Showing posts with label hybrid flexible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hybrid flexible. Show all posts

Hybrid Fluxed #03: It Sure Is Easy to Bash the MOOCs Part 1

A colleague brought this article to my attention on the concerns about MOOCs as apply to teaching history at the college level (and more than likely extend to many of us who teach in the Liberal Studies/Arts).  This article like so many written by people concerned about MOOCs are poorly constructed and limited in its value to the discussion.  While some of their claims are things we should be concerned about, others illustrate a failure to think flexibly or understand what they are actually discussing but feel more like reacting for the sake of reacting.  Such articles provide great opportunities to malign these new forms of technology and their impact on education, but do little to actually improve the situation.  In short, these articles are masturbatory acts that help no one when actually considering how to respond to the MOOCs.

The initial problem, I see is that the author, Jonathan Rees conflates the profession of history with the profession of teaching ("To me, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) represent the potential for the Taylorization of the academic workplace and are therefore a threat to the “rule of thumb” judgments upon which the historical profession depends.").  These are two different things.  Yes--many historians teach, but others do not, and still others consider it secondary or even a necessary evil to what their primary work is.  Also, if teaching was considered a serious part of the historical profession, why is there so little official training for it within history programs?  (More on this later.)

His critical assessment of unbundling seems to undermine or ignore what is par for the course for the majority of courses and the practice of history in general.  He asks, "Why should anybody provide content for their classrooms, they ask rhetorically, when the best professors in the world can be piped in via the Internet?"  Isn't the logical extension of this concern making sure all content of the course is solely from the instructor?  That is, are instructors performing an act of unbundling every time they use outside textbooks, articles, documentaries, etc?   Furthermore, then should we not expect historians to use technology to locate and collect the best materials possible when conducting research?  Why should we expect a world-wide scouring of solid evidence and resources when composing a history article but when it comes to students, assume that the instructor knows all and sees all despite having a limited and almost-singular focus on history (that is, a specialization)?  Unbundling is what all of us do every time we select materials that we ourselves did not create such as textbooks, journal articles, or documentaries.  Pretending that using video lectures from others who may have a better capacity to present the material is different is making a false distinction.  

His assumption that "there are very few history MOOCs compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines" because "many other history professors with the opportunity to teach MOOCs have been scared off by the pedagogical sacrifices this kind of teaching would require" is an inaccurate claim with no research.  That would be akin to assuming that since the earliest of films were largely documentary and depiction of the world as it is, it must be because storytellers saw nothing to be gained from storytelling in the cinematic form and never would.  He also seems to imply that no one is interested in doing history MOOCs and yet there are currently over 70 history MOOCS being offered (  Maybe that is "few...compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines"--but his implication that this is a pedagogical choice is poorly researched and understood.  MOOCs started in the sciences which is why he offhandedly notes, "Computer scientists, for example, seem to love them."  In part because that's where MOOCs started in these disciplines in the late 2000s and took time to make the transition into other disciplines.  Yes, there aren't as many but there are clearly more and more coming.  

He describes "flipped classes" as "Loading them [students] down with taped lectures." Again, this appears poorly presented in that if he had researched flipped classrooms or enlisted the aid of an instructional designer, he would discover that when done with pedagogically sound methods, flipped classrooms are not merely "taped lectures."   Believing that a flipped classroom is just "taped lectures" is like believing that watching a recorded theater performance and watching a cinematic adaptation of a play are the same thing.   

He laments that "Unfortunately, any other historian making use of their content will have to adapt to their particular historical content preferences. I can’t help but wonder whether students will understand who their real professor is in this situation."  Well, here's a question: how often are instructors confused for the authors of the textbooks they use in the course?  How often is the instructor confused for narrator or host of a documentary watched in class?  The answer is probably never or so rare that, the question is silly.  

He also grows concerned about the potential use of celebrities in MOOCs.  Well, if using Matt Damon for the lectures (and in truth, this isn't much different from when an instructor uses a documentary with a famous actor narrating it) can show improved student learning and retention, should we not consider using it--just as we have used celebrities to endorse and encourage other beneficial content and behaviors?  Isn't part of what learning is about emotional connection and if an actor can help one emotionally connect, why is that not a legitimate consideration for learning?  How much training of faculty is there before they step into a classroom about emotional connection and engagement?  Unless you have acquired it outside the discipline through out means or training, there's little guarantee that you have this skilset for the classroom.  

I've listened thousands of audiobooks in the last two decades and professionally reviewed well over 800 of them.  Without a doubt, the professional narrator always does better than author who narrates his or her own book.  There are definitely exceptions, but on the whole, the professional narrator is better at communicating in his or her professional endeavor.  Wherein the author usually does exceedingly well is when he or she has a background in broadcasting already.  The fact is, training someone for years in researching, writing, and professionally presenting historical research is poor training for communicating and engaging with a lay audience (i.e. college students who have little to no interest in history).  How often have we been bored to death by a professional presentation or fought our weighted eyelids as we tried--TRIED--to get through some journal article?   

The real thing that scares the author is:  "Yet such sacrifices are only one way that MOOCs could de-­professionalize, or even de-­skill, large segments of the professoriate. Historians who do not select their own content or write their own lectures could easily be replaced by personnel with less training, perhaps graduate students or people with no training in history at all. Or perhaps the schools that license history MOOCs will hire no onsite teaching help whatsoever and simply let students fend for themselves."  

This brings us back to the earlier point about history as a trained discipline.  Rees is largely scapegoating technology for the actual threat: the history discipline.  How many master and doctorate programs are geared towards producing historians (not including those focused on creating middle and high school history teachers) actually spend any programmatic time on exploring pedagogy for teaching at the college level?  And assistantships do not count--given they are working with live specimens, have inconsistent levels of supervision, and largely are thrown into classes without any training about teaching.   The MOOCs are not de-professionalizing anyone; the discipline is doing so if it isn't actively and consciously training historians as educators (if in fact that is part of the purpose of the history discipline).  Yes, history programs often do well at training the historian to study history but studying history and teaching history are about as far apart as being a mechanic and being a race car driver.  Yes, there is bound to be some overlap but the history discipline largely leaves it to chance that the mechanic is interchangeable with the race car driver.  Pretending that one goes hand in hand with the other is a failure to understand that learning is not the same as teaching. 

Here's a great example:  The very university that Rees teaches at has a Master of Arts in History.  
  • How many courses are required by Masters' students on pedagogy to complete the degree?  Zero.  
  • How many courses on pedagogy or instruction are offered even as electives within the history discipline?  Zero.  
Yet, a graduate with an MA in History can often start teaching at the college level.  If Rees is bemoaning the loss of professionalism within the history discipline, he would do better to actually establish professionalism around instruction within the discipline .  With that in hand, maybe MOOCs wouldn't be as big of a threat as he poses them to be.  

However, he is right.  There are many concerns to MOOCs, though most of them are a matter of time and tweaking.  He points to optional readings as a concern or "sacrifice".  That's not a real concern.  One can require readings--they just need to be accessible to students and not externalized costs at the student's behalf.  If he considers this a "sacrifice", then may he should reconsider why he is critical of the idea that using other professionals' resources in his classroom since the books he assigns for courses are just that.  

What I find most damming about the article is that as a leader, he offers poor leadership in this regard.  He bashes the MOOCs (with poor arguments) but offers nothing in contrast.  He agrees with Aaron Bady that MOOCs "could be done well, I think, but it won’t be."  However, rather than identify and paint a pathway towards how it could be done right, he simply condemns the MOOCs and says that MOOCs are something that "no credit-­awarding university should tolerate."  

Whether it's MOOCs or some other use of instructional technology changing the standard way of things are to be questioned, but they are also to be considered for the ways in which they can improve current teaching and learning.  They are an active conversation happening on campuses across the world and Rees (at least in this article) appears to be saying, don't engage in the conversation.  Stick your head in the sand and wait till the threat passes.  I'm sure history abounds with examples of how well this strategy has worked.  

If Rees and others are truly concerned that the MOOC will create a poor product and potentially deprofessionalize instruction in higher education, then it's time to up the game.  If MOOCs are as true a threat as Rees wants us to think, then we better damn well have alternatives in place when administrators come knocking at our colleges looking to implement MOOCs for credit.  It then becomes our imperative to leverage technology, where professionally relevant, to improve and enhance the experiences of our students.  

In the next post, I intend to do just that: identify different ways we can enhance students experience, maintain professionalism, and save money.  In the end, I agree with Rees that we should be skeptical of new methods but that skepticism needs to be more than just disregard.  We have and create a lot of unnecessary roadblocks and tediousness for our students and as other colleges and alternative to colleges remove these roadblocks, we owe it to our students to make things more streamlined, accessible, and engaging.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Hybrid Fluxed #02: That's Why We Call It a Pilot

I'm one month into teaching an American Literature I course using hybrid flexible pedagogy.  It's going good overall but I'm already coming up with a list of things to tweak and improve in the next rendering of this course. Before going into what needs fixing and what is working great, I thought I would provide more detail about how the course is running to better understand what's been done (and in the next post, a clear explanation of how to fix it).  

The Readings for American Literature

The readings are the centerpiece of a literature course.  This course is no different.  However, in this course, I changed up the approach to readings.  Several semesters ago, I redesigned the text order into a more thematic structure.  My old approach was to move through the course chronologically but I found the students had challenges around keeping track of it all and making sense how the different texts related.  I switched to breaking the course into four writing styles to explore: 

  1. First Person Narratives and Autobiographies
  2. Essays, Tracks, Arguments, and Speeches
  3. Fiction
  4. Poetry

I moved through them in the order above, believe that worked in terms of their literary challenges from easiest to hardest.  Within each unit, we then move chronologically with each week covering 1 or 2 centuries (e.g. 16th & 17th First Person Narratives & Autobiographies).  This structure was useful because we could layer not only the different types of writing but the different times for contrast.  

The Course Choices

Because I moved into the units identified above, it because less important on the specific works that they read and more important that they sampled and engaged directly with the different types of work.  The shift provided opportunities to create flexibility with the readings.  Now, instead of everyone having to read the same texts, we could have people read different texts but still be able to talk about their texts in relation to the subject matter.  Meanwhile, I could provide a close reading of a text in a given week to help students extrapolate and find approaches to the things they are reading.  So I created a master list of readings for each week and had students select a particular page amount that they were responsible for.  At the beginning of the semester, they would fill out a Selection Sheet for all the readings they were responsible for during the semester.  

Part of the reason I moved into this approach is that American Literature 1 is full of readings that may be important but are boring as all can be to many students.  I figured one way to stimulate interest was to have students have some say in what they were going to read in a give week.  

However, the real choice of the course was what format of learning the student chose.  As I mentioned before, I designed the course so the student could take it entirely online, entirely face-to-face, or go back and forth depending on his/her demands/priorities in a given week.  

Additionally, I expanded their choice in terms of the content of their assignments and even, which assignments they do (see below).

F2F Time vs Online Time

What makes the difference between online and face-to-face time?  In the online environment, students are expected to view the week's minilectures as well as make their way through a learning guide, do their readings, and participate substantially in a weekly discussion (one initial post of 200+ words and 3 peer replies of 100+ words).  

By contrast, in the face-to-face class, students must perform inclass writing assignments, engage in group discussions and projects, and of course, listen to/engage with the mini lectures I give in person.  (A side benefit to students in the F2F, if they miss something or need a refresher, they can always go online and review the videos). 

The Assignments

I've been trying to also play around with the assignments and believe I will expand upon this in the ensuing semesters as there could be some really great things done in terms of providing more choice and opportunity for students.  

All students must be active in the course.  In the face-to-face class, this includes participating in discussions, group projects and successfully completing the informal inclass writing assignments.  In the online course, it means substantially participating in the discussion.  There is also a course blog, where all the students come together and post their initial thoughts and ideas about a particular reading they enjoyed from a given week.  These are all formative assessments that help me understand where the students are at as well as help the students learn from one another.

Finally, we have three major assignments for them to complete.

Article Analysis:  The students must find an academic article that critically uses something they are reading this semester and write a 1000+ word review of it.  Students choose whatever article they can find so long as it meets certain criteria (over 12 pages of text, published in academic journal, published after 1970 and ties to a specific text we read).  Their article selection must be pre-approved before moving forward with the essay.

Close or Quote Analysis:  For their second paper, students can choose from two options.  They can provide a close-analysis of a fictional work that they've ready (at least 1000+ words) or they can analyze a self-selected quote from anything that they've read and then connect that quote to other readings in the course.  Which assignment and which text they chose is up to them; however, like the article analysis, they need to identify what they are doing for approval. 

Final Project:  Students have several options for a final project.  

  1. Standard Essay.  Students have three different essay options to chose from to write a 1500 word essay on American Literature.
  2. Librivox recording and reflective essay.  Students must find a text they wish to record and narrate the text for as well as write 300+ word reflective essay.
  3. Wikipedia entry.  Students must write an entry for Wikipedia on one of the readings or authors that isn't already on the site.
  4. Digital presentation.  Students must create some kind of digital presentation that substantially covers an idea throughout certain texts or substantially covers a particular reading from the course.
  5. Pitch an idea.  Students can pitch their own ideas for a final project.

That's what I've got going on in the course and I think thus far it's going well for the first round.  I expect to have some more thoughts about how to improve it in the future.  Also keep an eye out for future postings as I intend on making my materials accessible to those that are interested in using/borrowing them.

Check here for a full listing of posts on Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Hybrid Fluxed #01: The Semester of Hybrid Flexible Teaching (And Learning!)

As some may know, I just finished another Master's Degree (that's #3 for those that are counting).  My final project for said degree was to develop a hybrid flexible course for an American Literature I course that I've been teaching for a while now.  

What is Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy?

There are other definitions such as Dr. Brian Betty's work that has influenced my thoughts on understanding hybrid flexible but here's my stab at defining it:

Hybrid flexible pedagogy seeks to maximize the amount of choice (i.e. flexibility) for students within a given course (or even program, ultimately), with regards to class format (online vs. face to face), content (learning resources), and evaluation.  

That's the best definition I can come up with.  So what that has mean for my course is that I've developed a course in which students can take the course entirely face-to-face, entirely online, or move back and forth between the face-to-face course and the online course in any given week. 

I came to create this from y experience with teaching evening classes.  These classes meet once a week and if a student misses a class, they are likely to fall seriously behind.  In my experience, students in evening class often miss class for serious reasons (or at least more often than not).  Often, it's because their life has gone into crisis mode (sometimes small, sometimes really big).  Thus, they hit obstacles in life and missing class only adds to it.  So I thought about what could be done so that they could potentially be caught up to speed by the start of the next class.  That led me down the road of hybrid flexible pedagogy.  

Online and Face-To-Face

The course as it stands now, ready to launch entails students coming to the physical classroom and engaging in different activities around the course content or going online and moving through activities that should be similar to the face-to-face activities.  To make sure for this balance, I have create a series of videos (narrated powerpoints) for students to view.  The full playlist of videos for the course has been put on Youtube.  What I like about this part is that students can attend the face-to-face but also benefit from the online content for reinforcement and further clarification.  

Choices Abound

Coupled with the above format, I have also pushed to develop the resources so that students can choose what readings they want to read for any given week out of a larger selection of readings.  One benefit I have with doing this with American Literature I is that all of the works I want to use are in the public domain.  So rather than assigning a textbook with everyone reading the same text, I have provided 5-10 readings for a given week and have students choose which ones to read (requiring a certain page amount read).  Coupled with this, I have expanded choice in terms of their assignments and what they can write about or the different ways they can do an assignment.  For instance, their final project they have several different choices including a traditional final essay, a Wikipedia entry, making a Librivox recording or even, pitching their own final project.  

Particularly around courses that students have little to no choice in taking, it makes sense to provide them with some opportunities to express their preference and choice.  However, I also thought about how this concept worked perfectly with some of the themes of American Literature and how it is a continually attempt to widen choice and opportunity (a focal point for a good deal of our readings).  

Where Do We Go From Here?
This is a just a brief introduction to what I'm doing.  I plan on writing and reflecting about the experience here on the blog and also providing materials and updates for people that are interested in creating this format as we move forward.

If you would like further information, please contact me, Lance Eaton.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.