Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

Archive for May 2012

#Change11 :: MOOCs, Education and The Infinite Hotel

with 4 comments

A MOOC isn’t a course of course. Courses are about curricula and the management of time, resources, learners and teachers. A MOOC is Something Else – I think it belongs in the Infinite Hotel and there’s plenty of room there for any number of different types.

Connectivist MOOCs were first to arrive in the Hotel and surprised everyone by attracting a vast multitude of guests even though rather less turned up for the learning party. Some complained about chaos and confusion as the party spilled over into scores of different learning spaces. Some guests were happy to welcome visitors in their own room while others quietly lurked, content to study by themselves – or not. Some even left the Hotel never to return! With as many learning objectives as participants nobody was very clear about what was learned – but no matter – how they engaged! It was a great party and, for better or worse, they called it a ‘MOOC’.

Then along came Stanford AI, Udacity, Cousera and Edx with their ‘instructivist’ MOOCs. The few large rooms they took over were still open and free but there was some huffing and puffing about spoiling the party when the instructivists took over the gigantic Hotel Theatre as a learning space and herded in thousands of new guests. Several sages wowed the guests with expert stage performances but relied mainly on old stuff and tricks taken from home. A friendly bunch of facilitators were employed to answer questions and keep an eye on the guests. They could be difficult to find but the more knowledgeable guests did try to help others when they could. The original MOOCers thought it wasn’t much of a party and re-labelled their own rooms, ‘Connectivist MOOC’, to underline the distinction.

I don’t think that connectivist and instructivist MOOCs are so fundamentally different that features of each can’t be usefully exploited according to different objectives. Hasn’t it happened already? What type of MOOC is DS106 or fslt12? Connectivist MOOCs blazed the trail and deserve much credit for that but word gets round and I can see a succession of ‘hybrid MOOCs’ joining the party.

MOOCs demonstrate that education reform doesn’t have to be done chunk by chunk in terms of the traditional stuff – lectures, tutorials, labs, classrooms, homework and so on – supported by a considerable amount of scaffolding. The many excellent presentations in Change11 and the discussions flowing from them point to the future and exhibit a great deal of consistency. All seem to recognise the worth of learner autonomy, peer support, openess, authenticity, diversity, mobility, internationalism, OER, OCW etc etc. The devil is in the detail of course but the Infinite Hotel of the Internet allows plenty of room for experimentation. Best to plan for a time when bandwidth and data storage pose less of a problem and irksome technological wrinkles are ironed out. Automatic speech recognition and language translation will be much more effective in the future – virtual or augmented reality could converge with reality itself. Really effective learning spaces will be manipulated far more effortlessly and moulded as circumstances dictate – by whoever, whenever and wherever – the party’s just begun and we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm

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#Change11 :: Identities

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I enjoyed Bonnie Stewart’s post on Digital Identities and also the recording of her presentation (I missed the live version – physical identity with my dentist). I found the background chat often too interesting or entertaining for multitasking so I proceeded by ignoring the chat every few minutes then pausing Bonnie and returning to consume the last fragment of  chat. It was a fascinating presentation and I think one of the best in Change11.

I’ve yet to come to terms with my Quantified Self. When I joined my first MOOC (CCK11) I decided to be almost completely open about my identity and I have no regrets with that. I like to do my own thing, in my own way and I like to know the consequences. I resent attempts by commercial interests to quantify and covertly reshape my involvement. I sign up for anything going – facebook, Twitter, Quora, Udacity etc more often out of curiosity than anything else but I’m very wary about clicking on anything I don’t understand. In short, I try to use or adapt these sites for my own selfish purposes. (This can be wearing. For example, I try to keep facebook for family purposes only and then feel obliged to explain this to worthy but non-family digital friends who try to ‘friend’ me.)  I don’t consider the actual numbers of my ‘followers’, ‘friends’, Klout score etc to be of much importance.

With no background in psychology and a geeky disposition, I tend to see things more in terms of how people behave online using the technology of the present rather than through an identity lens. The idea of different identities in the non-digital world, the wearing of different ‘hats’ in different social situations, is very familiar of course. Everyone creates and projects multiple identities for home, work, families, friends etc and identity management seems just about hard-wired into our systems. I recall when I was about about 7, attending the primary school where my own father was a teacher and having no particular difficulty wearing my pupil hat for school and taking it off at home. (Though occasionally, when alone with my father in his teacher role, my pupil self worked hard to stay in character – the dichotomy was not lost on the young me!)

From about the same age that I first grappled with identities my grandchildren now effortlessly (or so it seems!) manage their own digital lives quite happily alongside their ‘real’ ones, or perhaps more accurately, as a part of their real lives. But in 2012, most of us don’t have the advantages of extreme youth. Many aspects of digital life are still relatively new and stable norms of behaviour have hardly had time to evolve before rapid technological changes upset things yet again. It may be that many of the current problems associated with digital identity – who we are seen to be – the frustrations of mass asychronous communication – the wide gap between virtual reality and the ‘real’ thing etc etc, will ease or even vanish with improving technology. The problems that resist technological fix may be the same human problems that have been with us since the beginning of time!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm

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#Change11 :: MOOC Comment Scraper (update)

with 13 comments

To recap, I’ve been developing a MOOC Comment Scraper that brings together brief summarised versions of recent blog posts with their comments (‘A ‘Comment Scraper’ for Aggregating Blog Posts with Comments in a MOOC‘). The idea was to provide a quick impression of current MOOC activity but in principle any online event where discussion is distributed over participant blogs could be treated in a similar way.

I’ve found the Scraper helpful myself but we all work in different ways so I would like to know how useful such a tool might (or might not) be to other people? Some aspects of design, choice of colours etc, are easily changed. Others that depend on the properties of input feeds, less so. Further development could proceed in several different directions (eg as a research tool) – suggestions are welcome!

MOOC Comment Scraper

Scraping a MOOC for Comments (Based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca’ – by José Bogado)

As an experiment I will attempt to scrape the Change11 MOOC on a daily basis until its completion. The Scraper output will be published here: MOOC Comment Scraper. An RSS feed (tested OK for Google Reader) is provided by this link: Scraper RSS Feed.

I’ve adopted two forms for publication – ‘full’ and ‘abbreviated’ (examples below with links disabled). The full form includes the first line of the latest comments (pingbacks excluded) whereas the abbreviated form omits comment text but retains dates and commenter user names. The full form could be considered to be a derivative work so I’m using this form only with the explicit permission of the blogger or if the blog bears a CC licence permitting derivative works. More full form permissions (currently Jaap, John and Brainysmurf – thanks!) would be very welcome but equally, any request by a blog author not to scrape their blog in any form will be respected.

Full Form:

20 Apr: ‘Scraping Comments off MOOCs – good or evil?’ by gbl55
I’ve decided that comment scraping in the full form could be considered a derivative work and so…

20 Apr: What nonsense! Who cares? Publish and be damned! Everyone else does and wh…(AlterEgo)
21 Apr: Thanks AlterEgo but some MOOCers could be offended by unintended juxtaposition of th..(gbl55)
22 Apr: They might be just as offended by the so-called abbreviated form! Get a lawyer or…(AlterEgo)
22 Apr: I just thought I should draw the line there AlterEgo – no I don’t have any legal training bu…(gbl55)
23 Apr: In my learned opinion and notwithstanding the above, hereupon the party of the fir…(LegalEagle)
30 Apr: Thanks LegalEagle for information on copyright violation and risk of my extradition to the…(gbl55)

Abbreviated Form:

20 Apr: ‘Scraping Comments off MOOCs – good or evil?’ by gbl55
I’ve decided that comment scraping in the full form could be considered a derivative work and so…
Comments by:
 AlterEgo(20 Apr), gbl55(21 Apr), AlterEgo(22 Apr), gbl55(22 Apr), LegalEagle(23 Apr), gbl55(30 Apr)

Notes on the current implementation:

I’m no expert on RSS or in coding – some of the following may be misinformed!

  • Current operation is experimental – apologies if comments are altered in peculiar ways.
  • Output is derived only from WordPress and Blogger post and comment feeds. Together these account for a large proportion of MOOC blogs. I have yet to look at other types of feed.
  • Output is limited to the contents of current post and comment feeds and placed in order of date of posting – latest posts first.
  • The Scraper does not aggregate posts and comments (like a reader does) – only the updates provided by feeds are made available at any one time.
  • The Scraper ignores pingbacks. A flurry of very recent pingbacks can push slightly earlier comments out of a current feed.
  • The Scraper is not smart enough to deal with very complex HTML at the beginning of a post or comment and may even default by deleting text. Messages sent by the Scraper itself are indicated by: { … }:  eg {image} if an image is found.
  • A time limit has been set so that only postings less than about 2 months old are included. The greater the number of active blogs the tighter the limit required to avoid generating reams of output.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

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