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Unabridged Interview on MOOC for Chronicle of Higher Education
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Fifth MOOC-Related Post in Five Days (I'm now done...):
The previous four days, I have made a series of blog postings on massive open online courses (MOOCs). I did for Blackboard with their CourseSites people. Let's recap:

Day One (June 13): Jarl Jonas Director of CourseSites by Blackboard reflects on first MOOC
Day Two (June 14): The EvoLLLution from Toronto to a Global MOOC
Day Three (June 15): Reusable MOOC: When massive sync is lasting async
Day Four (June 16): Twenty Thoughts on the Types, Targets, and Intents of MOOCs
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And now for today...
Day Five (June 17): Unabridged Interview on MOOC for Chronicle of Higher Education

In this final post, I insert the full responses sent to Jeffrey Young from the Chronicle of Higher Education for his post related to my MOOC on Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success that was offered through Blackboard/CourseSites. This is the "unabridged" version or nearly 2,500 words, instead of the 500 or so that were in the Chronicle of HE this last week. I also include a few pictures and information from four of the international MOOC participants that I had not shared with Jeff as well as a few fun snapshots that Chuck Carney from the IU School of Education took of me during the second synchronous session. As you will see, I tried many ways to engage the MOOC audience.

Jeff Young's post on June 11, 2012 was titled, "Building Different MOOC's for Different Pedagogical Needs." He actually interviewed four professors doing such a MOOC. The full article was titles, "4 Professors Discuss Teaching Free Online Courses for Thousands of Students." It was interesting to read the stories of the other three professors. These interviews are among the most read and emailed Chronicle articles during the past week. Nice work Jeff! I always like reading your articles.

Jeff Q#1. Why did you sign up for this?

Curt responds: Simple--I was asked by Blackboard people. One of the key people from Blackboard just happens to be a student in our online master’s program in Instructional Systems Technology (IST) here at Indiana University. She had heard about my expertise in online teaching and learning and asked me to help. A MOOC is a major commitment so I had to reflect on it for a while. I agreed to it for several reasons. First, from what I could gather, Blackboard felt that educators are now extremely hungry for information that can enhance student online learning. I have developed a couple of models for teaching and learning online (i.e., R2D2 (see one MOOC participant use of it) and TEC-VARIETY (see sample participant reflection on it) and give between 80 and 100 talks each year on this topic; hence, it was a solid match. Through the Blackboard MOOC, I can perhaps influence thousands of instructors who potentially teach tens of thousands of students each year. And I can do this without having to leave Bloomington, Indiana. There are thousands of instructors using the free tools and course management system in CourseSites; many of whom have never received trained to teach online. In effect, it is a good cause.

Look at the math. There are nearly 4,000 people enrolled in the MOOC. If just 25 percent of them find one idea or activity that they can embed in their online courses, think of the global impact in terms of online pedagogy and enhanced teaching. From an instructional standpoint, it may be the most important five or six weeks of my life.

A couple of days ago, I was thinking to myself that there are more people in this one class than I have likely taught 23 years of teaching in higher education. Every time I reflect on the MOOC, a series of light switches keep going on and off in my head. If teaching is a calling, than a MOOC may be the ultimate such calling—at least today. In the past, books, conferences, journal publications, magazine articles, interviews, and radio and TV appearances were often viewed as the primary means for academics to get out new ideas. Today, not only must we add blogging and podcasting about one’s research findings or new teaching approaches to the mix of dissemination outlets, we must also consider the impact of teaching or designing a massive open online course.

(Note: I was explaining my Read-Reflect-Display-Do (R2D2) model during the Week 2 synchronous session on May 9, 2012 when the above picture was taken.)

Jeff Q#2. What’s it like so far? Please briefly describe what a typical “day” of online teaching is like...

Curt responds: Oh, my, where to begin? The MOOC we are doing is a professional development (PD) course. Consequently, it is more like a summer workshop experience for college instructors than an introductory course on computer science or engineering that you might hear about from Stanford or MITx. Hence, the course expectations as well as the forms of assessment, interaction, and communication may be different in our MOOC from the others you have heard about. Since I am conducting a synchronous Webinar session each Wednesday in May for a couple of hours, there is much to prepare. Building an interactive 2 hour session for hundreds of people located remotely around Planet Earth is not particularly easy (truth be told, it is now 6 am and I have yet to go to bed tonight as I have been preparing for the final synchronous session of our MOOC later today). And even if you are successful in creating the content, you are still dependent on access speed, file size, ease of technology use, and participant understanding of English.

So “my typical MOOC day” always involves thinking about and fine-tuning ideas for the weekly session. As part of this, during the week, I must upload any relevant PDFs of my PowerPoint slides for those enrolled to review. There are also Web resource links for participants to browse, links to videos to perhaps watch, and articles that need to he uploaded to the system. In addition to resource sharing, I respond to participant introductions (new people arrive every day), blog and wiki posts, and article and video discussions. I also might brainstorm with my assistants and the CourseSites team a set of potentially engaging discussion prompts for the week as well as motivators we might use in the synchronous session. Such activities are all so new and constantly evolving that each day there is a significant new decision to be made.

I am also receiving personal emails from participants asking me to review their pedagogical ideas and evaluate their prior or current online courses (i.e., “look under the hood” as one participant asked me yesterday). I might also read through strategic plans for online learning if they are administrators or government officials. While all this is going on, I am trying to make this a truly global experience, so I am constantly collecting information about participant location, job, future plans, etc. I use a physical globe in the weekly synchronous sessions to indicate where many of the participants are from. In the future, I anticipate that such information will be automatically collected and displayed within the CourseSites system.

I am fortunate in that I have a few people from CourseSites helping me out as well as eight teaching assistants here at IU who have all been through one or more of my courses. In fact, several of the TAs have been my instructional assistants in the past. They have volunteered to help in the MOOC so that they can gain more teaching experience as well as understanding of how a MOOC operates. In addition to helping with participant feedback, members of the MOOC team record themes related to the discussions and blog posts. This is often a massive undertaking, At the same time, a couple of them help me summarize resources mentioned in the weekly Webinars. Still others collect specific participant information when we request it.

We do not have the luxury of the computer-based assessment systems that are mentioned in many other MOOC endeavors such as those at Stanford and MIT, but we have some pretty savvy and helpful instructional technology graduate students here at IU; perhaps the top such program in the world. But you do not need any of that internal assistance (be it human or machine) to create an effective MOOC. There are tens of thousands of people around the world who would be willing to help an instructor or course design team with a MOOC. Moral: do not be jealous of what others appear to have that you do not. The Web offers much in the way of feedback, interactivity, support, and expert guidance that anyone can take advantage of.

Our professional development course requires a different set of instructional skills and technology tools than an introductory college course might require. As with any PD activity, there is a ton of personal consulting, advice, guidelines, and resource sharing. There is no typical day. But I will admit that many more hours are spent planning the weekly synchronous session than anticipated (the clock continues to tick…now at 6:30 am). You really do not want to mess up in front of hundreds of your peers.

Jeff Q#3. What needs to happen for you to consider the course a success?

Curt responds: In terms of course success, we hope to see participant enthusiasm as well as interactivity, dialogue, and responsiveness. We want to see new groups form and make connections and share their respective innovative course plans. Each week, a number of people from our MOOC have shared exciting and insightful ways of using some of the frameworks and activities mentioned in the MOOC. These frameworks related to online learning motivation and retention, learner diversity and learning preferences, and the use of shared online video. Some of their descriptions extend well beyond anything I ever thought of when designing some of these models and frameworks initially. This is quite heartwarming and exhilarating.

In addition to the roughly 4,000 enrolled, to date there have been more than 5,000 discussion board posts, nearly 400 blog posts, and many more posts in the MOOC wiki. Regarding live participation, the first synchronous session had more than 500 participants and the rest have averaged well over 250.

There are extensive conversations and, at times, heated debates in the discussion forums and blogs. There is also much sharing and pooling of resources. The weekly summaries of discussion and Webinar themes are filled with resources. There is likely enough information in “Let’s Discuss” forums and blogs to create at least one book of best practices for online teaching and learning, if not two. There are also some 20 self-formed groups (e.g., Nursing Educators, E-learning Entrepreneurs, Christian Colleges and Seminaries, Mobile Learning, librarians, K-12 Educators, Change Management, All About Adjuncts, etc.). Each of these groups helps to personalize the massive online experience and provide a sense of learning community.

While not everything has run smoothly, and there are some participants who have their personal preferences of how a MOOC should be run, we have observed extensive positive feedback about the MOOC in Facebook, Twitter, participant blog posts, and other forms of social media as well as via email and even face-to-face contact with MOOC participants when we bump into them.

Those who complete the course will get a badge. In addition to badge completion, MOOC participants will complete a short survey related to the MOOC during the coming week. Results will be used in designing future courses like it.

Jeff Q#4. Has anything surprised you about the students who signed up for your course?

Curt responds: Well, I helped Ray Schroeder at the University of Illinois at Springfield with his course last summer. He had 2,700 people sign up from all corners of the earth. So the size of our MOOC is not that surprising. In our MOOC, participants are mainly coming from higher education settings but also from K-12 schools, military bases, government agencies, corporate training centers, and consulting firms.

What perhaps surprises me the most is how quickly the MOOC participants have grasped and adapted some of the ideas presented and embedded them in their own online and blended courses. For some, it was a mere day or two for them to flesh out a dozen or more activities and ideas. In fact, many of their ideas are much more detailed than the examples that I lay out in my own presentations and books. In a word, I find the immediate applications “phenomenal.” Typically, when I teach, there are some practitioners in the course, but many are fulltime graduate students. In the MOOC, I basically have approximately 4,000 practitioners who each have own personal goals and objectives. They have existing or upcoming courses in which to try out the ideas that are presented, discussed, and shared. It is like an evolving and living laboratory for online pedagogy.

The people in the MOOC appreciate the ideas shared and questions posed, whether they are coming from an elementary teacher in Korea (see below), a Captain or Major in the Swedish or Norwegian military (see below), a vice provost from a high ranking university in Texas, a high school teacher from rural southwestern Kentucky, an instructional designer from Sydney, Australia, a director of teaching and learning center in Dubai, or a college professor from Guadalajara, Mexico. They are all on equal footing here. There is no sense that anyone has greater credentials, more power, or better ideas. The MOOC flattens power, control, and responsibility. And that flatness combined with much openness is truly welcomed by all.

(Note: the pictures and text about them are additional supplements for my blog post which I did not send in for the Chronicle of HE interview. As shown below, South Korea is at the high end of the learning technology spectrum.)

(Note: Picture above of is Dr. Meeyong Kim, from Saeil Elementary School in Daejeon, South Korea. Meeyong was supposed to be a visiting scholar working with me this year. But could not get a visa. So the MOOC became a way for her to take one of my classes while still being in Korea. A map of her location is below).

(And when I visited Korea last September, Meeyong and her family took me to the DMZ. What an interesting place! See below.)

Curt (continues response to Jeff's question): I am also amazed that during the weekly synchronous sessions some people have stayed up past midnight in the UAE and Saudi Arabia or have woken up at 4 or 5 am in Korea, Singapore, or China to participate. It was relatively easy for people in North and South America to attend on Wednesday afternoons each week, but much of the rest of the world has had pretty rotten times. Nevertheless, many highly engaged individuals from outside of North America still came and contributed enormously to our synchronous activities and events. And many others sent us notes that they enjoyed watching the recorded programs days or weeks after the original aired.

(Note: Picture above is of MOOC participant, Mark Curcher of Dubai Men's College in the UAE. In this picture, Mark is looking over the Dubai skyline from the Burge Dubai. Mark tuned in at midnight each week. Below he is accessing some gold bullion from the world's highest ATM.)

(Note: I got to see Mark's offices at Dubai Men's College (DMC) a little over 3 years ago. Celow Mark points to his picture at the entrance of DMC.)

Curt continues: So I guess it is the willingness to flexibility get involved and learn from the course content that is the most surprising. Time, location, status, etc. are no longer barriers to learning that they once were.

(Note: Picture above is of MOOC participant (on right with hat), Major Thomas Lyck, Head Teacher of War Studies from the Swedish Armed Forces School of Logistics in Skoevde, Sweden. Major Tom participated in the MOOC late at night, though the sun did not set until midnight. He even participated while at a conference sponsored by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) lab in Oslo, Norway. The conference took place in at Pers Resort in Gol, Norway (see point A below), where I met Tom the previous year. On the left is Commander Geir Isaksen, Head of R&D/XO at the Norwegian Defense ADL Office in Olso (see purple dot below). Geir brought me to the conference the previosu year. Both are wonderful people.)

(Above is Major Tom with two of my books which he apparently was using in the design of his courses. Below is a map of his location in Sweden.)

(Below is a picture of me with one of the MOOC participants, Leonardo Tosi, from Florence, Italy. This screenshot is from an interview that he conducted with me about my World is Open book outside of the MOOC using Adobe Connect (the same system we use here at IU). It was for his summer class of Italian teachers who were reading parts of my book. Leonardo had translated the beginning (prequel in Italian; English option) and ending (postscript in Italian; English option) of the book into Italian for them as well as the foreword in Italian (English option) for the new Chinese edition of the book.)

(Note: Leonardo is a project manager in the ICT and education area of the INDIRE Institute in Florence. INDIRE is a consortium of many different universities in Italy, including the University of Milan, the University of Florence, the University of Macerata, LUMSA University of Rome, the University of Palermo, the University of Catania, and University Leonardo da Vinci. Sounds like an interesting and rewarding place to work. It was great meeting people around the world each week in the MOOC. However, I should point out that most of the participants came from North America; I am just including the above 4 people from other countries in this particular blog post.)

Jeff Q#5. Do you have any concerns going into the course -- about format, implications for universities, or any other aspect of this unusual venture?

Curt responds: My chief concern is that there have been MOOCs in the past and some people seem to treat them as a type of religious experience both in terms of the content covered and the ways in which information is displayed, communicated, and reused. However, each MOOC is different. I think we need additional research on how to structure a MOOC, the types and forms of incentives to embed in such a course, the forms of learning assistance or scaffolding that are now possible, the range of resources that can bolster a MOOC-like experience, and so on. But a successful MOOC for an introductory or intermediate college course is much different in content and delivery format than what might prove effective in a PD MOOC (see previous blog post from yesterday).

I should point out that our MOOC will remain open at the CourseSites Website long after my commitment ends. People can still learn from the recorded content and earn a badge and perhaps some self-confidence (see blog post from two days ago). This openness will be a sign that they do not have to rush through the content. Future participants might come to realize that some of their pedagogical ideas might need a minor tweaking before finding rich success. They might also find innovative ways to troubleshoot through their weaknesses and begin experimenting with a technology tool that might not have even existed when the MOOC was first delivered. In addition, newcomers might have make new connections to peers who have completed the course and received their badge(s) days, weeks, or perhaps even months or years earlier. Not only might they contact their course peers from a different cohort, those who enroll later can directly contact the course designers or myself at any time. They might simply watch the archived weekly performances. I have been told that our synchronous sessions were at the high end of information, interactivity, and engagement, and yet were highly spontaneous and unpredictable. I tried to make them rich in content and yet fun. I hope that they find much reuse, replay, and remixing.
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That was the end of the interview. The above unabridged transcript is about 5 times the length of what ended up in the excellent Chronicle article, so I am sharing the complete transcript here in my TravelinEdMan blog. As noted, in this blog post I also include some additional information and pictures from 4 of the international participants. But that is only 4 of the 4,000 who enrolled in the course. I also shared with Jeff some of the unsolicited MOOC participant feedback; if interested in what the participants had to say, click and scroll down to May and June 2012 to read. I let him know that had obtained permission to share and wished him well.

So I have some to the end of my 5 blog posts in 5 days on my MOOC. That was not easy as I typically only post to TravelinEdMan once or twice a month. Now I have to get back to writing my online motivation and retention book using my TEC-VARIETY framework. I got half done last summer and have not touched it since last August. If interested in the topic, write to me for sample chapters. I am happy to get your feedback. I hope to give the book away as a free PDF document in a few months.

Those prefering to read more about the MOOC are in luck since I made some previous MOOC-related postings in April and May. See below.

April 19th: A Close Up Look at an Upcoming May MOOC
April 29th: Video Intro for Upcoming MOOC and IU Press on the Event
May 1st: Open-access articles on the "Digital Campus" about open access
May 7th: There's a whole lot of MOOC'en going on! (or: "The Multimedia MOOC")

May the force be with you if you read them!

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

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