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Thursday, September 18, 2014 (8:39 am)

Matt CrosslinThe LMS is a Wild-West Conglomeration in a Box

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Learning Management Systems

So I guess the new debate is whether to love or hate the Learning Management System. My feeling son the LMS have been abundantly clear in the past, but I also get why some people like them. However, I’m not sure if the defenders of the LMS are fully taking the entire complex picture into account. Most people that I talk to dislike the LMS because they use it all the time AND they are told by campus administrators “You Shall Not Use Any Other Tools.” That is actually in writing at many institutions, and I can’t count the number of times I know of specific instances of faculty being forced to stop using tools just because they are not inside an LMS.

I unashamedly dislike the LMS and have read nothing to change my mind. Most of the posts recently seem to oversimplify the reality of what is happening in the world of Ed Tech. Each person’s experience with an LMS is different, and your reasons for loving it might actually be another person’s reason for hating it. So I want to bring in the perspective of an instructional designer that has worked with many, many courses inside an LMS to highlight how one person’s “pros” might be another person’s “cons.” First, I want to take a look at a few of the main points in the recent D’Arcy Norman article:

“Use the LMS for the basics, and do other things where needed.”

Great idea, but sorry, not allowed in most cases. I just don’t run into many schools that allow this. But, where I work we have found that you can integrate student rosters with a WordPress blog with the same technology you use with Blackboard. Someone somewhere has to connect technologies to student rosters, even with an LMS – and I think that process is much more complex than many end users realize.

“Lazy teachers will teach poorly, no matter what tools they have access to.”

Except for research has begun to indicate that the LMS does affect the quality of education.  And historically, Moodle was based on the research that found that WebCT forced instructors to teach in certain ways. If you are a social constructivist at heart, the behaviorist paradigms behind most LMS designs will cause you to force a round peg in a square hole, resulting in bad teaching. But ultimately, I think it is unfair to paint teachers with such broad strokes. Laziness tends to lead to less effort putting courses together, not more. Teachers are like any other human beings – some days they are lazy, other days they aren’t, but often times they get lazy when they run into something too complex and decide to take the path of least resistance. So is teacher laziness a problem of teachers or of the bad design of the tool? After all, they can’t do anything with an LMS that it doesn’t allow them to do in the first place.

“We have a responsibility to provide a high quality environment to every single instructor and student, and the LMS is still the best way to do that.”

I agree with that, but most students I talk to consider the LMS to be low quality, hard to figure out, clunky, and the least effective way to accomplish this. Most instructional designers agree with this. Many instructors do, also. The real problem is that there is no consensus on what really is the best way.

Next I want to look at specific points that Ted Curran made in his blog post in defense of the LMS:

The LMS “vastly simplifies the task of collecting student work and giving students timely, transparent, private feedback in a way we can be certain complies with FERPA laws.”

Except for the thousands of hours I have spent trying to help instructors figure out the Blackboard system, and then explain to others how the way they set it up violates FERPA. But this is the first time I have ever heard someone refer to Blackboard’s process for this as “simplified” – and I have spoken to a large number of users about it.

“LMS gives each class its own “meeting space” where everyone is together and can see both public materials (intended for the whole class) and private materials (intended just for them) without having to cobble various tools together.”

Except for the 90% of courses that cobble together content in the Blackboard/Canvas/etc course in a manner that is more chaotic than any DIY class I have seen. Chaotic cobbling can happen in any tool, but the more unnecessary options you give (looking at you Blackboard) the greater the chaos.

“The LMS gives students a centralized place to submit work”

Centralized as in one URL, but then finding the class you want to go to in a wall of text on the landing page, and then navigating through the labyrinth of folders and links that most instructors cobble together inside of that class, and then reading another wall of text of submission instructions… yeah, not an improvement over the DIY method for the most part, at least in my experience.

“gives teachers tools to analyze submissions to identify students who need more targeted interventions”

The tools that I still can’t figure out after two years of cracking away at them? But, a vastly improved experience is coming in 2012, errr… 2013, wait, 2014!

“Lastly, the LMS provides a standard framework within which you can embed other tools.”

Welcome to WordPress circa 2005! Wait, how is something that every DIY solution has been doing for years now a pro for the LMS?

“Canvas improves on the closed nature of Bb by offering LTI integrations with 3rd party tools that are easy enough that faculty can do their own integrations– very much like WordPress plugins.”

Wait – so a DIY WordPress blog is not as good as an LMS because Canvas finally caught up with a WordPress blog in functionality? I’m confused again. But if your institution is not allowed to use Canvas, so what? How can tools that are present in one variation of an LMS at the bottom of the pile be a reason for everyone in Blackboard to change their mind and love the LMS?

The issue I am highlighting is that each person’s experience with an LMS is different, and your reasons for loving it might actually be another person’s reason for hating it. All of the pros Norman and Curran point out about the LMS I find to be cons in actual daily usage based on nearly 10 years of designing in various LMS tools. Additionally, interacting with instructional designers from around the state and even nation, I find they see the same problems. Having the ability to do something with a tool does not translate into that tool being easy to figure out. Blackboard and even Canvas are notorious for being difficult to figure out (I figured them out easily, but many can’t). Even when one does figure them out, designing courses in a way that doesn’t turn them into a “Wild-West Conglomeration in a Box” is next to impossible for many with the time constraints they are given. And even if you take time to design them well, students end up getting lost because the whole LMS paradigm is pretty complex by default.

Each person has to choose which “Wild-West Conglomeration” they want – in a box where you can’t get your data or have ownership over your content, or in the open where you do. The fundamental problem with the LMS is ultimately not ease of use or design, but power issues. You could design the easiest and coolest LMS in the world, but if it is closed… it still loses out. The “Walled Garden” argument still applies, all these years later.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014 (9:55 am)

Matt CrosslinCogDog Days at the LINK Lab

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: LINK Lab

The UT Arlington LINK Research Lab kicked off a great series of speakers with the Cog Dog himself, Alan Levine. Alan came in on Monday and gave a great historical look at the web with a subtle kick in the pants for all of us to pay attention to where things are going and how we want it to be. You can view the recording here.

The real fun times were had on what I labeled “CogDog Day” because we were privileged to spend the whole day picking Alan’s brain on a wide range of topics. We even played with some of his online toys.

CogDog Days 05 (via Matt)

First up was pechaflickr, a type of storytelling game that can also serve in any capacity that you need a random flickr image generator. Alan even once used this tool to present a tech talk. Our particular group choose the tag “texas” and a quite hilarious tale of life in Texas through the random pictures that appeared.

Next up was a game of Five Card Flickr, another storytelling tool that allows you to pick from five random Flickr images and write a story about them. You can see our actual story (5urv1v0r) here. Good times were had by all.

Next up on the digital storytelling adventure was the Storybox, which is Alan’s build of a pirate box in an old 1940’s camera (picture below by Whitney Kilgore). Alan basically goes and sets up this box and has people share digital stories through photos, videos, and forum posts. Since it is self-contained server, it can work even where there is no Internet, or you don’t have the password, or even where the network you could use is too restrictive for sharing remixed media.

CogDog Days 12 (via Whitney Kilgore)

If you missed out, I would check out some of the upcoming events at LINK Lab. You never know what surprises await!


Monday, September 15, 2014 (12:41 pm)

Matt CrosslinA Course is A Course, of Course of Course

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Connected Courses|Open Learning

Recently I have been pondering the term “course” and whether or not it is a good way to describe educational experiences. We seem to be seeing more rumblings about the deconstruction of courses – from people questioning whether MOOCs really should be called courses to the idea of breaking courses down into smaller chunks.

For the record, I really don’t have a problem with the term “course” or it being changed to include concepts like flipped learning, student-centered learning, or any future new concepts. But there are also other obvious times when the concept of “course” is too broad or too limiting.

I think the part that I am growing uncomfortable with is applying the term “course” to everything regardless of design or intent. Courses are most often attached to an official learning process where an expert confirms that the learner understands, demonstrates, knows, etc. a certain set of knowledge or skills or both. This confirmation could be college credit or a certificate of completion or any other form of “certification.”

Calling that confirmation a course even if the process changes to active learning or semi-connectivism or competency based learning or whatever is fine. But even in pure instructivist courses, learners still step outside of the course boundaries (sometimes ethically and sometimes unethically) to learn. Even when you plagiarize you learn something, even though the whole thing is unethical.

I’m beginning to look at “courses” as experiences where the design of the learning and the intent of the learner is to earn some type of official second party confirmation that they learned some skill or set of knowledge or both. Learning experiences that go beyond this official arena are something else. Those that seek to create competencies or smaller modules are still really just changing the length or format of the confirmation process.

In other words, I don’t know if “course” can apply as a blanket statement to all learning experiences, or even to the path for all learners within any one given experience. Take DS106 for example. Learners can go through this experience in many paths. However, for some learners, they go through a tract specifically designed to earn college credit with the intention of earning said credit. The intention of the design and the learner is to officially earn confirmation of learning. For those learners, DS106 is a course. For everyone else, it is something else. Basically, a Connected Learning-based Open Experience (the experience is designed to be open, but the learning can be closed if the learner so chooses). I don’t really like using the terms “connected” or “experience” when referring to networked learning, so I will need to ponder this one more.

But as we push into more varied intentions of learning design, such as heutagogy, our terminology may need to expand so that not everything fits in the same box, or so that there are enough boxes to accurately describe everything that is happening, or _____ (who knows what). So while I identify that those that say that the term “course” can describe any learning experience currently, I also identify with those that say the term is limited. Just instead of getting rid of it, maybe focus it and add others?


Thursday, September 4, 2014 (7:17 am)

Matt CrosslinBy the Power of MOOCskull – I Have the Power!

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Connected Courses|Open Learning

Just two days ago I made a comment about how my most throw-away blog posts seem to spark the most interesting discussions. Which is a pretty cool commentary on the Interwebs if you think about it.

The conversation on my last post turned to the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs and some thoughts that I have not considered (with great comments from Maha Bali and Alan Levine). If you had asked me just a year ago if I thought there was much of a difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, I would have probably agreed that they pretty much overlap and that there is not much difference. But after getting to work on the Dual-Layer cMOOC/xMOOC project as well as conducting some content analysis research on MOOCs over the summer, I tend to have a different view.

That is not to say that there are not elements of cMOOCs in xMOOCs and vice versa. And I am beginning to believe that there are two distinct sources of power in most courses: learning power and designed power (for lack of better terms – I think there are actual terms for these that I am blanking on). The “designed power” is how the course is created by the instructor and/or instructional designer. This is where I identified a problem in the past where instructors communicate one design and then produce another. The “learning power” is what students do with the “designed power” they are given. They might follow directions as told or go off on their own. Which is nothing new – students have been doing everything from study groups to cheating outside of the design of the course for as long as there have been classes. The nature of the Internet in general and open learning specifically probably increases the number of avenues for this “learning power” as well as lowers the barriers to partaking in it. Which is all great stuff.

But I am also a big believer in communication – or more specifically, accurate communication. Jurgen Habermas would probably be a good reference point. But even closer to home, Dr. Scott Warren has created a learning theory based on Habermas called “Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions“. The basic idea is that you need to know what you want to communicate and then communicate it in the correct format to maximize learning (with apologies to Dr. Warren for the over-simplification). As an instructional designer, I realized that some of the major problems that occurred in learning design were based around a breakdown in the alignment between the “designed power” and the “learning power”.

Additionally, I think that as a profession, we often over simplify some terms. Student-centered is not “student-only”. Instructivism is not “instructor-only.” So, in that sense, there are no pure xMOOCs, pure cMOOCs, pure student-centered courses, or pure instructivist courses. There never have been, because those terms really don’t mean that. For example, student-centered is just “centered” on the student, not “student-only.” There is still room for instructor guidance in student-centered learning.

I think of it this way. If you are a child of the 80s, you probably got the point of the title of this post. He-Man was a classic “so cheesy its cool” cartoon centered around the all powerful He-Man. He-Man has a team of people around him that help him accomplish his quests, but everything still has to center around He-Man saving the day. Even if he is out of the picture for the whole episode, he will still come back in the last minute and make the whole solution about his power. Sure, there is a lot of cool stuff being accomplished by his companions as they do various social interactive tasks, but the power still resides with He-Man, and he determines when the problem is solved.

After all, it is “He-Man AND the Masters of the Universe” not just “Masters of the Universe.”

(anyone else wonder why Prince Adam was running around with a sword and one day just decided to raise it up and say “By the Power of GraySkulll…”? Yeah, lots of drugs involved in the 80s cartoons… which is why they rule…)

Contrast this with the recent Avengers movie. Captain America was obviously the leader at the end, but he really didn’t have a detailed plan that revolved around himself as much as he just set loose the people around him (that were as powerful or even more powerful than himself) to do what they do best. He had no idea where it would go or if it would actually work, and even by the end of the movie the solution really had no relation to his initial plan. It came together because the power was released to the people around him equally and they came to a solution together.

He still had some directions, but think about how Hawkeye, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Widow changed those directions just a few minutes later as the problem got more complex. Even the Hulk went from smashing stuff to smacking down Loki. Because the Hulk is awesome like that. And you get the sense that this was Captain America’s design all along – release the power to those around him.

So that is a nutshell of why I differentiate between xMOOCs and cMOOCs – not on pure designs but on where the power generally seems to be designed to go.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014 (8:28 am)

Matt CrosslincMOOCs, Connected Courses, or (Just)MOOCs?

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Connected Courses|Open Learning

Just when you thought things were getting a bit confusing with xMOOCs, cMOOCs, miniMOOCs, POOCs, etc – it seems we now have various extremes existing within each of these classifications. In the cMOOC world, there are now those that argue there really is little difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs and we should just call them all MOOCs. On the other end of the spectrum are those that say cMOOCs are so different from xMOOCs that they should be called something different, like “Connected Courses.”

As I blogged about recently, there really is a difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and those that want to combine the two are really missing how they are running an xMOOC with social aspects added. When you still retain control over most of what is going on through curration or guidance or whatever you call it, you have an xMOOC.

Those that want to call cMOOCs something else are on the right track. However, I think the term “Connected Course” sounds cool but ends up being a bit problematic. Technically, it means the courses themselves are connected and not the learners. But also, if you Google “Connected Courses,” you find the term has already been in use for a while in many sectors. It usually seems to refer to courses that are aligned across content areas (that is where I first heard the term as an 8th grade teacher) or to a series of prerequisite courses that have to be taken in a specific order.

Also, as George Siemens as pointed out, whether or not these things are “courses” is also arguable.

But the conversation looks to be interesting, so I will be joining the Connected Courses MOOC to see what conversation arises. I might even try to actually finish a MOOC for the first time :)

(Don’t tell the LINK Lab I admitted that)

Probably the most accurate term for cMOOCs is “Connected Learning Open Events” – but CLOE just seems as problematic as (just)MOOC or cMOOC or Connect Course. Set up your POSSE and round up your PLE to jump into a CLOE. Yeah, that will never catch on.


Friday, August 29, 2014 (1:27 pm)

Matt CrosslinSymphony or Cacophony? Cracking the Code of Tool Selection in MOOCs

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

One of the bigger struggles with modern day education is tool selection. There are so many good tools that do such similar things that everyone from instructors to CIOs are trying to figure out the secret formula for how many are too few to offer and how many are too many to manage. Some schools apply the “all your eggs in one basket” approach, forcing everything into one mega tool like Blackboard. Others advocate no restrictions, so that learners will be faced with so many tools that they get lost and confused.

Having all your eggs in one basket is nice from a bottom line perspective, but not very realistic for the world we live in since one instrument virtuoso are less in demand. However, Putting too many options in one course can overwhelm everyone from the instructor to the students to the support staff to, well… everyone with a hand in the game. A balance needs to be struck so that your diverse collection of instruments works together as a symphony but avoids the chaos of cacophony.

As we are looking at the dual layer MOOC design, the number of tools we would like to use is also ballooning. Some have been around for a while, some are newer, others are being tested out in this course. But they all seem to play a vital role, so how do we get the right amount that doesn’t overwhelm the students, but still gives them freedom to use what is most meaningful to them?

We could easily just say that all students will use Tableau, WordPress, and EdX for everything…. but that may not end up being what they will use after the class if over, and therefore end up rather useless to them.

We could also just as easily list a ton of tools and link to tutorials, but that would overwhelm many students and encourage more to drop out.

The solution is probably somewhere in the middle – where we offer enough tools to get everything accomplished in the course (assuring, of course, that we are focusing on teaching how to accomplish certain tasks over just focusing on the software) while helping learners to focus in on the tools they need at that given moment.

This is where Nicolas Cage and National Treasure comes in. Cage’s character is trying to use multiple tools to crack a code to find a treasure, basically. But in one scene there are so many possibilities out there that the clue seemed like useless blabber. Fast forward a few scenes and Cage’s figures out that the pair of older glasses would change what he saw on the piece of paper as he changed lenses:


Learners in the multiple pathways/dual layer MOOC will be changing technology filters as they go through the course to accomplish different tasks. There will be many more “lenses” than in the glasses pictured above, each one helping them see a different aspect of learning analytics. Our mission is to organize and tie the various technology filters together in a seamless fashion.

It would almost be nice if we could embed an UrbanSpoon slot-machine like app into the weekly/daily email communication. Learners select the layer they are in (xMOOC or cMOOC), the analytics tool for the week (Tableau, Gephi, RapidMiner, or LightSIDE), and the activity they are working on and they get a custom set of instructions for the week.

MOOC Spoon

Probably a bit beyond what we have time for, but our design will need to help learners focus on just the tools that they need for the time being.

In a general sense, the weekly flow of tools could look something like this:


Learners would receive the weekly update which guides them to the tools they need to focus on (even though all tools can be used as secondary if needed). The learners then use these tools to go through the zone of proximal development (ZPD) surrounding the weekly main concept. The learning analytics tools are a part of the support for traversing the ZPD. Data collection tools will collect data to guide the next weekly email, as well as student work to highlight in the same email. These weekly (or maybe even daily) communication pieces are important in keeping students in different pathways aware of everything that is happening across the class, and will hopefully even draw some into trying different pathways.

Of course, this is a simplistic look at the process. Or maybe more of a road map for design. The time consuming part will be in building a unified user experience. I’m a fan of the way ds106 created a handbook for this purpose – kind of a combination how-to and FAQ space complete with quick start guide even. They cracked the code for turning their particularly large set of lenses / tools into a symphony quite nicely, and hopefully we can do the same.

(Note: ProSolo is a toll in development that, for lack of better words, serves as a place to collect various streams of content that learners create in their own space. I have been watching the developments with Known that Jim Groom has blogged about, and I like where they are going with that. ProSolo seems to have some similarities with Known on the hub side of things. I’m not sure whether it will receive input from a POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) service.)


Thursday, August 28, 2014 (11:41 am)

Matt CrosslinTheoretical Flow of Heutagogy in MOOCs

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

So to continue the examination of the multiple pathways MOOC (aka “dual-layer”), I want to pull back a minute and look at the overall flow of the course from a different (but familiar) perspective.

One of the ways I think we are falling flat in MOOCs (and to be honest, all forms of courses) is in the process of introducing the course and maintaining an overall vision. A colleague of mine often says “without vision, the people perish!” What this basically means if that people don’t have a good reason to get pumped up about what they are doing, they give up. Another way of looking at this is: “[insert your topic here]: So What?!?!”

Introductory sections and goals are good components to have, but they aren’t enough to bring vision to all learners (some will be self-motivated, of course). In traditional courses, the “So what?” can easily be answered with “I paid for it, its required, it helps my degree plan, so good enough!” While that is not the best vision, it usually fills the gap. So a bit of problem there, but with a stop gap. But in open classes? People need a better answer to “so what?” than that (because they can drop out with no loss) or even any answer, period.

And not because they aren’t necessarily interested or motivated. They just need some fuel to keep their self-motivation fires burning when the pressures of life press in to the time needed for self-selected course.

This is the beginning of the process of Heutagogy, which will continue into the next issue to examine.

One of the major criticisms of some college programs is that they are focusing too much on content and not enough on marketable skills. In any technology-related field, this causes problems when that content goes obsolete. For example, computer programming degrees may teach, say, “Intro to PHP” and “Advanced PHP” in the sophomore year – typically with a textbook that is already a few years old. However, three years later when those students graduate, that PHP has gone thorough several new versions, while many companies have moved on to Ruby on Rails. So the learners panic because they realize “I need a class on the new version of PHP and Ruby on Rails! But I am out of college!”

What this does is create a reliance on the instructor as knowledge dispenser and the class as “specific skill set trainer.” What is missing is teaching learners how to learn (aka heutagogy) instead of how to consume content from an expert (instructivism).

At the very beginning, computer programming college degrees should focus on teaching students how to figure out any programming language. Just look at basic concepts, theories, and then several method out there. Because different learners will be, well, different – they will need to figure out if they need Dummies books or online tutorials or to work alone or to follow an expert or whatever it means. Once they have their own process down, the rest of the program should focus on honing these self-directed learning skills by letting learners loose on whatever the language de jour is. But the classes should not be called “Advanced Java” or what ever it may be, but “Solving Advanced Problems Using New Languages” or something like that. Since changing course titles and textbooks is very difficult to accomplish quickly, just make the titlesmore open from the beginning to allow for students to pursue more up-to-date and/or relevant content. Or just go all crazy and allow for more advanced open learning.

Pulling this altogether, I would look at a theoretical flow of content like this (based on data analytics, the current topic of a the multiple pathways MOOC):

1) Give learners vision (and let the vision frame the rest of the class). Have all instructors answer the “Data Analytics: So What?” in a short video of a few minutes. And then I would say just slam the learners into group work. Have all learners answer this question before class even starts:

If someone came up to you on the streets and said “Data Analytics: So What?”, my answer would be:
a) adequate to inspiring
b) some what uncertain to non-existent

Then place all learners into groups of five with about 1-2 A’s and 304 B’s. Let those who are already a bit advanced envision the others.

2) Go through the introduction, but the first major topic should be how to identify and follow the major thought leaders and organization in Data Analytics. Once learners connect with these leaders, they have taken their first step to becoming lifelong learners about Data Analytics rather than short-term consumers of expert knowledge that need to keep coming back to the same expert fountains in order to learn and grow. We often leave this step to the end or scatter it as optional content throughout the material, but I think in today’s society this is not adequate. Start off with learning how to find the updated thought on data analytics and let learners begin to find the new ideas and products from the very beginning of class.

3) Dive into the intro material, but expand it to include teaching the basics of how to do Data Analytics in all situations, scenarios, software environments, etc. Teach learners to know how to learn for themselves what to do, not just follow the steps you provide. In data analytics, that would teach them how to analyze the data in general in any program: extracting data, visualizations, network analysis, regressors, etc. Teach them the basics of how to figure out any data analytics tool they come across.

4) Then dive into real life scenarios, problem-based learning, even student centered learning. I know that at times there will be certain functions that only one program does, so I’m not saying avoid any specific instructions. But think of it this way: portions of the specific instructions you teach your learners will be obsolete when the next version that is released. In other cases, many learners will be at an institution that requires one type of software. If you only taught them to figure out the narrative of data using Tableau, and their institution wants them to use Gephi, they may get stuck. But if they learn in general how to look at the narrative of data and then are allowed to choose the tool they use to accomplish this analysis, they might find the course much more meaningful to them as learners.

Of course, I am oversimplifying this idea and real courses will be a mixture of looking at specific functions that only exist in specific places and alongside overarching ideas that can transcend applications. The overall point I am getting at is to focus your design on teaching your learners how to learn about your topic, with the specific tools and processes as examples and case studies rather than the overall focus itself.

As for how to arrange the tools themselves, I want to look at that idea in more detail in a separate post where we will go on a treasure hunt with Nicholas Cage.


Sunday, August 24, 2014 (1:26 pm)

Matt CrosslinDigital Out of Body Experiences

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Ed Tech|User Interface

Ever get crazy ideas about the future of technology? I was pondering some of the new technology that different groups/companies are working on, and had a crazy thought about the future of computer interfaces. It all started with thinking about computers in the 1990s. For those that remember the 1990s, there was something magical about the computers that were coming out then. It was like the displays suddenly leapt well beyond what we saw even in Science Fiction movies. I mean, you could get a decent desktop computer that looked fancier than anything on Star Wars or Star Trek, and they could play CDs, store files (remember having to save everything on a disc? How quaint), connect to other people, play rough videos, etc. You didn’t see a whole lot of that in the movies.

Today we have people working on amazing stuff. Sensors that follow your moves well enough to let you play video games. Using WiFi to see through walls. Immersive heads-up displays. We see some cool stuff in movies today, but I wonder if reality will actually move beyond our current Sci-Fi paradigms of future interfaces into something totally different.

As we increase the ability to quickly detect and map the immediate world around us through cameras, sensors, WiFi signals, sounds, etc – we will soon have the ability to create a photo-realistic digital 3-D recreation in real time. Which sounds cool in itself for, say, recording important events and then re-living them later. Throw those recordings into an immersive Occulus Rift-like helmet and its like you are back there again. But what if you had the helmet on while recording? Since your sensors probably extend a good 100 feet or more, you could realistically “pull away” and rotate the display from your body the same way you spread your fingers across a map on a smart phone to pull out. What this means is that we will probably see the ability to have realistic digital out of body experiences in our life time.

Sounds creepy, but also think of the safety implications. What if you drove this way, and since you can pull back and see around corners, you get in less accidents? You could even start driving your car like a video game with a video game joystick. Same could go for fighter pilots in battle – think of the advantage you could have to see the whole battlefield like a realistic game. Also, imagine public safety – the ability to look through a building for a bomb threat without stepping a foot inside, for instance.

Of course, there are huge privacy concerns with this idea. Would we have to invent a new paint and window films that can block these technologies in order to secure not only government buildings but our own houses? I am sure some solution will present itself.

Of course, we don’t always have to go big. Doctors could use this technology to guide miniature robots all over the human body, or even perform routine work on contagious patients from a safe distance.

Of course, I have been talking about co-located events here, but since we are talking about transferring digital information to a display, that display could technically be anywhere in the world and this “out of body” experience could be transferred over the Internet. Educationally, think of the ways we could change teaching if we could send learners anywhere we want with little physical danger. Historical sites could set up tours online – just create a protocol for streaming your sensors online and people could go all over the place in the middle of class. And not just international trips that are cost-prohibitive in real life – also think trips that are dangerous like inside a volcano or hurricane or to the bottom of the ocean.

Of course, all of this is kind of akin to floating around someplace like a digital ghost that no one can see – which is good in some situations, but not others. But what if we can combine these sensors with holographic projectors to project the virtual visitor as if they were actually there? Collaboration pretty much reaches the level of holodecks. What will that mean for classes when we have this ability? What could we learn about ourselves if we have the ability to re-watch ourselves later from an outsider’s perspective? For all of the fields that involve interaction, what would that mean to be able to replay a whole interaction? What would this mean for role play?

Its kind of creepy and interesting at the same time. But then again, back in the 90s, the idea of sharing personal pictures and personal random thoughts on Facebook was creepy and interesting also. We will see where all of this goes, but I hope people that are working on these technologies are dreaming big enough to work through the creepy and into the interesting.


Friday, August 1, 2014 (9:52 am)

Matt CrosslinThe Disruption That Never Will Be in Education

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Current Events|Open Learning

Don’t get me wrong – change is coming to education, and disruption will be part of it. But all of the comparisons to the music industry are off base, because much of the “disruption caused by mp3s” narrative is a smokescreen from the music industry intended to distract from other questionable activities they are participating in. And also to quote Jim Groom: “Why are we so hell bent on disrupting everything right now?

But let’s start with a historical look at the music industry. If you are old enough, you probably remember seeing this sticker quite often:


When the cassette tape came out, it quickly became a cheap means for creating your own tapes at home. While people like to act like the mp3 created the “unbundling/rebundling” phenomenon, the truth is that it was the mixtape that started it. Many people like to act like all they did was make a personal favorites list from their own collection, but the truth is that most of us used the mixtape to get a bunch of songs we liked from friends so that we wouldn’t have to buy a whole album for one song. Some of us even coordinated music buying with friends and family so that we could get all the songs we wanted for the least amount of money. This led to the rise of the home taping movement along with the music industry creating several PSAs about how this movement was killing their business.

Which, of course, it obviously did not.

So the ability to unbundle and rebundle music is nothing new. Neither is the ability to get free music. The same holds true in other forms of entertainment: people that didn’t want to buy newspapers knew what coffee shops to hit at what time to get a free copy. People set up elaborate systems for trading VHS and Betamax tapes. Or they learned how to tape movies off of broadcast TV once you were allowed to pause recording during commercials. The digital revolution sped this process up and anonymized it considerably, but there were actually other factors that contributed more to the disruption that occurred in the music business. Of course, you rarely hear about these because it exposes a more questionable side to the music business. Not to mention that “home burning” is probably bigger than online piracy:

“It seems the ripping of CDs borrowed from friends and family accounts for almost as much music piracy as online file sharing anyway, which is an interesting discovery. This is something that has been rife since before online piracy music became a mainstream activity.”

Remember what happened when the music industry introduced new physical formats (vinyl to 8-track to cassettes to CD)? Everyone had to spend a ton of money upgrading to the new format, because the new format was in no way compatible to the old one. Most of us had to sit around figuring out which albums we liked the most because we could only upgrade a few. Even after the CD, the industry tried to introduce new formats like Super Audio CDs and MiniDiscs, but none of those caught on. People were still trying to upgrade to CDs and just didn’t bite. But also many people noticed that the early CDs sounded horrible when compared to the new albums recorded for CDs. Remember those first Led Zeppelin CDs? It was obvious they were just dumping old music on the new format without trying to upgrade the sound quality. They weren’t expecting this CD thing to last.

Additionally, think about how flimsy all of those physical formats were. They could break, warp, scratch, crack, stretch, and wear out easily. In addition to the massive amounts of money they made off of making consumers upgrade every few years, they also made a lot of money off of people replacing broken or worn media (even CDs wear out if you play them too much).

Mp3s and cloud storage changed this. Once you get your music digitally apart from the physical media, it can always be compatible with newer formats. Look at how many formats iTunes plays. Some new format comes out? Download the update and keep going. Mp3 player breaks? Just re-download the songs.

There was one area that the digital revolution did obviously disrupt. The one thing that home taping couldn’t deal with was the need to still buy an entire album to just get the songs you wanted. Sure, there were 45s and cassingles and even CD singles, but those just had the one hit song (and a throw away song if that). Usually three of those would equal the cost of a full album, and most hit bands would have at least three hit singles. So most of us just got the album and skipped the process of waiting for singles. MP3s did change that radically, in that you could just buy the songs you like at $1 a pop and skip the rest of the filler. Because, let’s face it, most hit albums are a few good songs that are obvious singles and a bunch of boring filler. But no record company is going to point out how little effort they put into the whole album. So yes, the mp3 did disrupt the business of tricking people into buying a full album of filler in order to get the 2-4 songs that the record company spent actual time and money on developing into hit songs.

This all points to the real disruption in the music business that the industry will never mention. Some of their more lucrative side-effect revenue streams were cut off over night (upgrading old media, replacing damaged media, and buying the full media to just enjoy a small part). These disruptions will not transfer to the education sector until someone invents a way to improve the human brain. Once we “download” education, its not permanent. We will need refreshers. We will need updates. For now at least, we can’t download the new information directly to our brains once the old goes out of date. We will need to constantly learn new information and enforce existing information, so education is still needed in some form and free online content will not change that.

So, in addition to the real music-industry disruption being something that most aren’t focusing on, we also have the issue that those at the top (record companies) are still doing well despite what they are saying. The music industry still made $16.5 billion dollars in 2013. That may be half of what they made 10 years ago, but a lot of that loss can be accounted for through the loss of the “lucrative side-effect revenue streams” I mentioned. And o you really think they laid off any corporate head honchos because of those losses? Doubtful. We do know there are less artists getting signed, less music being produced by older artists, and less newer artists clogging up the airwaves. The people at the top are still making money by squeezing more out of the people at the bottom. Look at all of the hit songs that are “featuring” guest appearances from other artists. How do you increase the sales of a hit song? Get another famous person to guest on that song and all of their fans will also buy the song. Instance 2-for-1 sales bump! Sound familiar?

Of course, this is not isolated to a few colleges. Faculty around the world are reporting being required to do more with less resources and support while upper level administration seems to continue to increase.

Something else to think about. Recent research is showing that people that download the most free content illegally are also the ones that buy the most legal content. Those that already have the service being offered are the main ones that are consuming the free version of it. Sound familiar? Like how most people that take MOOCs already have a college degree?

What this points to is that any disruption that the education industry would go through in common with the music industry has already happened.

So we have a few reality check factors to consider:

  • Unbundling and rebundling is nothing new and existed well before the digital revolution
  • Access to free content also existed well before the digital revolution
  • A lot of the “disruption” that occurred in the music industry is a smoke screen from the music industry itself designed to garner support for current questionable actions as well as hide questionable practices in the past.
  • Much of the actual disruption that happened due to mp3s and digital content can’t really transfer to the education industry due to the education sector being much more complex.
  • The disruptions that can transfer from the music/entertainment industry to the education industry have already happened.

All of this to say that music metaphors need to stop. Changes and disruptions are going to happen (and have been happening for a long time), but it seems we seldom see the people that have a more realistic grasp on the changes that are coming speaking at big educational conferences. This post was originally meant to be a two or three paragraph intro to a blog post called “Ask Not What Disruption Will Do To You, But What You Can Do For the Coming Disruption” – but that will have to wait until next time. We need to stop this focus on disrupting everything now based on a busted music industry model and instead ask how we can guide the changes that are coming to be beneficial for learners and faculty and not the big dogs at the top.


Thursday, July 24, 2014 (10:17 am)

Matt CrosslinIs There a Difference Between xMOOCs and cMOOCs?

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

Recently I have been reading a few different thoughts on the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs. Or more specfically, how there is no real difference between the two and the classifications do more harm to the conversation than help. I would respectfully disagree – the differences are real, and they do matter. To ignore the differences would cause more damage in my opinion.

Of course, this has been explained in much better terms by others before – but this is just my attempt to try a different framing mechanism.

A lot of the discussion centers around how there are social activities in xMOOCs as well as guided content in cMOOCs. To me, that’s a non-issue. Social elements do not define cMOOCs, and lack of social elements does not make an xMOOC. Instructor-led content does not define an xMOOC, and lack of content does not define a cMOOC. That is like saying that pizzas and burgers are the same because they both have salt and can be ordered at a fast food restaurant. Sharing some similar characterisitcs does not mean that the ones that they don’t share are not important.

I’m working on a content analysis research project that is looking at what themes would emerge if you analyzed the content of the syllabuses of 30 MOOC courses. The differences between cMOOCs and xMOOCs are quite noticeable. Everyone has sightly different terms for the concept of power, but whether it is “who holds the power” or “who has autonomy” or if “autonomy is a classification of power”, the seat of power is the real difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Whether you look at is as active learning versus passive learning, or instructivism versus connectivism, or constructivism versus behaviourism, or student-centered versus instructor-centered, the basic question is “who is in the driver’s seat for the learning of each individual learner?”

If the content is laid out for the learner (or “curated” by the instructor) and the learner must go through a certain set of modules and take certain tests and discuss certain topics and so on, the instructor (via course design) is in control of the steering wheel for each learner. They may discuss and form groups and all kinds of social things. They may form PLNs and use Twitter. That does not make the course connectivist. I have been in some courses that had no content but the social groups were so controlled that we had no input on the whole class. If a course is designed on a passive, instructivist, behaviourist, instructor-centered manner, it is still an xMOOC no matter how much social stuff is tacked on.

On the flip side, if each learner is in the driver’s seat for their learning, and you are creating a course that is active, connectivist, contsructivist, student-centered, etc – that is the heart of a cMOOC. You can create weeks worth of content and put it in there, but as long as it is optional for students that want to use it as they see fit, it is still a cMOOC.

So what that means is that courses like EDCMOOC that claim to be neither xMOOC nor cMOOC are actually xMOOCs that just don’t know it. Nothing wrong with being an xMOOC. But why is it an xMOOC? Because the content is “teacher-curated and -annotated selection of resources on weekly themes, including short films, open-access academic papers, media reports, and video resources” that “were the foundation for weekly activities, including discussion in the Coursera forums, blogging, tweeting, an image competition, commenting on digital artifacts created by EDCMOOC teaching assistants, and two Google Hangouts” according to the paper on the course.

The instructors were still in the drivers seat. Sure, they let students form their own groups. They let the students form networks. But they were still in the seat of power.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that happening. Many learners (for better or worse) still want the instructor to be in the driver’s seat. But what about the students that wanted one thing and got another? Confusions in power structure in courses can lead to frustration among learners. They may still end up happy with the course but be confused about what happened along the way. The EDCMOOC article authors pointed out that “For every person who hated the peer assessment, someone else loved it.” Why is that? Were they expecting one thing and got another? Were they confused as to why they read all this curated content and then had another student assess their work? Learners that have to find their own content tend to feel more comfortable with peers assessing their work, but those that have to read curated content (technically, all content added in any course ever was curated) as the foundation for the activities will usually want the instructor to assess their work, since it was the instructor that first told them to consume that content.

Of course, classifications in education are not about black & white, either/or boxes. Classifications like “xMOOC/cMOOC” are really more of generalized categories that kind of coalesce around certain characteristics. But most people know that they are not hard, fast lines. One problem that is emerging in education is misunderstanding what educational classifications are and what they aren’t. MOOC designs that mix elements of xMOOCs and cMOOCs are not a sign that the classifications are wrong. They are a sign that we need to understand the underlying differences even more or we could continue to confuse and polarize the issue even further. More and more learners are discovering the difference between instructivism and connectivism (even if they don’t know those words), and are wanting to learn in their preferred paradigm.


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