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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.


Friday, July 11, 2014 (11:36 am)

Matt CrosslinBridging Learners From Instructivism to Connectivism

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

One of the more interesting challenges of the Dual Layer MOOC project (at least from a design standpoint) is the learner autonomy goal. The instructors don’t want to force learners to be open (or closed, for that matter). If learners want to be completely guided by the instructor (instructivsm), then there will be that option. If learners want to use completely networked learning (connectivism), then there is that option. Designing two layers based on those two ideas is fairly straight forward (as long as you do it well). If learners that are on the networked learning path want to dip into the guided path, that usually is not a problem, because that has always been part of being an autonomous, self-directed, networked learner: find some content and consume it as needed and then go back to your network. However, for those on the guided path that want to transition into networked learning, the path is not as easy. Many may not even try it because they are used to being guided. You can blame the system or learners not wanting to take risks or many other factors and be correct, but the reality is that transitioning from guided objectives to self-directed competencies is a barrier for many learners. One possible solution is to scaffold the learner from instructivism to connectivism. This would go back to the deconstructing objectives idea I touched on earlier, but in this case you could guide learners through it. Remember, this is for the learners who are used to being guided, so you would have to also guide them through the process of learning how to learn (or heutagogy as some call it). Starting with a basic instructivist guided objective with conditions, behaviors, and criteria, you might have something like:

Given the EdX module resources (CN), the learner will analyze ethics in data analytics (B) by scoring at least 90% on the module quiz (CR).

But since that is what they are used to, you could stretch them a little bit by removing the criteria to get them to start thinking for themselves a bit:

Given the EdX module resources (CN), the learner will analyze ethics in data analytics (B) by __________________ (CR).

Learners would have to fill in the blank for themselves. What you have here is the beginnings of the idea behind the ds106 assignment bank, although not quite there yet. Once the learner has gotten this down a bit, you could then take it a step further by removing the condition:

Given _______________________ (CN), the learner will analyze ethics in data analytics (B) by __________________ (CR).

This is a lot closer to the ds106 assignment bank. And then you could even strip everything away from the behavior except the topic and move that to the condition:

Given the topic of ethics in data analytics (CN), the learner will ______________________ (B) by __________________ (CR).

At this point, learners are practically writing their own competencies – they just need to make sure to create something applicable to their situation and they are there. Along with this, you might want to also scaffold them into group work. For example, with the first level of scaffold you might tell them to goto the group discussion board and get feedback on the criteria they are creating. Then on the next level, they could get in groups and swap their personal objectives with others to see if others can accomplish them. Finally, they are placed in groups with other that have similar objectives to find a common goal to work on. Hopefully they can then start working as an autonomous learner within a connectivist environment for the final step. However, there is the big issue of not forcing learners to take this path if they are not ready. There would be great value in creating a course that specifically teaches learners to move from instructivism to connectivism, but that would still be basically one path through the content. Even adding that path to the dual layer MOOC would essentially make it a single pathway course if it was forced on all at a certain point. But learners that are used to instructivism need that path – that guidance – to start the process of stepping out. So the tricky part of the course design would be to create a system that allows learners to stick with the course layer they like, but also switch over as they like (and by default have a pathway for guided instructivist learners to switch over at any point they are ready). One possible solution is to lay out all possible steps each week in the weekly blast or announcement or blog post or whatever it may be. It could look something like this:

Welcome to Week 3 of Data Analytics! The topic for this week will be ethics in data analytics. For those of you in the networked path, you know what to do. Or maybe you don’t yet, but go to your groups and get working. Write your own competencies and get working with others on one of the weekly problems in the Problem Depot. Or create your own problem. Those of you that need a new group to join, go to the Random Group-o-Mizer and select “new networked group”. For those of you on the guided path, your content is in the EdX course. For this week:

  • Given the EdX week 3 resources, you will analyze ethics in data analytics by scoring at least 90% on the module quiz.

For those of you on the guided path that are ready to dip your toe into the networked path, this is your challenge:

  • Given the EdX week 3 resources, you will analyze ethics in data analytics by ____________________ (?)
  • Create your own criteria for determining that you know the content (i.e. fill in the blank above).
  • Go to the Random Group-o-Mizer and select “dipping my toes in”.
  • Share your personalized objective with the group you are assigned to and give feedback on the other group member’s criteria.

For those of you that have dipped your toe in and are ready to go deeper down the rabbit hole, this is your new challenge:

  • Given ________________ (?), you will analyze ethics in data analytics by ____________________ (?)
  • After creating your own criteria (first blank), go find some kind of resources to help you learn what you need to (second blank).
  • Go to the random Random Group-o-Mizer and select “Going deeper down the rabbit hole”
  • In your assigned group, switch your personalized objective with others and see if you can accomplish each other’s objectives.

For those that have taken more control and are almost ready to dive fully in to networked path, this is your final challenge:

  • Given the topic of ethics in data analytics, you will ______________________ (?)  by __________________ (?).
  • Figure out what you are going to do with the topic, how you are going to do that (first blank), and how you are going to prove you did it (second blank).
  • If you apply this objective to some situation in your life, you be pretty much writing your own competencies like a pro.
  • Go to to the Random Group-o-Mizer and select “My path to being a Jedi is almost complete”
  • This should match you up with a small group of people with similar competencies. Your goal as a group is to work together to solve one of the problems in the Problem Depot based on shared competencies.

If you think you are good with the final challenge and want to go through with the full transformation to networked learning, go back to the first part of this daily blast and jump in to the networked learning path.

Of course, there would need to be more guides in there for some of these steps, but hopefully this gives you an idea. The “Random Group-o-Mizer” would basically just be some profile system that allows learners to put in some basic interests, select a level of participation, input their objectives or competencies, and then be grouped according to some algorithms that puts them together by shared objectives/competencies. The “Problem Depot” is basically an assignment bank that is re-purposed for problem-based learning. Learners could even create their own problems and submit to this depot. The basic idea is that every week we give learners the steps to scaffold to connectivism and let them go at their own pace through the transformation. Of course, it won’t be this straight forward or easy in real life, but the struggle is part of connectivism, right?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014 (1:55 pm)

Matt CrosslinScaffolding an Entire University to Open Learning

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

A lot of what I have been blogging lately is just me struggling through various ideas surrounding this whole “Dual Layer MOOC” design idea. Probably the whole term “Dual Layer” is a misleading descriptor anyways. Multiple pathways is better, but since that term already has specific designs attached to it, its hard to fight against that. “Multiple pathway” courses still tend to be “multiple siloed pathways” in which five or ten or how many ever specific defined pathways are given. That’s not really the goal that instructors have for this course.

The underlying goal is create a course that emphasizes diversity, experience, and autonomy in learning, to borrow a description from Stephen Downes.  The problem we are dealing with is the reality that the entire University system is set up in an instructivist manner that values all students going through the same path in each course in order to pass the course by doing exactly what they are told. Students are so used to this system that they are comfortable with it and start freaking out if they are forced to take an open course. To borrow a statement from George Siemens: “We can’t force students to be open.”

So the dual layer MOOC is not about blending cMOOCs and xMOOCs as much as creating a scaffold for those students who are used to instructivist learning to dip their toe in and try out networked learning – if they want. But there are those that want connected deconstructed learning from the beginning, so that option has to be a viable one from the beginning also. If at any time we create narrow pathways that force students to scaffold from instructivism to connectivism, we leave diversity, experience, and autonomy behind. So the door has to remain open, but the learner has to choose when to pass through it.

So this is not a case of the xMOOC wagging the cMOOC tail, or vice versa. If it looks that, its just because I am failing to create adequate metaphors to explain what has been coming out of the design meetings. I still like the play dough metaphor best (we’re just throwing a bunch of play dough cans on the table and learners can pick them up and use them as the like in groups or individually or even just leave the room and go get their own play dough) – but that makes for a lousy blog diagram :)

So, in a lot of ways, I just see this dual layer thing as a step on the process of scaffolding the university system from instructivism and teaching to “sharing the process of thought and inference and discovery with those around you” (to quote Stephen Downes again). That sharing process is the main reason why I started blogging so much about the dual layer MOOC – it will change and even possibly go away. I’m just sharing my process openly. And the feedback I have received has been awesome - so it has been a worthwhile process and will continue time permitting.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014 (7:54 am)

Matt CrosslinResearch Says: Online or Face to Face Is Better?

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Current Events

You know what they say about getting into an argument with an instructional designer over learning design? Oh… they don’t? Well, they should. Anyway… if they did say anything about it, they would say not to do it because instructional designers pretty much shoot holes in everything.

People argue all the time over whether online learning is better or worse than face-to-face. But you ask an instructional designer which is better? Well, neither, both, and… it kinda depends.

Confusing? Yeah, well blame the research. Research is important. Research tells us a lot. Research raises a lot of good questions. But it seems like we as the educational community are misusing and over simplifying the results of the research.

A lot of research is based on numbers. And those numbers might tell us that, say, there is a statistically significant difference between the number of learners that passed the test in the face-to-face version of a course and the number of those that passed in the online version. Or substitute “test” with whatever metric you are using to determine which is better. And so face-to-face is declared the winner and online is the loser that has to slink off and die because it *lost*!

The problem is – online learning obviously worked great for those students that passed – even if there were statistically significantly fewer of them (did I just butcher the English there?). Research is not a contest to show which option is the one right one. We are not in a giant game of Highlander: Education. There can be more than one right way. It can be online and blended and face-to-face. We are not waiting to see which one beheads all the others to become the clear champion of the universe.

So when the Department of Education came out and declared blended learning the best, that did not mean that online and face-to-face were horrible or ineffective. They just found a higher number for blended. That’s all. That doesn’t invalidate the other two. They are  a national entity that has to look at what works for millions of students.

One way that we know that online learning is working is by learner testimonials. There are thousands and thousands of learners all over the nets saying how online learning worked for them. And guess what – some of them actually failed their courses! Wait – am I telling you that scores don’t matter? Well, of course they matter if you want to earn a piece of paper. But many learners don’t look at a passed test or course as a sign of “working.” Earning an “F” in a course could mean they don’t take tests well, or they had a death in the family during the semester, or they went off on a tangent and forgot to take the final because they were too busy learning informally.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, where students get annoyed at classes and give them bad satisfaction ratings because they were required to do actual work and they thought they should get an A just for paying for the class.

So ultimately, if a student says an online course worked for them because it challenged them to think and learn, that is good evidence that it worked. Test scores and completion rates and satisfaction surveys might also tell us something, but typically those are ranking systems and not a “winner takes all” cage matches.

But another huge problem – one that instructional designers would point out to you – is that even the best research studies cannot really tell you if online or face-to-face is better. They can compare how the learners in one type of online learning design for a specific time period performed against another group of learners in one type of face-to-face learning design for that same period. There are so many different ways to design for learning online, and there are so many different ways to design for face-to-face, and so many ways that different instructors can affect their classes, and so many ways the learner population can affect the mood of the class, and so on. Research gives us a snap shot of what is going on in specific set of classes at a specific time – but the goal should be to ponder what this means for our personal situation and adapt and experiment ourselves. Not “this works! This doesn’t” and move on.

So the instructional designer will tell you that, yes we know a whole lot about what “works” in the macro sense of education, but in a lot of ways we also know very little of what “works” also. We can tell you want generally works in online or face-to-face and what doesn’t… but it ends up being a long vague list that you still have to take a stab at to see what does and doesn’t work for you specifically.

And the kicker is – despite all the research and facts I knew when I started as an instructional designer… I didn’t really get all of this until I started teaching online. Once you start teaching yourself, and trying to actually do what the research says… you begin to realize that it’s not so black and white. There are no champions of the universe, no best practices, no learning styles, no easy categories for everything to fit in. Oh, sure – you “know” that before you start teaching, but it’s kind of like you “know” parenting is tough until you have a kid and see how tough (and wonderful) it can be for yourself. First-hand knowledge changes your perspective radically. And simplistic answers from research goes out the window. The research itself (or at least the good research) doesn’t really ever give easy answers – people just misread it and think it does. Once you start teaching yourself, you begin to realize that you will use research to inform your practice instead of dictate it.

Some day soon I hope we move beyond this pointless rhetoric about online or face-to-face or blended learning being better or a good way to learn or whatever. All education is distributed over a distance anyways. Learners have declared that all work for them. Its better to start looking at what worked or didn’t work for the learners and go from there. That might call for some – gasp – qualitative research!

“So okay, Matt, stop with the whole ‘there is no spoon BS’ and tell me straight – does online learning work or not” you might say. Online learning works – for certain students. What all of the research is really telling us is that what doesn’t work is forcing all students into one-size fits all learning designs. Therefore, that leads me back to why I like working with the dual layer MOOC group - how can we offer students options to determine for themselves what works best? How can we create multiple paths that are truly multiple paths and not just “five different version of the same silo”? How can we create learning designs that emphasize diversity, experience, and autonomy in learning? Especially when so many students are used to instructivist learning?


Thursday, July 3, 2014 (6:49 am)

Matt CrosslinThe Value of True Openness

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

People sometimes ask me why I make a big deal about the difference between open and free. Or even “easy access” and free, for that matter. Well, I thought I would open up a bit about the reasons why it is such a big deal to me. It has to deal with my bitterness towards Google for the whole Jaiku debacle.

You see, I remember when this really cool podcasting company called Odeo started discussing this idea they had for a new service that eventually became know as Twitter. Most people can look that up online. What you can’t quite find written anywhere is that a few days before Twitter went public on July 15, 2006, another microblogging company jumped the gun and launched first.

Jaiku was the cooler, more easy to understand version of Twitter. In addition to your avatar, you could add these cool symbols (icons) to each post that were basically Wing Dings to add a dash of an emotional cue to your short bursts. Comments on a jaiku were threaded. You could also use it as an RSS feed aggregator (your feeds showed up as jaikus). They had several other features that many of us liked more than Twitter, also. Time has erased those memories. But at one point, Jaiku gave Twitter a serious run for their money (although that article seriously gets the launch dates for both services wrong – Twitter was used internally until July 15, 2006).

Another cool feature was that Jaiku had channels – you could create a few of your own and then if you posted your jaiku to a channel it would only appear there. Man, I miss that feature when conference season comes around. And guess what Jaiku used to visually separate these channels from the main flow? A pound sign (#). Look familiar? Yep – Twitter users wanted that feature and didn’t get it so they created the hashtag idea (and technically, this happened well before Chris Messina rallied the Titter community around the idea in August 2007). Back in 2007, the competition between Jaiku and Twitter was intense – a common question at Ed Tech conferences was “do you jaiku or tweet?” The wrong answer – depending on the service the person asking the question was using – could earn you a disappointed “Ohhhhhh…..” (although tech savy people knew how to use both)

So, the hashtag phenomenon we have now? Started at Jaiku. Of course, the pound sign had been used for a long time before that – but the current hashtag as we know it started at Jaiku.

Then Google came along, bought Jaiku, and neglected it. Try as I might, I could not get my jaikus to export to all the tools that claimed they could. I loved those early messages on Jaiku because they were unhindered by all the “rules” that we are supposed to follow on social media today. All of them are just gone forever now.

That is the difference between free or easily accessible and open. Jaiku was free and easy to use, but it was not very open in that I couldn’t take my stuff and save it easily where I wanted it, or use it again anywhere. To be open means that I control my stuff, my words, my identity – including to the point that I can take it off the original site with ease. Without that feature, I have a hard time calling something open.

That is why the new wave of open is so important. If your service is not open in this way, I would suggest using another (more accurate) term. Open should refer to power –  not cost, not access, not certification. Because you see, the things is – if  you get the power thing right, the cost, access, certification, and other issues will probably also follow suit.

Well, unless The Suits get in the way…. which is a whole other issue….


Thursday, June 19, 2014 (2:58 pm)

Matt CrosslinLearning Design Versus Learner Design in the Dual Layer MOOC

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

So I want to take a step back and look at a bigger picture for a  moment. The previous diagram I created was meant as more of a “learner design” perspective, in the sense that the dual paths would be the two main possibilities for learners. This was meant to look at the course from the eyes of a learner. But, the diagram breaks down in many ways since this will not be a traditional course. This course will attempt to deconstruct what it is to learn, be a learner, and to move through a course.

There has been a lot of really good feedback on the diagrams. Mike Caufield makes a great suggestion for considering the idea of federation in this course. I’ll have to figure that one out some more and unpack that in another post. I want to zero in on a few big design considerations first.

Stephen Downes asked “But is that really distributed, the way a cMOOC would be? At a certain point, the movement to collect people into single-site courses collides with the movement toward things like indieweb and reclaim your domain.” Good questions, and very true. The main idea behind this dual design is to be distributed, and that is where my diagram starts to break down if you examine it closely enough. At some point, we probably will need to look at several things and decide between collected and distributed. Not that we will want to, but there will be time and technology constraints to consider, and then on top of that many thousands of people that are used to the collected, silo approach to learning will need scaffolding to get out of that mindset.

But the goal is to dismantle, deconstruct, and distribute as much as possible. Unfortunately, I did not capture that well in the diagram.

So let me look at this based on some other questions. Many have asked good questions about how competencies will work across xMOOCs and cMOOCs, as well as how the software for cMOOCs and xMOOCs can be connected in ways that connects designs that don’t fit together. All of these are good questions, and reveal how we will have to look at design in a vastly different way than we do in traditional classes and even many MOOCs.

Most of our design methods follow an ADDIE-ish structure that focuses on defining learner paths, pre-set competencies/objectives, pre-defined outcomes, and collected silo approaches. For this class, my goal is to transition from learner design to learning design. Instead of looking at what each path will look like, what content students will consume, what artifacts they will create, etc, we will need to plop the learner down at the middle of a fluid diagram and then place all of the parts around the learner. Instead of equal and opposite paths with xMOOCs and cMOOCs and instructors and books, we see a learner surrounded with many tools that they can choose as they so desire. Like this:

learning design 1

These parts are all possibilities that the learner can choose from to meet their chosen competencies – but what they use is up to them at any given point (I only put a few examples above – there are many others). Therefore, the design for the class could be more along the lines of giving the learner freedom to choose how they prove they learned what they claim to have learned.

Think of this in the sense of objectives. To have a good objectives, one model is to write a sentence with conditions, behaviors, and criteria. For example:

Using Tableau (CN), the learner will analyze the sample data (B) with at least 90% accuracy (CR).

This is how we typically create objectives in traditional learning. However, the sample data might be meaningless to most learners, and some learners may think 90% is too low while others might be new and think it is too high. To deconstruct this approach to writing objectives, you would start to put in many more blanks:

Using Tableau (CN), the learner will __________________ (B) by ___________________ (CR).

Those blanks would be filled in by students during class. This is the basic idea behind the assignment bank that ds106 uses very effectively. Let the learner set their own objectives and competencies and then let the learner choose how to demonstrate mastery. To do so, the learner might focus heavily on more instructivist resources to meet their objectives, like this:

learning design 2

Or, the learner may focus more on cMOOC resources to meet their objectives, like this:

learning design 3

Notice that not all of the aspect available are used, and even those that are used are not equally utilized. Additionally, these diagrams would not stay static through the whole course – they would morph over time to meet different objectives and competencies as they morph over time. If I had time, this would be better demonstrated by an animation that morphs through several versions as the class progresses. Keep in mind, this is in conjunction with the tubing metaphor of group formation (for those students that choose to have groups) as well as the dual pathways diagram. This is just another abstraction of different aspects.

This would also mean that the various software solutions would only need to be able to connect user accounts across systems and then export artifacts as needed. In other words, we don’t have to worry about how a paper submitted for “Week 1″ to EdX can be connected with a blog post for “Week 1″ on WordPress or how a discussion response on Facebook can be connected to a Tweet that also responds to the question. We just need to connect the user accounts from EdX and WordPress and Twitter and Tumblr with an account on a central profile (on something like ProSolo). These connected accounts would just need to be able to send out what ever artifact the student wants to use to prove they know the topic. This central profile would not necessarily collect and silo these artifacts, but would link to distributed artifacts. This could be then used for portfolios, badges, certifications, etc. All of this work could be individual or group based (as long as groups come together around shared objectives).

Again, none of this is new stuff – these are all ideas that others have explored. The main goal is to keep this all distributed and open. Anywhere where it doesn’t sound like that is probably just a break down in my explanation. But I need people pointing that out to help clarify and improve the design before we move into production. And I apologize where I had to gloss over some detailed complexities in order to just get to the point. But this is an idea in progress, and I have a bad habit of explaining something and then blowing it up the next day because I found a problem with it :)


Saturday, June 7, 2014 (2:23 pm)

Matt CrosslinCommunal Constructivism and Dual Layer MOOCs

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

Reading through an article by Noel Fitzpatrick & Roisin Donnelly (“Do You See What I Mean: Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis”), I came across this quote that seemed to speak directly to our current goal of combining xMOOCs and cMOOCs:

“It would seem, at first glance, slightly contradictory to construct communities of practice which are essentially organic structures which should be encouraged to grow, live and die naturally. The challenge is, perhaps therefore, to harness the organic benefits of online communities for sharing and learning within more formalised educational structures.” (p. 6)

This is our challenge – to combine the organic benefits of communities from cMOOCs with the more formalized structure of xMOOCs. It is fairly easy to conceptualize the idea, but the real problem is the community piece. There are really two issues to consider when designing this community: 1) what to do with that content the community creates, and 2) how to organize the communities to facilitate the co-creation of knowledge.

All courses have some type of community that creates some type of content. The real problem with many xMOOCs and most traditional classrooms is that the content created by the community is rarely used by the community (other than “respond to two comments on the discussion board”), and even if used it often vanishes after the class is over. A lot of that has to do with the paradigm: “I’m the instructor, you’re the student, I give the info, you prove you learned it, and then I start over with a new group next semester.” Even in social constructivist designs, the focus may be on what individuals learn and not what they can contribute to the general knowledge in the overall field. Fitzpatrick & Donnelly had another quote that caught my attention:

“With communal constructivism, students and teachers are not simply engaged in developing their own information but actively involved in creating knowledge that will benefit other students and teachers; the focus is on learning with and for others.” (p. 7)

Communal constructivism is not a new term, but one that is often left out of the discussion (except in a few cases). However, the idea is not that foreign since we often see this idea modeled in Reddit. But, of course, Reddit users post links to existing ideas instead of creating their own. What if there was a system like Reddit that connected to blog posts by learners, and then other learners could up vote certain ideas and posts to the level of becoming class assignments or even class content? This would be one way to do something meaningful with the content that the community creates. But really, the broader idea would be to create a system where the focus in on learning with and for others. This is just one idea to accomplish that.

Which, of course, leads to the second issue to consider: how to organize communities. One challenge George Siemens is looking at is how to leverage problem-based learning (PBL) in communities so that these community groupings are not just about discussing content but actually using new knowledge to solve problems. And, if learners have their own data to use, this could also be taken to the level of situated learning.

Of course, most instructors that know what these concepts are also know how to make them happen: create a well-designed PBL lesson and divide students into groups. Except… we’re in a MOOC situation that needs to scale to thousands of learners. This was where my previous idea of cell group models comes in: allow students to self-organize into groups based on whatever groupings they like (geographic, existing relationships, common goal, etc). Or let them sit back and lurk. But each group would identify a volunteer leader to keep things rolling, add new members (if needed), adjust roles when existing members leave, solve problems, multiply the group if it gets too big (and identify another leader), escalate problems they can’t solve, and decide to call it a day when the group organically dies off (even if before or after the end of the course itself).

In order to do this, we would have to stop thinking about group work in the typical ways we usually do: instructor assigns groups, forces all people in groups, and groups never change the whole course. We need to think of these groups in a different paradigm. If you are familiar with river tubing, think of how groups form in that activity. For those who are not familiar, here is a visual:


As individual tubers float down the river, they drift in and out of groupings as needed. Maybe they stick with people they knew the whole time. Maybe they make new friends as they go and the group grows. Maybe one group wants to go look at something that the others don’t. But the groupings of tubes are constantly changing, growing, and morphing. Some stay solo, some stay in the same group. But as the river (the course) flows, the structure is flexible enough to change over time. (I wish I could find an animated gif of river tubers to better illustrate)

So, layer this flexible grouping system on top of a Reddit system that allows learners to create and up-vote learner content (that can then be used as the problems in PBL), and allow the groups to form around these ideas. It would kind of be like tubers that discuss what drinks to bring, then putting the ones that won the vote into coolers, and those various coolers end up being what draws in the groups of tubers (which would of course change and morph as they float down the river).

Like I have said before, conceptualizing this is easy, but making it happen is a beast to be tamed. Obviously, there are many ways to rig together a system of cloud services and open source installations to make this work. But this is a data analytics course… so we will need to collect data in order to practice what is being preached. Rigging a system together would mean losing a lot of data (and what we get may not interface easily), so at some point we need to find some programming funds to create something.

But this leads back to the xMOOC layer. So far, all of this is mainly focusing on the cMOOC layer in a dual layer course. In  many ways, the xMOOC part is easiest to figure out in and of itself – EdX does a great job of creating a platform for instructivist transfer of knowledge (that many learners want). The goal of a dual layer MOOC is to create multiple pathways through learning, so that students who feel they need more interaction can get more interaction, and those that feel they need more instruction can receive that. Or, those that want to change between the two once or multiple times can. That part is the tricky part. Sure, we can just design lessons that match up and give learners access points to easily change… but again, what about the data? Why did those learners decide to switch at that point? There needs to be a system that collects data on the why and not just the clicks. We need a system that can collect everything from possible frustration to qualitative reasoning… but again, not by going to third party solutions that might lose some data (or not be able to connect the data that is collected because the collection schemas were too different).

Of course, a lot of this mirrors what Dave Cormier has already blazed a trail into with community management. So I can’t claim much of this as my own ideas. Except for the tubing metaphor… because I am Texan and tubing is the state “lazy afternoon activity” of Texas.

Another level of community we need to consider is creating a personality for the course in the way that Jim Groom has mastered. That’s probably going to be a whole other post, but all courses have a personality – the question is are you using yours in a way that engages students or just says “I’m a boring instructor with no personality that just does what millions of other instructors have done before me.”

These are just some ideas for how to solve the challenges before us. I am sure there are other better ones out there. What will we end up doing? I guess you can sign up for the actual MOOC itself to see how we all figure this idea out. If we figure it….


Sunday, May 25, 2014 (1:27 pm)

Matt CrosslinReclaim Humanity

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

While vacationing in Southern California and evacuating from wild fires, I spotted a store called “Reclaim Humanity.” Sounded really deep and important… until I looked it up and found it was a used furniture store. But the phrase “reclaim humanity” struck me as kind of a personal rallying cry for why I push so hard for certain ideas in education…. even to the point of annoying people at times.

The fight for things like open education, connectivism, Domain of One’s Own, APIs, heutagogy, net neutrality, and other “hot button” ideas right now is not just over a cool tech trend or even who gets to control the meaning of those words (even thought that is important). These ideas represent who we are as a species. We like to educate everyone. Why do you think Facebook is so popular – you get to share for free! Humanity wants to share freely, but there are movements to clamp it all down. We like to own our own digital identity. But there are movements to take your data away from you. We like to be individuals, to be recognized as one that is unique. But there are movements to force everything into one big box. We like to connect and learn collaboratively – but there are also movements to make us sit there and stare at a video for hours and call this boredom learning.

To me, there is a battle being waged in education that has many fronts but two basic sides (with some overlap or sharing of course – education is rarely pure black and white). On one side are those that want to clamp down and monetize everything, force everything into a one size fits all box, set-up coalitions of clones, and generally perpetrate a behaviorist, instructivist, top-down, big business education model. On the other side are the crazy, punk rock, open, collaborative, experimental boundary pushers that really are trying to implement some pretty old educational ideas that were skipped over in the industrialization of the education system.

When people ask something like  “why should I own my own domain – I’m not tech savy enough?” – that is a good question. But I remember when people asked the same things about email: “I can just call/write a letter – I’m not tech savy enough for email.” Now email is second nature to anyone with a computer. Then people said the same things about discussion boards and online communications. Now we almost all do these same processes (on Facebook) as if they were second nature. So, right now the technology might not be perfect enough for easy domain management, or reclaiming your date, or connectivist learning, or combining xMOOCs with cMOOCs, or heutagogy, or adaptive learning, or holodeck communications, or you name it…. but it is getting there. We should push these ideas forward because they represent what it means to be human more than the alternative.

What is the alternative? Think back to the early days of email… before everyone had an account. What was the dominant competition for email? AOL Mail. Remember when people asked if you did AOL Mail or “something else?” AOL tried to push us to accept their system as the one stop place for news, communication, life, etc. But there were much cooler things outside the walled garden they were creating. Things that you get to from any computer with a browser. Remember the days of having to find a computer with AOL already installed, signing on to AOL, downloading email (?), and then signing out to read your messages because you didn’t want to waste minutes? They did their system their way and you had to do it their way to even be in the system. People eventually went down their own path once the AOL hype died down.

Humanity craves personalization, freedom, openness, and uncomplicated systems for doing basic things like communication.

So when I see things like Unizin that want to bundle everything together as a one-stop place to do everything you need in education, I tend to see AOL more than freedom. Or really, I just see another Blackborg looming on the horizon.

Blackboard got the nickname Blackborg initially because of the way they assimilate other companies, but the name has stuck as they continue to advance into all kinds of educationally-related areas to try and become one-stop technology solutions for all size educational institutions. That may look great to people way up at the top (especially those with limited vision for what happens on the ground), but it looks more like mindless assimilation to the rest of us.

So the next time someone asks why I think Domain of One’s Own, or APIs, or Connectivism, or Open Learning, or Sociocultural Theory, or LTCA theory, or whatever it is that I am on a kick about is a good idea, I will just point to the fact that I am trying to Reclaim Humanity from the face of soulless assimilation or continued reliance on a silo-ed approach to learning.

(BTW – Blackboard can be a part of the overall picture as long as it is one option you are giving in a whole toolbox.)


Wednesday, May 7, 2014 (10:39 am)

Matt CrosslinWhy Design a xMOOC / cMOOC Hybrid? LTCA Theory

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning|Pedagogy|Theory

So a lot of interest in the earlier post about creating a dual-layer cMOOC/xMOOC, as well as some of the inevitable backlash. The biggest question rattling around seems to be “why?” Well, my first response is: ask George Siemens – this is all his crazy idea. But I wouldn’t be blogging about the idea and sticking with the team if I didn’t think there was something to the idea. We may run into a huge road block down the road and decide to ditch the idea. But the conceptual part of it is fascinating.

I think some of the initial confusion over the idea stems from the divide between theorists and practitioners. As much as I love theory, many theorists tend to get a little too “either/or” minded for practicality. Its either quantitative or qualitative. Its either behaviorism or constructivism. Its either xMOOC or cMOOCs. And so on. In a practical sense, learning never falls along such clean, neat lines. One moment you need to transfer your expert knowledge to a blank slate, the next you need to let your students struggle and construct meaning from chaos because there are just things you can’t copy and paste into their brains.

In my Ph.D. pursuits, I have been exposed to a new emerging theory called Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions. This theory is being created by Dr. Scott Warren at the University of North Texas based on the works of Jurgen Habermas. Without communication, learning can not happen. LTCA theory breaks communication down into four forms present in learning:

  • Normative communicative actions are those that communicate knowledge based on past experiences, such as statements in class instructions that lay out expectations for student activities.
  • Strategic communicative actions are the most familiar educational communicative actions – these occur most often through lectures, textbooks, and other methods where specific reified knowledge is transferred to the learner.
  • Constative communicative actions are debates, arguments, and discourses that allow learners to make claims and counterclaims. Constative communication is also where social constructivism connects with LTCA theory, as students come to agreement over constructed knowledge through these communicative actions
  • Dramaturgical communicative actions are those that allow for expression. Learners can reflect or create artifacts that express the knowledge they have gained as well as who that knowledge makes them as a person.

Just looking at all four, I think it becomes pretty obvious that each one requires different paradigms, different design, and different technology among other issues. Yet, we need all four to facilitate effective learning. Lately I have been pondering whether some of our problems in education stem from us trying to cram all of these communicative actions into one software solution, one instructional style, one epistemology, etc. Then, beyond that, we tell all students that they have perform all four at the same time as the other students, “because its not time for discussion yet!” or whatever it may be.

So, the idea of MOOC layers is really looking at a four pronged approach to the idea of teaching and learning as communicative actions using LTCA theory. Yes, we could insert strategic communicative actions into constative communicative actions as the instructor sees fit – but are we really going to do that for all students just because two need it? What if a student that needs strategic actions could just duck out and receive that instruction without disrupting the flow for those that don’t need it?

So, the idea I am digging into is that strategic communicative actions are the domain of the xMOOC. And no matter how much you love or hate xMOOCs, you have to admit that this is what they do best. Dramaturgical communicative actions would be the domain of the cMOOC, especially if we could use things like assignment banks and blogs and basically the entire A Domain of One’s Own set-up. Constative communicative actions would be the domain of the design of the course, using activity design to encourage students to interact and debate. Normative communicative actions would be a mixture of the profile system that pulls students together in groups to create their own norms and the instructors vision for the content norms.

The imperative here is that all of this must scale to massive numbers. This is MOOC design, after all. I know there are ways to do all four prongs in one class without dividing out  into layers. But that will only work if the class is small enough. Whatever criticism you have of the whole idea of “massive”… I agree. Education always works better with smaller numbers. But that is not the reality we are being dealt right now. More and more learners are being crammed in our classes – and they don’t even seem to care how this affects their education. So until the customer (learners) wakes up and starts demanding smaller classes, we have to start figuring out this scale thing. That is reality we live in, and that is the reality we are trying to figure out the best solution for.


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