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Friday, November 21, 2014 (2:39 pm)

Matt CrosslinDALMOOC Design and Scaffolding

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

Returning again to the design of DALMOOC and more specifically the visual syllabus, I wanted to take a look at the scaffolding decisions that were made. In some ways, this course was a unique challenge because we had to do some true scaffolding that could possible span several different levels of experience, from complete newbie to seasoned expert. This is different than most instances of scaffolding, because typically college curses are really more along the lines of linear constructivism than scaffolding. What I mean is this: for most courses on the college level, you assume that your learners have a prerequisite level of knowledge from either high school or earlier pre-req courses. You aren’t introducing, say, physics for the first time ever – but instead you are building on the Intro to Physics course in order to help students learn how to build rockets and predict launch patterns. So you don’t scaffold as much as take chunks of knowledge and skills and plug them into (linear constructivism) existing knowledge. This is scaffolding at the basic level, but you may or may not go beyond one level of scaffolding.

With DALMOOC, we knew that learning analytics is still new for many, but old news for some that may just want to learn some different tools. Additionally, we were adding in new technology that we knew for a fact that no one had ever used. Throw in that mix an international crowd that won’t all be speaking English and then even add the idea to create a visual syllabus (which few are familiar with). This is a tall order covering a huge range that most courses don’t have to consider.

So where to start? Well, with the first page of the syllabus. It needed to be visual, with minimal text, but clear where to start. A wall of text that basically says “start here” kind of violates a lot of what it needed to be. But if you look at anything from OLC to Quality Matters, most online course evaluation tools recommend having a clear and simple indication of where to start. What is more simple and easy to understand than a basic “1, 2, 3, etc”? I have traveled to Asia and Europe and Africa and even people who don’t know English still understand enough about our number system to know that a web page with those numbers on them would indicate you start with number 1.

Of course, a small number of people felt that this was still too confusing. I’m not sure what to say to that. You are presented with a page that says “Welcome to the Class” and then some big buttons that are labeled 1, 2, 3, etc. I’m not sure what is simpler than that.

Of course, I realize that there are those that really, really need the text because they have been programmed to look for it their whole lives. The buttons were given a rollover effect that gives a more detailed description of what they are leading to. This serves two purposes. One, it gives detailed descriptions that are there when you need them, but aren’t filling the screen and overwhelming people that are completely new. Two, they make you actually do something with the syllabus instead of just passively reading a wall of text. You have to mouse over or click on various items to get more details. This moves you from passive to (slightly) active. This was on purpose to get learners engaging more with the content on the very first page. Additionally, this idea was continued on the other various visuals.

For those that are not new to all of this, links were provided on the upper right hand corner – where they usually are on most websites. We don’t expect people to follow the path laid out for them. In fact, we encouraged learners to skip around and make their own path as needed. And that was also possible from the design.

As expected, there was some push back from a few learners (about 5-10 out of the 6,000 that were active at some point) on the design. The basic feedback was that they didn’t like the roll over effects. They wanted the text to be there without rolling over. This probably tells me that the right decision was made, because that was exactly what the rollover effects were designed to do: make the learner do something instead of passively absorbing text. Of course, there are other ways to accomplish the same goal, so other ideas might be used in the future.

The biggest challenge in describing the structure was how to explain the nature of the dual layer course. Course themes are always helpful, as the many versions of ds106 have proven. Of course, it would have been nice to have enough time to have carried out the theme for the whole class. Many of the problems with understanding the structure can probably be traced to the fact that we were not able to inject this theme throughout the entire course (of course, those problems could also come from the fact that we initially designed the daily email to be the central anchor for the course (and therefore, the place were scaffolding and structure sense-making would happen)). It seems like that aspect fell short. However, I think that a consistent theme that is carried throughout the course as a true sensemaking/guidance tool would alleviate many of these issues. Of course, scaffolding in general is a problematic concept in this dual layer approach, but that will have to be a topic for another blog post.

The theme itself was chosen early as an initial idea that ended up sticking. I think the Matrix “blue pill/red pill” theme was a good place to start, but gets a little murky once people start mixing the two and bringing in their own ideas (which is, of course, what we want). My first idea was actually a table full of play-dough – all kinds of colors just waiting for learners to pick and choose and make into whatever they like. Ultimately, this leaned too much towards my connectivism bias and was probably too unstructured for new learners who wanted instructivism. I think that a mixture of the two ideas might work as a better theme in the future: learners are initially given the choice of blue or red play-dough, but they can choose one or the other or mix together to make their own shade of purple – or bring in their own colors to create what they want.

Of course, some of the more complex ideas that were thrown around earlier, like creating scaffolding out of objectives or dynamic group formation and changing, never made it into the course. Interestingly enough, some learners (around 10-15) asked for various versions of these ideas, so they may bear exploration in the future.

Underlying these design decisions were some different theoretical perspectives that go beyond Connectivism and Instructivism (LTCA Theory, Heutagogy, Metamodernism, etc) that will need to be explored in a future blog post.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014 (3:22 pm)

Matt CrosslinEd Tech Retro-Futurism

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning|Theory

Every time I read someone’s tag line or bio that self-describes themselves as an “ed tech futurist”, I chuckle a little inside. Since time only seems to move forward (as far as we can tell), aren’t we all a little bit of a futurist inside? I mean, besides thinking about what we will eat next or if we will be at the same job next year, don’t we all pay some attention to the future of technology? Whether its the next phone we want or what we want to our apps do in the future, I think we all have a futurist in us. Might as well say “I’m an oxygen-breathing human.”

Maybe its a way to say that you are trying to shape the future, or predict the future, or something along those lines. But wouldn’t that make you more of an ed tech fortune teller?

Maybe it’s just me, but every time I read about the future of ed tech, I seem to just see a newer, fancier way of getting dogs to drool when a bell rings. And I admit, I’ll be the first dog in line to drool over the Occulus Rift or anything else, but has anyone else noticed that all of the coolest tech toys are really just finding more and more realistic ways to recreate this thing we already have called “reality”? Can we just be honest about Occulus Rift and call it “Your Own Eyes 2.0″, or call 3-D printing “Stuff 2.0″?

In many ways, we haven’t as much come up with new ways to teach as much as new toys to make Pavolov’s dog happy. Its like we want to completely ignore the Clark/Kozma debate and say “Google Education will revolutionize education more than MOOCs ever did!” or something along those lines.

That’s why I tend to focus on ideas and philosophy more than gadgets and websites these days. We still haven’t gotten to a point that we are implementing some of the last truly new ideas we had from Skinner to Vygotsky to even people like Foucault and Habermas in education in transformative ways…. even though we know that they often work better than behaviorism does in many instances. No wonder we are still resistant to ideas like connectivism and heutagogy – we never got past cognitivism and pedagogy.

So, yeah – I still look more towards the ideas of the past as holding the best promise for the future, because while people are right that there really isn’t anything new per se about connectivism or heutagogy, it is an idea that takes what we’ve known really does work from the past and marries it to the way the world is today. These retro-futurist ideas give us an idea of where we need to head in the future of education by being grounded in the ideas that we never really got at any one point as a field as a whole (notable exceptions withstanding, of course).

Some would say “well, why don’t we just bring back social constructivism?” Well, for one it didn’t catch on the first time around, and two, the world has changed some since then. So we need to take the parts that worked and mix them with a healthy dose of reality. Don’t like connectivism? Well,then come up with your own idea. I would bet you will mix together a lot of the same source ideas of chaos and networked learning and so on and so forth and come to a crossroads of going idealistic (which is where the proponents of social constructivism messed up in the past), or realistic. An idealistic route is one that says “we need a lot of money and small classroom sizes and large numbers of well-trained teachers to pull this off!” While it is true that this will work, it would also work for behaviorism just as well. And guess what? Your never going to get that. So if you go the practical route of scaling learning with less resources and less money and less instructors and what do you get? Open learning, connectivism, heutagogy, etc.

All roads in education are leading to the same place no matter how much new technology we throw at them. But sometimes it seems like the new technology is actually slowing down the real progress as we focus more and more on how to get the puppies to drool faster and faster with fewer and fewer bell ringings. Maybe someday when we actually gain the ability to download factoids straight to the human brain via the Matrix, we will finally wake up and say “oh, I think we finally have this one corner of the educational experience down. What else is out there?”


Tuesday, November 4, 2014 (8:54 am)

Matt CrosslinIn Memory of Bennie Tschoerner

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Ed Tech

One of the reasons I have been in a bad mood the past few days is that I found out a mentor of mine passed away from cancer over the weekend. Probably most of you reading this don’t know Bennie Tschoerner. He’s one of the unsung heroes of the Ed Tech world in my book. Without Benny, I probably wouldn’t have started this blog, or stuck with Ed Tech long enough to become part of the LINK Lab and therefore the dalmooc would have been very different. He was one of the first people to inspire me to go beyond the boundaries that academia imposes upon instructional designers and other non-faculty positions.

Probably most people reading this blog now come from dalmooc and may not understand what it is like being an instructional designer. You definitely do it for the enjoyment of the work and not the fame or recognition. Generally, you are relegated to being a glorified tech support position despite being trained in theory, academic writing, public speaking, team building, and many other skills. Faculty come to you 24/7 to fix every issue in their course, but rarely ask you for input on how to improve their course (and then usually ignore your advice when given). Then when you go back to them and ask for collaboration on papers or presentations, they ignore your emails, or worse yet agree and then stop replying. And of course, you lose count of how many awards are scattered across campus that were given to the instructor for the design of their class.

I still remember the day when I was quite depressed about yet another academic snub by someone when Bennie walked into my session at TxDLA. He told me he saw my presentation elsewhere and had made sure he would sign up as moderator for the rest of my sessions. Here was this guy from the Board of Directors that was taking an interest in my weird theoretical emerging technology sessions. Not only that, he was rallying people to attend them. I saw him telling people everywhere to come to my session (and many other people’s sessions, too). I went from crickets one year to standing room only the next. It was his interest in my stuff despite my lack of Ph.D. that made me think that maybe I could possibly reach others out there. So that very year I grabbed Darren and Katrina at the closing session and proposed the idea for this blog (which believe it or not, was a group blog at the beginning… and still is if the prodigal bloggers ever choose to return to open arms :).

Those of you that knew Benny also knew that he was always an a fun person to be around. And you never would have guessed by the way he acted that he was also an ASP.NET expert. I’ll miss never getting to have a faux debate over PHP vs. ASP.NET with him again. But he would never bat an eye at any new idea no matter how crazy. I’ll always remember him saying over and over again “let’s go for it – it’ll piss off the people that don’t want to change, but that probably means they need it.” If you can’t tell, he also wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was.

The biggest lesson I learned from Benny was to look past the big names and political rules in your field to see the people that are toiling away in obscurity. Out of all the people that were in line to take over from him as CIO of TxDLA, he pestered me into doing it. And I mean that – he was pretty relentless about it. But he didn’t care about who was the biggest name person in TxDLA to take over, or the person with the most political clout. He chose who he thought was best and then pushed to make it happen. And ultimately, he was wrong on that front :) My falling out with TxDLA was a direct result of following his advice… which I would still follow if I had a chance to do it again. Right advice, right person, wrong time is all. Many people don’t realize how ahead of his time he was.

One of the frustrating things about Ed Tech is how political it is. You are constantly told that its not about your abilities or intellect, but who you know, how many publications you have, how many millions or billions of dollars you get in grants, how prestigious of a university you work for, and other things like that. Things that are only options for a select group of people (mostly white males) that get the fewer and fewer opportunities to go down that path. In a lot of ways, Benny was the Ratatouille of Ed Tech, believing that a great idea could come from any sector. People like that are few and far between, and his can-do attitude will be sorely missed.


Thursday, October 30, 2014 (10:05 am)

Matt CrosslinWho MOOCed My Cheese?

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

Conversations behind the scenes with the DALMOOC have turned to looking at the kind of feedback we have been getting on the course. George Siemens shared some of the things that he learned the first week. His post also deals with some of the feedback we have received.

The hard part with dealing with feedback is that most of us end up with a skewed view of it after a while. Positive feedback is usually pretty general and therefore easy to forget because its not very specific. Everything from “this looks great!” to “I am loving this!” to “I really like what you are doing here” serves as great feedback, but because of the general nature and lack of specifics tend to be easily forgotten. Negative feedback tends to be specific and direct. This makes it a lot easier to remember. People will tell you exactly what they don’t like and a dozen reasons why they don’t like it.

Because of this skew, the negative feedback tends to stick in our mind more easily and we also tend to get the impression that there is more negative than positive. This becomes a problem when we begin to make design decisions based on gut feelings rather than hard numbers. If you count up the positive and negative feedback, which one is higher? If you take a qualitative look at what was said, is there anything helpful either way? Saying “I love this” really just indicates a personal preference more than an actual analysis that a designer should take into consideration. In the same way, “I don’t like this” is also really just a personal preference that really doesn’t tell us much about design. Learning is not all puppy dogs and fairy tales – sometimes you have to create situations where learners have to choose to stretch and grow in order to learn. There is nothing wrong with some struggle in learning. Often, complaints about learners not liking something are actually good indicators that your design is successful.

If you disagree, that is fine. But don’t design anything that involves group work. A lot of people hate group work and if you create a lesson that requires group work, you have just acknowledged that sometimes you have to struggle through group dynamics in order to learn whether you like it or not :)

But sometimes when someone says “I don’t know what to do with this tool!” what they are really saying is “I am not sure what to do and I don’t want to try because in the past there have been huge penalties for trying and getting it wrong on the first try!” This is a sad indication of our educational systems in general. We don’t make it okay to experiment, fail, and learn from failure.  The reason so many people demand more tutorials, more hand-holding, more guidance is not because they afraid of chaos as much as they are afraid that they will get their hand slapped for not getting it right the first time. This is likely due to it almost always happening in the past.

So in something like DALMOOC, where you are free to get in and experiment and fail as much as you want to, most of us have been conditioned to panic in that kind of scenario. That’s what our excessive focus on instructivism does to us as a society. People are afraid to play around and possibly fail for a while. They want to know the one right way to do something, with 10 easy steps for doing it right the first time.

So, in a lot of ways, much of the feedback we are getting is along the lines of “who moved my cheese?” And that was expected. We are trying to jump in and explain things to those who are confused as much as possible. We are hoping that those who are bringing up personal preferences as negatives will see that we had to design for the widest range of learners. Or maybe to see that if they still figured something out, that this thing actually worked as designed (because its not always about personal preferences as much as learning).

But, to be quite honest, an objective examination of all feedback would seem to indicate that most of it is positive. Many of you like the challenges and the struggles. That is great – you get it. Most of the positive and negative feedback is along the lines of personal preferences – you don’t like rollover effects, you love Bazaar, this optional assignment is too hard, this required one is too easy. I’ll continue blogging on design decisions to clarify why they were made – not to justify them as right (instructional design is rarely about black and white, right and wrong decisions anyways), but to explain why they were made. And there are some genuine complaints about confusion that we are addressing.

Just as us instructors and designers can develop a negative skew, so can the learners. They can see a few specific negative tweets in a sea of general positive tweets and start to think “wow – maybe I should be having more problems?” Don’t worry – most people are doing just fine. Problems, praises, issues, suggestions, and complaints are welcome, but just remember they don’t necessarily apply to you as a learner. You are free to love or hate any part of the course you wish. You are also free to pick and choose the parts of the course you participate in, so don’t waste time with something that isn’t working for you. But also be careful not to label something as “not working for you” just because you don’t like it or are struggling with it. Sometimes the struggle is the exact thing that you need in order to learn.


Friday, October 24, 2014 (12:05 pm)

Matt CrosslinMOOCs and Codes of Conduct

Posted by: Matt Crosslin In: Open Learning

Even before the whole GamerGate thing blew up, I had been considering adding a Code of Conduct to the DALMOOC. UTA has always required an Honor Code in all course syllabuses, so to me this issue was a no-brainer (even though we aren’t treating DALMOOC as a specific UTA-only course). But I know others don’t see the need for Codes in general, so I wanted to dig more into the reasoning behind a Code of Conduct for online courses – especially MOOCs.

I know some feel that you can’t really stop bad people with just a statement, and that usually the community will rise up to get rid of the abusers and trolls anyways. Sometimes both of those are true. But not always.

I have been a part of Facebook groups that did not have a code and ended up leaving. You would think the group would have risen up to stop people from being abusive, but that was not the case. And when I spoke up? Well, it quickly became time to leave. I have also been in some groups that did have a code in them and witnessed first hand seeing someone asked to comply with the code and – believe it or not – they stopped, apologized, and changed. It does work sometimes.

But other times it doesn’t. So you can’t just say “be cool to everyone” and leave it at that. There has to be a threat of consequences from the people in charge for the Code to have teeth. The problem with using the UTA Honor Code in a MOOC was that it was designed for a small group of people in a closed system where you can ultimately with one click boot out people that don’t comply. And then send the police after them if they don’t get the message. Open online courses, though? A lot trickier to enforce.

So, I turned to the work of Ashe Dryden and her recommendations for conference codes of conduct. Since conferences are a bit more open than closed online courses, I thought that would be a good place to start. I also decided to add links to the privacy statements of all services we recommend, as well as links to reporting abuse on those services. I felt people needed to be aware of these issues, as well as know what one place to go to access the, all. If I should add anything else, please let me know.

So you might wonder why the language is so specific on the Code. Just tell people to be cool or else your out, right? The problem is that this is too vague. Some people can be very abusive in a way that flies under the radar of most gatekeepers, because they are looking for obvious hateful words and actions. True abusers have found ways to go under the radar. So we need to be as specific as possible in these codes as a way to empower our learning communities to know what to look for in the first place. You can’t just expect the community to rise up and fight abusers – you have to give them the tools and words to use in order to fight. And one of those tools needs to be an appeal to authority. You see, its one thing to say “I think you are being abusive, stop” and another to say “the rules say this: _____.” Trust me from experience: abusers rarely care when you come in and say “stop treating this person that way because I think you are wrong.” If we want our communities to rise up and stop abuse, we have to empower them with the tools and words they need from us as the leaders. Yes, they are able to come up with their own words; however, it is much more powerful when their words match ours instead of fill in our blanks.

And I know what many say: “this will never happen – I have never seen abuse happening in classes.” I hope that is true. But I would encourage you to look into recent cyber bullying research. Many people that experience abuse do not speak up because they feel no one will listen. So is the fact that you have never heard of abuse online a sign that there is none, or that no one thinks you are a safe person to discuss the issues with? An important difference there.

Think of it this way. The DALMOOC has over 18,000 people signed up last I heard. That is more people than thousands of small towns in America. Thousands of towns that also have a crime rate and an abuse rate. If even small towns can’t escape from attracting criminals and abusers, how sure are we that our MOOCs will?

And oh yeah: #stopgamergate. Call me a SJW or whatever you want. I wear it proudly.


Sunday, October 19, 2014 (6:50 am)

Matt CrosslinSocial Learning, Blending xMOOCs & cMOOCs, and Dual Layer MOOCs

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

For those who missed it, the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC (DALMOOC) kicked off orientation this week with two hang-outs – one as a course introduction and one as a discussion over course design. Also, the visual syllabus, the precursor of which you saw here in various blog posts, is now live. The main course kicks off on Monday – so brace yourselves for impact!

The orientation sessions generated some great discussion, as well as raised a few questions that I want to dive into here. The first question is one that came about from my initial blog posts (but continued into the orientation discussion), the second is related to the visual syllabus, and the third is in relation to the Hangout orientation sessions themselves:

  • Don’t most MOOCs blend elements of xMOOCs and cMOOCs together? The xMOOC/cMOOC distinction is too simple and DALMOOC is not really doing anything different.
  • Are the colors on the Tool flow chart mixed up? Blue is supposed to represent traditional instructivist instruction, but there are social tools in blue.
  • Isn’t it ironic to have a Google Hangout to discuss an interactive social learning course but not allow questions or interaction?

All great points, and I hope to explain a bit more behind the course design mindset that influenced these issues.

The first question goes back to the current debate over whether there are really any differences between xMOOCs or cMOOCs or whether this is a false binary (or not). I have blogged about that before, and continued by pointing out that the xMOOC/cMOOC distinction is not really about “binary” at all as much as where certain factors cluster (more specifically, power). I submitted a paper to AREA this year (that I hope gets accepted) with my major professor Dr. Lin that was basically a content analysis of the syllabuses from 30 MOOCs. I noticed that there were clusters of factors around xMOOCs and xMOOCs that didn’t really cluster in other ways. I am now working on some other studies that look at power issues and student factors like motivation and satisfaction. It seems like not matter what factor I look at, there still appears to be clusters around two basic concepts – xMOOCs and cMOOCs. But we will see if the research ends up supporting that.

So from my viewpoint (and I have no problem if you disagree – we still need research here), there are no hard fast lines between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The real distinction between the xMOOCs and cMOOCs is where various forms of power (expert, institutional, oneself, etc) reside. For example, was any particular course designed around the students as source of expert power, or the instructor? You can have content in a course that has the student at the center. You can also have social tools in a course that sets the instructor as the center.

Our guiding principle with the DALMOOC was that there is nothing wrong with either instructivism / instructor-centered or connectivism / student-centered as long as the learner has the ability to choose which one they desire at any given moment.

That is also the key difference between our goal with course design and how most other blended xMOOC/cMOOCs are designed. Most blended MOOCs (bMOOCs? Sounds like something from the 80s) usually still have one option / one strand for learning. The content and the social aspects are part of the same strand that all learners are required to go through. Remember, just adding social elements to a course does not make it a social learning, student-centered, connectivist course (especially if you add 20 rules for the forum, 10 rules for blog entries, and then don’t allow other avenues beyond that). In the same manner, just adding some content or videos or one-way Hangout sessions does not make a cMOOC an instructor-centered, instructivist course.

Our design goal was to provide two distinct, separate layers that allow the learner to choose either one or the other, or both for the whole class, or mix the two in any manner they want. But the choice is up to the learner.

And to be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with blendedMOOCs. Some are brilliantly designed. Our goal with DALMOOC was just different from the blended approach.

So this goal led to the creation of a visual syllabus to help myself and others visualize how the course works. One comment that arose is that the colors on the tool flow page (explained here) are mixed up: the Quick Helper and Bazaar tools (explained here by George Siemens) are in blue and should be in red. I get that concern, but I think it goes back to my view of the distinction between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The red color is not “social only” and the blue color is not “content only,” as some would classify the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs. The colors are about where the expert power lies. Quick Helper might have social aspects to it, but the main goal is to basically crowd-source course help when learners are trying to understand content or activities. And it is a really cool tool – I love both Quick Helper and Bazaar (and ProSolo, but the orientation Hangout for that one is coming up). But the focus of Quick Helper is to help learners understand the content and instructor-focused activities (again, nothing wrong with that since the choice is up to the learner to give that expert power to the instructor). In the same way, the Bazaar tool is social, but has a set of prompts that are written by the instructor for learners to follow.

I hope that clears that up a bit – the colors indicate where the expert power resides in the design – neither of which are bad in our design. Of course, you as the learner might use these tools differently than that and we are okay with that, too.

The third question is about the irony of using a Google Hangout to explain a student-centered course and then not allow any interaction. I kind of snickered at that one because I usually say the same thing at conference keynotes that talk about interactive learning but then don’t allow for interaction. So it sounds exactly like something I would say. Of course, at keynotes, you usually have the totality of the examination of that topic at that one keynote and then the speaker is gone. A course is different, obviously. But in explaining our reasoning for this issue I would point back to the differences between cMOOCs and xMOOCs and again bring up the point that being student-centered and connectivist does not mean that there are never any times of broadcast from the instructor. A 30 minute Hangout with no interaction fits into a student-centered mindset just fine as long as you don’t see hard fast lines between paradigms.

But I would also point out that the Google Hangout format is too limited for interaction at scale. You are only allowed 10 people in the actual Hang-out. In addition to that, going over 30 minutes gets a bit tedious, and you can’t really do much interaction with learners in 30 minutes even when using the Q&A feature. Not to mention that 30 minute window is set in stone – if a learner misses it because of work or different time zone or whatever: “no interaction for you!” Using a Google Hangout for a global course would be like being the ultimate “Interaction Nazi.” We also noticed a 30-60 second lag between live and broadcast, so that also hampers interaction. Howver, the biggest reason was that we were really looking at ProSolo, Twitter, our Facebook Page, and our Google+ Page as the true avenues for interaction with these Hangouts. Those avenues were active before, during, and after the Hangout for people in any time zone. So the interactivity was there during the orientation sessions, and you actually did see us responding to things from the social channels in both Hangouts. This may change in future Hangouts. The instructors may open up the Q&A function of Hangout. We’ll see.

So, if you have questions about DALMOOC content or design, be sure to post them to social avenues. Or comment here about this post. I am behind on comments (and blogging) due to the looming course launch, but I will get caught up :)


Friday, September 26, 2014 (8:25 am)

Matt CrosslinVisual Flow of Learner Tools in the Dual Layer MOOC

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

As we get closer to the launch of the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC, one of the ideas we are trying to bring to life is a Visual Syllabus. The instructors expressed concern with the “wall of text” that many learners run smack into when reading a syllabus. That is a very valid concern, so the idea was born to make the syllabus more visual and narrative.

Below is the rough draft of the flow of learner tools that will be used in the course. The idea is that learners will be able to click on each area and get an in-browser pop-up with a brief description of each along with a link to start using the tool. I would love to be able to put together an animated gif of this (time permitting).


Two quick notes: this is for the learner tools, the tools that the learners will use while learning, as compared to the analytics tools they will be learning about (Tableau, RapidMiner, etc). Secondly, the random pill images are connecting a metaphor that I am thinking about weaving throughout the syllabus (based on choosing the red pill or blue pill in The Matrix; except both represent reality, just one learners are used to and the other that they aren’t). Everything here is subject to change, including the dualistic metaphor.

The general idea is that all learners will get a kick off email for the week, setting out the main idea for that week. Learners will then choose to go down the blue path (towards an instructivist path they are accustomed to) or the red path (towards a connectivist path they may not be accustomed to).

Those on the blue path will enter the EdX course content to view videos, read text, perform activities, etc. As they encounter issues or concepts they need help with, there will be in-context help buttons to click on to get customized help (but still cooler than that, I am just being vague because this will be new tech that is still being worked on). They will also be put in groups of 3-5 by a new technology to work on specific problem-based learning activities (again, new tech that will be detailed later, but trust me its cool). Some of the course work will be highlighted in daily email updates. Learners can repeat parts as needed or even cross over to the red path at any point they wish.

Those on the red path will enter ProSolo (embededd in EdX). This is a new suite of technology that basically enables learners to set their own goals, connect with others that have similar goals, and work to create proof that they have met those goals. If you remember many of the calls to create a tool that fosters true Personal Learning Networks, this is basically that tool. ProSolo will be used in this course and is another cool new thing we are trying. More details on that one to be announced soon. The learners will then go to the Problem Bank (or whatever we name our installation of the ds106 Assignment Bank tool) to find and / or submit problem ideas to work on. They would then connect with their PLN (Internet on the diagram) and work on the problems. Then they would submit artifacts back to the bank. Their blogs, tweets, videos, and other various artifacts will be collected for the daily email updates. Learners can repeat parts as needed or even cross over to the blue path at any point they wish.

The learners will repeat, crossover, and work on various activities until the week is over or they are finished and then repeat for the next week.

All of this is just the rough draft. If you are interested in seeing how it all works out, I would recommend at least lurking in the upcoming #dalmooc :)


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?


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