Friday, July 26, 2013

More on MOOC's ...

Massive Online Courses or better known as MOOC's has taken center stage across educational circles and gained a great deal of attention in the education press - as well as national press - picking up on the nuances of how online learning is evolving - and blending with mentoring, incremental assessment/feedback and online teaching mediums tooled with interactive content.  Thousands - if not millions have experimented with taking a MOOC - and getting something out of the course.  Some have even go as far as learning enough to take an assessment test for credit - or to earn a credential that may be accepted as part of a degree plan.

The focus on MOOC's is hyped by various perspectives with varying reasons - so I am not going to focus on a wide angle here. Similar to the evolution of large scale classroom instructional methods over the last several centuries, where economies of scale derive how educators (institutions, departments and faculty) create curriculum molded by sections delivered by a small set of specialized faculty, MOOC's can be rendered by expert teams assembled to transform content into entertaining mediums that caters to incremental steps sequenced like chapters of a play.  They are educational, challenging to predict the outcomes and benefits as we appreciate the expression of content - in byte size chunks.

The online course is not limited by location, time or inconvenience associated with in-person courses over ten weeks lets say located on a campus in the middle of town.  MOOC's though, are another incarnation led more by economies of scale to share common tools - that are attractive and justified as we continue to evolve education deliver methods, driven to lower costs - and continue to push to educate more people across a larger boundary than ever before.

MOOC's are disrupting, confusing and transforming educational publishing and instructional delivery for good reason across educational levels.  The cost of developing course-ware, content and delivery systems is very labor intensive and time consuming to sustain.  Presentation methods (like a PowerPoint) to stimulate and keep our audience's attention have continued to evolve like a ruler or straight edge provides the ability to trace a line for a given distance.  Tools continue to expand - addressing the complexity and need to syndicate content, divided into learning objects - aligned to learning outcomes - and cataloged for assessment.  Knowledge repositories are annotated for retrieval are huge leaps in techniques that address the limitations of static and isolated books authored as snapshots of what we know or theorize.

Reuse, tracking, repetition and collaboration are supported - and improve upon when we dissect and automate the sequence of a course.  MOOC's, on one level, can be thought of a new mass lecture hall aimed at social and learning affinities - attracting those interested in the subject or author.  The MOOC's address the limitations of in-person and large scale lectures where individuals assemble in a classroom during a fixed time schedule, often lost as a number lacking any connection to the faculty or other students sharing the time, space and experience.  Learners can interact online - and share in discourse with each other - and the faculty - with and without moderation.  The potential feedback loops are ultimately expandable and infinite.

Yet, MOOC's, like traditional courses taught in-person are designed to serve a segment of the education market - not the whole market.  They can't be one-size-fits-all replacing all courses and methods of instruction.   MOOC's are not able to advise - or cater to the needs of learners who need more hands on - or in-person guidance - but can link to those services if available.

MOOC's are also not able to address how the credential, if earned, can be applied toward a degree plan - across institutions easily.  There are many positive benefits offered by a MOOC platform and the courses - but they are not designed for the uninitiated or student with learning disabilities for example - that may not be able to see the videos or appreciate the online content.  When we look at the broad spectrum of learners, we must also consider the full bell curve of students - not just the medium and content assembled for mass presentation and potential absorption.

Much like the Music Staff, created to help teach more people the liturgy and song in the 10th century by an Italian Monk named Guido d ‘Arezzo, MOOC's are templates designed to promote greater appreciation for a subject matter through an online, stimulated experience.  We still need to develop navigational and advising systems to help learners accumulate their credentials into meaningful degree plans that will help them achieve their aspirations - which includes finding their way to a well paying job that helps them continue to grow as a contributing citizen in society.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

MOOCs for College Credit

As MOOCs evolve and fit into the higher education environment, we should not forget the difficulty all students face when they seek to discover how any prior learning would articulate before they enroll – especially at selective schools.  There are several issues worth noting about recent blogs and press releases talking about MOOCs and their potential disruptive effect on the higher education eco-system:

1st, selective and elite schools are generally not advocating transfer-friendly policies, negatively impacting a high volume of students.  Selective schools may just segregate MOOCs as they have with continuing education credits - to afford the popular marketing of prior learning.  If MOOCs begin to shift institutional priorities to emphasize adult or part-time student markets, this is welcome behavior.  However, we have a way to go before that happens.  How many schools will accept MOOCs for core major requirements?  Let’s not forget, most transfer credits apply as electives, which result in more elective credits being taken than needed to graduate for most students today.

2nd, now that ACE is beginning to evaluate MOOCs for course credit recommendations, we need to correct the false perspective that ACE is publishing course equivalencies.  ACE will publish recommendations, and institutions must volunteer to map their own course equivalencies based upon these recommendations.   Some do this on a per-student basis as transcripts are received.  Some will perform the analysis proactively.  The challenge is to keep up with the equivalency implications coming from an increasing number of sources when there is no form of standard mapping or general alignment with regional feeders. 

3rd, most institutions are reluctant to proactively disclose transfer equivalencies online, let alone how prior learning addresses core program requirements.  Students seldom are given the tools to assess “will my credits transfer.”  So, MOOC students seeking credit may learn their MOOC courses do not accelerate their degree completion contrary to what is inferred by the MOOC venues.  AcademyOne’s CollegeTransfer.Net will include MOOC equivalencies much like AP, CLEP, IB and other forms of course exam assessments, but it will take time for institutions to assess and promote their acceptance and tagging of MOOCs against their own course offerings.  When a course does not match those offerings, an institution may offer elective credit or none at all.

4th, I believe MOOCs will have the same difficulty mapping to core degree requirements that AP, CLEP, IB, UCEL, Learning Counts and other prior learning credits face today.  There is major resistance from institutions about how they award credit for prior learning regardless of the source of learning.  Course currency is not uniform, unless it fits within the general education common core of courses being developed across some states. 

5th, MOOCs will be an alternative course platform for community colleges who are seeking to offer students a wider choice of courses for non-credit and possible credit.  How MOOCs fit into two-year degree plans is yet to be seen.  Transcripts including MOOC courses have not been tested for how they will enable student portability of credits from a two-year school to a four-year school. 

The anticipated huge volume of MOOC students over the next few years most likely will not realize the benefit and recognition of their learning achievement beyond elective courses toward the goals of lowering their degree costs or lessening their time to a degree.  This will remain true unless there are standards developed with governance that would create predicable outcomes.   Across the various sectors of higher education, this will be hard to achieve even on a voluntary basis. 

One prediction I may make is that MOOC students may be good targets for less selective schools, which may mean we will see the continued development of networks aligning recognition and brands similar to transfer agreements or stackable certificates.   I am sure one or more institution will pursue this avenue, but that still begs the question of how transferable and mobile these credits will be across boundaries, institutions, departments and their majors.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Connected Learning as a Service

This is food for thought and discourse.  In the motion picture movie “The Matrix”, there were several scenes of online learning I think about every time I ponder the past, present and future of learning technologies and the impact on the mankind, society in general and institutions.  The first example is when Carrie-Anne Moss playing the role of Trinity called Tank played by Marcus Chong and asked him to download all she needed to know to fly a specific helicopter.  Within seconds, Trinity consumed the training material and put it to use without the overhead of enrollment, registration, checking pre-requisites, making sure she paid her bill and ensuring her authentication.  The second example was when Neo played by Keanu Reeves asked Tank to download Martial Arts training and the screen showed Ju Jitsu, Savate, Kempo, Tae Kwon Do, and, of course, Kung Fu and Drunken Master styles.  After the download, Neo begin practicing what he consumed with Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne.

The Matrix is not the first movie I recall with a scene demonstrating the potential of a more direct human and computer interface to facilitate knowledge/memory transfer.  Total Recall, Star Trek and Brainstorm are other movies that come to my mind. Is the vision of connecting to a machine or computer some day in the distant future far fetched?  When was the last time you visited a hospital wing filled with stroke patients undergoing therapy, monitoring and rehab?  The computer connections are all over the body monitoring blood flow, brain waves and body movements.

Imagine the benefits, cost savings and life changing implications we could achieve for a greater percentage of the population if we could pipe knowledge and emulated experiences into someone's brain the way Trinity mastered flying a helicopter?  Sounds a bit draconian I know.  Trinity did not have to lift a book or spend a thousand hours in a simulator or listen to an instructor for days and hours in a classroom.  It's like a subject video offered by Khan Academy that helps one solve algebraic equations very directly.  Sure, the idea raises many fears like brainwashing or question the source of knowledge accumulated conveyed and absorbed - similar to how we evaluate Internet content today or a textbook abstracting historical events, motivations and outcomes. Just because it is on a website or textbook does not mean the information is true or correct.  We infer the level of trust based upon the source and author.  With less than 1% of the world's population having access to higher education (beyond secondary), would it not benefit mankind greater if we consider new forms of delivery that could radically change the way we learn, accumulate knowledge and experiences?

Does the goal of syndicating or spreading knowledge (not just information) justify more radical means of interchange and transmission?  Or, are we (the education industry) disseminating knowledge, validating  learning and achievement - which translates into rating how hard someone works learning subjects as a 
surrogate - comparable or not?  Would the goal of learning and preparing people for their life's challenges (accumulating knowledge through 1st, 2nd or third person interactions) - and leveraging our brain's capacity override our current inefficient learning methods?  What is your initial impression of direct downloading of content from a third party source?  Is it different than accessing knowledge bases today on the web or open courseware subjects published by leading universities?  Is it cheating to skip the seat time and jump to the conclusion?  What is and what is not teaching, learning and achievement?  Is it not cheating to listen to an audio book instead of picking up the book the old fashion way and reading it?  Is reading the book on the Kindle the same even though I never turn a page physically?  Part of how and why we assess learning and the effort foils us.  Learning outcomes and addressing source of learning are details measuring the subjective value, no?

Imagine if our educational methods were not bound by the user interface, time limits and friction introduced by teaching and learning methodologies, communication styles, ego, intellect?  Imagine if we could learn on our own terms - with choices and methods not restricted by those who control information through syndication, digital rights and laws (copyright).  We have taken baby steps - with online self paced learning tools.  They evolved as with all new mediums - starting with crib notes and audio books available on a smartphone or tablet. They are not as radical as the Matrix download, but the objective of new mediums like pod casting is just a small step in the same direction.

Take a deeper dive down this hole with me for a second.  What if we collapsed the amount of time it would take to earn a four year degree into one 8 hour day - and overcome the different learning styles, intelligence or motivation that complicates teaching and learning objectives?  A four year degree is a metered timeline linked to traditional forms of teaching and learning.  It's like a gestation period we have assumed.  The challenge comparing and compensating for the teaching and learning differences - of where and how we learn will continue - as consumers, producers and providers continue to evolve alternatives.

The connected learning experience could be enmeshed with positive reinforcement.  It could manage assessment and constructive feedback.  It could reinforce repetitive exposure.  It could provide a trusted framework.  And, become economically affordable to mankind - instead of placing a premium on delivery and syndication.  That would be totally disruptive - far greater than how photographic film was obsoleted by digital cameras or how Internet has changed the social connections and experiences sharing pictures.  Learning as a service should scale - and not be limited by source, seats or personnel.

Connecting learning as a Service (CaaS) will continue to evolve as consumers accept new mediums and methods - like games on the XBox, PlayStation or Wii - while resistance, denial of acceptability or comparability from those less comfortable will continue.  That could explain why technology has an adoption curve that could span generations and decades - and not just the here and now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Digital Utilities Sequel

It seems like ions ago that I was working with thirty higher education institutions in the Philadelphia region developing and setting up academic and administrative applications such as scoring assessment tests to billing promissory notes.  This was well before minicomputers, microcomputers, personal computer, and local area networking took center stage following Moore’s Law(1).

Because of costs, complexity, lack of resources, and risks -  higher education institutions in Philadelphia including University of Pennsylvania, Community College of Philadelphia, Temple University and Drexel University banded together and setup a non-profit called UNICOL to share an IBM 360 mainframe and all the resources to operate the environment.  Users of UNICOL signed up for accounts, and paid for CPU and Disk usage monthly much like I pay for water and gas used at my house on-demand today.

My first company(2) called Phaedra, became a user of UNICOL developing batch based services. In those early days of time sharing we did not call it on-demand, cloud or virtualization.  Phaedra was able to prosper selling IT services to organizations that had high volume, repetitive processes who desired automation.  Many organizations could not afford to buy mainframes or allocate the physical space,specialized cooling and raised floors to hide all the cabling.  Phaedra was able to offer affordable batch computer services– like scoring a final exam for class of 50 students for less than $25.  No one could beat that pricing – the test scoring service saved faculty hours of effort and reduced the probability of institutions developing their own test scoring application because it was so inexpensive and provided a nice value.

High education was ripe for re-engineering and computing back in the 70's.  Functions were scattered across departments. Many applications included paper based forms.  Segregation of duties and control required extra steps.  High volume during peak periods complicated staffing.  At the same time, custom software was very expensive to setup and sustain. Corporations, universities, government agencies, and hospitals employed hundreds of programmers each to develop and maintain custom software applications like payroll, billing, accounts receivable, registration, accounts payables and so many other functional areas.  Time sharing alternatives offering CPU time, disk space, and applications like Payroll popped up all over the region.  As computing power became more affordable, more and more organizations established on-premise IT shops, acquired hardware and enterprise software.  The pendulum swing justified localized investment rooted in differentiation and control.

Fast forward almost four decades.  Virtualization, Cloud computing – and web services is changing the way we acquire and utilize computing power - or at least supplement what we have.  Apple, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Yahoo, Google and so many other companies are integrating Cloud computing in their product lines and business models.  They are the new digital utilities.  Cloud computing examples can be found are all over the web.  Open any browser or smartphone and tap the power of applications from Maps to finding an open table for dinner or ball game. We are drawn to the services by convenience and utility.

Virtualizing on-premise servers in the Cloud has gained adoption across many industry sectors.  Companies like Amazon, offering an online retail marketplace worldwide - also provides Cloud based virtualized services for IT shops looking for alternatives to on-premise computing.  Microsoft, Dell, IBM, HP and others offer private Clouds or online environments segregated by virtual boundaries.

The big gap in Cloud computing is still the lack of shared services starting with identity management. There are so many credentials created by Cloud applications because there is little emphasis on a shared model.  Thus, services require the duplication of characteristics and ID proofing - while trying to maintain privacy and consumer control.  How many online ID's do you have?

Bridging applications in the Cloud is still a challenge.  You can find a large array of Cloud based applications like scheduling a meeting, sharing photos, hosting a conference call, publishing a market survey to collecting data using web forms - yet they are all independent lacking a shared security or data exchange model.  These online services represent a new breed of solutions following the utility model, offering consumer’s incremental value based pricing.

In summary, today's digital utilities offers automated services – packaged as transactions, economically justified by volume and sustained by adoption. Digital utilities are an alternative to the on-premise or self managed IT environments duplicating and embedding applications managed by local policies, rules and resources. The trend to outsource and leverage external IT resources will continue to power administrative and academic computing.These are not new concepts in my view. History repeats itself – as do the lessons learned.  I hope the sequel is better the second time around.

[2] Phaedra, Inc.1976, Pennsylvania Corporation

Monday, June 18, 2012

CollegeTransfer.Net Will My Credits Transfer?

AcademyOne has been developing WMCT (beta Will My Credits Transfer) as a new online service for prospective transfer students on CollegeTransfer.Net.  

This new service enables a student to enter prior, current or future course work or assessments and then generate course level mappings at targeted institutions.  Institutions are sorted by the number of potential course credits that will transfer and articulate, reducing the number required to complete - thus lowering the cost and time of completion. 

To start, visit your target transfer profile institution. There are over 1,200 institutions that have a transfer profile published on CollegeTransfer.Net.  Once you find a transfer profile, select "Will my Credits Transfer?" on the left menu.  You can import courses from your Favorites or enter new courses in by selecting the college or university and picking the courses from their catalog.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

CollegeTransfer.Net posts new National College Transfer Services Map

The National CollegeTransfer Services Network Map
Well, it took two years to compile the State Transfer Profiles and we finally finished! Lot's of late nights and blurry eyes trying to figure out how to present 1,000 College and Univeristy transfer profiles across the US in a consistent and intuitive interface. We hope what we created will be useful to students considering transfer, especially those contemplating moving across State boundaries.

You can access the State resources focused on education, college transfer, finding financial aid, finding jobs and linking to the Colleges and Universities in the State by Clicking on the States.

Find a College or University by map location by hovering over the map markers. The region around the State will magnify when you click on the map. Hover over a black marker dot and review the college or university it represents. Click on the map marker to open the College or University Transfer Profile. Click the Zoom Out link below to restore the US Map to full view. If you want to just jump to the State Resources for Education and College Transfer, find your State in the list below.

Click here to access the US Map of States and the Transfer Profiles published on CollegeTransfer.Net by AcademyOne.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beyond 100,000 Educational Websites

Yesterday, I did a rough estimate.  In 2010 there has to be at least 10,000 main educational websites and another 100,000 sub-sites in the United States aiming to serve educational aspirations.  I am not going into my logic here how I calculated the number.  It really does not matter.  Let's just agree there are a huge number of websites attempting to serve educational related objectives across sectors including industry, military, agriculture, labor and education.  Over fifty years ago, I recall we use to go into gasoline venues and get FREE maps.  My dad collected hundreds of them as we traveled all over the United States.  Today, are the educational related websites scattered throughout the internet like the maps distributed by Texaco, Exxon, Shell, Hess an Mobil?  Are we really achieving the goals of helping people navigate and get to their destinations?

We have billions and billions invested in this web infrastructure keeping many employed. These web destinations attempt to serve consumers with educational content and applications that are designed to help them decide on formal education opportunities. Whether it is information used to further one’s aspirations, such as landing a job or gaining exposure to areas of interest or assessing one’s competencies, we have so much available online to help individuals expand their knowledge, acquire skills and challenge their minds all through a browser. It's mind boggling.

All these websites I mention are used across 50,000 high schools and thousands of companies by millions and millions of people every day, and they are ignored by millions and millions who are the primary target audience as our nation globally competes across world markets hungry for innovation and educated human resources able to excel in the knowledge universe.  These thousands of websites reflect our virtual online abundance – like the corn fields in the mid-west that farmers harvest to feed the world. In other words, they reflect our society’s priority on formal education attainment and credentials.

From public policy architects to higher education leaders, the industry reflects the ivy tower orientation that dictates people must come to it and not the other way around. This is not intended as a criticism, but a declaration that our efforts are evolving on the web to serve consumers with more agile forms than the legacy of education mediums which are limited by physical presence and delivery because not everyone fits into a single learning style or can follow traditional forms of discovery. Brand is becoming less important as more emphasis is placed on how we serve the consumer’s needs and help them achieve their aspirations.

Like many, I feel fortunate we have so many resources devoted to informing consumers of their options and reflecting the diversity of choices available. Yet, there are many who are underserved, poorly served or not served at all by this infrastructure and investment. Institutions generally make the assumption that learning is centered on the institutional practices formally developed around seat time and not learning outcomes directly. We have used courses as a surrogate. Learning units framed by time and grades are not easily comparable because they abstract the outcomes published in various forms ranging from syllabi to meeting objectives. We have developed general education requirements and major specific requirements segmented by how institutions organize specialties.

The debate rages on about this. Meanwhile so many people check in and check out educational opportunties.  Often, they become to realize difficulties they did not expect.  Many do not like the formal educational framework offered, the structure and rituals imposed to achieve formal credentials based upon lecture formats and artificial environments that have difficulty engaging people over a long period of commitment and cost. Or they are not connected at all to educational attainment initially sought, seeking to rebel against the values society places on the importance of formal education and those that control it – the ones who have passed through the front doors of achievement and want to reinforce its relevance because of their past investment.

Still, many just don’t want to follow the masses or are not ready to change or venture beyond their comfort zones. They want independence and control of what they do, learn, play and on what they work. As I ponder this entire web infrastructure, I am left questioning how we could do more to reach people who just don’t see the value or can’t get past their confusion because they checked out so long ago or just do not want to fit into what the Academy offers or don’t know how to find what may be a better fit given the volume of choices and the complexity of sifting through the surface attributes that attempt to distinguish perspectives.

How do we help consumers get re-engaged? Can social networks and media bring them back into formal educational programs and help overcome their reluctance? Do we need to? Or, can we tailor our educational delivery system to fit a more agile framework of teaching and learning? Can we step outside of the formal structures of traditional education delivery? Can we leverage the power of the web to serve consumers and their personal needs rather than the conveniences of how the Academy tries to deliver within a framework designed around economies of scale and the scarcity of knowledge assumed?

Self-paced learning, gaming and the evolution of powerful composite tools with flexible formats will continue to evolve as alternatives to formal education delivery and credentials. How we value the meaning and respect what one can demonstrate without formal bridges across institutions, is another challenging area to think about. People have different learning styles, and a variety of learning formats are available today. We don’t learn everything in the classroom, just like we don’t all consume the news from a newspaper, radio or TV show. Nor, do we only learn things at work. We learn by interacting, like reading instructions on how to construct a toy or by listening to a neighbor’s guidance on how to plant a tree.

Institutions often focus on the convenience of knowledge delivery through small classes, assessing and grading comprehension. Even though most are not-for-profit, the basis of delivery is still governed by economies of scale and breakeven conclusions. Assessing and comparing where someone is in an artificial group called a class is random. Assessing and comparing where someone is across a community and where they would like to be, is where I think we need to go next. These are questions that could be answered through the rich content and resources we have spread across these thousands of websites – bringing what is relevant to a person in a just-in-time format and metered to fit their needs. Does this mean we oversimplify?

Like the games we play on the Xbox and Wii, I feel the various levels have to be inviting and increasingly challenging to the player. We could all post our scores to see how well we are doing against the “world” of players, a form of a credential. Can we compare the achievement of learning from a game like we can with a formal course of instruction? There are a lot of things to ponder as we continue to expand the knowledge universe and economy by being focused on what we can do, not just from what we know. Games can achieve both, by bringing content into context and challenging us to do something with the information we are provided – like adjusting our golf swing when we know the wind speed and direction. How we build the next generation learning tools will be more about continuing the evolution of innovation that focuses on the learner, not about the content or how we currently want to delivery it in units isolated. We want to see how things fit into our world, and what can help us succeed. These are just some thoughts as I am left pondering the venture beyond the fixed views we often find ourselves debating when we consider incremental initiatives that may impact a sector of the market because they are underserved or underrepresented or underperforming according to traditional methods.