Tag Archive for mooc

Stanford+Connects Seattle

IMG_2572I relived a little piece of the Stanford experience and met interesting people at the Stanford+Connects event this past Saturday at the Washington Convention Center. These alumni events travel the country, featuring talks by the university’s president, several distinguished professors, and two students. I don’t ever make it to reunion events, and while I attend similarly timely and stimulating University of Washington or independent school talks from time to time, I don’t ever attend my college reunion events. I also got to learn about topics that I typically only read about or listen to through TED talks and NPR pieces. Some highlights for me: President Hennessy spoke to the many building and program development projects at Stanford, a number of which have emerged from the a recent comprehensive study of the undergraduate program. Among these: ten new joint majors that combine computer science with subjects in the humanities.

The five mini-lectures were most welcome, because of course I wanted to hear all of the speakers. These included two students: Westin Gaylord on a project that he and his friends started to write creatively every day, and Derek Ouyang on an energy neutral, pre-fab house core design competition for which he led a team. Three professors also presented mini lectures, Carla Shatz on restarting synapse generation in old age, S.V. Mahadevan on bringing emergency medicine to developing nations, and Robert Sutton on improving organizations by eliminating the bad. Dan Klein (with a nod to Patricia Ryan Madson) added an improv demonstration and three activities that got us out of our seats and meeting neighbors!

With a nod to our grad school memories, my wife and I attended David Kennedy’s historical review of water management in the U.S. west. Many alums fondly remembered Kennedy’s lectures, though this was my first! Kennedy shared a wealth of historical facts that laid the groundwork for contemporary federal water management practices, including many challenges. Did you know that the federal government owns fully 45% of the last west of the 100th meridian? This is in contrast to the east, in which the federal government sold nearly all of its holdings in the past. He painted a rather bleak picture for the future of the combined effects of rising global temperature, drought, and consumption increases.

Margot Gerritsen presented a detailed view into “unconventional” oil and gas, including tar sands and fracking. Her perspective, backed up with copious data, is that unconventional energy has already arrived, and we would be best served minimizing its negative effects than trying to “prevent” it from “emerging.” Gerritsen also demystified newspaper headlines, looking at the data to suggest that injection of chemicals into deposits during fracking is unlikely to contaminate groundwater, but water injection is in fact responsible for up to magnitude five earthquakes!

With a rare opportunity to learn outside of my field, I did not attend the one education session. However, I did take a moment to skim a paper by Candace Thille, who presented a session on big data and transformations in education. Thille is an expert on MOOCs and co-founded the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), first at Carnegie Mellon and now at Stanford. She echoes the distinction that others have noted between the original cMOOCs that adopt a connectivist pedagogy and the newer xMOOCs (Coursera, EdX) that have fueled popular interest. Thille then makes a further distinction between xMOOCs that simply put the university lecture hall experience online and those that make student data analytics available to instructors to further instruction.

Many thanks to the Stanford Alumni Association and Stanford Club of Washington for arranging a day of fun, learning, and contemporary topics.

E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC

I am excited to start work on the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, offered by the University of Edinburgh through Coursera. This is my second MOOC, and already I feel that this experience will match my expectations better than my first. The course structure is easy to understand, divided into three “blocks,” Utopias and Dystopias, Being Human, and the final assessment. The approach to teaching is more familiar, starting with taking in information through articles and videos, engaging in discussions through a variety of electronic media, and then producing an individual, final product. The path to a rich learning experience seems both in my control and well-informed by the instructors.

The social sciences have for a long time appealed to me as a means to better understand student and teacher engagement with learning. Studies such as Hanging Out, Messing Around, And Geeking Out have helped provide insight and understanding regarding new student behaviors that we did not experience when we were young. Sociology, anthropology, psychology, and other fields help us navigate our changing world and adjust our educational systems to keep up.

E-learning and Digital Cultures promises to use selected artifacts from contemporary culture to illustrate deeply-held feelings about technology and self that underly passionate opinions about technology in education. For example, the opening topic, utopias and dystopias, will explore dominant, deterministic dialogues about education technologies. Not only will this help me navigate the landscape that I experience at work, but it will also help our community members better understand their own conceptions about education technologies. As our school strives to increase its use of computing in the service of learning, I plan to share selected pieces to help people think about their own thinking.

My current position is academic dean at an independent, grades 6-12 day school in Seattle, Washington, USA. I am responsible for oversight of curriculum and professional development, primarily working with administrators and teachers to coordinate the instructional program, facilitate a culture of professional sharing and growth, and help the school grow in new directions.

I look forward to participating in the social aspects of this course, connecting with other course participants through Twitter, discussion forums, Google+ circles, and other vehicles. I hope you will feel free to post comments on my writings here. Thank you in advance to the instructors for planning to hold a Google Hangout to offer some live interaction with participants.


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.