VR and Edu

VR is going to be yuuuge – not only in games and consumer applications, but also and perhaps especially, for education and training.

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Are MOOCs Dead? Uff da.

In a Wired blog post, “MOOCs Are Dead — Long Live the MOOC” by Dr. Jeff Borden from Pearson, he says “Social learning takes architecture. I’ve posted several blogs about the trouble with MOOCs. Social learning is at the top of my personal list.

Yes. The best thing Coursera brought us was actually the peer assessment tool. (Ok, yes, and the audience.) This is actually a great example of social/peer learning, and at scale. Rubric-based peer to peer learning has proven to be both effective and a valuable learning activity to many students. Unfortunately, that’s about it, in terms of innovation. Unfortunately, other learning management systems were already providing better functionality, and at scale (Moodle, Blackboard, et al.) It’s unclear why so much time, energy, resources and effort were spent re-building a largely worse wheel, but there you go, venture capitalists! Why not take off from where these systems already are, and go much further – with greatly enhanced social, filtering, adaptive, personal, synchronous AND asynchronous functionality? (Ok, yes, I’m talking about the ideas in my previous two posts…) Anyway… Yes, there is still lots of room for innovation, for online teaching and learning systems that go far beyond what the current platforms do, in terms of ways for learners to connect with content and the learning environment, faculty, and importantly, each other. 

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Envisioning Future Learning Environments: Melding Tools and Content

After reading this piece on e-Literate about the Unizin learning ecosystem coalition, it stirs up thoughts like: why are we still here? Content repository? It seems like these LMS and platform tools are stuck in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Ok, yes, learning analytics hold much promise for enabling transparency to students, faculty and institutions. These systems should provide loads of information about progress, what is done and not done, learning behaviors that lead to success (and non-success), engagement, attention, interactivity, and so on. There is still much to be done in this area.

But a content repository? Ok, yes, there should be less re-inventing the wheel, more sharing, and certainly better ways to store, tag, add meta-data, license, share, and make content available to students regardless of the platform, location, system, device, etc.

But let’s delve a bit further into this “content.” Why is it that these platforms, including the newest ones (MOOCs of the last 2-3 years), still have students running around between the “content” and the “discussions” and the “quizzes” or assignments, all in different buckets? So I’m expected to view this “content” and then leave, and go to another part of the platform to find the discussion related to that content, and go to another location to find the quiz related to that content, and maybe go to an entirely different location to see if anyone else is online to chat with, and so on. Why can’t I, as a student, while viewing some online content, hit pause and then:

  1. take some notes (add a note-taking layer upon the content), that are somehow linked/connected to the content right there at that point and either sharable to others/groups I have set up (ala Clark’s Filtration Nation) or kept private? (Think of this like inserting comments in a Google Doc, but with the ability to share or not share any comment/note with my groups.)
  2. ask a question, either synchronously or asynchronously, for other students and/or the instructor(s), (this bridge between synchronous and asynchronous communication and tools in learning platforms desperately needs to be built!)
  3. start up a video chat/hangout with others who happen to be online and/or working on something similar at the time
  4. answer, interact or attempt to answer questions posed by other students, about the content,
  5. answer quiz question(s) to see if I have “gotten it”,
  6. post a tweet, Facebook post, image, etc.
  7. chat with someone else who is also viewing at that same place (and/or who is filtered based on my Filtration Nation groups),
  8. make connections between something in the content to something else I have read, seen, or created (links/bookmarks to journal articles, blog posts, tweets, hashtags, presentations, video, audio, etc.)
  9. view comments, notes, and/or connections that other students have added in layers upon the content and shared with me

and all of this WITHOUT LEAVING THE CONTENT… ? In other words, all of this type of learning activity could be layered on and integrated with the content.

Now, to their credit, a few platforms do offer the ability to create modules, and to more easily link from a piece of content to the discussion of that content, to the quiz on that content, and so on. Also, a couple of them like Coursera, have enabled an HTML5 layer on top of the content to enable something like #5 – where instructors can add a question or link, pause the video and ask students to answer it and check their answer before going on.  But this is not nearly the type of integrated system for learning and interaction that I am envisioning here.

It seems like someone needs to break these 90’s LMS, platform, and content chains, and truly innovate in this space. Someone needs to create ways for teachers and learners to more fully engage and interact with online content, by integrating the other various communication, assessment, collaboration, and creation tools (both synchronous and asynchronous) into the experience. When you read a journal article, you underline, highlight, circle, make notes, etc. – and you can’t even really do that in these systems yet.

Ok, yes, one of the greatest powers of online learning is the ability for learners to have access to good content. But the other greatest power: empowering learners with the ability to make learning connections and communicate with so many other learners could be massively enhanced by better integrating the content with the other tools.


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MOOC Jams and Clark’s Filtration Nation

This post on a recent MOOC jam posed these questions:

How can we create ways that encourage learners to support one another? and  “What can we build into the design that supports and encourages peer-peer learning?”

Here’s an idea for MOOC platforms that I’ve been tossing around: what if there were algorithms built into discussion forum functionality for filtering, following, and/or group formation? Could this increase the ability of learners to use discussion forums to their advantage, filter out the noise and form groups with peers?

For example, let’s say you are looking at a discussion forum where thousands of students are participating. How do you filter it out to what you really want and need? Most platforms right now only have a search function at best, perhaps an ability to like, vote up, or favorite a thread. What if you have a series of check boxes that could blend automated and customized filtering mechanisms? You could follow or add fellow learners (like Twitter) as you see them post things you like, and only see their posts? Or you could follow them and set up “circles” like in Google Plus, and see only posts from various circles you have set up. On the automated side, you might see things like “filter out small talk” or “show me only posts from people who live within 40 miles of me” or “posts from people whose posts I have liked” Or only show posts from people you have replied to, voted up, liked, etc….

Here’s an quick draft example from a student perspective – which has both “My Groups” – that I set up and named, and system automated examples…



And here’s an example of how such algorithms and filters could be used by faculty:


The next phase of MOOC technology platforms will need to be more adaptive, more social, and build in algorithms and filters such as these in order to better support teaching and learning.


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Inside MOOCs: Student Expectations and Achievement

I recently presented the info below at the Sloan Consortium’s International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando, Florida. I think the most compelling/interesting part for me was to see the intentions of students who signed up for JHSPH Coursera courses, with the primary reason being for fun and enjoyment, followed closely by job and/or career skills. It was particularly interesting to see that 92% of the students who filled in the pre-course survey and indicated that they wanted to complete all activities and receive a Statement of Achievement did so, but also, 69% percent of the students who did not indicate an interest in receiving an SOA actually did. So I think it’s with a grain of salt that we take the frequently cited information that 10% or less of enrolled students actually complete MOOCs. It’s for a good reason: they never intended to. What we should focus on, is that these resources are available to anyone, anywhere, to use, more or less, in ways they desire. If these courses and resources are meeting the needs and desires of even a fraction of the total enrolled students, then they have done a good thing. I do think there are ways, in both content and platform, to enhance various aspects of the learning experience via constructivism, social learning and community-building, but I’ll save them for another time.

Anyway, here’s the info:

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xMOOCs Derailing Open Education?

How much fact is in the discussion about openness/unopenness in licensing of many MOOCs?

George Siemens will deliver a keynote at ICDE about MOOCs derailing open education in part because they have open enrollment, but not open licensing. That page mentions posts by Timothy Vollmer and Justin Reich about this very idea.

Let’s take a look, however, at an actual use case for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), which has been offering Open CourseWare (OCW) since 2005 and courses on Coursera since 2012. If you were to enroll in all of the JHSPH courses on Coursera, and view all the video content, for example, you’d find a mix of items that are licensed with a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and those that are not. This is because that licensure is up to the individual faculty member:

JHSPH Coursera courses with CC-licensed content

  • Mathematical Biostatistics Boot Camp (all)
  • Community Change in Public Health (most)
  • Principles of Obesity Economics (all)
  • Intro to the U.S. Food System (all)
  • Health for All Through Primary Care (some)

JHSPH Coursera courses with no CC-licensed content

  • Computing for Data Analysis
  • Data Analysis
  • Vaccine Trials

It would be a good idea at this point to also review the somewhat vague Coursera terms of service surrounding licensure:


All content or other materials available on the Sites, including but not limited to code, images, text, layouts, arrangements, displays, illustrations, audio and video clips, HTML files and other content are the property of Coursera and/or its affiliates or licensors and are protected by copyright, patent and/or other proprietary intellectual property rights under the United States and foreign laws. In consideration for your agreement to the terms and conditions contained here, Coursera grants you a personal, non-exclusive, non-transferable license to access and use the Sites. You may download material from the Sites only for your own personal, non-commercial use. You may not otherwise copy, reproduce, retransmit, distribute, publish, commercially exploit or otherwise transfer any material, nor may you modify or create derivatives works of the material. The burden of determining that your use of any information, software or any other content on the Site is permissible rests with you.”

Two things are notable here: first the use of and/or. In other words, what you find may be owned and licensed by Coursera, or owned and licensed by Coursera and the university, or owned and licensed by the university. In the case of JHSPH course content, it follows the CC license (or not) as mentioned above. So it’s not exactly clear cut enough to make a general statement about the openness or closedness of licensure across all of Coursera. Next, the statement in italics, actually goes against the license of much of the JHSPH content, so that is confusing. A student of Mathematical Biostatistics Boot Camp, could, for example, download the lecture contents, modify, and redistribute that content, as long as it still contained the proper CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license with attribution.

Granted, there is other content besides “video lectures” – assessments, discussion forums, and even student created original works. It does appear by the Coursera TOS that student-created original works which are posted to the Coursera course sites would actually become Coursera property, however that would not prevent a student from creating materials, CC licensing them and uploading them to YouTube or Flickr and then posting a link to them in Coursera.

I’m not attempting to argue that everything in Coursera is openly licensed, but I do think it’s important for the sake of perspective, to make sure it is known that at least a portion of content there is able to be licensed Creative Commons, exactly like the contents of JHSPH OCW.




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VoiceThread Wish List

Voicethread is a splendid tool for asynchronous online communication, collaboration, teaching and learning. It can be used in so many ways, and its model – overlaying communicative functionality on top of content, like Cengage’s Mindtap product, should be considered the next big thing in online content. ED TED talks came out with something similar for their videos – allowing the community to add their own notes, quiz questions, and lessons on top of their content.

At any rate, here’s my exhaustive wish list for making Voicethread even better:

  • MOST IMPORTANT: ability to select individual slides for import (not have to import the entire slide set, but rather, see a screen and select which slides to import, or 1-click to select all)
  • ability to truncate audio comments at start/end
  • ability to do some simple audio editing, including levels
  • limit/boost audio to even out audio across an entire thread
  • export PDF or PPT of slides (just for a backup for students who desire this – and many do)
  • ability to replace an old slide with a new one, but keep comment(s) from the old one
  • ability to replace a slide from the already available slides but keep the comments
  • when replacing a slide (keeping comment(s): ability to choose a slide from an import file (currently it automatically chooses the first slide)
  • export individual audio comments
  • export the entirety of audio comments to an MP3 or WAV
  • import an audio file and then choose segments from that file to assign to various slides
  • move comments to other slides


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Agile Teams: Rapid Iterations & Feedback

This TED talk does a swell job demonstrating how hidden assumptions can make collaboration murky, and how self-direction, self-organization, rapid prototyping and iterations as well as evidence-based feedback can enhance collaborative efforts:

Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team

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YouTube’s Closed Captioning: Rocks!

I got pretty excited about YouTube’s closed captioning feature today. Well, it went like this… I uploaded a new version of a student testimonial video of students in the SUNY Delhi online RN to BSN degree program, and I wanted it to be closed captioned. So in YouTube, I went to the “Captions and Subtitles” tab, where there was an already existing “Machine Transcription” which I downloaded out of curiosity. Wow. It was scary what I found in it! At first I thought it was uploaded by another user. Then I realized it was just something similar to the voicemail text transcription in GoogleVoice, which can be pretty far off…

YouTube Captions tab

YouTube Captions Made Easy

But then I noticed I could upload my own file – so I just copied and pasted the plain text transcript, with line breaks between lines into a plain text .txt file, and uploaded it to see how it worked… It was simple and painless and WORKS GREAT! It actually seemed to match up when people spoke to the words. The one issue I had was where there was a pause with music and text and nobody speaking, but the captions moved ahead anyway. At any rate, this is great news for ADA and UDL people looking for easy and cheap (free) ways to caption videos. Just type out the text transcript, save to a .txt file and upload to your videos!

Check it out! (You may have to click on the CC icon in the lower right of the video window to activate the captions:

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GoogleVoice has done it again: SMS to email to SMS

GoogleVoice announced (via Twitter and their blog) several exciting new features including:

  • SMS messages can now forward to email, and emailed replies go to SMS! This is huge. (Turn this on in the voicemail/sms settings in GV.)
  • Free calling to Canada.
  • Play GV voicemails within Gmail messages (turn this on in the Labs settings in Gmail).

Still waiting to be able to port a number into GV, as well as the ability to sign anyone up, but these are some big steps forward for a great new service.

PS, if you’re all worried about Google being Big Brother – consider this: it’s not the government, it’s a business (and a relatively cool company  for as big as it is), and although they will match adds to text, etc. it’s done by a machine. But yeah, if you’re planning a major act of terrorism, planning a major universe overthrow, or using it to peddle drugs, might not be for you.

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