Moodle at kevinryan

Moodle at kevinryan Moodle at kevinryan


April 2014
« Mar    

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.


MOOCMOOC Hiccup Number 1

Part of a MOOC is figuring out how it works. Our second day assignment was to collaborate with others on a document defining a MOOC. I go to the collaboration page and get this .

No list of current collaborations.


None yet?








The Current Collaborations section is empty (for me). Not sure how the collaborative part comes in. Maybe it is because I am in Tokyo, and thus experience things half a day ahead of the western hemisphere. I guess I will start a new one? The instructions intimate that there are some collaborations already set up….and Chris seems to have found it…(iMac OSX 10.7 using Chrome)

Update: This got sorted about an hour after I posted this. The Google Docs were manually set up, and I was asking the setter-upper at 4 AM his time. Things all going smoothly now, but foresee lots of time zone issues in a course this short.


MOOCs. I’ve lost count. There was CCK08, then PLENK10 and Change11, then it starts getting fuzzy. DS106 stands out, and there is a mobimooc coming up next month and Learning 2.o Virtual Conference (similar to a MOOC), on August 20-24, just after this one ends.

But this week, we have MOOCMOOC, a MOOC about MOOCs. Just perusing the self introductions, it looks to be a high powered week. Intensive too. The mooc is only one week long, far shorter than I have ever experienced.

MOOCMOOC schedule

Each day this week is chock full of MOOC stuff about MOOCs







Thanks to Becky at rjh.goingeast for the pointer to the MOOCMOOC. It is memorial week here in Japan, where Tokyo empties out and everyone goes to their home town. I’m too far away, so I have some extra time. Perfect placement.

My only concern is figuring out which day I am in, since I am about 16 hours ahead of California. We’ll see.

I am donating to this wonderful project

Pronunciation Evaluation

Project to develop branching readers with pronunciation practice








Let me count the ways this project is good; good for the world, good for language learners, and good for me. First let me explain what it is. (Or you can go directly to their KickStarter page.)

Did you ever try one of those “Choose your own adventure” books? No? You read a page or two, then you have a choice. Depending on your choice, you jump to a different page. Read that page, another choice. Another jump. I learned how to use hypertext while developing an online version of a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA). This was all before the World Wide Web. Now, people like Marcos Benavides are using CYOA for readers for language learners.

This project mixes Choose Your Own Adventure plots with Speech Recognition, to improve pronunciation. Most pronunciation software fails because it is not intrinsically linked to neither a purpose nor an important outcome. Linking the story and plot to your ability to pronounce should provide both. This project looks really, really interesting.

It is good for the world. This project is Open Source, it will be offered to the world for free when it is finished. Anyone can use it without paying for the software. People will even be able to work on it to improve the tool. I will guess that people will be able to write books for the project. It also means that is will be developed using suggestions from users.

It is good for language learners because it is based on stories, the mental unit that works best with memory. It mixes oral production (pronunciation) with reading in a way that is both natural and good challenging to language learners.

There are also a lot of ways that this project is good for me. I have been interested in both CYOA and Speech Recognition, and its application to language learning, main topics of my research in the early 90′s. I learned about it from a journalist from Colorado. One of the promoters is from Barcelona Spain (I used to live there). The developers are from Singapore and India.  A truly international affair. It is also a bit of a geeky endeavor. So much fun just to be a part of it. I just pledged $100.

Japan a market so mature it is dying

A good friend in the business has been long telling me that Japan is a mature market for language learning books, materials and software. The shrinking commercial areas at language conferences attest to this. Now, another indication I came across this morning. Mindsnacks is a new software for language games, with apps for iPads and iPhones. If you will notice below, we have a nice app for learning English as a Second Language (ESL). The interfaces for learning have lots of different interfaces. If you speak Spanish, Korean or Chinese, and many other languages, you have instructions in your language to learn English. The notable exception? Japanese.


Koreans and Chinese can use Mindsnacks easily

The New University






It has finally arrived. The new university. The first update in 500 years. And it looks really good for learning. You get the best lectures and the best materials and the best classmates in the world, for free. Some people call it a MOOC, and there are some common elements. But the innovations bring people and computers, and all their strengths, together. All you have to do is work at it. It is up to you. Read this article about how it works. Or just go to the web site where the newest example looks like it is going to change education. Everywhere.

I’ve been watching for this. I knew it was going to come. I figure I will be just be able to retire with the traditional university still intact, but decaying. The university as we know it will not last much longer. There will be a place for teachers, professors, and people that tell good stories. But it certainly will not pay as well as it does now. Except for a few “rock star” professors who will make millions. The future of course production will be more like a movie studio, and the organizations that can put the right producers, directors, writers and actors together will have hit courses. So we will see teachers in their 20′s gravitate to one or another of these roles gradually, deconstructing what a teacher is, over the next generation. I fear for them, but am also excited for education in general.

Link to questionnaire

Here is the link to the questionnaire.

Progression of Courses

How to lie cheat and steal with numbers in English

My new class

I teach on Tuesday over at the University of Tokyo. I make a new course each semester to keep myself sharp and draw in some students again. The students visit the first week and choose. I get a great mix of students with high proficiency in English and others from abroad (Todai has more foreign students than most universities).

Dad is reading a new book called “The American Way of Eating” about the diet in America and how industry has influenced it. It got me to thinking about the progression of my courses over the last few years. Here is what I wrote him.

The American Way of Eating looks really good. I teach a class I call “Hamburgers and Rhetoric” where we look at books, movies (documentaries) and software games, and how they persuade people. The common link is McDonald’s. Se we start with Fast Food Nation (the book, I assign the movie for extra credit), then go on to Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s for 30 days), then we do the McDonald’s Game (at Molleindustria home of many Serious Games).

That morphed into another course about “Documentaries and the Truth” Where we started with Super Size Me, then went onto Food Inc., and the Cove, then Temple Grandin. If they made a documentary about The American Way of Eating, it would be in this class too. I would recommend Food Inc as a precursor of TAWOE.
That has morphed into “How to Lie Cheat and Steal with Numbers in English”. In HTLCASWNIE, we look at numeracy, or numerical literacy and critical thinking. We look at big and small numbers, then how to talk about numbers, then we look at different ways to represent numbers (infographics and visualizations), and then finally, how to use statistics and numbers to change people’s perceptions.
These classes are for my University of Tokyo students, the ones who go on to rule the nation. I think it will be a really good course.
Now that I have the skill set we are going to target in the class, I am working on collecting examples from media. The topics are falling into a list of “what not to talk about at a party”. Sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, politics, religion, money, race, and education. Will keep you updated on how it goes.

Seth Godin on Learning

Stop Stealing DreamsSeth Godin has written a collection of ideas against education in its current form, called Stop Stealing Dreams. As I read through it, I find resonance with a lot of the online courses, especially the ones that are large and network-based MOOCs like #Change11), in a lot of his writing. Idea 65, for example, is The Smartest Person in the Room. He quotes Dave Weinberger. Turns out it is not a person at all, but the room itself. The network that enables it. That is my goal next semester in my classes. Build networks.

Check out the wonderful graphic summary on the facebook group page.

How to cite a tweet in an academic paper

Alexis Madrigal over at Atlantic shows us how to cite a tweet from twitter in an academic paper. Go figure.

Madrigal on citing a tweet

Alexis Madrigal from Atlantic shows us how to cite a tweet

Stephen Downes at #Change11


change11 home page, as it were

This week we have just received an assignment that is more like a challenge. We have to create a “learning artifact”. Still not sure what that is, but he also gave us a bunch of resource links to go along with the challenge.

We are supposed to use this learning artifact as a tool to illustrate many dimensions of the learning (and teaching) process, or even IF it IS a process. We take a step back and look at the a whole simplified picture from many angles.

OK, so I teach languages, or, as a Professor in the Department of English Language and Communication, that is what I am ostensibly doing. Problem is, I don’t think I really CAN teach anyone how to speak English. This is not personal. I don’t think a language is really teachable, at least not in the traditional academic sense. I now use most of my time with students trying to develop curiosity, and then ways to sate that curiosity. That first part is by far the hardest. But goes with the territory.

So, like languages, but a lot simpler, I’ve decided that my learning artifact will be “how to use chopsticks”. Like language learning, it is usually done as a child, and when accomplished, becomes completely automatic, but everyday. Some people don’t learn it as a kid, though, and therefore have to learn it a different way.  I’m looking forward to this.

Great timing too, as I just finished my grades for this semester, I may even be able to join the synchronous sessions, for only the third time this year (here in Tokyo, they start at 2 AM usually.)

Shameful day in American education

T is for Teacher

New York is going to publish (as in local newspapers) the ratings of public school teachers. So the bad ones, who don’t care, will simply do their supermarket shopping down the road. The ones who do will leave. Note that student, or administrators, are not subject to these same measures. Bill Gates has come out against them in an IHT (NYT) opinion piece. The illustration at left is from the article.

While I think having billionaires tinkering with education is a bit frightening, most notably with the promotion of people like Michelle Rhee, some do have a rational take on the situation. Mr. Gates shows that here. What we do know positively that now is the time for experimentation. If you aren’t trying anything new, you will be marginalized in the near future. More on this at Hack Education.


I’m going to Stanford!

HCI Course outline at Stanford

HCI Course outline at Stanford

OK, not really. But I am going to take one class at Stanford. OK, not AT Stanford, but through Stanford. Stanford has generously opened up some of their classes to people outside the university, for study online. It will have the same lectures, the same activities, the same quizzes and tests, and the same interaction as the for-credit students will get. It is free, but does not carry any recognition. For a guy like me, who is a professor, and no longer needs any more recognition, this is pure learning.

I will be taking the course in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). I am very excited, because it looks like I will be able to freshen my programming skills while applying them to an area of development that will help me create materials for my students, and students outside my classes as well.

I hope to chronicle my adventure here. I will also keep you up on my other MOOC course, Change11.

OpenClass may kill Moodle

Really excited about the opening of the collaboration between Pearson and Google to make OpenClass, an LMS built for the web. Out this week some time. Part of Google Apps for Education. Will update when I get it.

This may be a Moodle killer.

Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices

This impressionist is advertising for his show. I wish I could see it. The impressions of famous people are amazing, all while quoting Shakespeare. What a memory this guy has, and what a rubbery face!

How the other half lives

When we say “the other half” usually it is poor or middle class people referring to rich people. But here, I am saying that all of us in Tokyo live so close together, with so much concrete and so many people, it is hard to imagine how some people with lots of sky and lots of space and lots of time, can live. It changes how they see the world and see each other. Let’s travel to Marfa, Texas. There, they have a group of very interesting people in what LOOKS LIKE a boring town, but it is not. Take the 5 minutes to watch what people do there. (via BoingBoing)


No Place Like Here: Marfa, Texas from Etsy on Vimeo.


Life advice from a cartoonist

Lisa Hanawalt

Lisa Hanawalt

Over at BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder found cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt’s advice on getting things done. I like most of them. Execute dumb ideas beautifully is especially interesting. Another is “Don’t worry about how good it will be, just make it and do your best.” Words to live and learn by.

Crystal Ball Gazing

Looking into the future, or prognosticating, predicting, punditry, or guessing, is a skill. Recent results from a study at Hamilton College shows that some are better than others.

“We discovered that a few factors impacted a prediction’s accuracy.  The first is whether or not the prediction is a conditional; conditional predictions were more likely to not come true.  The second was partisanship; liberals were more likely than conservatives to predict correctly.  The final significant factor in a prediction’s outcome was having a law degree; lawyers predicted incorrectly more often. Partisanship had an impact on predictions even when removing political predictions about the Presidential, Vice Presidential, House, and Senate elections.”

So there you have it. Conservative lawyers are the worst. Liberal economists are the best.

Fast Food and Society

Super Size Me

I teach Rhetoric and Hamburgers, a class about how to convince people about eating things like hamburgers. I start with a book, Fast Food Nation, then do a movie (documentary) Super Size Me, and finish with a computer game (McDonald’s).

Two interesting posts related to this topic came to me while browsing at Slate. One is about a guy that went on a beer-and-water diet for lent (40 days). Another is about violence at fast food restaurants. The more I see, the lest I like about fast food. My next movie is Food, Inc. Even better than Super Size Me.

Earthquake Update Day 43

People are uneasy here. The aftershocks continue unabated, now more than 1,000 since the big one March 11. We had 3 in one night, strong enough to wake us up. The epicenters are moving south, near Chiba, which is about 30 miles to the east of us. Fortunately, no significant damage has been reported. Our house, about 35 years old, is holding up all right. The spring rains have also come, and the school year has started up in most places. Julia spends a lot of time watching TV and reading.

One thing I do note, is that people are talking about their situation on the day of the quake. The topic of conversation quickly moves there, much like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of conversation. People are now making the before/after distinction, and although there are no big changes here in Tokyo, there are a lot of small changes. The streets are no longer lit by neon signs as much, and many of the escalators in the public transportation are turned off, all to save electricity. Right now there is enough power to go around, but come summer, with the load air conditioning puts on, it means there may be new blackouts. Tokyo Electric is ramping up their production, taking old coal-burners out of mothballs, and (more seriously) postponing scheduled maintenance on some nuclear powered plants. There is a small movement to try to shut down all the vending machines, which would reduce usage to manageable levels. Here is a before and after of downtown Shibuya near where I work.