Monday, 2 December 2013

Meet the MOOC executives - An interview with James Bell

With initiatives such as Open2Study, Australia is at the forefront of the MOOC ecosystem. The University of New England has also launched its own ambitious platform, uneOpen and is the first Australian university to offer credits for MOOC study.
The Good MOOC interviews uneOpen CEO James Bell to find out more.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I fell into education a few years ago while I was doing my undergraduate studies, starting off with some tutoring for students who had learning difficulties. Over the years I’ve worked in most sectors within the industry including community development for children and teens excluded from traditional schools, study abroad, international education and specifically in online education over the last couple of years.

uneOpen is an initiative of the University of New England, a regional university in Australia, and pioneered teaching to off-campus students via distance education and more recently online. uneOpen was established as a response to how online education has evolved over the last few years, and in particular the rise of open online courses, and a way for the university to prototype new ways of unbundling degrees and offering these online. What we do is take existing subjects from within the university and offer these in various formats on our platform, and we freely share these courses. What makes our courses different is that we also offer the students to convert their studies into credit in degrees with UNE, via a Challenge Assessment which students have the option to book and pay for. This opens up access to university education as it offers students a low cost, low risk path towards a degree. We’re very focussed on helping more people access a quality university education and saving on the cost of investing in education.
Since we launched our prototype in July, we have offered subjects from Bachelor and Masters degrees in the areas of Business, Health, Sociology, Criminology and Law.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future with open resources, MOOCs and free tools?

MOOC’s continue to grow in popularity, and there will be a point at which a critical mass is achieved and online education becomes commonplace for people to pursue their educational and career goals. If we look at the Australian landscape, distance education and online education for degrees achieved a broad level of acceptance some time ago, recognised under the national regulatory framework.
I believe there are some truly transformative possibilities offered for universities to improve the quality of education and start moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to getting a degree. Open online education and the use of technology and the internet can help universities lower the costs associated with delivering degrees and by passing these costs savings onto students make education more affordable. uneOpen is exploring ways to ‘unbundle’ education and allow students to pick and choose what knowledge they want to learn, via the means they are best suited to learning from and at a price they are willing to pay for investing in their education.

  • There's a fair bit of online learning skepticism out there... Do you have anything to say about that?

First, let me apologise for the length of this reply, but it’s a question I’ve been asked a lot recently. I think having the broader debate about open online education is a positive move, as it’s forcing universities to move with the times. When it comes to some of the criticisms about MOOC’s the argument about retention rates is one of the least positive discussions as it’s focussing on the wrong issues. Applying traditional measures associated with quality assurance in higher education fails to acknowledge that open online education for most students is not about getting a degree, and measuring against degree-as-outcome, which we normally would do, limits the ability to really see what is really happening.
Let’s say we have a student who is really keen to learn only one topic from an open online course – they create an account, login to access the content they want, perhaps copy the material that’s relevant to their own device and never touch the course again. How can this be a negative outcome? The student achieved exactly what they set out to do, learn the knowledge that they wanted. We know that a large number of students doing MOOC’s and open education already have a degree, so the outcome that they value is the measure by which we should be measuring our own performance. It goes back to my earlier point about universities adopting a ‘one size fits all approach’, it doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s actually happening.
In the case of uneOpen, we know we have students interested in picking and choosing what they want to learn like the example above and this is great as we get to freely share our knowledge with these students. We also know that some of our students are interested in finding an alternative pathway towards a degree and by sitting our challenge assessment can use their result to get credit and advanced standing in a degree with UNE. We’re very proud of our students who went through our first challenge assessment period, as they achieved a 100% pass rate! So obviously some of our measures are different to other open online providers, it’s a matter for organisations to work out what measures best suit their students and what they are trying to achieve.

  • Which are you favorite online learning experience so far and why?

Having undertaken a lot of distance education and online learning I’m really glad we’ve moved beyond pdf’s and heavy textbooks. I’m not sure where to start – but I can say that I now pretty much will go straight to Google or Youtube to search for something I’m looking at learning as my first point of call. A good video can get across in less than 5 minutes exactly what I need to do and how to do it which saves me a great amount of time.

  • Can you please elaborate on your 'business model'?

We are approaching this as a learning opportunity and while we are still within the prototyping phase, we are exploring a number of elements including pedagogy as well as strategic approaches. The core of the business model is a freemium approach, whereby we freely give away the knowledge but offer optional premium services for a fee. This is still a new area for the university, but we are determined to have a go at open courseware and unbundled education.

  • What's your view on the Australian MOOC platform Open2Study and their very short format MOOCs?

I think it’s great for students to have a range of choices to suit their preferred learning approaches, whether it be short courses, vocational certification or more rigorous full degree subjects. Obviously at uneOpen we are focussing our efforts on where we believe we have something unique to offer which is full university level subjects that provide a clear path towards degrees. It’s a low cost, low risk way to experience what it’s like to study at university.

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Friday, 22 November 2013

Meet the expert - An interview with Seann Dikkers

As MOOCs struggle with criticisms about completion rate, The Good MOOC gets a different perspective from gamification expert Seann Dikkers, who researches, writes, and shares the usefulness of digital media for teaching and learning as the founder and director of Gaming Matter.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

Sure, I'm currently faculty at Ohio University in Educational Technologies. Previously, I taught social studies to middle schoolers for ten years and served as an administrator for four years. My graduate work was at the University of Wisconsin - Madison with the Games + Learning + Society research group. To know who I am, I'd say I'm a lifetime gamer, woodworker, father of two, a husband of twenty years, and a believer - in reverse order of importance!  

Gaming Matter was initially an umbrella organization for myself and other researchers to house our research on games for learning, teacher professional development, and school policy. The feeds that we post there have gained a following that exceeds our own work and we are beginning to host resources, like the Teacher's Toolbox, TeachOn! videos, and are even working with Playful Learning to put together conferences for teachers. The interest in games for learning has driven the expansion of the research community.  

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

I see a lot of experimentation coming in the next few years. Free tools still have to have a compelling benefit for those that make them. Either these 'free' courses are to sell the cooperating institution, bring instructors to prominence, or are in themselves studies of the participants.

On the other hand, I do see an altruistic drive to produce quality learning products by people that want to advance their fields too. Codecademy is a fine example that trains 'coders'. So, it is a product designed to expand the number of coders in the world. The benefit may be that there are more coders in the job base, but that is a win-win for those that want to code and those that want to hire.  

Kahn academy was initially an effort by an uncle to help his cousins learn math better - completely altruistic. Because it was well done, it grew. Where there is demand, there will be product even if it isn't corporately sponsored initially.  

The nature of a digital asset though is that once made, it endures. So I see that there will be many MOOCs that were built in hype that simply limp along. However, I also see a lot of products like Kahn academy, LearnStreet, 3DGameLab, and Codecademy that are increasingly impressive and ready to serve learning needs.

In the long term, I believe that we will see online learning will diverge into a variety of experiences. MOOC's have a tendency now to be delivered content + community. Online gaming starts with experience and content is sought out to amplify game play. I like to think that these two worlds will continue to come together. Later I'll mention Minecraft as an area I'm researching now where I think this is starting to happen.

Also, the Digital Media and Learning folks are exploring effective experiences that leverage award and quest design to encourage informal learning. As long as experience is at the center, many game design elements can be thoughtfully applied to organize learning - as games already do. So there are seeds of the future of online learning, but I'm still excited to see how they will flower.  

  • There's a fair bit of online learning skepticism out there (particularly when it comes to retention rates)... Do you have anything to say about that?

Whenever someone says they have a better way to create learning experiences, we should collectively be wary. Snake oil salesmen have always preyed on those that are desperate and high stakes testing has driven the need to improve - even if only by 1% - to the point that some educational leaders will buy anything with 'promise', 'potential', or enthusiasm around it. So embrace skepticism, but remain malleable to evidence.

Retention rates are very difficult to make claims about in any learning setting. So I'll also be skeptical of those that claim to know how well people retain learning in online settings. Consider Mizuko Ito's outstanding study of youth living and learning online, out of UC-Irvine. Her team observed youth for thousands of hours of online activity and found that youth progressively were "hanging out, messing around, and geeking out". Wonderful terms!  Most communities of practice have those that work in the inner circles, those that are active, and those that are outliers.  

If this is actual behavior, then we should expect that in free and open online learning environments, there will be a certain number of those that stop in and check things out, some that dabble, and some that invest in the full online experience. So, for example, 15,000 people sign up for a free MOOC, should we even expect retention?  I'm not sure that informal learning can be measured the same way as compulsory learning. Nor can we discount the number of people that do find value in these free settings. I'm interesting in future studies that take into account actual patterns of behavior (like Ito) and use it to measure online learning accurately.  

  • Which are you favorite online learning experience so far and why?

Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire are doing an online MOOC right now that has impressed me. They combine Constance's past work on building community and Kurt's understanding of game design along with guest lecturers on the topic of games for learning. The production quality of their work has been stunning: site layout, curriculum design, animations, even the brick wall "studio" and conversational tone. Wonderful example of what MOOC's will look like as great designers get involved in the creation process.

And if you believe Tolkien is worthy literature, then Lord of the Rings Online stands out as an exemplary Massive Multiplayer Online game that connects great reading with great play experiences. Outstanding!

Finally, I'm in the process of playing Minecraft endlessly with my two kids. I've just finished spending a year interviewing teachers that have taken the 'blank slate' of Minecraft and used it as a classroom tool. It can be hosted locally and set up as a limited multiplayer game (keeping students learning private), and Minecraft is being adapted for a variety of topics, ages, and pedagogical styles in compelling ways. I'm writing up the study now and hope that the coming book will add to the conversation of what online learning can look like.

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Mike Feerick

Long before the Stanford AI Class, before the acronym “MOOC” was even coined, ALISON, a free e-learning company was set up in Ireland.
The Good MOOC interviews +Mike Feerick, ALISON's founder and CEO, fresh from winning an innovation award at the Wise summit in Qatar.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I was raised in Galway, Ireland.
I graduated from the University of Limerick before getting my MBA from Harvard. I then worked in the corporate world before founding I sold Yac to J2 Global Communications in 2007.

I founded ALISON (Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online) in 2007. It now has two million registered learners worldwide, and more than 300,000 graduates of its courses.
Each month, nearly 200,000 new learners sign up, many from developing countries, where access to traditional education and skills training is limited.

The judges in the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise) awards in Doha, awarded ALISON a prize for its outstanding quality and its “exceptional impact”.

  • What do you make of the current MOOC craze when you've been in the game for much longer?

I think it is all good in making people aware that learning can and is free. When we launched in April 2007, many of our previously paying customers asked that they not be given access to the content for free as they preferred to pay (many were local authorities and schools who felt they needed to be seen to pay for services as a sign of quality). In that way, we broke some ground as a pioneer for those coming after us. Overall, it is easy to put content on the web. The challenge is to build around it a sustainable business model that can continue the initial investment and activity. Not many MOOCs and the like have shown us how they are going to be sustainable over the long run.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future with open resources, MOOCs and free tools?

I see more and more quality educational resources being made available to the public for free.  I see a small number of platforms and brands emerging - becoming very global.  Learning, and proving skills and competencies is going to become more informal all the time - that is not that the learning is however necessarily inferior.  Remember, services like ALISON are still only beginning.  What is truly exciting is where they can go from here - also considering where they have come to today. If they have been very innovative before, chances are they'll continue to innovate.

  • There's a fair bit of online learning skepticism out there (particularly when it comes to retention rates)... Do you have anything to say about that?

I talk about this in a talk I gave in Washington in Sept. The completion rates need to be viewed in terms of comparing apples with apples. If a course is free, then people will try it out - and many will choose not to do it. Are these people students of the course? No they are not. That's like saying that someone who walks into a shop and walks out again without buying something is a customer. Browsing needs to be considered. Evenstill, look at the completion rates of those who spend more than 10 minutes on a course. The ALISON completion rates move from 18% to 36% if you take in that factor. That is very encouraging.

  • What do you make of "Google Helpouts" and other similar online tutoring services?

It is a cool feature but getting people talking is not teaching.

There needs to be validation of someone's expertise. That's what we do on ALISON - not one can post up courses or comment academically without being reviewed by our highly qualified staff...

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Monday, 28 October 2013

Meet the standard setters - An interview with Darco Jansen

Since April 2013 partners in 21 countries have joined forces to launch the first pan-European
MOOC initiative, with the support of the European Commission, OpenupEd.
The Good MOOC interviews +Darco Jansen, OpenupEd’s coordinator to get a better understanding.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I am a programme manager at the EADTU. I am responsible for development of different long term themes for EADTU(-members) on Online Education, MOOCs and OER, Employability and Open and social Innovation (e.g. with (small) businesses). I am also coordinator of several European projects.
My fields of expertise are e-learning, open innovation, educational business development, continuous education, non-/informal learning and workplace learning.
I have worked for over 20 years at the Open Universiteit of the Netherlands where I have had extensive experience in developing distance courses with e-learning, in leading course development teams and as a leader of educational innovation programs.
I was the pioneer of open textbooks in the Netherlands (2007-2009) and I initiated and participated in national programme Wikiwijs in creating a platform to publish, share and arrange Open Educational Resources (2009-2011).
Currently I am the coordinator of the first pan European MOOC initiative OpenupEd. Our most recently finished European projects are Open Educational Innovation & Incubation (OEII) and Cross Border Virtual Incubation (CBVI).

  • Can you tell us more about EADTU?

Established in January 1987, EADTU is Europe’s institutional network for open and distance higher education, e-learning and lifelong open and flexible Learning. Members of EADTU are universities that are dedicated to off-campus target groups using distance teaching methods and systemic study guidance, mostly in regional study centres, as well as organisations or consortia consisting of universities with mainly mainstream on-campus students but also give a priority to offering education for off-campus students. Most of the members are frontrunners in the provision of educational programmes for the 25 plus age cohorts, but increasingly also for the conventional age cohorts of 18-25. At present its membership covers 10 Open Universities, over 200 conventional universities and around 3 million students across Europe. The EADTU network covers the European Union and Bologna signatory countries (at present 24 European countries). EADTU engages in interaction with representative European student member bodies and/or platforms whenever possible, so as to incorporate students’ interests at best.
EADTU supports the European development of its members and their members on the inner-consortia level and is committed to strengthening its members, both individually and collectively, through stimulation of cooperation and expression of views on the national and international level. Because of its strong identity and branding,  EADTU has become the spokesperson in EU consultation meetings.
EADTU has developed leadership in many domains, e.g., in open and online education, lifelong learning, technology enhanced learning, quality assurance, open educational resources, mobility, networked curricula, knowledge sharing with business, etcetera.
In 2013 EADTU started the first pan European MOOC initiative OpenupEd.

Since April 2013 partners in 21 countries have joined forces to launch the first pan-European
MOOCs initiative, with the support of the European Commission. This MOOC initiative has been named OpenupEd and refers indirectly to the new European program Opening up Education launched on 25 September. Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, sees this initiative as “a key part of the Opening up Education strategy”

  • Is OpenupEd Europe’s answer to a perceived US dominance in MOOCs?

The main reasons for launching OpenupEd is linked with the need felt by EADTU members to develop a pan-European initiative as an answer to US domination through the so-called x-MOOC phenomena and also to bring a set of values connected to the European online learning tradition. In particular, we felt the US-led trend was much too focused on the technological aspects of MOOCs and not on the pedagogical ones, missing the critical importance of assuring the quality of the independent-learner experience.
OpenupEd is a quality brand and partners are collaborating on those MOOCs that really focus on opening up education for all. Although there's a clear diversity of institutional approaches, the partnership has agreed on a framework of eight common features for its MOOCs in order to open up education to a maximum level. In fact, we believe quality MOOCs are much more than offering a course freely online, even if they are in the local language. We identify other important aspects as to use local case studies close to the living experiences of students, also use open license policy, open accessibility, a pedagogical & didactical approach that put’s the learner at the center, learning materials that are designed to support self-study and provide students with a reasonable chance of success in an education and recognition option that include opportunities to obtain a formal certificate. We embrace the diversity in approaches to open up educations by the use of MOOCs. At this moment we are developing a quality label for MOOCs (‘OpenupEd label’) and instruments for monitoring and research.

  • Do you aim to become a European answer to edX or Coursera?

For the moment OpenupEd uses a decentralized model for the operation of MOOCs. I.e. each institution is fully responsible for its own MOOCs operation including its quality assurance. As a consequence OpenupEd is not offering any LMS/CMS system for MOOCs at this moment. Most OpenupEd partners do already have stable learning environment that supports students with online education on a massive scale.
We do not have the ambition to compete with EdX, Coursera, etc. We have another additional playing field focussing on quality branding and not providing a platform for running/exploitation of MOOCs. MOOCs of FutureLearn, Coursera, etc. can be included as OpenupEd course if they fulfil the criteria. As such OpenupEd is a central communication portal, a referatory to the institutional platforms where partners are collaborating on a quality brand of MOOCs.

  • Will you be participating in a move towards delivering certifications?

Another important aspect is that the OpenupEd MOOC participant is also provided with real opportunities to participate in higher education. OpenupEd provides separate tracks to engage people in higher education. Next to certificates of participation or a ‘badge’ (as evidence of task completion), OpenupEd partners increasingly offers MOOCs with the possibility to obtain a formal certificate, i.e. official credits that can count towards obtaining a degree.

  • What's your analysis of the current state of online learning?

The innovations in technology-enhanced learning in higher education in the past two decades have been extraordinary. But, to date, despite the ubiquity of online pedagogic and administrative tools, ICT has scarcely impacted on the fundamental structures, functions and cultures of higher education in Europe. The Open Educational Resources movement, in which EADTU played a prominent role in Europe, has created a completely new sector of informal learning in higher education. And although it has offered the prospect of structural transformation, there has been as yet no deep impact on the sector. Informed observers in and beyond the sector do not expect the current phase of the OER movement – the advent of MOOCs – to leave higher education similarly untouched.

Martin Bean, the Vice-Chancellor of the UK Open University stated: “OERs and MOOCs are opening new doors, encouraging new thinking, forcing a venerable old industry to take a look at itself in the mirror and have a long hard think about what it wants its future to look like.”

Sir John Daniel lately stated “The real revolution of MOOCs is that universities with scarcity at the heart of their business are suddenly embracing openness”.

  • There’s been some controversy with what ‘open’ means or should mean...

MOOCs are not only a breakthrough of online education but also of Open Education and Flexibility (the next hype term). But open is not the same as free and online.

Openness can indicate:
- open access to courses without entry qualifications
- free online available resources (e.g., open educational resources and MOOCs)
- open licensing of educational material permitting reuse, reworking and redistribution (e.g. OER, open access journals, open source applications)
- acceptance of credits for prior learning (APL) or credits from other institutions (ECTS)
- access for everybody, hence also for those with special needs
- open pedagogy
- open in the sense of affordable

Flexibility can indicate:
- flexibility in terms of space, time and pace of study
- flexibility in terms of the choice of courses, in order to personalise the curriculum
- flexibility in terms of pedagogy to enable students to adjust study-paths and enable remediation after assessment

  • What about the criticism that MOOCs are herald a new era of severe cost cutting?

You can also look at this by the changing needs of students and society as a whole. The main driver on open (and online) education on a national or global level is access to higher education for all. This is extremely relevant and beneficial for Developing Countries and Emerging Economies. In the USA for example a driver is the reduce costs of HE (with Open TextBooks and now with MOOCs). At an institutional level it is (was) mainly marketing, offering something for free to attract more students. But by now open education has become competition and demand driven. The reality and prospect of increasing costs to students for their higher education, coupled with the much more accessible teaching and learning resources are already contributing to raised expectations. Students will increasingly seek a high quality, responsive, interactive, personalised experience, and conventional teacher-centred pedagogy will not provide it.

  • How do you see MOOCs and higher education evolving in the medium term?

We can expect pedagogy across the sector increasingly to resemble the learner-centred and online approaches that the European open and distance sector has developed over the past 40 years, based on its own extensive research and development. Of course, traditional pedagogy will not disappear, and there is little prospect of a dissolution of the boundaries that exist between the conventional and open and distance sectors, but it is clear that both sides have more to gain from each others’ expertise than at any time in the past. Boundaries are unlikely to disappear, because we generally address different student target groups, but they are likely to become more permeable.

Yes two. At the moment Big data in Education from Coursera.

  • Which are you favourite MOOCs so far and why?

Not enough experience by now. I personally prefer MOOCs with a learner-centered  approach and a rich network environment like cMOOCs. However, it strongly depend on the goal for myself and the time I could spent. So in suggest that a diversity of MOOC approaches is needed,  as long as they  provide students with a reasonable chance of success in a system centred on their individual needs in multiple arenas for learning.

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