Critical Examination of MOOCs by Jeremy Knox

Jeremy Knox’s book – Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course. Contaminating the Subject of Global Education was published early this year.  I bought the book soon after it was published but have only this summer got round to reading it.
cover

It’s a pity that this is not an open access e-book, which might have received more immediate attention and discussion. I think it does deserve to be discussed since Knox questions whether MOOCs really have been revolutionary and disruptive saying in the introduction,

‘MOOCs have emerged simply as the latest in a long and established line of educational endeavours premised on the nurturing and refinement of a particular kind of human being: one that thinks in a reasoned way; has a natural capacity for independence; and which shares these exclusive traits with all others assumed to be of the same species’(p.2).

He argues that despite the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, ultimately they both promote humanist assumptions of universalism, essentialism, autonomy and transcendental subjectivity.

The problems with these assumptions are explored through Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the book, in which he develops the following arguments.

The assumption of a universal humanist subject:

  • has been at the heart of the design of MOOCs which emanate from the West, thus resulting in a new form of colonialism, where instead of acquiring geographical territory MOOCs acquire data. Knox calls this ‘data colonialism’ and uses visualisations of the globe and global barriers, with visualisations of global enrolment numbers in MOOCs to support this view.
  • homogenises MOOC participation and ‘[…] forbids internal difference as well as societal difference, and acts to continually close down the possibilities for alternative, immanent relations with the richness and diversity of the world.’ (p.212)

Knox argues that participation in MOOCs is measured through visible activity, retention and completion rates and ‘lurking’ or associated non-visible activity (i.e. difference) is seen as problematic. This view is supported by the number of research outputs that focus on completion and retention rates. ‘[…] ‘lurking’ is made visible only in the form of a negative response to the specific data capture and quantification strategy’ (p.101). Rather than embrace the diversity of MOOC participants a lot of research has focused on categorising participants. Knox sees the attempt to quantify participation as another colonisation practice.

He also sees the promotion of personal learning networks (PLNs) as a promotion of a focus on the individual humanist subject, which seems to be at odds with the open, sharing, networked learning that MOOCs, particularly cMOOCs, aspire to.

‘[…] the PLN seems to reinforce the idea of MOOC education as a self-determining and self-centred endeavour.‘ (p.115)

  • privileges bounded and located place and face-to-face teaching and learning, maintaining institutional elitism and inequality and promoting in/out boundaries and campus envy. Knox uses the very successful MOOC, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry as an example of a MOOC which uses the campus–based location to promote a sense of place.
  • fails to take account of ‘the complex relations between human action and algorithmic execution, resulting in an impoverished grasp of the way MOOC spaces are enacted’ (p.213) and the influence they can have on each other, how they ‘contaminate’ each other. To support this argument he uses examples from the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (EDCMOOC) which with colleagues from Edinburgh University he helped to design and deliver in partnership with Coursera. He writes of how learning spaces in this MOOC were not stable but produced through movement and transition and ‘the entanglement of human users and non-human algorithms which create contaminated spatial orderings’ (p. 178).

Given my own involvement in MOOCs and MOOC research since 2008 I can see lots of parallels between Knox’s work and my own research. The notion of MOOCs promoting a new form of Western colonialism makes sense to me, as does an ethos of ‘tyranny of participation’ which I first started to think about in 2007 after a discussion with Vivien Hodgson about the paper she was to present with Debra Ferreday at the 2008 Networked Learning Conference.

My research has also highlighted concerns with the homogenising tendency of MOOCs (Tschofen & Mackness, 2012; Mackness & Bell, 2015)

And from recent research with Frances Bell and Mariana Funes (Bell, Mackness & Funes, 2016) I know that social media algorithms can contaminate spatial orderings and that technology is not neutral.

Even the discussion that the ModPo MOOC’s promotion of a sense of place might result in a form of elitism seems a reasonable argument, but it was this argument that made me realise where I stand in relation to Jeremy Knox’s points of view.

I have been a participant in the ModPo MOOC twice and it stands out for me as one of the best and most stimulating MOOCs I have enrolled in. Having had this experience and looking back through Chapter 4 of the book – Housing the MOOC – I find I have 10 different notes in the margins stating that ‘I don’t agree’ or words to that effect. Whilst, when participating in the MOOC, I was aware that the Kelly Writer’s House (the physical space and place from which the ModPo MOOC was filmed) was inaccessible to me in terms of location, not for one minute did I experience this as exclusion. In fact it had the exact opposite effect. I thought that creating such a unique and ‘real’ but virtual sense of place greatly increased my involvement in and positive experience of the course. It was one of the elements of the MOOC that impressed me.

This means of course that in Jeremy Knox’s terms I must be invested in the humanist subject in relation to education. On thinking about this I realise that that is exactly what I am. I believe that first and foremost learning is a human endeavour, one that relates to issues of identity (Wenger, 1998) and a transformation of ‘being’ (Barnett, 2007; Freire, 1970). Currently I am learning ‘to be’ a researcher. This is turning out to be a very long on-going protracted process. I network, collaborate and engage with a wide range of people and technologies and am at least somewhat aware of the effects of algorithms; I know I am not an island. I am influenced by whatever is in my environment, just as whatever is in my environment is influenced by me.

But for me, learning is ultimately about me. I am unique, not in an arrogant sense, but because my experience of learning, the community, the environment, the technology is unique to me. It can be similar to someone else’s experience but not exactly the same. I think this is what Stephen Downes recognises in his work on personal learning networks and in his talk The MOOC of One.

There are paradoxes in the delivery of MOOCs which I think Jeremy Knox has been successful in uncovering. His book is a thought-provoking critique of humanist assumptions surrounding the design and delivery of MOOCs, which I think are well worth engaging with. His concerns related to homogenisation, the tyranny of participation and the influence of social media algorithms on social interaction and learning in MOOCs are very similar to my own.

If you are interested in MOOCs then I can recommend reading this book.

References

Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Open University Press.

Bell, F., Mackness, J. & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: Can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Knox, J. (2016). Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course. Contaminating the Subject of Global Education. Routledge

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. (2011) Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Wenger E. (1998) Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Third Research Paper on Rhizomatic Learning

Slide 3

Source of image: Making sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

Today our third paper about learning in the Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum MOOC (commonly known as Rhizo14) has been published. Here are links to the three papers.

Third paper: Bell, F., Mackness, J. & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: Can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology.

Second paper: Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. 32(1), p.78-91 Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

First paper: Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

At the end of our first paper, in which we explored alternative perspectives of learners’ experiences in this MOOC, we wrote:

In future writing, we will explore:

  • Interrelated processes of community and curriculum formation in Rhizo14
  • The positive and negative effects of emotion and alienation
  • Moderation and leadership roles in the design and conduct of de-centred courses
  • Distributed spaces, technologies and services in a multi-platform MOOC
  • The rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning

I think we have written about all these points, although not as separate points and some have been covered more implicitly than explicitly.

All these papers have been published in open journals and have been openly discussed by a group of Rhizo14 participants. I think most researchers would be gratified that their papers are noticed and discussed. At the beginning of the year Veletsianos and Shepherdson (2016) published a systematic analysis and synthesis of the empirical MOOC literature published in 2013-2015 in which they commented ‘that a select few papers are widely cited while nearly half of the papers are cited zero times’. In other words a lot of research goes unnoticed.

It is too early for this research on Rhizomatic Learning to have received a lot of citations. I know from an early paper that colleagues and I wrote about CCK08 (the first MOOC) that it took two years for the paper to be noticed, but since then it has been cited a number of times.

In the meantime these three papers on rhizomatic learning have not gone unnoticed. Currently they are being discussed in the Rhizo15 Facebook group. This is rather ironic, since this third paper raises the problems, based on evidence, associated with using Facebook for discussion. For this reason we have asked for comment and discussion of the papers, which we welcome, to take place on our blogs. Here is the link to Frances’ blog post – http://francesbell.com/research-in-learning-technology/participant-association-and-emergent-curriculum-in-a-mooc-can-the-community-be-the-curriculum/

I have learned a lot, on so many levels, from these two years of research, which has all been voluntary, unfunded and collaborative and which will inform my future work.

Reference

Veletsianos, G., & Shepherdson, P. (2016). A Systematic Analysis And Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013-2015. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. 17(2), Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2448/3629  

Further thoughts about our presentation: 10th Networked Learning Conference 2016

This week Jutta Pauschenwein and I presented a paper Visualising Structure and Agency in a MOOC using the Footprints of Emergence Framework at the 10th Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster, UK. Here are the slides for our presentation.

On their own these slides do not make a lot of sense, so we have added notes, which you can see by going to the Slideshare and clicking on Notes. Or here is a PDF with the notes: NLC2016-slides-notes-mackness-pauschenwein

We were pleased that our session generated a few comments and questions. Helen Crump commented that she had used the Footprints Framework in the past and found it interesting. You can see Helen’s footprint here.

I don’t remember the exact questions we were asked at the end of our presentation, but there was some discussion about whether it is realistic to think you can get an alignment between the teacher’s design intentions for a course and the learners’ experiences. Jutta responded to this saying that she wasn’t trying to get an alignment, more to know where there is misalignment, so that she can adapt her course.

We were also asked whether it would be possible to use the Framework with large numbers as in MOOCs. In Jutta’s MOOC, 49 learners  (out of 460) voluntarily drew footprints, without any input other than a video. Normally we would recommend a one hour workshop as a minimum for introducing the Framework to new users. For a long time we have wanted to create an electronic version of the Footprint drawing tool, which would not only allow learners to draw and share them more easily, but would also collect written comments and reflections on the factors and automatically score the footprints for further analysis. For this paper we did this manually. So there is still plenty of scope for development, which is needed if we want to use the Framework with large numbers of users.

I don’t know if other paper authors do this, but I usually try and anticipate the questions we might get. This time, before the conference, I gave the paper to a friend asking for potential questions that might arise from the paper. Although these questions were not asked at the conference, I will share them here (and my answers) as I found them useful in preparation for our session. So here they are:

  1. What does structure and agency mean?

For our work ‘structure’ means how a learning design balances openness and structure and how this balance is implemented in relation to the interactivity it enables.

‘Agency’ means the extent to which learners are enabled to develop their capability for effective action on their own terms; how the environment enables them to explore, establish, network and present themselves, their ideas, aspirations and values through writing and presence.

  1. Why are structure and agency appropriate lenses to study learner experience and teacher/designer role?

Structure and agency are particularly appropriate lenses to study the learner experience and teacher/designer role in the context of MOOCs, because MOOCs are changing the shape of structure and agency in open online learning environments and these changes are beginning to affect more traditional learning environments – as we see in practices such as the flipped classroom. MOOCs are complex learning environments, in which the structure may be very loose/open and in which learners may have considerable autonomy. Ashwin (2012) has argued that research into teaching and learning interactions in Higher Education has consistently looked the interrelationship between structure and agency. He also argues that there has been a tendency in research to separate the learner experience from the teaching experience. Like him, we believe that a holistic view is needed to understand the learning experience in MOOCs.

  1. What is the relationship of structure and agency to the clusters in the footprints model?

In this paper we consider structure and agency in terms of the Footprints of Emergence Framework. The Framework takes a holistic view of learning in prescribed and open learning environments recognising the interrelationship between structure and agency and how they influence each other. In this framework 25 learning characteristics are organised into four clusters. Two of these clusters – open structure and interactive environment, relate to the design or structure of the learning environment, and two to learner agency.

  1. Did the MOOC participants really understand the footprints tool?

It is difficult to know this without interviewing them. Experience with the Footprints has shown that ideally users are introduced to the Footprints through a workshop and that when this is done, it doesn’t take long for people to understand how to use them and draw a Footprint. But the value of the footprints is in the depth of reflection that they can invoke if discussed. Interviews were not part of this research but will be for future research. One of the difficulties has been in translating the Footprint characteristics explanations into German. What we do know is that participants voluntarily drew and shared their footprints, learning how to do this by watching a video.

  1. How can you be sure that the cluster elements are as influential in shaping the learning experience as you claim given the importance of autonomy and self-determination of the learner?

The cluster elements are intended to reflect the learning experience, rather than shape them. They are based on our own experience of learning in open and prescribed environments and of our knowledge of educational research and educational theorists. When we designed the Footprints of Emergence Framework and worked on the factors, we considered them to be a palette. In other words, we did not say that they were the definitive list of characteristics that describe the learner experience. We offered them as a palette of characteristics which could be selected from or which could be replaced by other characteristics. Our experience has shown that these 25 factors provide a rich picture of the learning experience, but a designer using the footprints drawing tool is free to add or take out factors.

  1. Emergent learning is not predictable as you say and the participants were asked not to be too precise about positioning their responses when drawing footprints – doesn’t this make the footprints tool a very crude and approximate way of measuring the efficacy and effectiveness of the learner experience?

The Footprints of Emergence Framework is not intended to measure the efficacy and effectiveness of the learner experience. Principally it is intended as a tool for promoting deep reflection on the learning, design or teaching experience. But in our research we realised that if we scored the Footprints retrospectively and objectively, then it is possible to compare footprints and begin to explore the balance between structure and agency, prescription and emergence. Reflection is never a precise measure. 

  1. How much credence can we give to the scores given the observation in Q6?

As much credence as any evaluation tool. The factors were scored against a given range independently by each of us and then compared. We used a scale of 1-30 for the spectrum of prescribed learning to the edge of chaos. Any disparities (which were minimal) were discussed and then the final score agreed. The scores in themselves are not important. The patterns that the scores might reveal are of more interest. We are confident that the patterns that emerge through this process, can inform us about the balance between structure and agency, but do not see this as a precise measure. All we can say here is that the majority of MOOC participants had an emergent learning experience and that the MOOC design was successful in assuring a balance between structure and agency.

  1. Isn’t there a risk that given the sample who drew the footprints – largely students on a course run by one of the researchers – that the data was biased to how the students perceived the intentions of the researcher?

Yes and that is acknowledged in the research. What is needed is to interview the participants who drew footprints, and ideally these interviews would be carried out by a researcher not known to the participants. Past experience in earlier stages of the research when the drawing tool was used with individuals has shown that interviews are needed to ensure that the final footprint drawing is an accurate representation of the users’ experience. This research using the Footprints of Emergence Framework at scale is in its early stages. Future research will include interviews of participants.

Presenting at the 10th Networked Learning Conference, Lancaster

In a couple of weeks I will present a paper with Jutta Pauschenwein at the 10th Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster, which is very convenient as it is less than half an hour from my home. I think this image below will be the first slide of our presentation, but we are still working on it. The abstract of the paper has been published on the Networked Learning Conference site. Abstract

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 09.48.31

The conference is using https://sched.org to help participants organise themselves and decide which sessions they want to attend. I have just spent a bit of time exploring this and it is very easy to use, which is helpful. I have already decided my schedule.

I have also spent some time today, looking at the presentation that Jutta and I will be giving. Jutta will arrive here from Graz, Austria on the Thursday before the conference. We will spend the Friday working on finalising this presentation, and also catching up on other projects and then over the weekend, if it is fine, we will be walking in the Lakes and maybe cycling. I hope Jutta will like the Lake District, but I suspect she will think it a mini version of Austria :-). We will hopefully have plenty of time to talk, which there never seems to be enough time for at conferences, but maybe this conference will be different.

Our presentation relates to on-going research into emergent learning and the use of the Footprints of Emergence Framework developed collaboratively with Roy Williams and Simon Gumtau in 2011/12 (see references below). This is a drawing tool for reflecting on learning experiences in any learning environment, but particularly complex open learning environments such as MOOCs. It can be used by learners, teachers, designers or researchers. The results are always interesting and often surprising. Over the years we have collected examples on an open wiki – https://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/ . The Networked Learning Conference papers are limited to 8 pages, so we put the footprint drawings related to this presentation on the wiki here.

This is not the first time that Jutta and I have worked together. We met in the Change11 MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens and then again in a course run by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner in which we were both online participants. Bev has just posted a video about this year’s courses. And then in 2014 Jutta invited Roy Williams and me to be the keynote speakers at her e-learning conference in Graz, where she and I met in person for the first time. It was a very enjoyable experience and the preparation for it meant that Roy and I thought through our research into emergent learning even further. Jutta published our paper and I blogged about the presentation here.

Jutta has been enthusiastic about the Footprints of Emergence Framework from the start and uses the footprints a lot, both personally and with her students. In our presentation for the networked learning conference we will explain how she used them with participants and teachers in the Competences for Global Collaboration MOOC, which she has now run twice and how this has informed our thinking about the balance between structure and agency in open, online learning environments.

We welcome questions either here or at the conference and are both looking forward to discussions and the whole event.

Update 28-04-16

Jutta has also written a blog post about our presentation, in German See https://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/vortrag-bei-der-networked-learning-konferenz-in-lancaster/ 

References

Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883

Williams, R. T., Mackness, J., & Gumtau, S. (2012). Footprints of Emergence. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267

Williams, R., & Mackness, J. (2014). Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxlbGVhcm5pbmd0YWcyMDE0fGd4OjUyNGIwOTJiZTMzZjhlNjM

Roles for Educators in MOOCs

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In the first Hotseat of the series for the Networked Learning Conference 2016, Mike Sharples asks a series of questions to promote discussion about massive open social learning. All the discussion questions were interesting and there was some overlap between threads, but for this post I would like to comment on some of the responses to Mike’s question:

What are the appropriate roles for educators (in MOOCs)?

12 people engaged in this discussion. I will be referring to their ideas but not citing them in this post. If you want to check who said what then the discussion forum is open.

Mike Sharples’ question referred to educators, but sometimes people were talking about educators, sometimes about teachers and the two words were often used interchangeably. The difference in meaning between these two words was not discussed, presumably because people didn’t think there was one or it wasn’t sufficiently important.

Going through the forum posts it is clear that we didn’t come to any conclusions. It was recognised that MOOCs, with their massive numbers of learners have raised questions about who is the teacher in a MOOC, can anyone be a teacher, whose role is it to facilitate discourse, whose role is it to scaffold learning and so on. It was also recognised that in MOOCs the teacher/educator’s role is likely to be distributed, either through a team of teachers or between learners, and that there are multiple roles that a MOOC teacher/educator could adopt (See references to Downes below). The argument was made that in a MOOC the learning environment has been reshaped by technology and needs multiple educators. Interestingly I could cite any number of MOOCs in which there is just one educator (i.e. it has been designed and set up by just one person), and this doesn’t only apply to xMOOCs. If we agree that one person alone cannot effectively teach/educate large numbers of learners at the same time, then are we assuming that, in the absence of teaching team, we are relying on learners to educate/teach each other?

This question of course led to a discussion about what is knowledge and who has it. What is the role of the teacher/educator in negotiated learning, social constructivism and situated learning? Are moderation and facilitation roles enough? A view was put forward that moderation is needed to monitor and manage abuse and facilitation is needed for orchestrating interactions, but what more does a MOOC educator need to do? What about knowledge and truth? What is the teacher’s role in the construction of knowledge in MOOC learning? Is it the MOOC teacher’s role to be a conveyor of authoritative facts and knowledge?

There was some discussion about authority and it was suggested that authority impacts negatively on learner autonomy, which in connectivism is a key characteristic of learning in MOOCs. The idea that a teacher is an authority was questioned (the reason given was that authority is imposed), but the teacher can (and should?) have expertise (expertise is not imposed, but recognised). The role of power and authority in the social construction of knowledge was acknowledged. Of course this discussion could apply to any teaching environment, not just MOOCs. I was left wondering whether separating authority from expertise is straightforward.

We didn’t really get to grips with the question of whether the teacher is ‘redundant’ in a MOOC. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s CoI framework (see reference list below) and the importance of ‘teacher presence’ was referenced but not discussed, I suspect because the thread was about roles of educators/teachers, rather than about who is the teacher in a MOOC.

In reflecting on this forum discussion, I think that in focussing on roles, we never really got to grips with the question of who is the teacher in a MOOC and whether and why we still need teachers. It was suggested that teachers will never be erased from society but if that is true, what is it that teachers do (and here I mean trained teachers, or career teachers, as opposed to say parents as teachers), that others don’t or can’t do?

I enjoyed the week’s discussions even though I don’t feel much further forward in understanding the teacher’s role in MOOCs. However, looking back through my notes I see that I wrote: ‘A teacher is more than a collection of roles. A teacher has an identity – it’s something about who the teacher is and how the teacher is perceived by learners, as well as what the teacher does – it’s something about the relationship between teacher and learner’. If teaching as a profession is not going to ‘disappear’ (see Biesta’s paper in the reference list) and MOOCs are not going to disappear, then future teachers (those being trained now) will have to understand not only the MOOC environment and the roles they might need to adopt within the MOOC environment, but also have a clear idea of who they are and what they stand for. I was once asked in an interview for a teaching post to explain my teaching philosophy, what I believe in and what I stand for as a teacher, but that was long before MOOCs. Is this a question that MOOC teacher/educators need to be able to answer?

A number of references to literature were made in the forum which show how wide-ranging the discussion was (see below).

A date for your diary: The next Hotseat in this series:

November 8-18, 2015 Sonia Livingstone: Boundaries and Limits of Networked and Connected Learning

References

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/viewFile/19860/15386

Can Mill’s empirical account of arithmetic be defended against the criticisms of Frege? 

Common Core Math is Not the Enemy

Downes, S. (2010). The role of the educator. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/post/54312

Downes, S. (2013). We don’t need no educator: The role of the teacher in today’s online education. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/311

Edinburgh University. Manifesto for teaching online 2015. Retrieved from https://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/manifesto-for-teaching-online-2015/4

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,9(3) Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewArticle/523

Kop, R., Fournier, H., & Mak, S. F. J. (2011). A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings ? Participant Support on Massive Open Online Courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(7) pp. 74-93. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1041/2025

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology, NY: Routledge

Niaz, M. (2000). The Oil Drop Experiment: A Rational Reconstruction of the Millikan–Ehrenhaft Controversy and Its Implications for Chemistry Textbooks. 37 (5). Pp. 480-508. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. Retrieved from: http://www.umich.edu/~chemstu/content_weeks/F_06_Week4/Mullikan_Erenhaft.pdf

Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend

Ross, J, Sinclair, C, Knox, J, Bayne, S & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, vol 10, no. 1, pp. 57-69. Retrieved from: http://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/17513228/JOLT_published.pdf

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

The Micro and the Macro of the EdTech World

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This year’s Association for Learning Technology Conference in Manchester, UK, focussed on Shaping the Future of Learning Together. By all accounts the conference was a great success trending on Twitter as never before.

I attended two keynotes virtually: Jonathan Worth’s keynote (I’m not sure if there was a title for this – if there was I didn’t see it) and Laura Czerniewicz who talked about Inequality in Higher Education.

I found both keynotes thought-provoking. It seemed to me that they presented micro and macro issues being faced by the Edtech world at the moment.

Jonathan’s keynote addressed issues of vulnerability, privacy and trust in open learning, at the local level of the learner. Laura took a global perspective, providing evidence for Inequality in the Higher Education landscape, particularly between the global north and the global south.

Jonathan is of course well known for his photography and Phonar MOOC so it is not surprising that he is used to looking closely at the world around him and took a local, intimate perspective of learning in a digital age. He talked about the difference between the image and the photograph and told us that there have been two major paradigm shifts in photography, the first when photography broke away from painting and became an art in its own right, and the second is happening now as the image breaks away from the photograph. Unlike a photograph, an image is not about evidence; an image is about experience. The image is an algorithm, it is what is behind the photo. Thinking about this I have wondered whether this is just a play on words and what the significance is for learning. My understanding is that all photos are images, but not all images are photos. For me the significance of thinking about this is that online we mostly see photos – not images – i.e. it’s hard to get behind what you see, which is why people still value face-to-face meetings and recognise what a difference that makes to online relationships. But to get behind the photo, to see images, we have to recognise that this can make people vulnerable. Audrey Watters has said that vulnerability is essential to the learning dynamic, but this brings with it issues of trust and the right to privacy. If we want to see more images, rather than photos, then we need to recognise the vulnerability of the subject or in the case of education, the learner. This shouldn’t be a surprise. It has been written about for decades and longer, but perhaps in recent frenetic digital times has been forgotten.

Similarly Laura’s talk about inequality on a global scale should not have come as a surprise. The surprise should be that people still need reminding. As she pointed out, inequality is literally a life and death issue, but the challenge these days is to address inequality in an austerity environment and particularly in new online landscapes. Inequality is about power, agency, ownership and choice, about the nature of relationships and who decides. Laura’s message was powerful and affective. She suggested that we need critical research, inequality-framed experimentation, policy and advocacy. We also need to shift from a broadcast culture to one of equal partnership and foster global partnerships. She said she is a researcher – she can raise the questions, but doesn’t have the answers. I suspect that the answers will rely on attention to both macro and micro views of the problem. Jonathan’s focus on vulnerability and trying to see the image clearly will inform issues of inequality and Laura’s focus on inequality will inform Jonathan’s concerns about privacy, trust and vulnerability.

New structures (MOOCs) demand new ethics?

Following the recent publication of our paper Frances Bell and I are grateful to the number of people who have taken the time to send us some feedback, on Twitter, in the Rhizo14 Facebook group and on Frances’ blog. 

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

Easy access for all to a recent paper is one of the benefits of publishing in the open and we have Open Praxis to thank not only for providing an open platform, but also for their quick turn around time (see previous blog post ), so that the paper was published before our thinking has moved on.

The most spontaneous and fun feedback session we have had so far was on Twitter, when Laura Gogia decided to tweet whilst she was reading the paper. I am still smiling at the memory and at the time I laughed out loud, as well as finding the discussion interesting and helpful.

But the point I would like to pick up here is in response to a comment made by Keith Hamon on Frances’ blog. Keith focussed on a reference we made in the article to Marshall’s work on ethics in MOOCs.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35(2), 250–262.

I should say here that our paper was about learner experiences in the Rhzio14 MOOC. An emergent outcome of our research was that ethics is an area worthy of more attention in MOOCs, particularly MOOCs which take a very experimental approach to pedagogy. But ethics was only one emergent issue. In our next two papers we will pick up on others. A paper about the rhizome metaphor has been submitted and we are working on a paper about community formation in MOOCs.

But to return to Keith’s comment – ‘New structures demand new ethics’. On reading this, I immediately wondered whether this is true, so I had a bit of a hunt round to see what else has been written about this. I explained to Keith, on Frances’ blog that I cannot claim to be an expert about ethics – in the sense that I have limited experience of reading/writing about it. I have been reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary and on p.429, he points out that expertise is actually what makes an expert and comes from the Latin word ‘expertus’, meaning ‘one who is experienced’.

On my search I found that, as you might expect, one of the professions (apart from philosophy) that has thought a lot about ethics is medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised by an alignment of some sort between medical ethics and educational ethics, since both professions are concerned with the care of people.

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, KC Calman wrote about evolutionary ethics and questioned whether values can change. Here is the Abstract for the article:

The hypothesis that values change and evolve is examined by this paper. The discussion is based on a series of examples where, over a period of a few decades, new ethical issues have arisen and values have changed. From this analysis it is suggested that there are a series of core values around which most people would agree. These are unlikely to change over long time periods. There are then a series of secondary or derived values around which there is much more controversy and within which differences of view occur. Such changes need to be documented if we are to understand the process involved in the evolution of differences in ethical views

Calman, K.C. (2004). Teaching and Learning Ethics. Evolutionary ethics: can values change. J Med Ethics: 30:366–370. doi: 10.1136/jme.2002.003582. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733900/pdf/v030p00366.pdf

A similar perspective, i.e. that whilst values might change leading to new ethical issues, some core principles remain unchanged, has been reported more recently on The New Ethics of Journalism blog.

In this article the core principles are thought to be truth, independence and minimizing harm, which are similar to Calman’s list in his article on p. 369: where he wrote that core values which have not altered in medicine are:

  • doing no harm (non-maleficence);
  • a wish to do good (beneficence);
  • the desire to be fair (justice),
  • and a respect for the individual (autonomy).

The ‘‘Golden Rule’’, ‘‘Do unto others as they would do to you’’, ‘‘Love thy neighbour’’ or even the ‘‘My mother principle’’ (if it was your mother what would you do?) express in a different ways some of these sentiments.

ethics sign

Source of image

I did not come across these articles before we wrote our paper, but the core values listed in both journalism and medicine articles are very similar to the list sent us by one of our interview respondents, who we quoted on p.9 of our paper:

  • Do no harm
  • The expectation is that interactions will be mutually respectful
  • Provide and allow space for reflection
  • Ad hominem attacks should not be permitted as a method of discussion
  • There should be a duty of care or necessarily emotional labour on the part of those calling together/convening/organizing/providing these amorphous spaces
  • All cMOOC participants have a duty of care and nurture and responsibility toward others or for themselves, mitigating the need or desire to externalize (blame) their learning and experience on others.

So do new structures demand new ethics? Certainly we need to be vigilant in keeping our understanding of educational change and educational values up to date and with that, as in the journalism article, consider whether there are new ethical issues. But my brief hunt around the literature, and my own gut feeling, suggests that there are core principles such as ‘Do no harm’ which will never change and can always be an expectation.

As Iain McGilchrist writes on p.443 of his book The Master and his Emissary:

We can’t remake our values at will. …. Societies may dispute what is to be considered good, but they cannot do away with the concept. What is more the concept is remarkably stable over time. Exactly what is to be considered good may shift around the edges, but the core remains unchanged.

Update 23-02-15: Pat Thomson has just written a post about ethics in research in which there is a line which exactly says what I have been struggling to say

Ethics seems to me to be to be about a sensibility, a way of being in the world as a researcher.

For me this would apply not just to researchers. These are the words I was trying to find when talking about core principles.