Liveblog: George Siemens at Open Ed 2013

David Wiley introduced George by noting that he wrote the course for which the term ‘MOOC’ was originally created.  George similarly paid tribute to David’s stewardship of the OER movement.  Here are George’s slides, helpfully made available ahead of time.

The presentation started with a bit of a review of George’s experiences as a blogger and online educator.  This led him – and Stephen Downes – to think about ways in which to lever technology and openness to improve student learning.  Early courses encouraged public discussion and sharing of ideas and a move away from ‘transmission pedagogies’ which replicated the worst of classroom interaction online.

George noted (correctly, in my opinion) that innovation is typically iterative and collaborative.  Often there are so many strands that it’s difficult to identify the main one but rarely does it result from one person with some sort of moment of divine inspiration.

Learning systems should recognise this, being: flexible, open, accessible, build-able extendable, remix-able.  Most of Siemen’s reservations about current MOOC providers are down to the lack of these features.  He also questioned the ‘newness’ of MOOC by noting that large scale education opportunities have been explored through television since the 1950s. MOOC are actually, he asserted, a supply-side answer to decades of increased in demand for education.  The move to a knowledge-based economy in the West was not accompanied by a similar re-haul of education.  When only 10-20% of people go to university we can expect them to be self-motivated and reasonably competent learners.  As this figure increases, so the kind of support we need to offer changes with it.

Some recent (Gates-funded) research on MOOC discourse revealed the following:

  • There is genuine interest and good quality research being done on MOOC
  • 90% of conversations involved education researchers
  • Mixed-methods research are preferred by most

Now, the angst-filled reflection:

  1. MOOCs don’t prepare learners for the kinds of things that learners need to be able to do:  we need ‘stuff that stirs the soul’.  (This is similar to the argument made by Marcus Deimann and myself here.)
  2. Openness is being lost in the noise – we need an idea of openness that can engage with wide audiences the way that MOOC has
  3. Revenue models have come to be the focus for a lot of people
  4. Drop-out rates in MOOC do not matter because they can’t be compared to the level of personal investment that traditional university education involves
  5. We are too wedded to the traditional model and this stops us from properly exploring the possibilities that are available to us

Given these anxieties, what might provide succour?  We are currently witnessing the unbundling of previously existing network structures in education and this means that it can be rebuilt in ways that enable quality of learning and increasing access.  MOOC should be seen as a stepping stone towards this since they co-opt elements of the traditional university programme.  Fragmentisation of education ecosystems leads us to an open landscape which can be shaped.  Furthermore, MOOC have made technology-enhanced learning into a part of the public consciousness and wider conversations.

There is a bunch of MOOC related stuff at http://www.moocresearch.com/.  They have plans for a MOOC evidence hub too but they seem to be a bit behind on making this available.


Liveblog: David Kernohan at Open Ed 2013

David began by running out of the room (to jump in the chilly outside pool) only to be followed on camera in a segue that led to a video documentary (‘The Avalanche That Never Happened’) about the ‘deliverology’ which vexes UK education.  In the UK, in the mid 1990s Michael Barber (then a professor at the University of Keele) was invited by the government to consult with a view to improving literacy and education.  He advocated the replacement of public schools with private institutions, notably at Hackney Downs.  At the time both major political parties were keen to present themselves as the party of education.  This led to a change in the culture of British education which came to emphasise ‘targets’ and processes which were determined for the ‘front-line’ by ‘the top people’.

The obsession with setting and meeting educational examples led to an endemic manipulation of metrics across the public sector:  education came to be a matter of passing tests and passing tests alone.  Despite mounting criticism and evidence that Barber’s reforms may have been detrimental to education, the management culture he typifies remain dominant in British education despite the fact that those who espouse this approach are not themselves educators.

In more recent times a number of entrepreneurs – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Branson, many of them college dropouts – have supported the idea that there remains something inadequate about traditional approaches to education.  Educational (and teacher training) models have increasingly emphasised flexibility and profitability across the world.   The new model of the privately run school has become prevalent worldwide.  Barbers’s recent reports continue to perpetuate this view – but he’s only an example of a class of decision makers who have real influence.

Intellectual property laws have come to play a central part in this process, spreading from the west to Asia in order to protect the rights of private companies and to gather large amounts of data about markets.  Dressed in the language of ’empowering students’ and ‘globalisation’ one could see all this as the UK flavour of a wider, utopian trend.  The private sector remains the only admitted source of innovation and improvement in this view of the world.

Open education exists as a genuine threat to this orthodoxy:  it can provide a more personalised experience which can derive from genuine learner interest rather than the imposition of external frameworks of assessment.  However, we need to move away from the culture of measurement, which is a feature of this ideology:  we shouldn’t care so much about how many people use courses, what kinds of grades they get, etc.  We should resist standardisation which is carried out in the name of ‘choice’.

References and more information about the film are available at http://followersoftheapocalyp.se/opened13/.  The film itself (which is a pretty impressive production) is available from http://vimeo.com/78431114. (password = avalanche)

[Reblogged from http://oerresearchhub.org/2013/11/07/oer13-keynote-david-kernohan/]

Liveblog: Andrew Ng at Open Ed 2013

Andrew Ng – co-founder of Coursera – joined us by Skype for this presentation since he couldn’t be with us in person.  His presentation focused on the ‘revolutionary’ aspects of Coursera’s MOOC platform.  Most people, he noted, could never take a course at Stanford but Coursera makes this possible by putting courses online which anyone can access for free.

For the uninitiated – if there were actually any in the room – a lengthy explanation of what Coursera is:  as a Stanford professor, Andrew usually taught around 400 students per year.  By putting his materials online he was able to reach 100,000 students.  The project now has 107 partners and has taught 5.2 million registered students across 532 courses.  Instruction is video-based and leads to certification which can be used to improve academic or vocational credentials.  Students interact with materials through quizzes and short assignments.  These are supported by plugins that offer a range of functions and can be designed by the partner institutions.  There are peer-grading functions which supplement machine assessment.

Ng tried to make a virtue of the fact that most Coursera users are already ‘educated’ – “over 80% of Coursera students already have a bachelor degree” – and argued that because today’s world is rapidly changing the ‘half-life of knowledge’ is decreasing people will be more likely to keep learning – not sure I fully grasped the logic of this.  It seems to me that this is entrenching privilege rather than increasing access to educational opportunity, particularly when Coursera certification is not widely recognised as equivalent to a formal degree or diploma.

So far, so generic: but what does the future hold?  Andrew went on to ruminate on the ‘flipped classroom’ phenomenon and suggested that Coursera content could be used to support campus education by making classroom time available for ‘deeper interactions’.  (I thought this model had been in place for all humanities degree programmes since… well, since there were universities.)  In the future, Andrew wants lower income people to have educational opportunities that they have not had in the past.  To me this is hardly revolutionary…

Rory MacGreal made the point that student work produced within Coursera cannot be used towards credit for university courses, and questioned the validity of terms and conditions that could own the intellectual property of students.  How is this compatible with ‘education for all’.  Andrew responded by noting that Coursera has costs and needs to find a sutainable model; this is the same reason for not adopting open licensing.  (The implication seems to be that this is all leading to monetization.)

More questions could have been interesting, but Andrew had another engagement.

[Reblogged from http://oerresearchhub.org/2013/11/06/opened13-keynote-andrew-ng/]