change11 during this week’s live session. One of the main lessons: do not underestimate simple tools.

First, the presentation by professor Zoraini’s project of implementing mobile technology in Open University Malaysia. It demonstrated how using good old sms helped motivating and guiding the students.

On Not Worth Printing I read a skeptical reaction, asking for objective measures, other than student satisfaction, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the sms technology.

In my humble opinion, it would be great to have those additional insights, but I think that the participants’ satisfaction is a very important issue.

Web conferencing

My reflection has not only to do with the content of the presentation, but also with the tools we used. We started out using the open-source web conferencing software bigbluebutton for distance education. Unfortunately, the more than 60 participants made the poor thing crash and burn.

Good old Twitter was being used as a backchannel, and so we learned that there was another venue we could use in the amazing cyberspace: fuzemeeting.com, yet another web conferencing thingie. Thanks to diligent retweeting, quite some participants made it to that ‘place’.

However, some experienced audio problems and asked for help, using the chat-module of the web conferencing tool. They were saved by a simulcast on livestream.com/ett (EdTechTalk).

Looking at the MOOC-course, a maze of venues, platforms and tools, I think that one of the most popular pieces of it is the Daily Newsletter, aggregating coming events, blog posts, discussion threads and comments.

Second Life

I also started my other course, Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar. This live session took place in Second Life. One might say that this is a higher level of complexity: using an avatar in a 3D virtual world. However, we kept the technicalities very simple: avatars sitting around a campfire, using voice and text chat. It worked perfectly well – we discussed the text As We May Think (Vannevar Bush). Call be a Second Life fanboy, but I still prefer the immersiveness of the virtual world experience above the ordinary web conferencing tools.

meeting in second life

One has the very real feeling of sharing a same space, of being embodied. People socialize before, after and during the conversation. I have the feeling the whole experience leads to much deeper connections. We have a group blog for the Second Life participants and there is an infohub for the project at large.

My conclusion: even at the frontiers of new media simple text-based tools help a lot to keep things organized and people motivated. Do not neglect newsletters, Twitter-messages, chat modules or even sms!

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media
The group blog virtualworldnmfsfall11