Tag Archive for elearning

My First MOOC: Not So Hot

MOOCs are hot, the latest educational technology trend to capture people’s imagination and energy. Major universities and start-up companies are offering free courses to the public, leading many to question the viability of the standard model for university-level instruction.

I decided to get a personal MOOC experience by enrolling in Designing a New Learning Environment, offered by Paul Kim, CTO and Assistant Dean of the Stanford University School of Education. You may be interested in checking out the detailed syllabus. Having attended SUSE for my master’s in education degree in 1998-99, I was truly excited to relive the rich educational experience that I had during that nine-month period. I would gain knowledge and skills that would help me better lead innovation in educational programs at my school. The course would challenge my preconceptions, provide new insights in how to design educational innovations, and expand my network of education practitioners.

Overall, I was sorely disappointed. Designing a New Learning Environment did not substantially meet any of my goals for my participation in the course. DNLE is completely different from the graduate courses that I took at Stanford. This MOOC is an experiment in a new mode of teaching that (I assume) deliberately abandons most of the hallmarks of a graduate-level course to develop new methods of instruction.

Perhaps we should not call it a “course.” This feels more to me like the thoughtful establishment of a temporary social network for small groups of participants to connect, imagine, design, experiment, and potentially innovate new educational activities or products. DNLE provided very little course content: one or two short videos each week that explain a high-level perspective on 21st century education and activity design. The principal course expectation was that one would build or join a team of other participants and then design a new educational system (a.k.a., “learning environment”) together.

It won’t surprise you that my favorite week featured seven articles from Dr. Kim that were published in academic journals. This felt like graduate-level education to me. The articles broadened my perspectives, cast new light on issues I had been considering, and provided detailed supporting information that I didn’t have before. I bemoaned the fact that this only happened once during the 10-week course. The assignment connected to the articles was also insufficient: students were instructed only to indicate the “three most interesting or surprising things you learned” and apply the article “to the design or implementation of educational environments or tools.” What a vague expectation for student work.

Good instruction includes the study of content, creation of content, comparing of ideas with peers, and reflection on one’s process. This course has three of the four in abundance. Students are regularly expected to produce work, both individually and in the group project. The course frequently asks students to provide feedback to other students, both within and beyond one’s project group. Self-reflection is emphasized numerous times.

Study of content is the weakest component of the course. Beyond the short videos, seven articles, and occasional web site links, the only other content that the course explicitly provides is the ideas and experiences of one’s peers, particularly in the project team. This could be a rich source of content for one if you really luck out, but for the vast majority of participants, it’s certainly not graduate-level expertise in education design and technology.

I would love to know the reasons that the course team shied away from graduate-level content and assignment expectations. I would imagine that thousands of participants could handle high expectations if they only had the opportunity to do so.

At least the course made it transparent that we are the participants in a research experiment. Chris Dede said as much in his video thanking students for their participation in the course. The Stanford team has surveyed participants several times, and they will also undoubtedly analyze the vast quantities of participation data that their custom online education platform collects. Taking the speculation one step further, perhaps the course title refers to itself. Perhaps DNLE is itself the new learning environment project of the Stanford team, guided by the same principles of culture, environment, and technology that they have passed on to their students.

Did other students better like the course experience? Of the 20 or so BAISNet members who enrolled, I did not find one who completed it. On the other hand, a colleague here at U Prep not only completed the course but also joined a team actively working on a mobile app for classroom management. I noticed that many course teams were organized around one member’s pre-existing product or idea. The course did attract entrepreneurs looking to educators to provide feedback on new product ideas.

Perhaps satisfaction with the course depended largely on one’s prior expectations. If I want a graduate-level course, better to take Calculus I or Intro to Philosophy instead of a course intended to chart new ground both in terms of content and pedagogy.

What role will MOOCs play in education in the future? Perhaps they will fill a space between interest-based social networks, which tend to lack momentum, and university-based learning, which may be difficult to access. Perhaps MOOCs will facilitate connections among people with like interests and create organized spaces and a timeline for them to engage in self-directed learning together. By that standard, Designing a New Learning Environment did a good job for the participants who stuck with the program.

I have already selected my next course, not Calculus I but rather E-learning and Digital Cultures. I have really enjoyed the additional understanding that the fields of sociology and anthropology bring to the fields of education and technology. We will see whether this course will provide substantial content for learning or be another experiment in online instruction.


Taking an Online Course Together

Yesterday, Lori Hébert from College Prep (Oakland) invited BAISNet subscribers to take an online course with her, and as of this morning, 14 BAISNet members have signed up! This is the first online offering from an education school that I have seen in any of the new generation of social, free online courses from major universities.

Stanford Online: Designing a New Learning Environment
Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean, School of Education, Stanford University
October 15 – December 20, 2012

The Course

What constitutes learning in the 21st century? Should reading, watching, memorizing facts, and then taking exams be the only way to learn? Or could technology (used effectively) make learning more interactive, collaborative, and constructive? Could learning be more engaging and fun?
We construct, access, visualize, and share information and knowledge in very different ways than we did decades ago. The amount and types of information created, shared, and critiqued every day is growing exponentially, and many skills required in today’s working environment are not taught in formal school systems. In this more complex and highly-connected world, we need new training and competency development—we need to design a new learning environment.

The ultimate goal of this project-based course is to promote systematic design thinking that will cause a paradigm shift in the learning environments of today and tomorrow. Participants are not required to have computer programming skills, but must have 1) a commitment to working in a virtual team and 2) the motivation to help people learn better. All of us have been involved in the learning process at some point in our lives; in this course we invite educators, school leaders, researchers, students, parents, entrepreneurs, computer programmers, illustrators, interface designers, and all those who are interested in working together, to create a new learning environment.

After the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify advantages, disadvantages, limitations, and potentials of at least 10 interactive learning models and solutions.
  • Describe how online communication, collaboration, and visualization technology play a role in the behavioral, cognitive, constructivist, and social dimensions of learning.
  • Describe the major components and processes involved in development of interactive education systems.
  • Communicate rationales of learning technology design approaches through team-oriented collaborations.
  • Evaluate the value of ideas, principles, and techniques used in educational media or systems.

As a Final Team Project, students will design a new learning model catering to 21st century environments and learners. Each self-formed team will design and develop an application or system that combines team interaction activities and learning support features in ways that are effective and appropriate for today’s computing and communication devices. Students must consider potential idiosyncrasies with various learning devices (e.g., tablet, phone, PC), infrastructure requirements (e.g., cellular network, wi-fi, Bluetooth), and any special hypothetical circumstances if relevant. In addition, each team must create and defend a business model (non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid) for the launch and scale up their solution.

Additional consideration will be given to teams that come up with system feature ideas presenting meaningful learning interaction and performance analytics.

More online offerings than ever before

In related news, I sent the following list of online course offerings to our faculty yesterday, and one colleague added to the list.

198 courses from 33 universities, including Stanford, UW, Princeton, Berklee, and U. Michigan.

Stanford Online
Some courses offered via Venture Lab, a new online learning platform designed specifically for group collaboration [3]

7 courses from MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley in science, programming, and public health

Started by the former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
14 courses, mostly in programming and math.

OpenCulture: 530 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

iTunes U

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative


Global Online Academy

Catlin Gabel is one of ten schools that has founded the Global Online Academy, a new not-for-profit school. Teachers from member schools teach fully online courses that are available to member school students. Students take these courses for different reasons, for example to access subject matter not otherwise available in our program and to take a language class despite an off-site, afternoon dance commitment.

GOA aims to preserve the unique qualities of independent school education: small class sizes, close teacher-student relationship, an inquiry focus for instruction, and a challenging curriculum. So far, courses are living up to expectations. The teacher-student relationship is particularly rich in the online format. Most of the teachers hold a weekly Skype chat session with each student. This quite possibly creates more one-on-one attention than a student receives in a face-to-face class. On the other hand, students report having a harder time building relationships with other students, given the absence of common time together.

One of our own faculty members is a founding teacher in the Global Online Academy. His course, urban studies, immediately became comparative urban studies when it went online. Previously, students studied the city of Portland and collaboratively designed an urban improvement project for a specific neighborhood. Now, each student designs an independent urban improvement project for her city. The huge added benefit: students get to represent their own city in comparisons among the members of the class!

It has been exciting to participate in preparatory meetings and the launching of this new consortium. I cannot recall in my career ever witnessing such a close, creative collaboration among ten independent schools. Our schools are notoriously independent, yet we created a new, joint teaching and learning structure together. From our school’s point of view, we represent GOA course work as a full transcript course, because we helped to shape the program. We do not represent in this manner courses that students take through other online schools.

Will GOA grow to the point that most Catlin Gabel students take an online course, or will it remain a small niche option for specific circumstances? Each semester that passes will bring a new opportunity to monitor the popularity and effectiveness of this form of schooling.

Photo source: iStockPhoto

Director, Global Online Academy

Professional Opportunity: Director, Global Online Academy
Location: Seattle, WA

(Catlin Gabel is a founding member of the Global Online Academy.)

The Global Online Academy is a 21st-century educational initiative of leading independent schools around the United States and worldwide. The founding members of the Global Online Academy are well known nationally and globally for the strengths of their curricula and programs and for the excellence of the teaching and advising they provide their students. Collaborating in this online educational enterprise allows member schools to offer courses that would not otherwise be available to their students; to share their best teachers’ expertise; and further to diversify the communities and experiences at each member school as students from, ideally, all over the nation and the world interact vigorously with one another. The academy will foster a vital network of schools with a common purpose, enabling a sharing of ideas and initiatives that will benefit each and all.

The mission of the Global Online Academy is to replicate in online classrooms the intellectually rigorous programs and excellent teaching that are hallmarks of its member schools; to foster new and effective ways, through best practices in online education, for students to learn; and to promote students’ global awareness and understanding by creating truly diverse, worldwide online schoolroom communities.

This will be a full-time, year-round appointment beginning immediately.

The Director of the Global Online Academy will report to the Board of Trustees of the academy. The director will be responsible for carrying out the academy’s mission; for working with the board to envision, plan, and implement the initial stages of the online academy and its future growth; to direct the goals and activities of the academy; and to produce regular reports and feedback on the academy’s operations.

The Director will manage the day-to-day operations of the academy. S/he will be responsible for managing student enrollment and ensuring adequate student support, as well as for supervising curriculum development and instructional design, faculty evaluation and professional development, and technology investigation, implementation, and support. S/he will also oversee business operations of the academy, including marketing and communications, budgeting, and strategic planning. Frequent travel will be required.

• A master’s or higher degree in a relevant field.
• Online- and/or hybrid-classroom teaching experience at the high school or college level.
• A sound understanding of online education in a secondary school setting.
• Successful experience in hiring, managing, and developing faculty.
• Successful experience in managing a complex budget with revenue and expenses, directing performance reviews of employees, and executing a business and/or strategic plan.
• Superb organizational skills and attention to detail.
• Knowledge of leading academic technologies and a demonstrated commitment to and passion for staying current with emerging technologies.
• Excellent written and oral communication skills.

Salary and Benefits
Competitive salary based on education and experience along with a generous and comprehensive benefits package.

Additional Information
This position will reside on the Lakeside campus and the selected candidate will be expected to reside in the Seattle area.  While Lakeside School representatives are leading the recruitment process, the Global Online Academy will be incorporated in Washington State and will be seeking 501c3 status.

Apply at Lakeside School

The Greatest Benefit Of Online Schooling

Teachers are experimenting with online learning in a way that will lead to improved, blended learning environments in schools. Resulting improvements in on-campus education are likely to outshine the benefits of purely online learning systems. Online learning alone is unlikely to capture the special qualities of high-quality teaching: the deep teacher-student relationship, the vibrancy of a learning cohort, and the richness of a group experience.

What reasons do proponents offer for the rise of online learning?

1. Rapid early adoption

Yes, early adoption of online learning has been rapid, but that in no way ensures that online learning will supplant place-based learning. Like other innovations, online learning is likely to follow a typical adoption curve through phases of early enthusiasm, disillusionment with shortcomings, and then an adoption plateau that meets a specific niche need. How large will the niche be? That is to be determined. Online learning is more likely to exist alongside place-based learning than supplant it.

Source: Mike Slinn

2. Examples of effective content delivery and adaptive assessment systems

Khan Academy in particular has caused a stir in the independent school community. Many advocate “flipping” instruction so that students watch instructional videos at home and do group practice and discussion and school. Yes, lecturing during class time is not the most effective mode of content delivery. Online content delivery systems should put an end to classroom-based content delivery. However, Khan Academy has more potential to enhance education when a great teacher incorporates it into a course than on its own. Even Khan’s adaptive testing and practice system will fall short compared to the adaptive skills of an experienced teacher working directly with a student.

Mark Milliron recommends that teachers “curate resources from the open education space.” His favorites: OER Commons, HippoCampus, BigThink, Academic Earth Open Learning Initiative, and YouTube EDU.

3. Economies of scale

This argument proposes that online education can deliver content and skills practice so much more cheaply than traditional schools. However, online schools are quickly finding out that providing quality online instruction actually takes more effort and time than an in-person class, because of the barriers of time and space in online systems.

So what will happen?

I doubt that we can accurately predict where online learning will end up. However, the effect on classroom instruction is clear. Arguments for online learning apply equally well to blended learning environments without giving away the high value of face-to-face instruction. Online learning will be most effective as an addition to, not a replacement of, classroom-based instruction. Encouraging teachers to try teaching online will improve their toolkits for blended, school-based instruction. Encouraging students to take a few online courses to complement their school-based programs will enhance their school experiences. Online learning may become the primary mode of education for a niche market, home schoolers, competitive athletes and artists, children in remote locations, and other special circumstances.