Starting the New Year Open

Happy New Year, everyone.  Welcome to 2013!  I have two “open” new years resolutions.

We have been talking about how the web has become increasingly open, social and participatory for the past four years…yet with the arrival of the MOOC bandwagon last year, “open” took on new significance.  So, as 2013 gets rolling, I and my CTE colleagues are exploring how “open” might change our teaching.

Again this spring, my colleagues Jeff Nugent, David McLeod, and myself will be facilitating a course in our Preparing Future Faculty program called “GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.”  We should have 24 Ph.D candidates or post-docs working on their PFF certification.  As in previous years, we will take our students on an exploration of the social web and the integration of digital technology into teaching at the college level.  Our students will document their journey by blogging on the open web.  In past years, we have used the campus LMS – Blackboard – with links to their blogs in Netvibes.  This year as our first new practice (and resolution), we are moving our LMS to WordPress, so that we can invite the world to join in our weekly conversations.

So check out our website at – and if you or your grad students would like to blog with us and be added to our Netvibes page, let me know!

Two of my students from last summer completed MOOCs from Coursera over the fall, and their enthusiasm has prompted me to try one for myself.  So, as a second new years resolution in the world of open, I have enrolled in Coursera’s E-Learning and Digital Cultures class, to be taught by Jeremy Know, Sian Bayne, Hamish MacLeod, Jenn Ross and Christine Sinclair out of the University of Edinburgh.  The course starts January 28th, runs 5 weeks, and Jeremy tweeted last week that over 32,000 have enrolled so far.  I know that blogging will be a part of the course, and I will be using this blog to chronicle my learning for the course.

I enrolled in mid-December, and a small but very engaged subset of the 32K has already been active in Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other sites.  Sandra Sinfield blogged about this pre-course engagement…and listed the following links (the majority of which have been developed by fellow students, not Coursera or the instructors):

Quoting from Sandra -here are quick links:

Space to think & try some new ideas:
•           Keep a wish list with pictures on Pinterest
•          Join our QuadBlog experiment
•          Study Group for the course
•          Feel overwhelmed? Vent here
We can add ourselves to the
•           Google Map
•           Blog list and:
•           Read the rules
•           edcmooc course page
•           course members who themselves are tutors: Group page
Student room:
•         Facebook group
•         Twitter people on the course           (Course hashtag #edcmooc)
Tech Tools:
•           Tech tools for education
•           What’s your recipe?
Journals, articles and videos all related to this course, and to the wider field of MOOC’s and technology:
The library is online at Diigo; we can add ourselves to the group. Tag any link with edcmooc so it’s easier for us to search: Diigo
First question posted in our ‘classroom’:
Q: What is your definition of “Digital Culture” ?

Wow!  Thanks, Sandra, for creating this resource list!

Sandra mentioned that she was already feeling overwhelmed, and I understand that feeling.  My minimal connections over the holiday break resulted in numerous emails alerting me to FB Group postings and tweets … and this with approximately 150 of us diving in to the social media.  I am wondering if 32,000 (or even a percentage of 32K) will bring my system to its knees!  Obviously, I will be refining my filters and alert settings, but I have a feeling it will be continuous or nothing…this is going to be interesting to try and throttle.  And with the numbers in my Coursera course, will I miss any of the social media from my VCU students in GRAD 602?  I want to play in the sandbox and see what happens…but it will be an interesting spring to say the least!

If any of you who have taken a similar journey have tips and tricks for success, please comment to this post and share them!


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Re-Imagination of Everything

Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, recently presented at Stanford University on web trends.  Her presentation contains eighty-eight slides full of interesting and thought-provoking information.  Her message is that the evolving web forces us to re-imagine everything.  For those of us in faculty development, it is suggestive of changes that will impact our classrooms – however “classrooms” are defined in the coming years.

Several trends stand out to me:

  • USA adults who own tablets or eReaders has grown from 2% to 29% in three years
  • Mobile internet traffic has surpassed desktop internet traffic in India.  When will that happen in USA?
  • During the recent Black Friday shopping, one-quarter of shopping traffic was on mobile devices rather than desktops, up from only 6 percent two years ago.

This presentation focuses on business, but if the world is moving to “beautiful, relevant, personalized, curated content for consumers,” will not the same be expected in higher education for students?

Meeker has some interesting before and now visualizations in her “Re-Imagine” section.  I do not know that any by themselves are earth-shattering, but taken together, they certainly suggest a world that is evolving at an ever increasing pace, which raises questions on how we adapt.

As always, I would be interested in your views.  What stands out for you?


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Starting BlendKit2012

This semester, Joyce Kincannon and I are both facilitating two separate faculty learning communities on blended learning.  I am also trying to wrap my brain around the whole MOOC thing.  So what better way than to sign up for a MOOC on blended learning!  Joyce is taking it too, so we will see if we can keep each other on task.  (This while co-teaching our online faculty development course, Preparing to Teach Online).

BlendKit2012 Banner

Kelvin Thompson of University of Central Florida will be directing / teaching / facilitating this course, which runs September 24 through October 29.  Kelvin has set up a Twitter hashtag – #BlendKit2012 – to help with communication and socializing.   I am looking forward to seeing just how Kelvin manages this “class”.  I also look forward to “meeting” some new people through the tweets and blog commentary.

Being an open course, anyone can access the course materials.  Kelvin provided a narrated slidedeck for the orientation and has a set of weekly readings available through the website.  He starts this week with some good questions:

  • Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?
    • I see it as something else, requiring a thoughtful design
  • In what ways can blended learning courses be considered the “best of both worlds” (i.e., face-to-face and online)? What could make blended learning the “worst of both worlds?”
    • To me, the best of both worlds means taking advantage of the affordances each provides.  The worst of both worlds (which I have done) is trying to shoehorn a textbook organization into a blended approach (Chapter one face-to-face, chapter two online, etc)
  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what course components are you open to implementing differently than you have in the past? How will you decide which components will occur online and which will take place face-to-face? How will you manage the relationship between these two modalities?
    • Great questions.  It also leads to a caveat – will your hours face-to-face (and online) be dictated by room scheduling?  I designed a blended approach for my summer course, but that required face-to-face meetings at the beginning and end of the term, and a significant online portion in the middle.  It would not work if one took a twice a week course and made it meet once a week with an online component.
  • How often will you meet with students face-to-face? How many hours per week will students be engaged online, and how many hours per week will students meet face-to-face? Is the total amount of student time commitment consistent with the total time commitment of comparable courses taught in other modalities (e.g., face-to-face)?
    • I would think for accreditation reasons one has to be able to show comparability…

Kelvin asked us to put together two maps of courses we might further develop as blended courses, so I am using ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning.

I am looking forward to seeing the posts of my fellow MOOCers, and learning more about blended learning.  Stay tuned!  (…and whether you are in the course or not, feedback is welcome and encouraged – particularly my good friends in ADLT 641!)


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What I Learned From Daphne Koller

A TED Talk posted earlier this month has created a bit of buzz.  Daphne Koller discussed what she had learned from forming Coursera and offering online courses free to thousands of people.

I recommend spending the 20 minutes to listen to Daphne.  Many of her points are not new, but she has framed them in new ways.

For instance, she starts by laying out the problems of higher education.  Costs have risen 559% since 1985.  Access is not guaranteed.  Completion of a degree does not necessarily guarantee a job.  She then quotes Tom Friedman‘s NY Times article “Come the Revolution” in which Friedman says:

“Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary. The costs of getting a college degree have been rising faster than those of health care, so the need to provide low-cost, quality higher education is more acute than ever. At the same time, in a knowledge economy, getting a higher-education degree is more vital than ever. And thanks to the spread of high-speed wireless technology, high-speed Internet, smartphones, Facebook, the cloud and tablet computers, the world has gone from connected to hyperconnected in just seven years. Finally, a generation that has grown up on these technologies is increasingly comfortable learning and interacting with professors through online platforms.”

Daphne describes Coursera as a service that allows students anywhere in the world to take the best courses from the best professors at the best universities for free.  She stated that Coursera had 640,000 students from 190 countries, who had viewed 14 million videos and taken 6 million quizzes (latest stats on the Coursera website is over a million students).  The courses were designed so that students could personalize their learning, engage with the content, and get automatically redirected if they strayed off subject.  She also noted that for the first time, they were in a position to collect data and make adjustments based on real learning rather than hypotheses.  Their courses had real content, real start and stop dates, real assessments, and real students.  Students were self-organizing in a variety of ways to study together.  Assessments were graded via peer and self-assessment, which she claimed could be incentivized to correlate very closely to what an instructor might have given as a grade.

She suggested that giving away these courses would not do away with universities…only with the large lecture classes.  Universities could then focus on building the critical thinking, service, and social skills for life that are part of growing up in a university.

As someone who has taught online for 17 years, I have to admit that I was both blown away and delighted by Daphne’s talk.  She and Andrew Ng have certainly opened up new avenues for higher education that are disruptive.  At the same time, now that Coursera has 16 universities, is there really a need for EVERY university to be launching massively open online courses or MOOCs?  Are large open enrollment online courses the only future for higher ed?

I think that there are some rich lessons that can be pulled from Daphne’s talk that apply to online teaching and learning in general…not just massive courses.  Many of these lessons are ones we have already incorporated into our Preparing to Teach Online course as well as our year-long Online Course Development Initiative.  These lessons have to do with personalization, communication, community, and engagement.

Daphne noted that when you are not constrained by four walls and the hour lecture, you are free to focus on the learning.  She showed how they used short, 8-12 minute mini-lectures tied to online engagement to drive learning.  While we do not have the resources of a Stanford, Harvard or MIT, we have consistently over the past two years suggested to faculty that they use software such as Camtasia, Jing, SnagIt, Screenr, or Echo360 to create short videos, and align those videos with activities in their online classes.  The use of short videos to answer questions as well as post mini-lectures moves one to a more personalized approach to learning.  Likewise – in ways tied to adult learning theory – designing the learning so that it uses discovery and allows for student-created content opens up the possibility of a more personalized approach to learning.

Daphne noted that, with 100,000 students, someone is always online, and that the median response time in the class question forum is 22 minutes.  I could never give that level of service in my online classes, but I do respond within a day, and more importantly, I encourage students to answer each others questions, achieving a level that is satisfactory to my students.  As we work with faculty, we stress the importance of clear and frequent communication.  This in my mind is as important in a class of 10 or 100 as a class of 100,000.

Daphne noted how students self-organized into study groups around the world…often in ways she might not have conceptualized.  For the past four years, we have designed our online training around a core concept that community is central.  A lesson suggested by Daphne is that we should not overthink “how” to form groups but rather – when we can – let groups form naturally.

Daphne ended by focusing on active learning.  As we stated in our white paper three years ago, teaching online involves new practice, and that practice requires active engagement with students (and active engagement by students with other students, their instructor, and the content).  Daphne has demonstrated how a lot of that engagement can be automated through digital technology.  I agree that this is something we need to do more…but we also need to create those connections between ourselves and our students – and I am still not sure how to connect to 100,000.

In some ways, the good things happening by engaged students in Coursera classes are the same good things happening by engaged students in our much smaller online classes.  In our much smaller online classes, we feel the need to create community and engagement, and to make every student successful.  A Coursera class can possibly take the Anderson Long Tail approach and celebrate only those students who persevere and complete the course through their own self-motivation.  What ever direction you believe, the example suggested by Daphne illustrates a significant change in how we conceptualize higher education.  The impact of that change on American colleges and universities has yet to be fully understood.

I would be interested in your thoughts?  How do you see Coursera impacting your program or institution? What changes (disruptive or otherwise) do you see on YOUR horizon?

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