Network Visualization

This RSA Animate video has Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, looking at using network visualization. Hierarchical tree structures are being dropped and researchers are more often using networks to map the complexities of our modern world. Visualization and network topology are new cultural memes.

This was taken from a longer lecture given by Lima.  Listen to the full talk:

Advance Your Search

I'm always a bit surprised when I see someone do a search online and be disappointed to get either too few results or, more likely, too many irrelevant results. Most search sites have an "advanced search" feature which often solves those issues and others.==On my Serendipity35 tech learning blog, I wrote about using Google for better search. That's useful for yourself and is also something anyone who teaches should make sure their students know and use.

I want to note here an example of a vendor search. Most of us use Amazon to find books and media, but far fewer people use their advanced search feature.==Start by going to the Advanced Search on Amazon. From there I could set up a search for books on "HTML5" published after "2011", and available for the Kindle and get only those results.

After doing my advanced search, I can even limit the search further from the list provided in the left column on the results page. If I wanted the really new publications, I could choose to see only the titles published in the last 30 days.

Amazon's advanced search also works for music, TV, movies, magazines and toys and games.

Digital Assignment Design

Anyone who has moved a course from face-to-face to an online environment knows that some things that worked fine in the classroom don't work as well online.

You hear about the learning theory that is labeled "constructivist" a lot these days, particularly with online learning. One popular finding from that area of learning research is that assignments that work need to focus more on process, rather than the task. But that is more challenging to design.

Identifying tasks is not only easier at the outset, but is probably going to be easier to analyze and assess. Tasks can be quantifiable and gradable. Process-based learning is much harder to evaluate because there are more variables.

I found this to be especially true in the five-year Writing Initiative at PCCC that I finished directing last fall. Although we used existing tasks such as an exit essay exam that existed before the Initiative as a quantifiable assessment tool, it was clear that this was not the best way to demonstrate the changes in the writing of the students in the wider sense.

The difficulty for us was partially that to shift the focus to process, we needed changes in what faculty valued in their grading. We introduced rubrics for writing but also for information literacy and critical thinking. We also introduced the use of ePortfolios to the college.  Because we included technology into the learning environment and students used it in their writing process, the assignments evaluation and grade should also include those elements. That represents a big change for many faculty.

Designing digital assignments is often seen as something for online learning, but students are learning digitally in any classroom on or offline. Students are using computers to work on projects, do research, collaborate with their peers, and interact with resources, but are then graded on the final product. The process is not included.

To evaluate the process of research and the organization and application of found information is obviously a large part of the learning process and is certainly important to a teacher's overall objectives in giving the assignment. But if the evaluation is based solely on the final product, students realize that the process is not valued in the same way.

Some instructors successfully used multiple smaller writing tasks rather than the dreaded semester-long research paper and then segmented their writing assignments. In this way, you might grade the topic design or proposal as the first element. This can be as a simple as a title and first paragraph to establishing goals, timelines, resources, technology and other elements if appropriate.

And the final learning objects don't always have to be "the paper." Again, this is new ground for many teachers and a final product that is a website, wiki, blog, video or combination rather than a paper is really radical. But digital assignments by their very name suggest images, links to Internet sites and a much wider scope for what an assignment means for the student and the teacher.

A New Wave of Cousera Offerings

Last fall, Coursera and Minnesota were linked by MOOCs when Coursera posted a warning on its website that the state’s Office of Higher Education had notified the company that none of the universities offering classes to Minnesota students through Coursera was authorized to do so.

There were plenty of angry blog posts and then the state's office said then that while there was a decade-old state law that required institutions to register with the state, the office would not enforce it.

And yesterday, University of Minnesota officials announced that they will be partnering with Coursera to produce massive open online courses available to anyone in the world for free. Coursera is adding a second wave of "29 New Schools, 92 New Courses, 5 Languages, 4 Continents and 2.7 Million Courserians" to the 33 universities they are already offering courses with online.

The Evolution of MOOCs


A recent post on the StratEDgy blog motivates this post about how Massive Open Online Courses (which are still a "new thing" for education) are already mprphing into variations. In a post called "MOOCs to MOCC" and in an earlier post, they talk about MOCCS (which they define as a variation with not massive and open qualities but as Mid-Sized Online Closed Courses.

Why would this variation occur? It's part of the just beginning efforts by universities and companies to create and license/own online courses which they would use in a smaller, closed environment.  For example, you might see a state university system or community college system create courses that were open to larger numbers of students than usual and from multiple campuses. I saw the acronym BOOC being used this year for Big Open Online Courses and it was defined as under 500 students.

Does this mean the MOOC will become a thing of the past already? No, because there is definitely a place for the massive and the open aspects of offering content. But attempts to get a handle on how to assess students and give some type of recognition or credit for working in a MOOC will create variations of the MOOC. Lowering the number of participants is one thing that will need to be done if you want evaluation by instructors,facilitators to occur rather than the peer-to-peer evaluations in some MOOCs.

We have had open online courses with large enrollments for a few years. I took a class in Peer To Peer University in 2009 and had never heard the term MOOC mentioned. Many MOOCs are taught by non-academics since some of the course providers encourage people to create courses in areas of their interest and expertise. A course in copyright that I took there was taught by a lawyer who did not teach and who had not taught online before.

InsideHigherEd has reported that StraighterLine is launching “Professor Direct” which will initially offer 15 professor-taught online courses. They say that "In this direct-to-student model, a self-described 'eBay for professors,' the individual professor sets the course price, office hours and class size. Tutors will be available to help students, and some universities will offer credit for these courses." Is that a MOOC?

If a MOOC has a fee/tuition, then it sounds like it is a MOCC category. Some people have said that Udemy’s courses are examples of ones that are not really MOOCs anymore.

If universities get into licensing course content and start dealing with unions about what to pay a professor who has 500 students in her class, you know we are not in MOOCland anymore. Antioch University seems to be headed in this direction already with courses it is doing with Coursera.

And this whole movement moved quickly off college campuses and into corporations in two ways. First, is the movement to offer these types of courses by providers for profit or as non-profit that are not schools in any way. I would include in this area publishers who already have content and who moved into learning and content management systems a few years ago. Pearson College is an example of this.

The second way this has been happening is in the professional development offered by large corporations. Companies with a global presence moved into online training and professional development decades ago. Some have created their own learning management systems and almost all have in place methods to assess and validate the learning in these courses. This type of massive online training is certainly not "open" and probably shouldn't be called a "course." (see "Should the C in MOOC Stand for Classroom?")

I believe that MOOCs will continue to exist as online courses that are both open and massive in their enrollments. But we will see variations being created and offered. I hope we don't get lost in an acronym stew along the way.