Peeragogy Handbook Rocks

Remember the Peeragogy Handbook Project, facilitated by Howard Rheingold? A group of learners from various continents work peer2peer to create this handbook which wants to inspire people who want to take their learning in their own hands.

The handbook has a very practical side – given that so many learning resources are online and for free, and that so many people are out there, worldwide, who want to learn, how can we connect and build a learning experience which can be very different from the typical classroom-experience? The handbook also has texts and links about the theoretical underpinnings of these learning-styles.

I wrote about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) but these days I lack time to be actively involved – but I do consult the Handbook regularly and can see how it gets improved almost every day. Some very friendly co-learners now created a little video introducing my chapter about MOOCs:

Half an Hour: International MOOCs Past and Present

Stephen Downes on Half an Hour now has a list with international Massive Open Online Courses. 
Let’s not forget: there is more out there than the xMOOCs such as offered by Coursera, edX and Udacity – the connectivist courses offer a very different learning experience, based on distributed platforms, the learner as center and peer2peer philosophy. 

So I’m very glad to find this list with international courses! 
via Diigo http://halfanhour.blogspot.ca/2012/11/international-moocs-past-and-present.html

Difference and the unexpected are what matters

Nice video about how education changes and should change. Because difference and the unexpected matter more than identical competences and predictability.

Coursera is one of the examples of the ‘new education’, but I think other educational practices would be even more illustrative of the deep changes.
Stephen Downes and George Siemens started back in 2008 with Massive Open Online Courses. Those courses are distributed, learner-centered. I remember how we had meetings at various online venues, also in Second Life and I even think World of Warcraft. People were expected to blog and interact on various platforms, and Stephen’s aggregation tool brought it all together. The important thing was to connect and to develop a personal learning project. The newsletter was like the newspaper of a vibrant learning community. I report about that kind of MOOCs in the Peeragogy Handbook.

In search of… metacognition amplifiers

I’m gearing up for Howard Rheingold’s course about Think-Know Tools and so I read his latest book, Mind Amplifier.
I’m starting to become a bit of a veteran in Rheingold courses, so I was not surprised to read about the notion of literacies, of designs for improved collective action and about metacognition. However, there were some parts which seem to indicate new developments.
I’ll give some quotes to illustrate this:

What if automated tutoring and testing systems, such as those being deployed for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), could be used for self-reflection on the learning process – a metacognition amplifier?

In his book Net Smart explains that metacognition is the function which helps us think about our thinking – it’s an important element helping us to gain control of our lives online.
Rheingold is not ‘only’ the guy who was the first to use the words ‘virtual community’. He has a deep interest in the history of computing, for instance his book Tools for Thought (text available online) is about the history of computers which he considers as being mind-amplifying technology.
Reading the old texts of the visionaries makes it obvious that there is a lot which has not yet been realized. Rheingold:

It’s time to consider what technology we want to create using the autocatalysis of human pattern recognition, human-machine abstraction, and computer graphics modeling capabilities.

Of course there is a very fundamental social dimension to all this. A last quote reflecting his thoughts about this:

When the human aptitude for mind-extension is plugged into specially designed computational mind-amplifiers and joined to one another through the many-to-many capabilities of networked media, new forms of social cognition begin to flourish.

One could imagine many ambitious research programs about all this. I’ll post about our proceedings during the course, which will start the next week.

MRUniversity: it’s not a massive open online course, but it could be used to create one

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, two economics professors at George Mason University, launch Marginal Revolution University. They’ll deliver free, interactive courses in the economics space, so I read on Open Culture.
Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok run the blog Marginal Revolution. Some years ago, Cowen also was a guest at the Metanomics-show in Second Life.
Users are invited to submit content. The professors don’t call their courses a MOOC, but “it can be used to create a MOOC, namely a massive, open on-line 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.

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.

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!

Navigating the massive open online courses by Mechanical MOOC

Another week, another Coursera-course (via the University of Toronto): Learn to Program: The Fundamentals by Jennifer Campbell and Paul Gries:

Behind every mouse click and touch-screen tap, there is a computer program that makes things happen. This course introduces the fundamental building blocks of programming and teaches you how to write fun and useful programs using the Python language.

Which is a good thing, because my experiences with Code Year were not exactly stellar. The html and css part really went very well, but the scripting part, stuff such as jQuery and Python, was rather frustrating.
On October 15 another platform, edX (Harvard and MIT) starts CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science (Harvardx). While Coursera offers a 7 week-course, the Computer Sciences course runs till April 15, 2013. It goes far beyond an introduction to one particular language:

CS50x is Harvard College’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for computer science majors and non-majors alike. An entry-level course taught by Harvard Senior Lecturer David J. Malan, CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, encapsulation, data structures, databases, memory management, security, software development, virtualization, and websites. Languages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. Problem sets explore the real-world domains of cryptography, finance, forensics, gaming, and beyond. As of Fall 2011, the on-campus version of CS50 (Computer Science 50) was Harvard College’s second-largest course.

On that very same platform, MITx offers their version of an Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, starting October 1.

But then again, there is the Mechanical Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), hence the Mechanical MOOC. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment.This is the mail I got from them (course starts on October 15):

Good people of the Mechanical MOOC,

Welcome to an experiment in online learning. MOOC knows you’re mighty excited to begin learning Python. We’ll be up and operational shortly. Read on to find out what happens next.

When Do We Start?
The course begins October 15th. Mechanical MOOC kindly asks you to start your engines.

What Should I Do?
Get to know the participating sites. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment. This gives you the best of what’s out there, but it means you need to take a few minutes to learn how each site works.

How Do I Do That?
Over the next couple of days, we’ll send you e-mails with a brief description of each site and links to key features so you can begin to get to know these resources. You can begin to set up your accounts and profiles as you explore.

We’ll send more specifics on how the course will work soon.

Get MOOCing!

— The Mechanical MOOC

Tweet #mmooc
The Mechanical MOOC’s A Gentle Introduction to Python is a collaboration between Peer 2 Peer University, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy. For this course, Peer 2 Peer University has developed an email scheduler that coordinates student activity across the participating sites to facilitate collaborative learning. This email was generated by the scheduler. For more information, please visit http://mechanicalmooc.org.

So it will be interesting to find out whether the Mechanical MOOC helps to filter and aggregate open course content, or whether it will just increase the avalanche of course materials. While in 2008 Stephen Downes and George Siemens had their first MOOC, these days there is a steadily increasing supply of MOOCs (of very different styles, from the free and wild Downes/Siemens model to very structured, formal class-like models.

But then again, how easy will it be to combine the existing course material? ‘Open’ does not necessarily mean videos, texts and presentations can just be plugged in somewhere else. Stanford University now offers Class2Go, yet another MOOC-platform, but… :

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.

Which must rejoice the guys at Mechanical MOOC, I presume. Oh yes, if you want to follow up on the MOOC courses, here is the class-central list for Coursera, edX, Stanford, Udacity and MIT. Stephen Downes also curates a list, which includes of course also Connectivist-style MOOCs (the free and wild variety), peer2peer styled courses etc. I’ll wait for some more curated lists to come before I’ll launch a curated list of curated lists 🙂