Virtual teams and social presence

ants

Block 3 of H817 takes the students through the Learning Design Studio – a methodology for collaborative learning design. A major part of this involves students working as a team to design a learning product.

Team working comes with its own challenges and opportunities. In fact, the course blurb clearly states

‘Teamwork comes at a cost – it means you will need to communicate and coordinate your actions with your team mates, you will need to provide them with feedback on their contributions and you will need to respond to their feedback. You will depend on your team for your success and they will depend on you.’

On the other hand, there are a number of benefits:

‘First, working in a team you will be able to engage in an endeavour on a much larger scale than you would on your own. You will enjoy the benefits of collaborative learning – constructing your knowledge through interleaved action and discussion. Finally, you will experience a process that is much closer to ‘real-life’ Learning Design projects, which are most often team efforts.’

My experience in teams has been mixed, but generally positive. I have always learned something (often about myself) and felt a feeling of satisfaction that what I have brought made a difference to the outcome.  Overall I like working with other people; it brings the best out in me and it feels more social. From a learning theory point of view team working enables social and connectivist learning, where learning is about the knowledge of others. For example in my designated group (our project is to design an activity for a local history project using mobile/social learning), I am delighted to learn that one member has direct experience of local history and will be the main source of knowledge of the chosen physical site, while other  members have  technical expertise and media skills.

However, team working practices need to be established upfront and Salas et al (2005) provide a ‘big 5′ essentials of teamwork for consideration:

•    team leadership
•    mutual performance monitoring
•    back-up behaviour
•    adaptability
•    team orientation
These are supported by three coordinating mechanisms:
•    shared mental models
•    mutual trust
•    closed-loop communication.

It’s difficult to argue against any of these. Obviously, team leadership is crucial. In an online space I think I have always been very grateful if someone has taken the lead and willing to support. What is worse is no one taking any responsibility for heading a team, as things just drift and there can be frustration. Similarly, mutual performance monitoring and backing each other up is crucial if the team members are trying to achieve a joint outcome.

However, there is a possible limitation to this framework in that the needs and dynamics of distributed and virtual team may require something else.

This came up in my team’s first online meeting via Skype, where we thought that in this sort of group, perhaps fixed team roles are not a great idea. We might choose to rotate the roles depending on the tasks of the week and people’s availability, which points to other essentials taking priority, such as mutual performance monitoring and adaptability. This approach will also share the load and also allow others’ expertise to come to the fore when required.

Additionally, the difficulties in an online space is that we don’t really know each other well enough, and we make assumptions about where we are coming from (similarities and differences). So we may make assumptions about shared mental models, while mutual trust has to be earned over time. As we have agreed to meet regularly on Skype or similar hopefully we will start developing towards some of these desirable characteristics, rather than assuming or forcing them to exist.

Therefore I think that team work in a virtual and distributed space needs to be treated as an evolving process with additional two factors to work on: communication and social presence.

Underpinning the effectiveness of the ‘big 5’ is the requirement for (lots of) communication. In my experience of group work on this Master’s programme, the most frustrating is when participants disappear or (for example) no one volunteers to take part in a call for a shared activity, and therefore long silences exist in the virtual space (usually the course discussion forums). As no one meets face to face, there is no way of knowing who will participate and who can be counted on and when – unless there is active opt-in. However, there may be very valid reasons for why people ‘disappear’ – there is no real social contract to participate, some participants may be happy learning on their own through sampling and lurking, someone may feel others are doing the job adequately, while concerns about time, confidence in expression and a myriad of other reasons may be present.

Cultivating social presence may help. Social presence, defined as the ability of participants in a community to project themselves, socially and emotionally, as real people through a medium of communication (Garrison and Anderson, 2003) can help in virtual and distributed teams by bridging some of the distance and enabling informal as well as business-like communications within the team. A sense of social presence facilitates team cohesion, which ‘has been shown to have strong reciprocal relationship with team performance’ (Jian & Amschlinger, 2006).

I’ve experienced this myself, where in an earlier module, the group found that Twitter helped establish social presence in a group activity, and tools such as Twitter can help build social presence amongst distributed participants (Dunlap and Lowenthal, 2009), indicating that there is someone around in the team may help as a motivator. It is possible that using a tool such as Google+ Community might build social presence, while being logged into Skype is another option.

For virtual and distributed teams , attaining the ‘big 5’ may be more akin to an aspiration, especially if the team duration is relatively short, but focussing on communication and establishing a social presence for the team, mediated by suitable technologies, may improve the possibilities for effective team working.

References

Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2009). ‘Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence’ Journal of Information Systems Education, vol. 20, no. 2., pp.129-135; also available online at http://bit.ly/nMOzLG

Garrison, D. R., and T. Anderson (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Jian, G., & Amschlinger, J. (2006). Social presence in virtual teams. Available at http://www.temple.edu/ispr/prev_conferences/proceedings/2006/Jian%20and%20Amschlinger.pdf.

Salas, E., Sims, D. and Burke, C. (2005) ‘Is there a “Big Five” in teamwork?’, Small Group Research, vol. 36, no. 5, pp. 555–99. Available at http://www.sagepub.com/gastilstudy/articles/06/Salas_Sims_Burke.pdf

Image courtesy of Sweet Crisis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Considering open learner literacies

zipper

This post suggests the types of literacies that open learners might require to succeed in a learning space that is increasingly open. I’ll consider digital literacy as a foundation for thinking about open learning literacies.

To start, there is an existing discourse around the types of capabilities and literacies required for digital literacy. At the simplest level:

“digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society” (Beetham, 2010)

The focus on capabilities is important as a capability suggests that it is a pre-requisite or foundation for other capabilities, and an implication that there should be some sort of society-wide entitlement to such a capability (Beetham, 2010). The need for digital literacy in increasingly well-established, appears in mainstream media, and although consistently evolving in meaning, there does appear to be a shift from focussing primarily on information and media literacy to encompass literacies that enable collaboration, communication and increasingly creation.

This fuller definition from the Open University encompasses many common themes:

“Digital literacy includes the ability to find and use information (otherwise known as information literacy) but goes beyond this to encompass communication, collaboration and teamwork, social awareness in the digital environment, understanding of e-safety and creation of new information. Both digital and information literacy are underpinned by critical thinking and evaluation.” (Open University)

The OU further offers a framework for students that focusses on 5 key areas of digital literacy:

  1. Understand and engage in digital practices
  2. Find information
  3. Critically evaluate information, online interactions and tools
  4. Manage and communicate information
  5. Collaborate and share digital content

The detailed framework is here. Other frameworks and rubrics to inform digital literacies  include a framework for web literacies from Mozilla and a self-evaluation guide from the University of Exeter.

Digital literacies are, therefore, increasingly important for education, for economic growth and for empowering individuals to succeed in what in an increasingly (although unequal) digitally-mediated environment. So how are ‘open learner’ literacies much different?

At a functional or operational level accomplishment of digital literacies can be in a closed course or within a specific institutional context. For example, in an online course as that offered by the OU (that is not a MOOC), students and teachers can exhibit digital literacy skills without being ‘open’. Interestingly, it’s also possible to take a Coursera course in pretty much the same way without being ‘open’.

Open learning literacies therefore focus on those capabilities that enable learners to survive and thrive in an open learning environment. This means surviving and thriving beyond a course, in the absence of a course or getting the most out of a cMOOC. More broadly, open learning literacies are those literacies that enable lifelong learning  in an digital environment with abundance of content and opportunities afforded by others’ increasing open practices.

While there are many ways of categorising possible open learner literacies, I’ve identified three areas of focus that provide a start for discussion:

Content

The abundance of content through digital storage and dissemination is at the core of digital literacy where information literacy is the ability to cope with increasing amounts of content through strategies to search, find absorb, cite, synthesise and evaluate. In an open learning environment the role of sharing and creation of content becomes an important capability. Sharing content is a default in an open learning environment (Weller, 2012). Through sharing, open learners become producers as well as consumers, so literacies of remixing and developing new forms of representation and understanding of licencing and open access publishing become more important.

Communication

While online communication skills are essential for digital literacy, open learners require communication skills to maintain a personal learning network beyond a specific course or institutional context. Communication with networks rather than groups requires increasing familiarity of a broader range of tools and contexts, accepting the importance of loose ties and social media connections. Commenting on blogs, Google groups and social media beyond a specific context build open learner skills, while maintaining an open blog and using aggregators and social media marketing to encourage feedback and communication are examples of open learner communication practice. There is an increasingly symbiotic relationship between content and communication in that communications such as blogs, blog comments, tweets and tweet chats themselves become new content. In open learning communication is the content.

Identity

Self-identifying as an open learner or practitioner means understanding some of the implications of openness and the potential of increasing innovation and creativity that openness can foster (Weller, 2012). It is a way of being and working that values sharing, promotes wider access, encourages open access publishing, open scholarship and open teaching. Open learners will develop digital identities and footprints to build social capital, as they understand that in order to receive the benefits of openness, it is important to give through sharing. This may involve the cultivation of a personal space such as a blog, a Twitter profile and subscription to services such as social bookmarking or online community membership, taking part in open courses both as learners and convenors and experimenting with openness.

Personal reflection on being an open learner

On H817, Block Two has been run as a MOOC on open education. As we come near the end of the MOOC part, I’m reflecting on the specific literacies  I have had to develop in moving from an online (closed course) to an open MOOC.

To a large extent, many digital literacies that have remained the same, whereby communications and discussion happen through discussions forums, in closed tutor groups and in response to specific activities. In block one, I also worked collaboratively in pre-assigned groups using social tools.

However, even before the MOOC part started, I have been engaging in some open learning practices through my personal blog which is open to all and in my use of Twitter which I use to engage more broadly with a wider community of educational technologists, teachers, practitioners and other students and across international boundaries. While the practice of open learning has been positively encouraged during the MOOC, based mainly around blogging, I had maintained a reasonably frequent blog over the past 2 years or so.

Therefore, moving into an open space has been relatively painless in this MOOC. I overcame an initial resistance to joining the Google+ group (not another social network) but this community has been the core of my experience on H817open, providing an critical yet supportive environment for the exploration of ideas with individuals with very different motivations for taking part in the MOOC. I have been surprised and grateful for the thoughtful responses to blog posts I write and the ongoing discussions in the Google+ group. I have become a Google+ convert. What has changed now is that I identify as an open learner – this is how I want to learn.

This may explain why I am somewhat reluctant to move back into the closed tutor group environment as the MOOC ends and the formal course begins again, even though that is a supported space with a dedicated tutor and fellow students, who are theoretically more committed to the course (as they have paid for it) rather than MOOCers who may have many different reasons for signing up.

The experience of open learning has been a positive one for me. However, I accept that for many other students it has not been positive. Individuals have felt overwhelmed and isolated, and some existing H817 students have missed the ‘safer’ tutor group environment. Some for reasons of institutional confidentiality have not been able to blog freely or participate in discussions in such an open environment. Others have felt that the huge diversity in the types of learners (with varying backgrounds and motivations) makes it difficult to have a meaningful learning experience. Others feel that signing up to an OU distance learning course means the ability to work independently in order to get the qualification and that interacting with others should not be a pre-requisite. Openness for some learners is more of a burden than an opportunity.

And this at the end of the day is what it comes down to – learner preferences and expectations regarding identity as a learner. Yet, I am reminded of the concept of ‘network weather’ that Weller (2011) explores as ‘a metaphor for the impact of open, digital networked approaches’, where ‘changes in your environment are occurring because of other people’s use of these technologies…even if you as an individual you are not engaged in them’ (p.129). Weller’s argument is that these new behaviours (which include open approaches) are happening anyway, pointing not only to opportunities that openness affords but also to the reality that other people’s open practices will start affecting the entire environment anyway, even if one chooses not to engage. Can we afford not to be open?

References

Beetham, H. (2010) Review and Scoping Study for a Cross-JISC Learning and Digital Literacies Programme: Sept 2010, JISC [Online]. Available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearning/DigitalLiteraciesReview.pdf

Weller, M. (2011) ‘Network Weather’ in The Digital Scholar, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Also available online at http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/view/DigitalScholar_9781849666275/chapter-ba-9781849666275-chapter-010.xml;jsessionid=DF97F8961B195104021693DA727411B7

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [Online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-02

Image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mobile devices as open educational technologies

mobile_phone

This post suggests mobile devices as a technology for open education.

In a developing world context, take up and availability of mobile phones far exceeds that of fixed broadband. For many communities in the developing world, a mobile phone is the only digital computing device available. Mobile phones, especially smartphones, have potential to enable access from a position of none at all. If open at its most basic level is about access, then mobile devices in the developing world are a key educational technology for the developing world.

Access means participation in digital scholarship and digital learning. As mobile infrastructure improves, opportunities for communications and learning increase. In South Africa more people access the internet from their smartphones than fixed broadband connections. The growth of internet banking and commerce via smartphones is also an opportunity for learning too as people get used to doing things on a mobile device. Many pilot projects in South Africa are using mobile devices for language and maths learning, serving content to disadvantaged communities via mobile devices and for teacher development.

Moving on from access, the mobile device has some specific affordances to do with personal ownership, mobility (the ability to be in a particular location) and personalisation – all of which contribute to openness, if understood as learner centred. At a simple level, I use my smartphone for formal and informal learning. I access the OU Moodle platform using my smartphone, and I keep up to date on what happens on discussion forums via email alerts I subscribe to. I make notes on my smartphone and read documents from dropbox. This enables the use of dead time or when I choose not to sit at a desk and study. Informally, I may Google to learn something, send a WhatsApp or BBM to a colleague. I once developed learning examples with a colleague for a writing course we were developing using BBM and was able to save the chat for later use. Following Twitter feeds at conferences adds to learning opportunities.

The device itself becomes less important than its role as being able to access easily other open technologies such as the cloud and social media. However, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement suggests that personal ownership is significant both for practical purposes (institutions don’t need to provide hardware) and for flexibility in learners (openly) choosing which devices, which apps and which services.

Future approaches using mobile learning may involve augmented reality applications that can serve up data or information that is location triggered. At some point it will be less about the device (smartphone,  tablet, Google Glasses) than the relationship the learner/user has with the device and the way they personalise it for their own learning and context.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rhizomatic learning as an open pedagogy

bamboo

This post responds to questions posed after viewing a video by Dave Cormier entitled ‘Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education

Rhimzomatic learning is offered as pedagogy for open education, where using the biological metaphor of a rhizome, learning happens in the way the roots and shoots of a rhizome grow and expand according to need, curtailed only by the surrounding habitat (context). Learners in a rhizomatic system construct the curriculum in response to whatever the community needs to learn; this can change and be adapted as the community negotiates the curriculum. Learning happens through the formation of informal and formal social networks and through the construction of individual personal learning networks. Rhizomatic learning can help the development of problem solving skills in complex domains (Cormier, 2012).

Discussion

I certainly recognised rhizomatic behaviour in workplaces I have been in where a problem needed to be solved. As a formal learning strategy, I can see it working in cases where there are no clear or obvious answers and for when people or a community need to come together to solve a problem. It may also be a deliberate strategy to develop skills in critical thinking or to create discomfort.

The question of whether I could imagine implementing rhizomatic learning got me thinking about whether or how it is possible to implement it. I suppose not having a curriculum and needing one would/could start rhizomatic learning. Setting an open ended problem might stimulate a community to get going, but the logic of rhizomatic learning is that it can’t be predicted. This has implications for how it can be incorporated into a formal course if learners need feedback, support and assessment.

I find it easier to see rhizomatic learning happening almost accidentally or in serendipitous circumstances, possibly in response to something authentic. While I was reading reading about rhizomatic learning, the terrible tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings was unfolding. The online reaction to the Boston bombings saw ‘citizen CSIs’ taking up the mantle of law enforcement to try and identify the perpetrators from the photographs uploaded by people who were present, behaviour which on the surface seem like a rhizomatic response to the question – who was resposible for the Boston bombings? The frenzy of activity appears rhizomatic – a community on social media uploaded and started analysing photographs, others started to scan police radios while others coordinated supplies and accommodation for stranded Bostonians, while groups formed and broke away as the story unfolded. While this wasn’t a learning event, it was a response to a need or to solve the problem – to identify individuals who might have been involved, using the tools, evidence and skills available in the community. In the course of this, many mistakes were made, innocent people were temporarily considered suspects and it is possible that in some cases, the activities of these citizen detectives might have hindered the investigation as described in this article. (In fact, the two suspects were identified via traditional police work and a physical witness, not through online volunteers).

While the post Boston bombings activities on social media are not organised learning, the activities of a networked community in pursuit of a goal indicates some possible pitfalls that might affect rhizomatic learning. Cormier in the video says that some rhizomes can be incredibly annoying, and taking the metaphor further it is possible that some rhizomatic behaviour might strangle other types of growth, while leading to frustrations, dead-ends and mistakes.

Rhizomatic learning and connectivism

Rhizomatic learning as a network theory aligns with connectivism in that learning happens through the construction of the network and the connections that form are where the learning resides.

However, there appear to be some differences:

First, rhizomatic learning appears to be more individual based. Cormier talks about cultivating nomads as learners who construct their personal learning networks, which is a different emphasis from the learning being the network.

Second, rhizomatic learning feels more messy, more organic and less like the computer networks of connectivism, which use the language of nodes, non-human devices and a neater network topology.

Finally, rhizomatic learning is limited by its environment or habitat, while connectivism seems to be more like a growing network of interconnections and nodes. In rhizomatic learning nodes might break off and form new nodes so it’s not necessarily the case that there is one network. This also supports the rhizomatic learning approach of a dynamically changing curriculum.

The focus in rhizomatic learning on embracing uncertainty is certainly attractive as it fits into a 21st century discourse about rates of change, ill-defined problems and the need for learning approaches that are more learner owned both for what is learned as well as how. As with connectivism, I am still unsure that it is possible to make people behave in rhizomatic ways; research on MOOC participant behaviour suggests that many learners find this uncomfortable due to notions of what learning should be like (Kop, 2011). Taking the analogy at face value, rhizome growth is unpredictable, can be harmful as well as beneficial and is a response to existing environmental conditions. Any learning design would need to understand the dynamics of the context and culture in order to promote rhizomatic learning. Yet, as people’s online behaviour (as seen in the Boston bombings aftermath) exhibits increasingly networked behaviors amplified by social media, perhaps rhizomatic approaches to learning will become more common.

References

Cormier, D. (2012) Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education YouTube video, added by Dave Cormier [online]. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJIWyiLyBpQ

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online], http://www.irrodl.org/ index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 882 

Image courtesy of hinnamsaisuy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recasting H817open as a connectivist course

lightbulb

Having blogged previously about investigating connectivist pedagogy, in response to Activity 19 on H817, I thought I would consider how the H817 MOOC might be made more connectivist.  Actually this begs the question, in what ways is H817 not a connectivist course? After all it ticks many of the boxes outlined in Siemens (2004) connectivist elements:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

H817 encourages discussion  and there are a variety of opinions and sources offered although (unsurprisingly) a lot that are from the Weller, Cormier, Siemens and Downes stable.
There is of course diversity in the learners’ opinions through their blogs and forum posts.

I think that the diversity element could be more stressed where there is more activity towards creating a curriculum. There is a general positivity towards openness, and more detractors in the readings or in live sessions in the form of debates might be helpful.

Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

This happens in various ways – for example through the blog aggregator. However the presentation of the course in the Open Learn VLE is linear and the way the groups have developed suggests more of a mini series of networks than a larger network. For example, some people on forums, others on Google +, some H817 formal learners staying in their tutor groups, others going it alone on blogs or just sampling.

I am not sure it is possible to say whether this course has connected specialised nodes or information sources beyond making links to relevant readings and peer connections – the very nature of network building is that it is unpredictable. Perhaps post-course analytics might help establish the formation of a network.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

The products and outputs of H817open will reside online, on blogs, discussions and as an OER so in that sense it will reside in a non-human appliance. (This is different from learning residing in a text book or lecturer videos because that is not learning – those are static teaching materials). The digital footprint that learning leaves is in the artefacts and products produced by learners at the moments of learning through responses to activities or on reflection.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

This might be understood as ‘learning to learn’ or nurturing the network so that participants have the network in place to enable further learning as and when required. The work on developing Personal learning networks stressed this. I am not sure how to measure this or design for this, but activities that encourage discovery and critical thinking (like this one) will encourage the development of a PLN and an attitude to ‘building the pipe’ (Siemens, 2004).

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

H817 can, I would argue, be worked through individually, so this is not necessarily true. The activities do state that blogging, commenting on blogs etc is a task to help facilitate connections and continual learning. However, the lack of mandated group work does not allow for the practice of collaborative working or a requirement that connections happen.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

The activities required that participants synthesize and bring together ideas presented. The activities that gave the opportunity to earn badges (OER and MOOC understanding) could formally be seen to encourage this. However, with no formal assessment, it is difficult for participants to know if they have achieved this, although comments by peers on blogs can give some indication.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

H817 set down a curriculum that focussed on openness in HE and appears to have current resources in the form of readings, interviews and other media. The use and sharing of relevant research (on MOOCs for example) as it happens via Twitter and the Google+ group indicates that some participants actively share current knowledge.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

The linear structure of the course and the emails that focussed on what to do if one was short of time acted against learners really deciding what to learn, as by signing up for this MOOC there is an implicit contract to accept what is offered. Participants constantly reported feeling stressed that they were behind and apologised for not getting through all the week’s activities. Some students, especially open learners, appear more free to pick and choose what they are interested in, but for many OU learners with an assignment following the MOOC, deciding not to choose to study something might be desirable but had to be made with one eye on the formal assessment.

Towards a connectivist design

Working through this suggests that there are many areas in which there are ‘maybes, perhaps, could be’. This post has made me realise that perhaps it is only possible to design for connectivist learning rather than design connectivist learning. The latter immediately mandates that learners must do such and such, which immediately negates learners’ decision making process and the meaning of incoming information. Designing for connectivist learning accepts that it is not possible to predict or control the learning that may (or may not) happen.

So how might connectivist learning be designed for?

Well, first of all if it looks like a traditional course (and H817 does) then many students will treat it as such. If there are activities, weeks, set readings arranged in a linear fashion, then students will assume that this is the way to do it. This is evident in some of the angst going on within the course forums, twitter, Google + as well as in the spaces only for H817 formal learners  such the H817 Facebook group as well in Tutor group forums. One option might be to throw out a linear course design altogether in favour of a problem or project-based approach with mandated group work. This thought-provoking post focusses on the importance of group work  in MOOCs (Cain, 2013) while Siemens (2013) advocates for group work and problem based learning within MOOCs.

Another area that might contribute to a more connectivist feel is the role of instructor or expert presence. The pedagogical value of this appears contested in the ‘sage on the sage’ and ‘guide on the side’ debates where the ‘sage on the stage’ is being replaced by the ‘guide on the side’. This is something I have previously blogged about when I was taking part in the BONKopen MOOC, where I slightly dispute that taking the sage of the stage is always effective, especially for motivation. This seems to be reinforced in recent article about how students on a Coursera course commented on the lack of an instructor in favour of what might be considered a more ‘connectivist’ course (Parr, 2013).

In fact this leads me to consider whether we should evaluate the value of the role of experts, lectures and the ‘sage on the stage’. Change11 was a cMOOC that heavily focussed on experts delivering a live lecture as the centre point of that week’s learning – a design that accords with Downes’ (2007) approach to connectivist teaching that has the teacher in the role of modelling and demonstrating. With social media and technology, the effects of the expert can be amplified through the connections made around the live event, much like attending a conference with a Twitter feed. Conversations and connections happen in real time during (say) a live presentation and then afterwards as recordings and associated resources are made available, commented on, blogged etc. While not only applicable to a connectivist approach, synchronous events can help establishing momentum and motivation giving learners a chance to interact with authentic practitioners at a distance, which can help build and nurture the network.

I said in a previous blog post that H817 looks like an xMOOC and behaves like a cMOOC. I would qualify that slightly now –  in looking like an xMOOC (linear week by week activities, no mandated group work, short video snippets) it may be that this militates against the nurturing of broader connectivist behaviours. Nevertheless, H817 also has positive connectivist elements such as the focus on blogging and responding to others’ blogs, the blog aggregator and optional badges rather than any formal assessment, yet could be enhanced with more frequent live expert interactions and group activities.

References

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Cain, G. (2013) MOOCs, ‘Group work and Instructional Design’, Brianstorm in Progress, 17 April [Online]. Available at http://cain.blogspot.com/2013/04/moocs-group-work-and-instructional.html

Parr,C. (2013) ‘How was it? The UK’s first Coursera MOOCs assessed’, THE, 18 April [Online]. Available at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/how-was-it-the-uks-first-mooc-assessed/2003218.article

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [Online]. Available from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G. (2013) ‘Group work advice for MOOC providers’, Elearnspace, 10 March [Online]. Available at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/03/10/group-work-advice-for-mooc-providers/

Image courtesy of Smarnad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Investigating a connectivist pedagogy

network

This post is a commentary on reading What Connectivism is (Downes 2007) as preparation for designing a course outline along connectivist principles.

Although I have blogged previously on connectivism, I still find it tricky to understand what it means in terms of what knowledge looks like in a connectivist course is (even whether there is a course) and how it is a different approach from  a Community of Practice or social learning approach, that also focusses on a network and community. Having read Stephen Downes’s article (a number of times), I pulled out some quotes that might shed light on the pedagogy for designing a connectivist course .

First, let’s start with a definition:

“connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.”

OK, so this suggests that we shouldn’t aim to construct knowledge but that we should construct networks and navigate them.

Downes reinforces this:

“Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience”

So this sounds like the knowledge is only apparent when the networks are in place, as the learning is creating the networks. This implies that individuals have to give and share in a network. If they don’t share (network), no one will know/learn as there won’t be actions or experience to learn from.

Now, to me this also sounds like Community of Practice approach to learning where actions and experience will vary from expert to novice. But connectivism is  more limited than a CoP, where in a CoP purpose (intention) is both participation and reification to a specific goal (Wenger, 1998). Here is what Downes says (my emphasis):

“[Connectivism] it is not more than the process of making connections. That’s why learning is at once so simple it seems it should be easily explained and so complex that it seems to defy explanation (cf. Hume on this). How can learning – something so basic that infants and animals can do it – defy explanation? As soon as you make learning an intentional process (that is, a process that involves the deliberate creation of a representation) you have made these simple cases difficult, if not impossible, to understand.”

Continuing this vein of how connectivism is different is his assertion:

“see, that’s the difference between a cognitivist theory and a connectionist theory. The cognitivist thinks deeply by reasoning through a long sequence of steps. The non-cognitivist thinks deeply by ‘seeing’ more intricate and more subtle patterns. It is a matter of recognition rather than inference.”

So what this might be saying that knowledge is being able to recognise that at that moment, from the patterns that exist right there, you can recognise what something is and (presumably) what there is to do about it (knowledge). Again, it is being in the moment rather than evaluating/analysing from what you know (long sequence of steps).

OK, so I understand that learning is only about the process of making connections. So, how do you make those connections? Here’s a clue:

“the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways”

Again, this sounds like a Community of Practice  – participation and learning is about growth and development of an identity (rather than acquiring knowledge). However, there is a difference between this and a CoP approach – there is no transfer of knowledge from expert to novice. Knowledge is not an acquired thing – it is just the network. The knowledge is the network. The pedagogy  for a connectivist approach therefore

“seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner)).”

Well that’s a relief. There are roles for a teacher and learner. So a connectivist approach in a course would involve practices with a teacher having certain roles and a learner having certain roles. What might those practices be? They are practices that enable the network to come into being.

Let’s consider the teacher’s role. The teacher ‘models and demonstrates’. I am not sure what this really means if it is NOT meant to be behaviourist (here is how to do something – now do it), so it is more likely to be practices on how to build the network, or actually just building the network.  Such practices might be through aggregating, asking questions, blogging, bringing together experts, and curating resources in the way Change MOOC was run. The modelling and demonstrating means that that learners are then able to do the same and interact with peers. Learners  add to the construction of the network through practices such as discussions, blogging, building artefacts and collaborative writing, reflecting on their learning as they do so.

It would appear that in the course of such practice and reflection, students are likely to make representations of knowledge – but according to Downes (which I admit I have probably imperfectly understood), the representation is not independent of the network, so it exists only in the point in time as part of the network. It may no longer be knowledge another day.

Right, I’m nearly at the end now.  In case the reader is somewhat lost, Downes has some comforting words:

“So there’s a certain sense, I think, in which the understandings of previous theories will not translate well into connectivism, for after all, even basic words and concepts acquire new meaning when viewed from the connectivist perspective.”

So we might not even have the shared language of previous learning theory to describe connectivism! That makes it tricky to devise a framework for learning design.  Still what I have gleaned from this reading is that a connectivist pedagogy for course design should support practices that construct the network, with a role for teachers and learners.

References

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Wenger, E (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Image courtesy of Sheela Mohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: A Tale of Two MOOCs

This post looks at two MOOCs: Change MOOC and Coursera and compares the technology, pedagogy and other general approaches. I researched this post by reviewing the Change MOOC website and was able to draw on my own experience as an occasional lurker on that course late 2011 and 2012. Additionally, this week, I joined Coursera and signed up for Gamification which started at the beginning of April 2013. I have moved around the Gamification course, listened to some videos and viewed the discussion forums. Additionally, I read blogs of participants who had taken both these MOOCs previously to  provide an insight into some of the issues from learners themselves.

Technology

Change MOOC comprises of a course website with the course schedule, speaker names and relevant information including  help on how to succeed in MOOCs. A daily email newsletter was produced during the course  and a blog aggregator using gRSShopper  aggregated participants’ blog posts.  Elluminate was used for the live events.  There were no prescribed technologies for participants; the site states that ‘participants will use a variety of technologies, for example blogs, Second Life, RSS Readers, Ustream etc.’ (Change MOOC). Change MOOC adheres to what is typically considered a cMOOC mashup approach with a central web based platform and then distributed tools for engagement and where the actual work happens.

Coursera offers participating universities a technology platform for hosting and delivering MOOCS so it cannot be necessarily assumed that one Coursera course is like another, as individual courses may give different emphasis to different tools. There are however some core tools that comprise typical LMS features such as learner profile/dashboard pages, week by week readings and assignment, video lectures, quizzes, and discussion forums for discussion week’s activities. Unlike Change MOOC, all of these are hosted inside the platform. However, on the Gamification MOOC at least, the instructor encouraged Twitter and Google+ interaction. The discussion forums look reasonably populated. There’s also a course wiki which leads the user to a Coursera wiki system, currently marked as ‘beta’, where students are encouraged to upload resources.

Gamification1

Screen shot of Coursera menu and video links

One aspect of Coursera is the importance of video lectures. The quality and style of video was attractive with short snippets and good production quality. Videos appear to be released a few weeks at a time, with tracking of what has been viewed.

While both Change MOOC and the Gamification course supply a useful contrast between a central platform offering all tools to learners and distributed platform offering tool suggestions and accepting learner contrived spaces into the platform (through the blog aggregator), in reality the influence of social media, even on a central platform such as Coursera is apparent in the blogs, tweets, wiki option and communities that exist for each course. Additionally, Coursera provides links to Meetup to encourage physical meetups for students taking Coursera classes.

Pedagogy

Change MOOC aligns with connectivist pedagogy where the learning happens in the interactions of students with content and instructors. Change MOOC enabled synchronous contact with high calibre individuals allowing for direct contact and questions from students.The students are able to make whatever meaning and products they want to through blogs, discussions with none being mandatory, although some might be recommended.

Change11_1

Change MOOC description on website.

As each week is facilitated by a different researcher or expert, the format and style of any activities varies week to week. There is no formal assessment for students on Change MOOC, nor any sort of certificate of completion. A comment on Cloudworks from one of the Change MOOC instructors indicates that this open pedagogy challenged instructors to deliver a week’s worth of learning in such a distributed course (comment from Diana Laurillard, 1:25pm, 4 July 2012)

The Coursera platforms’s core pedagogy is more instructivist with recommended videos and readings followed by quizzes and writing assignments. On the Gamification course, there is a peer grading exercise, which replaces a more traditional instructor feedback, not possible due to the number of participants. Assessment is very clearly linked to participating in the course. The  course blurb states that they consider students who do not take part in assessments to be ‘auditing’ the course. This does not really take into account that learning might be taking place elsewhere or even what activities might constitute as achieving the learning outcomes. Even taking a quiz late incurs penalty points.

One consequence of this difference is that is is fairly easy to ‘fail’ a Coursera MOOC if you don’t follow a pathway, while there is no such concept on Change 11.

It is possible that the presence of assessment may put off some students, especially if they fault to complete the first quiz and may lead to demotivation. On the other hand, the presence of assessment goals may motivate others. It’s not clear if assessment impacts on drop out rates as drop out rates are high on both cMOOCs and xMOOCs, but this could be a fruitful area of research .

General approach and philosophy.

With Coursera, the whiff of commercialisation and possible monetization is immediately evident. When I signed up for the (free) Gamification site, I was immediately prompted as to whether I wanted to join the ‘Signature Track’ for USD39, which would verify my identity through a photo and typing style which would create a biometric profile, with which I could sign my assignments and for which I would get some sort of verification certificate. And  if I was quite serious about doing this course, I might well buy this, if only to keep me on track. The instructor’s book is also made gently available to buy, even though it is stated it is not necessary. But I imagine if I was enjoying the course, I might well buy the book, especially as it is available on Kindle for about $5.

In a restriction of openness, Coursera course materials and videos are not openly licenced, and I don’t think it is possible to even view previous presentations of the course once it is complete.

No such commercial elements are apparent in Change 11, which seems to be more like a very long online conference and way of gathering some brilliant OER over 7 months. All the content is available aggregated, captured and created is available and the site serves as a valuable resource.  A community may still exist as learners formed groups during the course. I lurked a little in Change MOOC and when I went back into it again, I was pleased that I could go back to view videos for weeks I would have liked but couldn’t at the time.

Conclusions

While these differences seem stark, on both of these MOOCs, it is clear that there is passion on the part of instructors for the subject and the desire to share that passion with others. This is a difference I have noticed with MOOCs and formal online learning; the MOOC format seems to ignite some sort of passion and drive. Beyond personal inclination however, it is evident that Coursera is also a business entity. This impacts on what success means in a MOOC.

Completion rates and notion of success are an interesting area to discuss. The completion rate for the first Gamification presentation was 10% (Jordan, 2013), which seems to be an average completion rate for a Coursera course. I haven’t been able to find data for Change MOOC and I am not sure it is a meaningful question, as I think people could follow it without registering. However, even posing the question about whether drop-out rates are necessarily an indicator of a poor course is perhaps premature, since it is not clear why a student leaves a course or why a student even chooses to participate.

Perhaps they never intended to finish it. Signing up isn’t the same as committing, especially as no money has exchanged hands. Students may be using a course as OER to support formal study they are doing and might get what they need from a snippet or two. Leaving a course is not necessarily a sign of failing, although evidence on the digital literacies needed to engage in connectivist MOOCs is emerging (Kop, 2011).

Follow-up research on Change MOOC on how learners acted has revealed different groups of learners ranging from lurkers, passive participants (wanting a traditional learning experience with goals being set by course) and active learners (setting their own goals, creating artifacts, social networking). While these are broad (and contestable) categories (Hill, 2013), the research indicated it is these ‘passive participants’ that struggle to find direction and location in a connectivist MOOC (Kop 2011) and for whom a Coursera approach might be more attractive.

While Change 11 and Coursera seem miles apart in pedagogical approach and philosophy, asking which one is better for learning is the wrong question. If learning is to be truly learner-centred, there’s value in giving learners (and instructors) choices and experiences with different types of learning environments. Coursera’s seeming dominance in this sphere (Siemens, 2013) is also pointing to interesting developments; will there be one MOOC platform to rule them all and what will this look like, or can Coursera prove to a be a powerful force for experimentation and innovation in this space?

All in all, this has been an enjoyable and immersive activity. Despite negativity towards the pedagogical underpinnings of xMOOCS (Daniel 2012), there are evident co-influencing factors between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Is H817open a cMOOC or an xMOOC? Four weeks in, to me, it looks like an xMOOC but behaves like a cMOOC.

References

Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18 [online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18

Hill, P (2013) The Four Student Archetypes Emerging in MOOCs, e-Literate  [Online] 2 March. Available at http://mfeldstein.com/the-four-student-archetypes-emerging-in-moocs/

Jordan, K (2013) Synthesising MOOC completion rates, MOOCMoocher [Online] 13 February. Available at http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/synthesising-mooc-completion-rates/

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online], http://www.irrodl.org/ index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 882 

Siemens, G, (2013) Coursera needs to start acting like a platform, Elearnspace 14 March  [Online] http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/03/14/coursera-needs-to-start-acting-like-a-platform/

H817open: MOOC ideas

Image

I was thinking about the requirements of Activity 12 on H817open which is to ‘briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training’.

Browsing fellow MOOCer, Nat Nelson’s post on potential MOOC learners being staff sparked off some ideas. I support other staff (L&D, trainers and teachers) who are integrating technology into teaching and learning. An MOOC that builds a personal learning environment for trainers’ evolving job roles or a MOOC on building a personal toolkit would support continuing professional development –  participants  would be using the tools themselves to gather appropriate tools and techniques about learning design for elearning and blended learning,  how to curate resources to build domain knowledge and keep up with developments, and engage in reflection on practice.

Another group I have been thinking about are parents who are worried about digital literacy, internet safety and want to get more familiar with tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Dropbox, Google search techniques etc. A MOOC would function as an open course to build familiarity with the various tools that they are concerned about, while more experienced parents (and kids) could share their expertise. The purpose would be to develop shared experience and knowledge around these issues and engage with good practices such as appropriate representation in social media, searching for resources online, engaging on Twitter and .  Hmm..I like the idea of developing a MomMOOC.

I see a cMOOC approach to both of these possible MOOCs rather than a  traditional instructivist design. Both these groups are communities whose members have much to offer. One aim might be to build a resource toolkit for other members of the community, so co-construction of curriculum would be part of the MOOC practice. While there isn’t a requirement for formal assessments, badges might prove to be motivators and signposts of key learning moments.

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: Considering big and little OERs

eggs

This post considers the benefits and drawbacks of ‘big’ and ‘little’ OERs as described by Weller (2012). Big OERs are institutional approaches to OER content production with MIT OpenCourseWare and OpenLearn as prominent examples, while little OERs are the potential ‘by-products’ of everyday academic practice, currently often wasted or hidden away. Weller (2011a) gives the example of a small OER where on attending a conference, instead of producing a Conference paper that few people read, he produces a blog post and if presenting uploads the slides. To this, one could add archiving the Twitter stream. All of these products are small OERs as they can be used in a teaching context.

The case for investing in small OER practices is compelling:

In terms of traffic to sites, the user-generated content sites have impressive statistics: more than 100 million monthly for YouTube, 4.3 million for Scribd and 1.75 million for Slideshare (figures from http://www.compete.com for July 2010). These dwarf the statistics for most higher education projects; for instance the most well-established OER site, MIT’s OpenCourseWare site (http://ocw.mit.edu), has 200,000 visitors monthly, the OU’s OpenLearn 21,000 and the learning object repository MERLOT 17,000.
(Weller, 2011b)

Such differences in the accessing of such resources suggests that practices that encourage ‘little OERs’ can pose significant advantages for individuals and institutions.

Arguments for: ‘Small OER good, Big OER bad’

The advantage of producing small OERs is the potential reach and the long tail effect – where the interests of a large number of people can be served if there are many groups of small numbers of people allowing for serving niche communities. As small OERs are often by-products or replace writing for a closed audience with an open audience, the cost and production effort is minimal.

Whether small OERs can really be seen as an alternative option to big OERs, it is not only the actual products of small OERs that are important. Potentially, the practice of small ‘OERing’ helps to embed practices that big OER projects might struggle, as some big OERs are seen as standalone projects are seen as someone else’s responsibility.

Big OERs on the other hand are part of more complex publishing and production cycles and liable to be subject to economic and funding constraints, as happened when the USU OER project was mothballed. Their complexity and need to serve the largest possible numbers for a particular subject limits the granularity and potential diversity. Even though they are meant to be remixed, relatively small numbers of users are remixing.

Arguments for ‘Small OER bad, Big OER good’

On the other hand, the risks with small OERs as a practice for impact are issues of quality (if anyone can put anything up, this poses risk to an institution), lack of procedures for updating and maintenance, the lack of design (if it wasn’t intended as an OER) and lack of specific educational goals may preclude use that is contextually relevant. The reliance on free services is also a risk, as attested by networks such as Ning removing a free service and blog service Posterous being shut down by Twitter. (This risk is slightly mitigated by the likelihood that, like buses, there is another free service around the corner).

Small OERs also depends on a critical mass of people willing to engage in small OER practices, otherwise the approach risks being an echo chamber, yet our understanding of participation in the social web suggests that most people will consume rather than create, and the barriers to small OER approaches are cultural, attitudinal and institutional – most people will need motivation of advancement or ‘what’s in it for me’ to be prepared to put in the extra (even of small) time and to learn skills, even if very simple.

Big OER projects on the other hand have set goals and a production process which ensures a level of quality and credibility, hence most big OERs tend to be used as is. While this militates against sharing and re-use, it does enable others to re-use without too much effort high quality teaching materials that have (hopefully) been designed effectively. Small OERs, operating at a lower level of granularity, require more effort to fit into a wider resource or teaching framework.

Conclusions

It is clear that both big and small OERs are not really a threat to each other.  Weller (2011a) uses the broadcasting media versus internet publishing analogy to illustrate how big and small OERs come into being and the relative advantages of small OERs to allow us to do things we haven’t been able to before. Looking at it from the potential consumer’s point of view, I can stretch this analogy by considering the motivation of going to the cinema to watch a film or going to Youtube to watch videos.

As a consumer, I know that if I go to the cinema I’ll get a full featured (possibly even 3D) experience, where I don’t have to do much more that go in, buy my popcorn and sit there. However, there’s a limited choice of what I can watch even in a multiplex and some days I will find there is nothing there for me. This is how big OER might be for a consumer. (I realise that the analogy doesn’t quite work as I can remix big OER and I can’t remix a movie, but in terms of behaviour, considering that few people do remix big OER, I’m going to keep going.)

However, if I choose to find something to watch on YouTube, I’ll have a lot of choice and I might find some brilliant and unique pieces of filming. I can construct my own viewing, as long as I have a little technical know-how and I can see what others have seen and recommended. I might even be inspired to write a review or make my own comments and connect with the film-maker. However I might not be sure if it really suits me as it seems rather random and there is so much of it.

On any given day going to the cinema or to YouTube is a valid strategy.

The big OER providers such as MIT OCW and OpenLearn have made high quality content and resources available to many people, places and institutions. Such developments can be and are being enhanced where big OERs are placed on Web 2.0 services rather than or as well as in OER-specific repositories to help their findability or that the repositories are better linked to the open web. Considering that most people seem to Google to find stuff, better SEO of big OER might make these OERs more visible and accessible. At the same time, investing in small OER practices expands the definition of OERs, while lessening the barriers to participation in the OER movement. However, training and support for small OER practices is required to get to a critical mass of participation and beyond early adopters and enthusiasts.

References

Weller, M. (2011a) Academic Output as Collateral Damage [online], slidecast. Available at http://www.slideshare.net/ mweller/ academic-output-as-collateral-damage

Weller, M. (2011b) ‘Public engagement as collateral damage’ in The Digital Scholar, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Also available online at http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/ view/ DigitalScholar_9781849666275/ chapter-ba-9781849666275-chapter-007.xml

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-02

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: OER sustainability

3trees

Sustainability is the ‘daddy of all the arguments‘ (Weller, 2010) around the OER movement, and Activity 10 on the H817open MOOC was to evaluate the four initiatives (Change MOOC, Coursera, Jorum and OpenLearn) to see to what extent they fit one of three models of funding OERs as outlined by Wiley (2007). (Spoiler alert, in what is a deliberate and cunning move on part of the course authors,  I don’t think they are supposed to fit neatly).

Wiley (2007) defines sustainability as ‘an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals’ and that sustainability has two components:

i) to sustain the production and sharing of open content

ii) to sustain the use and re-use of OERs.

Both these elements have human as well as technology and infrastructure costs.

So first, a summing up of the three models:

  • MIT model: All courses offered by MIT; paid staff, donor and institutional funding, large-scale course development and delivery, course authoring at USD10k per course.
  • USU model: Some courses offered by USU; donor and institutional funding; mix of paid staff and volunteers; course authoring USD5k per course.
  • Rice Connexions: Some courses offered by many institutions; volunteer based; use of open source software to build tools, no course authoring costs.

So how might the models apply to the following initiatives?

Change MOOC

What it is trying to do

This is a connectivist MOOC offered for free by volunteer instructors, using open-source and web 2.0 tools. The course materials and guest lectures are provided free, as (I presume) is the time of the course conveners.

Sustainability model

As a model, it would appear to be akin to the Rice Connexions model. Content appears to be made available from individuals as volunteers.  Small degree of control while the software and tools used are  open source and free to use Web 2.0 tools.

In this case the course itself as it exists is an OER because it is freely available for access and re-use, and as it is volunteer based, it would be possible to run it again on the same terms without additional investment. However, there doesn’t appear to be any overt commitment that it will be run again, so from that point of view, I am not sure that it fits into the Rice Connexions model, which is ongoing and self-sustaining.

Coursera

What it’s trying to do

Coursera won Techcrunch’s ‘Start up of the year in 2012’ and is an x-MOOC (rather than a connectivist cMOOC), where it provides a platform for (elite) universities to offer free courses in a fairly traditional format. It claims to be supporting and evolving good online pedagogy. However, on its current model,  it feels the least open of any of the services evaluated in that it restricts who can share content (offer courses) and it restricts re-use of the content.

Sustainability model

Coursera has venture capital funding and centralised control over the platform and pedagogy so is akin to the MIT model in this respect. It charges licencing fees to institutions and charging employers for access to potential employees (students). Content is therefore  provided for free from institutions and instructors, although each institution might apply a different model to produce the content. Also, while Coursera is a MOOC platform provider, it is not an OER producer as its materials are not openly licenced. It is also looking at licencing content from one institution to another which would result in credit for some students from third-party institutions.

None of Wiley’s models fit Coursera. While it does allow many institutions to contribute, it differs from the the Rice Connexions model in that it charges institutions to participate and is focussing on attracting elite universities.  In experimenting with business models that charge for services to set up and run courses, credentialing and recruitment, it is evolving towards a different model of sustainability.

Jorum

What it’s trying to do

Jorum is a repository to offer OER finding and hosting services. There are two categories of user; ordinary users can browse and download content, while registered users can upload and contribute content and participate in discussions.

Sustainability model

Jorum has central government funding; it is funded by JISC and appears to have paid staff.  Its sustainability model is not clear, but by offering a platform for uploading of OER, it is building capacity for production, sharing and re-use. It is similar to the MIT/USU model in that it has central (government funding) but has elements of the Rice Connexions model in hosting content from multiple institutions, but is less open as only vetted registered users can submit content.

OpenLearn

What it’s trying to do

OpenLearn offers parts of OU courses as free online resources and offers tools for educators to re-use and upload remixed materials. Through offering parts of courses, it hopes to get fully signed up paying students who are attracted by the free taster content (Johansen & Wiley, 2010)

Sustainability model

OpenLearn looks most like the MIT model – with donor funding and institutional funding,  centralised control and mostly paid staff, while content is only from the OU. However, is it similar to the  the USU model as not all courses are available. It also operates a ‘freemium’ model where some course content is given away for free to attract future paying students.

OpenLearn’s future sustainability should now perhaps be looked in context as an evolution of the OU’s open content approaches with the announcement and planned for 2013 launch of Futurelearn, an OU owned private company which will offer a MOOC platform to signed up universities. This seems like a Coursera model, although details are still to be announced.

Further musings

It was interesting to look at these how these projects can be sustainable especially considering two are MOOCs rather than OER initiatives, which suggests that OERs might just be part of something bigger in open learning. Since the USU initiative was mothballed in 2009 due to a lack of continuing financial support from donors or the institution, it seems that it is important to go  big and evolve OERs to be part of MOOC offerings (MIT, OpenLearn, Coursera), diversify the types of options for sustainability such as having a marketing model where the OER helps sign up paying students (Johansen & Wiley, 2010), have a business-focussed model for selling support services such as Coursera, or start making OERs part of the institution’s core work. Alternatively, the Change MOOC and Rice Connexions model suggest that it is possible to go entirely the voluntary route using free everything and rely on the value participating gives to human volunteers. This allows for experimentation without too much upfront commitment.

References

Johansen, J., & Wiley, D. (2010)  ‘A sustainable model for OpenCourseWare development’ Educational Technology Research And Development. Available at http://hdl.lib.byu.edu/1877/2353

Weller, M. (2010) ‘Those OER issues’ The Ed Techie. 10 February [Online]. Available at:
http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2010/02/those-oer-issues.html

Wiley, D. (2007) ‘On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher
Education’ Paper commissioned by the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation
(CERI) for the project on Open Educational Resources. Available at:
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/9/38645447.pdf

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net