New Special Issue on MOOCs published today (JOLT)

Today has seen the publication in JOLT  of a paper I worked on with Marion Waite, George Roberts and Elizabeth Lovegrove from Oxford Brookes University, in which we examined learning in the First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education MOOC (FSLT12).

Waite, M., Mackness, J., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (2013). Liminal participants & skilled orienteers: A case study of learner participation in a MOOC for new lecturers. JOLT

In a brief overview of ocTEL which Martin Hawksey gives in the video below, he mentions that one thing they would like to address in the next run of ocTEL is learner support.

In FSLT12 we were also concerned about this. We noted in our research into participation in FSLT12, that whilst many of the participants found themselves in that liminal zone of uncertainty about who they are, what they should be doing, how to navigate the environment, how open to be and so on, there were also many experienced MOOCers, who we called ‘skilled orienteers’. These participants voluntarily took on the role of supporting participants new to MOOCs and this way of working in the open. In the following run of the course, FSLT13, alumni from the previous course were invited to act as ‘expert’ participants, with the expectation that they would support those new to MOOCs and also provide feedback on the outcomes of the course activities.

Martin Hawksey is running a session today at ALT-C on Tues 10th Sept, 1.55 -2.55 pm, Horses for Open Courses: Making the Backend of a MOOC with WordPress – experiences from ocTEL .

The main thrust of this session will be, as the title suggests, the design of the course using WordPress. The design of the ALT-C website, which Stephen Downes has decribed as ‘masterwork’  is a development of the design for the ocTEL MOOC.

I’m looking forward to Martin’s session and hearing not only what he has to say about the ocTEL WordPress platform, but also his plans for future developments in relation to participant support.

I’m also looking forward to hearing what Stephen Downes might have to say about learner support in MOOCs. I remember, as a participant of CCK08, being aware that I was very much in a ‘sink or swim’ environment. My perception at the time was that this was an intentional part of the course design, and since I ended up ‘swimming’, but not without difficulty, I didn’t see this as a bad thing. But I do still wonder how much learners should be expected to sink or swim. Is there a conflict between the principles for learning in cMOOCs – autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity/connectedness – and learner support, i.e. can the principles be constrained by support and if so to what extent?

Full Circle to Stephen Downes at ALT-C 2013

ALT-C 2013

Stephen Downes is the final keynote speaker at ALT-C this year. His session will be broadcast LIVE on Thursday 12 Sept at 2.00 pm (See the programme here ). Unfortunately I won’t be there, but it will be recorded.

As I mentioned in this blog post the only other time I have been to ALT-C was in 2005 when Stephen was also the keynote speaker.

I clearly remember that talk and in particular that he said ‘Collaboration is the joining together of things that do not naturally want to be joined’, which drew audible sucking in of breath from the audience.

Why did his talk have such an impact on me?

In part it was because I was ready for it. At the time I had just left a job in Higher Education to become an independent consultant. I had been running an innovative online/distance learning teacher training programme, which was described by some of my Higher Ed colleagues as a ‘poisoned chalice’. Online learning in their eyes was definitely second rate, even when the programme was proved very successful. So I was ready to listen to someone who thought ‘outside the box’, and who could see the potential of online learning. It was not the idea that collaboration might not be all it is cracked up to be, but that this somehow epitomized for me that there was a new and fresh way of thinking about education ‘out there’.

So when CCK08 was offered, although I was still light years behind the likes of Stephen Downes, I was even more ready for a completely new way of thinking about learning. By this time I was familiar with Etienne Wenger’s work on communities of practice and I was intrigued by what Stephen was saying about groups and networks.

And that was the start. Not only was I introduced to the principles of connectivity, openness, diversity and autonomy, for learning in online environments – principles which have had a huge effect on my thinking – but CCK08 was also the start of my venture into research. I think it would be fair to say that what I learned in CCK08 has influenced all my subsequent research, and it was good to know from Stephen in a recent online conference talk he gave that our early understanding of the principles of learning in MOOCs was not so far off the mark. There were one or two things which we hadn’t completely understood (as he points out in the presentation) but for the most part, on reflection, I think we ‘got it’.

And next week I am back at ALT-C again, with my colleague Roy Williams, who I met on CCK08. We have come a long way since then and our interest now lies firmly in trying to understand what we mean by emergent learning. Ironically, if there is one thing that we can predict about learning in a cMOOC that follows connectivist principles, it is that the learning will be unpredictable and emergent!

Hope you will join us at ALT-C for our session, Learning in the Open, on Tues 10th Sept at 3.00 p.m to discuss this further, or follow along through these blog posts and our open wiki.

This is my last plug for our session, but hopefully also a plug for Stephen’s keynote  – not that he needs it 🙂

Where have they been?

I have just finished listening to the UStream session and the very last 5 or 10 minutes made me prick my ears up. The question was put to SD and GS – Give one simple practical suggestion for implementing connectivism in classrooms (with children). The suggestions were

  1. Connect classrooms from people round the world.
  2. Encourage children to work together to participate in a real way to produce something real of benefit to society.

Neither of these ideas is new.  My first experience of networking across schools was when I was at school myself in about 1962 or 63, when a group from my school in the North of England linked with a group from a school in London (which in those days might as well have been in a different country) to work on a project. Since then I have experienced this kind of activity both nationally and internationally, both as a learner and teacher many times. The same is true of working collaboratively on ‘real’ projects to produce  a recognisably useful outcome. Interesting though that collaboarative group work doesn’t seem to have been built into this course. Not yet anyhow.

No – I think Dave Cormier is much nearer what the change might need to be and that is in a negotiated curriculum. We need to start encouraging children to negotiate their own curriculum. Even this is not new. I remember that at least 15 years ago, when teaching 5 and 6 year old children, I once started the half term’s work by asking the class to plan their own work for the 8 week period. They were perfectly able to do this and planned a wonderful topic based on a nursery rhyme, in which they were able to say what maths, english, science, geography etc. etc. we would need to work on that term.

What is new for me – but not completely new is allowing students to negotiate their assessment. I have done this in the past as well – i.e. asked children to work together to determine assessment criteria and then peer assess, but there has always been a limit to how far I have been able to go with this because of quality assurance standards.

It seems to me that for connectivism to be useful to education, some of the issues surrounding assessment and a negotiated curriculum need to be resolved. In particular, I do believe it is very important to determine whether it can be applied to young children’s education.