cMOOCs and xMOOCs – key differences

As xMOOCs become more successful and begin to experiment with pedagogies that go beyond the didactic video lecture approach, I have been trying to understand the essential differences between the original connectivist MOOCs such as CCK08 and the current xMOOCs such as those offered by Coursera.

I have now had experience of two xMOOCs – Growing Old Around the Globe (convened by Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker) and Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (convened by Al Filreis). Both these xMOOCs have been very successful. They have reached large numbers of people, established communities of learners around them, promoted interaction and discussion, involved participants in peer review and used teaching assistants to support participants. So if we take these as two of the best Coursera MOOCs, then what are the differences between these and the original cMOOCs such as CCK08, PLENK, Critical Literacies and Change 11? What follows is my current understanding, based on my experience in these MOOCs and what I have recently read and heard from Stephen Downes and George Siemens (see references at the end of this post).

CCK08, the first MOOC, was an attempt to put the theory of connectivism into practice. Connectivism as a theory is still being questioned, but

 ‘at its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks’. (Stephen Downes – What Connectivism Is).

I am not aware of any evidence that xMOOCs have been specifically designed to test out a given theory.

Connectivist MOOCs  (cMOOCs) are distributed in the sense that they do not run on a single website or with a centralized core of content; the content in cMOOCs is networked. Participants are encouraged to meet in locations of their choosing and organise themselves. xMOOCs are convened on a designated platform; they may offer alternative sites such as Facebook or Twitter, but the course runs principally on the main platform, where interaction takes place in discussion forums. Blogs, for example, are not a big feature of xMOOCs.

cMOOCs are designed as massive networks. The idea is that these networks are neither centralized, nor decentralized, but distributed so that the collapse of a given node or set of nodes does not cause the collapse of the entire network. cMOOCs are based on networked cooperation rather than group collaboration – (See Downes on Groups and Networks)

SD ALT-C slidesharecMOOCs promote diversity, the kind of diversity that comes with a mesh network. xMOOCs encourage a huge diversity of participants, but in cMOOC terms diversity is more than broadcasting the same message to thousands of people, i.e. the model of a centralized network. It involves diversity of approach and resources, i.e. participants are involved in determining the approach and creating the resources.

The original cMOOCs are based on long standing principles of open education and use open educational resources, i.e. they do not create content to go into the course, they use content that is already ‘out there’ on the web and ‘open’ and link to it. This avoids issues of copyright. xMOOCs build their content within the course platform and this is copyrighted, i.e. it cannot be taken and freely distributed outside the course.

cMOOCs connect participants and resources through immersion. They are intended to be disruptive, and to overwhelm participants.

MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete’ (Stephen Downes – The Great Re-Branding)

Through this they hope that participants will learn how to navigate complex learning environments and be critically selective in lines of enquiry they choose to follow. This model of learning is intended to reflect the current learning climate and environment in which we exist, i.e. a complex fast changing world where there is far more information available than we can ever hope to cope with or keep up with. cMOOC instructors model behaviour, but because the cMOOC environment is dynamic and continually changing, students cannot replicate the instructor’s behaviour – they have to self-organise. In contrast xMOOCs have adopted more of a transmission model of instruction.

Key activities in cMOOCs are remixing and repurposing, i.e. that content will be created, ideally co-created, through interaction with freely available open resources. Most xMOOCs do not allow for this, although I think EDcMOOC may be an exception, but I wasn’t a participant and this would need to be confirmed.

In a talk that George Siemens gave last night  ‘What are MOOCs doing to the Open Education‘ –  he said ‘Easy trumps ideology’ and that ‘openness’ is the cornerstone of innovation and creativity, but that the original meaning of openness associated with cMOOCs has become confused by the way in which xMOOCs have been designed. Openness is hard work. It is more than open access. xMOOCs according to George Siemens have taken the easy route. But despite this the advent of MOOCs of all types is disrupting traditional forms of education.  He also quoted Jon Dron’s comment ‘Soft is hard and hard is easy’, which I interpret to mean – it is easy (relatively speaking) to create a platform, such as Coursera, but hard to develop a learning space in which flexibility and creativity thrive.

Ultimately, whether we go down the cMOOC or xMOOC route (or a hybrid route) will depend on our fundamental beliefs of what education is for, either as teachers or learners (our educational philosophy). xMOOCs have attracted thousands of learners, so presumably thousands of learners are benefiting or believe they are benefiting. We still need more empirical research on learning in different types of MOOCs. I have learned from the two xMOOCs I have participated in and appreciate the skill and efforts of the tutors and what I have learned from co-participants, but for me cMOOCs remains the ideal. CCK08 was a transformative experience. It changed the whole way in which I think about education and I am still learning from that experience 5 years later.

Finally, I do not really see xMOOCs and cMOOCs as a dichotomy. For me there are the original cMOOCs which follow the principles clearly laid out by Downes and Siemens, which I have tried to summarise here, and the rest, which can be a whole mishmash of different approaches which offer more to less autonomy, more to less diversity, more to less openness and more to less interaction dependent on the platform they are offered on and the extent to which the principles summarised above are followed.

Further references

Downes, S. (2013). Connective Knowledge and Open Resources: Retrieved from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/connective-knowledge-and-open-resources.html

Downes, S. (2013). Habits of Effective Connected Learners. Retrieved from: http://youtu.be/lEFkKko4BA4

Dron, J. (2011). The Nature of Technologies. Presentation to Change 11 MOOC. Retrieved from: http://change.mooc.ca/week11.htm

Parr, C. (2013). MOOC Creators Criticise  Courses’ lack of Creativity. Retrieved from: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/mooc-creators-criticise-courses-lack-of-creativity/2008180.fullarticle – (See also The Article – Full Interview)

Siemens, G. (2012). MOOCs are really a Platform. Retrieved from: http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/07/25/moocs-are-really-a-platform/

Learning about learning from Gertrude Stein

Gertrude_Stein_by_Alvin_Langdon_Coburn Link to source of image

ModPo moves on at a furious pace – a bit too fast for me!  Week 5 has started (with the theme of Anti-Modernist Doubts), but I am still thinking about Week 4 and Gertrude Stein –  and what I can learn from her about teaching and learning. Of course, this was not her objective. According to one of the poets who presented with Al Filreis in the great live webcast  this week….

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/DuPlessis.php
Bob Perelman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Perelman.php
Ron Silliman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Silliman.php

….. I think it was Rachel Blau DuPlessis – Stein was the total proponent of discovery. ‘She was not concerned about the future and her legacy, instead her focus was on the excitement of an opening present’ – how refreshing.

But despite this I think Stein has a lot of messages for teachers and learners, never mind poets and authors – so a legacy in spite of herself.

I will try and gather my thoughts into some sort of order, although in doing this I contradict my first point and Gertrude Stein!

1. Thinking spatially, instead of linearly.

A ModPo participant phoned in to the live webcast to say that last year she couldn’t make sense of Stein’s work. This year she had an ‘epiphany’ when she realized that Stein’s work cannot be thought of linearly –  she realized she had to think of Stein’s poetry in terms of spatial relationships. According to one of the guest poets (apologies for not remembering who) Stein’s work proceeds rhythmically. Her writing is very clear but very abstract. For Stein the continual present is what is important – things don’t add up.

For me thinking spatially instead of linearly describes the learning process. We like to think we are working through a curriculum/syllabus linearly, and pretty much everything in education is presented to us in this way (even ModPo!) – but in fact our learning, even the learning of very small children, does not proceed in a linear orderly fashion, but goes forwards and backwards and from side to side – in fact in every direction. This relates to Stephen Downes’ thoughts about learning being the recognition of patterns (connectivism) and Dave Cormier’s work on rhizomatic learning.

2. The role of multiple perspectives

Picasso and the Cubists wanted to see and present different sides of an object – to see the object from multiple perspectives. Stein tried to do the same with words.  Here is a video of her reading her Portrait of Picasso –

There is also a video in which we can see how she goes even further than Picasso. The video puts her poetry to dance (which relates to the point I make about embodied learning below). (This video has been made private, since I initially wrote this post).

For Stein each word was an event. Any word in Stein’s work is a frame. It could mean a lot of different things. Learning in MOOCs has exposed us to a greatly increased number of perspectives in terms of the people we could come in contact with (34 000 in ModPo), than was possible in the small classes and limited access to texts of the past.  It is interesting to think of the different ways in which learners can be exposed to multiple perspectives and the effect of multiple perspectives on learning. For Stein it was about liberation from traditional ways of thinking and writing – putting her mind through a different way of thinking.

3. Risk and transformative learning

It was suggested in the webcast that without the Cubists there would have been no Gertrude Stein as we know her. The effect of the Cubists was to completely disrupt her existing way of thinking and writing, moving her irreversibly into a new relationship with words. The Cubists changed her ‘frames of reference’. As Meyer and Land  would describe it, she passed through a portal

a threshold  has always demarcated that which belongs within, the place of familiarity and relative security, from what lies beyond that, the unfamiliar, the unknown, the potentially dangerous. It reminds us too that all journeys begin with leaving that familiar space and crossing over into the riskier space beyond the threshold. (p.ix)

Stein was seeking a new kind of community and meaning making. She embraced the unfamiliar riskier space. Learning is not always ‘safe’ .

4. Embodied learning

I have always thought of embodied learning in terms of using the whole body. Little children do this through play as a natural part of their every day learning and there are some disciplines, such as dance, sport and some of the arts subjects where embodied learning is an easily recognizable element. It is harder to think about embodied learning in relation to text-based disciplines, but I think Stein shows us how this might be done. Stein treats words as impressionist brush strokes. See for example

Water Raining – from Tender Buttons.  (scroll down to find it)

Water astonishing and difficult altogether makes a meadow and a stroke.

Stein paints poetry and writes poetry as music. It was suggested in the webcast that she uses words for self-pleasuring – a form of intellectual eroticism. She plays a game with herself, not a game with us – enjoying the mechanisms of her mind – pleasuring herself – enjoying herself. Stein threw herself into her world of words as Jackson Pollock threw paint onto a canvas.

There is more, much more, I could learn from Gertrude Stein, but I want to keep up with the linear flow of the ModPo syllabus 😉 – so I’ll have to come back to Stein another time. Would Stein have been a ModPo participant?  I wonder. Maybe too linear for her?

Growing body of research into MOOCs

In the last few months the number of published research papers, which focus on MOOCs has significantly increased and this looks to continue.

In May eLearning Papers published a special issue on MOOCs – MOOCs and Beyond

In June the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching published a special issue on MOOCs –  and this included a paper that I worked on with colleagues from Oxford Brookes University.

Another special issue this summer came from the Research and Practice in Assessment Journal – MOOCs and Technology

There has been a call for papers on MOOCs for the EMOOCS2014 conference in Switzerland in February …

… and a similar call from the journal Distance Education for a special issue to be published in April 2014

There are also papers about MOOCs which are not published in special issues. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning often publishes papers on MOOCs. Their most recent edition has included another paper written with my Oxford Brookes colleagues:

Mackness, J., Waite, M., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (2013). Learning in a small, task-oriented, connectivist MOOC: Pedagogical Issues and Implications for Higher Education. [S.l.], v. 14, n. 4. IRRODL

And there are many more, both already published and in the pipeline – see, for example, the conference that is being organized by George Siemens

University of Texas Arlington December 5-6, 2013: MOOCs and Emerging Educational Models: Policy, Practice, and Learning.

and the call for papers from the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (JCal) which, ironically, although prestigious is a closed journal – Learning Analytics in Massively Multiuser Virtual Environments and Courses

It is in the most recent issue of JCal that perhaps one of the most interesting articles from this whole list has emerged  – a critique, or perhaps more accurately a criticism, of connectivism.  Connectivism is the proposed learning theory that started off this MOOC ‘tsunami’ (as some have called it), although I wonder if all those who convene MOOCs know about connectivism. But Clarà and Barberà think they do.

Clarà, M. & Barberà, E. (2013).  Three problems with the connectivist conception of learning Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

But even more interesting than the article is Stephen Downes’ response on his Half an Hour Blog – On the Three of Four Problems of Connectivism

This was published within days of the Clarà and Barberà article appearing in JCal, for free, on his blog.

So it’s worth remembering that high quality writing about MOOCs and MOOC issues will not always be in journals or conference papers, open or closed.

06-10-13 Postscript

Frances Bell’s comment about connectivism – below (see the link to her 2011 article) – and the number of times this post has been tweeted has made me think that it might be useful to mention a couple of other sources of MOOC research.

Rita Kop has been publishing papers about MOOCs since 2010. See

Research Publications on Massive Open Online Courses and Personal Learning Environments

In 2011 there was an IRRODL special issue on connectivism – pre-xMOOC ideas:

Special Issue – Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning

And this year – again in IRRODL – Tharindu Liyanagunawardena et al. published a systematic study of MOOC literature 2008-2012.

So whereas in 2008, there was virtually no literature to draw on when writing a paper about MOOCs,  there is now more and more.

07-10-2013 PPS

As noted above, not all quality writing about MOOCs and connectivism is in published journals. A good place to start to find out what is not, is on Stephen Downes’ website. See Posts about MOOCs.

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 🙂

Theory-informed TEL and Connectivism

This week I met Seb Schmoller  who recommended that I have a look at the ocTEL MOOC , a 10 week open course in technology enhanced learning which is being run by ALT (Association for Learning Technology) here in the UK.

Seb is a former Chief Executive of ALT. I was vaguely aware of this MOOC, but had put it to the back of my mind, because for me there are just too many MOOCs about at the moment – it’s difficult to know where to focus.

But Seb’s prompt made me have another look and ‘Yes’ ocTEL does seem well organized with some interesting discussions and useful resources. However, I don’t think I will be getting fully engaged as I am already committed in part to FSLT13  due to start on May 8th 2013 – and Growing Old Around the Globe   due to start on June 10th 2013.  More of them later in other posts.

So far in the ocTEL MOOC I have checked out the Week 1 resources and listened to the recorded presentations .  One slide from Liz Masterman’s presentation has stuck in my mind.

Liz Masterman

Liz Masterman interviewed academics in Higher Ed and asked them which theories informed their use of technology in their teaching. This Wordle is the result. The two tiny words are ‘constructionism’ and ‘behaviourism’. This slide resonates with me because I was recently asked to create a presentation about learning theories for Lisa Lane’s Pedagogy First Online Teaching course. Whilst I am familiar with everything that is on Liz Masterman’s slide (although there are some models in there as well as theories), I only mentioned a few of these in my own presentation. Maybe I should have tried to take a broader brush, but at the time less seemed more.

For me an omission from Liz’s slide and therefore from the interviewees’ thinking and experience of technology enhanced learning in Higher Ed is ‘Connectivism’ or anything to do with networked learning – although communities of practice can be thought of in terms of networked learning.

In terms of the slide I don’t think it matters whether or not we think of Connectivism as a theory, since some of the other items listed on the slide are not theories – but could its omission be a ‘telling’ statement on where academics are in Higher Education in relation to their understanding of learning in new landscapes of practice?

The MOOC Bandwagon

As others have noted – most recently Bon Stewart in her Inside Higher Ed article  – everyone seems to be jumping on the MOOC bandwagon at an alarming rate.

This week the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK ) has jumped on it with a webinar entitled

What is a MOOC – JISC Webinar 11-07-12

Four speakers were invited. Here is the programme and here is the recording
12.00 Definitions of MOOCs (Martin Weller)
12.10 Tutor perspective (Jonathan Worth)
12.20 Learner perspective (Lou McGill)
12.30 MOOCs and online learning (David White)
12.40 Q&A

Martin Weller presented a useful overview of the history of MOOCs and some thoughtful ideas about the benefits of MOOCs and the associated concerns in relation to Higher Education.

Jonathan Worth told us about his ‘open’ photography course in which he uses Twitter with his students to reach a wider network of experts. I was not sure that this is a MOOC in my terms, although it was clearly an ‘open’ course. It got me thinking about whether using different technologies necessarily means that the course is distributed across different platforms, which according to Stephen Downes is a necessary condition for a MOOC (at least a connectivist MOOC).

Lou McGill is a staunch advocate of the DS106 MOOC, in which she has been a learner and she shared her experience of authentic learning in this MOOC. She is also working with Strathclyde University to research learner experiences in the Change11 MOOC.  I was a participant in Change 11 and was also interviewed by Lou McGill for the research – an interesting experience in which I realized that my understanding of ‘What is a MOOC?’ stems from CCK08, but many, many people who are discussing MOOCs today were not in that MOOC and appear to be coming from a different place.

Dave White pondered on why the Stanford MOOC attracted such large numbers and thought it must be to do with their credibility and brand name. He raised the question of the role of the teacher/facilitator in MOOCs and suggested that this is important if MOOCs are to be inclusive. This is a topic we have been discussing in our review the FSLT MOOC.

These are my reflections as a result of attending this webinar.

There are still plenty of people who have technical difficulties accessing a site like Blackboard Collaborate. We cannot make assumptions that people have the technical equipment or skills to engage in MOOCs.

Whilst MOOCs might be the new buzzword in Higher Education, there are still plenty of people who have never heard of them, only just heard of them, have no idea what they are, or who completely misunderstand what they are.

The original connectivist principles of MOOCs are getting lost in the plethora of offerings which now bear the name MOOC, e.g.

  • CCK08 (the original MOOC) was an experiment in getting people to think about learning differently;
  • the idea was that learners could be in control of their learning and meet in learning spaces of their own choice  according to the principle of distributed environments (see slide 33 in this presentation by Stephen Downes) and see his LMS vs PLE video
  • learners would experience learning in the massiveness of the network – so they would not be able to rely on the tutor/convener/facilitator – instead they would need to make connections and seek peer support. In the light of this our understanding of the relationship between teacher and learner would need to change
  • the purpose of learning in a MOOC would be to create knowledge and artefacts through exposure to a diverse network, rather than have it centrally provided. This would, through the aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward of resources shared and created, enrich the learning experience
  • MOOCs were never intended – despite the name – to be ‘courses’ ( see this blog post  and this response from Stephen Downes ); they were intended to be a challenge to the traditional notion of a course – in the form of learning events. If they don’t do this then they are ‘open courses’ (with some of the attributes of MOOCs), but not MOOCs in the terms of how they were originally conceived.

This is my understanding of what is meant by MOOC – now renamed (in the light of different interpretations) a connectivist MOOC. Many of the most recent courses which have been called MOOCs are not MOOCs in these terms, but fall somewhere along the continuum from connectivist MOOCs with these principles, to the Stanford AI type of centrally located MOOC (see Stephen Downes’ LMS vs PLE video for an explanation)

It is evident that there is room for all these different types of MOOCs or ‘open courses’.   But I hope we will not lose the principles of the CCK08 type of connectivist MOOC, as it is the connectivist MOOCs that are really pushing against the boundaries and challenging traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning, which is of course why many people feel uncomfortable with them and why we are now seeing efforts to somehow tie them down and bring them into line.

#fslt12 Week 0 – starts tomorrow – Monday 14 May

 

 

The run up to the First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Mooc is well under way. The course officially starts on 21st May (and will run for 5 weeks until 22nd June), so next week is a good time for anyone who is interested in following the course to have a look round our WordPress and Moodle sites and spend a bit of time setting yourself up and deciding where and how you want to participate. These sites are still being developed, so there may be some last minute changes next week.

Designing this course has been more complex than I anticipated and I think this is because the course is neither a fully connectivist course of the type conceived by Downes, Siemens, Cormier and Groom, nor an institutional or commercial type of Mooc (Stanford, MIT, Curtis Bonk). It is somewhere in between and is aligned at least to some extent to Oxford Brookes University’s and funders’ expectations. So we do have an LMS element (Moodle), which feels more like a traditional course, but also the course is open – we will aggregate blogs, and we are expecting people to interact in spaces of their own choosing.

Lisa Lane has written a very interesting (and for me – timely) blog post this week – Where’s your class? musings on course location   in which she describes the type of MOOC we have been developing as a ‘pseudo’ Mooc. A Mooc that perpetuates the idea that ‘class is here’.  She describes the model we have decided on as being the ‘middle ground’.

I recognise our Mooc in what she is saying. Like Lisa, my own preference is for Moocs to be open, distributed and aggregated, but as she has pointed out:

The WordPress Multi-User site, or the LMS that’s open to all, or the main blog where all blog within it but can have their content exported to save (which is what Dave is doing) may then be the preferred models for balancing these issues with those of exploration and innovation. They are being chosen because they take into account concerns of pedagogy and comfort, not because they can handle 1,000 students and use their content and personal information for other ends, but because they work.

Certainly for the #fslt12 MOOC, which is targeted at new lecturers in HE and PhD students who want to teach (although we welcome experienced practitioners as well), we hope to be able to provide a comfortable and safe learning environment for those who need it, for whatever reason.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating 🙂 Whatever happens it has been, and will continue to be, a great learning experience!