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I am one of those who don't think that MOOC completion rates are a valid source of criticism of MOOCs as compared to traditional education. When you take into account the investment in money and time even a 10% drop out rate for universities should quite alarming. Sure, people don't generally approach MOOCs as if it were a newspaper or a textbook (although I have done this with two MOOCs of interest to me). However, that is not an argument against MOOCs in general, just against the way the materials are presented on the web. Here, the O for openness is more important than anything else. But even though I accept your criticism of the way MOOCs (or at least their websites) are structured, the underlying issues apply equally to traditional education. Apart from large drop out rates in traditional education, there is the ignore and forget aspect. Most students forget most of what they've learned in class (unless it is reinforced by practical use - e.g. medicine, law, teaching). Why not just cut down what you present to 10%. Almost nobody reads most academic books cover to cover. Still I haven't perceived a noticeable monograph slimming. While we're at it, try quizzing a book author on all the facts in her own work. Finally, while I'm not friend of commercialization of learning, I don't see the vested status quo interests of many MOOC opponents as any more superior than the commercial interests of which people are so suspicious. I'm not saying this because I think MOOCs are completely new in every aspect or that they will transform education completely. I never thought that. But the majority of their pedagogical faults are shared by the incumbents.
Toggle Commented Jul 4, 2014 on MOOC completion rates DO matter at The Ed Techie
This is good. I can see that the MOOC going from few hundred to 40 participants I ran last year fits with this pattern without needing to be truly massive (just much bigger than usual for the subject). But there is more to it than just the numbers. I wrote more about a year ago about how the drop out rates don't really matter given the investment and the experience and are not as drastic when compared with meat space universities in real terms:
Toggle Commented Jan 6, 2014 on Redefining MOOC completion rates at The Ed Techie
I have no doubt that the difference in terms of knowledge between students in the traditional model and this new model would be almost zero. But there's a lot more going on at university than learning things. In fact, if you look at any of the ethnographies of campus life, learning things is a side issue. People spend their first year in all sorts of liminal activities - being socialised to a community of practice and generally growing up. Can a MOOC make up for that? I've suggested a flipped school year idea as an alternative model that could make up for some of these things.
Hard to disagree with anything you say (not that it would stop me trying). Perhaps just a supplement that this is not that strange a path for innovation to happen. New technologies or techniques try to recreate existing processes in radical ways but then they loop back and do something just slightly different. The different ways video tried to make its way into education - film, TV, laser discs, CD-ROMs and now YouTube. They all brought something new to the party with a lot of hype but ultimately just being a way of somebody saying something to somebody else on the screen. I'm sure we're not at the end of the cycle yet. The iPad is another example. It's both just a bigger phone and a better transformer PC. But something about the combination made it radical. Not that I think the MOOCified VLEs of traditional institutions will be transformative to the same degree that iPads look to be but if you look at the typical VLE-based provision at large institutions, what even the poorer Coursera or Udacity courses offer is a marked improvement from the students' perspective. And it can free time and space for the kinds of human interactions xMOOCs are not ideal for. I'm still going to be interested in running and taking part in alternative experimental MOOCs, though.
Thanks for the plug Martin. And I think this is a great metaphor for the relationship of MOOCs to traditional education. I think it applies to much (if not all) of pedagogy reform movements. They are often based on people who put in unrealistic amounts of work or work in contexts where the consequences of their innovation are different. I plan to use it in my thinking in the future. But let me offer a different metaphor. MOOCs are like movie producers and authors sharing their movies or books on bit torrent sites. This is introduces their material to people who would have never tried it at full price or simply couldn't have afforded it. It also eats to some of their profits but the expanded audience and consequently word of mouth is good in aggregate. This is what MOOCs must feel like to somebody in India, who could never see a course on NLP as it's being taught in Stanford. Sure, they don't get the full experience but it's a lot better than before. I had this experience just this weekend with the Stanford NLP (Natural Language Processing not the neural stuff). I used to do NLP many years ago but needed a quick refresher. I watched a few intro videos and in an hour was up to speed. And I could see that if I'd been a complete newbie, I could have learned something useful. In the past, I could have gotten that same thing out of a textbook that costs $250, or simply have done without. I think that my metaphor can live alongside your metaphor. They are both partial and reflect only one part of the complex nature of the beast. I wrote up some more analogies on The problem is that in discussions we use these metaphors metonymically. Meaning that we use the stories underlying our metaphors to stand for the whole thing (which is really a synecdoche...).
Toggle Commented May 28, 2013 on Uncle MOOC at The Ed Techie
I would add a couple more good reasons to do a MOOC. 1. To contribute to the public conversation on a topic. 2. To contribute resources for the public good. 3. Increase engagement and professional development of staff (may not apply in all contexts) We just concluded a MOOC on Inclusive Technologies for Reading and the blog posts and videos the participants created are a genuine contribution to the information available on the internet. We even tried to create an eBook as a part of it using but didn't quite have the staying power. I would also question how costly a MOOC actually is. The talking heads MOOCs from Udacity and Coursera must cost loads to develop but a connectivist MOOC should cost not much more than a regular course to run or develop. Certainly not the second time after the initial additional cost of figuring out new ways of doing things..
I'm not sure VLE alone is to blame for this malaise you describe. I have long been saying that most university IT service departments are less than the sum of their parts. Lots of clever people working there but with job descriptions that are antithetical to innovation. In my experience, I have been only able to get things done when I ingratiated myself in with the right people underneath the management level. But I can speak SysAdmin so this is not an option for most academics. I think every university should have an innovations branch of the IT services that would run essentially like a little experimental ISP hosting WP, Drupal, etc. for academics to help with their projects.
Toggle Commented Jan 18, 2013 on Twitter is your IT support at The Ed Techie
I agree with most your points Martin. In particular, I don't think autodidacts are the way to go. The successful ones are far too rare and most of the ones I've come across are noticeably odd. But I did not mean to imply this scenario. I wasn't even suggesting that people shouldn't follow a course of study over some period of time or not participate in a community (although while professional communities are necessary, they can also have hugely detrimental effects on innovation - cf Kuhn). My complaint is that I don't see why these courses of study and the communities should be locked away and cost so much money. I've long advocated Open Source curriculum and text book development (on as, I know, have you. In a way, what I'm proposing is the unbundling of assessment and individual support from curriculum and content. But you're right, I was too harsh on OU courses. While not for me, I'm sure many people find them enjoyable (though, as you point our not at every point), rewarding and useful.
Toggle Commented Jul 7, 2012 on Comparing the value of education at The Ed Techie
This is an interesting list but I think it only partially compares with real value judgements people make. As you say, when you're buying a holiday or season tickets, you're buying them for the reason of enjoyment (and I was shocked to read how much that would cost). And you already have a view of how much of your budget you spend on enjoyment. But a degree is not only not advertised as enjoyable nor is it structured as anything other than a job prospect building activity. You have to find all the other values in it yourself. Plus I think learning is not nearly as enjoyable as the current propaganda makes out. I am continually amazed at how little many people enjoy being a part of an academic community. And anyway I doubt, the enjoyment is enough. I'd say that there is no course that is potentially as enjoyable as a good MOOC. Yet, their attrition rates are huge (I have yet to even properly start one). Even the university attrition rates are quite high considering the costs. I would imagine that the season ticket or holiday trip attrition rates are rather low. So in that analogy, education would be more like joining the gym or buying DIY tools. We could also look at this from the perspective of knowledge/skill acquisition. Because, at a certain point, what do you need a course for? I spend a lot of time listening to history lectures (LSE podcasts, the Teaching Company, New Books in History) and reading history books (plus I have some prior training in the historiography). And I'm writing this while on holiday at the Dutch Summer School of Linguistics. I'm willing to spend money and time on both and I know exactly what I'm getting from it (all the items above except job prospects). But I'm pretty sure taking an OU MA course would drive me crazy. (Having designed and taught on courses like these.) It would seem like I could collate all the content and activity of learning on my own so most of the money would be spent on pretending that the OU content is worth more than publicly available content (which it isn't - but neither is anything at Harvard or Berkeley) and that the degree is anything but an arbitrary piece of paper. Sure, I'd get interactions with lecturers and fellow students but not as much as I can get out there in the open world or could get during a week or two at a good summer school. So basically, unless I can justify the expenditure as a direct job prospect, I can't see what value an MA in anything at the OU would have for me. Actually, there's one value I can see and that is headspace. But a part-time course may not be as good for that as a full time attendance course. I did actually do something like this five years ago but I took a complete career study break so I was buying head space as well as content or degree (which I never even finished). Going back to the skills, learning, etc. and what it has to do with the value of education. I believe I'm doing as serious and rigorous study of many subjects now as I was when I was a student. But there's no way to get meaningful credit for that. I'm vaguely excited by the badges idea which could provide small meaningful chunks of credit that might accumulate over time and mean something. But we'd have to build a lot of open mindedness into the system. For example, I'd seen some serious literary criticism done on Fanfiction forums - and I'd like to be able to go and award a badge to that person (as I did when I graded essays in literature). Maybe even without their asking me. And I'd like it if somebody else did it for my blog posts (some of them are over 5000 words). Maybe extend your idea of metajournal (which I love, by the way) into some kind of a metadegree. I am currently trying to design a MOOC-like course that would be both enjoyable, challenging, provide lots of learning from open resources, contribute resources back to the community and be worth paying for (a small amount but enough to make it sustainable). So the question your posts triggered in me is how can we go out and convince enough people to join the course, pay a bit of money, stick with it and continue the conversation. Given all the competing forces for their attention and money out there. Sorry, if this comment got a bit out of hand.
Toggle Commented Jul 4, 2012 on Comparing the value of education at The Ed Techie
I think that there are still some open options that can offer support within the MOOC model. I think doing summer camps (schools) would certainly be useful - they could be freeish like BarCamps or paid for. We're currently working on a MOOC-inspired course and building in opportunities to pay for individual tutor support.
Toggle Commented Jun 27, 2012 on Amnesimooc at The Ed Techie
I think the recently proposed could be made into infrastructure that could support open scholarship in multiple ways. I tried to outline some of them in this post focusing on peer review: The problem is (as I keep saying) that there are many more exchanges going on in higher ed than just students paying money for access to knowledge and universities paying academics to facilitate that access for their clients. There are massive infrastructures of teacher and student qualifications (trust networks) that need to experience the same kind of revolution that the content side of things has. I tried to think about some alternatives here: but recently I've impressed by the Mozilla badges project.
Toggle Commented Nov 25, 2011 on Yeah, but who pays? at The Ed Techie
I'm a bit puzzled by this post. Not that I don't agree with the general points but they don't match my experience with e-portfolio software the real needs of students using it. 1. Mahara has a community element - students can share in all sorts of different ways 2. Blogs don't make it easy (although there is e.g. Anthologizer for WordPress) to compile ones achievement - e-portfolio software does 3. e-Portfolios don't prevent external blogging or website building (although Mahara now makes it possible) 4. Most students don't want to blog. Forcing them to do so is like forcing them to perform in front of an audience which they may not be prepared to do. For those, e-portfolio software is ideal. The problem is not with e-portfolios but with portfolios - they need to be integrated into a program of learning. Some people may keep them just for personal development but most will do it for a particular qualification which means they need to share the portfolio with an assessor. And that makes something like Mahara pretty much the perfect option. So e-portfolios are problematic if you're talking about education and learning, but in the context of schooling - the real world in which most people live, they work just fine (or as well as anything does...).
Toggle Commented Jun 9, 2011 on Eportfolios - J'accuse at The Ed Techie
This is not a bad metaphor. But like many evolutionarily minded similes it ignores the very important fact of evolution - its lack of direction and value judgement. The survival of the fittest is a tautology because the only fitness the survivors can be said to have is the fitness to survive. This means that evolution is unpredictable. There are some interventions that can be made with confidence but their long-term repercussions are very much chaotic. In evolutionary terms there are no "barriers" the removal of which "helps the process continue" because everything in the ecosystem is a part of the process - including the gardener. What we're doing is trying to pick a particular weed and anoint it as the starting node for our favoured branch of the metaphorical evolutionary tree. So in this sense, we are just competing gardeners rather than guardians of something natural from which preordained path we need to remove artificial obstacles. Perhaps the way we should take this metaphor is to examine our own attitudes towards change and openness and those who don't share them. From their perspective we're just the people who say why don't you let the weeds grow in your perfectly groomed garden. I've started a new blog just for this kind of thinking on (also @metaphorhacker) - I may address this there in more depth. is a great suggestion. I use it for sharing materials with students all the time. But, Moodle is NOT a free version of Blackboard. It is an Open Source *alternative* to Blackboard. Also, it is probably great overkill for a single class. I'd recommend DrupalGardens or even Wordpress in combination for documents and media for media. Wordpress has the added advantage that it's really easy to take your data elsewhere. For more advanced educators who can access hosting, I'd say, have a look at ScholarPress (classroom management built on Wordpress). BTW: I agree with the comment on Facebook. The rules against faculty getting too closely involved in the social lives of students are there for a reason.
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