~ Archive for Random thoughts on education and technology ~

On Shanna Smith Jaggars’s post “Democratization of Education for Whom? Online Learning and Educational Equity”


I found Shanna Smith Jaggar’s article in Association of American Colleges and Universities confirming my earlier suspicions about MOOCs, which I cautiously expressed in an earlier post (Flipped classroom doubt). Specifically: knowledge obtaining process in a face to face setting is more successful than that obtained online. Also, not to well prepared students won’t get as much out of an online class as would those better prepared.

So, I continue believing that MOOCs would enhance the learning for those well prepared and well motivated to handle the content and the process. I am assuming (without citing any date here), that educating one from scratch, based on online education only (massive, specifically) might be challenging, while not impossible. There are always some very motivated and dedicated learners. But the general trend, I think, holds: those better prepared will be able to add another layer of knowledge.

For higher ed, I remain a strong believer in value of live interaction with academics, peers and mentors as a core educational experience, perhaps supplemented with online educational experience.

H2O: what do you think it is?


Well, it is known as a formula for water. Not only.

H2O  is also a tool and it is worth giving it a little more attention here. For this purpose I have interviewed Shailin Thomas (@shailinthomas), a research associate at Harvard Law School.

Here is what I found out:

Q: What is H2O, why the name?

A: H2O is an online, Web-based platform for creating, customizing, and sharing course materials.  H2O started as the brainchild of Professor Jonathan Zittrain over a decade ago, and has since evolved into an innovative tool used by professors at more than 14 universities.  The materials on H2O are in the public domain, and the collections of course materials — known on the platform as “playlists” — are licensed through Creative Commons, allowing anyone to copy, edit, and repurpose a section of another professor’s course for her own pedagogical goals.  The name H2O — and that’s literally an “O,” not a zero — is, to some extent, an artifact of history.  H2O was christened at a time when 2.0 names were quite popular.  Calling the platform H2O was meant to invoke the idea of an ocean of free and open materials from which professors could draw, while also giving a nod to the concept of Harvard 2.0.

Q: Who does H2O serve: a) by academic discipline (is it law only?); b) by geography

A: H2O is freely open and available for use by anyone anywhere — both for the consumption and creation of materials.  It has received the most traction in law, in part because the subject matter of law school courses predominantly consists of public domain judicial opinions, but we are hoping to expand the platforms adoption to other disciplines as open-access resources proliferate.

Q: What problems does it solve?

A: Currently, professors are forced to tailor their courses to fit a small number of dominant textbooks on a given subject.  In law, not only are they stuck with a particular set of cases in a given book, but they are also stuck with the edits made to those cases by the casebook authors.  H2O allows professors to craft their own materials exactly the way they want them, without the restrictions imposed by the traditional textbook publishing market.  Not only can they pick their own cases, but they can edit them to fit their own pedagogical objectives.  In addition to the benefits for professors, H2O solves a number of problems for students.  Students today are asked to pay $300 per course per semester for books that they have to lug around all day and of which they only read a small portion.  H2O course materials are weightless, as they can be accessed from any internet-aware device, and they are completely, 100% free.  Over the last few years, H2O has saved students hundreds of thousands of dollars in aggregated textbook costs.

Q: Are there competitors to this initiative/tool?

A: There are tools by which professors can send a PDF of their course materials to a service that will make them a course packet — often made available to students at a reduced price compared to a traditional casebook.  But I am currently unaware of another platform that seeks to create a community of professors sharing and repurposing each other’s materials.  Our hope is that, in the future, professors will be able to find a number of sample syllabi on the platform relevant to a course they would like to teach, giving them the opportunity to pull from those existing syllabi as they construct their own course.

Q: Are there institutions outside Harvard which adapted H2O?

A: While the code is open source, I know of no universities running their own instances of H2O.  However, there are a number of faculty members at more than 14 universities across the country that are using the H2O platform in some capacity for their course materials.

Q: What trajectory do you see H2O moving (space, content, disciplines)

A: Our hope is that, as open-access models and materials proliferate, an increasing number of educational resources will become shareable in the ways that make their inclusion in H2O possible.  Any resource on the Web can be linked to from an H2O syllabus, but the customized editing capabilities require that it be freely available in ways that traditional copyright prohibits.  As more and more materials become available on H2O, we hope to incorporate many more types of content on the platform and expand to other academic disciplines.


Worst case scenario in massive online learning: what are the risks of an increasing reliance on large scale learning environments in our educational systems?


A couple of days ago I had a small elevator talk with a professor:

– How are things?

– Great, I am taking a class.

– Which class/where?

– Massive online education/HGSE.

– Hm…

– Well, the education is going massive to some extent, this is the reality today.

– I hope I’ll still have my job.

This last phrase made me wonder. What is the worst case scenario in massive online learning? I’ve already set my opinion that in order to benefit from MOOCs (and any online learning sources, frankly), one has to know what to look for, have an internal motivation to learn, to absorb. That said, MOOCs are not panacea and I agree with Bill Gates to some extent, where he says that maybe the excitement (and fears) about MOOCs are exaggerated. I personally think that MOOCs should be taken as is: they exist, they provide information and access. They are fabulous for those with curious minds and motivation. They are not panacea, however, they are not miracle which make all learn in an instant.

What if, though. What if MOOCs were replacing traditional higher education? There is fear of just this.

Ok, the worst case scenario to me is something like this: all higher education is replaced by massive online learning. Grading, instruction, forums, peer review, labs, anything imaginable is done remotely without any human participation in the process (other than the initial recording of an actual professor/teacher). Mass production of de-humanized information processing is the worst case scenario for me.

But, realistically thinking, I stick with a healthy balance of liking the MOOCs for what they are: nothing more, nothing less.

Best practices in managing a MOOC


As MOOCs are rapidly emerging, new types of questions emerge with them. For example, in the online environment, traditional methods of dealing with troubled students (who may be suffering from mental illness or threatening harm to self or others, not to be confused with cyber-bullying) rarely apply.

I am wondering about the strategies or best practices to address student mental health in the MOOC context.

While in a physical classroom the process is more or less clear, as well as the identity of a student is defined (real name, address, background), the process is not so clear in MOOCs, where the identity is often blurry (a nickname can be used, a statement of mental condition could be false, etc.).

Do best practices or the sense of responsibility of a course provider shift when the course is related to personal development topics (rather than more strictly academic ones)?

The resources are scarce, and I was able to identify a couple (Rivard’s “Dangerous and Possibly Anonymous” and Monahan & Riggs “MOOCs and the Institution’s DUties to Protect Students from Themselves and Others: Brave New World or Much Ado About Nothing?”), but will continue searching for my veritas.

While the best practices are still emergent and uncertain, I am trying to set the stage and sketch a picture made of the resources and applicable practices.



Diving into learning with no chance to fail.


“Mama, draw me a helicopter, please” says my 4 y.o. precious daughter after she watched another episode of one of the favorites Robocar Poli (Hyundai’s social responsibility project for children).

Drawing helicopters, to put it mildly, is as far from my expertise as it is from my interest. Add to it lack of time, a hefty to-do list, an infant on my laps, some pressing matters – and this project’s attractiveness deteriorates dramatically.


The retaliation of a disappointed 4 y.o. is a powerful motivator and a push. Basically, there is not time for deliberation, no opportunity for a dialog or negotiation. No luxury of wondering whether I can do it. There is only one option: to draw a helicopter as fast as possible, to smile at all times, make it fun (to cover up for the shortcomings of the horrible skill-less drawing) and to move on, being ready to please my little patron with yet another deliverable, in which I most likely won’t have the right background either.

Interestingly, the helicopter (Heli) sketch was approved by my 4 y.o., then followed the drawing of an ambulance (Amber), a track (Roy) and a police car (Poli). It all happened so dramatically fast, that I haven’t noticed my imagination taking over, materializing in drawing a forest, an ocean (with sharks), an island and more.

What happened? I swear I can’t draw, I am busy and the theme (tracks and cars and all that) is not exactly in the scope of my interest (give me something “girlier” any day!) .

I guess, the motivator outside of anything rational dictated the successful outcome. There was not much of a choice, but to succeed and to do it fast, with the resources immediately available.

I wonder: if we are not aware of the spectrum and criteria (“this is easy”, “this is difficult”, “this is for humanities majors”, “this is for techies”), but only have a task and an assumption that it is doable somehow, would we then trick ourselves (or rather free ourselves from what’s stopping us otherwise) and succeed? The answer would rightfully be “it depends”. But I suspect there will certainly be more room for creativity, leading to succeeding.

Another random thought.

Flipped classroom doubt…


A couple of days ago we had a panel discussion with leaders in massive online education. Many question were touched upon, many themes: unbundle, innovate, free-up.

A mention that students take increasingly poorer notes and increasingly fall asleep during classes. We need to flip [the classrooms]. Well. This is exactly what made me doubt. If the students increasingly disengage in the classroom, what makes us think that the students will engage with the online streaming lectures? Those of us who has taken classes online might have falling asleep experience, regardless of how important the content was. My own strategy was to take notes (stop and rewind, until everything is captured), a proven method against falling asleep.

In other words, how much audience’s attention we are capturing in the flipped content v. a traditional lecture, is yet to be found.

Another questions is this: striving for efficiency and “massivity” in education, are we not compromising the quality of education?

Food for thought indeed.


MOOCs: A new media outlet (prompted by Steve Kolowich’s “The Professors Who Make the MOOCs”


Steve Kolowich’s “The Professors Who Make the MOOCs” highlighted an emerging category of celebrities (in a good way): academic community.

For a long time now the visual arts performers were able to advance their recognition and reach their audience globally: youtube is one of the outlets in today’s toolkit disposal.

MOOCs are the youtube for academics: they allow the audience to access the source and to gain the knowledge. Naturally, a teaching team becomes recognizable in the circle of the MOOC-takers.

While MOOCs remain costly and time consuming in preparation, technically, a good professor from a little-known college can become well known and recognized/recognizable for his/her work. His/her contribution to the scholarly world can become more visible and maybe more impactful, because of the scale.

Recruitment/professional gain aside, MOOCs are a fresh way to showcase the intellectual treasure (otherwise locked on a local level) and to be known for the expertise and contribution.

It will probably not take long before we start seeing MOOCs ratings and competition in the cyberspace.


Ode to my peers


Most of my posts are devoted to my discoveries, my thinking, my analysis and perceptions. They are based on what I read and observe. It did not take long to realize that a good portion of these readings and observations are based on yours, my t509 Massive peers, contributions!

In this post I want to reflect the impact you are making on my learning, knowingly or not. Just a few examples here, all with appreciation.

I have always been uneasy/skeptical about multitasking: basically, I don’t believe it’s a good practice (I won’t even name it a skill here), just intuitively. Interestingly, just a few days ago, a tweet on a Forbes article caught my attention, confirming just this(by @RobertsRachelL).

Then there is a MOOC platform comparison tweet (by @CarliSpina), which I thought was interesting and I glanced at that. Then I thought about how overly connected we are and kept browsing through some blogs, and here it is: Life Pre-Internet post (by Allison Goldsberry), where I couldn’t resist leaving a comment and also wondered of the blog’s clean features, some of which I wouldn’t mind learning and implementing into the space of my own. I keep an eye on My life at Harvard (by Merisenda Bills), a beautifully crafted space with a unique view. Being a somewhat follower of Getting Things Done I found out that I am not alone (see Karen Massey‘s blog), but what’s more, there was a useful reference to my earlier painful question of how to organize the sources, and here is Diigo to explore.

We are in a very interesting class: there are readings, videos and activities assigned. Yet, I suspect that no readings are identical for each of us: as we grasp various information, generously shared by our peers, prompting our thinking towards unpredictable directions and, subsequently our reactions in blogs or tweets (circulating back into more resource sharing and thinking further).

It is a live and a sustainable organism. I think I am starting to understand what it means to be connectivistic in a class and how to craft the these connections and this space.

I am deeply thankful to my peers for this perpetuum mobile of enrichment.

My personal compus for the T-509 course (belated blogging of prior notes)


Well, better later than never: while my personal compass for the course has been originated some time ago and it is now time to refine it, I think it’s good to insert the original thinking here, so we see where the (refined) thoughts are coming from.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you in advance for being kind to a budding blogger.

* * *

So, the original compass for the course (September 19, 2014).

When I read the description for the Massive in the online catalogue, I was very intrigued. I researched the teaching instructor’s (Justin Reich’s) work and became very energized about the course.

So, here I am. With my perceptions and believes, totally ready to learn and transform my own thinking.

Being relatively new to many of the Course’s components (the social media part, the dispersed course materials) my expectations of myself are multi-dimensional.

Firstly, I have little trust in social media with a hint of fear of its trajectory of collecting and storing data (ironically, I am blogging about it via social media – well, it’s part of the course requirement). Participating in the social media is indeed tempting, while there is quid pro quo. Se la vie. On the other hand, being part of the social network is less and less avoidable. In this regard, my compass would be crafting a constructive digital presence with potential of contributing to our shared learning, navigating effectively the features available today.

Secondly, I realized how much I love structure and order, while being part of this course. As I am learning, the content for a MOOC and a course about MOOCs is much dispersed. And my compass here is to reach a comfortable level of order and chaos. While “chaos is a new reality” (G. Siemens, 2004 “Connectivism: A learning Theory for the Digital Age”), this reality is struggling to find a proper place in my striving-to-be-orderly-world. I am truly hoping to have this challenging part sorted out by the end of the course.

Most importantly, despite mentioning it last, my contribution to the real-life project or, as our instructor puts it (citing loosely) “making things around us a little bit better” is the key compass point I will be striving to reach. While some of my peers came to this class with very specific project, already knowing how they are going to make the world a little bit better, I came with a desire to learn and to be exposed to what is out there. I am intrigued with my own outcome, which is yet to be seen. I guess, I am intrigued to learn about myself as much as I am intrigued about the work I will be doing.


From individualism to collectivism through connectivism? Learning for oneself and others.


To me learning has long been associated in acquiring knowledge, expanding my horizons, gaining new expertise, learning from others and so on. And all for myself. Self-centered process. A concept of individualized success, concentration on one-self has been engraved and solidified in our society. We understand it well, we know the rules of the game  (what ever they are) and we learned how to extract for our own gain.

It is hard, almost counter-intuitive to contribute while learning. To move from self to others. This is what I am striving to understand, to feel and to do.

And, this is not to be confused with teaching. Surely, we learn from teaching too. But in this concept of everybody’s contribution through learning is different. It is new to me and it is not what I have been taught all my learner’s life.

When I think of what my contribution to the course would be, my first thinking is “I will blog on resources I read, so I express myself” or “I will try various outlets, like twitter and other social media, so I get a better grip on the tools and become better skilled“. But this is all self-centered, I now see.  How can I create the content, an ardent advocate of which I am, the content which others might enjoy or find informative?

It is a new and a challenging task indeed. I much enjoy the blogging of many of my classmates: thought-provoking and coming from the bottom of their hearts. I feel the urge to let them know about it, but haven’t quite figured out the best way for it. Well, maybe I will dedicate a post on my blog just for that. And then there is twitter: brisk, quick and to the point. And, again, I am extremely thankful to our #t509massive community for all the useful links, quick updates and resource sharing. Each of these contributions make our community warmer, more welcome and a greater source of knowledge.

And now, here I am. What is my contribution to this wonderful community? With little spare time we all have and lots of thoughts, what would be the most valuable input I can dedicate to my class?

While it is definitely work in progress, I wonder whether continuing reading my peers’ blogs and commenting on them, occasionally sharing interesting links via twitter and reading others’ twitter references as well as sharing my work on a project, linked to this course, would be something of that value? The time will show, but for now I am hoping this would be a good step forward.

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