I’m going to let industrial designer Eliot Noyes inform me a bit about course design, as I watch Alec Couros design his #etmooc open class by using a Google Group. Alec was one of the very first to offer open online classes, by offering a regular class to his teacher education students, but opening the class to the world to participate. I took Alec’s EC&I831 as an enrolled student, partly to learn from him, partly to get credit I needed to advance on the salary schedule, and partly to be part of an open class from the “inside” and study the class design.
Since then I’ve designed the POT Certificate Class, and have abandoned the MOOC idea (or at least what it has become) in order to do what we want to do. Similar to Alec’s initial design, we have a core group of “students” (even though they are non-credit) and a surrounding “community” of helpers and mentors.
I have watched the designs of the big MOOCs evolve into three models, and for a task-based open class I have concluded this is the best design for us. The course is aimed at a particular group – we’ve been calling them newbies or novices but it might be more accurate to consider them as teachers or trainers who have been limited in their experience using the web for teaching. This might be because they’ve been forced to use an LMS, or because they do not participate in their own online networks related to their teaching. Either way, they spend their time making lesson plans and teaching, not participating in MOOCs.
POT’s organizers and facilitators have made the decisions about course design for the POT Cert Class, and there is a centrality to that role of facilitator that I think is important. (I have never been a fan of instructional designers creating courses for others to teach, because I believe that the process of class design is an inherent part of teaching.)
At the root of the POT Certificate Class is the idea that the individual instructor determines his/her own pedagogical approach, articulates it, then realizes it in the online environment through various technologies. The class reflects its own goals about what we want our participants to become, designers of learning experiences for their students. So…
1. Fulfills its function
This wouldn’t work with a free-for-all design, since its function it to offer a guided experience. Teachers do not naturally examine and articulate their own pedagogy. That is the first step. They also may not know which articles or videos might be beneficial in their process of realizing this pedagogy. While open exploration could ultimately lead to these goals, most of our participants are busy professionals who have limited web experience. They seem to benefit from guidance and structure at first, then interpreting the usefulness of the proffered sources themselves, and then having the freedom to choose both tools and method.
2. Reflects its materials
In this case, the “materials” would be the affordances of the open web, which is why assignments are not limited to particular technologies – there are many that work, depending on the teachers’ goals. (A closed online class in online pedagogy offered inside an LMS would be an example of a course that does not to reflect the “materials” of the web.)
3. Is suited to method of production
While we don’t have a “product”, we do have a certificate that is based on the idea of full engagement and exploration through the curriculum. This engagement is demonstrated through weekly tasks and reflection, posted on their blogs. In furniture design, the design must take into account the manner in which the final product will be (usually mass-) produced. Although mass production of certificates (or certificate holders) is not the goal, the quality of each participant’s experience must be grounded in the method, in this case guided exploration, reflection and the creation of artifacts.
4. Combines these in imaginative expression
In some MOOCs, the imaginative expression is the entire point of the class. In the POT Cert Class we provide the framework through the curriculum, but when participants create their artifacts each week (blog posts, videos, audio files, etc) they are combining the function, materials and method by creating their own works in pursuit of their pedagogical goals.
While this may seem instructor-centered, both in the facilitation of the course itself and the objectives we have for participants, the ultimate goal is always effective learning for our students. As with teacher education and faculty communities, the goals can best be achieved by teachers engaging in course design. Charles and Ray Eames designed their chair, but it’s the person who has it in their living room who benefits from its aesthetics and comfort.
I think Noyes’ elements are as useful for course design as they are for furniture design.
Image source: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/01/0127_eliot_noyes/source/2.htm
I’ve gotten out the rope with the red floaty balls and divided the pool.
The main page of the POT Certificate Class now features posts from those who enrolled to earn a certificate, their mentors, and our facilitators. It’s the shallow end. We’ll all do the same thing, learn the same strokes, wear the water wings, till everyone is comfortable.
A separate page now features posts from those who wanted a larger experience, not so guided, more open to big ideas, comparisons and experimentation. It’s the deep end, where you can dive, swim laps real fast, or do cannonballs, and no one will complain.
While I have been unhappy for a year or two about the commercialization and institutionalization of MOOCs, the fact that MOOCs are the latest Big Thing in education is now causing me more trouble than that.
The Program for Online Teaching, a small group of dedicated, volunteer online faculty, offers an open online class in how to teach online. Originally designed for the online (and newly online) faculty at MiraCosta College, it was opened last year to the world, and was very successful. I realize now this was because newbies were at the center, and all the more experienced people were mentors and moderators.
Our goal was to provide a safe yet open place for people new to teaching online (many of whom are new to much of the open web) to learn how to articulate their own pedagogy and translate it into a meaningful online environment for their students. This is in opposition to the idea that all new online profs need is technical training in an LMS. Our dream was to help faculty develop their own online pedagogy and implement it using the tools that work for them.
At the same time as our course was evolving, the Massive Open Online Course movement took off, in its various forms and multiple formats. The original openness and extensive, distributed conversations and networks have become addictive for many, and there are wonderful participants who now go looking for the next MOOC as an outlet for their creativity and ideas.
I have been calling our POT Cert class a SMOOC (a Small-to-Medium) online class, since it isn’t huge. At first this was a light-hearted effort to share what we were doing. But I have used the term now in two paper proposals and a conference presentation. That is, I believe now, unfortunate. In fact, it may have been a horrible mistake.
Jenny Mackness, who researches MOOCs and is a class participant, has gotten to the heart of the matter, talking about the class on her own blog. Her analysis of the difficulties at the beginning of this class have been absolutely on target.
I think we are a task-based SMOOC, but that’s based on my own schema. If others think we are a MOOC, they will (and have) come into the class and overwhelm the people for whom we offer the class. We have already gotten into arguments about the philosophical approach, whether I should be asking more experienced participants to tone it down, whether I am violating the principles of MOOC by insisting on topical posts.
I’ve had it. I hereby disavow the POT Certificate Class as a MOOC. We are just an online class. If you’d like to join us, read the textbook, follow the syllabus, and post accordingly, you are heartily welcome. If you want to use us as a venue for your creative development as a networked individual and eschew the class structure and intention, I’d prefer you not join us in the class and I’ll happily interact with you in my networks (because I am a networked individual also and I love your ideas).
So this class is no longer appropriate for your research on MOOCs, it isn’t called a MOOC, and it doesn’t act like a MOOC. It is an open (but you have to email me first), online (but you have to read the textbook), class (as in set curriculum and syllabus). Its focus is helping people new to online teaching develop their own pedagogy through (limited and guided) immersion in the web environment. You may call it teacher-led if you must (though that hurts since we are facilitators – it is more syllabus-led).
This post will not be tagged potcert, because it’s not appropriate for the class itself. I am happy to continue this distributed conversation anywhere else but in the class (except in Week 19 in March, when we talk about MOOCs).
This week is the first week of our open, online class in teaching online, the POT Certificate Class.
It is primarily intended for teachers new to online instruction, especially at the college level.
However, it is a completely open class, and last year we had participants from all over the world. Most of the people who had a lot of experience acted as moderators and mentors, and it was a wonderful community.
This year, we have some wonderful additions, but many new participants are not only experienced with online teaching, they are experienced with MOOCs. The tradition (if such a word can be used by a phenomenon that’s only been around since 2007) is for people participating in Massive Open Online Classes to set up their own blog and, in most cases, do their own thing.
According to my Three Types of MOOC schema, they are people accustomed to Community-Based MOOCs.
This class, however, is not Massive, and it is task-based. Thus members should be creating blog posts based on the tasks of each week, rather than engaging in broad open-ended topics, particularly those laden with ed tech jargon and the names of various other MOOCs (ds106, cck08, change11) as they compare their experiences.
Unlike these MOOCs, this class is not an open framework for participating in an online community. The syllabus, unlike other MOOCs, is not just an open topic and a synchronous session (we may not even have many of those). It is based on guided exploration particular topics with a particular design of progress, particularly suited for those just beginning to teach online.
Class has been open for one day, and due to the activities of these wonderful people, all of whose work I personally love to read, the new folks are already intimidated.
The pedagogy here is not really connectivist; it’s more constructivist, with some instructivism each week.
The task for this week is to set up our blogs. The experienced MOOCers all have blogs already, and are enjoying side conversations far above the head of the people for whom the class is intended. This week’s posts should pertain to setting up a blog, and discussing aspects from the reading in the textbook.
So I ask you, please, if you are an experienced MOOCer, you are invited to learn with all of us in whatever capacity you wish. But keep in mind – the intention of the “potcert” tag was to make sure that your posts that relate to syllabus tasks are the only ones that appear in the main blog.
As Jim wrote in his prompt, “In general, narrowly focused posts that offer interesting reflections and connections better engage readers than long summaries of the readings and/or long musings on a wide range of topics.”
And, as last year, I invite any of you MOOCers with a lot of experience to volunteer as mentors and help others.
We are so into MOOCs now that it’s too much for me. Gotta apply Ockham’s Razor 2.0 to this stuff.
At the Ed-Media conference, I attended a session by Sarah Schrire of Kibbutzim College of Education in Tel Aviv. In her discussion of Troubleshooting MOOCs, she noted the dificulties in determining her own direction in offering a MOOC in the “Stanford model” MOOCs versus the “connectivism” MOOCs. I found myself breaking it down into three categories instead.
Each type of MOOC has all three elements (networks, tasks and content), but each has a goal that is dominant.
Network-based MOOCs are the original MOOCs, taught by Alec Couros, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier. The goal is not so much content and skills acquisition, but conversation, socially constructed knowledge, and exposure to the milieu of learning on the open web using distributed means. The pedagogy of network-based MOOCs is based in connectivist or connectivist-style methods. Resources are provided, but exploration is more important than any particular content. Traditional assessment is difficult.
Task-based MOOCs emphasize skills in the sense that they ask the learner to complete certain types of work. In Jim Groom’s ds106 at UMW, the learning is distributed and the formats variable. There are many options for completing each assignment, but a certain number and variety of assignments need to be done to perform the skills. Similarly, our POT Certificate Class focuses on different topics for each week, and skills are demonstrated through sections on design, audio, video etc. in an effort to expose learners to many different formats and styles in online teaching. Community is crucial, particularly for examples and assistance, but it is a secondary goal. Pedagogy of task-based MOOCs tend to be a mix of instructivism and constructivism. Traditional assessment is difficult here too.
Content-based MOOCs are the ones with huge enrollments, commercial prospects, big university professors, automated testing, and exposure in the popular press. Community is difficult but may be highly significant to the participants, or one can go it alone. Content acquisition is more important in these classes than either networking or task completion, and they tend to use instructivist pedagogy. Traditional assessment, both formative and summative, may be emphasized. Mass participation seems to imply mass processing.
So I’m rejecting both the Good vs Bad MOOC model, and the million-points-of-MOOC approach, and going for a triad.
Laura Paciorek and I presented at Ed-Media last week and we created a video of the session (hard to see, since it’s recorded from a netbook), a slidecast of Laura’s presentation on Simul-learn setups for synchronous sessions, and a slidecast of my presentation on POT’s Online Teaching Certificate Class, here:
Here’s a transcript of the first nine or so minutes, for anyone interested in starting the class in September.