Tag Archives: FutureEd

Reflections on #FutureEd

FutureEd

FutureEd

Week #6 brings the end of the History and Future of Mostly Higher Education MOOC (#FutureEd). Time for reflection on what I’ve learned as well as the experience of the course itself (since that was part of the mission).

First, a few facts.  This was a free, six-week course, offered on the Coursera platform, requiring 2-4 hours of work per week.  Cathy Davidson, Duke University, was the instructor.  The course was open to anyone interested in the topic to take asynchronously, but there also were three physical locations where the course took place synchronously.  The axis of the course was a series of videos (4 – 6 of them per week) featuring Cathy Davidson, sharing her insights about education, interviewing other experts, and talking with other faculty. In addition to the videos, there were forums for discussion, quizzes, and small (optional) assignments.  There was a “certificate” option for the course, which I did not take.

My participation in the course was fairly typical – I was there for the duration, but didn’t do the assignments.  I kept up with the course’s pace, watched all of the videos, dipped into the forums, but I did not take any of the quizzes nor did I complete the assignments.  I’m sure I would have gotten much more out of the course if I had but, even without that more robust involvement, I still got a lot and I’m very glad for the experience.

The most interesting content insights for me…

  • The importance of knowing and using history purposively (what did we do in the past, and why)
  • Unlearning (our preconceptions about how things “have to happen” and how difficult it is to shake old habits, be open to new ideas and new solutions)
  • Value in alliances with other change makers (innovation is happening all around us – listen, learn and share)
  • The importance of experimentation (the more novel approaches we try, the more likely we are to find ideas that work)
  • There is value in what we count and we count what we value (interesting reflections on assessment)
Coursera Forum for the course.

Coursera Forum for the course.

As for the mechanics of the course, as with other MOOCs I’ve taken, it is a challenge to find community within the great expanse of an asynchronous MOOC.  Although I visited the online forums each week, it felt like looking for a needle in a haystack (no pun intended…).  There was just so much to wade through…and many of the comments and stories just weren’t relevant to me. Stephen Downes and George Siemens make good use of newsletters in their Connectivism MOOCs. They send out daily newsletters (via email) that serve as brief summaries, each with a curated list of things to read or watch. Downes and Siemens aggregate and sift, then share what they deem the most relevant and interesting blog posts, tweets, images, videos, and recordings made by the course participants.

It’s all about harvesting distributed information. To that end, Downes developed gRSShopper (see the “RSS” in the middle there?) to do this. It works to harvest links from given feeds (having established metadata tags in advance) and compile them. This solves the problem of the need for centralization (for sanity’s sake) in a learning environment that hopes to maintain and leverage a distributed network (!). People prefer to write in their own environments (not on a Moodle discussion board or a Coursera Forum), but something like gRSShopper pulls it all together to connect the learners. An idea that #FutureEd could have used. Stephen Downes says it well, “…connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore, that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.”

FutureEd_001

FutureEd Meeting in Second Life

One obvious path toward making such a BIG course feel more intimate and personal is to form a small group – a study or discussion group consisting of fellow travelers who share a common interest in the course. A number of small FutureEd groups formed during the run of the course – on Facebook, through Twitter, and a few who were geographically close met in person. Liz Dorland and I formed such a group and blogged about it here. We were a small, but intrepid, group who met weekly in the virtual world of Second Life for an hour to discuss and share. We probably could have done a better job of organizing the group, encouraging the members to come regularly, and perhaps we could have worked together to build artifacts of our learning – but it was a good start.  Liz Dorland said it well when she said, “I’m sure we could do it better the next time we go through the course!” (one more time, Cathy?)

Our group would have benefitted from some guidance and support from FutureEd’s teaching hub. I wonder if, in future versions of the course, Cathy Davidson might recruit a small army of teaching assistant-type volunteers (I’m sure many would be happy to help). With a little advance preparation and training, these volunteers could fan out to provide mentoring for the myriad small groups organically forming in a course like this. As Dan Lynch, founder of Interop and former director of computing facilities at SRI International, wrote, “The most useful impact is the ability to connect people. From that, everything flows.”

Week #5, the most useful week in the course for me, provided an object lesson in getting the most from these online experiences. Innovation in Pedagogy and Assessment was the week-five overarching topic; we took a look at digital badging systems as an example of a novel way to think about assessment.  Interestingly, one of the reasons that this turned out to be my most useful week was due to an unintended accident. Cathy had interviewed Connie Yowell, the Education Director for the MacArthur Foundation (and an expert on digital badging). Some disaster befell that interview video and, as a substitute, the course directed us to an alternate video (of Connie Yowell speaking at a conference) as well as other links and resources on the HASTAC site.  Those directed explorations yielded a rich harvest for me. I watched, read, explored, reflected and then blogged about it.  By far the most rewarding week and all because I invested more time – more of myself – to investigate, read and connect. Duh, right?

It was a terrific course – thoughtfully put together, well-organized, and welcome range of jumping off points to investigate and connect. Thank you, Cathy Davidson, and the whole team “behind the camera”.

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“Badges? We Ain’t Got No Badges…”

"Badges?  ...Badges?"

“Badges? …Badges?”

Unlike the bandits in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it looks maybe we do need some badges.

Girl Scout sash.

Girl Scout sash.

Week #5 of the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC focused on innovations in pedagogy and assessment.  As part of our study this week, we learned about the use of badges in education  – and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  I have very fond memories of the badges I earned as a Brownie and a Girl Scout.  There was a well-worn Girl Scout Manual, listing each of the possible badges one might earn (one badge per page) along with a description of what had to be done to earn them.  Each badge entailed arriving at clear evidence of your mastery and many of the them involved a fairly complex project – building, creating, collaborating.  Once awarded, the small, circular, cloth badges were sown onto your sash (thanks, Mom) so that you could wear them with pride. When meeting a fellow girl scout for the first time you could instantly find points of connection – “oh, so you’re a swimmer…”  or ” you play the piano!” I have a distinct memory of the point at which the number of badges I’d earned meant that my mother had to start sewing them onto the back side of the sash. Some girls had to wear two sashes, like Pancho Villa, to display their collection (I never got there).

But what about badges in education? They’ve been used in gaming and online spaces for awhile now but what if we devised a system of digital badges for learning?  As Connie Yowell, Director of Education at MacArthur Foundation, puts it, digital badges are image files with “stuff” in them. A validated indicator of accomplishment. Tokens of trust. If you earn a digital badge, anyone could open it to find out what you did to deserve it. One could examine the metadata associated with the badge as well as the products and artifacts created by the badge-earner. This suggests a way to clearly and systematically communicate one’s abilities and accomplishments with media-rich, tiled portfolios.

In an educational setting badges could be awarded for knowledge as well as skills. Something you earn along the way of getting better at something larger. Since badges are smaller in scope than a certificate, a badging system gives us an opportunity to break assessment down into smaller (more meaningful? formative?) chunks. Perhaps bringing the assessment closer to actual the learning?

In order to make the badges meaningful, a given education community would have to agree on what’s required to earn a badge.  I could imagine some very interesting decisions coming out of such conversations in school districts and colleges.  What badges could be earned?  How would you break down a general chemistry course into a series of badges?  Who decides when the badge has been earned? What is the relationship between badges and credentials, degrees, grades? How does the definition of the badges alter the way we structure the learning? It would have to be a rigorous system, grounded in the values of the institution and reflection of the learning objectives that drives their curriculum.

As one substantial step in the right direction, the folks at Mozilla have developed Open Badging to provide a shared infrastructure (software and open technical standards) for creating and sharing badges across the web. Earned badges could be displayed on your web page, your social media profile, your cell phone, your online portfolio, your email signature line.

So, where to get more information? The MacArthur Foundation has led the way with careful thought and funding so their site on digital badges is worth a visit.  Cathy Davidson has proposed using a badging system to facilitate peer group feedback in this HASTAC post.  Carla Casilli talks about badge pathways in this post on her blog about badge system design (that’s her image in the figure below). UC Davis has devised a badging system for their new undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture and food. Purdue University has devised the Purdue Passport Program, currently in beta – a way to “show what you know”. Educause recently published one of its helpfully succinct “7 Things You Should Know” documents on Badging.

I am warmed by the implied message here that education happens in many different places and forms; that learning happens in a vast range of places  – after school programs, online, in the home, mentoring programs, internships, study abroad programs, and on the job.  Formal and informal. And isn’t it interesting to consider that the process of earning a badge would give the student a language around their learning, a way to meaningfully talk about what they did, thought, and experienced?

Here’s another intriguing thing to consider –  the concept of the badge as a pathway –  a sort of breadcrumb trail to show others how you got there and, presumably, how to follow you. Badges could work to make learning visible in a way that a diploma or your GPA just doesn’t.  What does an “A” in Geography 101 at Bowling Green State University mean anyway? When you think about it, your diploma or your certificate says more about the institution you attended than it does about you.  A badging system would give you an opportunity to tell the story of your education.

Bade pathways. (Image courtesy of Carla Castilli)

Bade pathways. (Image courtesy of Carla Castilli)

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History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education

FutureEd

FutureEd

The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC (#FutureEd) has begun.  We’re now in week #2 (of six weeks) and, so far, it’s been a real eye-opener. Cathy Davidson (Duke University, author of Now You See It) is our ring leader, instructor, coach, and provocateur.  The course, like education itself, is made up of many moving parts.  There are the videos – short segments featuring Cathy, so far explaining the historical context for the conversation; the readings; the online forums – lively conversation; the personal assignments – optional, depending on how you are taking the course; and, of course, the myriad other social connections made through Twitter, Facebook, Wordles, and the blogs of the enrolled students.

The goal of the course is to thoroughly explore our American education system, which was primarily designed to prepare workers and leaders for the industrial age, and strategize together, as a community, about how we can change that to fit the era we live in now – the information age.

Until today my pleasure in the course has been mostly private.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the readings and the videos, done some exploration in the Forums, wrote a short entry on my favorite teacher (Mrs. Hirschfelder – chemistry) and certainly, I’ve done a lot of mulling and processing.  But today, I was able to take that private mulling to a whole new level with a terrific group of fellow thinkers and FutureEd travelers in the virtual world.  My friend and colleague Liz Dorland (Chimera Cosmos in Second Life; @ldinstl_chimera) organized a group of FutureEd study group to meet and discuss the course as avatars in Second Life.

Our FutureEd study group meeting in Second Life

Our FutureEd study group meeting in Second Life

There were nine of us to join the cozy campfire circle on the Tufts University island, many of us meeting for the first time (here are a few more pictures of the gathering).  We hailed from Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, Washington, Belgium, Scotland, Brazil.  Fellow travelers and adventurers in education.  We talked about our experience thus far in the course, the ideas in the FutureEd videos, other MOOCs we’ve taken (or started, rather), connectivism, immersiveness, the advantages of small group meetings, differences in education traditions between the U.S. and other countries represented by the group, oculus rift, advantages/disadvantages of online learning….in other words, we covered a lot of ground in one hour.

It was a terrific group of smart people, looking to connect and deepen their understanding.  If that sounds like something you’d like to try – join us.  We  plan to meet every Monday at noon SLT (Pacific time).  And here is the SLurl for our starting location (we will take some field trips as well). If you have questions about setting up SL and getting in to join us, comment below and we’ll figure it out together.

FutureEd_001

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