Growing Old Around the Globe 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 19.50.26

This 6 week Coursera MOOC – Growing Old Around the Globe – starts tomorrow – Monday 19th May.

I participated in this MOOC the last time it ran and throughly enjoyed it. I wrote a series of blog posts at the time which are archived here –

The MOOC is convened by Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker from the University of Pennsylvania. They have already said that there will be some changes in the MOOC this second time through – and straight away I notice that it’s now possible to sign up and pay for a verified certificate. Whether or not you want a verified certificate, the assessment tasks are interesting and encourage a personal and creative approach – they are flexible enough for anyone to give them a go.

I think Sarah and Anne have also changed their introductory video. I particularly like their focus on compassion and respect. I remember from the last run of this MOOC that there are many moving stories about people’s experiences with ageing, either their own or their relatives and friends, and many interesting stories about how different cultures deal with this.

And this MOOC is not only for those in declining years. Last time the MOOC attracted some teenagers, as well as people in their 80s and the whole range of ages between. People of all ages can be touched by the issues associated with ageing.

For anyone whose life is being or has been affected by these issues, I can strongly recommend this MOOC.

Evaluating and reflecting on OldGlobeMOOC

The Old Globe MOOC has formally ended.  Sarah Kagan has sent out her ‘wrap up’ email and the final peer reviews for Assignment 6 are in (I passed!). To evaluate and reflect on the learning experience of myself and a colleague in the Old Globe MOOC, I have used the Footprints of Emergence framework developed by Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and myself to explore the relationship between open and prescribed learning in open learning environments. Details of the framework are published here and below are the first drafts of two footprints for the OldGlobe MOOC. Further reflection might result in changes to these initial responses.

Figure 1 reflects my own experience of Old Globe. Figure 2 reflects the experience of my colleague. Details of the scoring of the Footprints with associated comments are posted in two documents below the Figures.

Old Globe Footprints 1 and 2

Footprint scoring sheet for Figure 1 – first draft

Footprint scoring sheet for Figure 2 – first draft

As would be expected I did not experience Old Globe in the same way as my colleague. Figure 2 (my colleague’s footprint) shows that for this participant there was plenty of ‘sweet’ emergent learning in Old Globe and nothing problematic. The course was experienced as an open, interactive environment with plenty of opportunity for developing personal capabilities and exploring articulating and networking personal ideas and feelings. For my colleague, OldGlobe was the 6th Coursera MOOC.

For myself, the footprint shows that I experienced more tension between prescription and emergence than did my colleague. This might be due to the fact that this was my first Coursera MOOC and my reflections are influenced by past experience with many connectivist MOOCs, which I have participated in, researched and in one case helped to design and run. In comparison Old Globe felt like a much safer, less disruptive experience than the connectivist MOOCs.

These are some of my take-aways from the Old Globe MOOC.

Strengths of the course:

1. The design of the MOOC and structure of the syllabus. There was little designated content. There were weekly video interviews with experts on the topics but participants were left to suggest video resources and readings. Early in the course, one or two participants bemoaned the lack of suggested readings, but I surprised myself by how much I have learned about ageing around the globe in the last couple of months, simply by watching weekly webcasts, participating in the discussion forums and completing six assignments. It wasn’t until the end of the course that I fully realized this.

2. The design of the assignments, which each week asked us to respond to a different question. We were encouraged to be creative in the way we responded and these were then peer reviewed. This simple approach to assignments meant that anyone at any level from a teenager to an octogenarian could complete them. Reviewers were asked to be generous in their feedback. The point was to engage and try and answer the question, as creatively as possible, rather than produce an academic piece of work.

3. The diversity was wonderful to experience. Over 9000 people registered for the course, and over 6000 remained active throughout the six weeks, with 700-800 posting to the forums. It would be interesting to know how many people completed assignments.

4. Leadership. The MOOC was led (but not dominated) by a strong and impressive team, who were sympathetic and responsive to participants’ concerns. Two changes were made to the assessment requirements in response to participant concerns and polite, respectful interaction was very effectively modeled by the course leaders. This was important given the diversity of the participant group and the sensitivity of the subject matter. The weekly emails from Sarah Kagan which pulled together key points from the week and discussion forums, were very helpful and quite an achievement. I was impressed!

What would I change?

I would like to do away with the scoring of assignments, but would that mean that people wouldn’t bother to do the peer reviews? For some participants the certificate seems all important – more important than the learning experience?

Personally I would prefer shorter webcasts. I think it would be possible to cover the same content, but perhaps in three chunks of 20 minutes each.

Have the final webcast on the final day of the final week – to give more of a sense of celebration and closure.

Anonymous posting has caused a few problems, since those who have wanted to be aggressively critical have resorted to this (very few have done this). But I can also see the advantages of being able to post anonymously for very sensitive subjects. I’m not sure how this can be resolved.

I wonder if there is a way to allow for greater participant interaction in the ‘live’ sessions. I didn’t feel that I got to know any of the participants on this course, whereas I am still working with people that I met on the first MOOC in 2008.

But overall I wouldn’t change much. My perception is that Old Globe was a very successful MOOC.

There will be a survey to complete in due course, which will hopefully confirm this success, but in the meantime, Sarah has asked us to post a description to Facebook of ‘how you used OldGlobe, with whom you shared it, what you’ve talked with others about, and perhaps even what projects, programs, or connections came of it for you’.

Congratulations to the Old Globe team!

Update on OldGlobeMOOC and Peer Assessment

OldGlobeMOOC is about to start it’s 4th week (following a week’s break for July 4th celebrations in the US), and the Week 3 assignment peer reviews are in. For me this assessment process is one of the most interesting aspects of this xMOOC. I have thought since the first MOOC in 2008 (CCK08 Connectivism and Connective Knowledge), designed and run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, that assessment may be the sticking point for MOOCs.

In my last post , I outlined some of the difficulties that OldGlobeMOOC is experiencing with the assessment and peer review process. It seems to me, once again, but this time for an xMOOC, that if MOOCs are going to be sustainable and successful, then the assessment process has to be ‘cracked’ and meaningful.

Some MOOCs have taken the approach of restricting the number of participants who can be assessed. CCK08 did this. I think the number was 25, and FSLT12 and 13 have done this with a similar number – the idea being that  a small number of participants can be assessed by a tutor. FSLT13 offers credit for this:

The course has been recently accredited (10 transferrable academic credits at level 7, postgraduate). FSLT is recognised towards the Oxford Brookes Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and Associate Teachers (AT) courses. (

But these are cMOOCs.

OldGlobeMOOC has taken a different approach as I described in my last post and I understand from other participants that this is similar to a number of other Coursera MOOCs.  For me this my first xMOOC, but it is not for quite a few OldGlobeMOOC participants, who have taken numerous Coursera courses and in the forums have shared their experience of the peer review process.

I will add my experience to the mix, and just so you know what we are talking about here are links to my assignments with their peer reviews.

Assignment 1 with peer review

Assignment 2 with peer review

Assignment 3 with peer review

If you read these, you will see that the assignments are not very different in their style and level to my blog posts, i.e. they are not academic pieces of work  – rather discussion pieces or personal reflection. And judging by the assignments I have reviewed, other participants’ assignments are of a similar level.

Which brings me to the review process, which I reflected on in my last post, but will add a few things here.

  • The idea is that each participant submits an assignment and peer reviews five assignments for each week, which I have done. If this is not done, i.e. the peer review, then a 20% penalty is incurred.

All students wishing to obtain a Statement of Accomplishment must achieve 7 out of 12 points and submit 5 peer reviews each week. If a student fails to complete the 5 peer reviews, that week’s assignment will incur a 20% penalty.

Despite the fact that I definitely submitted five peer reviews for Assignment 3, I received a 20% penalty and therefore scored 1.6 instead of 2. It’s very easy to know that you have completed the 5 peer reviews, by the way the Coursera system takes you through the 5 assignments allocated for review; and the system confirms for you at the end of the process that you have submitted 5 – so I know that I did. So there’s been a blip in the system somewhere. It’s not a big deal for me, as I’m only doing this to experience the process and because I like the assignments and find the discussions interesting. I am not doing the course for the Certificate – but I do wonder how a blip in the system affects people who are really keen to receive a Statement of Accomplishment.

  • There is no guarantee that you will receive 5 peer reviews. I received five in Week 1, three in Week 2 and four in Week 3. There has been some discussion in the forums about how this might affect the overall system and whether or not you have to review more than 5 assignments to receive 5 reviews.
  • I have no complaints about the quality of most of the peer reviews and so far no one has given me a score of less than 2 – but this peer review for Assignment 3 is indicative of how the game can be played to ensure that you get a Certificate. It made me smile 🙂

peer 2 I’m headed for an airplane so don’t have time to review, and I won’t be back until after evaluation time ends so I’m just giving everyone a 2. 

Aside from this here are some further reflections. The OldGlobeMOOC is a great experience in terms of the diversity of participants. Unfortunately the younger participants, in their teens, who signed up, seem to have fallen out of the discussion forums. This does not mean that they are no longer participating through observation and reading – it’s difficult to know. But I have wondered how an 11 year old might review the assignment of an academic Professor, or how an academic Professor might respond to a learner with special needs, or a very young participant, or someone whose first language is not English, and so on. The assignment submission is anonymous. Do these differences have implications for the equity of the peer review process?

Despite all this I am finding OldGlobeMOOC a fascinating and enjoyable experience and am looking forward to the start of Week 4.


Diversity and Peer Assessment in OldGlobe MOOC

I am finding OldGlobeMOOC a fascinating experience – quite unlike any other MOOC I have participated in, and my first xMOOC. For me one of the best things about OldGlobe is the diversity of the participant group. All the other MOOCs I have participated in have attracted groups in which similarities can easily be seen, i.e. mostly from academic backgrounds or interested in e-learning technologies.

But OldGlobeMOOC is truly diverse. It has attracted a huge age range from 11 to upper 80s, and people from all continents apart from Antarctica, although as you would expect the American participant presence is, I think, dominant – it would be interesting to see the analytics. But more importantly, it has attracted people from all walks of life and from very different education backgrounds. We have people very knowledgeable about the discipline of gerontology and related health and medical issues, but also very many people who have no subject related background other than we are all ageing and therefore all have a point of view.

This diversity is great. The stories being told in OldGlobe are richly diverse and a privilege to read.

But this diversity brings its own problems in relation to peer assessment of the OldGlobe assignments.

I mentioned in a previous post how the assignments are open to a range of approaches and creativity. Originally I hadn’t intended to complete the assignments, but I was drawn in by the energy and enthusiasm of the OldGlobe community and I’m glad I was.  I have seen examples of participants posting videos of themselves speaking about the assignment question, writing about their own personal experiences, drawing on academic literature, posting links to videos, websites and photos, and drawing on literature and poetry to illustrate their response. A requirement of the assignment process is peer review of 5 assignments and I have reviewed some wonderful submissions. The first assignment I reviewed used this song in response to the question ‘What is ageing?”


But the peer review process is where the wonderful diversity in OldGlobeMOOC creates problems. We have the whole continuum of people from those who have no experience of peer review to people who have worked in Higher Education for years and are very experienced in assessing student assignments and reviewing research articles.

This is a dilemma for OldGlobe, because some participants are getting a bit of a rough deal in terms of their feedback, despite the OldGlobe team urging participants to be generous with their feedback and scoring. For example, one participant has been accused of plagiarism for his/her original submission, another has been accused of plagiarism for using an essay site, even though this was cited as a source, another has received the feedback ‘I don’t get it’ and a mark of zero for an academic piece of work, others have received one line or less in their feedback. It all seems a bit of a lottery. So diversity brings both advantages and disadvantages. How might this dilemma be overcome?

I applaud the OldGlobe team for designing the MOOC to attract such a diversity of participants and for designing the assignment tasks such as they can be completed by anyone from any background. We are all getting older. We all live in a society where we can see people getting older. We all know old people. We all have some thoughts and perspectives about the ageing society. Even an 11 year old can say something about their grandparents and an 89 year old has a wealth of experience to share. We can all read other people’s discussion forum posts and assignments and have a response.

OldGlobe has asked us to answer the following questions when responding

Please type your 100-250 word peer assessment below.

What do you think about this participant’s portfolio item choice to answer this question of the week?
How does this participant’s perspective differ from your point of view?
How is your point of view similar?

I think the whole age range could do this, provided they could understand the submission.

The problem comes with the scoring. Here are the instructions:

Here is the rubric for the assignment. You’ll use this as a guide to complete your own work in the Submission Phase, and as a guide for grading your peers in the Evaluation Phase:

2 points

Assignment is completed with a clear commentary of 250 – 500 words that pertains to the question of the week

1 point

Assignment is completed with some commentary that may or may not pertain to the question of the week

0 points

Assignment is missing an item, a commentary, or both

It seems straightforward, but given the diversity of course participants is so open to misinterpretation or overly subjective interpretation, which some participants seem to have experienced.

For me, the peer review process on the first assignment has been positive. I have really enjoyed reading the submissions I was sent to review. They were not all academic pieces of work, but they had all been thought about and I appreciated the open sharing of experience however articulate or inarticulate that might be.

This MOOC is not for credit. Participants will simply get at Statement of Achievement.

All students wishing to obtain a Statement of Accomplishment must achieve 7 out of 12 points and submit 5 peer reviews each week. If a student fails to complete the 5 peer reviews, that week’s assignment will incur a 20% penalty.

This makes me wonder if we need points at all. I think the feedback is very valuable and I would prefer to call it feedback than peer review, which I think puts the emphasis in a different place.

But perhaps we don’t need the points. Perhaps it’s enough for participants to complete the assignments and 5 peer reviews to receive the Statement of Accomplishment. Of course, using this system, some people will receive the Statement of Accomplishment for exceptional work and some for simply submitting ‘any old thing’. But does that really matter, given that this course is not for Higher Education credit?

If it came to a choice between diversity and peer review – I would go for diversity, and trust that people are participating in the learning environment just as much as they want to and need to for their own purposes.

There is so much of interest in OldGlobeMOOC. As an educator myself I find this tension beween diversity and peer assessment very interesting, quite apart from the fascinating discussions about ageing.

OldGlobeMOOC – What is ageing?

Biological, social and psychological ageing is the focus for discussion in Week 1 of the University of Pennsylvania’s  Coursera MOOC – Growing Old Around the Globe.

5944 people from all over the world have signed up for the MOOC and 1500+ people are actively participating.

The MOOC has a truly international feel. Every continent except Antarctica is represented.

The age range also adds to the huge diversity, ranging from 11 to 80+ years. It is very encouraging to see both ends of the age spectrum represented.

The range of expertise is also very apparent. No specific level of expertise is required for the course, but there are many who appear to have a lot. I am not one of them. My level of expertise comes from personal experience of caring for an elderly relative.

Discussion has been very lively and very wide-ranging. 85 different discussion threads have been started. Most of these are of the ‘introductory’, ‘floating ideas and questions’ type as you would expect in the first week of the course. I expect it will take a while for people to find their level and know where, how and with whom they want to interact. For me some of the interesting topics this week have been:

  • Whether 50 can be considered a biological marker of being old
  • People’s perceptions of what is old
  • Whether people of post-retirement age should continue to work
  • The distinction between ageing and death
  • Cross-cultural experience
  • Social death
  • The consequences of increased longevity and declining fertility
  • How the elderly are depicted in literature and poetry

…. and there are lots more.

Some of these topics could be courses in their own right, such as the topic of death, – so it will be important, as in all MOOCs, to filter, select and focus on the threads of personal interest and use.

This is my first xMOOC and I am very much an advocate of cMOOCs (of the Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier type), so this will be an interesting experience on a number of levels.

Growing Old Around the Globe 2013







This 6 week Coursera MOOC starts next week June 10th – see  The syllabus looks fascinating exploring many aspects of ageing, from biological to social.

The assessment also looks motivating. Participants are required to submit a portfolio  as follows:

Portfolio items can take any form that figuratively or substantively analyzes the question of the week. Each item submitted must include some critical analysis or interpretation. There is no minimum length for any portfolio item. Forms that the portfolio items may take include:
  • Local field video on being old and living in ageing communities and societies with written commentary from participant
  • Reflective essays on being old and living in ageing communities and societies
  • Participant generated poetry or literature on ageing and being old
  • Cited poetry or literature on ageing and being old with in the public domain submitted with written commentary from participant
  • Participant generated visual art on ageing and being old
  • Cited visual art on ageing and being old with permission to post from the artist and with written commentary from participant
  • Self generated scholarly papers on being old and living in ageing communities and societies
The MOOC format will be similar to the one taken by Prof Al Filreis for his Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo), which although I did not take, I have heard such positive feedback about from quite a few sources, including this guest post by Ian Chowcat on Seb Schmoller’s Fortnightly Mailing.
If my understanding is correct, a key to the ModPo MOOC’s success was the building of a sense of place and community, through weekly live discussions. This weekend there was a great blog post about the positive effect that the ModPo MOOC has had on a 17 year old boy with severe autism.


Growing Old Around the Globe will follow a similar format to the ModPo MOOC and it will be interesting to see what stories are generated as a result of the MOOC. More than 4000 have signed up for the MOOC. It promises to be an engaging 6 weeks.


Key Links are:

Granny dumping

I came across this appalling phenomenon for the first time yesterday. I was discussing the care of the elderly with a friend who told me that ‘granny dumping’ is becoming increasingly common in India. My friend is Indian.  On returning home I searched for this on the internet and am even more shocked to find that this is a world-wide phenomenon that has been happening for years. Elderly people are abandoned by their relatives who then make themselves uncontactable; they are left outside a hospital, bus station, or in any public place unknown to them. In India they are taken to festivals at a distance from their villages and left there.

It is because of situations like this, because my own mother has dementia, because I am ageing myself (aren’t we all!) and because the number of people over 65 in the population is increasing dramatically (see Older America for US figures), that I have signed up for Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker’s Growing Old Around the Globe MOOC.



Image from the course Facebook site

In their introduction to the MOOC Sarah and Anne write

The world is ageing – people are older and societies are facing hard realities. What are we to make our lives in this time of global ageing?

Growing old is discussed today in ominous terms – concerns about disease, dysfunction, and destitution are daily discussed by media and policy makers. What are individuals, families, communities and societies to make of an ageing world? We analyze contemporary topics in psychological and social ageing from a global perspective. Each week, we pose a question to be explored and discussed online. Participants are encouraged to contribute their experiences and perspectives as we create a global community to discuss age, ageing, and the science of gerontology in action.

Thank you to Sarah and Anne for inviting me to be a Teaching Assistant on this course. I am very much looking forward to it.

The Twitter stream for this course is @OldGlobeMOOC where Sarah is already posting some resources and I have posted the link to the Facebook site above.

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?