24 March 2013

Evaluating Open Education Resources (H817)

I'm getting rapidly disillusioned with the Open University's MOOC/non-MOOC Open Education.  After kicking off with a course "reading" that was a 77 slide PowerPoint file with no speaker notes, in week 2 they set a long reading from a decade ago, on a topic called "Learning Objects".  Now, it's not the length of the post in itself that bothers me, and the age is not a problem as this notion was a significant stepping stone to the open education systems of today... what winds me up is that after the link to the article, there was a little button marked "reveal" comment.  After the link.  So you would assume, wouldn't you, that it was to be read after reading the article... which is what I did.  Here is the content of the hidden comment in full:
Note: Downes goes into detail on many aspects that are not necessary for this course. You do not need to read the article in detail – your aim is to gain an understanding of what learning objects were and why they were seen as important.
... and you'll see why I was unhappy.  It's utterly sloppy design to leave you reading the whole thing before telling you not to!

This week's activities then follow on with one of the most spectacularly vague tasks ever, and judging by the stuff coming up on the course blog aggregator, I'm not the only person who thinks so.  Our task is to look at several repositories of "open education resources" (OERs) and evaluate the suitability of the material presented for assembling a course on "digital skills".

I'm presuming that they've chosen the task title "digital skills" to allow it to be an open task, but they've taken the original MOOC philosophy to its erroneous ultimate conclusion.  The philosophy of MOOCs (as embodied in change.ca) is the idea of learner independence, and the notion that learners work better when they can choose what to work towards, but yet unrestricted choice has been shown to be absolutely crippling, because with open choice comes indecision.  (If you're interested in this idea, check out Barry Schwartz's TED talk The Paradox of Choice.)

Consider also that many of the great artists imposed limits on themselves, such as Pablo Picasso's famous "blue period" (not that I personally rate Picasso's work much), in order to stimulate extra creativity.

But here I am with an excruciatingly vague task description, and there's nothing in the task to force me to narrow down and focus on a particular aspect of the large potential space of meaning before I am expected to wade through gigabytes of texts and videos looking for things that are specifically relevant or useful.

And the course to date hasn't given us any real guidance on how to evaluate the usefulness and applicability of the material anyway.  And we're back to this idea that there's no rules, and that individual creativity and "engagement" with material will show us the way, throwing out all the hard-learned lessons in pedagogy, instructional design and other closely related fields.

It is far easier to do a complex task by following a defined process than to try to intuit the process by attempting to complete the task.  Early guidance can develop good patterns of activity that are internalised over time and become automatic.


Lucy Purkis said...

Niall thanks for posting this, I'm similarly disillusioned - the Activity seems impossible to me in any reasonable timescale, will be interesting to see if any students manage to complete it.
Just wish the course had undergone some UAT!

Mariana Funes said...

Thanks for this. Please don't give up on H817 yet! Your post has been the most helpful thing I have read in a sea of words that seem to blend as I fall asleep trying to learn....Your reference to the Paradox of choice well chosen, I have read the book many times and you have given me a great connection between it and MOOCs - something that made me uncomfortable about them (or this one in particular? I cannot know that as I am a MOOC virgin :-) was the lack of guidance and you are right, of course, what I have been experiencing since I joined is the demotivation of too much choice - I found myself craving one book I could read in bed titled 'To MOOC or not to MOOC', just one book! So, Thanks for your honesty and clear writing style.

Hayley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hayley said...

I'm at the opposite end of the scale. I am enjoying the ambiguity and options to interpret the activities as I choose. I certainly took one look at the Downes paper and realised that I'd be skimming/ picking and choosing content. (Yet, even then, I rolled by eyes when the reveal suggested not to bother with it all).

However, it is easy for me to say this as this is not my first experience of MOOCs, and it's taken a few experiences of being overwhelmed/ feeling adrift/ not understanding where to start/ technical problems to build up to this sort of confidence and attitude.

I'm actually volunteering as a facilitator on an different MOOC next month so I'm intrigued by other people's experiences and how my role will or won't be able to support them in that.

(Oh and thanks for the Picasso tip, I sometimes limit my diet to a vegan one to force myself to eat a greater variety of food, which a lot of people think is an odd approach, but now I have a great example to throw back in their faces)

Nìall Beag said...


I notice your blog's called "Confessions or a learning technologist". One thing I've repeatedly said about connectivist learning theories is that it seems to operate at a level of abstraction that is only really suited to someone with a solid grounding in the field under study.

In fact, I suggested recently that a connectivist MOOC is far more like a conference than a course.

If the conference was an appropriate model for introduction into a new field, would we not have seen it adopted by universities years ago? After all, the biggest difficulty in putting a conference on is the logistics of getting everyone in one place, but universities already do that.

For you, you're dabbling with a slight variation on your existing expertise, and you're being guided by your existing experience. For those of us in far more of a "blank slate" state, it's really quite confusing....