Monday, 25 November 2013

The next big thing... perhaps...

these are still thoughts in progress….

If you were to ask me what the next big thing in e-learning platforms and technologies was going to be, I’d say INTEROPERABILITY

In fact I said this over and over 2 years ago , so much so that a colleague starting looking at refining the Sakai tools to work better over LTI1.0, and we discovered unofficial ‘extensions’ to the LTI spec that allowed the passing of different variables (not just credentials and grades, but preferences and memberships). We implemented in dev a LTI+memberships tool which allowed us to properly integrate, in dev, WebPA, peer assessment tool which uses shared group memberships.

A couple of things are notable about this, highlighted most recently by the release of the LTI2.0 spec.

LTI2.0 is to LTI1.0 as web2.0 is to web1.0. ‘extensions’ are now built into it, including custom built ones that can share unlimited preferences, so possibilities are now increased exponentially as to what can integrate with what and how, and what can be passed between different learning management systems. i think this may be the quietest game changer to enter the fray, almost undercover.

I think there is a wider picture here, as MS controlled Bb have recently acquired MoodleRooms and developed the LTI spec into it’s 2.0 version  from the very basic original LTI1.0 spec.

Some say the VLE is dead. I believe that the VLE is not dead. i think it has 'moved on' from foundational stuff to a more specialised learning management (eco)system. And I think that the development of LTI2.0 means that MS may want to join the party, with it’s specialised SharePoint driven, Office365, cloud based software and social tools, all at a cost of course :) Oh, and of course we will be able to share existing features of Bb, in marketable packets of course... (oh the speculation...)

But I also think this all has a wider implication for the way we manage e-learning in our university communities, as this is an open standard, and gives us the tools to deliver a personalised, specialised, consistent and coherent experience for our students we need to start being experts in INTEGRATION through LTI2.0 standard.

We have a tendency to go our own ways and create a confusing environment for students whenever we add any specialism into the e-learning programme. They end up with multiple usernames for different systems, grading data all over the place, and not knowing where 'home' is.

I said it then and I'm saying it again. The next step change in VLE platforms is going to be around INTEGRATIONS and we should start pulling around the LTI2.0 open standard, and demonstrating what is possible by connecting the current diaspora of learning management systems in our institutions and working for a best of breed, coherent eco-system of learning tools for our students.

This isn't about 'blackboard vs moodle vs canvas' anymore, but do watch out for some very sophisticated premium LTI2.0 tools coming down the road to plug into your chosen VLE.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Moodle and the MOOC

I've been doing a little research into this phenomenon of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), and I'm seeing that what seems like a solid enough concept on the front actually starts to unravel when you look a little closer. And I think this is a MASSIVE (pun intended) opportunity for MOODLE.

Where do MOOCs come from, mum?
MOOCs seem to have a lot of hype surrounding them right now, but we forget that MIT has been in this game for well over 10 years, with its Open CourseWare initiative. This has since transformed into EdX to compete with the new startups from Silicon Valley, Coursera and Udacity. Meanwhile iTunes U has quietly grown into a quite a formidable repository of open content. (I'll come back to the issue of content later)

And I've bolded the last 2 words because essentially this is what these platforms offer. i.e. nothing MOODLE hasn't been doing exceptionally well for over a decade.

If you're name's not down...
A little known fact about the MOOC platforms that are getting all the hype right now:

 If you wonder why your university hasn’t linked up with Coursera, the massively popular provider of free online classes, it may help to know the company is contractually obliged to turn away the vast majority of American universities."

Now this is interesting. Coursera is contractually obliged to only accept elite institutions into its fold (thats 30 odd in the US and then the top 5 internationally). 

So now I'll ask again, where do MOOCs come from, mum?
It seems to me now that they are born out of a strategy for top institutions to 'mine' internationally for the best students to come and study and for the rest to pay a fee for MOOC certificates  - this basically entrenches their elite position in the 'marketplace' (and lets not be scared about calling it a marketplace)

...and who would dare question a certificate given by an elite university?
Even if all they are providing is the skeleton of a learning experience (i.e. the videos, forums and MCQs - And occasional interactions with the (celebrity) academic's research assistant's research assistant.)

Yes, there is no new pedagogy here 
There isn't really a harnessing of all the connectivist, networked possibilities of having 1000+ keen and eager, interested people in the same place at the same time. We're just doing what MOODLE has been doing for 10+ years, albeit with more students and hype.

Hang on, haven't you heard of DS106 or Siemen and Downes?
Not all MOOCs are created the same. The 'original' MOOCs are based in a 'Connectivist' tradition. People in the know call these cMOOCs (as opposed to xMOOCs like Coursera). And one of the main differences between the cMOOC and the xMOOC is that the cMOOC is about connecting with other people primarily, and participating by creating content, rather than consuming it. Furthermore, the contributions that participants make are aggregated from their OWN private spaces and blogs.

So this tips the VLE content model on its head, and the main tool starts to look at lot more like Google Reader and a lot less like a traditional content repository. It's primary features become 'starring' articles, 'friending' other users, '' social bookmarking.

Where does MOODLE fit into all this?
OK, so now we know 2 things:
    1. The xMOOC model is not new in terms of functionality or pedagogy, but works on the fact that only elite institutions offer them, so that adds shine. Also, whilst the 'elite' are the only real players in the market, they will reap any and all the rewards, if they exist (more about this later).
    2. The cMOOC model is underdeveloped, but seems to have some more interesting ideas about connectivism which would need several new MOODLE plugins to accommodate
xMOOC or cMOOC. There's only one way to find out ...
I don't think this is a head to head. xMOOC (read: Moodle style courses) have lots of value. That's why we all use MOODLE so extensively already, but the value in today's xMOOCs is driven by elistism, not pedagogy. My feeling is that the xMOOC model is going to have to let some cMOOC in if it is to survive (before people get bored with the content like they did with iTunes U). 

And if the point of all this is to 'mine' for students, and 'sell' them qualifications, and if this is in any way successful for MIT, Stanford, Harvard etc. then it follows that it would also be successful to a degree for less expensive colleges and universities (you know, the ones who are not allowed into the Coursera family.) I have 2 suggestions for MOODLE:
    1. Market what you already have as an xMOOC direct to those institutions who are not allowed into Coursera, (or FutureLearn in the UK)
      1. Include a 'download this certificate' plugin into CORE and 
      2. improve the resilience of the conditional activity completion stuff (it is already pretty good though)
    2. Develop a Google Reader type plugin for cMOOC-type activities. The ocTEL Course Reader based on Wordpress would be a good place to start looking for inspiration.
Given those 2 things, I cannot see why MOODLE cannot be AHEAD of the game. 

(Well it started out with a pretty good xMOOC architecture, so it's not surprising!)