Keeping it Open – what kind of spider is at the centre of our web?

Continuing the theme of Open Education, this week on the MA we’ve been tasked to blog about a technology important to the cause. The remit:

  • Write a short blog post suggesting one additional technology that is important for open education, either from the role of a learner or a provider. The technology can be one that has been significant, or one that you feel is going to become increasingly relevant.What you include as a technology can be quite broad: for instance, it can be a general category (such as social networks), a specific service or a particular standard.
  • In your post briefly explain what the technology is, and then why you think it is important for open education. The emphasis should be on open education in particular, and not just education in general.

As examples we were given some background on Blogs, Links and Embeds, Social networks and VLEs. My course colleagues have gone for additional technologies such as mobile, search engines and open textbooks. I have gone in with the bigger picture, the web itself.

It seems to me that when considering the web as an open technology there are two key questions that need to be addressed:

  1. Prioritising access globally
  2. Ensuring that the web is ‘safe and empowering for everyone’ (Web Foundation, 09-01-20)

I have no solutions to offer but I think it’s worth opening the debate with myself and any others who want to join in.

Prioritising Global Access

The Open Education goals aspire to providing access for all. Yes, this movement has opened access but the discourse on this is very much from a socially, geographically and economically privileged stance. According to November 2019 figures from the The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), still only 53.6% of the world’s population has access to the internet.

(https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx accessed 25-04-20)

The distribution of this access can be seen in the graph below. What isn’t shown on this graph is that growth slowed in terms of new access in 2019. Targets may not be met until 2050. Lovett, CEO of the Web Foundation, warns that “If you are not connected when the majority of your fellow citizens in the world are, you become marginalised in a way that could be more dire and more challenging than perhaps anything we’ve seen before.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage. Accessed 25-04-20)

If we are to have a genuine conversation about openness, of which access is a guiding principle in all areas, this divide needs to be addressed. Geographic, social and economic restraints remain as significant barriers. In his recent post for the Web Foundation “As internet access proves critical, we are missing targets to connect everyone” (https://webfoundation.org/2020/04/covid-missed-targets/), Carlos Iglesias draws a link between the internet and access to current information. He points out that those most vulnerable to CV-19 are also those most at risk through lack of safe place to isolate, lack of robust health-care systems and an inability to work or study from home. For me this highlighted a key question: what is education? In these times, for billions of people it could come down to the simple act of being able to access life-saving information. Is this open education at its core? A place from which we should aspire to work outwards? From there come the next-step questions…

Iglesias draws on evidence to conclude that we will miss our connectivity targets by decades if progress continues at the current rate. We’ve already missed the UN Sustainable Development Goals for “universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries (LDCs) by 2020. As educators there is little we can do about the infrastructure itself (except perhaps keep shouting about it in the places that count). We can however be aware to ‘mind the gaps’ when creating our resources. A very obvious and simple example, why does the Open University Masters in Online and Distance Education not offer an app supporting full offline access to those with intermittent or hard to access network? This is not exactly hard to achieve and it seems almost insolent on their part to have us studying openness but not ensure full access for all their students. We should perhaps also be constantly asking ourselves if we are all producing resources that can also be mobile or print friendly? Read by screen-readers? Do videos come with transcripts? Do we have an alternative to hand if a student can’t access the format we’ve produced? And how in the world do we manage all that before we’ve even started thinking about the actual content, day in and day out…Probably by invoking the assistance of Ai somewhere in the process.

In an impressive rapid-response to the current CV-19 pandemic ITU formed a new Global Network Resiliency Platform #REG4COVID. This was announced on March 23rd and in place very soon after. The aim of the platform is to ensure that the world, as a single ‘human family’, is given the tools required to provide global robustness to the maximum extent possible during and beyond the crisis. This includes information and infra-structure, but crucially, initially the platform will act as a portal for mass scale open learning through information and resource sharing – on how to enable access. Best practices and initiatives to support telecommunications network resiliency will be shared, and crucially, according to the agency chief “… because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere…”

ITU present themselves as having “long promoted universal, reliable and affordable connectivity.” Their goal: to continue on this trajectory until everyone is connected. By linking Information Communication Technology (ICT) planning and the UN Sustainability Goals ITU are working to ensure alignment between the development goals prompting me to think about open resources and open education through a different lens. Initiatives, such as the Smart village plan provide case studies of what access might mean in different locations.

I think maybe we need to redefine what terms such as ‘open’ and even ‘education’ might mean in different places. I mean, I’m quite sure that the majority of us on the MAODE, when we think about open education we are framing it from within our own context. Perhaps we need to be asking ourselves if then it is truly open, or do we actually mean ‘open to a specific demographic’ and their specific definition of education. If that’s the case, it’s not open at all as it’s directed at a tiny proportion of the globe. What can we learn from studying initiatives such as the Smart Village project and what does this mean for us when we are discussing technologies to support open education?

Ensuring that the web is ‘safe and empowering for everyone’

To me it seems there is little point talking about openness if we don’t address the issue that the very means by which these resources are accessed is ultimately at the will of corporate or government decisions. This was brought home to me at the start of the pandemic when Facebook and You Tube took the decision to reduce video quality in order to ease the load on the network. It occured to me then that if these ‘heavy load’ platforms primarily being used for recreational purposes appeared to be jeopardising emergency response, access to information or preventing people from working at home, they could be shut down completely. What then of all our networking and so many of our shared resources?

Inevitably, the web and mobile networks are owned by corporations. That means that ultimately they have the power to allow or prohibit access, to use their platforms as they so choose, so where does that leave the whole question of openness? Tim Berners- Lee, originator of the web, is on the case and working to keep the web as open as possible, but he calls on us, the users and contributors to the web to share in that responsibility. In his podcast to mark the 30th anniversary of the web he reflects on what we need to do to ensure the web serves all of humanity. First, he broadly outlines what he sees as the main dysfunctions of the web today:

  1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
  3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

He goes on to cite, that in just a few circumstances, such as Human Rights and the laws of the sea and aviation, the world has been able to agree on some key global guidelines. He places the governances for use of the web in the same category and states that it should be working for the global good. In order to draw attention to this fact and to begin working towards a more ideal web, a ‘Contract for the Web’ was drawn up in 2019. The content of the contract was agreed by a group of 80, made up of governments, corporations and members of civil society. Access and openness is a key theme of the contract. It is separated into the three areas of government, companies and citizens and anyone can sign to support the underpinning principles. Personally, I was happy first to find this and acquaint myself with the foundations of its concepts, and then to sign. I feel that if we are to become viable educators on the open platform, it’s our responsibility to not only clearly understand the incumbent obligations but also be able to pass these on in a clear and coherent manner. The contract for the web achieves this succinctly and if nothing else has created a focus.

In his anniversary podcast Berners-Lee outlines the key issues for each sector to address. Openness weaves its thread between them. The message is, I feel, so important and relevant I am copying the key points here.

Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online. We need open web champions within government — civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web.

Companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety. Platforms and products must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind. This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit.

And most important of all, citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart. If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.

The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.

The Contract for the Web must not be a list of quick fixes but a process that signals a shift in how we understand our relationship with our online community. It must be clear enough to act as a guiding star for the way forward but flexible enough to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology. It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”

So what about that spider?

I spent my very early years in Ghana, West Africa, the years that are filled with stories. It just happens that in West Africa those stories often involved a spider called Anansi. Anansi is a key part of the storytelling culture there and he is a cunning trickster – he basically studies his victims’ habits and then uses this knowledge to outwit animals much larger or stronger than himself to achieve his goals. Although very clever, he was often selfish or even cruel. Yet despite his highly dubious character Anansi was immensely popular and I remember his name came up regularly in casual play and conversation with my young school friends. I remember reading somewhere that this is because psychologically we find stories where the ‘small’ person is able to defeat the powerful appealing. This makes sense to me (I also read Brear Rabbit stories about this time, the Western equivalent perhaps) but leaves me wondering what kind of spiders (apart from the Google ones) are populating our web? Have we all turned into aspiring mini Anansis? If I join up the thinking with my previous post on speed and power then that seems highly feasible. It also seems quite possible that those who hold the power of the web are the Anancis of our day, for after all they are tiny in proportion to the size of the population that they hold within their power.

The stories of Ananci have stayed with me all these years and I do think we need to be mindful of how we might be being manipulated in order for these Anancis to get their way. 2019 – the year of the big Data scandals. The year it was brought home to us that internet freedom may not be free. This is nothing new, it just came to our attention. According to Shahbaz & Funk (Freedom House) “a startling variety of governments are deploying advanced tools to identify and monitor users on an immense scale. As a result of these trends, global internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2019”

So we thought we’d got that stuff out of the way huh? All dealt with. Have you ACTUALLY checked and reset your Facebook privacy settings since February 1st 2020 when they did their last big update? If not I suggest you head over there and do so immediately. You might be outraged and astonished by the data being held, and it’s not just restricted to what you do on Facebook or even just to what you do online! The onus is on you to uncheck the permissions, not to supply them. The platform designers know human nature well and know that the majority will not do so. Just in case you haven’t, here’s how:

-Facebook settings

-Scroll down to “Your Facebook Information”.

-Click on “Off-Facebook Activity”..

-You can see the list in “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity”.

To shut it down:

-In the same setting, click on ‘More Options’

-Go into “Manage Future Activity” and turn it off.

-You may want to clear the history as well.

(taken from https://uknip.co.uk/2020/04/16/facebook-have-been-up-to-their-old-tricks-again/)

I was so shocked when I saw what data of mine it had hoarded that I pressed delete before I thought to take a screenshot so I could show you. I tell you, you have to keep a very very close eye on that Anansi in the middle of our web. openness definitely comes with risks. As educators it is our absolute responsibility to ensure that we do as much as possible to mitigate those risks by bringing the web itself into all discussion on openness.

References

Freedom House (2019) Freedom On The Net 2019 The Crisis Of Social Media, Freedom on the Net [Online]. Available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2019/crisis-social-media?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Global Internet usage (2020) En.Wikipedia.Org, [Online]. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage (Accessed 26 April 2020).

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/sustainable-world/Pages/default.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Iglesias, C. (2020) As internet access proves critical, we are missing targets to connect everyone., World Wide Web Foundation, [Online]. Available at https://webfoundation.org/2020/04/covid-missed-targets/ (Accessed 26 April 2020).

International Telecommunication Union (2020) New Platform Will Assist Governments And The Private Sector In Ensuring That Networks Are Kept Resilient And Telecommunication Services Are Available To All, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/Pages/STMNT01-2020-global-platform-telecommunication-COVID-19.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

REG4COVID – Policy and Regulatory experiences and best practices that can improve COVID-19 responses (2020) Reg4covid.Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://reg4covid.itu.int/ (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Sample, I. (2019) Universal internet access unlikely until at least 2050, experts say, Guardian, [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/10/universal-internet-access-unlikely-until-2050-experts-say-lack-skills-investment-slow-growth?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Smart Village (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/ICT-Applications/Pages/smart-village.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Statistics (2020) Itu.Int, [Online]. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx (Accessed 26 April 2020).

Web Foundation (2019) 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?, [Online]. Available at https://webfoundation.org/2019/03/web-birthday-30/?mc_cid=a3c6869287&mc_eid=b5cd81a3f0 (Accessed 26 April 2020).

More back-peddling as I dig deeper into MOOC-world.

The next stage of the task:

Choose a text to read from a presented selection

Enrol on a cMOOC (two choices given) and an xMOOC (Future Learn or Corsera) to compare.

Wasn’t looking forward to it based on my previous xMOOC experiences. But…

First I tackled the reading. After my little rant on my previous post about so little attention to pedagogy of MOOCs I was pleased but slightly ashamed to find an option on the reading list called “ Stacey (2013), The pedagogy of MOOCs.”.

This provided a great read that had me frantically scribbling many notes about things to come back to. It also contained another useful summary of the history of OERs and MOOCS (which sent me on a massive side track looking for timelines – another blog post another day!) and the evolutions through which they’ve been. I’m already beginning to think I’ve maybe been overly harsh on xMOOCS and try to remember when my last experience was and what I was trying to learn. Can’t quite remember, only that it was unsuccessful, boring, not what I needed etc. But here, Stacey was making MOOCs sound quite appealing!

I was pleased to find Cormier providing the background to the early pedagogical approaches to MOOCS and the ‘Five Steps to Success’. I’d enjoyed his writing in my post “Open education, freedom zero, mythological metaphors and our currently evolving status” and learnt that he’d actually invented the term, so it figured to find him here discussing the pedagogy to MOOC success.

Without specifying whether cMOOC or xMOOC he defines it in five steps:

  1. Orient: find out where everything is and make sure you can access it
  2. Declare: a place for your thoughts and reflections. A tag group, blog, forum etc
  3. Network: Find others’ postings, comment and discuss.
  4. Cluster: start to form smaller groups with people you most identify with
  5. Focus: mind can start to wander after a time so create a project and draw on your cluster to maintain focus.

He goes on to say that “A MOOC doesn’t presume what you need to know – it’s a catalyst for emerging knowledge, an unpredictable knowledge base that develops from a knowledge network…”

Hmm, I’m thinking by now, this is getting closer to what I’m after but it’s pretty flabby as far as a ‘pedagogy’ goes…

And then Stacey starts to talk about the 2011 innovation DS106, whereby “a highly innovative pedagogical approach to assignments. Rather than confidential, secret assignments created by faculty, ds106 course assignments are collectively created by course participants over all offerings of the course and are posted online in an Assignment Bank anyone can access.”

By now I’m wondering how come I’ve never stumbled across this, it’s just what I’m looking for! And so it goes on as I progress through the text. Stacey highlights a couple of new MOOC setups that has caught his eye and among the many other diversions I’ve already taken, I go and take a look. Interesting but still somehow not quite there.

Stacey concludes also that there’s still much work to be done on MOOC pedagogy and provides some good links for further research. He closes with some useful pedagogical recommendations and I’ll take him at his ‘open’ word and share them here:

  • Be as open as possible. Go beyond open enrollments and use open pedagogies that leverage the entire web not just the specific content in the MOOC platform. As part of your open pedagogy strategy use OER and openly license your resources using Creative Commons licenses in a way that allows reuse, revision, remix, and redistribution. Make your MOOC platform open source software. Publish the learning analytics data you collect as open data using a CC0 license.
  • Use tried and proven modern online learning pedagogies not campus classroom-based didactic learning pedagogies which we know are ill-suited to online learning.
  • Use peer-to-peer pedagogies over self-study. We know this improves learning outcomes. The cost of enabling a network of peers is the same as that of networking content – essentially zero.
  • Use social learning including blogs, chat, discussion forums, wikis, and group assignments.
  • Leverage massive participation – have all students contribute something that adds to or improves the course overall.

The article is well worth a read in full. (Accessed online 11-04-20. https://edtechfrontier.com/2013/05/11/the-pedagogy-of-moocs/)

It was with a sigh that I decided I’d side-tracked enough and it was time to enrol on some MOOCs. Then, to my excitement, I found I had a comment on my previous post. Better still, it seemed to be recommending an xMOOC!

The xMOOC

We had a quick exchange through the comments (me, astonished as the theory of networking unfolds before my eyes!). She sends me the link (which I duly follow) and some very useful responses to my questions. I’m sharing here so others can benefit. Thanks #Vicky Devaney. It was a perfect recommendation in a number of ways. Not least that it achieves in an infinitely slicker and more organised manner, exactly what I once tried to achieve to help tutors and trainees within my organisation to access and use the Moodle! It was a real pleasure to see how it’s been structured and put together. You are right, tasks clear and simple and a good effort at multimedia materials. I different experience to my previous xMOOC forays. There was a lot to please in there – I was astonished at how active the discussion group is. I did wonder if that has escalated recently to the current situation? I also wonder if the difference is due to Future Learn v Coursera or if it’s how they’ve progressed. Sigh. It seems that after all I’ve somehow talked myself into going back into Future Learn anyway. But not today.

The cMOOC

We were given a choice of two cMOOCs to explore. I’d already had a brief foray into DS106 as a result of the Stacey reading, so I go for Rhizomatic 15. Ha ha, guess who I find again? My by-now-old-friend Cormier! He appears to have set this course up as a part of his own research. It was interesting, if a very brief look, and in the end I felt disappointed and let down by him as nowhere could I find a link to that research.

A Comparison

 cMOOC #Rhizo15 http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/04/10/a-practical-guide-to-rhizo15/xMOOC Coursera. Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology
https://www.coursera.org/learn/getinmooc
PedagogyConnectivism Community as curriculum Rhizomatic learningCognitivism and behaviourism Flipped classroom
TechnologyAny – mobile, tablet or desktop. Ethernet, wireless, 4G, apps.   In terms of platforms used: AnyPrimarily Desktop/ wi-fi appropriate materials. I haven’t checked if there’s an app, not seen mention. Some of the resources might be available via mobile online. Probably tablet as well.   In terms of platforms used: Coursera portal Mixed media, interactions and assessment types.
Approach and philosophy (possibly a bit blurred with pedagogy)Knotworking and rhizomatic – seeping through a community forging links and networks that create an eco-system capable of self-supporting and problem solving. User ownership in terms of activity and learning outcomes. Leveraging: situated activity theory; peripheral participation and self-directed learning theoriesManaged by Ai. The learning design is usefully, not just clearly stated but open for anyone to register, access and use! Already registered. It’s based around: “the six learning types from Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework – a model of the conditions necessary for learning to take place. The six learning types are: Read/Write/Listen (or Acquisition), Inquiry, Practice, Production, Discussion and Collaboration” Here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/ It’s definitely a creator ownership situation in terms of structuring and curating the learning artifacts in order to achieve the pre-determined outcomes. But, you can choose how you engage with the learning materials – see below.  
StrengthsAppears to be a genuine attempt to provide as open a model as possible.   Provides a usefully focused platform for highly motivated, self-directed learning to evolve.A certificate is available at the end if you pay, and adhere more closely to the course. You can also choose to be a bit hapzard, like me, and no pay, no focus, no certificate. Learning materials looked clear, well presented and appealing to a range of different learner types. I didn’t complete the course but after a few ‘lessons’ am quite sure attaining the learning objectives is within the reach of anyone who had the skills to find and sign up to the course (with a supportive IT dept. at work) Personally I am besotted with the transcript text below the video that highlights the bit that is being said.** see more below! Good use of multimedia though if every section is the same routine it could get tedious. Discussion group remarkably active.
Possible challengesQuestionably not as open as it appears: Some students need more structure in order to be successfulSome students might need pointers to technical supportSome students might need a means of demonstrating the learning they’ve undertaken, however informal.Based around the ‘owner’s’ platform of choice: Twitter. Maybe not the most accessible to everyone and also not best for long term curation of discussions and resources for easy reference back? (not a Twitter fan!) Astonished by the instruction “Be persistent, if you don’t hear the first time, post again. Try posting at a different time of day. Don’t give up” My imagination: I make a post. No one responds. Second post: “Hi World. Did you actually not see my last post or did you deliberately choose to ignore it?”. Still no response. Crisis. Probably never return to course. Could be very intimidating, or humiliating. To be fair to him he does go on to say “Respond to others. Make connections”. But still, sorry Cormier, no way!  Lack of a ‘real person’. In the “Student perceptions of Open Pedagogy” document, it seemed to be the tutor that made all the difference. The de-personalisation could be a de-motivating factor (though arguably, for some it may be motivating).   Didn’t see much evidence of OERs. Stacey highlights accusations that the ‘new MOOCs are “Ignoring OERs…enclosing students in a DRMd in a proprietary way”   Could reach that point where focus begins to wane though if following while working on a real project that would help.   Still, not much scope for really individualised learning or freedom from what has been prescribed.  
Other commentsIn reality is it much more than a focused discussion forum set up by the ‘owner’ in order to peruse his own interests? Not necessarily a problem but possibly not the best use of the term ‘course’. Pity as I love the idea of Rhizomatic learning and knotworking. Disappointed the links are dead, no resources to be found on the blog page or research (maybe there but well hidden?) The Facebook group seems to be still active, if maybe a little off-topic at the moment. Haven’t checked Twitter. Might get around to seeing if I can raise a response about the research findings. I guess it’s somewhere on the blog.Was very pleasantly surprised. It felt user friendly. Would recommend this course – in fact, going to do so soon.   Still not sure how compliant I’d be unless I’d been mandated to follow it by my organisation. Think I’d get frustrated and want to skip to certain bits. Fighting against the structure, but that’s me.

Conclusions

Really interesting to look at both of these MOOC examples. I learnt a huge amount, especially not to jump to conclusions! But ultimately, I think I’m looking for something in between. A cMOOC model that is truly user led, multi tool and multi-directional learning approach that includes something like the xMOOC as an option for those who want it as well as other more formalised offerings. The main difference with a ‘pure’ cMOOC (I think) is that this activity would be taking place from within a dedicated portal (such as an LXP) so that all would be able to track and capture their learning events.

**The text that highlights as they speak. First, has someone had to type out all the text or is it Ai? If Ai which one? How to access? Also, is the text highlighting an open application or something you have to pay for. Again, any pointers?

References

Cormier, D. (2015) A practical guide to Rhizo15, Dave’S Educational Blog  Building A Better Rhizome, [Online]. Available at http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/04/10/a-practical-guide-to-rhizo15/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Dimakopoulos, D. (2020) Learning Designer, Ucl.Ac.Uk, [Online]. Available at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/ (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology | Coursera (2020) Coursera, [Online]. Available at https://www.coursera.org/learn/getinmooc (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Chaffee, R., Darrow, J., Guilmett, J., Harper, S. and Hilton, B. (2019) Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: An Exploratory Study, Open Praxis, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 275 [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2616 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Jansen, D., Brown, M., Read, T., Barcels, E., Sedano, B., Lapworth, A., Aydin, C., Traxler, J., Fueyo, A., Hevia, I., Valesco, S., Creelman, A., Witthaus, G., Friedl, C., Staubitz, T., Karachristos, C., Lazarinis, F., Stavropoulos, E. and Verykios, V. (2018) The 2018 Openuped Trend Report On Moocs, Netherlands, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2260 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Stacey, P. (2013) The Pedagogy Of MOOCs, Musings On The Edtech Frontier, [Online]. Available at https://edtechfrontier.com/2013/05/11/the-pedagogy-of-moocs/ (Accessed 12 April 2020).

Veletsianos, G. and 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, vol. 17, no. 2, .

What are MOOCs and are they so boring because they’ve been hijacked by Higher Education?

The question:

Is a MOOC something you would consider implementing at your organisation?

Me, kneejerk response: No way, no one would use it.

Slightly more considered response: Unless they had to. For say a H&S certificate

On further reflection: Some might need training and help on how to access and use it

Ok, hey, since this is about openness I’ll try and keep an open mind and at least read a bit about it before I shut it down. I’m glad I did because I learnt a thing or two, not least, what a MOOC actually is (or can be).

I’ll start with a bit of back-tracking. It’s not exactly fair to say MOOCs have been hijacked by HE.  HE in fact invented them. It’s just that they’ve been through a few phases…

Two categories of MOOC – XMOOC and CMOOC

It was interesting to discover through reading Velestianos & Shepherdson (2015) that there are in fact two different categories of MOOCS. I’ve clearly only ever experienced the xMOOC variety, and have, on every single occasion, left a trail in my wake contributing to the embarrassing statistic that 90% of courses remain uncompleted (p. 201). I just find them totally boring. Yet my repeat efforts have come from an optimism that one day I’ll find something different. Something that leverages the potential provided by our technologies and allowed for mass scale constructivism and participation. I tried within our organisation’s VLE, to create such an ideal. Open courses inviting teachers, trainees and students to share questions, ideas, resources, lists of places to access open source resources…All oblivious to the fact that I was trying to create a cMOOC! Uptake was pathetic. I’ll leave reflections on the reasons for that to another post.

So what exactly are xMOOCs and cMOOCs?

A MOOC, both types, is basically what it says on the tin:

M – massive (theoretically yes as it’s available to everyone on the planet)

O – open (but no to the above because not everyone has the skills, technology or other access requirements to truly meet the ‘open’ criteria)

O – online (yes, can’t be denied although some MOOCs I think can also be available offline)

C – course (can’t be denied on the face of it but some would still argue this point based on traditional academic criteria)

Some forms of openness then could be said to be more open than others.

Although both types of MOOC disrupt conventional thinking about teaching and learning, it could at least partly be back to that question of who holds the power – the user or the creator? Either way, MOOCs have caused shifts in practices by traditional HE organisations that could be viewed either as embracing modern pedagogies, or as a strategic move to supress the shift of balance towards new models of educational delivery.

cMOOCS, according to Velestianos (2016), came first and are based on my ideal of connectivism and participatory constructivism, user generated content with openness as a core value. The type of MOOCs perhaps that Gourlay was so affronted by in my previous post. I can almost sympathise with Gourlay’s frustration towards this model as although I’ve had closer glimpses of the ideal, I am still left immensely frustrated by how frequently opportunities for good modelling are missed or poorly executed. It somehow seems ridiculously hard to attain so apparently simple an ideal.

xMOOCs, on the other hand, are based on cognitivist/ behaviourist learning theories, instructor generated content and assessment outcomes are key and clearly defined. It is the xMOOC model primarily adopted by HE. In simplistic (and cynical) terms, it seems to me that first they put their degree courses online, then they made these mandatory parts of paid courses. A win win for the unis – Ai does the rest of their work. It’s also one means of ensuring that having gone to the effort of creating the courses, the students will bloody well have to complete them, regardless of how dull. At least, that’s how I found them. Page after page of read, watch or listen to this and then answer the questions.

That’s my opinion though, and research seems to point at the cMOOCs being largely guilty for the shocking unfinished stats – 90% fail to complete (Ebben & Murphy 2014 , cited in Valestianos, p.201) . Reasons cited have been many I was however, fascinated to read that within the fairly extensive list of reasons suggested for non-completion, all fault lay with the user and there was no glimmer of a suggestion that the content or learning design itself might be at fault! Reasons given included: the fact that it is free, user skills or knowledge not sufficient, user misunderstanding of instruction, user lack of time, lack of incentive, lack of use of forums and so on (Velestianos, p201).

Implementing MOOCS – what works and what not

The 2018 OpenupEd Trend Report on MOOCs (https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/archive/The_2018_OpenupEd_trend_report_on_MOOCs.pdf) provides a great selection of MOOC based short articles looking at practical implementations, each with a different focus. It provides both an excellent toolkit and reference document for anyone wanting to find out more about MOOCS. It’s almost a handbook of considerations for administration or management of MOOCs.

It does also provide useful insights – As well as my first introduction to the term ‘MobiMooc’ John Taxlers piece (p.22) “Community MOOCs – Back to Basics, Back to the Future provided interesting perspective on the debate and tensions surrounding ‘free’ and ‘open’ resources and the evolution of the MOOC. He argues that the MOOC has “moved dramatically away from its innovative and imaginative connectivist origins and that there is an unhelpful tension between ‘free’ and ‘open’ resources.”

He continues

“The idea of the MOOC was born out of experiences with large open distance learning courses in higher education that suggested a new pedagogy, where the numbers and connections would create a new learning paradigm, called connectivism (Siemens 2005). The subsequent story of the MOOC is however not straightforward (Moe 2015). The idea of the MOOC has, in the eyes of many people, become however co-opted by formal institutional perspectives and purposes, and now has been transformed into a highly interactive media-rich experience broadcast by universities on a small number of specialised and dedicated platforms such EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn. The early idealism of the wisdom of the crowd has been replaced by a globally competitive and corporate ethos (Hill & Kumar 2012) but the MOOC in its different incarnations has much to offer learning. This dichotomy has subsequently been expressed as the division between cMOOC and xMOOC respectively, xMOOc being the eXtended MOOC based on traditional university courses, cMOOC being the Connectivist MOOC based on original pedagogy (Ping 2013)”

I can only agree with Traxlers sentiments regarding a return to ‘Community MOOCs and its roots in connectivism’

Exploring Open Pedagogy

I was scandalised that Velestianos and Shepherdson’s narrative placed the blame for the failure of MOOCs, at least in terms of completion, entirely on the user so I decided to look for research on the pedagogies behind MOOCS. Something beyond the broad constructivist/ cognitivist categorisation. My attention was caught and somewhat side-tracked by a document entitled “Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: an exploratory Study” (Hilton et al, 2019). Ahh! Finally, here was a document that looked at an aspect of pedagogy but also the user experience, for a change!

The most striking thing about this paper is that it seemed to consider itself fairly innovative for ‘examining the pedagogies connected with use of Open Educational Resources (OERs). This at first surprised me, and then began to irritate me as it was repeated. Not something for the community to be proud of considering the amount of peddling they’ve had from all types of educational organisations but I’ve somehow always felt that HE gives only a perfunctory nod to what really generates learning, just something to theorise about. There doesn’t seem to be any real excuse for the lack of research into the pedagogy behind OERs, especially as we are told (p.276) that the term ‘Open Pedagogy’ was first used in 1973, pre-technology, to describe “less formal discussions and students co-creating the content”.

The paper provides a useful discussion on the wide-ranging definitions that could be applied to the term and cites many of the internet’s familiar instantiations such as forums, video and photo hosting sites, chat spaces, blogs, wiki’s and so on, all as part of a massive open pedagogy. They are all threaded throughout our lives in a form of co-created content. It’s unsurprising then that the findings of this relatively small-scale research, that implemented well, and not entirely instructed by Ai, overall the students reported that they would prefer to attend a course based on open pedagogy over traditional. It made a good read, approaching the question from a different perspective. I also found it useful to find the rare findings on why students DIDN’T like it.

These included things like ‘lack of structure, too much choice, doing the teacher’s job for them…’. All useful if considering implementing an open pedagogy course.

Conclusion

So, to answer the original question: would I recommend implementing a MOOC at my organisation?

I guess I’ve modified my answer somewhat: Yes and no!

No to a stand-alone MOOC. Still no hope of anyone accessing it unless mandated.

Yes as part of a flexible Learning Experience Platform (LXP) where it could become part of a selection of choices of ways to learn a specific topic. It would need to be part of an open pedagogy in order to have any chance for survival…

Other useful links:

The OER Knowledge Cloud: https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/

The Extended Argument for Openness in Education: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/4/pages/the-extended-argument-for-openness-in-education?module_item_id=52578

References

Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Chaffee, R., Darrow, J., Guilmett, J., Harper, S. and Hilton, B. (2019) Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: An Exploratory Study, Open Praxis, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 275 [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2616 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Jansen, D., Brown, M., Read, T., Barcels, E., Sedano, B., Lapworth, A., Aydin, C., Traxler, J., Fueyo, A., Hevia, I., Valesco, S., Creelman, A., Witthaus, G., Friedl, C., Staubitz, T., Karachristos, C., Lazarinis, F., Stavropoulos, E. and Verykios, V. (2018) The 2018 Openuped Trend Report On Moocs, Netherlands, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) [Online]. Available at https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/record2260 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Veletsianos, G. and 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, vol. 17, no. 2, [Online] Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2448/3629

Open education, freedom zero, mythological metaphors and our currently evolving status

Image by Colleen O’Dell from Pixabay

I think that perhaps, one very distant future day, these times will be the stage from which new and yet-to-become-myths are generated. Power battles on a mass scale between larger than life characters, corporations, institutions, foundations and geographic areas…The fabric of society globally, micro and macro-communities, nature. All are engaged headlong in a metaphorical battle, on a scale perhaps only equitable to those wrought between the gods and characters of ancient myths who wielded entire world-changing powers…Somewhere, not too far from the epicentre of the yet-to-become-mythological battlefront, sits education.

Within the UK, education has been hosting its own ‘battles’ for many years. Mostly fairly well hidden from those not directly involved, though in some sectors the rapid policy changes have had profound impacts across different stakeholder groups, including society as a whole. It could be argued though that over time, the question of openness has made it harder to hide the debates and harder still to ignore them. It has crept into the fabric not only of our education system but into society as a whole, providing on demand educational experiences on a mass scale.

The current coronavirus situation has pulled education yet closer to my metaphorical epicentre, out from behind its academic cloisters and into stark public view. Whilst all organisations, teachers, students and parents have pulled together a remarkable feat with little preparation, it has, for me at least called other aspects into view. Despite the massive investments made by educational organisations into digital software of varying types, they are for a large part woefully unprepared for actual digital delivery. This also despite it having been a mandatory part in FE initial teacher training (and probably other areas of education as well) since 2007. It is an area that has been under scrutiny for improvement since it first appeared in our all our classrooms. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because the real attention has been taken up by the power balances between creation stakeholders and user, as discussed by Cormier below. Economic, professional and social capital is at stake and the unavoidable fact is that open education already permeates almost every aspect of our lives and every power holder would like to find a way to capitalise on that opportunity. At this time in particular the role of digital education in general has significant, immediate practical and economic implications across the sector and the entire global community.

Without doubt, the role of open source resources, teaching and access within both formal and informal education is currently emerging ever more rapidly and probably securing its future stakes. I’m guessing, its fastest rate ever. It was interesting to learn about some of its history through the module reading and help to situate it within the current context. The reading and the actors within provided the drama that set the stage for my yet-to-become-mythological-battlefonts.

It was reading first Dave Cormier’s 2013 Educational Blog – Building a better rhizome (http://davecormier.com/edblog/2013/04/12/what-do-you-mean-open/) and then Gourlay’s “Open education as a heterotopia of desire” that got me seeing our current ‘stage’ as a yet-to-become-mythological-battlefront. By the time I got to Morozov’s 2013 ‘Tim O’Reilly’s Crazy Talk’ (https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-meme-hustler) and read that O’ Reilly, key character in the Open battlefront, actually leverages his Harvard degree in classics by using analogies from the Greek myths I wasn’t really surprised but it did make me actually laugh out loud.

In Cormier’s article ‘The Brief Retelling of Open Source’ he summarises its history through a vivid cast of characters and events that drew me in. Somehow previously ignorant of such significant characters as Stallman, original founder of the Free Software Foundation, and O’Reilly, metaphorically super-sized and slippery tongued god of Silicon Valley, Cormier managed to take me straight from ignorance to imagining the evolution of their ideologies (or not) as mythological battles in his relatively short post! Within this enactment O’Reilly could be seen as Stallman’s chief opponent, a huge influencer within the industry. A smooth talker and described as one of the valley’s ‘priests’. Morosov somewhat wearily describes him and his influence “Entire fields of thought—from computing to management theory to public administration—have already surrendered to his buzzwordophilia, but O’Reilly keeps pressing on.”

It seems that the irresolvable divide hinges on the question of who comes in place of prime importance: the user or the creator? Or, put slightly differently, who holds the power. Stallman’s Free Software Foundation was there first. His philosophy, based on his experiences in the early days of programming, is that operating systems and software for computers should be free (as in freedom of speech and information) and that if “‘users’ freedoms weren’t paramount the software (and the people who designed it) would control them” At this point Cormiers gives a textual nod in the direction of platforms such as Facebook and Google. Take note folks.

However, according to Cormier, back in the early days when Microsoft triumphed over Netscape, the business community needed a way to capitalise and a new narrative was developed. The term open source was coined and quickly championed by O’Reilly. Cormier sees this as pivotal in the direction that would become open source. He cites Morotov’s quote from O’Reilly in 2001

I want to return to the idea of freedom zero as my choice as a creator to give, or not to give, the fruits of my work to you, as a “user” of that work, and for you, as a user, to accept or reject the terms I place on that gift. If that is power, so be it.”

And so the divide was set: power to the user or to the content creator?

Open source was the clear ‘winner’ of this particular battle so far and although the Free Software Foundation still exists, it’s open source that we all (mostly) are familiar with and of course the user can also become the creator. Cormier likens the change to a values switch being triggered with a move from the socio-cultural ideology of freedom, to a… “something else”. A something where the ideology has been removed.

Cormier goes on to explore the different educational labels, terms and phrases used with “Open”. Particularly interesting for me was the discussion on the three principle influences of openness on education:

“- open educational resources: their ability to replace or partially replace existing resources

–  open access: allows for shared research

– open teaching: has its roots in the practice of opening up previously capitalised university courses for free.”

The discussion is based on points taken from David Wiley and Cable Green in Educause .

It was also interesting to read about Open University’s early principles through its conception and early founding years between 1963 – 1975. What struck me most about these is that they are now all effectively guiding principles throughout all curriculums, whether considered open or not. Perhaps the democratisation of education has made greater inroads than is immediately obvious.

  1. “Open = accessible, ‘supported open learning’, interactive, dialogue. Accessibility was key.
  2. Open = equal opportunity, unrestricted by barriers or impediments to education and educational resources.
  3. Open = transparency, sharing educational aims and objectives with students, disclosing marking schemes and offering exam and tutorial advice.”
  4. Open = open entry, most important, no requirement for entrance qualifications. All that was needed were ambition and the will/motivation to learn.

Cormier is himself one of the players on this stage. He coined the term MOOC, which have been instrumental in the HE/ openness relationship.  To me, although MOOCs undoubtedly provide valuable resources and learning, they feel a bit like a desperate attempt by HE to maintain ownership over openness. Lower than expected uptake and completion figures seem to reflect at least that there is something missing for the users.

Cormier concludes with the question

“How do we want to open our society? That, in the end, is the open learning/education that I want to talk about. You?”

Yes Cormier, I too would like to discuss that question. As I finished his piece perhaps the idea of battlegrounds had already been planted, the internal struggles between geeks that mostly remain out of public view until one emerges victorious over another and becomes part of our new-world patois or latest techno upgrade. But in comparison to what I was about to read next these are merely polite side-skirmishes that would surely feature very low on the scale of mythological battles, demi and minor gods.

Enter stage right: one of the mega-gods, the ancient argument for tradition. The side of the university, Gourlay’s side of it at least, lashes out viciously at open education in his 2015 “Open education as a heterotopia of desire”. Gourley’s attack on openness in general makes O’Reilly’s silver-tongued ousting of Stallman look positively docile. Using a fairly thin argument himself, that doesn’t for example acknowledge that the founding principles of openness are now fully integrated into mainstream education and even equality guidances, he wades straight in with a blazing attack on Open Educational Resources (OERs). He hones in on their claim to ‘democratise HE’ and without reference says it has been critiqued as over-simplistic and weakly theorised. Throughout the piece he comes back to the word ‘fantasy’ and catchy phrases such as ‘enacted utopias’. He leverages triggers such as stereotyping protagonists of openness as linking HE institutions to conspiracy theories surrounding power and knowledge. He describes the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement as “Ed-punk” and maintains that “this is exactly what corporations and institutions do not want edu- punks and proponents of OERs to do”.

I found his tone to be aggressive and lacking substance. I found myself arguing with him throughout, notes scribbled in every margin! It seems to me an attempt to shout down his opponents by making them feel ill-informed and subscribing to academically unsound behaviours. In fact, to me it came across as a self-serving sounding whine. A feeble attempt to defend the un-defendable, the long out-dated systems on which our entire educational structure rests and subsequently that of our society. Arguments aimed at maintaining the key to social and economic capital as provided by university study rather than how that study addresses the needs of the workforce. He used the examples such as because students learning online can learn in their bedrooms, on public transport or wherever they choose, this gives them agency. His argument seems oblivious to considering that this agency only relates to one small aspect of learning and could at times lead to intense frustration on the part of the student.

Furthermore, I took absolute offence to his suggestion that adequate learning is somehow not possible without the addition of HE in the form that we know it. I also found it remarkable that Gourlay’s argument somehow grandly omits to acknowledge that universities have had centuries on which to found their governances. This in contrast to the way openness has evolved in response to new technologies and the constantly emerging infrastructures and skills to support them, how the world actually works, the skills required to be an active member of our social and economic communities. Alongside these exponentially rapid changes has been technology and the evolution of open resources as well as who creates and who curates them. Gourlay allows no give for the fact that in its current state, everything open source is effectively experimental and evolving. Perhaps if the universities had been able to evolve and respond at a similar rate people such as Gourlay wouldn’t need to feel so defensive at this point.

I was just completing the reading for this section of module when the coronavirus hit the world. As we went into lockdown my metaphorical battlefield is in meltdown. New ideas, practices, platforms, technologies, ways of living and working and, without doubt also news ways of educating will emerge, charged by an absolute need for changes in the ways we practice everything. Initially at least I’m guessing that what emerges strongest will be through a self-evolving process little informed by market or traditional pressures. New power struggles will emerge. I wonder what will finally dictate the answers – will emerging technologies themselves, or the growth of mobile over internet inform the future ways that education is structured and accessed? Or will technologies still attempt to provide means whereby the power is still held by tradition?

Where ownership will ultimately lie at the end of all this and whether it will uphold an ideology is currently impossible to predict. For now, all my imaginary yet-to-become-mythical-gods are busy preparing to reposition themselves for what will certainly one day become part of a history lesson, and another later day morph into the realms of legend and mythology…