Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Posts tagged ‘learning design’

The world of MOOCs and open badges

I’ve been thinking about massaging this blog back to life for some time now. I often come across topical educational discussions or links to resources that are worthy of further exploration but rarely get beyond sharing them as a link on Twitter. I’ll start today with a couple of topics I’ve been recently pondering.


The jury is still out for me about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). If you’re new to the concept of MOOCs, Ryan Tracey has put together a good overview of what a MOOC is. Built with connectivist design principles in mind, the theory is good. However, the longtime online learner and facilitator in me wonders just how effective such large scale forums can be, or whether the huge numbers involved mean they are simply a recipe for online mayhem, particularly for less web-savvy users. Good organisation and clear communication is critical. I’m happy to be convinced of their worth (or otherwise).

I am starting a MOOC next week with the hope that it will help me kill two birds with one stone. The first is to experience a MOOC first-hand and the second is to explore the possible use of online badges with the suite of qualifications I am involved in developing.

Open badges

Mozilla OpenBadges logoI was introduced to the use of open badges at the elearnz Conference in Auckland recently. Since then, I have thought long and hard about how they could be used to recognise and acknowledge learners’ skills and achievements in various areas. I am interested in exploring how my organisation could develop badges for our learners and whether or not they would find them valuable.

Some initial thoughts I have about the use of badges to recognise learning:

  • What are the conventions around awarding badges to represent whole qualifications, as opposed to the individual skills or clusters of skills that the qualifications represent? Will learners expect badges for every course or standard they complete or will they be satisfied for a single badge representing the whole qualification. For example, if you take a unit standard-based qualification and award a badge for its completion (much like the physical badges some organisations offer), will those learners feel disadvantaged if other organisations offer say 15 badges for the same amount of work? Isn’t that why we register credits for unit standards with NZQA on a learner’s record of achievement?
  • I already have a couple of badges in my Mozilla Backpack. Although they are just introductory examples, they were surprisingly easy to get. I imagine that the number of badges developed will grow exponentially once the concept takes off and more organisations start using them. I wonder what value badges will hold for learners and the issuing organisations if they are presented alongside those that require very low levels of skill or application.
  • How could the skills represented by each badge be made transferrable or even comparable? Will it be acceptable or even expected that hundreds of different organisations could issue badges for very similar skills? I understand that the issuing organisation needs to establish credibility, but how apparent will this be for viewers (for example, potential employers)?

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials starts next week and is run in Blackboard, a LMS I have previously taught in for many years (albeit using older versions). The timing of the live sessions aren’t NZ-friendly so I won’t be attending them in real time by will view the content once it is made available. I look forward to learning more about the issues surrounding the use of badges in education and joining in the discussion.

Becoming a 21st century school

This afternoon’s DEANZ Conference keynote was delivered virtually via video link from Tuscon, Arizona – truly modelling distance learning. Ken Kay from EdLeader21 gave a presentation entitled The 7 steps to become a 21st century school. There is much that tertiary education can learn from the schooling sector and these ideas easily apply to all levels of learning – we all face the same challenges.

What is 21st century education?

We’re already 12 years into the 21st century, but it seems like we are still trying to define what education in this century is all about. Ken pointed us to a framework on the P21 website. He talked about blending the 3Rs with the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. These are otherwise known as student outcomes, or attributes that students should aspire to, and these also need to be demonstrated by teachers as models for effective pedagogy. The 4Cs very much reflect the key competencies that support the New Zealand Curriculum.

21st century student outcomes

What are the 7 steps for implementation?

Embracing the 4Cs in principle or rhetorically is not enough to make them work. This is where an implementation strategy is necessary and Ken introduced the 7 steps model before unpacking each step in detail.

7 steps modelKen challenged us to go home and complete the MILE Guide self assessment survey and find out which elements of our practice are from the 19th, 20th or 21st century. Gulp!

I was interested to hear Ken’s thoughts about how professionals should be using the 4Cs in their own practice (and not just for teaching students). He argues that the 4Cs can and should be used as a measure for hiring, compensation, evaluation and promotion.

Ken concluded his virtual keynote by sharing a video called The 4Cs: Making 21st century learning happen, featuring student and teacher voices.

Addressing the conative domain

In education, Bloom’s Taxonomy highlights the complementary nature of the cognitive (intellectual), affective (emotional) and psychomotor (physical) domains. Generally, even though cognition usually ends up taking precedence, educators are aware of the importance of addressing all three domains to enable effective learning and teaching.

Conative people imageOne of the many points to ponder from Tom Reeves‘ workshops at Shar-E-Fest 11 (and his visit to the Open Polytechnic yesterday) is the concept of conation, or the conative domain. These terms are new for me, even if the concepts underpinning them are not. Dating back to the work of Aristotle, conation refers to a natural tendency, impulse, striving or directed effort and is considered one of three parts of the mind along with cognition and affection. The conative domain drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings. Key words include volition, will, desire, follow through, intention, doing, striving, ethics and self-determination – all tendencies we want our students to have but don’t necessarily help them develop.

Apparently there is a 40% drop out rate from students in New Zealand tertiary education, the second highest in the OECD and only ‘beaten’ by the United States. Could addressing the conative domain through effective learning and e-learning design go some way towards ensuring a higher level of retention and success from our students?

Art Costa‘s Habits of Mind go some way to support the conative domain; they address concepts relating to value, inclination, sensitivity, capability and commitment. Mason Durie‘s philosophy toward Māori health, Te Whare Tapa Wha, which has also been adapted for an education context, is underpinned by four dimensions representing the basic beliefs of life: wairua (spiritual), whānau (social), tinana (physical) and hinengaro (cognitive). It is metaphorically represented by a whare (house) and each dimension becomes a wall. With even one dimension missing, the whare is unbalanced and cannot truly exist. Perhaps a similar metaphor could be used to represent the four domains for learning and allow conation to be aptly acknowledged and addressed in our learning and teaching?

Paradigms for formative evaluation

Shar-E-Fest banner
I have just returned to work after spending two days at Shar-E-Fest 11. Hosted by Wintec, this year’s keynote speaker and National E-learning Symposium presenter is Professor Thomas C Reeves from the University of Georgia. Tom’s keynotes and workshops gave me plenty to think about and follow up, some of which I will unpack here. We are very much looking forward to hosting Tom and his wife, Trisha, at the Open Polytechnic tomorrow as part of the National E-learning Symposium.

The role of formative evaluation

One of Tom’s workshops look at the role of formative evaluation to improve the effectiveness of online teaching. We initially unpacked the difference between evaluation and assessment; loosely, we assess characteristics but we evaluate things. Tom challenged us to create a formative evaluation plan for a fictitious new course and decide what it would look like. “Plan?” we all mumbled, “for formative evaluation?” To be honest, it wasn’t really an approach many of us had given due consideration.

Tom gave an overview of four major paradigms in relation to formal evaluation within the context of course or programme design. Each is valid with its own benefits and advantages but equally has its own flaws and biases. Briefly:

  • Experimental (quantitative) paradigm. Based on the notion that there are facts with an objective reality that exist regardless of our beliefs, eg hitting our head against a hard wall is going to hurt. The goal of experimental evaluation is to detect the causes in change in phenomena through quantitative analysis.
  • Interpretive (qualitative) paradigm. Reality is socially constructed through collective definitions of phenomena, eg in the Inuit language, there are multiple words for different types of snow (although Wikipedia disputes this particular example as a popular urban legend). The goal of using this paradigm is to interpret phenomena from multiple perspectives.
  • Postmodern (critical) paradigm. Reality is individually constructed based upon experience, eg culture, gender etc. The goal of this type of evaluation is to improve the status of under-privileged minorities, which sometimes leads to discussion around the hidden curriculum.
  • Pragmatic (eclectic) paradigm. Reality is complex and many phenomena are chaotic and unpredictable. The goal of evaluation using this paradigm is to provide decisions makers with the information they need to make better decisions. Chaos theory, anyone?

What does this mean for us?

These paradigms are all very well and good, but how do they relate to us as educators? As we know, evaluation is about far more than simply ticking the right boxes. When asked to evaluate the programmes or courses we teach, it is important to consider who our key stakeholders are and what paradigm they are coming from as this will ultimately affect the type of evaluation carried out as well as any findings. This will help us plan the purpose, type and methods for evaluation and determine what kind of information we will gather, analyse and report. Tom shared some of his tools and resources to help frame evaluation plans and make sure we are finding out the most relevant information.