The intro week of #fslt13 has zipped past and things got off to a good start. Will the substance of the course hold up as well as the intro to the process? There is still a lot to do over the next five weeks but it is much better than starting with a raft of problems!
This is a brief reflection on week 0, from my perspective. What made it work. The team, the participants and the platform. And within these there are many subcategories, of course.
I put the people first: team :: participants. But, there is a continuum and that itself is one of the key features of this course. Guest speakers are participants, some “expert participants” are alumni from last year, tutors are engaging in the discussions, no one has a role that is “pure” one thing and not another.
This goes to my exploration of third space theory as an approach to understanding open online courses – and maybe many other educational phenomena.This is a theme I will return to. We are all hybrids; there is no privileged origin to which we return. As much as we may yearn for some ideal academy or celebrate transiting national or social divisions we all bring the echoes and interpretations of all our many cultures. In one sense everything is always new and in another even the newest shiny gadget has within it all the history and ancestory of its making.
The #fslt team sat down today and thrashed out the mid-level detail of how the four activities that are at the heart of this course will work this time and how badges will be awarded for completion of activities.
We had some principles to work with. Learning is dialogic. Everyone has the opportunity for peer feedback. Assessed and non-assessed participants will mix as equals. Peer feedback works best in small groups, therefore feedback groups should have a max size of 5. Peer feedback has to be opt-in. It is an open course. You can make your own way through. We struggled over persistence of peer feedback groups. Benefits and detriments both ways, but we decided that we had to allow for all sorts of variable participation. If people want to self-organise a persistent group that could be done but the course default will treat each activity grouping independently. We wanted consistency in the interface We didn’t want to use a different subset of tools for each task. We know MOOCs are daunting and want to keep it as easy as possible for participants.
Stephen Downes is unfairly hard on teachers and teaching in this post (The Great Rebranding), or may have fallen into a (rare) category error. Yes, given the way the world is organised the 25:1 or 50:1 ratio of students to teachers can be seen as a luxury that few can afford. Downes says, “Having one instructor for 20-50 people is expensive, and most of the world cannot afford that cost.”
MOOCs (x or c) provide some remediation. The cMOOC model is a radical challenge to institutionalised education. But, I do not think it is the elitist preciousness of “instructors” – or not JUST their preciousness – that seeks to preserve a 25:1 kind of interaction. I do not really even need to preserve the 1. But, I care a lot to preserve the 25, or some number between maybe 7 and 35 people as an optimum size for a culture circle, a seminar, a class… or a tutor group.
And, I do think there is something useful about having skills to help the 25 or so to learn. I do think teachers are – or can be – important. If this is a luxury, that is a problem with the world of money and power, not the form. I have made suggestions in this direction in recent posts about stadium rock and my big question. Teaching does not have to be done by institutionalised academics. Groups can self-organise. Freire struggled with the problem of educators who were not from the social milieu of those in education. There is a fine line between liberation and neo-colonialism.
We, as human beings, need to have meaningful relations with other human beings in order to learn meaningful things. I do not suggest we can’t learn stuff on our own from books or other forms of resource-based learning. I do not mean that this stuff is not (or cannot be) meaningful. But to put whatever we have learned into practice we need to do it with (or for or even to) other people. As far as I can see the purpose of learning is to be able to have some kind of influence, some autonomy, some self and community realisation. Media of all forms can be a surrogate or a simulation for some of this. We can practice with a tape in front of a mirror. But at some point we are going to have to inter-act (I hyphenate deliberately) with other people.
Therefore the challenge for me in working with a team to design a MOOC about learning how to teach in higher education (#fslt) is how to make sure that this MOOC is about enabling people to communicate with other people.
I had a penny-dropped moment observing a series of tutorials in Oxford Brookes University’s Interior Architecture group. The language being used by the tutors echoed, for me, the language of activity theory, actor network theory and – most importantly – third space theory. I am probably over-interpreting but until this moment I hadn’t realised quite how radical the Interior Architecture group’s outlook is. This post may get me into hot water with other people working in the built environment, and I do not mean to privilege any one approach or team. However, I was hearing the language of liberation pedagogies, hybrid identities, neo/post/anti-colonial experiences: an architecture of community, identity and emotion; an architecture of relationships that were not commercial and which spoke against the colonisation of space by the powerful.
The pricing model is a little complicated. We are currently testing the “freemium” model of free participation/pay for credit.
Anyone can participate in the courses for free. We call this “Open participation”. Open participants have access to all the course facilities, content, discussion forums, virtual classroom. We are developing an informal badging system for completion of the activities. Open participants get everything except: personal tutor feedback, summative assessment, a certificate and the transferrable credits.
Transferrable credits are recognised throughout the UK higher education sector (credit accumulation and transfer scheme CATS). They can be applied to Postgraduate Certificates, Diplomas and MAs in Education.
Enrolled participants may be required to pay a fee as follows:
Staff at Oxford Brookes University, no charge
External participants pay a fee for summative assessment, tutor feedback and accreditation, currently GBP £345.
Staff at affiliated colleges currently can enrol at 50% of the external participant fee.
That is correct at this writing. But watch this space for developments.
As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ‘em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_(1965_TV_series) . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.
MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.
But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.
MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?
We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.
Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.
First, sustaining participation is a design question. Thought has to be given to this question. You have, at least to consider the do-nothing option.
This question was asked in etMooc over here (maybe) in a Google+ community. I replied:
Tell me about it, and I am an experienced MOOCer & online course runner of things. Both terms “sustaining” and “participation” are problematic. We have seen how complex a concept sustainability has become with respect to the cost of human energy sinks. Is sustainability the only real criterion? “Do they keep coming back?” It could be a regular evaluation question. MOOCs may develop community-like aspects: semi-permeable boundaries; processes of recruitment and completion; moving on within and through the community/network connections. ds106 has something of this character at the moment.
For objective assessment, for accreditation of anything, objectives need to be agreed, and performance against those objectives needs to be evaluated. Self, peer, learning sets, tutors, external examiners, curriculum, QA apparatus, all need to be in place for reasonably fair, valid objective assessmemt to take place for the purposes of incorporation (e.g. professional body membership, licence to practice).
I am also participating in OLDSMOOC. This week I am supposed to be reflecting on
What is learner context?
How do learners’ contexts affect the ways they interpret and enact learning designs?
How can we use context in learning design?
How can we personalise designs to individual learner’s needs and contexts?
We are supposed to (by today!)
Bring together and present the best of what you (and others) have done over the week on your portfolio.
Look back at your learning objectives for the week. What have you achieved? What have you learnt? Write a short blog post (or otherwise summarise) to your learning journal.
Solicit feedback and recognition (e.g. apply for badges, ask for skill endorsements on LinkedIn, etc).
Well, if anyone notices, hi! It’s me! Waving my arm in the air. Darn. Never calls on me. Silly teacher. Dark mood. Must get homework done before the night before. Or morning of. Other things to do related to active learning designs. Learning set meeting today. Need to read into forums. Prepare template.
So here will be a sketch of the learning designs we did last year and need to update for this year. Or… I am trying to upload them but we just upgraded WordPress and … hold that thought. We’ll be back later,
This is a version of a letter that I wrote to the editor of the THE, which they did not publish, further to Frank Furedi’s rant against learning outcomes.
I am the course leader for Oxford Brookes University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education. We were very pleased to see that when Professor Furedi (apparently) Googled “Learning Outcomes”, Oxford Brookes University comes top of the list. It is not my intention to enter deep into argument, here. Furedi sets up, then knocks down a straw man. I suggest that the straw man is a product of – not a cause for – cynicism.
There are big problems with the creeping instrumentalism of education. But, I fail to see a problem with being clear about what a teacher might want students to achieve. And, I suggest it is healthy that these intentions might be expressed in clear language that helps us decide what to teach, how to teach it and allows for some empirical assessment. Would Furedi be similarly opposed to making marking criteria explicit? Without criteria – however imperfect – judgement becomes wholly subjective and might lead simply to the replication of people who think like me, or worse.
I hope that my students might “understand” the expression of learning outcomes is a highly nuanced form. But, I have no direct access to the psychological states of others. I need my students to do something: to explain, to analyse, to argue from multiple perspectives, to demonstrate that the expression of learning outcomes, while problematic, may have benefits – or not – for teaching and learning. As Gabriel Egan was heard to say, a perfectly well expressed outcome of this debate might be:
Present to your tutors unexpected questions, unanticipated problems, and novel avenues of intellectual exploration arising from this topic.