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Archive for January 2011


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Did anybody see this lecture on ‘The Moral Side of Murder’, by Michael Sandel at Harvard, shown as part of the BBC’s Justice season? It was recorded, highly interactive and where not outwardly interactive nonetheless provoking, more illuminating questions and dilemmas than didactic, dramatic (all kinds of jeopardy introduced at the end – you really came to feel that reading political philosophy was an intrepid act), funny, and listened to by very forthcoming students.

I watched with great interest in the light of this devastating attack on established forms of the lecture, ‘Don’t Lecture Me‘, from Donald Clark at the most recent Association of Learning Technologists conference.


Written by Mira Vogel

January 26, 2011 at 11:29

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The shape of the course of the future? #cck11

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The higher education crystal ball is a bit too grubby to see very far at the moment, but online learning practitioner-commentator Stephen Downes has predicted that the future will see accreditation shrink in importance relative to reputation – the contribution you make to your community of interest or community of practice.

Accordingly, the experimental Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Connectivism and Connective Learning (CCK11) Stephen Downes (University of Manitoba) co-facilitates with George Siemens (Athabasca University) runs on the open Web as an event and an educational network of/for people interested in networked learning.

MOOCs are free, open to all, and distributed across the Web independently of any institution. As a MOOC, CCK11 is a course in that it has facilitators, material, participants and a beginning and end. However, participants are not examined, do not complete assignments, and don’t pay unless they want accreditation. They work by networking – connecting with and responding to other participants’ tweets, tags, and posts. The course is distributed in that there is no single path, and no central repository. It is authentic in that participants become part of a network of people with the same interests, networks which can be sustained beyond the course because they exist independently of the course.

More in this introductory video:

This may seem like a radical departure from the business model of most higher education institutions – but wait, from the About This Course section:

“If you would like to receive University of Manitoba certification, it will be necessary in addition to apply for admission and register for the course with the University. Here is program information, here is the program application form, and here is the course registration form.”

So as well as being a MOOC, the CCK11 course is one of six you can take towards a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies: Emerging Technologies for Learning (ETL) from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Continuing Education. So if you did register for a qualification, you would get to carry out your studies in a highly authentic environment which, ideally, attracted a community of motivated people with similar interests from all over the (anglophone) world.

So, the learning process is free and open for motivated, savvy learners to make of it what they can or will, but the qualification – the portable seal of approval from independent accreditors, if that’s what you need –  and presumably support to obtain it, is what the institution charges for.

I’ve signed up (which commits me to precisely nothing) and although for me this year is not a good time to do it justice, I will be joining in as best I can (for example I’ll be submitting this post) and looking at certain things in particular – those aspects I’d anticipate would make this MOOC approach distinct from established forms of higher education participation, for example, those. For example, how the filtering of information works in a massified open course without entry tariff, whether the course itself scaffolds sense-making in a distributed environment or whether you need some experience and know-how before you can join (making it more distinctively a higher learning course), and what my role is as learner on a course where – presumably – the facilitation can’t be expected to run to prioritising inclusion for those who have signed up, meaning that success may depend significantly on social-affective aspects of participation. How do you identify success? The identity of institutional higher education is changing – this course promises to help sharpen up what it is, may become, and is ceasing to be and, correspondingly, to test the limits of MOOCs.

I’m expecting interesting contrasts with the more traditional (though no less authentic) online distance learning course on the next version of Moodle, which will run for 4 weeks from February.

(For a discussion of the difference between connectivism and social constructivism as theories of learning, read Stephen Downes’ and this thought-provoking piece by Lindsay Jordan – more from me when I’ve got something sensible to say about it)

Written by Mira Vogel

January 20, 2011 at 17:29

Posted in cck11, literacies, social networking, web 2.0

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100 things to watch, 2011

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Some of trend-spotting company JWT’s 100 things to watch in 2011: logging off; in-the-flesh; fetishising physical objects once considered humdrum; backing away from radical transparency; Brazil; digital etiquette (don’t text during sex, &tc); 3D printing; automatic check-ins in shops and institutions; borrowing e-books; childrens e-books; entrepreneurial journalism; electronic profiling using ‘taste graphs’; long-form content; mobile device-enabled microbusiness; digital storytelling; hyperlinking the physical world to the web using smartphones, bar codes and QR codes; self-powered devices; intelligent infrastructure; social networking surveillance; transmedia (extending narratives across media platforms); geo-tagging; live-streaming from YouTube; and toilet paper without the tube.

100 things to watch in 2011.

Not appearing in that list (perhaps due to the proclivities of JWT’s clientele, perhaps because they aren’t trends)  include: changes to intellectual property law; open access; open source; online information filtering practices (relates to the ‘ignorance is bliss’ trend); online activism.

Written by Mira Vogel

January 18, 2011 at 12:32

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We’re the only people with a material interest in promoting RSS

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In a nutshell, RSS (‘Really Simple Syndication’) is an excellent, non-proprietary filter. Given the huge demands on time imposed by information and correspondence overload, I’ve been trying to persuade colleagues to use RSS for years.

RSS allows you to a) avoid having to subscribe to things by email, thus helping you to reduce the volume of email and its management and b) ends the need to keep visiting web sites to see if anything has changed – the changes come to you. For example I read all my journals this way now, and the ability to filter out, at a glance, what I don’t need has improved vastly. There is definitely more to RSS, but these are the most obvious gains.

Sadly, RSS is also – unless you know what it is, understand why you need it, and can recognise it – obscure. There are interests in keeping it that way.

Because it is such a good filter, RSS allows you to sidestep the advertising that seems to be part and parcel of today’s web. Precisely because it is such a good filter, it is interfering with some business models. Few think it’s a coincidence that RSS is being disappeared or obfuscated:

“… they can’t make as much money if we read their content our way… as they can if they can force us to read it their way- at their site, complete with scads of browser-clogging tracking scripts and ads galore.”

Here is Kroc Camen’s summary of the implications:

“If RSS isn’t saved now, if browser vendors don’t realise the potential of RSS to save users a whole bunch of time and make the web better for them, then the alternative is that I will have to have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, or some such corporate-controlled identity, where I have to “Like” or “Follow” every website’s partner account that I’m interested in, and then have to deal with the privacy violations and problems related with corporate-owned identity owning a list of every website I’m interested in (and wanting to monetise that list), and they, and every website I’m interested in, knowing every other website I’m interested in following, and then I have to log in and check this corporate owned identity every day in order to find out what’s new on other websites, whilst I’m advertised to, because they are only interested in making the biggest and the best walled garden that I can’t leave.”

As Kent Newsome notes, we – the Web’s readers, lookers and watchers – are the only people who have a material interest in promoting RSS.

First, use it. Second, write to your browser’s developers.

Hat-tip Stephen Downes.

And (update) for an example of RSS in educational practice, see the experimental free online course Connectivism and Connective knowledge at Athabasca University – from its overview:

“So, how do you share?

First, use the CCK11 tag in anything you create. Our course tag is: #CCK11

It is especially important to use this tag in del.icio.us and in Twitter. That is how we will recognize content related to this course. We will aggregate this content and display it in our newsletter. Yes – your content will be displayed in the Daily. That’s how other people will find it.

Second, if you are using a blog, Flickr, or a discussion group, share the RSS feed. We will offer a separate post on how to find your RSS feed if you don’t know how. But if you know how, please tell us your feed address.

You can use the form here: Add your RSS feeds by adding a feed here

Then, when you post something to your blog or forum, use the #CCK11 tag. That is how we will recognize that the post is related to this course, and not about your cat or mountain climbing in the Himalayas.

You can either place the tag in your post, of you can use it as the post category. Either way works for us.

If you’re doing something completely different, send us some email. stephen@downes.ca We’ll figure out how to add it to the mix.”

Written by Mira Vogel

January 13, 2011 at 11:41

The infidelity of rubrics for assessing online discussions

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Brief summary of a very interesting paper:

Elliott, B (2010). A review of rubrics for assessing online discussions. International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference. 20th & 21st July 2010. University of Southampton. [17 pages, PDF format]

  • Educational benefits of asynchronous online discussion include: integration; elaboration; communication of outside experiences and material; self-reflection; experience of technologies; time management.
  • Drawbacks include: disembodiment and absence of cues; volume of messages; different demands from face-to-face, and so differently inhibiting.
  • Are assessment processes up to the job? Sadler’s idea of ‘fidelity’ e.g. effort as an ‘input variable’ which therefore  shouldn’t fall within the definition of academic achievement
  • Online collaborative work environments have new affordances. Worries about the ongoing relevance of the assessment process.
  • The study: literature review yielded 20 rubrics; these were examined with respect to type of rubric, scoring, and type of criteria used within the rubric; little consistency of terminology or expression – 128 separate rubric criteria were identified, reduced to 33, and 10 categories
  • The most commonly occurring criteria related to:
    1. participation
    2. academic discourse
    3. etiquette
    4. learning objectives
    5. critical thinking.
  • Fidelity? More than half of the rubrics made no reference to the learning objectives. Two of the above criteria relate to non-academic competencies, such as participation (the most common category)
  • Conclusions (caution due to small sample): the majority of rubrics for assessing online discussion exhibit low fidelity; none took account of students’ final level of understanding; none took account of the unique potential of the online environment.
  • Recommendations:
    Express rubric as criteria
    Include holistic assessment of learners final level of understanding or competency
    Make criteria valid measures of course objectives
    Accordingly, criteria should not reward effort or participation
    Free of bias
    Recognise unique affordances of online writing

A few observations – we have an Employability Strategy now, and  with it a growing recognition of the kinds of ‘non-technical skills’ (a.k.a. ‘life skills’ or ‘soft skills’) which Sadler has contentiously called “non-achievements” in academic terms. That said, even if these were enshrined in the learning objectives, the balance in the rubrics identified by Elliott would still be awry in favour of these ‘soft skills’ and at the expense of credit for meeting academic learning objectives.

This is another part of the ongoing double standard (laden phrase, but intended in the most neutral sense) with which society in general tends to approach online environments. We need to talk about this.

Written by Mira Vogel

January 11, 2011 at 14:40

Posted in assessment