EdTech Factotum #4: NGDLE, MOOC’s and Acamedia

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June 5, 2017

Late this week with the newsletter. I spent the later part of the week at the annual spring ETUG conference at UBC-Okanagan in Kelowna, BC.

On to the 3 articles that I found interesting this week.

A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet?

e-Literate, Michael Feldstein, May 28, 2017

Imagine a learning platform not as a single application like the LMS, but instead analogous to an operating system that learning applications can be installed and run on, like Android or iOS. The metaphor is a useful concept when envisioning what a Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) is.

As Feldstein notes, this conceptual idea of learning technologies is not new, but has been given new life since the 2015 publication of the NGDLE white paper from EDUCAUSE. However, he points out that two things have changed in recent years that may make this concept more viable today than earlier visions.

Two things have changed since then. First, we now have many more discipline- and pedagogy-specific digital tools that can be incorporated into the learning environments.

The second thing that has changed—and this is the more radical of the two—is our shared notion of digital environments in general.

Today, many of us have dozens of different applications that we carry around with us all the time in our mobile phones. We are not disturbed or disoriented by the fact that Yelp looks and works completely differently from Google Maps, which looks and works  differently from Pokémon GO. We do not worry about getting lost in our software. Software design and user sensibilities have co-evolved to a point where we don’t have to worry as much about squeezing everything the user needs onto one page (never mind onto one screen, because some users didn’t know to scroll down).

For me, this is where projects like Sandstorm and Domain of Ones Own (which put cPanel & Installatron in the hands of each student/faculty) dovetail nicely with the concept of NGDLE. Each of those projects makes it possible to pick and choose applications that best suit a particular need. And while both Sandstorm and the cPanel/Installatron stack are built with a mainstream audience in mind (that is, they don't contain many specific education built applications), they do a good job of illustrating pieces of the NGDLE concept. The connecting bits of technology that make all the applications truly interoperable in a way that is relevant to EdTech systems (think LTI, xAPI/Caliper and other API-ish things) are the pieces that are missing from Sandstorm/cPanel/Installatron that would make these more like an education specific NGDLE.

How close are we to realizing a vision of standards compliant interoperable learning technologies that operate like a platform instead of an application? Feldstein thinks we are closer than we have been for many years, but notes that, like most innovations, it is not the technology that is holding us back.

The biggest barriers to creating a learning platform were not technical 12 years ago and they certainly aren’t technical today. I believe incentives in the industry have changed enough that we could have a win-win scenario for all implementing parties. But pushing through the last barrier will require at least two of the major LMS vendors to agree on a common vision of the future and make a major commitment to address some of these use cases via the standards.

Fixing higher education through technology: Canadian media coverage of massive open online courses (PDF)

Delia Dumitrica, Journal of Learning, Media & Technology, January 26, 2017
Open Access CC-BY-NC-ND

This is a thematic analysis of English Canadian print media coverage of MOOC's from 2012-2014, and notes that while mainstream MOOC coverage has provided an opportunity for wider discussions about the role of higher education, it has done so with a particular perspective.

The vocabulary they use to talk about MOOCs and the issues they highlight are, however, not innocent: they symbolically construct problems and legitimize solutions, empowering particular social actors to act upon and shape the system.

In the analysis, Dumitrica notes that both money (a theme in 87% of the articles analyzed) and access (69%) are prominent discourses in the coverage, often centered around the idea that MOOC’s remove barriers. However, there were counter arguments to the themes that were critical of the role of MOOC’s and saw them as ways to increase the corporatization and commodification of higher education in Canada. Here’s a table of the summary of the 2 prominent themes and the discourse around both.
Dominant and counter-dominant discoursesWhile there are other themes, Dumitricia focuses her analysis squarely on the economics of MOOC’s and how that plays into a wider narrative about a “broken” higher education system. 

While it is fair to acknowledge that there are other themes present in the Canadian coverage of MOOCs not discussed here (see Table 1), they are overshadowed by the overarching theme of a technological Band-Aid for an allegedly inefficient higher education system.

Dumitricia notes that the academic community has been trying to put forth a counter-narrative to the neoliberal economic view of MOOC's and instead trying to imagine MOOC's as, "civic spaces where individuals, by learning from others, begin to recognize and, ideally, learn to respect our necessarily positioned perspectives and knowledges." Dumitricia calls upon academics to use the public interest in MOOC's as an opportunity to shift the discussion on higher education "from economic dimensions to civic goals"

The struggle over the meaning of MOOCs is also a struggle over the meaning of higher education: should it serve the market, or should it fulfill a civic function? The discussion on MOOCs needs to stop revolving around the problems of access and money. Instead, faculty members, students, administrators and journalists need to re-shift the public discourse by focusing on the possibility that MOOCs contribute to enabling continuous personal development, disseminating academic knowledge and fostering of civic responsibility based on ideals of social justice.

It is impossible to ignore the world of MOOC's with the work I do. I am swimming so deeply in the waters where MOOC's lurk that I sometimes forget that, for the vast majority of people outside of higher education, MOOC's are one of the only touchstones they have about online learning in higher education. Their perspective and views about MOOC's are filtered through the media lens be analyzed here. Also refreshing to have a distinctly Canadian perspective, including a good lit review that includes the significant contributions Canadians have made to the MOOC space. 

Academics and journalists are in on The Conversation

Toronto Star, May 21, 2017
I have always appreciated the work that The Conversation has done in other countries in making the work of academics more accessible to a wider audience, so I am happy to see this type of academic journalism come to Canada. The Conversation is an attempt to make sure the empirical work being done by academics across Canada is readily available to help inform the wider public discourse on important topics, says one of the project sponsors, UBC's  Alfred Hermida.

“There are really smart academics in Canada doing remarkable work, who can help us understand our world, not just locally, regionally, nationally but internationally.” And they increasingly want their research to be more broadly known and understood. “They want to participate in the public discourse.”

I've worked in smaller media organizations over the years and have seen the reliance many have on central news services like The Canadian Press, Broadcast News and Reuters for stories. While The Conversation is different than a central news agency, it will provide stories available for rebroadcast and reprinting to mainstream media organizations by publishing their content with a Creative Commons license.

Thanks for reading. Until next week.

Unless otherwise noted, all content CC-BY Clint Lalonde.

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