xMooc feedback

Have just completed a Coursera course on World Music and have been asked to complete an evaluation survey. Most questions actually ask about a possible future ‘advanced’ course.  In the spirit of openness, here is my feedback from the Comments question.

I’m pretty shocked that you are discussing money for participation in the final questions above. Coursera is describing itself as a mooc platform and although the edublogosphere is already alive to ‘open’ only meaning ‘free’ as in beer in what Coursera and some others are offering, touting for money for participation – and also hinting at limited enrolment – negates any ethos or pretence to be free (as in puppies).
Going back to the course just past, I think that there a number of areas for improvement and also that there was some good stuff there, hard work by the TAs (Lee & Delia mainly) and a willingness to take on board the feedback that was coming through the forums – for that last one, kudos indeed.

1. Improve the communication to participants. 2. Be explicit about course and assignment requirements at the point of use. Don’t have people searching the site high and low to discover where it said that you needed to do 5 peer reviews or you would be docked marks. 3. Improve the socialisation 4. build on the existing knowledge of the participants (3 & 4 were evident in the Facebook group that self developed but less so in the course site) 5. Use Knowles ideas of andragogy to make it clear to people why you are teaching what you are teaching. I imagine that there will be a lot of feedback about the political aspects of the course especially from people who were expecting to have a focus on music. Having to design a new rubric for the number of assignments that could be answered with no reference to music was strange and unexpected! 6. Be less western-centric. We heard about music from around the world but heard it described and discussed in relation to what it meant to a western listener. It should have been essential to discover what it meant to the people and cultures making that music from their perspective. 7. Don’t deliver, engage. Employ (or get Coursera to employ) some online learning pedagogy experts. 8. Don’t claim Paul Simon discovered South African music!!! It insults South African musicians, it insults so many people.

As I said earlier, there was clearly some hard work done by Lee at least in the forums and a willingness to respond (e.g. no product placements after week 1). It was a big course but that is what the Massive M stands for! Make it longer, with looser timeframes and encourage fuller participation by true openness.

Wikipedia in Academia

Is Wikipedia any use for students and academics?  Are the derogatory comments justified and can it be used in ways that support learning?

So many times when I hear academics refer to Wikipedia it is in condescending tones.  Comments from “You can’t trust anything in Wikipedia”, “It’s just written by amateurs”, “It’s not real peer-reviewed content’, and “I would fail any student of mine who referenced Wikipedia in an essay”.  Maybe it’s just the negative comments that I hear, although a quick search of the web will pull up similar comments.  It is interesting though that academics also use Wikipedia and in a 2008 survey on eLearning and technology use at the University of Waikato,  50% of our staff said that they had used Wikipedia.  (That compares to 93% of our students.)

T-shirt with writing describing aspects of Wikipedia with key phrase - I EDIT Wikipedia

In a recent Waikato Times article “Wikipedia a public fount of knowledge” (not available online), Ian Witten, professor in the computer science department at Waikato University, asks if Wikipedia is reliable.  (His team has developed Wikipedia Miner, a toolkit for navigating and making sense of the structure and content of Wikipedia through the search and comparison of terms.)  He goes on to explain some of the checks and balances that exist in this community publication including a complete editing history, and the Talk  or  discussion pages where potential changes to an article can be argued to some agreement.  This indicates of course that much knowledge is contestable and we can see some of the same arguments happening in erudite academic publications.  We also know that there is an army of Wikipedians monitoring many of the changes that occur, especially where there is a sudden increase in activity by an IP address or on a page.  Because Wikipedia is a wiki, inappropriate changes can be reverted quickly.  Wikipedia is also able to update changing information rapidly, something that print publications find harder to do.

An interesting piece of research by Nature (or some info here if you can’t get the subscription article) compared Wikipedia with the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  It found no difference in the number of serious errors in the articles it compared and only a small difference in the number of omissions and minor inaccuracies, in favour of Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Encyclopaedia Britannica disputed (PDF) the research, although Nature has defended itself and Wikipedia has also reported and responded to the study.

So can we conclude that Wikipedia is accurate?  The answer would be “Not entirely” but that would be the same answer if we asked if Encyclopaedia Britannica is accurate!  We can also ask if students should reference Wikipedia; however, I think that is a misleading question.  Better to ask if students should reference an encyclopedia.  If the answer is “No”, then that is true for both Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Wikipedia in fact is at pains to point out that it is a secondary source and should not be used as if it was a primary source.  It actually disallows original research material from being published on the site.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by quartermane
Art historian in front of blackboard covered in writing describing aspects of Wikipedia with key phrase - I EDIT WikipediaSo what use is Wikipedia in tertiary education?
Well for a quick overview of a topic it’s great, especially when articles are well referenced and more so if there are links to primary sources online.  But is that all?  The answer to that is definitely “No”!  Here are two examples of ways that we can promote learning.

Since many of the comments that people make concern the supposed accuracy of Wikipedia, and since we want our students to be critical thinkers, able to discern good writing from bad, able to identify the veracity of articles and have good literacy skills in an age when information presentation is changing, then let’s combine these into an exercise.  Get your students to identify an appropriate article in Wikipedia and critically review it.  Ask them to identify some of the primary sources cited and decide whether the Wikipedia article fairly represents the work in those sources.  You can also get them to search out other primary sources that represent contrasting viewpoints to help decide if the Wikipedia article is written in a neutral tone or not.  They can also make suggestions for how the article could be improved.  This exercise can be extended by requiring your learners to engage with the Wikipedia community by posting specific questions in the Talk page for the article in Wikipedia and even making edits to the article itself.  You may want to peer review suggested amendments first and you may decide that the best place for this is also in the Talk page.  The extension allows your students to engage in authentic learning, whereby they must be able to defend their criticisms, argue and agree modifications and write in a defined style and for a public audience.

The second example concerns writing whole articles for Wikipedia and there is an excellent case study of this.  Professor Jon Beasley-Murray teaches a course on Latin American literature at the University of British Columbia.  He was conscious that Wikipedia had very limited information on Latin American writers and so he set his students to writing and improving the cadre of articles for their class assignment.  Beasley-Murray gives an excellent account of his thinking behind this assignment and how it also grew into something much more important for his students than he originally envisaged.  I should note that the primary aim of this class was to engage with a set of Latin American novels of a particular genre, rather than learning about Wikipedia.  The learners evidenced this through writing for Wikipedia, something that was real-world, authentic, was contestable by others and engaged the students with new media literacy skills.

By the end of the project, his learners had contributed three new featured articles, eight new good articles and one new B-class article.  It is worth pointing out that these attain this status through peer review and that less than 0.1% of articles in Wikipedia are deemed Featured Articles.  His students also report (about 1/2 way down page) how it increased their learning through being in the real-world and through engaging and collaborating with others.  Their articles aren’t going to sit in a dusty folder or be binned the way a traditional essay assignment would be and they know that they have contributed something worthwhile that is of use to others.

There are many other ways that academics and students can use Wikipedia to support learning and I’d be interested in hearing of other examples that people develop.

[Images courtesy of Mike E Perez (Quartermane) and a Creative Commons licence.
This post also available on the  WCEL blog (Waikato Centre for eLearning).

#Blackout NZ

This Saturday, February 28th, Section 92A of the Copyright Act is due to come into force.

This website has voluntarily been taken down in protest against this law, which will be used to disconnect New Zealanders from the internet based on accusations of copyright infringement, without a trial and without evidence held up to court scrutiny.

May we be very clear: we do not support or condone copyright infringement or illegal downloads.

But this blatant disregard towards the basic human right to a fair trial is completely unjust and unworkable and it has the potential to punish New Zealand businesses and individuals where in fact no laws have been broken.

Similar laws have been rejected in the EU as being against “a fair balance between various fundamental rights“, rejected in the UK due to “impracticalities“, and rejected in Germany as being ‘Unfit for Germany, Unfit For Europe’.

We don’t care who voted for the law in the first place. We just want it stopped. We call on the Minister responsible, National’s Simon Power, to do the right thing and repeal Section 92A immediately.

Visit CreativeFreedom.org.nz to learn more.

Search Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. for #blackout

CCK08 Map

Getting set for the start of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08) course being facilitated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes.  Is it significant that they are both based in Canada?  Being a geographer at heart, I find places and the connections between them interesting.  If I go somewhere new, I always like to have a map, to see the lie of the land.

There is a link to online learning here.  People often complain that a major downside to learning online is the sense of isolation that it can bring.  In badly managed courses, no-one knows anything about their fellow participants.  There is no connection between them.  Over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve started to see ClustrMaps and Frappr maps (now Platial) pop up in courses and frequently on blog sidebars.  For geographically dispersed courses this can be an icebreaker or a starting point in getting people to talk about themselves.  Even in small courses, with a localised cohort, maps can be used to prompt discussion on other topics.

Rodd Lucier has created a Google Map for the CCK08 course.  I like Google maps for several reasons.  For a start they haven’t dropped the final vowel in their name 🙂 but importantly you can embed or link to so much information including profiles and pictures.  I’m embedding a link to the CCK08 map here so I can find it quickly when I want!

View Larger Map

Mobile Phones and Attitude

I recently became aware of an article in HERDSA News entitled “HOW TO… get students to turn off their mobile phones“.  This is meant to be a modern dilemma for university teachers according to the article.  It flags three main responses to phones ringing or students texting in lectures –

  • ban all phones
  • shame repeat offenders
  • ignore the behaviour and move on

No elephants allowedNearly as an aside, it mentions that that lecturers have been known to encourage the use of mobile technology in class but that this is pretty unusual.  While I wouldn’t disagree that it is not the norm, the article doesn’t really examine whether the status quo is the correct position to take.  Instead of ignoring the pervasiveness of modern technology, (“Hey, there’s an elephant in the corner of the room but I will ignore it, I will ignore it”) the article would have served better by exploring the ways in which mobile technology could have been used to encourage and enable learning.

Bill Ashraf when at Bradford University used mobile phones for feedback during lectures.  Students can text questions during the lecture and every  so often he will stop, see what’s there and address them.  The students aren’t embarrassed by asking publicly in a big lecture and Bill gets feedback on what the students are having difficulty understanding.  Bär et al look at various uses for mobiles including adapting them as student response systems.  The constructive educator could find many ways to adopt the use of mobile phones without resorting to public humiliation.

We live in a world that has technology coming out of our ears.  We shouldn’t forget our old technologies but neither should we ignore the elephant. It might just sit on us one day!

Herdsa Reflection

Well it’s a conference, tiring and hard work especially with the 10 ½ hour days that they run. As always the people, networks and connections that you make seem the most rewarding part of a conference.

The conference theme is Engaging Communities and the opening address was eloquently given by Dr Pita Sharples gave that a New Zealand context with reference to the trials and tribulations that dogged the development of Maori specific educational opportunities.

The first keynote was presented jointly by Barbara Holland and Judith Rameley and dealt with what Community Engagement meant and strategies for developing this within tertiary education. We must be wary of false gods and realise that true engagement is for life, not little projects that follow academic lifecycles. Developing buds that then wither when funding disappears or key personnel move have a very negative impact on communities and their perceptions of academia.

Adoption CurvePartnerships should be sustained and bring mutual benefits. Neither partner should be dominant and communities should be afforded respect. Learning with consequence is a key benefit for students and makes their learning active and authentic.

What I found most interesting was how much this addressed the organisational change agenda. Getting rid of the ghosts in the corner that don’t really exist – the ‘They’ of ‘They won’t let us do this’ and other such statements. Taking lessons from the history of previous experiences; picking the right targets; choosing meaningful goals; and developing a cycle of innovation that makes change the norm. Ignore the nay-sayers (Roger’s laggards) – they are not worth the effort.

I think that if we don’t embrace change then we stagnate (rather than remaining static). What strategies do you use when enabling change in your organisation?

Wireless expectations

Well no tweets from #herdsa. Why? Because there’s no freely available internet access in the conference rooms. We have broadband in the hotel rooms that works out at about $40 per hour; or we can pay for wireless in the conference lobby, but that doesn’t extend to the 9 different rooms that the conference is happening in. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but what the hell! I know that it’s not just me who feels that this is a significant oversight by the organisers.

Some folks who complained were told that this was a teaching and learning conference and not an elearning conference so what was the beef? Remember that people working in eLearning will continually be told that ‘eLearning is just part of Learning and Teaching”!

The fact that we are nearly a tenth of the way through the 21st century seemed to cause no concern that a major conference in this country was not engaging with the landscape of learning and the range of tools that some of its attendees and presenters use in their everyday lives. The major theme of the conference is Engaging Communities and many of us felt that the eLearning community was being disengaged …

Tweets are just an example. There was live blogging, fact checking, research, etc, etc that folks wanted to do but couldn’t. And the thing that is ironic is that much of the live stuff was intended to share and engage with colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference. Several presenters giving papers with an eLearning or mlearning theme also complained that they had no internet access.

Are my expectations too high? Should I accept statements that “New Zealand is 5 years behind the rest of the world and that’s the way it is”? I hope not but I’m interested to know if you agree or disagree.

HERDSA's wikiHERDSA’s wiki

Enviroschools for authentic learning

New Zealand has an Enviroschool scheme where it tries to support schools with sustainability. One of the local schools here in Hamilton has just been on the telly detailing what they have been doing.

They started a garden to grow veg and teach the children elements of sustainability. The project grew as they decided that the kids could learn to cook too, using the veg that they had grown.

Kids growing tomatoesNow it was a project on a roll. How do you make sure that the plants are cared for in all conditions? Set up a weather station and start making your own forecasts. What can you do with the surplus of food? Sell them to the local community. How can the community find out? Set up a publicity machine that includes a local radio station for the school. The kids are doing all this and now they want to set up a 200 seat café so they can feed themselves at lunchtime!

What a range of learning opportunities developed through making a vegetable patch. And it’s all pretty authentic learning. I’m sure that there are some other great examples out there too. Feel free to tell us about them in the comments.

Edupunk (Shhh..!)

Ce n\'est pas un pipe or Blurred at the EdgesEdupunk seems to be the word on everyones lips at the moment – well at least those that are talking about it!

See D’Arcy Norman; Lesley Madsen Brookes; Stephen Downes; Brian Lamb; Doug Noon

A conjunction coined by Jim Groom, however, as both commentators and protagonists seem to be agreeing, creating a name and a definition runs counter intuitive to the underlying Dogme of Edupunk. (and see also this article referencing Dogme and punk dogme in the context of English Language Teaching)

I was a teenager when punk exploded on the British music and social scene. A repeated comment at the time from anybody with a mohican or a piercing that the media could get a soundbite from, was that they were individuals and not part of a group. There is an inherent difficulty in talking about an idea or concept that bears no name – or that can’t utter its name for fear that this will cause its downfall – a la the ‘Scottish Play‘ quandry or liar paradox

Bang!Nevertheless, some have dared to name it and while I don’t think that it is about to turn into an Ouroboros and eat itself, I do wonder what the tipping point would be for educators to adopt this philosophy wholesale.

I ask that question because it is undoubtedly education that should be the beneficiary of the conjunction. I’m sure that it is for those who have nailed their colours to the mast and for many others too. However, raging against the machine requires a machine, which in this case is the business of education, particularly when promulgated through educational technology.

The reason ...What I’m not sure of is whether education needs to (or can currently) change through a revolutionary act or if it has to be through a steady chipping away at long held beliefs. If it requires revolution then how is a critical mass achieved? Is Edupunk building that critical mass or is it but a skirmish on a long road of attrition against the establishment? Who knows? What I do know is that the beliefs, realisations, understandings happenings, events of the ideals of edupunk can be important in the same way that Dada and surrealism were important, that Ike Turner and Elvis Presley were important, that Thomas Paine and Abie Hoffman were important and that Hutton and Darwin were important. These are not trivial names to be raising – that is because education is such an important thing for life, for freedom, for happiness that it can’t be taken lightly.

Blogs, discussions and portfolios – learning, ownership and change

3 tall, thin things ...

Yesterday, we had a quick demo of Mahara by Mark Nichols as part of a wider day of information exchange. Mahara has been built as an eportfolio tool and appears to have taken some influence from Elgg. It contains a blog tool which has the ability to be kept private, shared selectively or made public. Individual posts could also be gathered as part of a presentation or viewpoint on one’s portfolio.

Recent discussions in the office have been around micro-blogging or the phenomena that is Twitter. Today, reflections on the Mahara demo stimulated some discussion around the role of (‘normal’) blogging and the differences between that and journaling and discussion fora. One argument was that the format may be different, but the process was the same and that essentially the end result for learning could all be achieved through a discussion board. The counter argument was that the process was different in each case as it was defined by the format. Similar divides appear to have been running through the Moodle.org blogging forum for nigh on two years now! Matt Croslin published an interesting diagram on the intersections of these 3 tools and Joseph Fall made some salient points about ownership and the cycle of reflection.

My own feeling is that the differences are quite nuanced and factors such as context, ownership and emotion and their interplay are all important For instance, people can be quite happy to blog away without ever knowing if people are reading their posts. How many people stuck at contributing to an empty discussion board? From the act of blogging I gain insight and reflective opportunities; from empty discussion boards I get frustration and a feeling of loss, of negativity toward the arena and to the others who aren’t there to ask me questions or answer mine and to stimulate my thoughts to new insights.

Serendipitously (I just love serendipity!) when I got home, a twitter connection led me to Tony Karrer’s blog which I knew from a while back but had somehow lost track of. He was posing the question as to whether, in certain situations, blogging should be made mandatory. A good blog post and title – make it provocative and lots of people will comment, which they then proceeded to do. Through all the comments, no one stated a whole-hearted agreement and most were quite negative about the idea. Tony suggested the case of an employee attending a conference or beginning some new learning activity. He also noted that in formal education, students can be required to blog as part of the assessment process.

I don’t think that all his commenters were strictly correct in being so negative to the idea since I think that this is an instance of context having a place. Tony is quite capable of supporting his own argument but I noticed that the reason that many gave as being against mandated blogging was that it removed the informal and personal learning that they engender. I’ve already noted that personal learning effect above. However, I think that these arguments are really couched in the realm of ownership and the emotion that goes with that.

In a circular way it brings me back to Mahara and the eportfolio concept. This is because eportfolios have similar issues of ownership of learning; of the value of reflection for assessment; and of the context in which the content will be used. I remembered discussing some of these concepts 3 years ago in what was then elgg.net. So where is this post going if not round in circles (I spend too much time reflecting and not enough getting my typing skills up to speed!) Well I think that underneath the surface I am watching the tension between, on one side, institutional desires to authenticate learning through assessment processes and on the other side, the notions of the learner being at the centre of their learning and owning the process. The questions I am still asking are:

How do we nudge institutions into changing assessment practice to evaluate learning without removing that process from the learner?

How do we enable academics to become effective educators in this context?

How do we ensure that learners take advantage of this?

Answers welcome!