Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Meet the students - An interview with Jamie Morrison

Can Massive Open Online Courses be more valuable than traditional university education?
The Good MOOC interviews Jamie Morrison, a British student aiming to find the answer as part of his master thesis.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Jamie Morrison, I’m 22 and I’m from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. I’m currently studying for my masters in E-Business at Newcastle University. I completed my undergraduate course last year at the University of Sheffield in Business Management.
I’ve decided to write my dissertation on the topic of higher education, more specifically, whether free online education is able to rival the education and service that a student would typically receive on campus. In fact my working title is, “Higher Education in the Digital Age: Can Massive Open Online Courses Provide A Greater Level of Value than that of a Traditional University Education.”

  • Can you describe your research?

The underpinning theoretical concepts for my study are based around service dominant logic and the co-creation of value as detailed by, Vargo & Lusch (2004). Education relies on value to be co-created, students will only achieve their desired results from education if they are willing to participate in classes that are put on offer, likewise an academic will only gain a high pass rate of students if they are able to effectively engage in teaching their course.
In order for me to determine which platform of higher education is able to offer the greater degree of value to potential students, I decided to utilize a quantitative method of data collection. Being at university, I have access to students who could potentially let me gather information regarding the value of the traditional university experience. Unfortunately however, I do not personally know many people who have completed MOOCs, it therefore made sense for me to seek a convenience sample with regards to collecting data, which by the way, I am still in the process of doing. I’ve posted a brief description along with a link to my questionnaire in many a Facebook group.
So far the feedback has been astonishing, I have had submissions from people all across the world. The questionnaire itself is adapted from a measurement model devised by Cronin, Brady & Hult (2000) whereby, sacrifice, service quality performance, service value, satisfaction and behavioural intentions from both MOOC participants and students who have or are experiencing a traditional campus university education are measured on a nine point Likert type scale.
My aim is to compare the two results from both platforms to determine, from a student’s perspective, whether a MOOC can provide more value than that of a traditional University education.

  • Wouldn’t the perception of value be very subjective?

Not every student embarks on higher education for the same reasons. It may be for academic excellence, for personal development or to gain vocational skills for employment. Therefore I have to acknowledge that there are certain limitations in my study with differing perception of value.
What I do hope to achieve, by collecting a large enough sample is enough evidence to show a trend of opinion relating to each variable (monetary sacrifice, perception of support available on the course, etc.). In truth, this is already starting to emerge in the data I have collected so far.

  • Why did you decide to research MOOCs?

I found it fascinating how widely available this educational platform is. The quality of education on offer is astonishing. Anyone, anywhere can start a course from one of the most highly regarded universities in the world for free.
With the rising cost of education certainly in the US or in the UK, MOOCs have the potential to be disruptive.
What I wanted to know however, was if these courses were as good as they sound, to get a students view on the courses and draw a comparison with their on campus counterparts.

  • Have you completed a MOOC yourself?

I have signed up to Coursera just to experience how it works and see the discussion boards. I recently completed a online SAP certification with a German university. I have also downloaded a few courses from iTunes U, which I try to watch when I have some spare time.

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

The whole online learning movement is still in its infancy. MOOCs have gained a huge amount of momentum in the past year or so.
Free online education appears to be at a point now where you can learn the equivalent of a campus degree from home. That’s exactly what Jonathan Haber is attempting with, “Degree of freedom”. His journey is also hugely relevant to my research; he is effectively testing out my hypothesis first hand.

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

It can only get better. Initially there was that huge surge of people signing up to complete courses only for there to be a certification rate of under 10% on a lot of the courses. Once the numbers settle down a bit we might see some higher pass rates. To me though, the pass rates don’t matter so much. Students can start a course to see if it is for them or to see if its something they’re interested in. If it is, then great, they can complete the course, if not, then that’s fine because there is very little to no repercussion from signing up to a course that’s not right for them. Unlike choosing a university course, where if you make the wrong decision, you end up having to pay thousands of pounds to switch courses or you are stuck with something you don’t want to study.
Codecademy or any of the programming course for that matter are perfectly suited to learning online, with coding, you are either right or wrong, there is no subjectivity, which makes feedback and marking a lot easier and much more effective than say a MOOC on English literature. We will see a lot more developments in the free technical courses that are available. In essence, that’s what Duolingo has also done, they’ve removed the subjectivity of language, getting the user to type out the direct translation, making feedback very effective.  Their user interface is excellent. You can directly see your progress as you go along, this is something more courses should use.

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

With any new technology there are going to be skeptics, the main area of debate when MOOCs first came to light was accreditation. From my research I can say so far; more people complete the courses for personal development and to just learn something new rather than for the academic achievement.
There were also questions raised about the peer review system that some courses employ, again, I suppose if the course was worth credits it would be something to worry about, but if you’re completing the course just to learn something new, for the scale that these courses operate on that kind of grading is sufficient.
I believe MOOCs to be at an early stage of their development, so hopefully in the future these problems can be ironed out.

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Monday, 29 July 2013

Meet the EdTech entrepreneurs - An interview with David Meulemans

What can bring an academic to set up a publishing company... and then launch  a creative writing tool to cure writer’s block?
The Good MOOC interviews DraftQuest CEO David Meulemans.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

My name’s David Meulemans. I was born and raised in Paris, France. I completed a PhD in Philosophy and worked at various universities both in France and the US. But, at one point, I felt that my desire to be an educator would not be satisfied by an academic job and I moved to the publishing industry. I founded my own publishing company, “Les Editions Aux forges de Vulcain”: I saw and still see books as the perfect tools to help people emancipate themselves. After a couple of years in this industry, I still think that everyone should read - but I also believe now that everyone should write.  

  • Can you describe what you're doing with DrafQuest?

DraftQuest is a very basic tool, designed to help its users overcome their fear of writing. But, my desire is to make writing fun again and provide a place and a series of tools that will make writing an exciting daily activity for everyone.

  • How did you come up with the idea and what are you hoping to achieve?

As an educator, and then as a publisher, I met many people who had a strong desire to write and felt stuck. This failure caused a lot of pain. It surprised me, for most of these people did not lack the skills that are needed to write. But something psychological was getting in their way. So I looked for ways to help them get rid of the fear and angst they felt. I found that putting the fun back in writing was a good way to start.

I want to help people free themselves from some self-imposed constraints. I want to help them be as creative and full of self-esteem as possible.

  • What's your business model?

Right now, we’re in beta mode. But we’re launching a premium version this Fall (at 5 euros a month) to enjoy the full DraftQuest experience that will help you write your very first novel

  • Has the experience yielded any surprising findings so far?

I believe in constant testing. So we put out several minimum viable products and had a lot of feedback. Two things did surprise me. First: I designed DraftQuest to help people write novels. But many users do not want to write novels, they just want to have fun and feel excellent about themselves 30 minutes a day. That’s one thing. Then: we have lots of users that use the tool to practice a foreign language.

So, basically, testing showed me two things. DraftQuest has a much wider audience that professional writers. And it is both a creative and an educational tool. For example, I was kindly invited to Bucharest by the “Institut Français”. I was in charge of a creative writing class for Romanians who already had a pretty good knowledge of French but were avid to get their hands on a tool that could allow them to practice their skills on a daily basis. It worked great.

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

I have a specific take on this question, being from France. France has a lot of very talented academics and educators. Many excellent educators were from France: Jacotot, Freinet. But, right now, we are still very old-school when it comes to online learning. I hope French universities will devise new ways to produce tools to help our students.

  • Is there an online 'edtech' tool that you particularly like?

I think Duolingo is one of the best tools ever-designed. I love it. All education tools should learn from Duolingo.

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

I really think that our duty, as a generation, is to provide to everyone free access to primary, secondary and higher education. It will end all wars. I do not know if our generation will actually do it. But it is our historical task to die trying.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

A review of Open2Study's Writing for the Web

Taught by +Frankie Madden, Senior User Experience Designer at Stamford Interactive, Writing for the Web is a very basic 4 weeks course available on the Australian MOOC Platform Open2Study.
The course goes over the difference between writing for print versus writing for the web. The course also touches on web design, writing style, structure and search engine optimisation.

  • Pedagogy

The goal of the course is clear from the beginning and the instructor extensively uses repetition to hammer home the key points within the four weekly modules:

- Writing for the web is different
- Character of good content
- Writing effective content
- Looking after your content

  • Professor’s aura / Quality and availability of teaching staff

While not a star professor from an Ivy League institution, +Frankie Madden is a Senior User Experience Designer at Stamford Interactive, a web consultancy practice. She is easily understandable and clearly masters her subject.
There was no opportunity during the 4 weeks course to interact directly with the teaching team via Hangout but they quickly addressed the main issues in the forum.

  • Academic rigor

Each weekly module are rounded off by a very short quizz (5 questions in total and 3 attempts allowed). A final subject grade of 60% or above is considered a passing grade and will earn you a Certificate of Achievement.

  • Student body

The course wasn’t as massive as the average Coursera MOOC and the forums not as dynamic. Most questions were satisfactorily answered however.

  • Corporate sponsors

Stamford Interactive is the course sponsor but not quite in the same way as Google is the sponsor for Udacity’s HTML5 Game Development. Stamford Interactive is not trying to recruit start students but rather hoping to recruit paying customer for its consultancy services.

  • Technical platform

The Open2Study MOOC platform covers the basics well with a high level of gamification that might be too much for some (badges are available for getting a quizz right, as well as for getting a quizz wrong and looking for hints).

  • Production value

Open2Study recording style is very basic but of high quality and the course instructor elegantly used a tablet computer to illustrate good practice with real world examples.

Despite being closer in style to a corporate e-learning than an online university course, Open2Study’s Writing for the Web is worth doing for anybody interested in the topic.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Meet the students - An interview with Jonathan Haber

Degree of Freedom chronicles the attempt to learn the equivalent of a four-year philosophy degree in twelve months using only free online resources.
The Good MOOC interviews professional MOOC junkie Jonathan Haber.

  • Can you introduce yourself?
First off, I'm a big fan of your blog and have especially liked your contributions to the MOOC conversation concerning how this story is playing out internationally.
My own background is in professional test design, education and curriculum development, so in many ways my professional career has been leading up to this project.  I live in the Boston area and after selling a company and working a few years for one of the major higher ed publishers, I decided to try my hand on a few independent research projects.
I completed a curriculum project last year that used the 2012 US election to teach critical thinking skills, and that effort introduced me to MOOCs which have become the focus of my current Degree of Freedom project.

Degree of Freedom began once I realized that the many conversations going on about MOOCs and other forms of free learning did not include the perspective of someone who had taken enough courses from enough sources from beginning to end to evaluate how well they worked as teaching tools.
Since a lot of these conversations were centered on important topics (like whether or not MOOCs should be given real college credit), it struck me that policymakers needed input not just from teachers or students involved with 1-2 classes, but someone who could provide insight based on a comprehensive, student centric experience.

  • How did you come up with the idea and what are you hoping to achieve?
The idea originated after taking my first MOOC class (Coursera's Think Again class on logic and argumentation) after my critical thinking project wrapped up and discovering that MOOC really did represent something new and different.
But to put that discovery to the test, I decided to see if it was possible to take all of the courses need to learn the equivalent of a four year BA degree using only free learning resources. I've chosen to do it in one year vs. four, partly to see if it can be done, but mostly because we need the information my project is generating now, not in four years time.
In addition to leaning what I can by taking 32 courses that meet the requirements for a degree (in philosophy), my main goal is to generate enough feedback via and associated newsletter and podcast to provide that student perspective needed to inform important discussions regarding the MOOC experiment.

  • Has the experience yielded any surprising findings so far?

I don't know if it was surprising, but I have discovered that if you put the effort into a MOOC class (listen to all the lectures, do all of the reading, homework and other assignments), you can get the equivalent of a semester worth of learning from a non-traditional online class.
That said, MOOCs still have a long way go in making the experience consistent, especially with regard to the level of challenge they provide a student.  Some classes are quite demanding with regard to assignments such as papers and assessments, but others have not made enough effort in this area.

  • What's your analysis of the current state of the online learning?
As I mentioned, someone with a desire to learn can definitely learn the equivalent of what they'd get from a traditional college course, not just from MOOCs but from other free learning resources such as the recorded materials and curated content you can get from places like iTunes U or
But students (and educational decision makers) need to know that not all of these educational tools are equivalent.  For instance, I've taken some MOOC classes that were definitely designed to match the content and rigour of an equivalent college class, while others are meant to give students an easy onramp into new subjects like programming or literature. And it's not entirely clear what type of course you're getting into before it starts.

I should also point out that if you add up the number of available free courses, you're probably looking at a course catalog 1/3 to 1/2 as large as what you'd see at a medium-size state university. So we still have a long way to go just in making enough courses available for free learning to become a viable alternative to a traditional college education.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future with free online resources?
First, I'd separate resources such as MOOCs that are trying (if sometimes unevenly) to package together all of the components (lectures, reading, assignments, tests, etc.) into the equivalent of a college course from sites like Codecademy and Khan Academy that provide smaller increments of educational content that students can use to construct their own learning experience or brush up on particular skills. Both provide important and powerful contributions to education, but I'm mostly interested in how online course equivalents will impact higher education.
Making predictions is difficult, given how new this phenomenon is.  Right now, I'd say it's difficult to impossible for someone to obtain an actual degree only using free learning resources (vs. leaning the equivalent of what you'd get in that degree), and I expect that it will only be a few exceptional, entrepreneurial learners that will try.
But I do expect MOOCs to accelerate a fragmentation of higher educational already underway. For instance, in the US it's becoming typical for students to take a gap year before going to college, or take time off along the way.  And more older people are re-entering college later in life or exploring lifelong learning through things like extension school classes.  And flexible, high-quality learning resources such as MOOCs can help facilitate and accelerate these new alternatives.

  • There's a fair bit of MOOC skepticism out there... Do you have anything to say about that?
That skepticism is based on the same limited information as was the original MOOC over-enthusiasm.  At first, the huge enrolments in these classes got people asking why we still needed brick-and-mortar colleges, but once the first classes were given and the completion rates turned out to be less than 10%, people used that figure to say that MOOCs were worthless.
But better information might tell us how many enrolees had successful auditing experiences (just listening to lectures) vs. those who did all the work, dropped out, or just signed up to get something for nothing.   We're just starting to see this kind of data, and this will help inform analysis of MOOC success or failure based on something other than speculation.
For my project, the bottom line measurement is learning achieved.  This should provide another base of data that I hope will ground further analysis of the MOOC phenomenon in reality vs. hype or hysteria.

  • Which are you favourite MOOCs so far and why?
Interestingly, the two classes I've liked the best are the ones that demanded the most of me. This included HarvardX's The Greek Hero, a legendary course taught by Harvard's Greg Nagy which has really done everything right in terms of rethinking the structure of the lecture for video, and building a technology-based course around close reading of important and challenging classical texts.

The other course I liked was Coursera's Modern and the Postmodern taught by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan. In addition to also being the equivalent of a course the professor has taught for years, that class makes pretty serious demands on the student – in this case by asking us to write 6-9 papers (which were peer graded – peer grading being a whole other topics I've discussed frequently at the Degree of Freedom blog).

  • Keeping in mind your best MOOC experience so far. How would you improve on the course?
While I still have a long way to go before I've completed my own experiment, I think I've obtained enough experience to say that those developing MOOCs need to put more time into content components such as assessment and assignments to make courses more challenging. I think there's an assumption that if they make things too hard, more students will drop out but I'm not sure that's the case and, at the very least, I don't think I'm alone in getting more out of a course that has demanded more from me.

The other thing I would suggest is that students interested in taking a course try to  build their own smaller learning cohort (either live or virtual) that can take the course together.  This can provide a community for discussion as well as a set of fellow students who can spur each other on.  While MOOC providers offer options for meet ups, I'd recommend students take the initiative to create these micro-communities on their own, something I'm planning to experiment with in courses I'll be starting in the Fall.

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