History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education

I’m participating in the course History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, the proceedings take place on the Coursera platform and the Professor is Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University). It’s not yet another course for professional teachers only:

This course is designed for anyone concerned with the best ways of learning and thriving in the world we live in now.  It’s for students, teachers, professors, researchers, administrators, policy makers, business leaders, job counselors and recruiters, parents, and lifelong learners around the globe.

The course is massive, online, open and free, it contains videos, quizzes and assignments, yet it is different from many other Coursera, Udemy or edX-courses: Professor Davidson tries to transform her class into a community and the learning which so often is that of a ‘Doc on a Laptop’ into peer-to-peer learning. In this way her project is very related to the Peeragogy Handbook.

I’d love to be part of a reading and discussion group about the course, we could do that in Second Life, Google Plus or another platform… If you’re interested, let me know, I think it’s not too late to sign up for the course.

Three courses, three experiences of education and digital cultures

Three courses, three different formats. The first two courses are about education and digital media. It seems the first one is a MOOC along the connectivist ‘tradition’: distributed on various web media, putting the learners in charge of their own experience, facilitated by what is called in this case ‘conspirators’. The second one is organized on the Coursera-platform, which normally means a more classical, top-down learning experience. However, the participants are invited to co-create course content and the organizers want to involve the “wider social web”.

The last course is not necessarily about education, but about literacies of cooperation. The organizer, the virtual communities and digital culture expert Howard Rheingold, does not want this to be a ‘massive’ experience, instead the course is limited to 35 learners (and you’ve to pay a fee). I participated in previous editions, and I can assure you it’s pretty intense.

#etmooc is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about educational design and media.
Welcome (Jan 13-19): Welcome Event & Orientation to #etmooc
Topic 1 (Jan 20-Feb. 2): Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy
Topic 2 (Feb 3-16): Digital Storytelling – Multimedia, Remixes & Mashups
Topic 3 (Feb 17-Mar 2): Digital Literacy – Information, Memes & Attention
Topic 4 (Mar 3-16): The Open Movement – Open Access, OERs & Future of Ed.
Topic 5 (Mar 17-30): Digital Citizenship – Identity, Footprint, & Social Activism

At Coursera: E-learning and Digital Cultures – Jan 28th 2013 (5 weeks long). This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Follow this course at #edcmooc. This course will consist of viewing short film clips alongside associated readings, as well as discussions and group collaborations amongst participants. Interesting: “E-learning and Digital Cultures will make use of online spaces beyond the Coursera environment, and we want some aspects of participation in this course to involve the wider social web. We hope that participants will share in the creation of course content and assessed work that will be publicly available online.”

Howard Rheingold is convening “Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Studies,” January 24 -March 1.
A detailed syllabus: http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/cooperation4 a six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.

A gamification course which also teaches ethics

The Gamification course on Coursera, by associate professor Kevin Werbach (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), has ended. The course got 80,000 registrations and it is expected it will run again in the future. It was a very interesting experience, making me think about using gamification in the news media. In fact, we already use game elements in the media, but there is so much more which could be done.

Professor Werbach is about to publish the book For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Okay, the title sounds very hype-like, but having participated in the course I can testify that Werbach is not advocating simple, manipulative techniques to be applied in whatever context. On the contrary, we learned how crucial it is to analyze the situation and to think hard about the objectives and the impact gamification can have on people and how important self-determination is.

I guess most of us watched the 2010 presentation by Jesse Schell:

However, there was another video we had to watch (and which was used extensively for the ‘final exam’), the futuristic film Sight by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo:

The video choice was illustrative for the ethical preoccupations of the course.

From Self-Flying Helicopters to Classrooms of the Future – The Chronicle of Higher Education

“What do self-piloting helicopters have to do with the growing movement to transform education online? A day spent with Mr. Ng here at Coursera’s offices, with the aim of getting a sense of the company’s culture and the ideas that make up its DNA, helped answer that question.

It turns out that the links between artificial-intelligence researchers and MOOC’s run deep. “
via Diigo http://chronicle.com/article/From-Self-Flying-Helicopters/134666/

Mr Ng explains that (big) data, algorithms and expert professors are crucial. But what will the business model be? I guess the big data will be important for the monetization… More discussions about businessmodels and the xMOOCs on Quora.

Coursera doubles number of university partners, increases focus overseas — GigaOm

Coursera grows fast, and looks – rightly so – overseas. For the moment, almost all courses seem to be in English. Will that language become even more dominant in higher education, because of the rapid expansion of American platforms? Or is it just the initial phase? 
via Diigo http://gigaom.com/2012/09/19/coursera-doubles-number-of-university-partners-increases-focus-overseas/

MOOCs and their differences

I started the Computer Sciences 101 course taught by professor Nick Parlante (Stanford University) as a massive open online course (MOOC) on the Coursera platform. Nick says there are not enough people on this planet with computer skills, so he hopes that this introductory course will incite some of us to deepen their knowledge and skills.

During 6 weeks we’ll do small coding experiments in the browser (using JavaScript) to play with the nature of computers, “understanding their strengths and limitations.”

My impression is that the course is cleverly designed. The lecture videos are broken into small chunks, sometimes containing quiz questions. There are also standalone quizzes and programming assignments.

The participants meet each other in discussion forums. There are discussions about the format (which seems to be much appreciated – even though some complained this first week was too basic), the assignments, introductions… Students also organize themselves in an impressive variety of study groups along national or language lines.

Coursera provides the platform for the course – it’s a “social entrepreneurship company” that partners with top universities to offer courses online for free. In fact, Coursera has been created by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.

We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundres of thousands of students.

Coursera offers courses in a wide range of topics – not only programming and science but also the humanities. Right now they work with Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and Penn.

It’s interesting to experience the differences with other MOOCs such as the connectivism courses facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In my experience those courses are more distributed – they take place on various platforms even though the blogposts, discussions, social bookmarks and synchronous sessions are being aggregated on a site and a newsletter. They also seem to be more open-ended, every participant picks the stuff she is particularly interested in and connects with people in function of her own objectives and interests. Stephen Downes was interviewed about MOOCs by the independent journalist Kevin Charles Redmon and gives an interesting overview of the MOOC-history and the success massive open courses seem to have today.

The MOOCs organized by Downes and Siemens leave it to the student to define what counts as success. This does not mean that Stephen is not interested in assessment. He explains what the two basic approaches are:

The first is the Big Data approach – instead of using a few dozen data points, which is what the testing regimen does, you track a student’s activities and construct a profile from the full spectrum of his interactions with the material and other learners. This is the work of a field called ‘Learning Analytics’ (which should be ‘discovered’ by the Stanford-MIT nexus any time now). The second, which is my own approach, is a network clustering approach – the idea is that in a network of interactions in a community, expertise constitutes a ‘cluster’ of activity, and a person’s learning can be assessed as a form of proximity to that cluster. The Learning Analytics and Network Analysis approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately it’s about empowerment:

It’s about actually empowering people to develop and create their own learning, their own education. So not only do they not depend on us for learning, but also, their learning is not subject to our value-judgements and prejudices. We (those of working in MOOCs) have also been clear about the influences of people like Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire. And it’s not just about ‘flipping’ courses. It’s about reducing and eventually eliminating the learned dependence on the expert and the elite – not as a celebration of anti-intellectualism, but as a result of widespread and equitable access to expertise.

None of this happens by magic. There isn’t some ‘invisible hand’ creating a fair and equitable education marketplace. The system needs to be built with an understanding that personal empowerment and community networks are the goal and objective.

It could very well be that participants at the Udacity and Coursera-courses discover this along the road. That some of them will return – even after having completed the program – to help out others. This will be more like a process of self-discovery – I’m sure that right now people participating at the CS101 course just want to learn about computers. But maybe they’ll end up realizing it’s actually about teaching yourself and the others.