Category Archives: MOOC

IAFOR ACSET Featured Speaker Presentation Preview

I am very pleased to be invited back to present as a Featured Speaker at the International Academic Forum this week. The new Asian Conference on Society Education and Technology will be held jointly with the Asian Conference on Education in Osaka starting this Wednesday.

You can see the full program at their site, but here are my slides and abstract as a preview to give you an idea of what I will present. UPDATE: The slightly less wieldy slides with full notes follow.

Getting to the Point: The Least Educators Need to Know About Massively Open Online Courses Now

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) started in 2008 as a connectivist experiment in education. Extremely large MOOCs were convened in 2011, and the term took off in the popular media in 2012. This year, the backlash is well underway. However, these experiments should still be of interest to teachers and have the potential to benefit many learners.

MOOCs have been hailed as revolutionary and disruptive to the status quo in higher education. They have also been put forward as a fix for rising university costs, perceived declines in quality, and problems of access all-in-one. However, few of the ideas behind MOOCs are new. Moreover, as for-profit corporations have co-opted and fragmented the initial practice, there is no longer even a clear consensus on a coherent description of MOOCs.

This presentation will bring educators up-to-date on the current state of MOOCs–including a critical view of their potential. This will help in evaluating MOOCs and making informed choices about selecting courses, using them to augment their own teaching, participating in them directly, or even starting one. Participants will gain a critical understanding of MOOCs and see how this trend may change education in their contexts.

IAFOR ACTC Featured Speaker Presenation Preview and How To

I’ll be giving a featured speaker presentation at the Asian Conference on Technology in the Classroom for IAFOR: The International Academic Forum at the Ramada Osaka this weekend. This is jointly held with the Asian Conference on Language Learning.


You can see the full program here, but here’s my abstract, a few thoughts on this process, and a preview to give you an idea of what I will present.

Title: Putting Massive Open Online Courses in Context for Educators.

Abstract: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) started in 2008 as a connectivist experiment in education with a participatory focus. Extremely large MOOCs were convened 2011, and the term took off in popular media reports in 2012. They have been hailed as “revolutionary” and disruptive to the status quo in higher education. However, the ideas behind MOOCs are not new. Moreover, as the practice has become fragmented, there is not a clear consensus on a coherent description of MOOCs. Still, these courses are part of our educational landscape and may benefit many learners. Educators need to understand the potential uses and abuses of MOOCs.

This presentation will review the current state of MOOCs, including a critical view of the hype and hopes that accompany this trend. This will help educators evaluate MOOCs and make informed choices about selecting courses, using them to augment their own teaching, participating in them directly, or even starting one. Participants will gain perspective and critical understanding of MOOCs and indicators for how they may change education in their contexts.

A few thoughts on process

I’ve been going through many versions of this talk for two reasons: personal and external. Getting a chance to be a featured speaker at a significant conference is a real privilege and a challenge. I wanted to do something great. In an early version, I tried working out doing the talk with just index cards and a single sheet of A4 for the attendees. Everyone is sick to death of PowerPoint, right? I’ve seen a few talks, Paul Nation as a JALT plenary a few years ago was a tour de force, where the speaker has just spoken. No slides, no graphics, no multimedia. Just the ideas. Done well, this can be very effective. Done poorly, it can be death-on-a-stick. So, back to the slide drawing board.

But the slides are the very last thing this time. I worked a little bit differently than I have on past presentations. This time, I really worked in an iterative way, wrote down much more of my talk, and spent a lot of time listening.

  1. Read everything I could for the past 6 months.
  2. Made a map of post-its on my office wall facing my desk. I had to look at the damn thing everyday and fiddle with it.
  3. Index cards and the failed attempt to go slideless.
  4. Write out the talk in outline form.
  5. Give the talk in the privacy of my home or office and record it. 
  6. Listen to the recording on my way to or from work.
  7. Transcribe it back into the outline and edit.
  8. Re-record the talk. Listen. Edit again.
  9. Repeat Steps 5-9 four times.
  10. Make the slides.

Phew! Damn, I’m sick of listening to myself. But, I feel like I know the material much better and was able to edit my talk down from 46 minutes to a relatively speedy 35 minutes. Assuming a few live stumbles that should still allow at least 5-8 minutes for questions at the end of my 45 minute time slot.

The other problem

I really chose a horrible topic. It is almost impossible to estimate what experience or knowledge the attendees will bring to the talk. Luckily, I am last, so I have a chance to listen to everyone else and ask a few people about what they think about MOOCs before I speak, so I can adjust a bit.

I think the topic is interesting, relevant to the conference theme, and timely. But that last one has been killing me. It’s too timely. Every time I thought I had something nailed down,  a new development popped up. Antioch College went with MOOCs, but then Amherst said no thank you. xMOOCs had an openness problem, but then EdX finally started offering a course under Creative Commons. Then, just a couple of weeks before my talk, there was the EDUCAUSE ELI Online Spring Focus Session 2013, “Learning and the Massive Open Online Course. Talk about a shifting landscape! Let’s hope nothing else goes through a transformation in the next five days.

So, my talk will be a snapshot. I’ll try to digest all of the reading I’m filing away in a Diigo group. (Please do check that out if you want to learn more about MOOCs.) I’ll bring in my own experience participating to one extent or another in four MOOCs. But, in the end, it is just too soon to to have all, or even many, of the answers. So, I’ll be presenting as a kind of live FAQ. Perhaps I should have called my talk…

29 Things You Wanted to Know About MOOCs, Dut Didn’t Even Know to Ask

  1. What does MOOC mean?
  2. How can we define MOOCs?
  3. How large is Massive?
  4. In what senses are MOOCs open?
  5. What do we really mean by Online?
  6. What goes in a Course
  7. Where did MOOCs come from? And, why now?
  8. What is a cMOOC?
  9. What is an xMOOC?
  10. What are some of the problems with MOOCs?
  11. What’s wrong with cMOOCs rooted in connectivism?
  12. What problems do both c and xMOOCs share?
  13. What about xMOOCs in particular?
  14. What about assessment?
  15. But really, who cares about assessment?
  16. Who are MOOcs good for?
  17. Who are MOOCs bad for?
  18. Will MOOCs reduce the cost of higher education?
  19. What about psMOOCs?
  20. How should we think about MOOCs?
  21. Has this happened before?
  22. Are there any success stories?
  23. What do these have in common?
  24. What should you do if (when) your institution asks you to run a MOOC?
  25. What if you want to organize a MOOC?
  26. What developments should we look for?
  27. Should you try it?
  28. Where can I find out more?
  29. How can we continue this discussion?

What if you know nothing and want to learn a little about MOOCs before the talk?

This would be a fine place to start.

Any COETAILers care to join me in the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning?

Yes, I am once again jumping into another MOOC. Once again, I am quite confident that I will “complete” the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Education. (Whatever “complete” means in a MOOC, but that is a different question for a later blogpost.)

participating in ocTEL photo-4

There are several good things about this MOOC compared to my previous experience on #edcmooc that give me some confidence: the size is more manageable (about 700-750 enrolled); the conveners and participants are already actively engaged and committed to the use of technology for education, and they are moving with agility to fix early problems based on input like this from Stephen Downes; they are using WordPress instead of Coursera’s lame not-invented-here-syndrome version of course management software.

Enrollment is still open if any of my #COETAIL buddies want to jump in with me. Give it a try! I think you’ll find that the content and approaches are complementary to what we are doing at YIS this year. Week One content prompts include these options, some of which will look familiar:

  • How Eric Mazur brought peer instruction into the lecture theatre using simple ‘clicker’ technology in his lectures
  • How Sugata Mitra designed a physical and social environment around computers so that young children would self-organise and teach themselves new skills through peer interaction and ‘emergent learning’
  • How Stephen Downes and George Siemens pioneered the development of massive open online courses
  • How Margaret Cox and colleagues developed technology that could simulate the tactile and visual experience of drilling a tooth
  • How Helen Keegan devised a full Augmented Reality Game (ARG)

The organizers do a really nice job of selecting short excerpts from the longer videos, linking to exact start times and specifying how long to match minimum. Saves time and keeps the discussion tighter.

I’ve started my own very short list of ocTEL tweeps, and just following the #ocTEL hashtag won’t cause you to drown in Tweets, but will link you to some interesting people and resources.  Come on and login. You decide your level of participation. Even if you just find one  cool, new video or idea, then you’ve gotten something out of this MOOC from the Association for Learning Technology.

Through a glass sparkly

This comment on the E-Learning and Digital Cultures mooc is kind of a tangent to COETAIL, but I’m throwing it out  there anyway for a couple of reasons.

  • We discussed Google+ last night and I’m trying to find my way around using it well. This is one post in a large community. Others might want to see how it worked out.
  • The subject video and the G+ post are about education in some ways.
  • The vid presents one image of technology in daily life
  • It lets me get my rant on !     😉

Watch “A Day Made of Glass 2”

My notes on Google+

EdStartup 101: The Pain Test

To be honest, my real pain this week was:

  • one book deadline
  • another major deadline this week
  • the start of regular classes next week
  • I have to move to a new office soon (frakkin’ packing’!)
  • and two presentations to prepare for a fast-approaching conference.

But, I shall attempt to test the depths of the pain associated with My Idea.

Identify Your Assumptions

What causes the problem?

Basically, I think ELT publishers are very comfortable with the current coopetition they have going on (maybe especially in Japan). Why? There has been huge consolidation in the industry and the few majors can effectively share the market for graded readers in English and it is very hard for anyone else to enter. Friends who started a quite successful textbook company gave up trying to get into the graded reader segment because the barriers to entry were too high. Why? You need a huge catalogue right from the start if you want to sell paper readers through retail outlets. Sales direct to schools are a pretty narrow channel to get through.

Why else? Inertia. There is an awful lot of “We’ve always done it this way. We have a library with shelves this size. I finally got people used to it.”

Why? Publishers are scared of getting into the digital book space. They saw what happened with music and movies.

Why else? Economies of scale, worldwide distribution of paper books, and trying to market from kids to adults in one product means the readers tend to be bland and to converge. Also, there’s P.A.R.S.N.I.P.s to be reckoned with.

What are people with the problem doing to solve it?

Not that much as far as I can see. A look at self-publishing platforms like Feedbooks and Smashwords doesn’t turn up much. Kieran McGovern is one exception  Panda eBooks is another but they are really going after young kids. Nothing out there for adults. I’ve tried self-publishing some ebook readers myself. It wasn’t hard, but it didn’t change the world either.

The big players have been very slow to get into this. I just turned in the manuscript for my fourth graded reader with a major publisher which would be perfect as an ebook–it is an adaptation of a Choose Your Own Adventure game book–but it will come out in paper.

What are all of the current solutions to the problem?

Schools sometimes get around the cost problem by asking students to one to three of a large set of readers, then exchange with classmates. This gets around the cost problem, but with lots of other attendant headaches and weaknesses. It was the best available option at my previous uni. We had 2,100 students buy two readers each year. There is a lot of demand out there.

Another solution is piracy. Sheet fed scanners and OCR software are dirt cheap. Schools discourage this for obvious reasons, but it works for individuals.

Another solution are kids apps from general education. There are tons of them out there. But just because language aimed at 6-10 year olds seems easy, it isn’t appropriate for ESL/EFL learners.

Simple English Wikipedia is great, and I edit there when I can, but it is one genre only. No literature.

Why aren’t the current solutions good enough?

I think I spelled that out out in the Idea post, but in nutshell, has nothing happened in publishing for language learners since 1920? (OK. CD audio was added. )  So much is being left untapped.

How long has it been a problem?

The problems of cost, replacement, and management of paper books have been with us for a long time. But really the problem of no ebook literature for language learners is recent. It’s just in the past year or two that most of my students have started turning up with smartphones or tablets suitable for reading. Three to five years for independent, adult learners.

How easily could something happen to make the problem go away?

Pretty easily I think. Just needs the hard work of organizing and doing to make a solid start. The added features like better dictionary support, tracking, mining data for research, etc. require expertise and good design (that is hard).

Verify your understanding of the problem

How many people do I know that have the problem?

Hundreds. Thousands if you include all of the students I’ve had in language programs or classes.

Do you know any experts?

Yep. Plenty of ’em.

Do you have wide variety of sources documenting the problem?

Yes. There has been plenty published about this direct problem and related aspects by Paul Nation, Tom Cobb, others. i’ll have to come back and document this.

Start asking…

No time this week I’m afraid, but I’ve talked with teachers, writers, students, and publishers at length about this.

Monetizable pain hypothesis

Why go to all this trouble? Will someone return a cold call to sell this to them?

If I call somebody or email them and say, “Hey. I can get you some different graded readers that–aren’t exactly like all the others; are suitable for college students/adults; have added features; are more convenient; and cost less.” I think people will pay.

EdStartup 101: Idea

What is your idea?

My idea is to publish graded readers for ESL and EFL learners and teachers that make the best use of digital tools for production, reading and study, and distribution. Basically, I want to set up a digital publishing house/studio/cooperative/press to take advantage of trends in school-based BYOD, Extensive Reading (ER) in language learning, and adult lifelong learning. Surprisingly, almost nobody is doing this.

What problem does your idea solve?

I believe this will solve a whole slew of problems. Conventional printed-on-paper graded readers are very limited and limiting. I may be a little into the ELT weeds here, but stick with me.

Our entire collection of graded readers for hundreds of students fits on the second and third shelves on the right.

1. Waste: Paper books are wasteful for libraries and schools: not very durable, limited in distribution, students don’t return them. Extensive Reading programs often have to replace 10% of their library every year.

2. Cost: Most conventional readers cost 5-10 USD. If an active learner needs one a week, this is a significant cost. Digital readers (apps or ebooks) can be cheaper.

3. Gatekeepers: Mainstream publishers want a more limited catalog both in number of titles and content. There is not enough content for adults-mainly for children. There just aren’t enough books, styles, or voices. A lot of graded readers are just plain boring because they are designed to meet the lowest common denominator.

4. Inconvenient: Paper books fail to take advantage of people’s devices for reading anywhere anytime. They also give up on all kinds of support for learners like better dictionaries, linked learning tools, convenient audio, better image support, etc.

5. Fixed: Paper books can’t be customized to schools, cultures, learners’ native languages, or individuals. Rapid fixes/new editions not possible.

6. Shelf space: Publishers like large series of books (30 or more) so they can get a good profile on bookstore shelves. I’ve been told not worth publishing in smaller series because nobody will sell them.

7. Time to market: Education publishers are slow. Sometimes painfully slow.

8. Nobody is provides graded readers with a complete solution: attached study tools, assessments, and convenient multimedia.

How does your idea fix the problem?

A purely digital company can run cheaper, faster, and more flexibly than a large conventional publishing house. No inventory, no offices, no fixed salary costs, but also able to take advantage of a large pool of teachers who are often writing, but not often publishing. With my plan, I can take chances and get into niches that nobody else wants. Digital readers can be cheap, customizable, everywhere, and of every kind.

Why do you want to fix the problem?

Because I had this problem as a language learning program coordinator. I wasted so much money every year buying books for students to mangle or lose. They are produced to be destroyed quickly, and thus replaced. I still have the problem now as a teacher who has to force less effective books on students for lack of anything else. I’ve also experienced this on the other side as an author waiting forever for a book to come out in print and have it be compromised.

Also, I think it would be fun.

EdStartup 101 Week 2: Response to Betsy Corcoran–Content, Process, Style

There are just a few hours before the next video goes up online, but I want to finally get my thoughts down about Betsy Corcoran‘s video for EdStartup 101 Week 2. My thoughts are all over the place with this one, but I’ll try to keep it organized.


There were several interesting or thought-provoking items in Betsy’s video.

* I’m not even closely related to the VC angel funding etc. world. Any of the budding ideas I have for my own projects do not require them. I’m really not interested in going that direction for several reasons. Mainly, I already have a full-time career that I value. Secondly, I’m looking at how to start something up that allows me to learn all the aspects–not hire people to do them. I’m looking at my EdStartup as educational for myself.

* Listening to her description of how hard it was to try the non-profit route hit home. I’m just try to work as part of an existing non-profit, and the headaches from regulation here in Tokyo are terrible. Much easier to go the for-profit route. And, if there are ever any profits, try to think about what to do with them to further educational goals.

* Her comment about page views driving online journalism-and tech journalism in particular- and that until recently edtech just couldn’t provide the page views to get coverage are kind of sad but true. Until the ad-driven page view model is replaced, we’ll be stuck with a lot of bad journalism. Is the MetaFilter model one to look at? Is there a way to monetize the ISI impact factor model in academic publishing?

* Interesting that there is such a bubble forming in edtech. I had no idea. Considering that education is chronically underfunded, where do these people see the money coming from? It isn’t like healthcare or defense where there are giant pots of money to dig into. On the other hand, maybe that is precisely the point. Create a product or service that allows educators to do more with less and you have something of potential value. But then, if you follow that logic, you may be chasing a dwindling pool. OK, I’ve talked myself out of the viability of edtech, so there must be something wrong with my reasoning. More money to earn from individuals than from institutions, for example.


My thoughts on video and how it was used this week.

*Use video for what video is good for. Video is great for giving people a personal connection, less so for rich information/date, and terrible for reviewing, linking to, or scanning. A short video intro from the experts first like we all did the first week would have been good for the personal. I find a one hour video like this not very useful. This was basically a single-iteration asynchronous communication. It doesn’t work that well. Let me explain.

  • The Q and A forum was not used before the discussion.
  • The video is produced live with only the few on YouTube at the time providing live comments, questions, and feedback. Though better than most YT comment streams, not all of it was helpful and only the few who were available at that time could participate. (Personal gripe: since I am at GMT+9 I will not be able to participate live in any of these.)
  • The YT video is marked “No description available”. Really?

* How about more accessible media? I am not a big YouTube user (as creator or viewer) so maybe there are better ways of doing this, but why do I have to futz around with trying various downloaders, mp3 converters (I wanted to listen on the train), etc. Why is YT the right tool for this job? More open video, an mp3 download/podcast, and a transcript would all be valuable.

* A one-hour video interview with an expert is a relatively low demand on the expert’s time, and maybe that is why this format is used, but I’d like to see something else. How about the 2-5 minute intro one day. Followed by more action on the Q and A board (people might ask more questions if they have something to hang them from). Then, if video is used, break it down into 3-4 daily 15-20 minute interviews. This would make it more communicative and multidirectional. Ideally, interspersed with some text-based discussion. All of this would of course demand several hours from the experts rather than one. Maybe not possible.


This is a personal request, but offered to help people communicate better. Maybe I’m just sensitized and this is confirmation bias in action, but since 2004 and then 2011 the word “tsunami” has entered everyone’s consciousness. Newscasters, journalists, and others seem to like to use this now for big game-changing events. (Perhaps to replace the cliched and tiresome “game-changing”).

Please don’t.

The phrase “Internet Tsunami” in this context is hard for me to listen to. Would you say an Internet Katrina? Or, an Internet 9/11? Think about it.

The phrase “Internet Tsunami” in this context is inaccurate. It’s bad writing. The metaphor is all wrong. What Betsy was describing was not an unpredictable result of a single event that destroyed almost everything in its path with little warning and replaced it with nothing.

(Sorry Betsy, you’re not the only one. Plenty of writers have been doing this lately.)


Not to leave on a sour note, I did enjoy the talk. It gave me a lot to think about. Betsy is really on top of things, and I became much more interested in EdSurge. I think near the end she said something like “company in search of a business model”. I hope that search goes well, and that we can all learn from it.

EdStartUp Getting Started: Introduction

Seems like good timing for me to try out this MOOC, EdStartup 101, with David Wiley and others. This first assignment is just a quick “hello” to everyone on the course. I’m looking forward to collaborating with everyone and learning from each other.