Gimme a C. Gimme an X.

In that classic sports cheer tradition of "Gimme a [letter]" ending in "What's that spell?"  I want to spend a bit of time on the letters C and X which actually spell the two types of MOOCs we see being used today.

Tony Bates, for his open textbook Teaching in a Digital Age, is including a section on MOOCs and the differences in philosophy and practice between xMOOCs and cMOOCs.

In his textbook, Bates discusses how technology has changed knowledge. He mentions how Socrates criticised writing because it did not lead to "true" knowledge which came only from verbal dialogue and oratory. A clear case of someone stuck in their pedagogy and not open to new technology.

Clearly, writing is an important record of knowledge and way to transmit knowledge. The idea of "writing to learn" is also an established practice in academia.

Bates says that, "Now we have other ways to record and transmit knowledge that can be studied and reflected upon, such as video, audio, animations, and graphics, and the Internet does expand enormously the speed and range by which these representations of knowledge can be transmitted... Maybe this will eventually lead to a ‘knowledge revolution’ equivalent to the age of enlightenment. But I do not believe we are there yet..."

I have written about the differences between the C and X MOOC types too and my own belief (the basis for my own MOOC chapter in a forthcoming book) is that MOOCs are still evolving in their design.

The earliest MOOCs are now referred to a cMOOCs, but the xMOOC design is the dominant design format right now.

xMOOCs use LMS or CMS software that allows for large registrations, storage and and streaming of content and ways to assess and grade student performance. They use the video lectures common to many smaller online courses. They often are designed in lengths similar to traditional semesters. Due to the large enrollments, assessments may be automated, machine-scored or use peer reviews. Like traditional learning online and in a classroom, the courses have assignments. Students may be placed in groups.  

Obviously, this xMOOC model of learning is focused on the transmission of information rather than direct interaction between an individual participant and the instructor that we are used to in F2F learning and also in the better online courses..

cMOOCs turn much of the content creation to contributions from the participants with an emphasis on networking. Stephen Downes has taught in the MOOC setting since the very beginning.

Bates notes Downe's four key design principles for cMOOCs as:
autonomy of the learner(choosing what content or skills they wish to learn) , learning is personal, and thus there being no formal curriculum
diversity in both the tools used and in the participants and their knowledge levels
interactivity co-operative learning, networking between participants
openness in access to the course, but also in using open content, activities and assessment

Think about the transmission of information, the xMOOC is rooted in the expert gives information they have selected to novices, but the cMOOC takes the center away from the instructor and gives it to the learners.

Historically, the "c" stands for Connectivist and the learning theory of connectivism was developed largely by one of the original MOOC instructors, George Siemens. His theory posits that learning happens within a network. Using the digital platforms of the time (2008) -blogs, wikis, social media -  Siemens and Downes used these platforms to teach a course on Connectivism that allowed learners to connect and construct knowledge.

Is one of these two formats superior? they serve different purposes. the xMOOC is more popular probably because it is closer to the traditional online learning that has more history and it feels close to what classroom teachers have been doing for centuries.

Connectivism is fairly new as an approach to teaching, less familiar and perhaps harder to "justify" in academia. The latter is especially true if you want the MOOC to operate in a way that fits typical grading for credit situations. 

Either way, MOOCs spell an evolution in digital learning and it is likely that other branches will form with other approaches to online learning.

Learning Object Repository

I saw last month that Canvas announced a new platform called Canvas Commons which is a learning object repository (LOR). I haven't as much about LORs the past few years as I did ten years ago.

A learning object repository is a kind of digital library that enables educators to share, manage and use educational resources. They require objects to be tagged in order to be searchable. That taxonomy (really more of a folksonomy) of metadata means that users can find and then additionally tag objects (such as a document, slides, a video) as they find additional uses for the object.

The LOR was often part of a CMS. The abbreviations got confusing since the last century of edtech. I used to label things like WebCT as a learning content management system (LCMS) and then they became a CMS meaning course management system, but some people called the same platforms an LMS focusing on the learning side of management. Nevertheless, all of them are environments where teachers and designers can create, store, reuse, manage and deliver learning content.

I have worked in WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, and a few others that have disappeared or been absorbed. Most of them have offered some kind of centralized object repository, usually a database. In some it was an extra feature that needed to be purchased. The LCMS lable generally was used for platforms that work with content based on a learning object model.

I received an email that InsideHigherEd is hosting a free webinar on October 22 for Canvas users to discuss Canvas Commons. The email says that it will cover how it can help you to: "Create Your Very Own Personal Learning Object Repository; Create A Course From Scratch Without, Well, Starting From Scratch; Share Selectively—Be As Elitist Or Open As You Want; Make A Name For Yourself (And Your Institution)"

It caught my attention that the email also asked users to consider whether or not MOOCs are OERs and where MOOCs (and the organizations that host them and the people who teach them) fit into the OER movement.


Out of the Cloud

Many months ago, Brother Tim, Serendipity35 IT guy and very occasional blogger here, started this post. It has been staring at me in the drafts queue and today I decided to dust it off a bit and send it out into the cloud.

Miller Airpark

So, there I was at Miller Air Park fueling the Piper Archer airplane I had rented for a flight down to Cape May County airport.  It was a busy morning for the airport and several planes were in  pre-flight, being taxied to the northeast end of the runway, or were already cocked into the wind, holding-short of runway 24 doing their pre-takeoff run-up.  Each pilot in turn completed the safety checklist, pivoted onto the runway, firewalled the throttle and lifted the aircraft into the smooth gray sky.

In the 30 minutes or so that I had spent pre-flighting and fueling my own plane there were 7 departures but, except for a pre-solo student and instructor locked into the never ending left turns of take-off and landing pattern practice, no other aircraft arrived at MJX.

Ken and I are sometimes like the FBO staff at Miller Air Park.  We send post after post off into the Internet clouds and, every once in a while, we receive an arrival. A returned comment here and there lets us know that the posts we roll off our Internet tarmac aren't falling off the edge of our flat earth.
Ken builds almost all of the wordcraft we launch and I spend most of my time clearing turkey buzzards and deer off our virtual runway, but once in a while, I get to fly a post of my own. And on that Saturday morning in Whiting, NJ, I held the nose on the centerline and rotated that Piper into the air. 

I climbed to 400 ft and turned left toward the coastline. Over my shoulder, as I approached 1000 ft, I could see the massive airship hangars of Lakehurst Naval Air Station and the abandoned, but standing, stall of the Hindenburg, unoccupied since May of 1937 when the dirigible burned at her mooring.  When it departed Frankfurt, Germany on May 3rd that year, the crew that launched her expected a return, too. Though it was scheduled to fly back from North America to Europe with a full manifest of transatlantic passengers en route to the coronation of King George VI of England, its final destination remained in New Jersey.
Fifty years after the famous crash, long after it was branded a mystery and pursued only by academic enterprise, the actual cause of the craft's incineration was discovered. The paint that protected its outer skin from the harsh ocean crossing, burned like a magnesium fuse when lit by lightning over land.

WWD Cape May County

I quickly flew through Atlantic City's airspace and continued inbound to the Sea Isle City VOR. My checkpoints, spaced on my chart at 10 minute intervals, rolled underneath my right wing at 8, then 7, minutes.  I was ahead of schedule and soon I'd arrive at WWD 10 minutes before my flight plan had estimated.
Traffic was light at Cape May County. I radioed the airport's CTAF for the active runway and entered the downwind pattern for 28.  There were no other aircraft in the pattern (or rolling on the ground) and I touched down just past the threshold markers and turned off at the first taxi-way. Not stopping to visit, I headed back to the east end of runway 28, throttled back up and, five minutes after I had first touched down, was airborne again and heading home.
I flew back to Miller through the same airspace that the Hindenburg traveled on its last day.  I landed, safely, just a few miles from where the dirigible fell to the ground.  It had only taken a couple of hours but I returned to the airport from which I'd departed -- a luxury the Hindenburg pilot never had.
Maybe fifty years from now, like the paint on an unburned scrap of the Hindenburg, some word, sentence or phrase from Serendipity35 (or some other Internet archived version of it *) will drop out of the clouds and reveal some small unintended truth about the technology and learning lives we live today.

Although the Wayback machine at only began to archive Serendipity35 pages back in 2009, at least there is some other record of our time here on the Net.


The MOOC Revolution May Be Over, But The Evolution Is Still Going Strong

Having just submitted the final version of a chapter for a book on MOOCs, I was pleased to see an article headlined "MOOC U: The Revolution Isn't Over" (excerpted from a book by Jeff Selingo). The article recalls a 2011 piece in The New York Times titled "Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course" about the artificial-intelligence class at Stanford University that got all the attention when 160,000 students in 190 countries took the Massive Open Online Course. That wasn't the first MOOC, but it was the one that got the mainstream media's attention. And the year of the MOOC and the MOOC-madness began.

In 2011-2013, I wrote a lot about MOOCs, taught in a MOOC environment, and did a good number of presentations to educators about the revolution. And I watched the rise and fall of the hype cycle for the phenomenon. That was what led my wife and I to collaborate on a chapter we titled "MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution." We don't believe the revolution is still on, but the evolution is certainly still with us.

Reading another article with the teaser headline, "The MOOC Where Everybody Learned", I continue to see that the skeptics still believe that students who succeed in MOOCs tend to have similar profiles. For one thing, they are students who are already well educated (holding degrees). Another common belief is that other students need coaching and academic support, possibly more of a hybrid course with face-to-face support.

But researchers MIT looked at a physics course (offered on the edX) in 2013 found that students who had spent significant time on the course showed evidence of learning no matter what their educational background.

What really surprised the researchers was that the MOOC students learned at a similar rate as did MIT students who had taken the on-campus version of a similar course. Yes, students who were not well-prepared students scored lower than those with more schooling, but all of them came away knowing more than they did before the MOOC.

Keep in mind that many MOOC participants don't enroll in a MOOC to get grades or credits. They are interested in learning.