What’s Wrong with MOOCs: One-Size-Fits-All Syndrome

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The Malaysian government is taking steps to “make 30 per cent of higher education courses available as massive open online courses (or MOOCs) by 2020” (Financial Review, 2 Oct. 2016). The MOOCs are free, but there’s a fee for assessments that grant credit for courses taken at other universities. From 64 courses in 2015, the number has grown to 300 this year.

The down side, as I see it, is that they’re relying on a single MOOC management system (MMS) — in this case, OpenLearning, which is based in Sydney. This shoehorning of course design and development into a proprietary box is a clear sign that the Malaysian administrators don’t have a clue about MOOCs.

This problem of overreliance on an MMS is endemic in the vast majority of universities that are tiptoeing into MOOCs. It’s the same mindset that tosses all online courses into a single LMS. If this one-size-fits-all approach were applied to F2F courses, professors would be outraged by this brazen violation of academic freedom.

The web is an infinite frontier with limitless resources for creating a wide range of MOOCs. In contrast, boxed platforms being hawked by non- and for-profits such as Coursera, edX, and OpenLearning don’t even begin to scratch the surface of possibilities. Jumping whole hog into one of them is to automatically accept an MMS’s limited views of what a MOOC can be.  Continue reading

Computational Thinking, LiuLiShuo & Audiobooks


Why Computer Science Education in K-12 Settings Is Becoming Increasingly Essential by Mehran Sahami, The Huffington Post, 14 Sep. 2016.

Is computer science for everybody? In this blog post, the author reminds us that in today’s world, computer science goes beyond programming for programmers. It is more and more part of our everyday lives. The author asserts, “This is the reason we don’t talk about teaching CS as just teaching ‘programming,’ but rather as a means for students to develop ‘computational thinking’ skills.”

Ex-Google Guy Builds English Teaching App That Adapts to Student by Selina Wang, Bloomberg Technology, 13 Sep. 2016.

Chinese parents spend quite a bit of money for English lessons for their children, then find out that their children don’t speak English very well. In steps LiuLiShuo, which means “speaking fluently,” an app which incorporates gaming and social media into English learning. While it has its critics, it also has 30 million (yes, million) users.

Audiobooks Can Support K-12 Readers in the Classroom by Kate Stoltzfus, Education Week, 19 Sep. 2016.

Audiobooks have been around for quite a while, and their usefulness for struggling readers has been supported by research. With the growth of digital media, audiobooks are becoming even more important as a tool for learners, especially students who have trouble reading. A study by the American Association of Schools Libraries in 2012, which focused on elementary students, found that “audiobooks improved students’ reading scores, increased students’ positive attitudes about their reading ability, and offered students more personal choice in what they read.”

NZ Education Minister Proposes Reform to Launch Schools Into the 21st Century

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

It was just a matter of time, and it’s now finally happening. The online revolution is breaching the walls of K-12 schools. New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata is behind an Education Amendment Bill, introduced in Parliament this week, that will make it possible for “school-aged children…to do all their learning online.”1

“The fact of the matter is,” says Parata, “young people now operate in a world where technology and being connected is a norm for them. We want to make sure our legislation going forward provides for those options.” She adds, “Because this is the 21st century we want to make sure New Zealand kids are digitally fluent and they can take advantage of technology.”

Parata and Sewell

Hekia Parata, New Zealand Education Minister, and Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair.

Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair, strongly supports the amendment. She says, “Students could choose to learn online or face-to-face, or a mix of both, and have access to a much broader range of subjects regardless of the size and type of school they’re attending.”

Needless to say, many in the traditional school establishment are alarmed and up in arms. Angela Roberts, Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president, says, “There are two wildly incorrect assumptions that underpin this idea. One is that online learning can substitute for face-to-face, and the other is that a more competitive market in education is going to lead to better results. Both of these fly in the face of all the evidence.”

The outcome of this bill is yet to be decided, but I’ll be watching its progress closely. At this point in time, whether it passes or not is not as significant as the fact that the process of online reform has begun at the national level in a noteworthy school system.

Vigorous opposition from the status quo is to be expected, but the world is changing rapidly and traditional classroom-based models are becoming increasingly difficult to justify for a school-age population that’s been immersed in technology from birth.

1 All quotes in this post are from Jo Moir’s “Government Education Reform Focuses on School-aged Children Learning from Home,” Stuff, 23 Aug. 2016.

A Successful Public Health MOOC: Interview with Dr. Satesh Bidaisee

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

One Health, One Medicine: An Ecosystem Approach was a five-week public health MOOC offered by Dr. Satesh Bidaisee1 at St. George’s University, Grenada, in summer 2016. The course attracted 582 students from all over the world and was especially popular with students from the Caribbean, United States, and even Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

Among the 582 who enrolled, participants, or “students who took at least one graded activity in the course,” numbered 98, which is 17% of the total enrolled. Of the 98 participants, 52 completed the course. Completion is defined as achieving “at least a 50% in the course, which required them to get full participation and quiz credit and at least one additional exercise (case or presentation).”

Calculated in this way, the completion rate among participants was 53%, four times the rate in previous years. Of the 50 students who completed the survey, 98% rated their overall experience in the course as good or excellent. To the question “Would you be interested in pursuing a degree from St. Goerge’s University?”, 82% answered yes. Of this number, 30% preferred online courses, 16% preferred on-campus classes, and the remaining 36% had no preference either way.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George's University, Grenada.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George’s University, Grenada.

ETC: How would you explain the high rate of completion for your MOOC?
Bidaisee: The key factors were: (1) A user-friendly online course management system, SGUx, which is built on the EdX platform. (2) Accessible course team. (3) Interactions with students through live seminars, live office hours, discussion blogs, Twitter communication. (3) Case study reviews, peer-review evaluation of student-produced seminars. (4) Focused course topic and content on One Health, One Medicine.  Continue reading

How Can Technology Enhance Language Learning?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Second language acquisition as a body of research looks at various aspects of learning and teaching languages other than one’s native language. Most people probably think of this as foreign language teaching and learning. Because of the complexity of language learning and teaching, this field of research covers a wide range of issues from the order in which learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in the language they are studying to what the most effective teaching methods and strategies are. As learners and teachers alike seek more effective and efficient ways to teach and learn languages, technology use has grown.

Perhaps technology use for language learning began back when people used record players to listen to and repeat what was on a record. In the 21st century, the opportunities for using technology has grown enormously, ranging from podcasts you can download to interactive activities on the Internet where you can practice all aspects of a language.  These activities range from short texts to read and answer questions about to full-length courses taught over the web. With mobile technology, learning apps enable the learner to study anywhere, anytime. Each of these types of technology-assisted language learning comes with its own strengths and challenges for the learner and the developer.

In his blogpost, “How could SLA research inform EdTech?,” Scott Thornby suggests that the developer or user needs to ask some questions based on second language research about how an application may fit into the language learning process to determine its effectiveness for learners’ specific needs. He lays out what he calls 10 “observations” from second language research. Then he formulated questions, related to each observation, which ask how technology can enhance language learning. His questions focus on how adaptive the software is to different types of learners and to an individual learner’s history as well as how it addresses the complexity of the language. Thornby also suggests asking how well it gives opportunities for meaningful input and output as well as how well it provides feedback.

However, in the long run, I think the most important question he poses is “Is the software sufficiently engaging/motivating to increase the likelihood of sustained and repeated use?” After all, no matter how good it is from a pedagogical standpoint, if the software doesn’t engage the learners, it will gather dust on the virtual “shelf” as surely as those records from days past have gathered dust on people’s bookshelves.

Jason Ohler’s ‘4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Jason Ohler, who wrote “Whither Writing Instruction in the 21st Century?” for ETC five years ago, released a new book last month, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves.

Jason developed a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis from which he never expected to recover. It slowly and literally took his breath away. At the 11th hour, he received a double lung transplant.

“Rather miraculous,” he says. “A year later I have a new site, newsletter and book and feel great, back working full tilt, as inspired as ever.”

4Four Ohler2

For more information, link to his Amazon site and his personal website.

When he was huddled around an oxygen machine 24/7, he thought a lot. This book reflects what is important to him about life, learning and technology. Read some of the reviews for his book.

From the Amazon ad: “Dr. Jason Ohler has been telling stories about the future that are rooted in the realities of the past during the entire thirty five years he has been involved in the world of high technology and innovative education. He is a professor emeritus, distinguished president’s professor of educational technology and virtual learning who has won numerous awards for his work. He is author of many books, articles and online resources, and is a speaker, humorist, teacher, media psychologist, cyber researcher and grandpa. He is also a lifelong digital humanist who is well known for the passion, insight and humor that he brings to his presentations, projects and publications.”


How Can I Present a Better Webinar?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

A few weeks ago I presented my first webinar, and I have mixed feelings about it. I have participated in them and have felt okay about the experience, but this was not the same. Let me give you the background, and then I am hoping that a bunch of people will jump in and give me fabulous hints and advice about how to do it better next time.

First, the webinar was set up by someone else who was in a different location, and she used Hangouts, which I had never used. I had prepared a PowerPoint with my main talking points, and we uploaded that.

When the webinar began, I could see participant faces and the face of the moderator. I could also see the chat box where participants greeted one another.

When I started my presentation, we put up the PowerPoint, and I literally felt like I was sitting behind a screen talking to an invisible audience. At one point, the moderator said that several people had commented that they couldn’t see the PowerPoint advancing, couldn’t see the comments, etc.

All I could see was my PowerPoint, which appeared to be working just fine.

In response, I started flipping back and forth between the PowerPoint and the Hangouts screen to follow the comments. The longer this went on, the more stressed I got. I ended up hurrying through the rest of the presentation, answered a few questions, and said goodbye.

Those of you have had better experiences in presenting webinars, what advice can you give me? Different platforms? Different presentation models? How could I have made it more interactive? Other tips for conducting an effective webinar? Thanks in advance.