Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Searching for open educational resources

One of the often quoted barriers to the adoption of open educational resources (OER) is the difficulty of searching for them in a reliable way. Below is a nice infographic that describes a service I use regularly, in particular for finding photos to use on this blog, namely CCSearch. Here you can search for Creative Commons material in the most common repositories such as Flickr, Google Images, Fotopedia and Wikimedia Commons for photos or Jamendo and SoundCloud for music.

Another tactic is to make an advanced Google search but that requires good information retrieval skills to get all the right search criteria. My colleagues at the Blekinge Institute of Technology here in south-east Sweden have formulated an excellent Google search for teachers that is open for all and that searches only for OER.

Try it at OER@BTH.
How to Search for Openly Licensed Educational Resources
by coerll. Learn about infographics software.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Open Learning Recognition

Here's a publication I'd like to recommend from the OERTest project and my colleagues in EFQUEL.

The OERTest project has released its final results in the form a publication, entitled “Open Learning Recognition: Taking Open Educational Resources a Step Further”. The book is the fruit of two years of research by 8 European partners, and provides the reader with the foundation for the development of envisaged framework, organised into the four topics: assessment methods; requirements and standards of resources; credentialisation, certification and recognition and inter-institutional collaboration. The third chapter is devoted to different scenarios of open learning in order to obtain in-depth understanding of the OER challenges and bring closer a basis for identifying vital differences among them to better address these challenges.

The OERTest guidelines and the OERTest Learning passport are presented in the following chapter. Thus this part of the publication essentially brings to the fore transparency and portability concepts. The fifth chapter lays out the extent to which the assessment and certification of learning outcomes achieved through OER is feasible for Higher Education Institutions of different profiles. The results are predicated on a feasibility study undertaken amongst five universities. This publication concludes with the possible impacts of the open learning recognition through the university networks that are dealt with in the last chapter.

Download the publication Learning recognition.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A new layered model for education

CC BY-NC-SA Some rights reserved by Sanctu
This week saw the emergence of yet another player in the MOOC market as a group of 12 UK universities under the leadership of Open University formed a new company called  Futurelearn (UK universities embrace the free, open, online future of higher education powered by The Open University). They plan to offer a range of massive open online courses starting next year and thus offering an alternative to the US-based established trio of edX, Coursera and Udacity.

Once again the media is full of enthusiastic quotes from academic leaders and politicians praising this move as revolutionary and it certainly opens up new avenues in higher education particularly in light of the sharp rises in student fees in England and Wales over recent years. However, sometimes it feels as if online learning has only just been invented with the arrival of all the MOOCs of the past year and that there is now only one model in town. The diversity of online learning is seldom discussed and the fact that plenty excellent online education already takes place as part of established universities' regular portfolios. Does the advent of heavyweight MOOC consortia mean that participating universities will transfer existing online courses to the MOOC world and keep their core business of traditional campus teaching under their own roof?

Instead of seeing all this as some kind of conflict between the the old and the new I think we are seeing the establishment of universal access to education. There is an unprecedented global demand for education that schools and universities cannot ever hope to meet since the actual buildings of these institutions can only accommodate so many students. Even if we could build new institutions every week they could never hope to cope with the global demand for education. By making educational resources freely available on the net we can make education accessible to all even if there are major infrastructure problems in many countries. With the help of internet cafes, libraries, learning centres and smart mobiles educational resources can be accessed even by the millions without any hope of owning a computer or mobile.

What is now being established is a free basic layer offering universal access to learning resources and organised course models. This content is provided by institutions (such as the MOOC providers) as well as millions of teachers, students and experts who share their knowledge under Creative Commons licenses. On top of that foundation we can augment the free material with service layers such as teaching, tutoring, guidance, collaboration opportunities, quality assurance, assessment, feedback and examination. These services may be offered by one institution as in the traditional campus university or by various organisations and the student is able to pick and mix from many providers. These add-on layers will be organised in many ways: free, for-profit, high status, bundled, certified, professional, peer-driven etc.

The key is that the foundation layer is freely available for all. Some people will have the skills to learn in peer groups using this material with the simple goal for learning for the sheer sake of learning. Others will be willing to pay for extra tuition and many will be able to pay for examination and certification. There may be low-cost or free certification schemes such as open badges and there will be high status certification at a cost. Some will want the whole experience under one roof and will continue to attend campus universities since they provide all layers in one package and with credible credentials at the end. Others who cannot afford the campus university will need to find a package that suits their learning needs and their financial situation.

So maybe instead of seeing the present trends in open education as a disruptive we should see it all as the establishment of a new educational ecosystem with this layered model emerging. Where access to learning resources is a fundamental right but with many options for interacting and benefitting from them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Headhunting by MOOC

Learn by sabeth718, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  sabeth718

It's hard to go a week without using the M-word so here's this week's MOOC update. The latest twist in the tale of finding a good business model for MOOCs comes from Coursera and an article in the Chronicle of Higher EducationProviders of Free MOOC's Now Charge Employers for Access to Student Data. Coursera has just announced that they are offering companies access to information about students who might be interesting to employ. This is an opt-in scheme for all parties and it offers an interesting new avenue for companies wishing to recruit new talent.

"Here's how it works: A participating employer is given a list of students who meet its requirements, usually the best-performing students in a certain geographic area. If the company is interested in one of those students, then Coursera sends an e-mail to the student asking whether he or she would be interested in being introduced to that company. The company pays a flat fee to Coursera for each introduction, and the college offering the course gets a percentage of that revenue, typically between 6 and 15 percent."

This type of recruitment is also offered by Udacity and the article cites a few success stories of top MOOC students who landed jobs at attractive companies as a direct result of their informal learning. Both Coursera and Udacity are examining ways of assessing soft skills (as are many other educators) by analysing student interactions in the course discussion forum. Often companies are more interested in a student's ability in teamwork, taking initiative and creative thinking than in traditional academic skills and therefore this type of link-up between education and workplace offers new opportunities.

Why should employers be interested in students who are participating in a free online course that doesn't even offer formal university credits? The fact that someone has taken the initiative to try a new form of education that involves a considerable amount of self-discipline and independent work is a positive sign to an employer. Many courses involve considerable networking and the ability to search for relevant information and such factors, combined with the actual subject matter of the course, can be interesting to employers. However, this move shows above all how informal learning is beginning to gain formal recognition. Combine this with the Open Badges initiative and suddenly there are several alternative educational paths that may be just as likely to lead you to employment as the traditional road.

According to Udacity's Sebastian Thrun:

"Problems are never solved in isolation in the real world," he said. He said that Udacity might share with an employer someone who has helped 90 to 100 people in discussion forums. "That specific skill has been a better predictor of placement success than academic performance."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Completion rates in online education

I'm concerned that we continue to discuss the issue of low completion rates in online courses and see the online delivery form as the problem. Lower completion rates are seen as evidence that online education is inherently inferior to the traditional classroom model and that we must simply accept it as "the next best thing". By using terminology such as distance learning, e-learning and net learning we accept that this type of education is a sub category of the wider concept of "learning" which normally takes place in a classroom with teacher and students in the same physical room. Online learning is assumed to be mostly self-study and students lack the dynamic discussion and interaction of a live classroom. I think the vast majority of teachers and especially academic decision makers still think this is true and see educational technology as something only relevant to so-called distance learning. However the factors behind high completion rates are the same regardless of whether the course is on campus or completely online; namely social interaction, a sense of belonging and a supportive learning environment.

A new article by Jacqueline Aundree Baxter of the UK's Open University in IRRODL (International review of research in open and distance learning),Who am I and what keeps me going? Profiling the distance learning student in higher education, links the issue of completion rates to factors such as group dynamics, teamwork and the teacher's role as mentor and facilitator.

"The research revealed insights into factors linked to the expectations, identities, and support of students which proved influential in terms of their resilience and motivation to remain on course."

It's interesting to read how most students in this study expected their course to be mostly self-study and were positively surprised when online collaboration was expected of them. Here the popular image of online education affects student expectations. Every student will bring with her/him their own preconceptions, fears, insecurities and previous academic experience and the success of each student depends on establishing a sense of belonging, a supportive environment and a can-do attitude. Students have widely varying levels of experience in online collaboration and some may feel inadequate at first. The teacher's role of setting the tone and providing reassurance to the hesitant is crucial in the early stages.

"Expectations and beliefs about work and study roles have been found to be important in the retention of students and professionals. Initial expectations which are not well managed can lead to a sense of let-down and erosion of confidence and feelings of agency, which if not addressed lead rapidly to attrition."

Some of the key factors described in the article for boosting completion rates, regardless of delivery form, are:
  • Creating realistic expectations and a clear structure from the outset. The teacher's role in this is crucial.
  • Reducing factors that make students doubt and increasing factors that make students want to stay .
  • Building a sense of community is essential and, once established, students will support and encourage each other to continue even when the going gets tough.
  • Timely teacher interventions when students feel inadequate to the task in hand are worth their weight in gold.
It's not the form of the course that is crucial. It's not about campus versus distance or dividing education into convenient compartments. It's about creating a sense of belonging where students learn how to learn in a supportive environment and where no one ever needs to feel they're on their own. This environment can be created and facilitated with the help of educational technology but it can also be created in a more traditional classroom environment. The basic ingredients are the same and it's that we should be discussing more. Let's talk about learning and take the e- as default.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Drowning in e-mail

Despite the fact that there are much smarter ways of communicating and especially collaborating most people still seem stuck on e-mail. We all complain about e-mail overload but continue to send draft versions of documents back and forth with copies to all. It's inefficient, time-wasting, stressful and sometimes pointless but we just won't quit.

Here's an excellent short video that reveals the horrors of collaborating by e-mail.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top IT issues

Server room by torkildr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  torkildr

What's the trend of the year in educational technology? Most people would immediately shout out MOOCs (as I predicted way back in January, 2012 - the year of the MOOC) but according to an Educause survey, Top-10 IT issues 2012,  the most important concerns are not whether to join the MOOC movement but the fundamental issue of how to integrate IT into all of the university's activities and develop more mature strategies for the use of technology.

The survey asked a panel of higher education IT experts what the biggest single IT-realted issue facing their institution had been in 2012. Here's their top ten:
  1. Updating IT professionals' skills and roles to accommodate new technologies and changing IT delivery models
  2. Supporting IT consumerization and bring-your-own device programs
  3. Developing a cloud strategy
  4. Improving the institution's operational efficiency through IT
  5. Integrating IT into institutional decision-making
  6. Using analytics to support the important institutional outcomes
  7. Funding IT initiatives
  8. Transforming the institution's business with IT
  9. Supporting research with high-performance computing, large data, and analytics
  10. Establishing and implementing IT governance throughout the institution
Source: "Educause Top-Ten IT Issues 2012" from Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR)

The common thread here is the need to integrate technology use into all areas of the university from the management down and to ensure that staff have the right competence to deal with this change. IT is no longer simply a technology issue and is no longer limited to the IT department; it supports all processes and affects every member of staff. Educational technology is moving from a marginal pioneer movement of enthusiasts to mainstream and default. Institutional strategies are now needed where before there were simply uncoordinated grassroots initiatives. The tools and software that were once provided in-house are now freely available in the cloud and at the same time the carefully controlled infrastructure of university owned computer labs is being replaced by students using their own devices and expecting access anywhere any time.

The challenges facing the role of IT in higher education are finding strategies of benefitting from the diversity and freedom of cloud-based solutions and personal devices while maintaining some level of control and security. The survey highlight above all else the rapidly changing role of the university IT department.

"This year's list transcends the IT org chart with two predominant themes: the IT organization's obligation to the institution; and the IT organization's relationship to technology outside the institution. The former views the IT organization as an enabler and partner in helping colleges and universities adapt to and even capitalize on changing realities and needs via automation (Issue #4), analytics (Issue #6), business transformation (Issue #8), and research computing (Issue #9). It also recognizes that the IT organization's relationship with institutional leaders must be effective for it to truly support institutional priorities, by integrating information technology into institutional decision-making (Issue #5), funding information technology strategically (Issue #7), and establishing and implementing IT governance throughout the institution (Issue #10)."

Read more in an article in Campus TechnologyReflecting on the Top IT Issues of 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Online cheating - the discussion rolls on

Cheating Cheaters and the Cheaters Who L by Mr_Stein, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Mr_Stein

The debate about cheating in online courses seems never-ending and, honestly, as long as we set assignments where the answers can easily be found on the net it's not going to go away. Tony Bates writes about the problem in a post called Tools to prevent online cheating. He refers to a recent post by Ki Mae Heussner on Gigaom, Five ways online education can keep its students honest, which lists methods to counter student cheating. These methods involve setting up web cameras to watch students as they take the test, keystroke pattern recognition, browser lockdown and anti-plagiarism software.

If you want to test a student's ability to remember facts then traditional invigilated examinations are still probably the most effective method, though far from foolproof. An alternative often used around the world is local learning centres that can offer students in the region the chance to take tests in an invigilated environment in cooperation with the university. In these situations you can easily have ID checks and ensure that the right person is sitting the exam.

Online tests, however, are always going to be problematic unless we simply stop using this type of examination. A web meeting using for example Skype where the teacher can question the student face-to-face is ideal and reliable but too time consuming for classes with more than a small number of participants. However continuous assessment through a variety of assignments and using different media can give a reliable picture of the students' ability since the teacher can learn to recognize the student's style of expression. The key however is to base assessment on tasks that demand relating practical experience with personal learning; thus making the answers so personal and specific that it is virtually impossible to cheat.

Bates' conclusion however puts the cheating issue into perspective. Cheating means you have missed the point of education and the main person you're cheating is yourself.

"Cheating is often the result of a poor educational process or experience. Once again, this comes down to the distinction between learning as transferring information vs learning as a developmental process. If, as I do, you believe education is a developmental process, it is the student in the end who loses from cheating, because they have missed the point of the exercise, which is self development and growth."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The emperor's old clothes

Back and already hard at work! by clemsonunivlibrary, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  clemsonunivlibrary

I've always thought that Hans Christian Andersen's story The emperor's new clothes was one of the most relevant things to read in order to understand how modern organisations work. We can all relate tales of great new trends, initiatives and projects at work that didn't quite work out but few were brave enough to criticize. It's vital to have that child who can break the spell by daring to say that the emperor is actually naked.

However we also need the ability to question traditions and realize that some of the practices we've been doing for years are not actually useful any more. Maybe the emperor's old clothes are the problem, not the new ones. This is why I enjoyed reading an article by G. Kim Blank in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Let's kill the term paper. Why do we continue to ask students to write essays that almost never say anything new or insightful and that do not lead to any real learning? The term paper/essay, like the lecture and the examination hall, are all integral parts of university tradition but it is high time we reassessed their true contribution to learning. Do we persist with them  simply because they are easy to administer?

"Could it be for the convenience of generating a mark and for reproducing a template that can be used for all kinds of courses? Could it be that this whole writing business, with the essay as its poster child, has become a self-justifying industry, fueled largely by never-changing textbooks and ever-changing adjuncts? Is there a lurking irony—could it be that these courses are in fact self-sustaining by not achieving their ostensible mandate?"

In their future careers these students are highly unlikely to ever have to carry out the tasks that are so highly valued at university. Does anyone ever need to write essays at work or carry out a task without access to information or colleagues? Admittedly essays, examinations and lectures demand self-discipline and the ability to organize and present information but they have little or no relevance for students' careers.

"... the term paper or even plain essay has no relationship to the work-world in which college grads will find themselves earning a living."

The way forward, according to Blank, lies in reading, discussing and summarising examples of good academic writing. Summarising is a vital skill in today's information society and demands a clear understanding of the text to be summarised. Before you can accurately summarise you need to analyze the text in question and by summarising you hone your own writing skills in ways that term papers do not.

So let's re-examine more of the emperor's old (and new) clothes and build a new and more meaningful wardrobe.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning by Facebook

facebook by English106, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  English106

Many learning management systems today try to make their discussion forums resemble Facebook  since that has become the default social network of the vast majority of students and teachers. It's logical then to try and see if a Facebook group could be used as a replacement for the LMS at least on a course basis. That's exactly what a group of Israeli university teachers have written about in a new article in IRRODL (International review of research in open and distance learning), Facebook groups as LMS: A case study (Hagit Meishar-Tal, Gila Kurtz, and Efrat Pieterse).

"This paper describes a pilot study in using Facebook as an alternative to a learning management system (LMS). The paper reviews the current research on the use of Facebook in academia and analyzes the differences between a Facebook group and a regular LMS. The paper reports on a precedent–setting attempt to use a Facebook group as a course website, serving as a platform for delivering content and maintaining interactions among the students and between the students and the lecturer. The paper presents findings from the students’ self-assessments and reflections on their experience. The students expressed satisfaction with learning in Facebook and willingness to continue using these groups in future courses."

They decided to replace the university LMS with Facebook and added Google Docs for collaborative writing, presentations and assignments. The Facebook group was a closed one which meant that students and teachers did not also have to be friends in Facebook as a whole in order to interact in the group. Although Facebook is less ordered and controlled than a standard LMS, the study suggests that student interaction increases significantly and the communication became less hierarchical than in a traditional LMS.

"An interesting finding emerged from the research which is the student’s perception of the Facebook group as a stimulator of participation, both proactive or reactive. Students felt that Facebook encouraged them to express themselves. Even passive students had the ability to express their presence on the Facebook group by indicating “like” on chosen posts."

One major objection to using platforms like Facebook is that the course is the property of a company and is stored by that company. It is also debateable whether a university can demand that students sign up to a commercial platform in order to take a particular course. However, studies like this show that courses can be successfully run outside the walled garden of the LMS and that there may be significant advantages of letting the discussion and interaction take place outside the LMS.

Maybe the LMS is becoming a white dwarf rather than a red giant. A white dwarf which looks after course administration, examination and assessment, all of which are governed by legal requirements on the university, but where the interaction and creative work takes place on other platforms and tools.

Facebook groups as LMS: A case study, Hagit Meishar-Tal, Gila Kurtz, Efrat Pieterse (IRRODL, Vol 13, no. 4, 2012) 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching is about asking questions

Here's the latest in a long line of inspiration videos about how technology is changing education. It's called The future of learning, Networked society and has been created by Ericsson to show the benefits of a connected society but is completely free from any obvious commercial content. It features comments from well-known figures in the field such as Seth Godin and Sugata Mitra as well as focusing on platforms such as the adaptive learning platform Knewton and the MOOC consortium Coursera.

I would have liked them to mention more genuinely innovative educational initiatives such as the network-based MOOCs of Siemens, Downes and friends or the collaborative learning platform Peer 2 Peer University but films like this are very useful for raising awareness among coleagues and students. In particular I like Sugata Mitra's comments that teaching is about asking questions. Ask the right questions and let the students work out the answers by searching, collaborating and creating. Stimulate the students' curiosity and amazing things can happen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Education - the disruption has only just started

massive change by 416style, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  416style

A new post by media guru Clay Shirky entitled Napster, Udacity, and the Academy traces disruption in the music industry and then draws parallels with education. When digital disruption first hit the music industry in the shape of Napster the industry reacted strongly by shutting it down. However despite winning that one battle the disruption had already occurred and before long mp3s were everywhere, sold legally at low prices via iTunes, LastFM and now Spotify. The industry changed radically and is still trying to work out what happened.

The same disruption has been happening in education for several years but this year the explosion of free university courses under the working name MOOCs has pointed the way forward and has provoked reactions of denial and dismissal similar to those of the music industry several years ago. The fact that the education sector is full of extremely clever people has not made much difference, as Shirky notes:

"We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did."

Many academics make defensive statements that things like MOOCs can never replace the quality of traditional face-to-face education but they miss the real point. Of course they're not going to replace the elite universities simply because attending them is a passport to success and provides a network for life. However, the teaching that goes on there is not always top class. Universities' reputations are based on the quality of their research - very few invest as heavily in fostering top class teaching. Even at the elite universities most of the actual teaching is conducted by postgraduates and adjuncts who are often provided with very little pedagogical training. Most contact time at universities is taken up by lecturing, something that is supremely suited for the net.

The opening for MOOCs and other disruptive phenomena in education is that they can provide good enough education for free or at low cost to a mass market, the vast majority of whom could never dream of attending a top university. This concept of  "good enough" means that we are perfectly happy to accept lower quality if it does the job to a reasonable standard. Take mp3 music files that are poor quality when compared to a good old vinyl record on a top level stereo system but who cares since it's so much more portable and convenient. Same thing goes for text communication with the seriously retro SMS format. Even if you can today send video messages and use all sorts of other instant messaging services the old SMS is still king simply because it works everywhere and reaches virtually every mobile ever invented.

MOOCs and their offspring will provide mass education whenever you need it and we're seeing a new educational ecology taking shape to challenge, seriously disrupt and in part replace the traditional system. Some will provide the courses, others will provide validation and certification and others will offer meeting places, tuition, study groups and mentoring. The one-stop shop of the traditional university is being dismantled. These new services may well have plenty faults at first but since they are open these faults are dealt with in public and are often remedied immediately, in stark contrast to shortcomings in traditional universities which can take years to be dealt with, if ever.

Shirky argues that MOOCs etc are not replacing the traditional system but are creating a whole new game, as the mp3s did for music. The problem for the education system is realizing what's happened in time to do anything about it.

"In the academy, we lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now its our turn, and the risk is that we’ll be the last to know that the world has changed, because we can’t imagine—really cannot imagine—that story we tell ourselves about ourselves could start to fail. Even when it’s true. Especially when it’s true."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blue skies ahead?

CC BY Some rights reserved by Dennis Wong
Open Educational Resources (OER) have been long viewed with extreme suspicion by textbook publishers as a major threat to their business. maybe we can celebrate OER's coming of age this week as publishing giant Pearson launch their ambitious and innovative project Blue Sky. If you're a teacher looking for good online resources for a new course you simply enter your key search words and Blue Sky provides you with relevant OER from the main repositories and sources. The novel approach here is that Blue Sky will also find relevant resources from Pearson's vast range of for-profit educational resources. So when you search you will be presented with both free resources and those with a price tag.

The thinking behind this move is that teachers will be tempted to buy Pearson's resources in combination with the best OER and that the price tags on the Pearson material will be suficiently tempting. By providing a one-stop search for OER Pearson hope to attract income from teachers who might otherwise never search the publisher's catalogue. According to Don Kilburn, vice chairman of Pearson’s higher education division, in an article in Inside Higher Ed, Pearson's open book:

Pearson says it is confident that facilitating OER discovery will not undermine the company’s own products. “We clearly believe our content is superior to OER content… but we recognize there is a place for OER in the current environment. If we can’t compete effectively there, we have a bigger problem,”

The article even speculates that Pearson may consider opening up Blue Sky to rival publishers and let educators choose between open and proprietary resources in the same mix.
As open learning gains momentum we're seeing more and more examples of major companies mixing commercial and open practice. We've seen The world's high status universities offering MOOCs for free, Instructure and Blackboard offering open LMS solutions for MOOCs and now the publishers are helping us search for OER. Never a dull moment!

Here's Pearson's introduction film for Blue Sky:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inspiring encounters

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing two inspiring educators: Dave Cormier (University of Prince Edward Island) and Helen Keegan (University of Salford). It was at a major conference/exhibition for Swedish schools, Skolforum 2012, in Stockholm and we appeared in an event known cosily as The Cage.

Dave Cormier has featured in several posts on this blog before as the man who gave the world the acronym MOOC (working with George Siemens an Stephen Downes) way back in the days when the concept denoted an experiment in connectivist pedagogy rather than the mass market packaged commodity it has recently become in the hands of major university consortia. Helen is famous for innovative experiments in mobile learning and the use of social media in education.

I include three videos below so you can see Dave's and Helen's presentations followed by the interview show I hosted. Sadly we didn't get to sit in real chat show sofas and there was no house band but a fascinating discussion took place.

Here are some notes I made with snippets of wisdom from both of them. First from Dave Cormier's presentation which describes the thinking behind the MOOC movement and the power of the community in education:
  • Prepare students to deal with uncertainty.
  • You can’t collaborate alone.
  • MOOCs are about forming networks around shared interests.
  • Stop measuring learning
  • The community becomes the curriculum
  • MOOCs are community generators
  • 5 steps to succeed in a MOOC: orient yourself, declare who you are, network with peers,form clusters,focus.

Helen Keegan looked at how we can drive student learning by awakening their curiosity and described a highly innovative course she ran in the form of an alternate reality game (ARG):

  • Build education around curiosity.
  • Hashtag has been the biggest gamechanger. Course number with # becomes metadata. Courses as hashtags.
  • All about forming connections. Connections lead to internally motivated learning. Connections create engagement.
  • Network and media literacies. Educator as broker – modelling behaviour.
  • Get out there and things will happen.
  • Howard Rheingold's 5 literacies: attention, critical thinking/filtering, participation, collaboration, network smartness.
  • Losing control can lead to more learning.
  • Learners driving the curriculum.

And finally the interview with them both.

The films are all licensed under Creative Commons CC BY

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's raining MOOCs

MOOC! by AJC1, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  AJC1

If you're a MOOC watcher you simply can't afford to look away for a few days. This week has been particularly dramatic with yet another distribution channel plus the emergence of a new licensing model offering credit for MOOCs.

Firstly there's a new kid on the MOOC block. Instructure's open source LMS platform Canvas has started it's own MOOC-hosting service called Canvas Network. Universities and other educational organisations already using the Canvas LMS can offer a course as a MOOC via Canvas Network and allow anyone to join the course. The course runs on the university's own platform and Canvas Network is the shop window where the course can be marketed. Already the site offers a range of intersting courses from institutions like Ball State University, University of Washington, University of Utah as well as other providers. One particularly interesting course in the initial offering is Introduction to Openness in Education, featuring David Wiley, one of the foremost figures in the open education movement.

Here's the Canvas Network introduction video:

Audrey Watters comments on this news in an article The LMS Instructure Enters the MOOC Fray stating that Canvas Network offers institutions the chance to test the MOOC water without having to buy into a completely new environment, as in edX or Coursera. Universities can stay in the familiar environment of their own learning management system but still run a MOOC.

“MOOCs are a feature of, but they’re not the only future of education,” ... That might be quite a reassuring message to universities worried about how they should respond to this latest MOOC craze. With Canvas Network, they’ll be able to respond using tools they’re familiar with — tools they’ve paid for. That places them in a very different relationship with their open online course offerings than does the agreements schools are signing with Coursera.

MOOCs with credits

So with yet another MOOC channel in the fray there's still the question of getting credible credentials for informal learning. Already a few colleges are offering to validate student work from a MOOC and offer the option of submitting supplementary work to get credits (at a fee of course). However this week's biggest piece of MOOC news was the deal between Antioch University and Coursera whereby students at Antioch can study a Coursera MOOC with extra tuition and guidance from an Antioch teacher leading to real credits (see press release).

"Antioch University is the first US institution to receive approval from Coursera to offer college credit for specified Coursera MOOCs (massive open online courses). Through this new partnership, Antioch University and the Antioch University Los Angeles campus can reduce student costs to complete a four-year degree and expand course offerings through free online courses offered by the highly respected universities that have partnered with Coursera. This course access will directly benefit learners that Antioch University serves and is a demonstration of Antioch University’s long commitment to innovation, experiential learning and student engagement through high-quality education."

Students at Antioch can choose to study a facilitated MOOC where the entire course has been devised by a Coursera partner university but where Antioch offers the added value of guidance and tuition. The attraction for the student will be lower fees compared to a standard campus course fully provided by the university. This is a further twist to the disaggregation of higher education. Instead of a university being a one-stop shop offering course material, teaching, assessment, examination and certification we're seeing more and more specialists taking care of one aspect and leaving the rest to others.

This trend raises many questions as summarised in an article in Inside Higher EdDid MOOCs Just Make Landfall? 10 Questions to Consider. If MOOCs can be licensed to several universities, will this lead to many institutions offering the same courses from edX, Coursera, Udacity etc. How will teachers at the smaller universities feel providing support to someone else's course? It may not be so negative however since the quality of tuition/facilitation will become the competitive force instead of the quality of the material, thus allowing teachers to focus on teaching (facilitation, constructive criticism, mentorship, guidance) rather than instruction (provided online by the content provider). Are we seeing a further stratification of education with a wide variety of paths to choose between but with a high variation in certification status? 

Read more on the Antioch deal in another article from Inside Higher Ed, MOOCs for credit

We all await the next instalment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Flip the staff meeting

Now that classrooms are being flipped all over the world it's maybe time to see how we can flip other practices at work. Take the average departmental meeting. Most of these meetings are taken up with monologues where the manager or sometimes another staff member simply presents information. Since the supposed aim of a meeting is to discuss it's surprising how little time is spent actually doing that and how much time is devoted to one way communication.

Steven Anderson has written about this in a post called Flipping ... It's not just for the classroom. He proposes prerecording the information element of the meeting and letting members see it before the meeting, thus freeing up meeting time to discussion and decision. He offers several suggestions of tools that can be used to distribute information in advance of a meeting and even starting the discussion in advance. Tools like Google Docs, Edmodo, Jing, Screencast-o-matic and VoiceThread can be used to present the facts and start an asynchronous discussion so that when we actually do meet we can discuss the issues with a better understanding.

"No matter what you use, try it! See what you and your staff can do with that extra time if you share that information digitally and reserve that faculty meeting time for faculty learning time. Try the Faculty Flip!"

It's difficult to have a meaningful discussion when you've only just been given the information. Many people need time to digest that information before voicing an opinion. In many meetings only the most vociferous staff members are heard. By flipping the meeting you ensure that everyone has had time to consider the facts and hopefully a more informed and less spontaneous dicusssion can take place. 

Worth trying at least.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Looking over the fence

Looking Over The Fence by born1945, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  born1945

I read so many articles and reports on issues around the integration of technology in education and nearly every one singles out professional development for teachers (or the lack of it) as the key issue. It's not enough to just hope that teachers keep up to date with the latest pedagogical theories and the latest trends in educational technology. This has been the general policy for many years and the result is a widening digital gap between teachers who are already using technology in innovative ways and those who simply haven't even investigated the qyestion at all. It's not enough either to offer the occasional training day in the hope of inspiring action. There needs to be a coherent strategy for professional development for all teachers to ensure that they are all able to take advantage of new methods and tools in a pedagogical way.

This is the theme of an excellent post by Tom WhitbyHow do educators get to know what they don’t know?. He remarks that professional development (PD) needs to be radically rethought, needs investment and needs support. It must be seen as simply an integral part of the job and time must be allotted for discovery, testing, collaboration and discussion. Teachers need time to look over the fence at what's going on outside the classroom.

"We need to change PD. It must be part of an educator’s work week, and that includes administrators. We need educators to connect with other educators to collaborate and maintain relevance. Educators need to explore their needs and address them with solutions of their choosing after exploring the options. Faculty meetings can address procedures in shared documents with educators, while using the time in meetings to discuss pedagogy, methodology, best practices and new ideas. Educators need to be supported in trying new endeavors. When we address PD as evolving and continuous, and not as a teacher workshop day, we will begin to bring relevance back to education. Schools that do this now will be the first to tell us this. Of course, we need to connect with them for that to happen. Connecting educators is a first step."

It is of course important that technology meets the needs of teachers. But needs are generally based on past practices and if a teacher is happy using tried and tested methods then there are no needs that technology can meet. However there are often new opportunities available to enhance teaching and learning that the individual teacher has not even dreamt of. If we simply based all development on meeting present needs we would never have invented television, cars, computers, mobiles etc etc. No-one actually needed those things. We were all perfectly happy with horses, radio, landline phones and so on.

We need to develop a learning environment at work where people are encouraged to look over the fence and see what is happening in the world outside. New technologies and methods should be met with curiosity instead of being dismissed offhand. "What if ..." instead of "Yes but ...". Words like curiosity, innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity are often used in schools' and universities' glossy strategy documents but the hard part is creating a climate for such qualities.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


CC BY Some rights reserved by cogdogblog
It's a true sign that you have become famous when your name gets used to describe a process. That's what's happened to Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, one of the most successful online learning sites  of the last few years. Today the site offers thousands of short and clear videos explaining all the concepts used in high school maths, physics, chemistry and biology with an in-built self-test framework that enables you to move up levels and gain rewards. It's the prime motor behind the flipped classroom concept and has won considerable media interest worldwide.

Will Richardson writes about The "Khanification" of education where non-teachers like Salman Khan are taking the lead in offering online education. He wonders that if non-teachers can have this kind of impact then what is the role of the trained teacher? The challenge of khanification is that the trained teacher's role has to be reassessed and redefined and that such a discussion is very timely.

"In many ways, I’ve been pushed by Sal Khan’s lack of teaching experience more than by his videos. But now this growing acceptance of non-teachers as teachers of content and skills (and, in some cases, better teachers of content and skills) poses an ever greater challenge for us to redefine the profession. And it circles back around to that question that I pose in the book: what is our value as classroom teachers in a world suddenly filled with teachers?"

There's an important distinction here; between instruction and teaching. As Tony Bates pointed out recently (My summer paranoia: computers will replace teachers in higher education), instruction is easily automated/recorded whereas teaching is a pedagogical process that requires human contact and interaction. Both sides are needed in education but maybe we need different types of educators: the experts and enthusiasts who are good at instruction and the teachers who provide the context, guidance, mentorship, depth and discussion. Teachers have so far been expected to do both tasks but maybe we're seeing a new division of labour. The teacher is not being replaced by a computer but the computer is helping to make the difference between teaching and instruction clearer.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Teacher as entrepreneur

While most of the xMOOC interest is focused around the big league players like MIT, Stanford, Harvard and friends, another looser model is flourishing. Udemy started in 2010 and today offers around 5000 courses from a very wide range of teachers and enthusiasts. The difference here is that whereas the xMOOC players (edX, Coursera, Udacity) offer university approved courses, Udemy allows anyone to upload their own course and offer it on their virtual  marketplace. Some courses are free but many have a fee, though generally very low. It's up to the course creator to set the price and size of the course.

Udemy have now launched a new course publishing platform as described in an article in TechCrunchUdemy Rolls Out New Publishing Platform To Help Teachers Create Quality Online Courses, This provides you with a step-by-step guide and read-to-use templates that enable you to design and launch your own course site. You decide whether your course is going to be free or fee-paying, how open it is, what language it uses and other parameters. Then you are guided through curriculum design and how to add your content (text, photos, diagrams, videos etc). Once the course is ready you can then add it to Udemy's catalogue and start marketing it. Udemy even offer its teachers a  closed Facebook group, The Udemy Faculty Lounge, for discussions and help. The video below gives a short introduction to how the publishing platform works.

The fee-paying aspect makes distinguishes Udemy from the major xMOOC players but it's a voluntary issue and teachers decide themselves what price to set, if any. However if your course attracts thousands of learners, that modest fee can amount to a nice little earner. In an interview with Udemy co-founder Eren BaliQ&A: Every Expert Will Teach Online In 10 Years:

"... we believe strongly in a sustainable model in which instructors are rewarded and able to earn an income from the amazingly in-depth courses & learning content they deliver. Our top 10 instructors earned over $1.6 million in their first 12 months on Udemy and I hope we’ll go on to enable many more instructors to earn a living teaching on Udemy."

This enables the individual teacher or enthusiast to offer a course that is not part of an institutional portfolio and the opportunity to earn some money from it. It could also enable smaller institutions to offer massive courses for small fees and still earn enough to cover costs to some extent. This is not going to revolutionize learning or threaten the formal system but it offers another pathway to learning and widens the scope of informal learning.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning as a process

Scally Wag - One small step for Callum. by myDefinition, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  myDefinition

In gaming you generally get rewards for taking small steps forward. Rewards come thick and fast when you're on the lowest levels (I have extensive experience in that area) and those small symbols of encouragement help you to push on towards the serious levels of the game. If you make a mistake your character automatically gets a new life and you just keep trying till you succeed. Regular rewards and the ability to practice over and over again until you get it right mean that most players will get many hours of pleasure out of the game and will be highly motivated to buy the follow-up game that will undoubtedly appear within a year.

This is a subject discussed in a new article by Justin Marquis, Teaching Students to Fail Their Way to Success. In education the emphasis is more on the end result (exam, test, assessment) than the process and the stakes are high. A failure doesn't automatically give you a new life and can often lead to the pupil/student giving up the course completely.

"With a focus on testing, competencies, and teacher accountability in education, the focus is taken off of playing the game (learning) and put on finishing it (outcomes). While standards, standardized tests, or marketable skills (in higher education), are part of our educational reality, they do not need to be the focus of your teaching. Whenever possible, given the constraints of a schedule, give students the opportunity to work at their own pace towards clear learning objectives."

Failure is part of the learning process; you'll never learn to skate without falling over a lot. In gaming failure is treated as a natural element and each failure can lead to success next time. That element keeps us involved and small "failures" are motivators to try again rather than demotivators. The key in education is to focus on the process of learning rather than the result of it.

"We live in a connected world where "knowing" something is much less important than knowing how to find information and apply it. Part of that process is understanding how to respond to failure when things don’t work out. Adjusting your instructional objectives to help students understand that learning is a process of which failure is a key ingredient will help them to be successful when there are no more tests to take and failure is not an option."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

From flipping to empowerment

CC BY Some rights reserved by MillionaireAt19
The flipped classroom has been one of the main educational trends of the past year or so. The idea is to move the input sessions to net-based videos that can be watched at home and spend class time on discussion, practice and feedback. Teachers can either record their lectures and demonstrations or use other teacher's material that is available as open educational resources. It means that class time is used for real contact between students and teacher and not for one-way communication.

However an excellent article by Shelley WrightThe Flip: End of a Love Affair, takes the flipped classroom several steps further. Just flipping the classroom is only the beginning of a process. It's still a traditional model where the lecture still dominates even if there's more flexibility. Shelley wanted to teach the students to learn for themselves and noticed that as they became more confident they didn't need to be given videos to watch at home, they started finding material for themselves. The flipped classroom evaporated and became the empowered classroom.

"As this new way of learning played out over time, my students found they didn’t need me to locate or create videos for them. Instead, they learned how to learn, and they were able to find their own resources. For me, this was a much more important skill than following my directions or using the resources I told them to use. As this shift occurred, the flip simply disappeared from our classroom. It took almost a year for me to notice it was gone. Instead, our classroom had become a place where students discovered and shared their own resources, while engaging in projects with each other. There was no need for me to assign video homework or create portable lectures. It all happened during class."

The students had assignments to carry out but were empowered to choose the route and the tools for themselves with the teacher as a constant facilitator and advisor. Interestingly they were also enthusiastic to combine digital with traditional media. Some used textbooks, others digital resources. Some designed web resources whereas others built physical models in the classroom. Most combined all forms. We learn in different ways at different times and using different media. Digital and analogue thrive together and so it must be. Using technology in education is not about replacing; it's about adding new dimensions, new methods and new combinations. So the flipped classroom eventually evaporates and you have empowered students who have learnt how to learn. Surely that is the objective of all education.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Getting a degree used to be a passport to a well-paid job but not any more. When well over half of all school leavers go to university a college degree is anything but exclusive. Furthermore students all over the world are putting themselves in serious debt to pay for this not so exclusive commodity. Employers are less and less impressed by degrees and increasingly interested in soft skills like creativity, teamwork, initiative and grit (as mentioned in my last post). Many students do not feel that traditional educational institutions foster these soft skills and prefer to drop out and go their own way.

One such student is Dale Stephens, featured in an article in the Dutch web magazine SURF (September 2012). He represents the concept of uncollege, a variant on the unschooling model, where you take charge of your own learning and development but in collaboration with peers both in your neighbourhood but mostly on the net. He has founded the site Uncollege which features advice on alternative educational paths, networking skills, reading lists and the chance to join the Uncollege Hackademic Camp in January 2013.

Stephens isn't against universities and schools and isn't planning a revolution. He simply wants to show that there are other roads to a fulfilling career than via your nearest university. Those who don't fit into the often narrow path of higher education need relevant new alternatives. Maybe universities can reinvent themselves to create learning environments more tuned to fostering creativity and entrepreneurship.

"Colleges should provide access to opportunities. My ideal college looks like a gym – it’s not something you drop out of, but rather a physical space you drop into. you go there when you want to learn something, you can take out a subscription to use a laboratory, you can meet your professor, who acts as a life coach and points you in the right direction. ideally, universities should provide directories of people with similar interests, they should focus on forming communities of students around topics. in short: they should serve the student as a user."

Here's a TEDx presentation by Stephens from last year.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When the going gets tough

Determined by Dvortygirl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Dvortygirl

Although I firmly believe that learning can be fun and that elements such as gaming and collaboration are an integral part of 21st century education there is still a lot of hard grind involved in mastering new knowledge and skills. No matter how many interactive tools we use and how much innovative pedagogy we apply you're still going to need to sit for endless hours practising and perfecting. Learning a language, for example, needs hundreds of hours of hard graft to get those words. phrases, sounds and patterns into your head until they become instinctive. Same goes for music, maths, physics, chemistry and pretty well every subject you can name. There are no easy short-cuts to mastery and although there will be many moments of pleasure and discovery there'll still be months and maybe years of hard grind. New technologies can stimulate us to learn and can facilitate more effective learning but the hard work still remains.

In education we love to measure and assess skills but we focus on the skills that are easiest to measure (fact-based memory checks, ability to write in a given framework) and leave many non-cognitive skills untouched. An article in Mind/ShiftHow Important is Grit in Student Achievement?, raises one such skill, namely grit. The article focuses on research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania into how to assess grit which she defines as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” Grit is that determination to keep battling even when you don't fully understand or see where the battle is leading you. It's a quality that some have and some lack and is not always related to intellectual ability. Many highly intelligent people lack this determination whilst many less gifted individuals succeed because they work very hard and never give up.

"But intelligence leaves a lot unexplained. There are smart people who aren’t high achievers, and there are people who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores. In one study, Duckworth found that smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that, among the study participants — all students at an Ivy League school — people who are not as bright as their peers “compensate by working harder and with more determination.” And their effort pays off: The grittiest students — not the smartest ones — had the highest GPAs."

Not all people have this quality and even those who do exhibit it in different settings. Someone can show incredible dedication and perseverance in one activity but can give up easily in another. A classic example of this are those who show total commitment to their sporting ambitions but the complete opposite attitude to academic activities. The challenge is to find out how to inspire grit in education. As Duckworth puts it in the article:

“Which experiences do we give kids to get them in the direction of more grit and not less?”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Publish your own interactive e-book

Publishing has never been easier. Instead of being tied to pre-set textbooks many teachers are writing the course literature themselves and then publishing it for free and in many cases making it available for reuse, adaptation or translation. Last weekend (28 - 30 September) there was the much-publicized online collaboration project between a group of Finnish teachers to write a new school mathematics text book (see article in EdudemicFinnish Teachers Are Writing An Entire Math Textbook This Weekend). This type of production highlights the power of social media in education where virtual teams of teachers and students can produce a new book without needing to meet in person. Of course they must have had plenty of material and ideas up their sleeves but the process must have been inspiring. More will undoubtedly follow.

The Finnish group wrote their e-book using open source software that requires programming skills but for less technically interested teachers there are plenty of simple tools available. Apple's free iBook authoring tool is one such tool and I'd like to recommend an excellent step by step guide to writing an interactive e-book by Shawn OzbunCreate an interactive eBook for the iPad using iBook Author: THE COMPLETE GUIDE. The authoring tool is pretty locked into Apple's walled garden of course but it is remarkably easy to produce very attractive professional ebooks by following the templates and pulling in the resources you wish to use (assuming of course you have the rights to use them). have a look at the introduction film below and then go to the full guide.

Another authoring tool that works on all platforms is Widbook. More basic than iBooks but highly practical. All you need to do is write the book!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Uncomfortable truths

Open space office by jepoirrier, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  jepoirrier

I've just read an article about how often behavioural research is disregarded because it clashes with ingrained traditions and beliefs. The article is in Swedish (Det är dags att tänka på hjärnan - Dagens Nyheter) but you can always try it via Google Translate. It features a researcher called Katarina Gospic and she lists examples of where brain research has produced uncomfortable truths that we prefer not to deal with.

One such uncomfortable truth is the fact that open-plan offices do not make people more creative. Research clearly shows that people do not work effectively in such environments since we need to use the most creative part of our brains to block out the surrounding noise and distractions. But, despite all research results, the open-plan office still dominates, in many cases with ever-shrinking square metres for each employee. Basically, the financial incentives to maximise the use of office space outweighs the research results.

Gospic also points to research showing that large financial bonuses have virtually no motivational effect on people who already earn high salaries. Bonuses can, however, have a postive effect on low wage earners. Once again these results have had little or no effect on business practice. Money talks.

It seems that although we like to believe that we rationally base our decisions on the latest research, if that research clashes with tradition or financial expediency then we conveniently disregard it. There is plenty of research into how learning is a social process, that we learn best in practical and real-life situations and that few people learn simply by listening and memorizing. However this clashes with fundamental beliefs in education (ie schools as institutions, lecturing, classrooms, age-group segregation etc) that are not only deeply ingrained in society but also are very cost-effective structures for mass-education. Changing the system may cost a lot of money and involve a major rethink of many of the central structures in society. Maybe best to simply keep Pandora's box firmly shut.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Multitasking in class

An article in Faculty Focus caught my attention a couple of days ago, Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t. I find the whole multitasking concept as tiresome as digital natives and dividing up humanity in tidy generations (X, Y, Z whatever) but this article raises more questions than it answers. It refers to several academic studies showing how students who multitask
retained less from a lecture than those who had no distractions.

"With easy access to all sorts of technology, students multitask. So do lots of us for that matter. But students are way too convinced that multitasking is a great way to work. They think they can do two or three tasks simultaneously and not compromise the quality of what they produce. Research says that about 5% of us multitask effectively. Proof of the negative effects of multitasking in learning environments is now coming from a variety of studies."

While I agree that it's good to burst the bubble that people can work effectively whilst multitasking it's interesting that nearly all the studies look at multitasking during lectures. Why do people multitask during a lecture? Since it's mostly one-way communication students often switch off and are easily distracted. Whether they get distracted by checking Facebook, web sites, games etc or resort to analogue distractions such as doodling, writing letters, reading the paper or solving a crossword makes no difference. This isn't a new phenomenon at all but computers and mobiles just offer more enticing distractions.

Any situation where students or colleagues are forced to sit passively listening for long periods will cause many to switch off. If you're not actively involved in the session you will check your messages and news and if you don't have a computer handy you will start to daydream or plan a future event. This has nothing to do with multitasking. I'd like to see studies that reveal how little multitasking takes place when students are fully involved in a learning situation and are taking responsibility for their learning.

People don't multitask simply because the distractions are available. They multitask when the current activity is not sufficiently interesting and they have no active role to play.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remote control

There have always been people who offer to write your essays or assignments for you at a price. It's inevitable that such services will now thrive on line and it's no surprise to read in Inside Higher Ed this week an article called Paying for an A. It highlights web services like We take your classes that offer to do your online courses for you while you concentrate on more interesting activities.

In the past such services offered to write a single assignment for you whereas now they can take the whole course. It's not cheap and is probably not an option for the vast majority of students but with so many online courses available today there must be plenty where identity checks are less stringent than they should be. Instead of being outraged and deciding that online education is wide open for cheats we should maybe look a little deeper at this type of scam and what it really says about education.

If you can let someone else do the course for you then the provider has definitely got serious quality issues to deal with. The article in Inside Higher Ed gives examples of colleges who have quite rigorous security checks on online students to ensure that the right person is answering the questions. Random questions, video sessions, bank-style personal security log-ins and biometrics may all feature in online learning before long. However we also have to look at the way many online courses are designed. Courses that are based on the transfer of information and are heavily content-based tend to have examination forms that lend themselves to cheating. The greater the interaction between teacher and student and between students the harder it gets to cheat like this. According to Kyle Johnson, an independent higher ed consultant:

“What kind of experience are we providing for students if someone is able to take an entire class for a student and we never figure it out from the interaction? At a pedagogical level, that’s my concern. Are we really just dumping information at them so someone can come in and take a couple of quizzes and they’re done?”

Two conclusions from this case then. We need to move from linear, content-based courses to collaborative, task-based courses where assessment comes from successful completion of projects and where networking and dialogue make cheating extremely difficult. We also need to find better ways of checking identity online and maybe more complex log-ins as described in the article may be part of the solution.