Archive for September, 2013

Khan Academy adds adaptive testing and individualized course maps

Monday, September 30th, 2013

I quite like what the Khan Academy does in providing a repository of free video tutorial resources.

I do have certain minor, hubris related, niggles*, but hey, the guy has rounded up millions to provide free creative commons resources, so I think the kama scales are tipping his way.

The platform now has a pre-quiz based ‘work flow’ function, again not anything particularly new, but pedagogically it’s a sound step in the right direction.

“To use the learning flow, the student starts with a pre-test that’s adaptive. As he or she answers questions or chooses “I haven’t learned this yet,” software in the background performs an on-going analysis and presents easier or harder questions as the test progresses.

Immediately after the pre-test the mission diagram begins to get filled in. As the student hovers over each tile, it’ll say what the skill is and what level the learner is at. Then the service will recommend what the next topic of instruction should be.

The same process happens over again. A small quiz is presented with a handful of questions. When a concept confuses the user, he or she can view a video available right on the same page that explains the topic. When the student answers a certain number of questions in a row correct, the system brings up the next topic of learning.”

*The repository/platform has been pumped up in the (lazy) media as something revolutionary, innovative and ground breaking, rather than a better marketed version of what is, pedagogically, pretty retrograde stuff.  And free educational resources of all stripes were available on the net before the first line of  Google code was written.  On a slightly petty level, I know the name ‘Khan Academy’ has a certain literary consonance but it’s a bit much calling yourself an academy.
This article from 2011 summaries many of the pedagogical criticisms and provides links to a range of commentary and background info.

Online communities and behavioural change, a lesson for teachers

Monday, September 30th, 2013

The article is about Online communities and technology but could also apply to teaching and learning.

The Science Behind Using Online Communities To Change Behavior

“…there’s a science behind how to change behavior, and the answer to engagement and behavior change lies in understanding people’s psychology. By addressing people’s psychological needs and reasons for not changing behavior (including their social environments, cultural values, and emotions), we can be more effective at behavior change. Once we understand people’s psychologies, then technologies — online communities in particular — become really useful as platforms to rapidly change behavior.”

“Throughout our research, we find that newly created online communities can change people’s behaviors by addressing the following psychological needs:

  • The Need to Trust.
  • The Need for Self-Worth.
  • The Need to Be Rewarded for Good Behavior
  • The Need to Feel Empowered.

The read article for a description of each element.

Weekend Funny – Middle class problems

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Whiny tweets with appropriate imagery.


Trolls overwhelm Popular Science – the problem with comments

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Popular Science articles are now closed to comments. This is sad but understandable.

“Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again.

Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television.

And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

People can still provide feedback via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, livechats, email etc.

Quite a few sites have gone down the path of requiring people to register, with varying degrees of success.

The Huffington Post got sick of the effort and expense around moderating comments and now forces commenters to have a Facebook account before they can register.   This is a pain because you have make Facebook open to apps, and Facebook’s past privacy record around apps is a bit ordinary.

I like the approach taken by author and commentator, John Scalzi.  Here is his comments policy.

“That said, you have no right to free speech on this site. This is my personal site, and I am not the United States government.

I reserve the right to edit all comments, and to moderate all comment threads, as I see fit.

Your comment is more likely to be edited, moderated or deleted if it contains phobic content (based on race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, etc), is a personal attack or threat toward another commenter, is entirely unrelated to the entry topic, features more than a “fair use” amount of someone else’s copyrighted work, has such poor grammar and spelling that it annoys me, is an obvious piece of trollage, or if I find it or you obnoxious and decide I’ve had enough.

Don’t like it?  Don’t comment.  Simple.”

Some of the best parts of Scalzi’s blog are his responses to the trolls, and he certainly gives the impression that he enjoys taking “the mallet of loving correction” to hairy palmed malcontents who accidentally wander onto his site.  He has made it a feature of his site, but it takes a huge amount of time and effort.

Love Song For Internet Trolls – The Doubleclicks


I found this on John Scalzi’s ‘Whatever’ blog.

Distraction and music and productivity

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

While this article is mainly about open plan offices and the why they suck (based on actual research, as opposed to the pro argument which is based primarily on speculation), the main thrust is about distraction and performance.

It also talks about music and cognitive performance which should be of interest to students.


I just can’t help myself – another MOOC article

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

I try to limit this blog to sensible helpful MOOC articles that add to the debate (rather than those from the cheer squad).

This is worth a read.  Here’s a snippet.

“…MOOCs are more likely to become a part of traditional educational approaches, just as advanced placement credit, articulation agreements with community colleges, and experiential learning have been melded into the current system.  It also means that MOOCs will prove to be more effective in some subject areas than others and that MOOCs will deliver poorer results than some observers have touted.  Students also will register for and start MOOCs at a greater rate than they will complete them and at a much greater rate than they will pass a competency test. (Such evidence already is ample.)  Those wishing to gain familiarity about a topic will benefit greatly from MOOCs.   Those wishing to get credit will pay for the opportunity.”

FutureLearn the Monash MOOC

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Given this is a Monash blog I thought I’d put a bit of time into FutureLearn which the xMOOC platform we have aligned ourselves with.

This wasn’t a FOMO decision which I think fueled the, slightly unseemly, Coursdacity gold rush.  Other platforms were looked, at including, Open2Study, the Open Universities Australia option.


I have had a play, and the initial structure looks much the same as the other xMOOCs – text content, video content, comments sections and a multi-choice quiz.  A Basic MMOOCw (moderated courseware).

The structure could lend itself to the lowest common denominator model of just dumping f2f material online, which appears to be what’s happening in most Coursdacity MOOCs, although this is more a reflection on the learning designers than the platforms.

Doug Clow has a more detailed review, and provides a bit of background.  It’s worth a read.

The big plus

The major point of difference they are selling is  a greater social aspect, which sounds interesting and may address one of the major failings of the current batch of platforms, but this appears to be an upcoming feature, so we’ll have to wait to see how it works.

It looks like we’ll have a few Monash courses in the pipeline soon.  If you are a Monash person and you are interested in developing a MOOC the proposal information is here.

Weekend Funny – The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

This my Third favourite event of year (after the AFL Grand Final and Eurovision)


Here’s the Psychology winner: for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.
Here’s Physics: for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon.
You can read the the Public Health Winner for yourself.

COMMA SUTRA: 13 Rules For Using Commas Without Looking Like An Idiot

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Not particularly eLearning related,* but good advice for all who use the written word.


*Did I get that right?  I’m going to be paranoid now.

Here’s my problem with the term MOOC

Friday, September 20th, 2013

From my experience this is what you get with MOOCs as currently presented

  • A bundle of freely available automated online courseware
  • Usually with a time release
  • Maybe with a discussion, it may be minimally moderated, but not effectively moderated.
  • Maybe it has peer assessment, but it’s not effectively moderated.

So MOOC is a new name for something we’ve had for while, it’s just bundled up and marketed better now – That’s OK.

Here’s my problem.

From an organisational perspective is it really a course, or just tricked up courseware?

Are the outcomes verifiable in any meaningful way?

Is it just bundled relabeled version of what we have via OER?

To my mind a MOOC doesn’t really become a course until there is some serious engagement and intervention by a teacher.  And you can’t make claims about effectiveness without some form of fair, valid and reviewed assessment (i.e. not an online quiz or a student evaluation form).

In a sense it doesn’t become a MOOC (i.e. a course)  until you add either the (always fee based) assessment/credentialing option (assuming this is a valid invigilated assessment), and/or a serious (usually fee based) tutoring option.   The notion we have to drop (despite all the early hype) is that MOOCs are by definition free.

So what should we call these things.

I  have joked about this in the past, but maybe we should forget the pithy acronyms and start updating our definitions.  Here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Open enrollment online courseware, usually free  – MOOCw
  • Open enrollment moderated online courseware, free or fee based – MMOOCw
  • Open enrollment online course, usually with a fee attached but the courseware is usually free – MOOC

I think this more than semantics.  As industry experts we need to be able to define what we’re talking about.  MOOC just doesn’t do it.