Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to Elearning, online education, and instructional design.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A little bit more about my background...

and an exciting project coming soon!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Slide Rule course

Please, check out the Slide Rule online course I designed with Dr. Alex Green.

Is being an engineer a roadblock to becoming an instructional designer?

I am a mechanical engineer by training, I hold both a B.S. and a M.S. in mechanical engineering, and I am a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering. Well, you might think that I am working on something related to engineering, but actually I strayed a little far from the engineering field. I am an instructional designer for the major university at the state of Florida. How did I end up here? We will have to sit down with a cup of coffee and have a long chat about that story, but I can tell you that it was completely fortuitous. Now that I have these two years of experience and more than twenty online courses designed and completed from scratch for semester-long classes, I can tell you that I could not have had better luck in finding this job. See, my training kicks in every time I am confronted with the task of creating an online class, triggered in part by the type of content we have to put out there for an online class. I am a problem solver, and not much of an art person, so my first course designs were very functional but not much aesthetic, or pleasing to the eye, if you will. They got the job done, but later on, I had to learn the online course also require some eye-candy, it is part of the engagement experience that the learners have to go through. But I also learned that too much candy also destroys the purpose of the online course, and it becomes more a website than an online class. It was after some time that I started to understand the subjective parts of designing an online class, and the theory behind them. I have educated myself with the latest publications and textbooks on instructional design out there so that I can apply that knowledge to my own projects. But every time I come across a new project, the engineer in me kicks in and I start seeing the technological problems and challenges I will face and how I plan to tackle them, I don’t worry too much about the instructional part until later on, when I see that my concept actually will not be effective in an online environment, then I worry about the candy at the end. Now, this process might seem messy and rough to many designers out there but I wonder if any has ever bumped into a converted ID that had an engineering training before jumping into this field, and heard them describe a similar case. On the other hand, after looking at resumes and experience sheets of many established professionals in the field, it is clear that having a background in education or specifically in instructional design is more desirable than the experience of doing the job and learning while doing it, as proven by the hundreds of job descriptions and requirements I have scanned in the past three months, and of course, the dozen or so interviews I have been able to land recently. Now the question I want to throw out there: Is my background in engineering putting me at a disadvantage in the ID field? I would love to hear opinions and comments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A successful MOOC may require a great development team

I believe the above is true. I have had the experience of being close to where MOOCs are being developed for Coursera. It requires a team to complete such a course, it requires a team to run the course, and it requires a good team to begin with. This team is interdisciplinary, and its members do not usually have the same background. It is usual that the instructor is a faculty member to the university, and there is a group of instructional designers, graphic designers, video producers, computer programmers, and many others (including teaching assistants that help the instructor) that help him during the course design and production, and afterwards, when the course opens. It would be burdensome if one person is in charge of running the MOOC course (unless that is his/her only job), that person needs the help and the support to deal with the multiple challenges that come up during the duration of the course. If the instructor has experience in the online environment, then the rest of the team will have no problem designing the course since the instructor understands what is needed in order to accommodate the content into the MOOC platform. But in some cases, the instructor has not had the experience of teaching an online course. This can be a difficult and tricky situation. The instructional designers know what works in the online environment and what doesn’t. Instructors could feel that their experience and long-held views on teaching are not being considered during the design process, and egos can be hurt during those planning and follow-up sessions, which won’t help the course design process at all. The instructor has a vision on how the course should look like, and the instructional designers need to accommodate this vision in the process. Instructional designers and instructors need to understand each other situations and give respect to each other experiences and accomplishments. Each side complements the other when designing the course, and if the team learns how to work effectively together the process will be a smooth one. One important attribute of the team is the ability to communicate ideas. It is important that each member speaks the same language during the process, this is especially so when the course is reviewed for the last time before the release date. If there is a disconnect in communication between the instructor (or instructors) and the instructional design team, then the course will not fulfill the instructor’s vision, or worse, the final product will not work at all when released. It is very important that every team member is updated on any changes to the course (even last minute changes). This is especially true for the instructor, who has to approve the final design. I believe that the source of trouble, in most of the MOOC courses that have experienced major setbacks (which have been widely discussed on the Internet), can be traced to problems within a dysfunctional team that failed to communicate to each other, or which had members that did not acclimate to the work dynamic of the team (either intentionally or due to a clash of characters), and as we know, those courses suffered the consequences (along with the corresponding MOOC entity) of having a design team whose member could not work together for the common cause.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I have started my Vlog! Watch my first Video Post in my Youtube Channel.

What Proctoring Model Do MOOCs Need?

When you talk about proctoring services in online classes, you either conduct it yourself or hire somebody else to do it for you. You could also design your tests so that cheating is reduced to a minimum, but that constrains you to the types of testing you can perform on students. With the recent approval of MOOC courses by the ACE, the gates are opening for a flood of more courses that are going to offer some kind of credit. In order to support that accreditation, some kind of mechanism has to be implemented to make sure the credits are earned under controlled conditions. MOOC courses usually would not use a proctoring service for assessment of students. The event mentioned above will change that.
But the question is then, how to evaluate a large number of students? As of now, very few students complete the course to the end, that is, a very small percentage will receive the MOOC certification, but even in this case the number of students surpasses the number of students in your regular college level online class, these cases can be easily handled by proctoring services because they can accommodate such population. If it is true that MOOC courses can be used as credit for college level courses then a way has to be found to accommodate a proctoring service for thousands of students. Of course, this is an area of opportunity to companies offering these services and I am sure they are positioning themselves to do this, but I am not sure if they are prepared to give this service to MOOCs. See, the proctoring service relies a lot on doing everything online and remotely. So, if you have a less than reliable internet connection that allows you to take a MOOC course, it is not going to cut it when it comes to proctoring. The situation here is that a lot of people taking these MOOCs are not in the US, and many times they are not even in developed countries. There is also the language barrier. If you are not a native English speaker, or if you don't have the college level of English required, you will have problems using the proctoring service since there is a point when the student will meet the proctor during testing.

I think the solution is around the corner because there are established services that provide testing for university admission tests (think GRE and TOEFL) all over the world. The model in this case follows partnerships with local companies that serve as local testing centers. So, it would make sense that proctoring services will try to find partners in those countries where the service is demanded, and special cases will have to be handled accordingly. Will it be cost-effective? I don't know, but the sheer number of students might make it a profitable business at the end. I don't think a proctoring service can do it by itself because the technology has not been equated all around the globe to operate every aspect of the service online, that is, testing centers might be needed anyways. This will give MOOC credits the respect they need in order to be accepted by other entities.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why you shouldn't tear MOOCs apart because one of them had a glitch...

I recently came across this article about that MOOC course that was running in Coursera and was pulled out due to technical problems. I promised myself that I would not join those crowds that are calling for the failure of the MOOC movement or those who claim that this is still a work in progress and so on. I will not get carried away by all the discourse that has already started regarding this issue. I have been closely following the development of the MOOC courses offered by my university in Coursera. I know these courses are taking a lot of resources and time to develop, and I know that the team in charge of this project has made sure they have delivered a high quality product because the university’s name is on the line. After knowing these facts, I feel puzzled from the reaction that this piece of news has produced. I am sure Georgia Tech spent time and resources in the development process as well, and I am confident that the team made sure they delivered a quality product. Now don’t get me wrong, I know they made a mistake but I don’t think it was due to negligence or carelessness. I think they just didn’t comprehend what type of beast a MOOC really is, which is different to a regular online course they offer at their university. They had a plan, that in their minds, was going to work but it had unintended consequences when put in place. It can be argued that there should have been more postproduction reviews by both parties, GT and Coursera, but Coursera has not much saying on how the courses are developed and their assistance is limited to how to integrate the designed courses in their interface. In reality, few people really know what it takes to develop a MOOC course and they assume it shouldn’t take that much effort or time, but it actually does, on both counts. Many people are benefiting with the MOOC model but I don’t think many of them stop to think about the amount of effort and work put into these courses to really appreciate them. They only know it is free, that a prestigious university is behind the course ergo it should be a high quality course and I am going to complain if they don’t deliver that. I have seen courses developed by those so-called e-learning experts out there and let me tell you, they charge an arm and a leg and they only deliver half of that, but you don’t see people complaining about those courses on the internet. If this problem was due to lack of experience then I think what they did was the honest thing to do, pull off the course, reassess and re-deliver and I am pretty sure they are going to turn around that corner and come back with a better product, I just hope that those enrolled in the course that complained all over the internet will re-enroll in the course and then comment on how they in fact had a better experience this time around.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The skills you need to develop in order to take on a MOOC course

A MOOC course is a hybrid between an asynchronous (self-paced) and a synchronous course. The course must be completed in a number of weeks. At the same time, you can basically go at your own pace during these weeks, but that can be a dangerous path to follow. So, how can you avoid being left behind during the course? Many would say time management. That is true, but there are also some other skills you also need to master.
  1. Prioritize tasks: a MOOC course has lots of information to digest, don’t fool yourself into believing that the first thing you do is watch the lecture videos. The first day the MOOC opens (or the first day you log in) read the syllabus and familiarize yourself with the course pages, the course navigation and where all that important information is in the course pages. Then you can watch the videos, some course have notes to download, if you can, download the notes and print them out. This will help you in taking notes when you watch the lectures. DO NOT attempt to take the quizzes just yet or start working in the assignments unless the instructor tells you to do so. If you are able to see the quiz questions and assignment descriptions beforehand you may do so, but I really doubt you will know what they are talking about at this stage.
  2. Distribute the work: this is where that time management skill comes in handy. The course usually has a series of lecture videos to watch during the week, distribute the time to watch these videos during the week. After watching a video, do not attempt to do something else. Believe me, you have done plenty. You may take a break for a few minutes or a couple of hours but don’t try to attempt another task immediately. Also, dedicate time to work in the assignments and quizzes at different times when you watch lectures. You need to spend some time in the discussion forums as well, plan this at a different time from other tasks, if during you assignment work you have questions, make a note of them and then try to resolve them during your discussion forum time.
  3. Spend time offline: this is especially true for reading assignments, if you try to do your reading while you are online, you will be tempted to watch cat videos, check your Facebook page, your tweeter feed, etc. Work on your assignments offline too.
  4. Play well with others: participate in those discussion forums and give a hand to your fellow student, this will be beneficial to you in the long run. Also, think about the questions or answers you want to post. I suggest you write first on a blank document in your favorite text processor, then you just copy and paste it in the discussion forum box.
  5. Don’t chew more than you can swallow: unless you are a full time student and you don’t have to work for a living, don’t take more than one course at the same time. One is plenty enough, especially if your days are filled with other responsibilities.
I hope these list helps you in your taking on a MOOC course. Happy MOOC-ing!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What I believe is another weakness of the MOOC model...

One of the main disadvantages of the MOOC educational model comes from the lack of college credit units. If you go through one of these courses, you only receive a nice certificate of completion, if you did very well, then you might earn a nice kudos from the instructor. Beyond that, there is no other usable advantage of spending all that time completing that course. Some are offering to let outside reviewers take a look at your performance in the course, but so far I have no data on how that model is working out. Besides the lack of credit, I believe MOOCs also lack of something else: depth. These courses usually will not run for a whole standard college semester (12-16 weeks), they are shorter compressed versions of regular online courses offered at a college online program. This speeding process strips the course of depth. The instructor will have to sacrifice some content in order to cover the material that does fit the allotted time for the course. For example, if you are taking a course in statistics, chances are the instructor is using a software program to aid the course in teaching the subject. So, if you know nothing about the software, you will not be able to complete the course satisfactorily and in time because the course will only run for five-six weeks, leaving you barely a chance to watch the videos, readings, and maybe be able to take on some quizzes. But these courses usually have assignments to complete using the software, which you will not learn to use at a level and skill the assignment requires. They do give you plenty of resources to explore so that you can become familiar with the software.
Then you might say, “if you don’t know the software, why did you sign up for the course?” My answer will be, “well because I can!”. I don’t think MOOCs should leave to the student the decision on which course to take, it is a waste of resources and time. Keep it open, but introduce some kind of screening process and structure (a curriculum, if you want). If you want to take this statistics course, then you should take this other course in how to use this software, when you successfully complete that course, then you can come back to learn the in-depths of statistics and not worry about how I am going to learn this software in just five weeks.

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