ODeL and the contemporary challenge of the MOOC

A recent article in the journal Open Learning considers some of the quality and reputational challenges facing open, distance and eLearning (ODeL). Anne Gaskill and Roger Mills are two prominent UK authors, both with previous and long-standing experience with the Open University UK. Reading their article isn’t a pre-requisite for this post!

In the article it was interesting from the outset to see ODeL (Open, Distance, eLearning) as the catch-all term for education alternative to on-campus or face-to-face settings in the article. DEANZ uses OFDL (Open, Flexible, Distance Learning), for reasons broadly outlined in this JOFDL editorial. Whether ‘Distance’ and ‘eLearning’ should be considered related is a perennial problem. The long and short of it is, our terminology and categorisation of education practices using online tools is very problematic. I’ll come back to this point later in the post.

One good thing about the Gaskill & Mills article is that it explores four major challenges that remain for many who critical of ODeL:

  • The quality of teaching, learning and quality processes.
  • Outcomes.
  • Access.
  • Perceptions of students, staff and employers.

Gaskell & Mills point out the significant progress that has been made in these four areas based on established practice, and they offer some valuable citations useful for OFDL (or ODeL?) practitioners seeking to justify their actvities. The article then speculates on the contribution of OERs and MOOCs to ODeL. It’s the MOOC aspect I’ll be exploring from here on.

Gaskell & Mills question the contribution MOOCs are making to the questions of quality, outcomes, access, and perceptions. MOOCs, they point out, are not known for quality (video lectures!?!); outcomes (very poor completions); and access (MOOCS are mainly attractive to those already highly educated). The authors do not explore the issue of how MOOCs are perceived, which is actually rather complicated. There are very mixed views of the value of MOOCs across those involved in higher education. A recent Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty & Instructors post provides a fairly appreciative view. The work of Tony Bates (see his chapter on MOOCs here, for example – and an appropriate rant here) provides a very comprehensive view. Tony also provides a bibliography for those interested in exploring things further, to which I would add the excellent 2014 special issue of Distance Education.

All of this is provides a fascinating area of research and debate. Let me provide my own views in the form of statements, each open to challenge.

  1. MOOCs in their original form (be they cMOOC or xMOOC) cannot provide a sustainable or equivalent alternative to formal education. The evidence for this is already in.
  2. MOOCs are more aligned with the paradigm of informal lifelong learning, than that of formal education.
  3. As MOOCs continue to mature, they will become less Massive and less Open (we are already seeing this).
  4. MOOCs (and their offspring) will, at their best, eventually resemble online distance education programmes.

It is very easy for tertiary educators to embark on distance education and eLearning. The problem is, if distance education and eLearning are implemented easily, it normally follows that they are executed poorly. I suspect that MOOCs were an attempt to embark on ODeL in an ‘easy’ way, or at least an intuitive one (see Daphne Koller’s first TED talk responsible for much of the hype). The adoption of the term ‘MOOC’ also implied something new and unencumbered from existing practice and thought. Unfortunately, MOOCs demonstrate what distance education and eLearning could achieve without reference to any of the lessons learned from decades of related theory and practice. As the lessons from MOOCs are coming in, it is clear that classic distance education theory maintains its relevance.

Coming back to my earlier point about definitions and categorisation. MOOCs are, in my view, no more than an expression of distance education and eLearning. As such, MOOCs do not escape the constraints, opportunities, pedagogies and systems that distance education and eLearning theorists have already debated and discovered. It is for this reason that I believe MOOCs will increasingly resemble online distance education programmes. They have no ontological alternative!

So, are MOOCs new? The acronym was; the provision of course materials online in video-based chunks, reinforced by multiple choice questions wasn’t. The lessons emerging from the great MOOC experiment are of no surprise to those who have been involved in ODeL for some time. Do MOOCs provide a contemporary challenge to ODeL? Not at all; instead, MOOCs are another example of ODeL in action… just not a very good example.

Promoting academic integrity online

A new report from Faculty Focus that should be of interest to distance educators titled Promoting Academic Integrity in Online Education has just been released.

Although there’s some disagreement as to whether distance education is more susceptible to academic dishonesty than other forms of instruction, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that for as long as there’s been exams, there’s been cheating on exams. The online environment simply opens up a different set of challenges that aren’t typically seen in traditional face-to-face courses.

This free report features nine articles from Distance Education Report that will give you the latest techniques and technologies for mitigating cheating and other unethical behaviors in your online courses. The 20-page special report features these articles:

  • Combating Online Dishonesty with Communities of Integrity
  • The New News about Cheating for Distance Educators
  • A Problem of Core Values: Academic Integrity in Distance Learning
  • Student Authentication: What Are Your Duties Under the HEA Reauthorization?
  • 91 Ways to Maintain Academic Integrity in Online Courses
  • Remote Proctoring: Key to Secure Exam Administration?
  • A Chink in Our Armor: Can Technology Provide a True Online Proctored Exam?
  • Practical Tips for Preventing Cheating on Online Exams
  • Identity Gift: The Opposite of Identity Theft?

Yet another Journal: IJMBL

International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning (IJMBL) – An Official Publication of the Information Resources Management Association — New in 2009

From the website: “Technology supported learning has been increasingly used across a broad spectrum of educational contexts, in many cases being integrated with more traditional forms of teaching. As new opportunities have emerged for mobile, immersive and augmented learning, freeing electronic teaching tools from the desktop, researchers have begun to explore the wide potentials of learning experiences that are integrated with both the classroom and the world outside, leveraging the boundless new possibilities that a pervasively wired and wireless society can support. The International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning aims to provide a forum for researchers in this field to share their knowledge and experience of mobile and blended learning environments”

Dave Parsons is the Editor.

Open course: Facilitating Online Communities

I’ve lifted this from the post by Leigh on the WikiEducator list.  This is quite a remarkable style of course. A NZ based course with an international flavour. – Derek

Open course: Facilitating Online Communities – Starts 28 July

Chat RoomThat course we ran last year is coming up again. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit – free at last from the learning management system it was locked up inside, running in a wiki schedule, backed up by blogs and an email forum.

This course has been developed by staff in the Educational Development Centre of Otago Polytechnic and is designed to help both formal and informal learners access and interpret models, research and professional dialog in the facilitation of online communities. After completing this course people should be confident in facilitating online and/or be able to critique and offer advice to other people in the facilitation of online communities.
The next facilitated course starts 28 July 2008.
Participation in this course is open. You will need to have regular access the Internet and be comfortable with independently completing tasks. To join simply introduce yourself to the discussion page and include an email address that can be use to add you to an email forum for the course.

In formal learning terms this is a level 7 course registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Formal learning participants engage in this course for a period of 10 weeks with an indicative time commitment of at least 6 hours per week.

Formal learners will receive concentrated learning support throughout this period, and assessment services and formal recognition at the completion of the course. Some people may prefer to engage in this course informally and to set their own pace through the work using the schedule as a guide. Informal engagement is welcome and arrangements can be made for formal assessment and recognition at any time with the course facilitator.


Digital Strategy 2.0 for consultation


The Draft Digital Strategy 2.0 document has been released for public consultation.

Digital Strategy 1.0 was released during 2005.  It was designed as an action plan to maximise ICT opportunities and create a vision of a digital future for New Zealand.

The refreshed Draft Digital Strategy 2.0 builds on input from a series of workshops held in late 2007, the Digital Future Summit 2.0 held last year, as well as the significant progress on Digital Strategy 1.0. The Digital Strategy Report on Progress 2007 sets out those achievements.

New Zealand’s research community is essential to innovation. It is responsible for the creation of new technologies and has a key role in supporting new education topics and methodologies.  Hence your participation and feedback is important to shape New Zealand’s digital future and the development of an updated Digital Strategy.

The Draft Digital Strategy 2.0 is available on the Digital Strategy website.  Consultation on the Draft Digital Strategy 2.0 will be for four weeks, from 14 April to 12 May 2008, and will include opportunities for feedback to be given via new tools, such as a wiki and online dialogue boxes.

DEANZ members are encouraged to familiarise themselves with this document, in particular, the section on “Connection” which outlines a number of action areas that will be of particular interest to those who are exploring the use of online technologies as part of their distance ed programmes.

Global Six recognises Derek Wenmoth

GlobalSix.jpgI am pleased to be able to report that Derek Wenmoth, a long standing member of DEANZ, has been designated one of this year’s “Global Six” by the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Edutopia, who, each year, select twelve US and six global educators who they consider are making a difference in education.

I am sure everyone at DEANZ feels like me that this is well deserved.

New DEANZ Flier

Check out the DEANZ website:  http://www.deanz.org.nz/

An excerpt from Mark’s Opinion Piece in the flier . . .

I’ve been thinking. Why is it that we often shy away from the term ‘distance education’? Is it because it brings up connotations of correspondence-style learning, where pre-determined materials are sent to an anonymous learner, and assignments go to and from a faceless marker via post? Is it because we see ‘distance’ as a deficit term, something that speaks of a problem to overcome?

Or is it that the term ‘distance’ is used to encapsulate so much in education that it implies too broad a range of approaches to teaching and learning? Terminology is an important thing. It is what we use to name the intangible.

I still use the term ‘distance education’ when describing my practice, because it at once sums up what I am involved in. However it is important that I explain just what I mean when I use the term ‘distance education’. . . . .

From Mark Nichols. His blog: http://ebcnzer.blogspot.com/

Open Content, Otago Poly and WikiEducator.com

Leigh Blackhall has posted an update on his blog on the developments in their Travel and Tourism courses.  They have an innovative IT policy down there!!

“Otago Polytechnic has adopted a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license and has been using the Wikieducator platform with other popular media sharing services to develop and publish Open Educational Resources and Practices. This article outlines some of the steps that the Polytechnic has taken, as well as some of the challenges being faced, and a vision for the future. It should be noted that this article has been written from the perspective of the author, and not necessarily from Otago Polytechnic as a whole”

As an aside: Quite a cool little article open content [Via the TALO list] “A little piece of thought food for you. It’s an article in the Educational Technology Magazine entitled “Towards a Global Learning Commons: ccLearn”, discussing the goals and problems facing open educational resources.  Link on http://learn.creativecommons.org/media/

If you haven’t already done so, you should check out WikiEducator.

Distance Learning – Still Going – Still Growing


The Sloan Consortium has released their fifth annual report on growth in the higher education elearning market in the US. The results: distance ed enrollments keep growing, at a pace significantly greater than their terrestrial education counterparts. According to the free report, Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning, about 3.5 million people registered for an online course fall semester 2006. About 3.2 million did likewise in 2005.  From the fall 2004 to fall of 2005, online enrollment grew about 36 percent. The growth between fall 2005 to fall of 2006, was smaller, a 9.7 percent increase. General college enrollment grew by only 1.3 percent from 2005 to 2006, giving online education nine times more growing power even as it slows. While faculty acceptance continues to be a barrier to e-education growth academics themselves increasingly do not see lack of acceptance by employers of online credentials as a key barrier.

The fifth annual report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education is based on responses from over 2,500 colleges and universities. The full report is available free as a PDF download.

(courtesy Virtual Education Gazette) 

E-primer series available

A series of ‘e-primers’ authored by Mark Nichols is freely available from the Flexible Learning in New Zealand site. The e-primers are written for those requiring an introductory theoretical and research-based framework for e-learning practice. E-primers have been peer-reviewed and are written from a New Zealand perspective.

This E-Primer series aims to make the unknown known, to place e-learning in a context of learning theory, institutional development, and instructional design. It examines the role of faculty, good practice in hybrid course design, and the dynamics of online discussion — and places all of these in a coherent context, drawing from refereed sources and 7 years of dedicated experience.

The series of E-Primers includes:

1. E-learning in context An introduction to e-learning and the international experience; definitions of terms; a theory for e-learning; technologies; benefits. (PDF, 478KB)
2. E-education and faculty Education theory and e-learning; the changing role of faculty; workload issues; quality. (PDF, 221KB)
3. Designing for e-learning Instructional design; learning objects; constructing a hybrid course. (Available by end of 2007)
4. Online discourse Synchronous and asynchronous communications; designing online discourse; online facilitation. (Draft phase)
5. E-xtending possibilities Web 2.0; ePortfolios; virtual worlds; lifelong learning. (Conceptual phase)