The MOOC in Higher Education: A Free Webinar

In the last year, few acronyms have dominated higher education discussions and blogs more than MOOC. The first massive open online course appeared in 2008 but recent initiatives by universities like MIT and Stanford and organizations like Coursera and Udacity have brought the idea to the forefront. They have also raised questions about whether the rise of MOOCs spells opportunity or danger for higher education.

On Tuesday, July 31 at 1:00 p.m. ET, Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)  will welcome George Siemens, creator of the first MOOC and associate director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, to discuss, "MOOCs: Open Online Courses as Levers for Change in Higher Education." The webinar, part of the ongoing Summer Learning Series, is free and open to the public.

The term MOOC -- first coined to describe a course on Connectivism by Siemens -- refers to entirely open and online courses where disparate participants collaborate using online resources and social media. Some MOOCs operate as a free, no-credit addition to traditional online classes. Others operate completely outside the lines of traditional institutions. Today, more than a dozen universities are experimenting with individual MOOCs or large collaborations to deliver multiple courses.

You and your colleagues are invited to join NGLC to learn more. No registration is required.
The webcast will be hosted inside the NGLC Adobe Connect webconferencing room at   To join, simply click the link and select "Enter as a Guest," type in your name and affiliation (e.g., John Doe, American High School), and click "Enter Room."

Once inside the room, audio will be provided through your computer speakers and presentation slides will advance on your screen. You can interact with fellow attendees and presenters using the chat feature inside the room.

Each session will be recorded and an archive will be posted on the NGLC Archived Events page on the day following the event.

Formal and Informal Learning

formal tuxedoWhen my team offers workshops for faculty on writing, a discussion on informal and formal writing assignments is always a part of the agenda.

Reading a post by Jared Stein recently, I started thinking about adding the element of lifelong learning. I agree with Stein that lifelong and continual learning is critical to success. He also feels that we are "moving from an era of 'universal schooling' to an era of 'lifelong learning' "

That means that learning not only happens continually, but it occurs anywhere, not just in classrooms or in online spaces controlled by schools. It is also important to lifelong learning that the learning is self-selected for the learner's needs, not because of the needs or limitations of the school's offerings.

That's why the Internet -without any help or interference from schools and educators - became such an important learning resource.

Classrooms are chock full of formal writing, and informal writing often doesn't carry much "weight" with teachers - and therefore not much weight with students. So, not surprisingly, formal educational  experiences like the typical course taken for credit and paid for by tax dollars or tuition are valued over informal learning experiences. That has always been true, still is true, but may not be true in the next decade or two.

When we discuss in/formal writing, we start with the easy modes. Everyone in the group agrees that the research paper is formal. Most teachers agree that student notes are informal. Someone always brings up text messages, twitter, Facebook and social media as informal. They probably also blame all that informality for the poor quality of the formal writing (and possibly for the decline of civilization).

But it's not a black and white topic.  That email to a friend asking if we are still on for a Friday movie seems clearly informal. But the cover email that has your reume attached for the job you really want at the company that only accepts electronic applications is definitely formal.

Perhaps, my students' lecture notes are informal in structure, not required and ungraded, but the lab notes for anatomy lab are very structured, required and a significant part of the course grade.

Our discussions always lead us to a series of similar conclusions, including observations like:

- formal isn't formal just because of a grade or weight (though formal tends to be graded)

- informal writing is often the best way to move towards formal writing

- informal writing is often more "real world" and is more likely to be done outside the classroom for personal reasons

- informal writing often has a structure

- the higher stakes nature of formal assignments allows less room for experimentation and risk-taking by students

- teacher comments and intervention is important in the writing process & less important (to students) when a formal graded paper is returned

How many of those conclusions are also true of lifelong learning experiences?

How might we compare the research a student does before buying a big-screen TV to the research they do on an author? Do they even consider the TV consumer research to be "research" in the same sense as the author assignment?  That's one reason why we prefer the term information literacy for assignments rather than research, which still makes students think about something that leads to a "research paper" rather than a well-reasoned conclusion.

Are lifelong learners more likely to take risks with informal learning - such as when taking a free online course from a university or any provider? I would say that is an absolute "Yes."

Since I see the future of learning as being less formalized and less likely to be provided by traditional educational institutions, thinking about these distinctions is increasingly important. That may be especially true for formal institutions of learning who have the most to lose in this paradigm shift.

Adults Only

Nontraditional students - adults who attend college part-time - are a large and growing segment of American higher education. They figure into the “completion agenda” (or lack of completion) that has gotten more national attention the past year.

According to some news reports, it seems that many colleges do not really track the graduation or retention rates of these adult students. Why? Currently no one requires it.

According to a survey conducted jointly by InsideTrack, a student coaching service, and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association Center for Research and Consulting, 77 percent of institutions do not know the graduation rate for their adult students.

But that may change. Why? Because someone may require it. It might end up being the federal government that wants that information. But, for now, it might start with accreditors.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is in the process of requiring institutions to report detailed information about those two key measures of student success, for all student populations, including the nontraditional ones.

Another finding from the survey looks pretty bad for the colleges. Adult students “tend to be viewed as cash cows” by colleges and 43 percent of colleges said their central administration values the money that adult programs bring in, but that the administration provides little support to those programs. So, colleges keep enrolling adult students, even if those adult students aren’t earning degrees.

This group is also rather difficult to track. They often “stop out” multiple times, and move from community college to 4-year institutions several times. It may take this adult student eight years or more to earn a bachelor’s degree, and that's a number the degree-presenting institution doesn't really want to tout.

Read more:

What that e-book you are reading is telling the publisher about you

Kindle readersBack in that other century when we read books made of paper, publishers had no way of knowing what you were doing while you were reading their book. Reading was a private act. Maybe you only read the first 20 pages. Maybe you skimmed until you got to chapter 4. Did you underline some favorite parts?

But e-books are changing that part of reading too.

Yes, I know that you think that when you were reading the Fifty Shades Trilogy books on your Kindle that no one else at the pool knew what you were doing. Well, the pool people may not know, but the people who sold you that device know.

An article in the Wall Street Journal describes how e-books are providing feedback to publishers (and authors) about how you are reading.

bookHere are a few factoids:

It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour.

Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: "Because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them."

And on Barnes & Noble's NOOK, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first "Hunger Games" book is to download the next one.

What will publishers, booksellers and authors do with this data? 

NOOKBarnes & Noble knows from NOOK data that we are more distracted reading nonfiction books but that we usually read novels straight through. We also give up on nonfiction books, particularly long ones, a more frequently than fiction.

Who reads more books more quickly? It is the science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans - not those readers of literary fiction. They also finish most of the books they start. Those "better-educated" readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend to skip around between books.

Okay, marketing team - What do we want to do with this information? Should we stock less literary fiction and more sci-fi?

For example, Barnes & Noble decided that to get readers more engaged in that nonfiction that they bail out on, they would launch "Nook Snaps" with short works of non-fiction.

And if you can know the point where readers get bored, then you could insert some additional content like video, a Web link or other multimedia features there to hold their interest. Maybe you tell an author to make chapters shorter - 40 chapters instead of 20.

Maybe they can figure out the best-seller "formula" and then we can all write one.

Is Wikipedia Too Complex for You?

I was doing a Web search on some science terms this week for a post on another blog. I happened to be using Bing and was surprised that the top result was not Wikipedia (as I expected), but it was the Simple English Wikipedia at Even though people often bad mouth Wikipedia as a poor place to do research (I disagree), apparently the information there is too complex for some users.

I was searching the term aphelion, but the standard Wikipedia link  redirects for "Aphelion" and "Perihelion" to "Apsis" which has a much more complicated article. Yes, a definition of aphelion is in there, but it was simpler to read the Simple Wikipedia entry.

So why is there a simpler Wikipedia? Before you start hearing arguments about the erosion of education and the world of knowledge in general, take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about this.

The Simple English Wikipedia is a Wikipedia encyclopedia, written in basic English.

Articles in the Simple English Wikipedia use fewer words and easier grammar than the English Wikipedia.

The Simple English Wikipedia is also for people with different needs. Some examples of people who use Simple English Wikipedia: Students, children, adults who might find it hard to learn or read and people who are learning English.

Other people use the Simple English Wikipedia because the simple language helps them understand difficult ideas or topics they do not know about.

When the Simple English Wikipedia began in 2003, the ordinary English Wikipedia already had 150,000 articles, and seven other Wikipedias in other languages had over 15,000 articles. Since the other Wikipedias already have so many articles, most Simple English articles take articles from other Wikipedias and make them simple; they are usually not new articles. Right now, the Simple English Wikipedia has 84,531 articles.

This makes Simple English articles a good way to understand difficult articles from the ordinary English Wikipedia. If someone cannot understand an idea in complex English, they can read the Simple English article.

Many articles are shorter than the same articles in the English Wikipedia. Technical subjects use some terms which are not simple. Every effort is made to explain these terms in simple language.

It makes good sense to me, especially the idea that it is for "for people with different needs" such as adults who might find it hard to learn or read and people who are learning English.

adI am always amused and bemused when I hear teachers at all levels say that "I don't allow my students to use Wikipedia," as if they follow their students home and to the library when they are doing research. Your students use it. They just don't cite it.

Yes, Wikipedia is one of the top sources for plagiarism. All the more reason to teach how to use it better and how to cite it. In most cases the Wikipedia article has better documentation for sources than the papers you get from students - and better than citations than in articles you read online in most major publications.

When I was a young student in the last century, we used encyclopedias and World Book was the one my teachers didn't want us to use. It was the Wikipedia of its day - too simple; too easy.

That was wrong to do then. It's also wrong to make believe that Wikipedia is not useful. Even with the flaws inherent in its use by students, it is here to stay. Use it. Teach students how to use it.

And start giving your students who have different needs the link to Simple Wikipedia.