MOOCs and testing: the other shoe drops

We’ve all been amazed by the proliferation of MOOCs in the last year. We were all wondering how these large universities were going to monitize the courses to cover expenses. Now the other shoe has dropped. Testing. They provide certificates if the students can go to a testing center (Pearson, for example) and take the test, after the MOOC. This solves a number of problems besides profit. Making the tests with a third party allows for a second tier branding without affecting the F2F product they currently have.

Thanks to Stephen Downes at the OLDaily for the pointer.

Teaching Online: A grammar of course development

As a Professor in the Department of English Langauge and Communication, I could define my job as one of teaching students. I don’t. I consider it an impossible task to teach students a language in the context of the university classroom. (I can post the numbers showing this if anyone is interested.) Thus, a move to restructure the class, which means a restructuring of the interaction, and as we get more meta, a restructuring of the way I think about my job.

I facilitate student discovery of new tools to develop thinking and learning with the goal to use new languages to get things done. (OK, that last part still needs work…)

One of the toolboxes I use to develop those meta-skills is online activities. Where the most reliably researched correlation to language development is time using the language (time-on-task, if we only consider classroom activity), online allows (forces?) the students to spend more time, at different times, and keep the interval between exposure to the material short enough so that skills don’t get ossified between weekly classes.

Developing courses to include an online component is a process that can be like entering a pool. You walk down the stairs, and hold your breath as the cold water reaches your crotch, or you jump in and surface sputtering from the shock, but completely immersed. Over the last 10 years, I have followed the first method, gradually adding more and more online components to my class. At this point, students are accessing the online component both inside the classroom and between classes. The crotch moment came when I required students to bring laptops to class. That was after getting wifi set up on campus. Now the only pain comes when a student complains about how heavy her laptop is. Otherwise, we are immersed.

But developing a course for this environment has been a long and arduous process, one that has left students cold about the technical side of the classroom (why can’t we just talk in class?), and others where it has lead to very high student evaluations (see for products of these classes.) They key for my students in Japan is to leverage the strenghts of online learning (infinite patience, intermediary in the communication, recursive support) while maintaining the excitement and fun in the classroom setting (I get to talk to that cute student in my new small group). The other key is making the online component a lynchpin to success in class. The students must NEED to access the information online to be successful in the classroom.

This is the paradigm I am working within.

This balancing of activities needs a structure, a grammar. Much like on a more granular (specific) level hypertext needs a grammar (when and how much to link), classes need a natural way to transition to and from F2F and online interaction.

In my #PotCert Class I rated myself a “9” with lower scores indicating more student autonomy in the learning process. There were a couple of times I would have liked to rank myself with a lower score (more student autonomy), but felt it just wasn’t realistic. I also think that like the process of language learning in the classroom you take a chunk of language (or knowledge) and work with it, initially with a lot of control, gradually realeasing control to the students. So like wheels within wheels, the students learn to deal with a small chunk by themselves, and then also learn how to deal with any new language (knowledge) they encounter by applying a structure they learn in class, on their own.

The online environment is a sandbox for language learners, one they can play in. When the want to want to wash off the sand, they can either gradually walk into the water, or dive in all at once.

elearning and mlearning
image from see discussion there

Before any good discussion begins, everyone needs to be on the same page, using the same meanings for the same terms, or at least understand the differences. In the lead-up to the start of mobi.mooc and #potcert (Program for Online Teaching Certificate), spreading thoughts on differences between elearning and mlearning.

Clark Quinn’s Learnlets showed up in my RSS feed this morning with a pointer to RJ Jaquez and discussion of this topic. Quinn talks briefly about learning augmentation, and gets to the crux of the matter,

If your mobile solution isn’t doing something unique because of where (or when) you are, if it’s not doing something unique to the context, it’s not mlearning.

Which is all well and good. He goes on to say that most people don’t use tablets when running to catch a plane (I do), and even though interface is a bit tangential

it’s mostly about performance support, or contextualized learning augmentation, it’s not about just info access in convenience.

So there IS the form factor, but it is not central to this issue of mlearning. Mlearning is in what the software does, not what the hardware looks like.

Jaquez writes a list of requirements for mlearning, and he is specific about touch screens, screen orientation, content as navigation, sensors, and of course, location.

All this is interesting, but shouldn’t a good elearning program these days be able to add in features of mlearning when needed or when the learner is capable of using them? OK, there are pragmatic concerns, and just adding mobile features to an elearning program is not making it mlearning, but can’t there be a way to segue from one to another seamlessly? And does it matter?



Another MOOC signed up

pedagogy First

This MOOC, like Change11, covers a whole academic year.  It covers many topics realted to managing and teaching in an online environment. I hope to use it to shape my courses as I move more of the activities and content online from the classroom. Since I teach English as  a Foreign Language (EFL), along with many content courses (technology related) at my university in Tokyo, I plan to use class time more effectively by doing activities that do not require a computer so much, and leave the tech stuff for outside of class. As such, it has to be dead simple, easy, fun, and with a lot of support. More later.