Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

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What are learning theories for?

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I taught in a university for many years but only came across learning theories in 2011 in one of the first MOOCs – CCK11 on Connectivism. Coming from a science background, the term ‘theory’ in ‘learning theory’ was a source of confusion. Learning theories are conceptual frameworks proposed and developed by highly respected researchers but they do not enjoy the status of established theories in the physical sciences. They are more like hypotheses, proposed explanations on the basis of evidence that’s probably incomplete, disputed or even pure speculation. For a start, how can a learning theory ever be complete without detailed reference to the place where learning occurs – the brain? Learning theories are important as a source of ideas but difficulties with the collection and interpretation of evidence make firm conclusions hard to come by.
Learning theories may be in their infancy as science but can play a valuable role in providing alternative frameworks for educators, motivating examination of teaching practices and perhaps making improvements on a more rational basis. Even basic familiarity with Behaviourism, Constructivism, Connectivism etc may help educators spot elements of these theories in their own teaching and encourage experimentation. For example, a teacher of medical subjects insisting that a multitude of specialist terms be memorised, might usefully evaluate behaviourist elements in their teaching. (I recall a medical student passing every ‘spotter’ test by studying all through the night before the test with a bottle of whisky: ….. “The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone …” – Operant conditioning?).

The Skeleton Dance – song for learning parts of the body. (Super Simple Learning)

Teaching in real classrooms or lecture rooms embraces many different circumstances but learning theories say little about what’s actually being taught. There’s a world of difference between STEM type material where ‘facts’ and ‘correctness’ play a far more dominant role than in the humanities with considerably more scope for debate and discussion.

An obsession with the instructivist trappings of Behaviourism has its dangers but caveats apply to any learning theory. Consider the distressed child who just can’t ‘get’ negative numbers while his obsessively constructivist teacher keeps insisting that he had to be self-directed and figure it out for himself. Connectivism, focusing on connected learning and personal learning networks, has much to offer for the digital age but social networks can become – just that. Knowledge is not only found in the connections. For deep learning, complete disconnection in a quiet physical room with a good textbook, pencil, paper, coffee (or whisky!), can offer more than desperately tweeting ‘friends’ for advice or searching for clues on forums. No current theory seems to take into account the wide diversity of learning. Who and what is taught, where and by whom, will inevitably influence best practices in any circumstances.

The role of the education researcher is very different from that of practicing educators. The researcher, aims to advance an academic field while the educator simply aims to teach effectively. Most educators now have access to an abundance of pertinent information and a diversity of viewpoints. They can be trusted (with a Howard Rheingold ‘crap detector’ at the ready!) to maintain open and enquiring minds while using their valuable field experience to exploit and test a diversity of learning theories in a diversity of learning situations.

I recently participated in an excellent short MOOC by Southampton University (Learning in the Network Age) where many participants were practicing educators of one sort or another. Some (like me in 2011) had little prior knowledge of networked learning or learning theory but they were eager to learn about the new learning opportunities for themselves and their students. The course was only 2 weeks long, so no time for detail but numerous participants were motivated to examine material gleaned from several different learning theories with a view to improving their teaching. This ‘mix and mash’ approach suits busy educators. That’s what learning theories are for – ‘If the cap fits, wear it!’

caps
Mixing and mashing learning theories
(Special Collections Toronto Public Library)

Written by Gordon Lockhart

June 14, 2017 at 9:08 pm

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Commenting in MOOC forums (or not)

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Listen to Yourself (XKCD Webcomic)

As a confirmed sampler of MOOCs I’ve had plenty opportunity to roam around the enormous clunky forums that characterise xMOOCs. I try to make sensible contributions to the argument of the day but participant behaviour and interaction can be a compelling distraction. Some things are clear. Commenting on xMOOC forums nowhere plumbs the sickening depths of some comments elsewhere (eg YouTube). Also, real out-and-out trolls are rare. All the same, I think that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

What will cause a comment to give offence and what level of offence is caused can be difficult to judge. In my young days using the F word was clearly offensive in polite company and even now I can’t help feeling a bit offended when it’s used needlessly on the web. (It’s even in the title of a popular science website for godsake!) These days and depending on the circumstances, such usage might be considered only mildly offensive by many participants in a forum but it stands to reason that, among a large population of users, some could be very offended indeed.

So care should be taken writing comments addressed to diverse international audiences although second-guessing exactly what’s offensive can be extremely difficult or even futile. For example, my use of ‘godsake’ above does not offend me at all but could offend some on religious grounds so I might be reluctant to use the word in a public forum – sound thinking or over-thinking? Also, if you were Danish and not too familiar with English quotations, might you be offended about the rotten state of Denmark above? I really don’t know but it’s possible!

MOOC forums usually have some degree of moderation so that really crass comments are swiftly removed but there are other less obvious circumstances where forum participants themselves can help set the tone. On one occasion I was appalled that a perfectly sensible comment by a lady tentatively posting for the first time, was considered “stupid” by someone else (OK, a man). The forum was huge and his was the only other contribution in the thread. Throwing caution to the winds, I commented that his comment lacked substance (it did) and then made a brief comment on the topic of the thread myself. Someone down-voted my comment (slight offence taken! I’ve mixed feelings about the use of down-vote buttons.) There was no response from the original poster until a host of comments began to arrive (all from women), including some really good substantive contributions. Although nobody mentioned the original male put-down, solidarity with the original poster was very evident. Finally, she actually thanked me for intervening. She’d genuinely feared that her comment was somehow inappropriate. Such apprehension by forum newcomers is not uncommon. Newbie posters who are not offered support when it matters may never return to the forum again.

6_bonobos

A Support Group (Wikipedia , W. H. Calvin)

I once had an argument in an xMOOC forum with someone who held that a MOOC forum should not to be regarded as a support group. I disagreed. He was a champion of robust no-holds-barred debate and had a good grasp of most topics under discussion, contributing real expertise, useful links and references etc. But he could be pretty bombastic and nit-picking and sometimes just plain insulting to those brave enough to comment on his posts. This led to some very heated arguments but if you can’t stand the heat should you not stay out of the kitchen?

Lively robust debate does have its attractions, if only as a spectator sport and it’s understandable that moderators are reluctant to intervene until clearly unacceptable levels of confrontation are reached (see Godwin’s rule of Nazi analogies!). On the other hand, in a large forum, there are usually participants with the necessary topic expertise and sufficient empathy to respond constructively to a badly expressed question or a mistaken assumption in a way that aids understanding, positively advancing discussion without any suspicion of a put-down. Can some way not be found to encourage those who revel in confrontation to conduct their ding-dong battles elsewhere, perhaps in well-advertised threads or sub-forums, so that safer spaces are left for the vast middle ground of learners who appreciate less competitive and more supportive environments?

A great advantage of online asynchronous discussion over face-to-face is that there is a golden opportunity for considered thought and reflection before responding. No matter how irritating the indiscretions and errors rightly or wrongly perceived in the comments of others, there’s usually time to allow tolerance and understanding to break through. Commenting with caution and sensitivity to context is always a safe alternative to knee-jerk reactions made in the heat of the moment.

Can opinions be freely expressed in a supportive environment without giving offence to anyone anywhere? At one extreme, robust debate can degenerate into aggressive personal attacks while at the other, excessive concern about giving or taking offence can stifle discussion, particularly if confronted with closed minds and fixed ideas. More empathetic moderation and a re-think of how xMOOC forums are structured is in order but forum participants themselves should have at least some responsibility for everyone’s learning as well as their own. A thick skin should not be necessary in a forum but a paper-thin one and extreme readiness to give and take offence, is unlikely to further anyone’s learning objectives. We must all learn to tolerate minor perceived offences …. hmm… . so now I’m off to visit that popular science website but without naming it here!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

November 14, 2016 at 10:44 am

Posted in Mooc, Uncategorized

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MOOCow Meets The Hound of the Baskervilles – #twistedpair

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moocow

MOOCow

basker

Hound of the Baskervilles

(The Demon Dog of Dover by Shadow-lightning)

Hound of the Baskervilles:

HOWOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo !!!!!

MooCow: Beg Pardon?
HOB: I said, HOWOOooo … Oh never mind – it’s supposed to be scary!
MC: Connectivist cows don’t scare easily – now push off before I connect with your butt!
HOB: Hey! That’s no way to talk to an authority on education!
MC: Authority my hoof – you’ll be telling me you invented MOOCs next!
HOB: Got it in one! Best thing I ever did since corporal punishment. Why do you think I go round dropping these red pills in university water supplies? I give ’em 20th century traditional education on steroids! Turn mild-mannered professors into raving rock stars overnight. They love the attention and not having proper exams to mark helps develop their video skills – you know, make-up and a proper dress sense.
MC: Holy turnips! It’s the 21st century. Humans should take responsibility for their own learning.
HOB: Oh yeah? They’re miles too stupid for that but I do encourage nice debates in closed forums so they can’t escape instruction. They do actually teach themselves a little but you should see how grateful they are when a real professor comes down and gives them the right answers! What they really love though is discussing the grading schemes and they’ll do that until the cows come home. The forum threads get so long they can’t even find their own posts!
MC: Hey! – less on the cows Hound Dog! I don’t have much time for grading with peer assessment and multiple choice questions.
HOB: Me too – it’s all a lot of nonsense but humans are nostalgic about their school days and expect to be examined by the teacher. They won’t all get all the questions right – like, “When’s the 10 o’clock News?” Some tick ‘midnight’ and then there’s furious debates about it in the forums! Same with peer-assessment. The range of grades has to be so narrow – like 98, 99 and 100, to stop them marking each other down but with a pass grade at 98 they’re still happy to buy our x-certificates for 1st, 2nd or 3rd class honours! OK, we all know it’s a lousy product so now we’re planning to sell Pavlovian style edu-bracelets for wearing during exams so we can electrically shock ’em when they give wrong answers! No gain (for us!) without pain (for them!) – Ha! Ha! The wronger the answer the higher the volts – and watch the drop dead rate! What’s more, we’re into artificial intelligence with fully-contented, self-driven robo-profs. Add them to your online shopping basket for only a few thousand dollars and we’re goin’ to …….
MC: Enough! No more of this dreary dog-driven drivel! I don’t like to say I invented MOOCs (to be honest I think it was some Canadian oddballs whose names I forget – maybe even human) and you and your x-certificate MOOCs aren’t a patch on the original cMOOCs. While you’ve been contaminating university water supplies I’ve connected more times than you’ve had dog dinners! You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog and you ain’t no friend of mine! You ain’t never caught a rabbit …. so I’m using my superpowers to turn you into one! Byeeee!
HOB: Howooooooooooooo ……….. grunt!
MC: MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCCCCCC!!!!! Dratted dog made me late for my next keynote.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

October 6, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Wonderland of a Literary MOOC

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I recently joined ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World‘ by Prof. Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan. This is a typical Coursera xMOOC with the usual closed forum populated by a minority of participants. I never spotted Prof. R. in the forums but there are a number of helpful TAs, some having completed the course on a previous iteration.

Videos are presented in ‘flipped’ format. Prof. R. releases a brief ‘Before You Read’ video, setting the scene for each weekly topic (eg ‘Lewis Carroll’) and then there’s assigned readings and a 270 to 320 words essay to write, “on any literary matter that you studied in that reading: plot, style, theme, structure, imagery, allusion, narrator reliability, and so on.” The essay, “…should aim to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course.” So far so good but the essays are peer reviewed and the system software only allows essay writers to see their own reviews after they review 4 or 5 other essays. A small minority of reviewers submit a minimum of desultory remarks, or even random nonsense, just to comply!

Several videos by Prof. R. discussing different aspects of the topic, (eg 8 videos for Lewis Carroll), are released following the peer assessments. Prof. R. has a very relaxed style of delivery and I found the videos really enjoyable and informative. Writing the essays before the videos does seem the better strategy but some participants would rather have the videos first to spark off ideas. Could anyone reading ‘Alice’, perhaps for the first time, really not have ideas of their own? Perhaps a lack of confidence and a mistaken belief that the only ‘correct’ interpretations are the ones handed down by the Professor is the root cause.

The last literary essay I wrote was a very long time ago but I did manage 4/6 on the two essays I submitted for peer assessment. This is not too surprising as the marking scheme is tightly constrained. There are two categories: form (grammar, usage, and structure) and content (matters of insight, argument, and example). Each is marked on a scale of 1 to 3 so the marks awarded can only range from 2 to 6 and unless the form or content perceived by a reviewer is undeniably awful or absolutely brilliant, the most likely score is 4. Most participants make 4 but not all are happy and there’s the usual controversy, beloved of xMOOCs, about given grades and the marking scheme. The marking scheme is probably designed to keep up grade averages and limit excessively low or high scores. It’s certainly crude and of course it’s operated, with or without due diligence, by other participants. Perhaps a participant’s averaged grades will make some sense by the end of the course but peer assessment is the only means of assessment. My feeling is that these grades have considerably less significance than many participants are led to believe.

The feedback on my own essays was brief but friendly and quite helpful. Many participants (like me) are unpractised literary essayists so some inconsistency between 4 peer assessments on the same essay is to be expected. One peer comment really made me think, “Be careful of words like would, may, appear etc. You are convincing me of your point, use more aggressive language.” But my literary interpretations can be quite speculative and so too are many other interpretations I’ve come across on this course – sometimes wildly speculative! Dressing up speculation with unduly assertive or aggressive language seems a bit like getting a debating point across by shouting.

This course is a new experience for me. I enjoyed the reading and writing but found it all very time-consuming and now with several other projects on the go I’m only monitoring progress. I hardly participated at all in the forums but there was good discussion and debate there.  This was clearly the focal point of the course for a small minority of participants and participatory learning and engagement was certainly in evidence. Participants were urged to use the forums but in spite of the usual section for “General discussion about the course, life and everything under the sun.” attempts to move outside the silo’s unspoken limits were politely discouraged. For example, a few participants (not me!) wanting to publicise their own writing met with dusty responses. Of course it’s not a creative writing class but what do Michigan or Coursera have to fear? – criticism by participants who Know What they Signed Up For? – mass exodus from the Proper Course? – overloaded servers? I doubt if these concerns are significant. Some mild ‘forking’ of the course might even help reduce the dreaded dropout rate!

Exercising my new-found powers of literary interpretation I realised that the Lion and the Unicorn episode in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass was really about something else. Unfortunately, Carroll does not make this too clear so I had to rewrite it:


Lionc_and_Uniconx

The Uniconx and Lionc with the Connected Cake

(John Tenniel’s Lion and Unicorn illustration for Lewis Carroll’s’ Through the Looking-Glass’ – Wikipedia)

The Uniconx, the Lionc and the Connected Cake

(Apologies to Lewis Carroll)

At this moment the Uniconx sauntered past with his hands in his pockets. ‘I ran the best course this time?’ he said to the King.
‘A little — a little,’ the King replied, rather nervously. ‘You shouldn’t have run them through with your pointed questions you know.’
‘It was for their own good’ the Uniconx said carelessly, and he was going on, when his eye happened to fall upon Alice: he turned round rather instantly, and stood for some time looking at her with an air of the deepest disgust.
‘What — is — this?’ he said at last.
‘This is one of your Customers’ replied Haigha eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her. ‘We only found it to-day. It’s as large as life, and twice as natural!’
‘I always thought they were invisible until monetised!’ said the Uniconx. ‘Is it alive?’
‘It can talk but it can’t think for itself,’ said Haigha, solemnly.
The Uniconx looked dreamily at Alice, and said ‘Talk, Customer.’
Alice could not help her lips curling up into a smile as she began: ‘Do you know, I always thought Uniconxes were invisible too! I never saw a visible one before!’
‘Well, now that we have seen each other,’ said the Uniconx, ‘if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?’
‘Yes, if you like,’ said Alice.
‘Come, fetch out the cake, old man!’ the Uniconx went on, turning from her to the King. ‘Certainly — certainly!’ the King muttered. ‘Open the bag!’ he whispered to Haigha. ‘NO! Not the one from the silo — its stuffed with graded ticks! The other is discontented.’
Haigha took the large connected cake out of the bag and gave it to Alice to hold while he got out a dish and carving-knife.

The Lionc had joined them while this was going on. ‘What’s this!’ he said, blinking lazily at Alice, ‘Are you animal — vegetable — or mineral?’
‘It’s my visible Customer!’ the Uniconx cried out proudly before Alice could reply.
‘Then hand round the cake, Customer,’ the Lionc said, lying down and putting his chin on his paws. ‘Everyone sit down. Aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward: fair play with the cake, you know!’
The King was evidently very uncomfortable at having to sit down between the two massive creatures; but there was no other place for him. ‘What a time the Customer is, cutting up that cake!’ he sighed.

Alice had seated herself on the bank of a little brook, with the great dish on her knees, and was sawing away diligently with the knife. ‘It’s very provoking!’ she said, in reply to the King ‘I’ve cut several slices already, but they always connect up again!’
‘You don’t know how to manage cakes,’ the Uniconx remarked. ‘Hand the content round first, and cut it into facts afterwards.’
This sounded nonsense, but Alice very obediently got up, and carried the dish round and the cake divided itself into three pieces as she did so. ‘Now try to cut it up,’ said the Lionc, as she returned to her place with the empty dish.
‘I say, this isn’t fair!’ cried the Uniconx as Alice sat with the knife in her hand, very much puzzled how to begin. ‘The Customer has given the Lionc more than me!’
‘She’s only trying to share but she’s kept hardly any for herself’ said the Lionc. ‘Don’t you like connected cake?
‘I can’t tell for certain’, said Alice dubiously as the cake re-formed on the plate. ‘It’s all very confusing..’
Several pieces of the cake fell to the ground and found their way into the brook.
‘Why not?’, said the Uniconx. ‘Learn to live with certainty. There’s no secret about a prescriptive cake. Start at the beginning, get to the middle and follow it right through to the end – or die! If you join it in the middle you pay a price.’
‘Not if there’s no content!’ countered the Lionc, ‘and what’s more, a cake should have several middles and ends or none at all.’
‘Scaffolding!’ shouted the Uniconx, standing up. ‘She can’t live with uncertainty because she can’t think for herself!’
‘Oh dear!’ muttered the King disconsolately. Is it off with her talking head then?’
‘Of course I can think for myself!’ cried Alice indignantly.
‘Then choose to run the course with me’ said the Lionc triumphantly and offered her a paw.
Alice started to her feet and they both sprang across the little brook stopping abruptly at a single path sign-posted ‘Self-direction Only’
‘Multiple choices!’ shouted the Uniconx at them from the other side of the brook. ‘Only chaos, confusion, bewilderment, bafflement, or perplexity down there! You’ll all drop out of course!’
‘This way, that way or the other?’ asked the Lionc pointing down the same path but he bounded off before Alice could answer.
The Uniconx turned to the King in frustration. “She can never be told a thing!”
‘Rather like the Bell-Ringers Daughter – ha! ha!”, exclaimed the King as he wandered off.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

July 14, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Mooc, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Rhizo15 – No Content At All

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‘No Content At All’ – sung to the tune of an ancient folk song, ‘No Hips At All’ (don’t ask!). I couldn’t get its tune out of my head while weeding my garden so here it is – rhizomatically hacked.

  No Content At All

Come all ye young teachers and listen to me
while I sing you a song that will fill you with glee
It’s about a young maiden so lovely and small
who enrolled in a course with no content at all!

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

Well she remembers the night she first read
of learning subjectives with objective dread
She reached for the teacher, her first port of call
then she reached for the content – no content at all!

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

Teacher oh Teacher oh what shall I do?
My pleasures are plenty my troubles are few
so how could you ever allow me to fall
right into a course with no content at all?

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

Student, oh student now don’t feel so sad
all the content you seek is on your iPad
There’s many a learner will come at the call
of a maiden distressed by no content at all

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

The young maiden took her teacher’s advice
and found online learners exceedingly nice
Working with others kept her in thrall
of artefacts made with no content at all!

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

She loved her co-learners and baked them a pie
invited them over to give it a try
I’m so sad to say and regret to recall
that a pie with no content is no good at all!

What? No content at all! No content at all!
She went on a course with no content at all

Now I get back to my weeding!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 28, 2015 at 9:08 pm

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Comment Collector – Some Rhizomatic Results

with 7 comments

The Comment Collector was collecting nothing but dust until:

Simon Ensor @sensor63
@Gordon_L d’u wanna do some #rhizo15 scraping ? 🙂

I hadn’t really planned to unleash the Comment Collector on Rhizo15 but was pleasantly surprised when several participants seconded Simon’s request. Now Dave Cormier has asked about rhizo15 comments in comparison with rhizo14 so I’ve pulled out the graph I did for a 20 day period from the beginning of rhizo14 and compiled a similar one based on data collected so far for rhizo15.

rh14

KEY: BLUE = No. of posts. RED = No. of comments
YELLOW =  Comments per post x 100

The graph above gives some idea of how commenting in rhizo14 developed with time. This was no scientific study, particularly for the first few days when blogs were being added and no posts were too dated to be lost from a time window that was still being adjusted. The period from Jan 23 2014 was more stable with comments collected over a constant 10 day period up to the date indicated.

rz

KEY: BLUE = No. of posts. RED = No. of comments
YELLOW =  Comments per post x 100

The rhizo15 graph covers a 17 day period from Apr 20 2015. These results are less reliable before Apr 22 when adjustments were being made, blogs added and the aggregation process just starting up. Although the number of posts (blue; over 10 day periods ending on the dates indicated) has dropped off by about 20% from a maximum of 87 on Apr 26, the number of comments (red) is roughly constant so the number of comments per post (yellow) has been rising reaching  4.6 on May 5. (NB: shown as 460 on the graph).

Again, these results are more indicative of commenting activity among a sample of rhizo15 participants rather than a scientific study. Originally only 44 blogs were scanned but this has gradually risen to 68 as others were added. This has increased the number of posts and comments but should not have directly affected the ratio of comments to posts (yellow).

In the next version of the Comment Collector all data will be stored in machine-readable form so that analyses of any type can be undertaken. (eg comments only on the original set of 44 blogs mentioned above or charting the daily incidence of new posts and comments.) Analysis raises a number of issues, including the ethical, that I’ve discussed a little in  ‘Stitching Together the Fragments of a MOOC’ and ‘Collecting Connected Courses Comments (#ccourses)’ but have not really addressed yet.

In any case, suggestions and comments on the performance of the Comment Collector ( rhiz015 output ) or its analytical possibilities are very welcome.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 7, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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What Counts as Content?

with 2 comments

Dave Cormier asks, “…what happens when we peek under the word ‘content’ to see what lives there?” Easy-peasy, the content of a course is simply what it contains. That’s what content means isn’t it? Dream up some learning objectives, concoct a curriculum with the bricks and mortar of texts, handouts, slides, videos, lectures, tutorials, build the course and Bob’s your uncle!. That’s what’s goes into the course so that’s its content.

But what’s coming out? One learner’s saying, “Wow! – I got a lot out of that course – great stuff!” while another didn’t get anything much at all. Yet another has language difficulties but at least he improved his English comprehension. Someone else, was on Facebook most of the time during lectures but she was greatly inspired by one of the set texts. All were very concerned with one part of the so-called content, the examinable part. They persistently questioned the lecturer about it but she was strangely reluctant to pinpoint parts of the ‘content’, that slide or this video, that Must Be Known.

Of course classifying the bricks and mortar of a course as content is wrong-headed! Bricks and mortar are there to support something else, but what? The content of a course is pretty much a subjective thing and that’s at least part of the problem. Maria from West Side story who knows her subjectives says, “…it’s true for you, not for me”. What’s in a course for you is one thing but what’s in it for others, including the designers of the course, can be quite different. What the designers believe they’re putting into a course can bear little resemblance to what you take out of it.

Is this so surprising? Read a book or look at an image on a screen or a painting and what’s in it for you is certainly not the paper, the pixels or the paint and maybe not even what the creator of the work had in mind either. A course is like a work of art, as open to as many different interpretations as there are spectators. The designers of a traditional face-to-face course fondly imagine that their own interpretation(s), encoded as learning objectives, will prevail. They hope to accomplish this by carefully selecting participants – culture, language, age, exam requirements, prior experience and so on – but even with sharply focused sets of learners, can their learning objectives ever be more than square pegs in round holes? Give the same course out of context with a distinctly different set of participants, maybe of a different culture and who knows what they’ll get out of the would-be course content – the wrong end of a stick? (‘Learning objects‘ designed to fit a wide range of larger instructional structures suffer from similar contextual shortcomings.)

In MOOCs, where little or no participant selection is the norm, the mismatch between learning objectives imposed by course designers and the multifarious objectives of self-directed learners is much more acute and this is barely recognised by MOOC providers that follow traditional instructional models. Their published objectives can be wildly out of tune with what many participants actually get out of these xMOOCs. The vast majority of participants are often labelled ‘dropouts’ because they don’t jump through the given hoops although at least anecdotal evidence suggests that many still benefit educationally one way or another.

So what lives under the word ‘content’? I’m with the Beatles here. To misquote:

Do you believe in learning from MOOCs?
Yes I’m certain that it happens all the time
What do you see when the content is free?
I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Oh I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends
– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 4, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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