Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Where has the time gone?

I must admit that the edX courseware page being unavailable disturbed me a little. I love the MOOC connectivity – the building up of knowledge from the students together with the teacher, but I also like to have predictable and regular access to the “class”. I find this reassuring and comfortable. Perhaps my involvement in BlackBoard for over 16 years has led me to value the constant nature of the LMS. I read the daily newsletter but needed the class page!

I am trying to catch-up on the last two weeks’ material. I justified this procrastination, in my own mind, by referring to the edX class page unavailability and then the tiring nature of three and a half days attending the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education Conference (VWBPE 2016) on top of a full-time teaching load. But I will catch up. I need to investigate the topics in this course. I need to be involved.

I was fascinated looking at the historical development of the LMS. The idea of the learning object was rather brilliant. Courses were not suitable candidates for sharing. Object-oriented design was a logical progression. XML and JSON allowed the separation of content from styling. Learning objects could be entered into a course through a simple drag-and-drop procedure. The versatility and usability of the LMS rapidly developed. WYSIWYG editing enabled the authoring of multimedia and complex learning objects in the LMS. The durability of the LMS led to its dominant position in the Learning Technology industry and in online education.

Downes (2001) described online LMS courses that were created from prefabricated objects that were not as interoperable as they should be. My own 16-year experience with BlackBoard supports this description. However, there is a huge variety in the use educators make of LMS courses. Over 16 years I have never simply rehashed the same learning objects over-and-over. No two iterations of a course are ever the same. I copy across material, but rework and revamp each learning object to adapt it to the unique mix of students in the class for a particular semester. The LMS is only as limited as you make it!

So far, I have not seen too many advantages of edX over BlackBoard. I clearly see the difference between the conceptualisation of the LMS and the MOOC, particularly the cMOOC. However, it is not as functional as I would like it to be. I am here to learn what the alternatives are. I am here to extend learning opportunities for my students.

Downes, S. (2001). Learning Objects: Resources for distance education worldwide. The International Review of Research in Open & Distributed Learning, 2(2). Retrieved from
Downes, S. (2016). Content knowledge vs practice. NRC01PL Courseware, from

Monday, March 7, 2016

Downes (2012), in a discussion on the rise of MOOCs, claimed that the use of the MOOC had a great following because “it eliminates one of the great advantages the wealthy have always enjoyed over the poor” (para. 6). He further stated that "the demand from people without access to any university resources has been consistent and strong" (para. 6). I was interested to find out if MOOCs, in fact, were successful as open access tools. This is an area of interest to me as I teach in Foundation Studies and access is a persistent issue.

I recently attended a conference, the National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia NAEEA 2015 in Sydney, Australia. Several keynote addresses and presentations focussed on open access. Professor Penny Jane Burke discussed her work with the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education at the University of Newcastle. She highlighted the subtle layers of inequality and the pedagogies of difference that exist in higher education today. She discussed the recent trend towards a competitive focus, compelling individuals to conform to the dominant order or be shamed. She also placed a spotlight on the rise of marketisation and its impact on teaching, with its overemphasis on types of over-evaluation. She used the term “dehumanising measurement” and stressed that what counts as a quality education must value any individual. Professor Burke mentioned transformative pedagogies that demystify taken-for-granted social and academic practices and forms of knowledge value, and recognise the richness and diversity of experiences and perspectives all students bring to their learning. She stated that social and cultural differences should be accessed as a way of developing deeper levels of understanding. Downes (2012) claimed that this was one of the aims of MOOCs, where the evaluation of learning is not about testing for content acquisition and where the student was the one who determined success in the MOOC.

Dr Barry Hodges from the University of Newcastle discussed open-entry enabling programs, i.e. where there are no academic requirements. I work for an institution with open entry. The purpose of open entry is widening participation. Dr Hodges concluded his presentation with the suggestion that the success of open entry requires rejecting the deficit model; a radical redesign of higher education, as universities are failing the students; a dynamic culture embodying a multiplicity of sub-cultures, each imbued with their own discourses, literacies, and practices; a systematic challenge to the machinery of quality assurance; and, a social and economic revolution. “The road to open entry is paved with good intentions”.

So are MOOCs the solution to open access and widening participation, especially from disadvantaged groups in society? Audrey Watters (2015) delivered a talk to Western Oregon University on Ed-Tech's Inequalities. This talk focussed on the aspect of open access. She refuted the claims made by edX CEO Anant Agarwal that technology makes education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind”. She cited several studies that indicated access to new technologies still looks quite different for different demographics. She described a “digital Matthew effect…where new technologies actually extend the advantages of the already advantaged” (para. 16). She stated that new research (Hansen & Reich, 2015) concluded HarvardX registered MOOC students tended to reside in neighbourhoods with median incomes .45 standard deviations higher than the US population. They also found that the level of parental education was associated with a much higher likelihood of enrolment in a MOOC. “For instance, a seventeen year-old whose most educated parent has a bachelor’s degree is more than five times as likely to register as a seventeen year-old whose most educated parent has a high school diploma” (Watters, 2015, para. 15).

I would be interested to find out about the demographic for the students in NRC01PL. 

Anant Agarwal (left); Stephen Downes (centre); Audrey Watters (right)

Downes, S. (2012). The Rise of MOOCs. Stephen Downes: Knowledge, Learning, Community, from
Hansen, J. D., & Reich, J. (2015). Socioeconomic status and MOOC enrollment: enriching demographic information with external datasets. Paper presented at the The Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics And Knowledge, New York.
Watters, A. (2015). Ed-tech's inequalities. hackeducation, from