Sunday, April 14, 2013

McLuhan - Understanding Media - Summary of Chapters 11-14

My contribution to the Understanding Media Reading Group

Chapter 11

McLuhan writes, in Chapter 11 of Understanding Media, that "The mysterious need of crowds to grow and to reach out, equally characteristic of large accumulations of wealth, can be understood if money and numbers are, indeed, technologies that extend the power of touch and the grasp of the hand."

Numbers, he writes, grip us and keep us in their thrall. The driver toward unlimited growth, the pleasure of being among the masses - these both illustrate an anti-intellectualism that has long been subject to the suspicions of the rational among us. The power of number can be contrasted with the light of reason that is the hallmark of the written word.

Numbers are related to the sensual and tactile in the way that language and literacy relate to the visual. "Just as writing is an extension and separation of our most neutral and objective sense, the sense of sight, number is an extension and separation of our most intimate and interrelating activity, our sense of touch."

Because numbers represent a form of pre-literacy and pre-civilization, it may seem off that someone like Oswald Spengler in 'The Decline of the West' express concern with 'the new math' as a retreat from numbers, and specifically, the rise of non-Euclidian geometries and the rise of functions in number theory. But, argues McLuhan, the primacy of literacy isn't the the primacy of reason, it is the primacy of the visual sense.

But the primacy of the literal isn't the the primacy of reason, it is the primacy of the visual sense. And the fragmentation of civilization results not from the rise of science and mathematics, but from the elevation of one sense over the others. The fragmentation occurs when we isolate properties that can be detected visually, but are beyond the reach of the other senses.

Indeed, the modern properties of numbers are not derived from primitive society at all. As Tobias Dantzig writes in 'Number: The Language of Science' "the parity or kinesthetic sense of these [primitive] people is stronger than their number sense." They counted in terms of "One, two, heap." The new math Spengler railed against resulted from the introduction of key ideas of language to numbers, specifically, "correspondence and succession." The awareness of zero, and of infinity, in particular, have their origins in the application of ideas from language to numbers.

As an aside, interestingly, McLuhan writes, "Western man, were he determined to cling to the fragmented and individualist ways that he has derived from the printed word in particular, would be well advised to scrap all his electric technology" because fragmentation by visual stress occurs in isolation of moment or space beyond the power of touch, etc., and "by imposing unvisualizable relationships that are the result of instant speed, electric technology dethrones the visual sense and restores us to the dominion of synesthesia, and the close interinvolvement of the other senses."

Chapter 12

"Clothing," writes McLuhan, "as an extension of the skin, can be seen both as a heat-control mechanism and as a means of denning the self socially." Changes in clothing reflect changes in society. For example, post-war Europe emphasized fashion and style at the same time American society seemed to be revolting against it. Europe, in turn, had its own revolution in the late 18th century as the courtly dress, once vastly different from the peasant style, was replaced (sometimes by necessity) by more common attire.

Clothing, when presented as an object of art or sculpture, represents a society that is visually oriented. But the new styles are reflecting a society that is incorporating all the senses once again. "In a word, the American woman for the first time presents herself as a person to be touched and handled, not just to be looked at." It is now easy, says McLuhan, to see clothing as an extension of the skin.

Chapter 13

McLuhan writes, "Recently an imaginative school principal in a slum area provided each student in the school with a photograph of himself. The classrooms of the school were abundantly supplied with large mirrors. The result was an astounding increase in the learning rate. The slum child has ordinarily very little visual orientation. He does not see himself as becoming something. He does not envisage distant goals and objectives. He has deeply involved in his own world from day to day, and can establish no beachhead in the highly specialized sense life of visual man. The plight of the slum child, via the TV image, is increasingly extended to the entire population."

The intent of this chapter is to show not only that housing is, like clothing, an extension of our skin, but also, to depict housing as a means of communication. Included in this idea is an important definition of the concept: clothing and housing are media of communication "in the sense that they shape and rearrange the patterns of human association and community."

We can see this by drawing out the distinctions between housing in pre-literate and literacte societies. Housing for preliterate societies was connected to the world, while "Literate man, civilized man, tends to restrict and enclose space and to separate functions, whereas tribal man had freely extended the form of his body to include the universe." Pre-literate houses were round houses, or triangles, shapes that these are not visual spaces,  not 'enclosed' because they follow dynamic lines of force, while a square moves 'beyond' such kinetic pressures. "The square room or house speaks the language of the sedentary specialist, while the round hut or igloo, like the conical wigwam, tells of the integral nomadic ways of food-gathering communities."

The bulk of the chapter describes ways elements of housing can shape and rearrange patterns of living, how (for example) with glass, "the world is put in a frame" and industry and commerce can now proceed without regard to rain or wind, or (for example) they way we can paint with light, both inside houses, with light on walls, or beyond the enclosure, with Gyorgy Kepes's  "landscape by light through" rather than "light on." McLuhan writes, "Painting with light is a kind of housing without walls."

Chapter 14

McLuhan describes the progression of money from its origination as a commodity to its modern incarnation as a medium of information, a language of exchange. "Today, even natural resources have an informational aspect. They exist by virtue of the culture and skill of some community."

The birth of money as commodity is well known, with McLuhan relating examples such as the use of whales' teeth on Fiji or rats on Easter Island. Even in literate society, commodities may be used as money in extreme circumstances, with the trading of jewels and cigarettes, for example, common in occupied territories.

The function of money in this "commodity and community character" is of  "extending the grasp of men from their nearest staples and commodities to more distant one." In early usage, this function is very small, and the utility of money is not clear. McLuhan describes the confusion created by "the dramatic arrival of paper currency, or 'representative money,' as a substitute for commodity money."

To use currency, he observes, requires a "letting go" of objects, letting go of the commodities that first serve as money, in order to extend trading to society as a whole. Elias Canetti , in 'Crowds and Power', draws the analogy of learning to swing on vines in the forest. "The primitive grasping, calculating, and timing of the greater arboreal apes he sees as a translation into financial terms of one of the oldest movement patterns."

But money has always had value as more than just a medium of exchange, as early societies knew well. The tradition of the potlach, for example, or ceremonial exposure of rice to the rain in Borneo, demonstrates the social and cultural dimension of money. McLuhan writes, "Money, like writing, has the power to specialize and to rechannel human energies and to separate functions, just as it translates and reduces one kind of work to another."

In the age of paper currency, money becomes less personal and more sterile. The modern use of money is tied intrinsically to literacy, and with literacy "money, as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill in an easily accessible and portable form, lost much of its magical power" (as money becomes more like a language, and less like number, money becomes more literal and less sensual and tactile).

The phrase "money talks" resonates because money is a communications medium. We have seen already that money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill, and experience. But just as the clock separates time and space, money separates work from other aspects of human experience. "Time is money," it is said, and money is the storehouse of time spent at work.

It is important, writes McLuhan, to understand the underpinnings of literacy that are required to make sense of money. "The West is little aware of the way in which the world of prices and numbering is supported by the pervasive visual culture of literacy." Early societies would make no sense of the concept at all. "The fragmentation of the inner life by prices seemed as mysterious in the eighteenth century, as the minute fragmentation of space by means of calculus had seemed a century earlier."

In primitive society, money has intrinsic value, and the whole concept of 'work' doesn't exist. But in literate society, money is a means of storing and transferring 'work', where 'work' begins with the division of labour and the role of money is enormously increased after money begins to foster specialism and separation of social functions. Money both fosters and represents this transition from a cohesive and unified society to a literate, fragmented, separated one.

As money becomes less and less like currency, however, and more and more like information, it begins to regain some of its commodity value. "All media," writes McLuhan, "or extension of man - are natural resources that exist by virtue of the shared knowledge and skill of a community."

"Today information gathering resumes the inclusive concept of 'culture,' exactly as the primitive food-gatherer worked in complete equilibrium with his entire environment. Our quarry now, in this new nomadic and 'work-less world', is knowledge and insight into the creative processes of life and society."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Great Rebranding

Responding to Michael Feldstein, who on summarizing the recent EDUCAUSE MOOC conference (see my summaries from this blog) represents MOOCs as yet another form of artifact in support of traditional instruction, diagrammed as follows:

I was at the same conference of course and viewed it a bit differently. The attendees are self-selected from an audience consisting almost entirely of instructors (people outside this community were prohibited from attending). The presentations and discussion seemed to me to be repeated instances of "please please please let MOOCs be whatever they are so long as they don't touch the sacred role of instruction."

People who live and work exclusively within these institutions need to get out more. They need to see beyond an idea of education where the students come from cookie-cutter upper income homes and whose deepest problems are motivation, distraction and information overload. They need to get beyond facile debates about quality and enter the real-word debate around access.

Seriously, what else can be said about a statement like this: " it will be offered locally with teachers at a scale of between 1 to 20 and 1 to 50. Because teachers matter.” It's like saying "we must at all costs limit education to small groups of people led by a teacher." The "distributed flip", advanced as this Great New Thing, is the connectivist model of MOOCs, but with small-group in-person attached.

The arguments in which the four elements of MOOCs - 'massive', 'open', 'online', and 'course' - are one by one putated to be 'optional' or 'unnecessary' seems to me to be a desparate attempt to cleanse MOOCs of any disruptive impact they may have on the traditional action of in-person teaching to a teacher to a small group of people.

These arguments miss the point of the MOOC, and that point is, precisely, to make education available to people who cannot afford pay the cost to travel to and attend these small in-person events. Having one instructor for 20-50 people is expensive, and most of the world cannot afford that cost. That's *why* the institutions - from which the attendees of this conference were uniquely selected - charge thousands of dollars of tuition every year.

MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete.

Yes there has been a great rebranding and co-option of the concept of the MOOC over the last couple of years. The near-instant response from the elites, almost unprecedented in my experience, is a recognition of the deeply subversive intent and design of the original MOOCs (which they would like very much to erase from history).


My summaries from the EDUCAUSE Conference:

Friday, April 05, 2013

Who is Funding the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation?

I think it's time to ask who is funding the self-styled Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, and what they are funding them to do. A little transparency here would go a long way. Certainly they do not represent taxpayers - as a taxpayer, I've never been invited to vote for my CTF representative.

I write this because the latest intervention supposedly on our behalf from the CTF is in regard to the expense undertaken by City Council to send representatives to Russia to attend the annual SportAccord convention, which as CBC notes is "a gathering of more than 2,000 representatives from international sports."

The trip does not meet the approval of Kevin Lacey, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman. “This is too much for taxpayers,” he said. “They’re giving a lot and it’s up to the city to do their part, rather than send people on fancy conferences.”

And as CBC reported, "Coun. Daniel Bourgeois raised questions at a council meeting on Tuesday about whether the city was setting specific targets on what the officials were expected to accomplish."
It's not clear to me that these critics understand how cities create economic activity, activity which, in turn, lowers the load on individual taxpayers.

Events like the Rolling Stones and other concerts, the CFL football games, the World Track meets, and the like, bring in millions of dollars to the city directly, and attract millions more indirectly. They are part and parcel with a more broad-based but less glamorous strategy of attracting a range of businesses and industries to the city.

These industries and events employ people, both directly through hiring, and indirectly through purchases of goods and services. And they're important because, unlike government employment, they create economic activity, creating a flow of income in the city which would not otherwise be there.

But just as you can't find a job by sitting in your kitchen and waiting for someone to call you, you can't attract enterprise to the city by sitting in your office and waiting for U2 to give you a call. It doesn't work like that. You have to go out into the world, meet with people on their own home ground, demonstrate your interest, and build a relationship.

It takes time, it takes effort, and yes, it takes money to fund travel to places like Russia.
So given that all this is the case, one wonders just what Daniel Bourgeois and Kevin Lacey are hoping to accomplish with their criticisms.

Bourgeois wants "specific targets". How ridiculous. What is the 'specific target' of a conversation? What are the representatives supposed to report: "we built trust by two octaves and enhanced relationships by one degree?" No, the results are occasional and not the result of any single direct input.

We all knew that Ian Fowler got results because we could see the concerts and events on the ground, and could watch the excitement and commerce flow through the city. But it would have been ridiculous to require him to report 'specific targets' for each conversation he had, for each trip he took.
And as for Kevin Lacey, one wonders what he is thinking at all, beyond a knee-jerk response to any government spending. One wonders, indeed, why Lacey is even quoted in the CTV article. He has no particular knowledge of Moncton politics and has not demonstrated that he is an expert on economic development. So why phone him up for comment?

Somehow Lacey has made himself a favorite of CTV and also of the Roger's-owned News 91.9 talk radio show, where he is interviewed on what seems to be almost a daily basis. He (and others with similar views) are given a platform day after day to complain about this, that or the other government expense.

Here is Lacey's bio, from the CTF website: "Kevin has experience in both the public and private sector. He recently ran his own consulting business providing advice to leading politicians and corporations. He’s served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office and was a senior advisor to Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm. Prior to this he worked as an associate with a large Atlantic based public affairs company. He’s also worked for both The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and The Fraser Institute."

So for this reason one wonders who is funding the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. They demand accountability time after time - let's see them open their own books. Ditto for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. And the rest of these very political 'think tanks' and lobby groups.

Because whatever else they're doing, their undermining our ability to develop and grow a sound economic foundation in the city. And their ongoing campaigns hurt the wider community by undercutting any good governments are willing and able to provide.

Their short-sighted calls for lower taxes and minimal government ignore the reality that prosperity in society is generated largely by government intervention and redistribution of wealth, and that austerity in a time of recession is what produces crises like the great depression.

If you're broke and unemployed, you can't hope things will get better by cutting your expenses and sitting in your bedroom. You have to invest - even if it means borrowing - and educate yourself and develop your skills and get involved in society, meeting people and earning a reputation. Just as - I'm sure - Kevin Lacey does.

Let's see some openness and transparency from the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. Who is paying the bills, how much does Kevin Lacey get paid, how much does he spend on travel and schmoozing? This will put their missives into a much clearer light - and expose, I would suspect, the contradictions.

p.s. Here is the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation annual report
154 people donated more than $1000 to the CTF - we are not told who, though. No salaries are disclosed. Also worth noting is the CTF expenditures of almost $500,000 on 'events', $108,000 for 'travel' and an additional $684,000 for 'communications. It seems these expenses are good for the CTF, but not for governments.

Advice to OcTEL

Context: email to David Jennings, on the occasion of the start of the OcTEL MOOC, in which participants have been flooded with introductory emails from the course mailing list.

Hi - here are some suggestions - posted here because you’ll probably not get them if I send an email (heh)... feel free to remove this once you’ve received the message. -- Stephen

Hiya David,

In all the MOOCs I've done I've never had an open one-to-many channel, precisely because if you have 1000 people using it, it becomes unmanageable.

You'll find that web forums become unmanageable as well if used by 1000 people.

I have also discouraged the ubiquitous 'introduction' posts, for the same reason. A dozen introductions make sense. 1000 do not.

Right now, any message you send to people will get lost in the mass, so you can't fix the problem by sending messages to people.

What I would do (and I feel really badly, because I could have offered this advice earlier):

- redirect all mail to a web-based discussion board or mailing list archives, and cease sending out mailing list emails
- give people a few days to catch their breath
- give people a link to the discussion board

This cuts off the flow and makes it possible to communicate with people in the course. next:

- set up a system whereby you are sending out one email a day to people
- in this email, put your course announcements at the top
- also put a link to the mailing list archives, or (even better) links to the current topics on the board archives

Finally, you can use this system to incorporate 'publish in your own space' responses

- create a mechanism to allow people to register their blogs
- set up an aggregator of participant blogs
- include the aggregator listings in the once-a-day email


- aggregate the Twitter posts for the course tag (I forget what it was; I'm sure it's in an email somewhere)
- aggregate from the diigo group -
- list these posts in your once-a-day email

Here's an example of such an email I've used in my own courses:

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The MOOC as a Vehicle for Learning: Observations and Conclusions

Summary with speakers Malcolm Brown, Veronica Diaz, Michael Feldstein, Phil Hill

Phil: There has been a very rich discussion about the different reasons for participating in MOOCs, the variety of people participation in MOOCs.

I’ve also been interested in the channels of communication here, there’s been an active discussion in the chant, on Twitter, the blogs.

Veronica: a lot of this reminded me of what a speaker called ‘revolutionary innovation’ that should make up 10 percent of our portfolios, not to make a profit or replace existing things, but to learn. That’s a perfect way to think about the MOOC: learning about learning, research about learning. Maybe for the moment we can be OK with that being the value of the MOOC.

Michael: Thinking back to the cMOOCs, I always though the purpose was to impose the minimal amount of structure, to raise the possibility of what can be done. But something shifts when you’re talking about MOOCs for credit. Now we’re back to talking about getting what you pay for, which is the degree. The difference between having a satisfied conversation with a biologist about what they do and working side by side with that person in the lab. I heard people ask, is it learning, and the answer is, maybe it’s not the same but it’s fine – but if it’s a degree program, is that enough.

But I also think, if you’re a school, and you’re spending money, you’re not sure how much, and you’re not sure will lead to the core mission you’re funded for, and if on top of that tuition is going up and classes are harder to get into, then you have to ask whether it’s an ethical decision to spend that money. There isn’t a right or wrong as to whether MOOCs are worth the investment, but you have to be clear about it.

Question: what is the trajectory here?

Michael: what we heard here in contrast to the uncertainty was a lot of confidence and enthusiasm about MOOCs as course materials and part of the course environment. I love the term from Stanford, the ‘distributed flip’. Right now schools are struggling with bottleneck courses, increasi8ng lecture sizes and decreasing quality – to engage in a conversation with each other about how we can increase the quality in a way we can afford by collaborating and doing some classic flipping, and yet still have support at the home institution. If that also results in the cost of course materials coming down, so much the better.

Veronica: one we move away from institutional limitations, all kinds of limitations – payment, platform, credit – then we can focus on what works best – and then we can look at things like disaggregation of the course, modularization of the course, etc.

Michael: sure, one of the greatest services MOOCs have provided has been to reawaken the imagination. Let’s invest in trying some things, lift some constraints and see what happens.

Phil: It’s already having an impact. It’s really people rethink and get past the Carnegie unit, the seat time.

MOOC Provider Panel: Coursera, Academic Partnerships, Instructure, edX

 Summary of a panel with  Maria H. Andersen (Canvas by Instructure), Relly Brandman (Coursera), Rebecca Petersen (EdX), Barbara E. Truman (Academic Partnerships)

Question: How do you think the MOOC will evolve over the next two years

Maria: it’s a bit hard to say, we’re in an experimental phase, we’re mostly looking at uses at the graduate level where people already have experiences

Relly: I like Maria’s answer. It’s early days. First, we can look for innovations in pedagogy, because of the work with such diverse participants. How does participation in discussion forums influence learning? How does putting themselves into the place of the instructor influence learning? And even cultural aspects, eg., the notion of ‘what is a class?’ – many of these MOOCs have become learning communities. I think we’ll see innovations in the technology, eg., more social tools. There will be many more classes. 

Rebecca: We all say it’s early days. But it’s true. This time last year EdX wasn’t even an entity. But what’s really evolving is a broader conversation about online learning. Those of us who have worked in online learning for many years know it occupies a specific space, and note that what it’s doing is pushing the conversation about teaching and learning. The conversation now is wide open.

Barbara. I would agree with my co-panelists, we are in the early days. I hope we see an increase in the number of campuses figuring out their MOOC strategies, and that we’ll see engagement – maybe a movement from X to C, toward communities.

Question: How do you see the MOOC transforming learning in online and other delivery modes?

Relly: Trying to engage students in lots of active ways. We’re seeing in MOOCs not a lot more attention paid to pedagogy and teaching in STEM classes, bringing the benefits of online learning back to the the university and live classes.

Rebecca: the MOOC is pushing the conversation about pedagogy and learning. One of the experiments in EdX, taking the MOOC and offering it on campus. What we’re hearing in focus groups is the community, the interaction. We have conversations with faculty really not thinking about this. Now faculty are thinking about how we teach well for MOOCs and the very diverse audience, and bringing it back to their classrooms. There is a lot of energy thinking about he methods that are working online.

Barbara: it reminds me of the need for a flux capacitor in some of our MOOCs. ;) It brings us back to the discussion of how online learning began in the first place. It’s the same conversation. MOOCs are becoming a test-drive and an onramp to degree completion. Not only will we see an improvement in teaching and learning, but also a reduction in cost.

Maria: maybe one insight: now I think of SPOCs, small private online courses, how they made professors rethink things. Now MOOCs are focusing institutional questions.

Question: How do you see intellectual property and ownership issues evolving considering that some institutions are using each other's course content via MOOC providers—an uncommon practice in higher education.

Rebecca: from the EdX space, people have been remarkably open and flexible. Faculty are generating their own courses, but we have San Jose State using our course, etc. Our faculty are habving the opportunity to see how their material is being used and how it appears to different kinds of students. There are different cultures – MIT has a very open culture, but as we work across partnerships, there are different cultures, different levels of openness.

Barbara: many of the IP discussions are going to be the decision of the institution. We will br promoting OER and CC, these will be campus decisions. But where it gets interesting is when we get more and more student generated content.

Maria: how does the 2002 TEACH act apply to MOOCs? Doe sit still apply? And also, who owns student generated content? How can it be used – can it be used for research?

Relly: Things are still evolving. At Coursera IP does not belong with us; we provide the platform and our partners provide the content.

Question: In your courses, how can you ensure that a students' work is their own? Is there a way to structure courses to address this concern?

Barbara: every type of course is going to have the vulnerability of not knowing work is performed by that students or learner, but just as in online learning there’s a way to solicit information to essentially create a profile of the student. But when we don’t have this data it’s more difficult. We want to make the academic rules made clear before and up front in the course, this is especially important for student generate content.

Maria: this becomes an issue only when we are giving credit. When they’re just vehicles for learning, as most of them are not, it’s not that big a deal. We hope it will mostly be like that. It’s a delight now, we don’t have any ‘hostages’ to the course.

Relly: it really becomes an issue when people start to use their MOOCs in context with other things. We started a pilot called ‘signature track’, where we give a certificate where they verify their identity as they go through the course; they have their webcam photo and keystrokes identified. They get a certificate and a URL they can share.

Rebecca: we’re experimenting with similar things, in one project we have a partnership with Pearson for proctored exams. But it goes back to the motivations why students are taking these courses – we have people who are learners, not students.

Question: Matriculated students enjoy full support from their institution's library; how can the MOOC provide similar support to the many thousands of students enrolled in the MOOC, the majority of which are not enrolled at the institution that is offering the course.

Maria: You must have been monitoring my Twitter stream. I’ve been really frustrated, I have no access to institutional libraries any more. There’s a real irony to an institutional system that teaches students to access the library and then kicks them out with no more access to it. There’s a role for these libraries. But I don’t see a way for them to do it for free.

Relly: in an idea world we make everything open source. We’ve seen a few classes that try to work with publishers, to provide part of a resource for free, and an opportunity to buy the full item.

Matriculated students enjoy full support from their institution's library; how can the MOOC provide similar support to the many thousands of students enrolled in the MOOC, the majority of which are not enrolled at the institution that is offering the course.

Relly: like Coursera, we have arrangements with folks, and we try to find out what we can offer for free access. Within our consortia, we work with librarians to see what can be offered across the consortium.

(UCF Viewing Room (MOOCer Wannabes): Many of our MOOC students are outside the US and have trouble ordering our textbooks.)

Barbara: I’m spoiled rotten – not having access to libraries and librarians is like not having access to the internet. Perhaps this is a point where we can get libraries involved with the MOOCs and get our digital literates really rockin’.

Question: Do you think the learning that takes place in a MOOC is on par with a face-to-face based course?

Relly: I think this is an apples and oranges comparison. We have to ask, why is the student taking the course. Online learning and live learning have their strengths. Online learning si good for mastery learning, helps people with say autism. And live learning has strengths as well.

Rebecca: this is a question that’s always asked of online learning. I’m waiting for the day we ask whether face-to-face learning is as good as the MOOC. Keep an open mind of just how learning takes places across a variety of settings.

Barbara: I’ve been engaged in creating five different MOOCs, and it has been such a delight to watch faculty pouring their heart into designing them. But I have in mind a phrase I heard: “The world gets online learning.”

Maria: these are apples and oranges. In a MOOC, it’s for the world, for people who are learning for learning’s sake. In an institutional course, even online courses, it’s for a certificate. It’s like comparing a book club to a literature course.

Question: Some critics suggest that the MOOC is a "retreat" to the old transmission course model.  How do your course designs address this possible criticism?

Rebecca: one of our signature pieces is learning sequences, very short sessions interspersed with problem sets, virtual labs, to get students immediate feedback. We’ve learned from research that students are looking for just-in-time feedback. So we’ve been doing things like green checkmarks, etc. Our students are looking for a high level of interactivity. So are our faculty. They aren’t looking to be just transmitters of information. So we’re looking at how to engage folks beyond just watching the lecture. I hate it when we all get categorized into just one course type.

Barbara: In some cases they probably are, but hopefully they won’t be. The question is how we can incorporate learner choice. The opportunity to offer a variety of different pathways for learners. The use of social media is so exciting, it will give us the ability to use social constructivism.

Maria: the key here lies not in the word MOOC but in how the learning design is done. It revolves around how we look at the old transmission model. Traditional learning was done by showing, the lecture model really is recent.

Relly: I think of the old traqnsmission model with the big lecture hall and the professor speaking and the students passively taking notes. The MOOCs are more interactive, with short videos, with activities and quizzes, lots of interactions on the discussion forums, outside in real life meeting with study groups.

Question: Some providers feel that peer review of student work is a sufficient replacement for feedback from an expert like a faculty member or a TA.  Would you agree?

Barbara: we know from publishing from our faculty how important peer review is for tenure track. But in the MOOC here really volume is in our favour. It goes beyond whether we can just get expert feedback. It’s about getting diverse voices.

Maria: I think that peer review demands that students really be familiar with certain topics. Eg. A grasp of grammar. Perhaps a cohort of experts, of people who have already shown they know the material. Universities did this with TAs. But TAs get paid. But we need to ask: are we doing peer review so students can learn, or for formal assessment. The prior is OK, the latter is questionable.

Andrea Nixon @ Carleton College: Automated grading of essays via edX

Relly. The short answer is yes. The first response is, how can you grade when there’s 10s of thousands of students? It gives them the opportunity not only to write an assignment but also read an assignment contributed by another student. We found that most instructors hadn’t done peer assessment before, they needed to be more attentive to things like writing a rubric. People are starting to look at this. But the answer is yes, peer review in MOOCs is working quite well.

Rebecca: one of the tricky things is the context, what purpose is it serving? It can be very misused and very confusing to the student. It becomes about helping the students understand what it is to do peer review. This is especially important in a cross-cultural setting. A careful framework must be developed. We’re doing some really quiet pilots to figure out how to balance the efficiency and the pedagogy behind that.

Question: Do you think that the current learning technology tools are sufficient to support MOOCs?

Maria: I don’t think learning technologies will ever be finished, so how can you ever say they are sufficient
(Stephen Downes: "Space technology will never be finished, so how can you ever say a certain space technology will be sufficient to get to the moon?")
Relly: I would say yes. I often bring up the example of the lecture videos, where there is a knee-jerk reaction that we want lecture videos that are really professional. But students want them to seem more real, to see the professor’s office, etc.

Rebecca: this is a tricky question where the technology isn’t the driver of the pedagogy and the learning design, we want it to be reversed. Obviously it has been sufficient to start the MOOC movement. But it's ’bout making sure the innovations are being driven by the teaching and learning conversations.

Barbara: clearly the tools can get better, and they will, but I think of my experience with Gardner Campbell’s MOOSE, about doing things I didn’t think could be done with a community. It’s really starting a professional revolution. Looking for crowd-sharing around design of the tools.

Question: Do you have any inkling of a funding model for MOOCs? Does anybody?

Relly: what’s happening at Coursera, we are experimenting with a couple different ways of bringing in revenue. It can’t be for charging to take the class. One way is the certification, charging $50-$60 to verify their identity. We’re also starting with career services, putting companies together with students.

Rebecca: we’re experimenting with a lot of different models. Our effort is mostly toward rounding out our first courses. We’re trying to be sustainable, but also being clear about what it is we’re trying to sustain; our courses and materials will always be open to people. One thing –w e won’t call it licensing, but reuse – is one of the options we’ve been exploring.

(Kathy Fernandes @ Calif. State University: MOOCs don't bear the weight of supporting career centers, counseling centers, health/rec centers, writing center, and other cost centers. So are we going back to a model that financially is ONLY about the cost of the actual teaching and learning?)

Barbara: AP has a business model in that we’re working with institutions that have an online program. Hopefully as we attaract students into these programs we share in the revenue. But also we hope we are helping institutions fulfill their social contract with the communities.

Maria: enough money needs to be made to support all these platforms, so there will be experiments. Hopefully the cost of tuition will be controlled or even lowered, and the quality of education even rise as a result.