Jill Fresen has sent me this:
Every member of Oxford University has their own personal ‘cloud’ in WebLearn, called ‘My Workspace’. You can enter your contact details, upload your photo into your profile, and make connections with other WebLearn users. You also have a personal file storage area (max 100 Mb) which you can use to back up files, access them from any other computer, or build a personal web page.
Come along to the Learn at Work day session entitled “WebLearn: An online space for learning and collaboration” at IT Services, 13 Banbury Road on 23 May 2013 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.
More information and bookings at: http://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/TLW12
This is going to be a more personal blog post than I typically make here at e-Literate.
The open letter from San José State University’s philosophy department in protest of the edX JusticeX course being taught at SJSU is getting a lot of attention, as is the follow-up statement from the SJSU faculty senate. I have some concerns with both of these letters—particularly the one from the philosophy department—but before I get into them, I’d like to emphasize my points of agreement and solidarity with the department:
- As a former philosophy major and a former teacher of philosophy courses to seventh and eighth graders, I strongly believe that a course in social justice is critical to every American’s education.
- I also strongly agree that, in order for such a course to be effective, it must be up-to-date, relevant to the students, and involve in-depth facilitated discussion.
- I agree that there is a bit of a bait-and-switch going on, possibly unintentionally, with the rhetoric about MOOCs providing superior pedagogy over lecture classes (which is probably somewhat true) and then moving to swap out discussion classes for MOOCs instead.
- I agree that some MOOC fans (though by no means all of them) have simplistic notions of how MOOCs can make university education cheaper without thinking through the consequences either to the quality of education or the fiscal health of the colleges and universities that still provide tremendous value to our nation and our culture.
- I agree that intellectual diversity is very important, particularly when discussing complex issues that are essential to a functioning democracy, and that the potential for an intellectual monoculture is a concern worth taking very seriously.
- While I have no knowledge of the negotiations between edX and SJSU, I strongly agree that such partnerships should be conceived and implemented with active consultation and collaboration with faculty unless there is exceptionally strong justification to do otherwise.
Despite all this common ground on values that are dear to me, I find aspects of the department’s letter to be deeply problematic.
To begin with, there is this:
Good quality online courses and blended courses (to which we have no objections) do not save money, but pre-packaged ones do, and a lot.
That statement is demonstrably false. Good quality online courses and blended courses can, in fact, save money. How do we know? For starters, the National Center for Academic Transformation has a long list of course redesign projects they have been doing in collaboration with colleges in universities since 1999, many of which have achieved substantial cost savings. And some of them actually achieved substantial improvement in outcomes while achieving substantial cost savings. Nor is NCAT alone. There is a growing body of empirically backed academic literature showing that we can teach more students more effectively for less money across a variety of subjects. Some subjects are easier to redesign than others. But cost savings in high-quality courses is possible as a general proposition (and does not require open content licensing, by the way). The SJSU philosophy department’s blanket denial of this possibility is not credible.
As a result, the authors of the letter are also less credible when they write,
In addition to providing students with an opportunity to engage with active scholars, expertise in the physical classroom, sensitivity to its diversity, and familiarity with one’s own students is just not available in a one-size-fits-all blended course produced by an outside vendor….When a university such as ours purchases a course from an outside vendor, the faculty cannot control the design or content of the course; therefore we cannot develop and teach content that fits with our overall curriculum and is based on both our own highly developed and continuously renewed competence and our direct experience of our students’ abilities and needs.
There appears to be a significant disconnect here. On the one hand, the department argues (correctly, in my view) that philosophy students gain great benefit from “the opportunity to engage with active scholars.” On the other hand, they assert that the philosophy department has “expertise in the physical classroom” and a “highly developed and continuously renewed competence” despite the overwhelming likelihood that most of the faculty have not had significant opportunities to engage with active scholars in pedagogy-related fields.
They could have made their case just as effectively without foreclosing the possibility of improving on what they already do. As the letter from the SJSU Faculty Association notes in response to the improved completion rates of the edX course,
The pedagogical infrastructure and work that has gone into the preparation of the edX material could easily be replicated if SJSU made a commitment to pedagogy and made training in pedagogy central to all faculty.
This is a defensible argument that the philosophy department could have made. But it didn’t. Instead, it implicitly denied the existence of the scholarship of teaching and explicitly blamed the university’s financial issues on “industry” for “demanding that public universities devote their resources to providing ready-made employees, while at the same time…resisting paying the taxes that support public education.” The collective effect of these rhetorical moves is to absolve the department of all responsibility for addressing the real problems the university is facing.
By ignoring the scholarship of teaching, the department missed an opportunity to engage the MOOC question in a different way. Rather than thinking of MOOCs as products to be bought or rejected, they could have approached them as experiments in teaching methods that can be validated, refuted, or refined through the collective efforts of a scholarly community. Researchers collaborate across university boundaries all the time. The same can be true in the scholarship of teaching. The faculty could have demanded access to the edX data and the freedom to adjust the course design. The letter authors seem deeply invested in positioning the edX course as something that is locked down from a third-party commercial vendor. But in reality, the edX course is developed by a faculty member and provided by a university-based non-profit entity. Perhaps the department felt that there wasn’t sufficient opportunity in this particular course design to make a request to have a collaboration worthwhile. But their rhetoric gives no indication that there is any room for such exploration under any circumstances, or indeed that the department has anything to learn about use of educational technology that could lead to either improved outcomes or lower costs.
Equally disturbing is the tendency in both letters to dismiss the fiscal crisis as something caused solely by greedy capitalists. It’s worth requoting the earlier referenced comment from the philosophy department letter here:
Industry is demanding that public universities devote their resources to providing ready-made employees, while at the same time they are resisting paying the taxes that support public education.
To begin with, “industry” isn’t alone in demanding that public universities devote their resources to producing employable graduates. Students and their parents are asking for it too, as are individual human taxpayers. On this last point, I am not a Californian, but I understand that individual human taxpayers have an unusually direct say regarding tax rates in the state of California. The purpose of education as a public good is a serious and complicated question that deserves more careful treatment from people who should know better.
Nor are taxes the only issue. While it is true that there has been progressive defunding of public colleges and universities in the United States, it is also true that tuition costs have been rising dramatically across the country in private as well as public schools. And it is true that the public colleges and universities in California in particular are struggling with unanticipated swelling enrollments as they strive to meet the as-yet-unfulfilled moral imperative of universal access to education. Given all of this, it is not a morally defensible position to simply point the finger at the rich guys and say, “It’s their fault. Make them fix it.” To the degree that course redesign can positively impact student access to education, faculty have a moral obligation to be leading the charge. And from a strategic perspective, they are more likely to prevent dumb ideas—such as gutting quality residential education in favor of least-common-denominator, video-driven xMOOCs—from taking hold.
But perhaps the worst aspect of the simplistic finger pointing is the way in which it pollutes the civic discourse. It encourages individual stakeholders to harden into an “us vs. them” position that reduces the likelihood of citizens coming together to solve real, hard problems that are deeply intwined with issues of social justice. Here’s an example of a comment made on this blog in response to a post about the California SB 520 bill:
Remember that when the Nazis led the people into the gas chamber they told them that it was a refreshing shower after a long train ride. Do not be fooled! This sweet sounding bill is the gas chamber of good education in California. Once we are in the questions will be pointless. As the pellets drop we will realize we should have questioned things sooner.
Setting aside the fact that the only justifiable use of genocide as an analogy is when talking about another genocide, this kind of rhetoric is enormously damaging to the possibility of a productive dialectic regarding how to solve the very real and complicated problems that our system of higher education faces, including both the need to increase access and the complexities of funding that imperative. And, sadly, this comment was written by a member of the SJSU philosophy department.
So MindTap just won a CODiE award for “Best Post-secondary Personalized Learning Solution.” In and of itself, this isn’t a big deal. No offense intended to current or prior winners, but the CODiEs often feel like awards for “Best Instant Coffee” or “Best New Technology Product by an Important Sponsor of Our Awards Program.” They’re not exactly signals of breakthrough educational product design. But I’m glad that the award was given in this case because I think MindTap does represent an important innovation that addresses some of the trends that we’ve been blogging about here at e-Literate (which was one of the reasons that I was enticed to work on MindTap at Cengage for a while).
MindTap is not a “personalized learning solution.” While it does allow students to do things like integrate their Evernote accounts and choose whether they want to read or listen to texts, the level of personalization for the learners is not terribly different from other products on the market. (And it certainly is nowhere near as radical as the vision for a Personalized Learning Environment which came from the UK’s JISC and elsewhere, and from which terms like “personalized learning solution” and “personalized learning experience” have been bastardized). Nor are there adaptive analytics or other sorts of machine-driven personalization in the product at this time. Rather, the key differentiator in the current incarnation of MindTap is the way in which it creates a more refined and complete learning experience out of the box while still enabling faculty to customize those experiences to the needs of their students in pretty significant and, in some cases, new ways. This is exactly where the textbook, LMS, and MOOC markets are all headed, and MindTap got there first.The Problem to be Solved
In order to understand the value of a product like MindTap, it’s important to understand where textbook publishers do and do not compete. You’re not going to see a lot of MindTap-style products for courses like “Advanced Topics in International Trade Policy,” “Research in Genetics,” “Greek Film,” or “Intermediate Killer Shark Genre.” These smaller courses are relatively uninteresting to textbook publishers because they don’t have the scale necessary to generate significant revenues, and they are also better suited to hand-crafted course designs that are tailored to the strengths of the particular professor doing the teaching and can be highly tailored to the needs and interests of the students in the class. Rather, the courses in question are more like “Introduction to Psychology,” “General Biology I,” “Microeconomics,” or “Survey of Western Civilization.” (English Composition is an anomaly in this categorization because of the way it is taught.) These courses are generally taught in large lecture halls with little or no writing—and when there is writing, it is often graded quickly on a narrow range of criteria by overworked graduate students—and relatively generic syllabi (particularly in non-elite institutions).
A lot of the heated debate over whether college is “broken” revolves around these sorts of classes without ever explicitly defining the scope of the problem. Those who say school is broken and need to be disrupted tend to argue as if all college courses are giant, boring lecture courses. Those who argue against the “school is broken” meme tend to characterize these large lecture-centric courses as exceptions. Neither characterization is entirely accurate. On one hand, there are huge swaths of courses in just about any college catalog that are not large lecture courses. On the other hand, because the large lecture courses are concentrated in core curriculum and core major classes, most students have to take a handful of these courses in order to graduate.
Regardless of how pervasive or rare you think these courses are, everybody seems to agree that they are not terribly effective. But what should be done about the problem? Shrinking the class size is simply not going to happen, given both budget realities and the moral imperative to increase access to education. And yet, the current situation is bad not only for the students but also for the instructors. Keep in mind that the people teaching these survey courses are disproportionately either junior faculty who are doing all kinds of other duties to earn tenure or adjuncts who are working unreasonable course loads just to make ends meet. They generally don’t have a lot of time to either carefully craft a course or give students a lot of (or any) individual attention. They often have little choice but to take what the publisher is giving them as their course outline and run with it. In and of itself, the direct adoption of a publisher’s curriculum isn’t necessarily bad for many of these courses. The whole idea of a core course is that it helps all students getting a particular degree or a particular major to master certain competencies that they should have. There is a strong argument for consistency of curriculum across core courses. But the current situation neither guarantees consistency of curriculum nor saves the instructor time for either thoughtful customization of the curriculum or any other purpose. There is still a lot of hand assembly required to pull together reading assignments, assessments, slides and lecture notes, and so on. It is generally not a creative process because there is little time for creativity, but it is nevertheless a labor-intensive process and one that is prone to introduce variation in hitting those core competencies without any checks or even necessarily a lot of reflection on it.A Better Compromise
If instructors are going to adopt a third-party course curriculum anyway, then we should at least use technology to remove the hand assembly. Why not provide the readings, multimedia, assignments and assessments, neatly integrated with a basic syllabus, into one ready-to-use digital package for the students? At its most basic, this is what “courseware” is and what MindTap does. It provides students and instructors with a ready-to-go complete course structure with all the materials and assessments placed in a logical and easily navigable order. Joel Spolsky once defined poor user interface design as forcing users to make choices that they don’t care about. That is also an apt description for 80% of the pre-semester course preparation process that instructors go through with these big survey courses. Pre-assembling the elements of the vanilla version of the course frees up the instructors’ time to focus on the customizations that they actually do care about. To begin with, the course structure is already assembled and visible, which makes it easier for the instructor to think about its total shape. Removing unwanted content or changing content order is trivially easy, making the roughing in of the course structure very quick.
But things get really interesting when you start looking at adding to the learning path structure in MindTap rather than just moving or deleting things. In ed tech discussions, we tend to talk about APIs as if the main differentiation is having them versus not having them. Can you or can you not integrate Google Docs into a course? But in reality, the specifics of the integration can make an enormous difference in how practically useful the added functionality is to teachers and students. Do you want to make a folder of your documents (like your syllabus) available to the students at all times in the course with one or two clicks, or do you want to insert your own supplemental document right into the course reading, zero clicks away for the student and on their default navigation path? These two types of integration serve fundamentally different purposes in the course. In MindTap, you can do both and more. And importantly, making these different customizations is intuitive and almost trivially easy. Radical customization of the course structure is very much possible. But both because there is far less instructor time wasted with hand assembly of course elements and because customizations are visible and visualizable in the learning path structure, the percentage of time spent on meaningful instructional activities, whether that’s course customization or student interaction, is likely to be higher. For this reason, the MindApp model and the learning path structure are MindTap’s crown jewels.Table Stakes
Of course, MindTap doesn’t have a monopoly on useful courseware platform design. For example, WileyPLUS enables instructors to see which course materials and assessments are associated with which learning objectives. This helps instructors to align what they’re teaching and assessing on to what they think the student should be learning. More importantly, none of these innovations from any of the platforms are going to magically change poor large lecture classes into great educational experiences. The key to solving that problem is not the technology by itself but the learning design that it enables. The classroom flipping craze is a craze precisely because it is a learning design that can improve the pedagogical impact of these large survey classes. But anyone who has actually tried to flip their class will tell you that it’s not easy to do well. Faculty need pedagogical models other than the ones that they learned from their own professors, including the practical tips and support necessary to make those models work in the real world. They need course designs based on learning science and collected experience of innovators, and supported by technology. The MindTap platform doesn’t provide that. No technology platform does. And as far as I can tell, Cengage is not yet designing courseware for MindTap that even attempts to do this. But in order to accomplish the bigger goal, we first need to strike a new balance regarding course design customization. It’s not a question of “more” versus “less.” There will always be times when it is wise to allow a skilled instructor to tune a course. But there needs to be more of a sophisticated collaboration between the individual instructor, a curriculum design team (whether that team works for a textbook publisher or a university), and the other instructors teaching the course at the same institution in order to arrive at better pedagogical approaches that can be adopted and adapted to best effect by individual teachers. In order to accomplish that, you need to start with a combination of platform and content that makes meaningless course assembly unnecessary and meaningful course customization both easy and visible. This is what we mean at e-Literate when we write about “courseware.” And at the moment, MindTap is the best example I know of what a next-generation courseware platform will look like.
2013年5月12日 シリーズ：Eve and Adam week1 「女性が信じてしまっている二つのウソ」 メッセンジャー： 大窪秀幸牧師 / Pastor Hide メッセージノート： http://www.lighthousechurch.jp/message.html 日曜礼拝時間： １１：００〜１２：１５ １４：３０〜１５：３０ (J-on ※) ※ユースとヤングアダルト中心の礼拝。もちろん誰でも参加できます。 ライトハウスキリスト教会 大阪府堺市堺区砂道町3-6-19 http://www.lighthousechurch.jp
2013年5月12日 シリーズ：プラグイン week1 「キリストにつながる二つの鍵」 メッセンジャー： 大窪秀幸牧師 / Pastor Hide メッセージノート： http://www.lighthousechurch.jp/message.html 日曜礼拝時間： １１：００〜１２：１５ １４：３０〜１５：３０ (J-on ※) ※ユースとヤングアダルト中心の礼拝。もちろん誰でも参加できます。 ライトハウスキリスト教会 大阪府堺市堺区砂道町3-6-19 http://www.lighthousechurch.jp
Mystery Solved? A New Theory About Why Egypt Stopped Building Pyramids - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic
2013年4月28日 シリーズ： 「神様の祝福のもとに生きる」 メッセンジャー： ヘザー・マカロック宣教師 / Heather McCullough メッセージノート： http://www.lighthousechurch.jp/message.html 日曜礼拝時間： １１：００〜１２：１５ １４：３０〜１５：３０ (J-on ※) ※ユースとヤングアダルト中心の礼拝。もちろん誰でも参加できます。 ライトハウスキリスト教会 大阪府堺市堺区砂道町3-6-19 http://www.lighthousechurch.jp
Earlier this week, I went to Anchorage for an hour. Yes, an hour.
Here's the scene at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport around 1 a.m., shortly after my arrival and not long before my departure:
The Hudson News store (on the right, past the Cinnabon) has a good selection of Alaska-themed postcards.
A map of the full 31-hour, 9600-mile trip from New York's La Guardia Airport to Anchorage and back (via Washington, D.C., Phoenix, and Charlotte) looks like this:
(Map generated using the Great Circle Mapper)
This talk will give a walk-through of the tool, explain how data is gathered and stored, the various data feeds that are created by the tool, and the ways in which students can request places on courses.
It is suitable for training providers and people of a technical bent.
This takes place in IT Services (Banbury Rd) on Monday 13th May between 12.30 and 1.20
Booking is required: https://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/TM13G