Moodle at kevinryan

Moodle at kevinryan Moodle at kevinryan


April 2015
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Weekly Break Time 1

David Letterman, the biggest late night TV comedian, is retiring in one year. The night he announced his retirement, he had a new band on his show (March 27). This band was not well known. It is now. After the group was put on YouTube, it “went viral” meaning it acted like a virus and grew very very quickly, with almost a million people watching. The new band is called Future Island. Look for more of them in the future. They sang the song Seasons (Waiting on You). Lyrics.


Einstein on Education

Here is a quote by Einstein, whose birthday is today.

This school with its liberal spirit and teachers with a simple earnestness that did not rely on any external authority, made an unforgettable impression on me. In comparing it with six years schooling at an authoritarian German Gymnasium, I was made acutely aware how far superior an education that stresses independent action and personal responsibility is to one that relies on drill, external authority and ambition.

Snow Day in Tokyo

Not really, but i am going to take the day to do grades from home. No  classes anyway.

Testing out my new Galaxy Note 3. I now am fully mobile.


Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

I started listening to this podcast a couple of weeks ago. I can’t get enough.

I remember driving all over Japan a few years ago, listening to the series about the Byzantines by Lars Brownworth, a prof,  who is doing one on the Normans. Driving around the US last summer I listened to How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill.
hh_headerBut now this new guy (for me), Dan Carlin, talks about lots of different kinds of history. His podcasts are long, 3-4 hours, but engrossing. I’ve listened to #48, about heretics and a trial in Munster, Germany just after Gutenberg and Martin Luther. And #41, about how the Dark Ages weren’t really so Dark, and how the Goths were a lot more civilized than most people think. Covers from the fall of Rome in 472 up through Charlemagne in the 800’s.
He’s got a much more conversational style than Brownworth, and jumps all over the place. He is at the top of iTunes Podcast list, for a good reason. I just wish I had more time. Next for me: #49 The American Peril. He also does series, such as the ones about Mongolia and the Khan. Well worth the listen. 

Some Rhizomatic Learning on P2PU


Our first task for the the first week of the new MOOC by Dave Cormier is not so much reconcile cheating with learning but rethink learning so there is no place for cheating. A MOOC, especially a Connectivist MOOC, with rhizomatic roots is a good place to do that. Rhizomatic Learning is an attempt to assemble a community of people, some with knowledge of the focal topic, others with knowledge of other topics, to work together to fill each others’ chinks. More on the root system that allows single plants to weave themselves together into a single organism, and how Dave had taken that idea and applied it to online learning. I have to take care of a couple of my other blogs, one over at DMLL, about Digital Mobile Language Learning, and another for student work over at

But I will be right back with another post. About Burma.

Burma Bound

MyanmarSchool3A friend of the family has wrangled me into volunteering as a teacher trainer for a week next January in Myanmar. The group is small, and works through a travel agent and has connections to the Education Network, founded by the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party founded by Aung San Suu Kyi.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive. I had to raise funding to get there, and stay there, and also find someone else to match that. I was extremely fortunate to ask Frank Berberich, longtime friend, who has recently retired. He immediately signed on, saying he had been looking for something exactly like this.

We are in the process of raising funds now, and getting visas. It looks like we will be training about 100 high school teachers in the Yangon (Rangoon) area. These teachers are part of a network of schools that teach the poorest and most disadvantaged children in Myanmar.

MyanmarSchool2So here I am, an expert in using computers to teach adults languages, and I am going to try to train teachers on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of polite Japanese school girls as students, we will have harried teachers, trying to add to their arsenal of teaching tools, so as to open up Myanmar to the world.

As we approach deadlines and prepare for the training, Frank and I are getting more and more excited. We are going along with 6 others on the trip, and will meet them in Yangon shortly after the new year. I will keep you updated on events as they happen.

#ETMOOC, baby steps, students

I have always figured I am about 3 years ahead of my students, at least in adoption of technology for learning. But with this MOOC thing, I have leapt way, way ahead. The way universities are set up, the education system so entrenched and ossified here in Japan, I fear for the 2020’s (and figure not much will happen until then).

Japan’s Ministry of Education is promoting the idea of applying the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle to learning. Never mind that this was developed to improve assembly lines for Toyota in the 1960’s by W. Edwards Deming who has reached mythical status over the years. Teachers tell me it can be used for anything. Sure it can. But should it?

So how do we get from here to there? Baby steps? A gradual evolution? Or a revolution? Will digital citizens rise up and man the barricades, voting electronically to…do what? MOOCs of the Connectivist variety will require a lot of nurturing, and will get splashed with the backlash that is sure to come in the next few years of the emerging technologies hype cycle.

My students are woefully unprepared for autonomous learning. They have been instructed and directed down to the minute in a very efficient system for developing instruction followers. I am guessing they will become the engine for whoever will lead them. I teach one day a week at the leader’s school. The ones who will go into the bureaucracy to push Japan forward in the next few years. They leave me hope. They are willing to experiment, but only so far. Tiny tiny groups are allowed to do things differently, such as take a gap year. Are these baby steps enough? Should I try to foment a revolution? They say the best leaders are adept at spotting a crowd going somewhere and getting in front of it. I don’t see much movement right now. Hopefully it is just me.

TV Guide to MOOCs

The most profitable company for TV in its golden era, before cable and the Internet, was the TV guide. Cover TV Guide It made more than the networks did. Networks, for our younger readers, were large broadcasting companies that worked with local distributors (affiliates) to make a broadcast network, exemplified by CBS, NBC or ABC in the US.

I can’t help but feel that we are ramping up to that golden age very quickly for MOOCs, and whoever has the best directory will have tremendous influence over how the industry (and it will be an industry) develops.

Stephen Downes MOOC Guide is a good example of an open source guide. Coursera is working hard to involve so many universities that it will become a defacto guide in itself. Edx is offering its courseware to anyone who wants to install and use it.

One or more of these groups will eventually (and I think already has) offer the platform as-is for teachers to use to offer courses. A guide for that will also be essential in the near future. This guide would include the each platform available, the tools available, the requirements for hosting a course, and the outcome for both teachers and students.

ETMOOC LogoIn the age of digital citizenship, (currently being discussed at the ETMOOC), the educational component of that citizenship may well require access to a directory like this, either for learning or for teaching, and may even be required eventually for access to parts of society the citizen belongs to. One may have to take a course in the constitution before running for office, for example. Certainly driver’s licenses could have requirements that might be satisfied with a MOOC, and add a built-in support group for driving issues after the license is obtained, in case one gets arrested or breaks down.

The ramifications are endless.

Audio Books and Driving

drivingJim Dean, my dad’s colleague and long-since-retired English teacher at Larkin high school near Chicago has a wonderful laugh and a razor sharp wit. His appreciation of English is also remarkable. When he sent me this link to an account of driving across country while listening to an audio book version of Moby Dick, it made me smile. I love audio books and reading as well, and find they are very different experiences. Especially with something like Moby Dick. The money quote from the New York Times account:

I was always glad at day’s end too, when we parked and turned off “Moby-Dick.” Not that the book ended then. Usually, in the evening, I would begin reading the book where we had left off listening. I have never been so struck by the silence of the printed word. I have never grasped so clearly how inward words have to go in our minds before they come alive. I was the one leaning forward, hearkening to Ishmael, keenly aware of the whiteness of the page, just as I had been every time I’d read “Moby-Dick” before.

But I also smiled because just last summer, after more than ten years without a real road trip, I escorted my daughter along the left coast, shopping for colleges. Instead for flying from Dad’s retirement home near Denver, I drove to LA to meet her. I threw in an old CD audio book about how the Irish Saved Civilization, Dad loved it. It made for great listening (anything about Ireland needs to be both rich in language and delivery), speaking of green verdant fields as I passed Moab, fearing the Goths as I reached the Grand Canyon. Maybe I will try an audio version of Joyce if I drive around Hawaii. Incongruent enough? Maybe Maugham.

But I keep wondering. Now, who’s Ishmael?

***1 AM Update (too much coffee). Over at my favorite blog, the Dish, Andrew Sullivan points us to research that says even if we are reading silently, we are hearing the words. Love those Internet Coincidences.

MOOC Participation: See it twice and Click

Et MOOC LogoOver at the #ETMOOC things are humming along nicely. So far, I would call this the Google MOOC, because a lot of the tools have migrated over to Google (calendar, G+), and I like it. I live in Google, just bought myself a ChromeBook and can’t put it down.

But as we tease out threads in the first couple of weeks, I have met a few new people, which is the best part of any MOOC (or conference, or trip, or meeting). This will help sustain. And sustenance is the key here.

Because this is already looking like the best cMOOC that I have had the opportunity to be a part of. CCK08 was nice and centralized, I think that was the one using Moodle. Then the short one in 2010, which left me in the dirt more because life got in the way than anything. I really liked Change11, mostly because it was stretched out over 9 months, and I could look ahead, pick and choose, and participate based on a longer term strategy.

Here at the #ETMOOC I see a balance being approached. The term is shorter, the interaction both more organized (on the macro level) and less organized (micro level opportunities for serendipity), and a huge amount of interaction (again, we will see if it goes beyond the third week swoon). Kudos to those who set up evening sessions, which are morning here in Tokyo. The lunchtime ones are smack dab in the middle of the night. 

So I just want to share a new way I have found to follow threads. I read quickly, skimming, with some scanning in for terms related to linguistics, my field. If I see something mentioned twice, especially a link, I will follow up on it (catalog, and or curate it). This allows me to wander just enough that I can get back and cover most of the stuff to winnow out my nuggets. Like a news reporter, get a verifying source, and then follow up on it.

That is how I found Catherine Cronin’s Digital Identity post.  Good stuff.


MOOCs for Language Learning?

I have been doing research about technology and Attention, but am by profession (and professor) an English teacher. Language learning has included a lot of parallel research to technology, psychology or psycholinguistics (think Nick Ellis on Frequency of Input, and Emergentism, and Learned Attention and language as a Complex Adaptive System. More in the days to come. #etmooc

Shooting children in the US now commonplace

Cartoon Nick Anderson Houston ChronicleAnother shooting. James Fallows (Atlantic) outlined why nothing would change after the Colorado movie theater massacre. He was sadly right. One reason I am happy to live in Japan. We had a handful of gun fatalities last year. Mostly criminals shooting each other. So those that say, “If we outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have them.” are correct. But there is another side to it. The abhorrence of violence here is wonderful to be part of. It took me years to overcome my “Rambo” tendencies and think before acting. Having kids helped.  Not having access to guns makes those tendencies less lethal.
Unfortunately, the gun culture is so ingrained in the US it will take at least one generation to change. Probably two. After the will to change turns into legislation. Which will take a long time itself. Access to mental health is another issue where public safety should be more important than politics, cuts to health care in the US are also part of the problem, making a lethal combination.
Code: *zemi3*

Homework. Does it do any good?

I don’t think so. If you consider what is traditionally considered homework (exercises to drill into memory some point taught in class), there is controversy. Andrew Sullivan over at the Daily Dish points us to Louis Menand over at the New Yorker.  In it he tells us about a prominent researcher who

According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school.

Homework in Holland

Of course students who do more homework are more successful. But you could also say that students who are successful tend to do more homework. It could be that the successful students are doing something else that is causing their success, and the homework just happens to be a coincidence. Thin about the kids in your class who do the homework. They do a lot of other things, like show up early for class, talk to the teacher more, ask questions more, have parents who make them do their homework, talk about homework at dinner, or just talk about other things at dinner. I could go on, but you see the point. I am not convinced that homework helps very much.

What I AM convinced of is that students who do work on their own outside of class because they are curious or want to solve a problem are headed for success, no matter what their grades show.


Madoka wins Speech Contest with Open Education



Madoka, a student in our department at Showa Women’s University, won a week-long trip to Boston in the  Hitomi Cup Speech Contest yesterday. In “Wonder brings a lifelong love of learning” she advocated for open education ideas she learned at the exploratorium and as a volunteer at the children’s museum when she was studying at our campus in Boston. It was gratifying to see her win. She was so excited.

When I talked to her on the judging break before she won, she said she was also inspired by the workshop style class I taught last semester. In Culture Today we brought our laptops to class and worked in small groups most of the time, with a weekly “menu” of activities to choose from. Freedom and exploration were purposely part of the course, which I pointed out was a bridge to self-learning, as that would be the last course they would take in English before graduation.I am so happy that Madoka gets it. She understands about learning, how it is all about discovery, and choice, and work and asking questions. This is why I am a teacher.

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.

Can you MOOCify a course?

I’ve been wondering about this since the Change11 MOOC. You have your xMOOCs at places like MITx and Coursera, and Udacity, and your cMOOCc like Change11, PLENK2010, and CCK08. But adapting a course into a MOOC is, I think only possible if you can bend some of the parameters of a MOOC.

DS106 is the template for MOOCifying a course. Jim Groom (and now Alan Levin, CogDog) has opened up his university course on Digital Storytelling, and added a digital online gallery to his project based course with a doorway for outside participants to add their work to the commonweal and interact with the registered students.

There are a number of elements of a traditional university class, though, that don’t quite fit into the MOOC mold. The Massive part must be an add-on, and not central to the activity, as is the Open part. Registered students are by definition closed. When a class meets in person, it is blended with online, which stretches that part of the definition. And Course. What can we make of a course? I tend to think (as suggested by someone in Change11) that Conference would be a better C than Course. The cMOOCs do have a flavor of an academic conference, or even an unconference.

Which leaves us with MOOC MOOC, the MOOC about MOOCs that finishes today. After an intense week of online interaction with other professionals about MOOCs, I can see a pattern developing. A schism, a split. Who knows which of the two (3?) branches of MOOCs will flourish or not?

The MOOC MOOC had at its center an LMS. Purists would deride any kind of top-down centralization, preferring organic conglomerations of members on an ad-hoc basis. This MOOC was more highly structured in some ways, partly due to the fact it only lasted a week, and people needed to be able to navigate quickly. Change11 on the other hand lasted almost a year, with weekly visiting experts, each with varying control, allowed users (What do you call  MOOCer?), allowed enough time to suss out how the structures developed as they were being built by the users.

I’d have to say that it is good people are playing with the formula (kind of goes with the territory). So far, my most enjoyable MOOC has been the Change11, with just the right amount of structure vs. freedom. The weekly expert was one way to organize around a topic, with a focal point and person, without getting too involved in any one aspect for too long. It was organic, with participation varying wildly from week to week, depending on both inside and outside factors.

But hey, that is just me. I am guessing that there will develop a whole array of MOOC-type organizations (and here again, DS-106 is becoming an organization, with the start of franchising in a small way), providing just the right learning environment for a part of the learning population.

University courses are too inflexible, too tied down to allow MOOCification. But we will be able to take aspects of the MOOC into the curriculum at some points. It will be important to maintain “pure” MOOCs after the initial period of exploration and interest in the new learning culture (the “ooh-ahh period”). I would guess that eventually the “pure” MOOCs will make up less than 10% of this kind of environment, but that they will continue to foster new ideas for interaction that others can use. Pure MOOCs will always be at the frontier of exploration.

What is a mooc?

We are asked, in MOOCMOOC, two questions, the one above, and “What does it do, and what does it not do.” 1000 words. One picture. Sounds a bit like DS106.

That’s 3 questions by my count. But no mind.

Laura Linney

Laura Linney in The Big C, photo by SatinShirt

This assignment reminds me of a TV show (guilty pleasure) about a lady with cancer (I don’t pay attention to details much, so the name escapes me). In one of the episodes, she goes to a motivational speaker’s workshop. The registration process is all very well organized, all the way down to messages in the room as to what to do. Wear a pink backpack. In the course of the show, they discover the pink backpacks are filled with rocks. Everyone is struggling their hardest to act normal and accomodate the motivational speaker. Then there is a bit of oneupmanship. People are proud to be carrying the backpack.

The lady with cancer (Laura Linney) tries to leave, is begged and bullied by the speaker to stay. She is tired and cranky and gets so incensed, she drops the backpack along with a half dozen expletives, and refuses to carry it any more. Turns out that was the point. Don’t do stuff just because people tell you to. Even people in authority.



I can’t find the place to collaborate, so I am posting here. I think it will get sorted out eventually, but that is OK. I probably signed up late and time zones are worse than flipped classes in this kind of course. You need to be on vacation for these if you live half way around the world.

But that is OK. Figuring out how a MOOC works is part of the MOOC. I was completely lost in my first MOOC way back fo CCK08. I wandered into another area of research, but returned for PLENK10, and like that a lot. It was more centered on an LMS, less distributed than before. With Change11 I had become adept enough not to need the training wheels of the LMS.

A good MOOC is the proverbial elephant and we are all blind men, talking to each other, describing what the focus of the MOOC is about. Eventually you get a complete picture, but only if you collaborate, and take notes, and are able to hold up your end of the describing process. A lot of times this fails. Failure is part of learning, indeed, it is the essential element in learning. It is just that failing together is a lot more fun.

A bad MOOC is simply a course or online collaboration that doesn’t have all four components that correspond to the MOOC (See Wiley). I think Coursera measures up under these criteria.

But the connectedness is the element that is so hard to measure, and the myriad interactions that (should) go on in a MOOC, mostly at the edges of the MOOC, is the part that is the most important. I think it was Downes that said, “Content is the McGuffin”.

This reminds me of another movie. The pool shark movie sequel with Tom Cruise, who is counseled by the star of the first movie, Paul Newman. Paul says, “The real money is not in winning the tournament, but in the side games, the ones with the rich guys trying to beat the champ.”

MOOCs require some prerequisite abilities, and I am not sure those abilities can be developed with MOOCs. Critical thinking, analysis or the other higher Bloom levels, and things as simple as note taking. I am trying to think of things that can’t be taught with MOOCs, and musical instruments stand out. Mostly because of the online part.

Anyway, it is past midnight and the deadline is before I get up. I am about 400 words shy here, and about 3 references shy, but I am going to drop my bag of rocks and look around to see what other people are doing. Oh, and check out this article about economics and MOOCs. Found it at the edge of Bon Stewart’s Foucalt article.