Sunday 20 October 2013

Paper review: Using online technologies to extend a classroom to learners at a distance

Hilton, J. L., Graham, C., Rich, P., & Wiley, D. (2010). Using online technologies to extend a classroom to learners at a distance. Distance Education, 31(1), 77–92.
This paper reports experience from a course in which the instructor allowed individuals at a distance to participate. These students were given full access to all course materials (readings and recorded class lectures) and were encouraged to complete course assignments. However, the additional amount of faculty’s time necessary to keep the course open was kept to less than 30 minutes each week. The components of the course were available through Wordpress (course web site), a wiki (course participation), student blogs (posting homework assignments and discussion) and ProfCast, and iTunes (lecture material).
As part of research, two questionnaires were administered, one for students at distance and other for students in physical class. Key findings were as follows:
  • Completing course reading was rated by the distance learners as the most useful activity thus indicating importance of learner-content interaction.
  • Distance learners felt that course would have become a better experience with more clarity on progress of course, increased interaction and more time at hand.
  • Learner-learner interaction didn’t happen on its own.

This paper is a case study in which an attempt was made to offer a course to distance learners without increasing time commitment of faculty. While some benefits were reported, it was not very clear on how such benefits could be scaled up.

This case study shows a way by which a face-to-face course can be offered to larger audience without increasing time commitment of faculty. Typically such approach would help distance learners benefit by emans of learner-content interaction. However, the paper is unable to provide an answer on how to increase learner-instructor and learner-learner interaction for distance learners in an efficient manner.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Paper Review: The New Generation of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCS) and Entrepreneurship Education

Welsh, D. H. B., & Dragusin, M. (2013). The New Generation of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCS) and Entrepreneurship Education. Small Business Institute® Journal (SBIJ), 9(1), 50–65.

This study examines the rapid shift and evolution in online education by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). It describes following benefits of MOOCs:
  • The free xMOOCs can reach a high number of students, including aspiring and established entrepreneurs, all over the world, with no time boundaries.
  • Especially with xMOOCs, students can benefit professionally and personally from free and high quality course content, that follows the same rigorous standards as classroom-based courses.
  • Students can also engage in a free high quality learning experience.
  • Personalization is another dimension of xMOOCs that students notice.
  • Learners have the opportunity to experience the high interactivity of xMOOC format, not only in relation with the computer or smartphone, but also with fellow students.
  • At a more general level, xMOOCs can give unparalleled insights into human learning.
The paper has pointed out following weaknesses of MOOCs:
  • Lack of face-to-face communication, lack of frequent feedback from a professor, or irreplaceable classroom experiences
  • The humanities, social sciences, and business, which require online written work utilizing critical thinking skills, are difficult to assess online.
  • Developing revenue models to make the concept self-sustaining
  • Delivering valuable signifiers of completion such as credentials, badges or acceptance into accreditation
  • authenticating students in a manner to satisfy accrediting institutions or hiring companies that the student’s identify is actually known.
The paper suggests following redesign strategies to low-ranked Universities:
  • Raising awareness among university members toward the impending changes and involving them in the transformation process; encouraging them to sign-up for already existing MOOCs addressing online tools and their effective use; identifying and eliminating organizational cultures that constrain the use of technological innovations.
  • Consistent improvements in the quality of the students’ education experiences on campus by implementing modern, effective teaching practices and by focusing on discussions and debates that enhance students’ creativity
  • Forming partnerships with regional universities to build their own platform, with content that captures local and regional specificity

This is a descriptive research wherein the authors have explored existing literature to describe how entrepreneurship education will get impacted by MOOCs.

This paper provides compilation of pros and cons of MOOCs. Its suggestions for low-ranked Universities are worth pondering over.

Paper Review: Using mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India

Balasubramanian, K., Thamizoli, P., Umar, A., & Kanwar, A. (2010). Using mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India. Distance Education, 31(2), 193–209.
This paper reports experience from a project in which mobile phones given to 320 rural women entrepreneurs were used for promoting lifelong learning. A survey sample size was 73 and sampling method was random sampling. Qualitative analysis was done using anthropological tools and participatory rural appraisal techniques such as focus group discussions, participatory observation and structured interviews. Based on this study, the authors conclude that the domestication of technology, with elements of appropriation, objectification, incorporation and conversion, has taken place in the context of cognitive social capital and social learning capital. The appropriation of mobile phone in the context of bank credit and lifelong learning has helped to create an identity for phone as a learning and business tool. Using mobile phone while managing animals, listening to audio messages and voicemails and recording messages for discussion and peer review, sharing the messages in the neighbourhood, workplaces and Self-Help-Group meetings, discussing various aspects of  goat rearing, all these have strengthened the objectification, incorporation and conversion processes.

The paper makes use of Domestication of Technology Framework to explain how mobile phones were used by rural women entrepreneurs as a lifelong learning tool. It discusses following four elements of domestication of technology framework:
  • Appropriation refers to access, ownership and possession of technology.
  • Objectification refers to the object and its use in the household economy.
  • Incorporation refers to the way in which objects are used in a temporal context.
  • Conversion refers to the way in which the object is used as a currency.
The contribution of paper is not so much explicitly stated though we can sense the value of this research conducted in an unusual context.

The thought process that technology such as mobile phones can be used for learning only after it gets domesticated is new to me. It has given me new direction in my thinking about use of technology in education.

Friday 18 October 2013

Paper Review: Determinants of Mobile Learning Adoption: An Empirical Analysis

Wei-Han Tan, G., Keng-Boon Ooi, Jia-Jia Sim, & Phusavat, K. (2012). Determinants of Mobile Learning Adoption: An Empirical Analysis. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 52(3), 82–91.

The objective of this paper is to explore how related factors influence the adoption of mobile learning in Malaysia by incorporating subjective norms and individual differences with Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). Towards this end, largely based on literature review, the authors proposed 13 hypotheses as shown in the research model below:  
 The authors analyzed the response from a sample of 401 respondents for a self-administered questionnaire using Multiple Regression Analysis (MRA). As a result, 8 out of 13 hypotheses were supported thus providing following conclusions:
  • Gender has no significant relationship with Perceived Usefulness (PU), Subjective Norms (SN) and Perceived Ease of Use (PEOU).
  • Age is only significant with SN and PEOU and not PU.
  • There is no significant relationship between past experience behavior and PEOU apart from PU and SN.
  • Like most past studies, PU, PEOU and SN, remain as one of the important predictors in the intention to adopt m-learning.

The paper has adapted TAM to identify determinants for adoption of mobile learning. While results are not so surprising, lack of relationship between gender with any one of PU, SN and PEOU seems to have arisen out of sample selection. Perhaps with bigger and more representative samples, few results could have been different. One point to note that education seems to have been used to measure past experience. The authors should have given adequate explanation/reasoning for this choice.

This empirical research shows the way how we can validate already known determinants for adoption of educational technology such as mobile learning.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Paper Review: Realigning Higher Education for the 21st-Century Learner through Multi-Access Learning

Irvine, V., Code, J., & Richards, L. (2013). Realigning higher education for the 21st-century learner through multi-access learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 172-186.
The authors report results from a pilot study on one type of multi-access course, where students were able to choose their mode of access. In this case, remote students accessed the course via webcam and joined their on-campus classmates and instructor who were together face-to-face.
Multi-access learning is defined by Irvine as a framework for enabling students in both face-to-face and online contexts to personalize learning experiences while engaging as a part of the same course. Multi-access learning is different than blended learning because it places the student at the centre of the learning experience as opposed to the instructor or the institution. With multi-access learning, each individual learner decides how he/she wishes to take the course (e.g., face-to-face or online) and can then participate with other students and the instructor – each of whom have their own modality preferences – at the same time.

The paper has addressed following research questions:
  • What was the rank order of learner preference for mode of access?
  • How important was it for learners to have choice in selecting access modes?
  • How did the experience participating in a multi-access course affect learner perceptions of quality of learning?
Research was conducted using a 17-question online survey that included demographic information on age, gender, education program, and teaching area. Items also gathered information on student experience with online courses, preferences for course access mode, and open-ended questions. Following the administration of the online survey, additional qualitative data was obtained through multiple interviews conducted with a subsample of the participants and separately with the instructor. Out of class of 26 secondary education students, 16 gave consent to participate in this study. Fifteen responses were found valid and were analyzed. Following were the results:
  • Learners preferred multi-access for course modality
  • All responses by the learners who had taken an online course before ranked the choice of delivery as very important.
  • 57% of respondents reported they perceived the quality of learning as increased and 42.9% respondents reported the quality of learning as being the same.
The authors argue that the multi-access framework is an alternative approach to the MOOC design for those who want access to higher learning.

The authors have advocated use of multi-access learning as against MOOC to increase accessibility to higher education. Due to small sample size and restricted context, the results may not have universal applicability but they nevertheless argue for suitability of multi-access learning.
Multi-access learning has its use in many cases though its feasibility could be low in most of the cases. Nevertheless, more research in this area may help establish its effectiveness over traditional classroom sessions and MOOCs.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Paper Review: Learner Participation and Engagement in Open Online Courses: Insights from the Peer 2 Peer University

Ahn, J., Butler, B. S., Alam, A., & Webster, S. A. (2013). Learner participation and engagement in open online courses: Insights from the Peer 2 Peer University. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 160-171.

This paper presents a comprehensive description of the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), a social computing platform, using its log data. P2PU is non-profit organization and online platform that allows any member to design and create a learning project (study group or course or challenge), which can then be taken by any other member in the online community.
The main research question guiding this study was: How have learners participated and engaged with open online learning in P2PU? Following are the key findings:

·        Statistics suggest that as a platform P2PU is able to successfully encourage individuals to experiment with creating a diverse array of participatory learning environments, but that a relatively small percentage of those projects are ever implemented as operational.

·        Descriptive measures of P2PU's growth and history show an online community that is in an early stage of development, but steadily growing both in terms of individual users and different types of participatory learning environments.

The authors of this paper have conducted descriptive research to investigate adoption of P2PU platform. They processed log data from the platform to find answer to their research question on how learners have participated and engaged with open online learning in P2PU. While presenting their results, they have raised many valuable research questions that can be investigated further.

This paper has answered “what” question while identifying quite a few “why” questions. Some of them are very fundamental questions, investigation of which could create useful knowledge for creators of open learning resources.

Paper Review: Patterns of Engagement in Connectivist MOOCs

Milligan, C., Littlejohn, A., & Margaryan, A. (2013). Patterns of engagement in connectivist MOOCs. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 149-159.


This paper addresses two research questions:
  1. What patterns of engagement exist within the Change11 cMOOC course?
  2. What principal factors mediate this engagement?
The Change11 course was a large-scale cMOOC running from September 2011 to May 2012, organized and facilitated by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier. Over 35 weeks, participants were introduced to the work of a range of instructional design researchers and practitioners. Participants for the study were recruited via an invitation and study description included as the first item in The Daily e-mail sent to everyone registered for the Change11 cMOOC during Week 17 of the course. Thirty-five individuals from a total of 2,300 registered learners agreed to participate. From the initial sample of 35, 29 study participants were able to subsequently take part in a one-hour semi-structured interview via Skype, which explored various aspects of participation including motivation, goal-setting, and planning strategies, as well as exploring study participants' existing and emergent learning networks, their use of tools to support their learning, and their perceptions of their own participation in the course.

As a result of this study, three distinct types of engagement were recognized – active participation, lurking and passive participation. Active participants adapted well to the connectivist pedagogy of cMOOCs, maintaining active blogs and Twitter accounts, actively and regularly discussing the course. Lurkers were actively following the course but did not actively engage with other learners within it. This category of users is somewhat complex as it includes a spectrum of participants from those who lacked the confidence to participate, to those who were so confident they didn't need to participate in the course. What was common among them is that a cMOOC format works for them – they have the skills to leverage what they want from the course, on their terms. The final category of passive participants was characterized by their apparent frustration or dissatisfaction with the course.
In response to second research question, following factors were identified affecting engagement in this cMOOC: Confidence, Prior experience and Motivation.

MOOCs are classified as Connectivist MOOC (CMOOC) and Scalable MOOC (xMOOC). This paper specifically focuses on cMOOC. The authors have studied a specific cMOOC offering to make a point that confidence, prior experience and motivation determines whether the participant would be an active participant or lurker or passive participant.

While the paper has identified three types of engagement, lurking as a type should have been split over few types to have more cohesive categories. On another note, there seems to be possibility of identification of few more determinants of engagement with wider scope of study.

This paper makes an important contribution by identifying confidence, prior experience and motivation as determinants for engagement in cMOOC. This needs to be further validated.s

Friday 4 October 2013

Paper Review: Wrapping a MOOC: Student Perceptions of an Experiment in Blended Learning

Bruff, D. O., Fisher, D. H., McEwen, K. E., & Smith, B. E. (2013). Wrapping a MOOC: Student perceptions of an experiment in blended learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 187–199.

This paper provides a case study of students’ perceptions of a blended graduate course in machine learning at Vanderbilt University in Fall 2012. This blended course was offered by Prof. Fisher (a co-author of this paper). who "wrapped" his on-campus course around the Machine Learning MOOC offered on the Coursera platform.

Following techniques were used to collect data:
  • Focus group with all 10 students participating
  • University’s standard end-of-course evaluation forms
  • Post-course survey, which was designed to further explore some of the themes that emerged from the focus group
Qualitative data analysis for this study involved the constant comparative method and the development of case studies.Following were key findings:
  • The major advantage of the MOOC over a traditional lecture-based course was its greater flexibility, customization, and accessibility, which students saw as encouraging structured self-paced learning.
  • Students described the face-to-face sessions with Prof. Fisher as helping to keep them on track with the material online.
  • Students did not actively participate in either the Coursera discussion forums or the study groups formed online due to time constraints. Instead, they used the discussion boards to check for course errata or to quickly troubleshoot questions or problems, but tended to ask questions among their local peers.
  • Students suggested more in-class discussion of the material presented in the MOOC.
  • Misalignment between Face-to-Face and Online Components was seen as a major challenge.
  • Students perceived role of Prof. Ng (Faculty for MOOC) as the lead lecturer of the course. On other hand, they perceived Fisher's role in the face-to-face sessions as that of a "facilitator."
Authors have defined the concept of coupling and cohesion of a blended course. Coupling refers to the kinds and extent of dependency between online and in-class components of a hybrid course, whereas cohesion refers to the relatedness of the course content overall. Authors have further defined subject coupling and task coupling. Subject coupling happens when  subject matter is shared across the online and face-to-face components of a course. Task coupling happens when online and face-to-face components contribute to the completion of a task, typically by learning and applying complementary subject content and/or skills. The authors note that the course under discussion had a relatively low degree of coupling by design but to the apparent dissatisfaction of some students.

Authors have identified following opportunities for future work:
  • Possibility to wrap a course around parts of multiple MOOCs
  • How can MOOCs be best designed to best leverage differently designed local learning communities?
  • Possibility for characterizing student and faculty interactions beyond any single MOOC, to include interactions across MOOCs and across media
This is a case study paper that uses qualitative analysis techniques for data analysis. It seems to have made a contribution by defining concept of coupling and cohesion of a blended course and by further relating them to student satisfaction. Its identification of opportunities for future work indicate vast scope for further research in adoption of MOOC in global education ecosystem.

Reflection: This paper discusses one way by which MOOC could be incorporated in mainstream education. It will be interesting to repeat this experiment with larger student participation so that the relationship between coupling/cohesion of blended course with student satisfaction can be critically examined.

Paper Review: Producing and Delivering a MOOC on Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture for Concurrent and Networked Software

Schmidt, D. C., & McCormick, Z. (2013). Producing and Delivering a Coursera MOOC on Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture for Concurrent and Networked Software. SPLASH ’13, October 26–31, 2013, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Retrieved from

Two faculty members from Vanderbilt University produced and delivered a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on “Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture for Concurrent and Networked Software” (known as POSA MOOC) in Spring of 2013. This paper descries their experience.
Launched on 4th March 2013, POSA MOOC ran for ten weeks and had an enrolment of more than 31,000 students. Its section zero provided course overview with an hour of introductory video. Section one provided an introduction to concurrent and networked software using 3.5 hours of videos. Section two provided an introduction to patterns and frameworks with 6 hours of videos. Section three contained 6 hours of videos and focused on how to develop concurrent and networked software by applying patterns and frameworks and grouping patterns into pattern languages. The final section, which was an option one, provided a case study of “Gang of Four” Patterns with 3.5 hours of background videos on object-oriented design and patterns. Students could engage in one of two tracks. Normal track was meant for students who had time/interest in taking the auto-graded quizzes and final exam, but who did not have time/interest to complete the peer-graded short essay questions and peer-graded programming assignments. Students in normal track received a Statement of Accomplishment. Students in Distinction track received a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction by scoring more than 70% score. The score was based on the weekly quizzes (35% of the final grade), peer-graded short essays and peer-graded assignments (55% of the final grade) and a final exam (10% of the final grade).

Authors have noted following observations and lessons learned:
  • An enormous amount of time was needed to prepare the content prior to MOOC launch. Work involved filming high quality video lectures and creating student assessment mechanisms.
  • An even larger amount of time is needed to manage a MOOC after launch. Authors spent 40+ hours per week on discussion forum largely to accelerate and amplify the learning process, to dispel common misconception, to build good will and to reward constructive student participation.
  • The POSA MOOC student diversity was both challenging and rewarding. Challenged included much greater level of scepticism from experienced students, increased workload to fill knowledge gaps, generalizing from limited perspectives impedes learning and overly narrow focus on programming. Rewarding aspects included highly stimulating discussions with expert software developers and greatly improved course structure and content.
  • Assessing student performance in a “design-oriented” MOOC is harder than in “fact-oriented” MOOCs.
  • The Coursera platform, which was used to run this POSA MOOC, is a work-in-progress.
  • Innovations helped make the POSA MOOC more like a “real” course. The innovations included virtual office hours using Google Hangout and YouTube channel, crowd-sourced programming assignments and grading calculator.
  • Interpret MOOC enrolment statistics carefully. Out of 31,000+ enrolments, ~20,000 ever logged in and participated in some way. Only ~1600 of these participants received some form of statement of accomplishment.
  • MOOCs can enhance student-centred learning opportunities by increasing asynchrony in courses and by providing location-agnostic learning.
Authors have mentioned following benefits to faculty:
  • Significantly better on-campus courses
  • Fostering global life-long learning communities that connect students who possess a range of experience
Authors have mentioned following benefits to Vanderbilt:
  • Expanding the brand value of a Vanderbilt education
  • Better opportunities for engagement with alumni and prospective students.
Besides these benefits, authors have also observed following drawbacks based on their experience:
  • Potential for “deskilling” education and educators
  • MOOCs require substantial institutional investment and the payoff isn’t clear (yet)
  • Detecting and dealing with plagiarism is tedious
Based on their experience, authors are planning to expand their offering with an intentionally-coordinated, trans-institution sequence of MOOCs that focus on patterns and frameworks for mobile device programming. It would showcase how intentionally-coordinated MOOCs can create life-long learning communities that (1) cross-cut traditional institutional/disciplinary boundaries and (2) would not be feasible without the MOOC paradigm and MOOC platforms like Coursera.

This paper is an experience-sharing paper, which documents observations and lessons learned along with commentary on pros and cons of MOOCs. It has also identified a research gap regarding correlations between completion rate and various diversity related factors (such as broadband penetration, English proficiency, age, and types of software jobs available in various countries).

Authors have expressed fear that administrators at some cash-strapped institutions would diminish the quality of higher education via wanton replacement of experienced faculty with MOOCs and inexpensive lecturers. While this fear is very much valid, it may also be looked at from different perspective. Many cash-stripped institutes, particularly in developing countries can actually enhance quality of their delivery of education by combining MOOCs produced and delivered by top-notch educators with in-person mentoring by local inexpensive lecturers. Obviously it requires paradigm change where in the responsibility of such lecturers would change from that of teaching in classroom to facilitating learning experience of students through one-on-one or group mentoring sessions.